Racism, Ultrarunning, and San Diego 100

Cuyamaca 100K
Sunrise Aid Station, Cuyamaca 100K, 2018

Back in early June 2019, Myriam and I took a weekend to head down to Cleveland National Forest. We’d been there before, just a few months earlier. The town of Julian doesn’t look or feel at all like Southern California, and Anza-Borrego Desert State Park is stunningly beautiful.

I am an ultrarunner, or was; injury had taken me out for the past few months, and the events I am writing about here leave me convinced that I want nothing anymore to do with the ultra running community. San Diego 100 was happening that weekend. I’ve never run the race, but I’d been down there the previous two years, crewing and pacing one year, spectating, visiting with friends, and hanging out the next. I thought we would pop in and I could introduce her to some of my “ultrarunning family”. We didn’t plan on staying for long, ten minutes of our weekend, maybe. Being at an ultra if you are not running or crewing is like watching paint dry. After a brief visit to the race, the rest of the weekend would be spent hiking and taking photos on the Pacific Crest Trail and in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park.

It was a disaster. Turns out my ultra family has a small core of racists and a huge bunch of enablers. The aftermath was textbook stuff: white people explaining racism to a person of color, white people blaming a person of color for the racist hostility she experienced, and white people circling the wagons around white people, the same shit we see happening with increasing brazenness all over the country these days.

Myriam Gurba is a writer, and a trained historian with a degree in history from UC Berkeley. Her book Mean was called one of the 50 All Time Best LGBTQ Books by Oprah’s O Magazine, and has been recommended by Barnard College as one of four books to read if you want to learn about racism. Her essays have been published in Time Magazine, The Paris Review, The Guardian, Vox, and the New York Times.

Myriam wrote about her experience at San Diego 100 in the broader historical context of anti-Mexican racism in San Diego and in her own life in an article called “RACES, RAÍCES AND RACISM: Anti-Mexican Sentiment and Ultrarunning”, published by Terra Incognita Media.

What follows is my story of what we experienced, the immediate aftermath, and then the howling outrage of the ultrarunning community when we called them on it.

Plans for a Quiet Weekend

Myriam and I were at that introducing-each-other-to-our-friends-and-family stage. I’d met Myriam’s queer, feminist and often brown writer friends, and they were warm, welcoming and wonderful, and now it was time for her to meet my some of mine.

I had a number of friends running the San Diego. One of them – Andrea Feucht – was going to be in town from Salt Lake City to run the race. She and Myriam had wanted to meet. It seemed like a perfect opportunity. We would say hello to Andrea, Amy Berkin-Chavez, Sarah Emoto, and others before the race, perhaps catch a glimpse of them during, and then again at the finish a day later. 

Ultramarathons are not very exciting if you are not a pacer or crew or somehow involved in the race. Aside from a quick meeting the evening before the race and, perhaps, a glance at some of my friends while they were running, I doubted we’d spend even half an hour at or around the race. The plan for the bulk of the weekend was to spend time hiking, exploring, taking photos, and enjoying our time away from the loudness and aggression of the city.

It was not meant to be a San Diego 100 weekend.

I originally told the story of what happened on Facebook in a series of posts that were thoroughly litigated by increasingly agitated ultrarunners banding together in solidarity against us.

It was not meant to be a San Diego 100 weekend.

I emphasize this point because much has been made out of the assumption/insistence that we were there to crew a specific person, despite our having made clear that we were not. Perhaps this is because ultrarunning is full of very self important people who can’t imagine anyone would be in a National Forest for any reason other than to participate in this most holy of events.

It was not meant to be a San Diego 100 weekend.

This is the unfortunate story of how it became one.

Five Minutes at Penny Pines

I don’t really know the San Diego 100 course. I picked Penny Pines aid station because my mental calculations told me mid-pack runners would be heading through there at that moment, (I was wrong), and also I knew where it was. Myriam could see what an aid station looks like, perhaps we might see someone I knew, and then we could spend the rest of the afternoon hiking trails away from the race.

I was also familiar with the aid station. I’d spent four hours there the year before, taking photos of runners, chatting with friends, and occasionally lending a hand at the aid station tables. I’d been thanked for being there, my photos were widely circulated, and there was never any indication that I was unwelcome.

As we entered the aid station, we were approached by a woman we would later learn was the aid station captain, who told us that this was a no crew aid station. Not having read the runner’s handbook I did not realize that, but it shouldn’t have mattered as we were not anybody’s crew. I replied to her that we were not there to crew anyone.

The aid station captain was suspicious, and her distrust was plainly evident. “Your runner could be disqualified” she said. “We do not have a runner,” I repeated. “We are not crew.” She warned us a second time that our runner could be disqualified. I repeated for a third time that we did not have a runner. “We’re here as tourists,” I added, hoping that this might simplify things and make clear our right to use public land in a National Forest.

I am a person with Aspergers, (informally, an Aspie). We Aspies are socially awkward. We are not always the best at picking up social nuance. We are fact based and fact driven. We are honest to a fault, and find honesty to be a moral issue. To an Aspie, the aid station captain’s insistence that I was lying to her was both offensive and frustrating. My agitation may have been evident.

She relented, and grudgingly let us pass.

I wrote this off as an overzealous volunteer, even though we were getting a lot of pointed stares and hostile body language from everyone operating the aid station. Everyone there trained suspicious attention on us, monitoring our movements as if we posed a threat that needed to be contained. Nobody at Penny Pines welcomed us verbally or through body language.

I pointed out the dropbags to Myriam, and explained what they were. It was being made excessively clear that we were not welcome. It’s never fun to stay where you aren’t wanted, so we left the aid station and hiked a half mile or so on the trail. We spotted the female first and second place runners coming through and cheered them. We then hiked back down the trail, through the aid station, and to our car, which was parked a few hundred yards away from the aid station, to keep limited aid station parking clear for people participating in the race.

We drove down to the general store, about 30 miles away. We saw Gary Hilliard and chatted for a minute. We bought snacks and sat outside the general store and ate them. We headed to the ranger station and took some tourist photos. The ranger was chatty despite having almost lost her voice. She welcomed us to the park. Several relaxing hours passed.

Playing tourist at the ranger station
Playing tourist at the ranger station


tourist (noun): “a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure.”

In the aftermath, the statement that we were tourists is used against us, because we knew that an ultramarathon was taking place and thus couldn’t possibly have any other reason for wanting to be there. That we could have been visiting Anza Borrego Desert State Park for the pleasure of visiting the park, to get away from the noise of the city, breath clean air, see, spend time in, and photograph this beautiful place, is not believable to ultrarunners.

This really speaks to ultrarunners’ contempt for the land they run on. They seem to believe it exists only for them, and that nobody else would want to be there were it not for the ultramarathon. For this reason alone, I’ve come to believe that ultramarathons should generally be banned in public lands.

Three Minutes at Penny Pines

subtitle: BBQBecky vs the Mexican Bandit

I’d been mistaken earlier about where the runners were on the course, and the aid station had been empty, so Myriam was unable to see how an aid station worked. Despite having been made so unwelcome earlier, I suggested we head back to Penny Pines. Yes, it was a no crew aid station, but we weren’t crew, and as I’d spent 4 hours at Penny Pines last year photographing runners (much to everyone’s delight), I figured we’d be okay. Myriam was hesitant, and she was right. It was a terrible idea.

Just the facts

I am an Aspie. I am logic driven. I like facts because they are indisputable. I took a photo of Myriam as we arrived at Penny Pines. The timestamp on the file is 5:26 pm. I have a photo of Andrea as she leaves the aid station. The timestamp on that photo is 5:29pm. We were at the aid station for three minutes. This is a fact. Three minutes. During those three minutes we had our entrance blocked, were threatened with being thrown out, saw a friend for a moment, Myriam was racially profiled and yelled at. We saw the hostility, knew we weren’t wanted, and left almost immediately, Myriam feeling deeply humiliated and ashamed. Three minutes.

Three minutes is a very short amount of time. This is the sequence of events as I remember them.

I’m not gonna ask you to leave but they probably will.

Once again, we were immediately blocked from entering the aid station, this time by a tattooed white man who stood directly in front of Myriam, much too close, puffing up as he loomed over her. Myriam is 5’1” tall, and weighs 105lbs. It’s not hard to loom over her. He said “I’m not gonna tell you to leave, but they probably will”, gesturing in the direction of the food table.

Andrea Feucht is a three-times HR100 finisher, a 3 times San Diego 100 finisher, a 2 times Wasatch 100 finisher, ran her first ultramarathon in 1997, and is on the HR100 board of directors. She is also an old friend, and one of several runners (Amy Berkin-Chavez and Sarah Emoto) I thought Myriam might like to meet. Andrea stepped out of the drop bag area and came towards us. She was having a good race and was all smiles. While Andrea gave me a hug, Myriam stepped around the tattooed guy.

Race photographer Howie Stern had been talking to Andrea with his back to us. It took a moment to get his attention. He turned, we said hello, and I introduced him to Myriam. Howie looked Myriam up and down as he said hello. He seemed in a foul mood. As we arrived, we’d seen Paksit Photos staff leaving the aid station. Paksit Photos poach other photographers’ races and then undercut their prices for race photos. Howie hates them, and I reckoned this was why he seemed so agitated. Still, the last time I’d seen him, the end of the previous summer, while I was sweeping Kodiak 100 and he was taking photos, he’d been similarly rude. We’re both photographers, and I wondered whether or not it was a competitive thing.

Don’t steal the food!

Andrea left the aid station, and the Howie followed her, taking photos. The tattooed white guy who had threatened to throw us out remained hovering next to us. Myriam asked him where she could throw out her gum. He pointed at a trash bag that was hanging from an aid station table, and watched as Myriam stepped towards the trash bag. Suddenly, BOOM. “Don’t steal the food!” a BBQBecky yelled at Myriam as she leaned towards the table to throw her chewing gum in the trash. “The food is for runners only!”

Myriam recoiled. She was hurt and humiliated. (I know this because she told me so, in tears, later). I was stunned. We turned and left the aid station.

The implication that Myriam was there to steal the food, that for some reason this gangster-looking-to-them Mexican woman had travelled all the way to Cleveland National Forest to steal stale pretzels from an aid station table, plays up one of the oldest racist tropes, that Mexicans are bandits who steal everything. Myriam makes fun of this trope in a piece in the Paris Review, but it’s not any fun when it is yelled at you in public.

Three minutes.

I had never seen anything like this at an ultra. I’ve run 45 ultras, crewed, paced, and volunteered at a number of others. I’ve heard aid station people tell crew and others that food is for runners only, but I’ve never heard anyone yell aggressively at a person the way Myriam was yelled at.

As we left, Myriam said to me “That guy Howie really did not want to talk to you.” The way he took his time acknowledging us, the way he looked Myriam up and down, his belligerence when I’d seem him 8 months earlier at Kodiak 100, made it clear that we were no longer friends.

And just in case you don’t keep up with the news, here are the are the two crucial links on BBQBecky: ‘BBQ Becky,’ White Woman Who Called Cops on Black BBQ, 911 Audio Released: ‘I’m Really Scared! Come Quick!’ and Jennifer Schulte, ‘BBQ Becky’: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know.

“Don’t steal the food!” the volunteer yelled at Myriam as she leaned towards the table to throw her chewing gum in the trash. “The food is for runners only!”

Meadows Aid Station: Third time is not a charm

I could not believe what I had just witnessed. I really did not want to think my “ultrarunning family” could behave like that. My brain froze. I desperately wanted to think that maybe the issue was just that this just limited to a single aid station.

“They’re gonna do it again,” Myriam said.

“No,” I said. “I’ve been here before. It was just that one aid station.” I kinda wanted to prove to her that my ultrarunning family was a bunch of mostly good people and that the racial profiling, discrimination, hostility, and humiliation she’d experienced at Penny Pines was due to a few “bad apples”, the same kind of excuse that friends of the race would make in the days to come.

We headed down to Meadows, where I’d also spent time spectating, crewing, photographing, and visiting in past years. We parked a distance up the road as a courtesy to runners’ crews, leaving closer spaces open so that they would not have as far to carry their gear.

“It’s going to happen again,” Myriam once again predicted. And it did. She was right. I was wrong, and in my desire to prove that my ultrarunning family was not a bunch of racists I had left her all alone and vulnerable, exposed to yet more racism on what was meant to be a relaxing weekend trip for the two of us, and an introduction for her to the ultrarunning community.

As we approached, our path was once again blocked by volunteers, much the same way it had happened at Penny Pines. This is a big aid station, and there might have been as many as a hundred various crew members, friends, and family walking around; certainly more people than the volunteers were able to police. It seemed odd that they singled out us to stop.

“Where are you going?” we were asked. “We’re just here as tourists,” I replied, so that we could avoid the song and dance about crew. “Well, this is a closed event. You can’t come past here. You need to stay off the trail.”

Where. The questions always seem to involve where: “where are you going?” or, a question Myriam is often asked, “where are you from?” The questions are always about space. The asker is always attempting to broker space, to serve as an arbiter of space. The questioner is the gate-keeper.

We looked around. Other people – people who looked like they belonged – mostly white people in Hokas and Altras and trucker caps advertising their favorite ultramarathons or outdoor gear brands – seemed to be going about their afternoon unobstructed by groups of white men in San Diego 100 t-shirts. And then we spotted another couple, both people of color, both tourists, being similarly stopped and barred entrance to public land.

The volunteers were not suspicious when we said we were tourists, but contemptuous. Clearly, tourists were looked down on by volunteers at this Important Ultrarunning Event. I asked the volunteer blocking our path where else we might go. “I don’t know” he said. “You just can’t enter here.”

Myriam clutched my hand tightly. She’s not a big woman, and this hostile and aggressive treatment seemed to shrink her. Her introduction to my ultrarunning family had turned to shit because at every turn we were stopped, barred entry, and she was yelled at not to steal the food.

It had been made abundantly clear to us that we were not welcome at San Diego 100. It had been made abundantly clear to us that San Diego 100 volunteers believed they had the right to police the entire course, which is on public land, and deny access to anyone they deemed did not belong. Looking around, it appeared that the criteria for belonging if you were not crew or runner was racial. When we left, I was in shock. Myriam was upset, frustrated, ashamed, and humiliated by her continuous mistreatment by SD100 volunteers. We did not interact with a single volunteer who treated her with respect and civility. It was disgraceful.

Our combined time in aid stations and interacting with volunteers had been less than 15 minutes. They were both efficient and effective in their racist policing.

We left quietly. We found a part of the PCT that was not blocked by Minutemen-like San Diego 100 volunteers and took a short, sad evening hike.

Myriam Gurba on the Pacific Crest Trail
Myriam Gurba on the Pacific Crest Trail

Call it anything you want, but don’t call it racism

Subtitle: white people explain racism to a Person of Color

While we had dinner I quickly posted about Myriam’s mistreatment. People were helpful, apologetic, and sympathetic. It took me a while to digest what had happened, and in my original post I avoided the word “racism”. I later edited the post to add that word. Suddenly the tone shifted. People were outraged. How dare we make such an accusation? Clearly, whatever happened we must have been in the wrong.


It was not racism but overzealousness on the part of volunteers, it was suggested, although the overzealousness only seemed to be directed to people of color.

It’s not about racism. It’s about parking

Another excuse still being given by race supporters was that the aid station volunteer yelled at Myriam not to steal the aid station food because there is a limit on how many crew cars are allowed per runner. I shouldn’t need to explain how silly this justification is. In a nutshell: nobody knew how we arrived. Nobody asked. Nobody asked anyone else at the aid station where they were parked. Nobody yelled at anyone else at the aid station not to steal their food, regardless of their parking status. The only person who treated that way was a petite Mexican woman in street clothes who looked unlike everyone else present. Nor were we crew. We were the very tourists whose access to the park those rules are intended to ensure.

I didn’t see it, therefore it didn’t happen

Some have said they didn’t see this happening to anyone else, and therefore it could not have happened. When some have made statements to the effect of “I didn’t see this happening to anyone else,” they are not disproving Myriam’s account but supporting it. No, it did not happen to any of the many white people in Altras or Hokas wearing T-shirts advertising trail races. It only happened to a petite Mexican woman in street clothes who looked unlike others present.

Ultrarunning is for people of economic privilege. This wasn’t racism; it was class bias.

Eventually, the race director himself argued that ultrarunning is a sport for the privileged few, and that the response to Myriam was not racist but classist. To make this about class rather than race is to say that poor white people would have been treated as badly as Myriam was. I don’t really think that is a defense anyone wants to stand behind, and it will probably not be well received by the permitting agencies. Moreover, it’s still racist, because nobody asked to see her resume or bank statement. They just looked at the color of her skin. Myriam would have been deemed to be undesirable, unwelcome, and insufficiently monied because of race.

It’s your fault.

When all else fails, this is the argument people fall back on. The people who used it used it in the same breath as “I didn’t see it happen”. They said “I didn’t see it happen, therefore it didn’t happen. And anyhow, it’s your fault.”

You don’t need to be a logician to see the fallacy in that argument.

Nobody called her wetback. How is this racism?

Racism does not need to be overt. Nowadays, it seldom is. Trump used no explicit racial slur when he told Ilhan Omar, AOC, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib to “go back to your country”. Are we accepting Trump’s insistence that this was not racist?

When Myriam told her story to a friend who is also a woman of color, her friend shook her head sadly after the first encounter at the aid station, and laughed sadly when Myriam recounted my suggestion that maybe that first hostile encounter was just a weird situational fluke. She knew better. She knew exactly where the story was going.

These are called microaggressions, and if you click on this link you’ll see a nice graphic list of every-day racial ones.

The thing about microaggressions is individually they might not seem like much, but they don’t act individually. They act collectively. They are relentless, and it becomes death by a thousand cuts. Many microaggressions are unintentional, but racism does not even need to been intentional to be hurtful and racist.

Myriam predicted exactly what the response from the ultrarunning community would be. It was so precise you’d think she’d handed them a script. To a person of color, racists are very predictable.

(Note: things would become overtly racist in the aftermath. Scroll to bottom and/or click here for a sample.)

Were we lying about being tourists?

tourist (noun): “a person who is traveling or visiting a place for pleasure.”

That I am an ultrarunner and that I was aware that San Diego 100 was taking place is used to disqualify our claims that we were there as tourists. It seems that to a someone who is an ultrarunner, the existence of a race means the only possible reason a person could be in the vicinity is to participate, and any claims to the contrary must be lies intended to cover up for cheating.

I am one of those ultrarunners who actually really loves the mountains, and the desert, and spends time in those places even when there isn’t an ultramarathon. This is why not having run a race in a year and a half, I still head up to Angeles National Forest at least once a week. Myriam and I visit those places for pleasure. We are, by definition, tourists. Deal with it, assholes.

Anza Borrego Desert State Park doesn’t need an ultramarathon to be an extraordinarily beautiful place worth visiting for pleasure, and if ultras actually interfere with the public’s enjoyment of public lands, they are in violation of their permits, and the permits should be revoked.

Racists make themselves the victims

Some people expressed their belief in our story, and they were attacked. I deleted a comment by one of the attackers. He accused me of trying to “squash” discussion and then went full Norma Desmond, theatrically making himself out to be the true victim.

In her book “Citizen: An American Lyric” Claudia Rankine writes that white people “can get explosively angry when asked to recognize that their racial imagining might not be perfect… in particular, when confronted by a person of color… And the target of that anger is usually the person of color who shared with them this fact. The white [person] feels injured in this moment – misunderstood and wounded – and believes it is the person of color who has dealt the injury. This is how the white mind tends to racial “wounds” – it makes a mistake about who has dealt the injury. For it is not the person of color who deals the injury. It is whiteness itself.”

White Fragility

Some of the folks who vigorously defended the race are people who really, truly don’t see themselves as racist.

Dr. Robin DiAngelo coined the phrase “white fragility”, and has written a book about it. White fragility is the knee-jerk defensiveness of white people when it comes to race. She defines it as “a state in which even a minimum amount of racial stress becomes intolerable, triggering a range of defensive moves.”

When a white guy like an ex’s brother in Burbank refers to Altadena as “full of crackheads” and the heavily gentrified but still majority Latino Highland Park as “gang ridden” and “sketchy”, he is deliberately not saying he thinks Altadena is dangerous because it has a visible Black population (about 20%). He is saying it is dangerous because it is full of crackheads. And who are the crackheads? Black people. When he says Highland Park is gang ridden, he means that it is majority Latino, and “everyone knows” that Latinos are all “gang bangers”. George is relying on coded language to hide his racism, and if you call him racist, he will blow a gasket in white fragility. How can he be racist? His wife is Asian!

From Salon Magazine: “According to DiAngelo, most white people ‘live in a social environment that insulates them from race-based stress,’ due to their privilege as part of the cultural majority. In turn, says DiAngelo, whites are infrequently challenged and have less of a tolerance to race-based stress, causing them to be hostile, guilty, defensive, or fearful when confronted. This phenomenon is white fragility. In the end, white fragility ensures that conversations about race are derailed, and the status quo of white supremacy is upheld.”

According to DiAngelo, those who identify as progressive are some of the worst: “I believe that white progressives cause the most daily damage to people of color,” she writes, pointing out that she herself is a white progressive. “White progressive can be the most difficult for people of color because, to the degree that we think we have arrived, we will put our energy into making sure that others see us as having arrived. None of our energy will go into what we need to be doi g for the rest of our lives: engaging in ongoing self-awareness, continuing education, relationship building, and actual antiracist practice. White progressives do indeed uphold and perpetrate racism, but our defensiveness and certitude make it virtually impossible to explain to us how we do so.”

That’s it in a nutshell. When Claudia Rankine describes the reaction of white writers when their work is critiqued as racially insensitive by people of color, she is talking about white fragility.

It’s hard to say how much of the outrage from white ultrarunners after being called racist was due to white fragility and how much was the old fashioned racist response of denying racism, turning things on their head and demanding an apology from those who have been harmed, as many of the ultrarunners offended by Myriam have done, and as Donald Trump has demanded from Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, Elijah Cummings, and other people of color he accuses of being racist towards him, or that Joe Biden demanded from Corey Booker when Booker called Biden out for working with segregationists to stop busing.

Racist Bones.

“There’s not a racist bone in my body!” cry Joe Biden, Donald Trump, and countless other white men and white ladies. “There’s not a racist bone in their bodies!” cried one ultrarunner in defense of the San Diego 100 race directors.

Here is an amusing article in The Root titled “‘Racist Bone’ Disease: The Diagnosis, Treatment and Causes of Skeletal Racism”.

The symptoms of Skeletal Racism are:
1. The invisible black or Mexican friend.
2. They voted for Obama.
3. The bootstrap delusion.
4. They did something for people of color people that has a lot of prepositional adverbs.
5. They are allergic to talking about race.
6. They know all the euphemisms for racism.

As for the treatment: “researchers are developing a prolonged treatment that includes acknowledging facts, learning history, and coming to grips with the reality of whiteness in America.”


I was talking about Myriam to a white woman I’ve known. “Let me guess,” she said. “You probably know her from AA. Based on the tattoos I’d say she’s an ex gangster, who has not had an easy time getting clean and off the streets, but she’s worked hard at it. She’s street tough, and that’s what you like about her.”

Uh, no. She’s upper middle class, has a degree in history from UC Berkeley, has published several books, the most recent reviewed in the NY Times and called one of the 50 All Time Best LGBTQ Books by Oprah’s O Magazine, (alongside work by James Baldwin, John Rechy, Walt Whitman, and Carson McCullers) is an artist, a feminist, and an activist, and her day job is teaching high school civics and AP psychology. And those tattoos? Had my friend actually looked at Myriam’s whimsical tattoos, she might have questioned her assumptions, wondering what gang has a hot-dog for a symbol? Or jelly-beans? Is the Lollipop Guild a gang?

But Mexicans aren’t writers or teachers or professors. They are laborers, maids, gardeners, or else work in fast food restaurants. Or maybe they are thieves.

Myriam was born and raised in Santa Maria California, a small town up the coast new San Luis Obispo. Her little brother (now a software engineer) was a diligent student. Once day in third grade he forgot his homework. The teacher said “If you don’t do your homework, you’ll end up working in the fields like your parents.” Her father was a school administrator in Santa Maria. Had he worked in the same school district as this third grade teacher, he would have been her boss. It seems this would have never occurred to this teacher. Because he was Mexican-American, the teacher assumed his parents were migrant farm workers.

Myriam’s Bisabuelo. Revolutionary or bandito?

SJW! Professional Victim!

A month went by. Myriam’s article RACES, RAÍCES AND RACISM: Anti-Mexican Sentiment and Ultrarunning was published in Terra Incognita Media and many in the ultrarunning community turned troll and erupted with the primal howls of white rage.

They stopped attempting to rationalize and justify and went straight for personal attacks and insults: “SJW!” “Professional victim”! “Newly Woke!” “Seaks (sic) out racism claims any opportunity” “A new low!” “They can seriously go fuck themselves!”


SJW (Social Justice Warrior) became a widely used pejorative when it became part of the language of #gamergate, described by the Washington Post as a “freewheeling catastrophe/social movement/misdirected lynchmob”.

SJW is an “individual who promotes socially progressive views, including feminism, civil rights, and multiculturalism, as well as identity politics”. Social Justice Warriors are derided as politically correct speech police. To these angry white men, Social Justice Warriors are exclusively women; they are accused of grandstanding and being without conviction. To the libertarian leaning mostly white men who use the phrase, SJWs are trying to police speech and thus limit the freedoms of men who want to be able to refer to the Raramuri as a “Little brown Indian circus” without being accused of racism (even if that is a blatantly racist and offensive description of the Raramuri).

I think the big problem this country has is being politically correct. – Donald J. Trump.

The comparisons to #Gamergate are valid. Aggrieved white male ultrarunners are behaving as if this is indeed a culture war, with feminists, anti-racists, and others arguing for more inclusion on one side. “On the other side of the equation are a motley alliance of vitriolic naysayers: misogynists, anti-feminists, trolls, people convinced they’re being manipulated by a left-leaning and/or corrupt press, and traditionalists who just don’t want their [sport] to change” (Washington Post).

“hmm I wonder if all these SJW’s are campaigning for the NBA to be more ‘diverse’. Funny that only sports popular with white people have a ‘diversity problem'” – commenter on Ultrarunner podcast


There is a heavy misogynist element to #gamergate, and it’s no suprise that the ultrarunning community has recently come under fire for a lack of women. Ultrarunner and human rights lawyer Stephanie Case wrote a good op-ed in Outside Magazine. In it she discusses the vitriol directed at her in comment threads. Ultrarunner Podcast was one area that linked to her article while fully dismissing her concerns. Stephanie’s op-ed references an earlier article by trainer Jason Koop, in which he advocates changes to race lotteries to address gender imbalance – affirmative action, more or less – and is greeted with howls of derision in the comments.

It’s noteworthy that when one commenter suggests that white male readers might want to consider listening for a change, he is called a “racist retard”. This is the typical response whenever someone points out white privilege. Myriam was called a racist simply for pointing out that the people who confronted her at San Diego 100 were white. One of the people who called her a racist, SJW, and professional victim also referred to the Rarámuri as a “Little brown Indian circus”. If you were to ask, he would also probably describe himself as progressive.

The terms SJW and Professional Victim are almost exclusively used against women.

Professional Victim

Professional Victim is an accusation that was leveled at Myriam by almost every man who attacked her after she called out San Diego 100 volunteers for racism.

Shrink4Men is a website that helps “men break free from abusive relationships”, because women, well, they are out to get you by the balls, guys, so you better look out. According to Shrink4Men, professional victims are narcissists and personality disordered women with “a barren emptiness behind an independent-seeming façade” who try to assert dominance or seek out attention by proclaiming themselves victims.

Professional Victim is pretty much an accusation exclusively leveled at women by misogynists.

Kate Manne is a Professor of Philosophy at Cornell University, and has written a book called “Down Girl – the Logic of Misogyny”. She addresses this in a chapter called “Suspecting Victims”.

“That we have a fraught relationship with victims and victimhood is not news”, Manne begins. She discusses the rise of anti-victim sentiment in the United States, which “has played an increasingly important role in conservative ideology”. She continues “Although not a new phenomenon, the hostility shown toward victims seems to have been increasing during the past few years.”

It’s complicated. It’s all about moral narratives and about agency. In claiming to have been victims (whether of sexual assault, as so many women are speaking up about in the #metoo era, or of racism), women are speaking up, and demanding a spotlight. Manne says that the act of speaking up gives agency, even if the speaker is condemned as a professional victim. With the spotlight comes attention and sympathy. White people and men tend to operate from a misperceived position of scarcity, believing there is a limited supply of sympathy. To these people, sympathy is a moral good reserved for them.

When Myriam speaks out about having been the victim of racism, she is condemned as a professional victim, and those who condemn her are trying to steal back the spotlight because they want to hoard the scarce moral good of sympathy for themselves. They proclaim that they are the true victims of “a vicious premeditated attack”… by “a professional victim and newly woke SJW” who has sunk “to a new low”.

There is also the issues of addressability and agency. These white men do not want a woman of color to have agency. In their minds, only people of color are “addressable”, and whites are not. In saying she was the victim of racism, Myriam has claimed for herself something reserved for whites and men: the right to address whites and men as harmful agents.

The white men are angry and demanding an apology.

Professional Victim, pt2

Angry white men: please be careful who you call a “professional victim”. Many women actually are victims. This is even more true for women of color. It’s not professional for any of them.

The current statistics say that 1 in 5 American women has been sexually assaulted. It is estimated that over 80% of American women have been sexually harassed.

Tommy Jesse Martinez is on death row in San Quentin for the rape and murder of Sophia Torres. He was also convicted of a series of sexual assaults and attempted kidnappings. This is a quote from court documents: “The left side of her head was swollen and bruised, as if hit repeatedly by a blunt object. Her nose was broken, with bone fragments protruding through her skin, and the bridge of her nose was indented and had sunk inward due to a large crush-type laceration. Her right ear was bruised, with a small, crush-type laceration. Although her skull was otherwise intact, her brain had swollen to the point of flattening out in some areas, as opposed to having a normal wrinkled appearance.”

In the four months prior to the murder of Sophia Torres, Tommy Jesse Martinez committed a number of sexual assaults on female pedestrians in Santa Maria California. The first of his victims was a young Mexican American woman home on break while studying history at UC Berkeley. Her name is Myriam Gurba, the person angry white ultrarunners are now calling a professional victim.

Myriam’s book Mean details this crime and the affect it had on her life, and the lives of Martinez’ other victims and their friends and families. It is also a memoir of growing up queer and Latinx in California. Barnard College picked it as one of four essential books to read about racism in America. In the past week, there have been three separate mass murders by white supremacists shooting Mexican American and black people. Racism is a very important topic right now.

I’m going to refrain from naming the somewhat prominent angry white male ultrarunning people who have called Myriam a professional victim. Larry Gassan and Eric Schranz should be ashamed of themselves. I am sure they are not. They seem too entitled and angry to be capable of self reflection.


Who is this Myriam Gurba chick anyhow?

Myriam Gurba is a latinx writer, spoken word performer and artist from Santa Maria California. She has a degree in history from UC Berkeley. She has written for the Paris Review, Colorlines, Les Figues Press, Zocalo Public Square, The Wanderer, figment, XQsi Magazine, and Terra Incognita with the article that offended so many in the ultrarunning community RACES, RAÍCES AND RACISM: Anti-Mexican Sentiment and Ultrarunning.

Her third book Mean was voted one of the 50 All Time Best LGBTQ Books by Oprah’s O Magazine, (alongside work by James Baldwin, John Rechy, Walt Whitman, and Carson McCullers). It was also just picked by the librarians at Barnard College as a must-read book on racism, despite the insistence of angry white male ultrarunners who call her a professional victim and an SJW and think she “seaks (sic) out racism everywhere”. (Angry white dude: people of color don’t need to seek out racism. It finds them, every day). Here is a NYTimes review of Mean.

You guys with race report blogs who call yourselves writers and think that makes you her equal – I’m gonna give it to you in ultrarunning terms: you are back-of-the-packers. She is an elite. And when you bloggers and podcasters start shrieking racist and misogynist cuss words like SJW and professional victim and coming up with Mexican conspiracy theories against ultrarunning instead of offering intelligent arguments, just know you are proving her point. Loosen up your tinfoil hats and listen, boys. Maybe you will learn something.

Why I run, encore

I am not a social runner. I don’t run to belong to a running family. I go to the mountains and run in solitude to get away from this shit, because more often than not when I am alone on mountain trails, feeling my legs, watching the ground, breathing in the air, hearing the sounds of nature (which aren’t always soothing) I can get away from anger, bigotry, hatred, misogyny, aggression, Donald Trump, and all the other pitfalls of big city life.

The sport of Ultrarunning has been fun, but now all the worst of white intolerance, aggression, noise, misogyny, male aggression, social bullying, and preening self aggrandisement seem to have infested it.

Time to say goodbye. I hope I don’t run into any of you in the mountains.

Quick Followup


In the aftermath of this event, Myriam’s article, and this blog post, a few things happened. Race sponsor Hoka One One contacted Myriam, listened to her story, and proposed working with the race to ensure that people in the future do not have similar experiences. Meanwhile, various ultrarunners and podcasters upped the attacks.

Besides the usual alt-right standards “Social Justice Warrior” and “Professional Victim”, Myriam was called a whore, a Mexican Uncle Tom, and thinly veiled rape threats and death threats were made. Mexicans were derided and called nasty and beaners, and a Run From The Border 50K was (jokingly?) proposed in which runners are chased up the PCT from the Mexican border by people dressed as Border Patrol. These attacks were spearheaded by RDs for other races in the San Diego area. There is absolutely no doubt that there is a serious problem with racism within the San Diego ultrarunning community, and an unfortunate tolerance of racism within the ultrarunning community as a whole.


While this was going on, folks suggested we brought it on ourselves; that calling people racists was what provoked the racism. Beyond this victim blaming (“what were you wearing when he raped you?”) there was a refusal to connect the dots. Nobody was willing to admit that what happened at San Diego 100 and the overt racist attacks by members of the San Diego ultrarunning community were connected. These attacks were not indicative of the San Diego ultrarunning community we were told, but no one from the San Diego ultrarunning community was willing to publicly condemn the attacks.

I believe Hoka was monitoring social media. As the attacks escalated, they decided to end their sponsorship of SD100. There remains a refusal of anyone in the ultrarunning community to consider that maybe the overt racist, homophobic, and misogynist attacks and threats of violence against Myriam might have contributed to Hoka’s decision, just as there remains a refusal to consider that if someone responds with a racist attack after having been called a racist, they might indeed be validating the accusation of racism.

These attacks have been compiled HERE.

While all of this was going on, a white supremacist opened fire on Latinx people at Gilroy Garlic Festival, killing 3, and a week later another white supremacist opened fired in a Walmart in El Paso, killing 22, and citing anti Mexican hatred.

9 replies
  1. Leah
    Leah says:

    I don’t really have words for how sad and angry this makes me feel after reading what transpired. How the f can people treat other human beings this way?!! I don’t understand the knee jerk reaction of fear and putting people who are different down. Big WTF!!! Did we not all learn the “golden rule” treat others how we wish to be treated? I automatically teat people kindly because it tends to get a good reaction, but it also make me feel good. These people must really have some deep insecurities. C’mon people, we’ve all got to live together, start acting like good roommates! This is why I love my peace and quiet in the wilderness, there is not hate there! F this shit, why?!!!!

  2. Brian
    Brian says:

    This author is full of it and is obviously just looking to find something “racist” and/or offensive in everything. I hope nobody really believes this.

  3. Joseph Schwartz
    Joseph Schwartz says:

    Unfortunately, Mr. Trump has made it “acceptable” to voice the vitriol that has always been in America but only now has been uttered in the light of day. I am sorry for you and your friend but even more sorry for America at large.

  4. Elana
    Elana says:

    I am just reading and find out out about all this. I have been around some of those people and after seeing their comments things make sense. When I saw what other runners had to say it made me sick to my stomach. Let’s say hypothetically what you and Myriam had to share was an “overreaction” how does that justify the vitriol that those individuals spewed? They do not represent the spirit of a running. I think you hit the mail on the head with the colonizer mindset that the “land” is there to just run a race. It is indeed so much more.

    • geoff cordner
      geoff cordner says:

      Thanks, and sorry it’s taken so long to reply. The astounding thing to me is that many of the ppl, including former friends from the ultrarunning community, (mainly them, tbh) refused to connect the vitriol spewed in the aftermath to the event itself. Basically it boiled down to them saying this: “I’m not a racist, I’m only calling your girlfriend a [insert racial slur] whore because she provoked me by calling me a racist.” (All those words were actually said). I was literally told by multiple people connected with the race: “Racism is never acceptable, but you brought this on yourself”, which is to say racism is never acceptable except in response to accusations of racism. WTF.

      Also, people were more than happy to insult Myriam, to threaten Myriam, to ridicule Myriam, to urge a certain male RD from Santa Barbara to travel up to Santa Maria and beat her up, but nobody was willing to engage with Myriam. They would only engage with me, her white male partner. And what they had to say to me is “You need to make a choice between white solidarity and the ultra running family, or your partner”. And when I chose my Brown partner over white solidarity, people were genuinely shocked.

      That was a no-brainer choice.


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply