America's only certified Skyrace course. Race Beast of Big Creek on Mt. Ellinor in Hoodsport, WA on Aug 3rd, 2024.

America's only certified Skyrace course. Race Beast of Big Creek on Mt. Ellinor in Hoodsport, WA on Aug 3rd, 2024.

I grew up watching all kinds of sports. In a household full of boys that’s what one does. Soccer, of course. But also tennis – hello Boris and Steffi – and lots of winter sports during the soccer break around the Holidays. And the Olympic Games, oh how I love the Olympic Games.

I also played sports. Again, lots of soccer – I grew up in Germany after all. But I never played serious, just for fun, and for hours, at the local playgrounds and any grassy field in our neighborhood. Then as a teenager I discovered Indiaca, which you will have never heard of. But to make it quick, it’s like volleyball, but played with a larger shuttle-cock you hit with your bare hands. Well, our team got second place in a German youth league once. Big achievement, still sore about not winning it all. Around the same time I played Indiaca I also discovered ice skating, mountain biking, rock climbing and lots of other sports. I was never really a runner, found it boring and missed team mates. Although I did once come in second in a cross country race as a teenager. No one expected it, neither did it. Again, what’s up with the second place?

Once I had finished school and I left my hometown it was challenging to find friends to do sports with. The increasing commercialization and corruption of big global tournaments turned me off, and I was an early cord-cutter, so I stop caring about sports. Well, I should be fair, every big soccer tournament and Olympics I would follow the main story lines and cheer for Team Germany. There are still days when I feel down and I just have to find that Brazil – Germany game from the World Cup in 2014 on YouTube and rewatch the highlights. That feeling when watching that game live will never leave me.

A few years later I discovered trail running. And I discovered it by watching the early UTMB clips on Youtube. What inspired me, aside from the nostalgia and homesickness of seeing the mountain peaks and huts of the Alps, was that I watched a sport I could participate in. I could run these trails. I could stand at that starting line in Chamonix. Most sports we watch on TV now feel out of reach and have become solely spectator sports. In fact there’s a whole industry around fantasy leagues and sports betting that has developed just so spectators have something else to do than watch the games and get drunk cheering or drowning their sadness.
So trail running was the sport that I wanted to participate in and not just spectate. I mean, live streaming of trail races didn’t even exist yet. And even now watching a runner with a 2 hour lead over their next competitor struggling through the night still doesn’t often make for the most thrilling TV.

So, for me trail running was all about participating in it myself. Through it I discovered mountains again and found my happy place on the trails. When I hear folks like Dylan Bowman say that they are fans of the sport and reference the classic fan culture I don’t quite get it. Yes, the scenes of Courtney at Col de la Forclaz at last year’s UTMB were something truly special, but I still don’t know if I would call myself a spectator, or even a fan. A fan of Courtney for sure, she’s tremendous. But a fan of the sport? Not sure.

Whenever I get asked what drew me to the sport and I mention that I never read ‘Born to Run’ or any of the other defining books of our generation I get weird looks. I never watched Unbreakable! What drew me to the sport was those dang UTMB clips. And for me it isn’t even the stories of personal struggle or athletic achievement that get me hooked. What makes my heart sing is the camaraderie, the community, the shared experience, and above all, the global connection.

This hit me like a ton of bricks over these past couple days as I was following the Euros in Germany on the various social channels. Here are Scottish and German fans singing and dancing together in the streets of Munich. Albanian fans ‘taunt’ Italians by breaking dry spaghetti. Italians join Albanian fans in one of their traditional dances. Right in the middle of the streets of Germany. Together. Friendly. Respectful.

Europe is at war right now. The economy is severally affected by this. Nazis are rising in the polls and are winning seats in parliaments in every country. There’s a feeling that this global community is severely under strain by forces beyond our control. What used to feel like a colorful celebration of diverse cultures is being attacked by the brown hatred of fear and ignorance.

No sporting event solves political problems or cures small-mindedness over night. But what sporting events offer us is a shared experience in a peaceful gathering. These moments can give us hope. They create a break in our daily worrying and struggle. Yes, I may ask a lot, maybe too much of these events. After all they are still managed by corrupt leaders and corporation use them to sport wash their image while destroying the planet. But dammit, we, as people, living on that fucked up planet need a fucking break. We need a breather. You know when you for yourself decide that you had a long week/month/season and all you want to do is watch some shitty TV and eat a pint of ice cream? Or when you know you shouldn’t spend frivolously but you had a rough day and then you buy yourself a new book? When you give yourself a break, a little treat? That’s what these events feel like. We, as people of this earth, as fans, as societies, as communities, we get a little break. These sporting events are our little treat.

And when that hit me friends, I realized something else. I realized that I am a fan after all.