Friday, February 25, 2011

I Think I'm Old School

All this talk about money and championships in ultrarunning makes me think . . . I must be old school. I'm certainly not 100% against races offering prize money, and I'm far from any aversion to championship races, but in the same breath I am a little skeptical about what the influx of significant cash might do to the sport (both positively and negatively). I think this trend and some subsequent changes are inevitable and it will be interesting to sit back and see the results over time – because truly only time will tell.

Definitely check out the buzz about what's coming down the pike in Charlottesville this September (click above top logo for race site) and press release. Regardless of the various opinions (I'm sure you have one too), it will be interesting to see how this race transpires and it's exciting to see more potential high-caliber competition coming to the East coast. Change is inevitable and I'm amazed at how much the sport of ultrarunning has changed in the eight years I've been involved. My prediction is that we're going to see a greater dichotomy in events over the next 10-years. The far ends of the event spectrum will become farther apart. The new breed of ultra races will be these corporately sponsored races with money on the line, but will be balanced out by the "grassroots" type events that are truly the heart of ultrarunning from its inception.

Prize money simply doesn't fit into my notion of what the sport of ultrarunning is all about – so don't expect that to change at Cheat Mountain or the Trilogy. My goal as a race director has been and will remain to provide low-key events at a reasonable price – allowing runners of all levels to test their abilities against a course as part of an event that is more about appreciation of life, nature, and fellowship than top-end competition. I will always value the last person to cross the finish line as much as he/she that crosses first (even though the top runners may earn an extra race-day memento for their efforts).

Money and Championships are nothing new to our sport – just the higher levels of prize money at races like the NFEC and now the UROC. Look at the USATF 2011 Calendar. There are eight ultra distance races on the list and each of them provides prize money and the prestige of being a sanctioned body Championship. The problem is that the elite community has not embraced these events as the "true championships" for various reasons – mainly the meager money offered and some unfavorable venues – opening up the opportunity for these new races to fill this high-end void.

Would I like to see runners of truly elite lineage giving a tough 100-miler a go? Or a guys like Ryan Hall or Meb Keflezighi gunning for a U.S. 50-mile Championship? Or elite runners able to make a living from the sport? Sure I would, but I personally get just as much excitement from encouraging someone to run their first ultra and seeing their elation through the pain at the finish line; even with no ideals of greatness.  The average and elite running together in a near egalitarian state is what makes ultrarunning so special - as long as we never get away from that, I'm all for the eclectic range of race offerings.  I applaud Bad to the Bone and Geoff Roes for their role in chasing their vision for the future of ultrarunning.

Will money in ultrarunning lead to break-through performances, an influx of new talent, a new career path, or the need for performance enhancing drug testing? Time will tell, but in the meantime, I'll be on my front-porch rocker keeping it old school!


  1. Adam, you are old school! And old school is cool school, in my book. Your discussion has a lot of interesting points. I think a lot of ultrarunners including myself, like the grassroots feel of ultra events.

  2. i love your point about races in the coming years moving more and more to both ends of the spectrum. i think the emergence of races like UROC and others that are sure to come will only increase and strengthen the amount and appeal of the true grassroots events that have been (and will hopefully continue to be) the core of the sport. in my opinion this dichotomy is a good thing. i think it's the events out on these ends of the spectrum that have a true identity and are the most enjoyable to be a part of.

  3. Geoff - I agree completely. It's an exciting time to be part of the sport of ultrarunning. How can more and deeper competition ever be a bad thing?

  4. Chris - Thanks for the comment. You make me feel better and not like some old curmudgeon. Are you going to toss your name in the mix at UROC? If I'm recovered from the AT, I just might have to make the trip. Hard to pass up a race like this . . . I just wish it was 100 miles!

  5. Adam - I actually might, but like you I wish it was a 100 miler. Tough decision though, I want to do Grindstone and The Trilogy also. I'll have to think about it all.

  6. Unfortunately the Trilogy and Grindstone will fall on the same weekend this year - hopefully only this year though. It's a bummer because it knocks me out of running it!
    We'd love to have you and the family at the Trilogy. It really is a tremendous race venue and is extremely family friendly for those that enjoy remoteness and camping. I know you have unfinished business at Grindstone though.