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What are you running to find?

By Amber Whillock

Birmingham Ultra Trail Society President Amber Whillock with her 100-mile buckle at Montgomery Bell State Park, Dixon, Tenn., in October 2022.

In ultrarunning, you hear a lot about finding your why.  Your core motivation.  The reason you’ll keep going even when finishing the race seems impossibly difficult.  The reason you can complete those last few miles when your body and your mind have unequivocally determined that this was the worst idea in the history of ideas and all you want to do is quit.  

I’ve never been very good at articulating the why.  For, me it’s always been less about finding my why and more about finding my people.  The people who don’t care if you’re fast or slow and are just as aggressively encouraging to runners training for their first 5k as those who are taking on their first hundred-miler. The people who give up their weekends to fill hydration packs and fix feet and hand out bacon.  The people who stay at the aid station until the very last runner comes through.  

These are the people who taught me that helping other people reach their goals can be even more rewarding than reaching your own. They are the heart of the Birmingham Ultra Trail Society, and I’m so thankful to be part of this extraordinary group.  

Even more than that, I’m thankful for all the BUTS who say yes.  Yes, I’ll pace you.  Yes, I’ll do trail maintenance.  Yes, I’ll run the aid station.  Yes, I’ll tolerate hours of cursing and Taylor Swift to get you the finish line (ok, maybe this one is just me).  Your selflessness and generosity are truly what trail running is all about.

I’m thankful for the BUTS who strive to make the Birmingham trail running community welcoming to all and especially to women runners.  I often read how women are underrepresented in trail and ultrarunning across the country, but it never feels that way here at home.  That’s a testament both to our badass women trail runners and the environment created here that supports the efforts of women trail runners both on the trails and in the community.

I’m also thankful for the BUTS who remind us that we still have further to go make the trails a place that every person can enjoy without fear or apprehension.  Our mission is fun, safe, happy trails for everyone, and there’s absolutely more we can do.  

Finally, I’m thankful for the BUTS who let us celebrate your accomplishments and, perhaps more importantly, commiserate in your disappointments.  You are not afraid to try, and fail, and try again. Your tenacity inspires the rest of us to go after big goals without fear of failure.

Amber is the Birmingham Ultra Trail Society president and an attorney at Starnes Davis Florie. She became a runner through Resolute Running Build Your Way to 5k program. Amber completed her first 100-mile race in October.

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