The Politics of Prize Money

Chick's CornerA couple of weeks ago social media started buzzing with the news of probably the biggest performance incentive (Comrades excluded) in ultrarunning up for grabs: run the Indiana Trail 100 miler next April faster than 12:44:33 (the current North American-soil 100 mile record set by Ian Sharman at Rocky Raccoon in 2011) and win yourself $25, 000. Now that’s serious money. The ‘rules’ seemed pretty straightforward and clear: only one prize up for grabs (in case multiple runners beat the record), if the record gets broken before race day then the current 100 mile record is the time to beat, all regular race rules have to be adhered to. Wow, what an incentive and surely great news for ultrarunning? I mean if this sort of money is slowly becoming available then it can only possibly increase the level of high-end competition in our sport, allow more runners to quit their day jobs and garner more attention to ultrarunning.

Or is it all good news? The first possible sign of a problem was the question “What will a woman get if she breaks the women’s record?” (Jenn Shelton’s 14:57:18). At first the answer was very straightforward: nothing. Well, okay, she would get $25, 000 if she beat Ian’s record and the entire men’s field on race day but let’s be honest, that just isn’t going to happen. So in reality when the performance incentive was first announced it was basically exclusively for men, with women being totally sidelined. This, not surprisingly, caused quite a stir and I myself was not going to just sit back and accept it: one of the reasons I love ultrarunning is that I feel it is a sport that both men and women can compete in and are encouraged to do so and this sort of unequal incentive was going totally against that philosophy. It seemed that I was not the only one to think so and it was encouraging that many men seemed to be rather put out by this, too. I had no intention ever to compete at Indiana Trail 100 in 2013, but that was beside the point, this was about simple right and wrong. Remarkably quickly, much to the race director’s credit, he has now announced an equal performance incentive for women ($25,000) for breaking the women’s record (and kudos to him for being able to secure this from his sponsors which can’t have been an easy task).

So is it end-of-story? I think not. To me this is just one example, which will likely not be the last, of how very careful we will have to be if big money like this starts becoming more common in ultrarunning. Let me give an example: one year when running the Orcas Island 50k (a race I can highly recommend), I went off course, it seemed that someone had removed flagging, I carried on unsure if I’d gone the right way or not but ultimately got DQed once I got to the finish line after my unintentional short cut. I was marginally disappointed, but not really; I’d had a fun day out on the trails and that was that. Had money been involved, I may well have felt differently. Or, in a recent 50 miler a friend prepared a drop bag only for it not to be at the expected aid station. He, therefore, had none of his expected extra food and drinks, and had he been in competition for placing and winning money, would he have had good reason to argue that his race performance, and thus earnings, had been negatively affected?

Although I am not arguing that big prize money and big performance incentives are a bad thing I think there are likely going to be some hiccups (and upset runners and RDs) along the way as mistakes are made and all in our sport learn from those mistakes. Right now the vast majority of races are organized by volunteers or people making a very modest income from the events; we are in essence still very much an amateur sport. The more money that becomes involved, the more professional our sport will have to become because it is the way of the world that money makes things more serious. Had Indiana Trail 100 offered a trophy or medal to whomever broke the male record but nothing to the women I would have thought it odd and rather sexist, but I wouldn’t have got so heated up as I did when it was in fact a cool $25,000 of inequality.

My other concern of this type of prize money/performance incentive is will it compromise the quality of events? I think (though may be wrong) that Indiana Trail 100 is a brand new event. I have no reason to think that it will be anything other than a really well organized and quality event, but do we really want our sport to possibly evolve to the level where ‘elite’ runners are simply choosing their races based on the potential earnings rather than the quality of the event. Where will this leave classics such as Hardrock and Western States, where there is, at present, no money up for grabs? Will they fall by the way side and have less participation by top level runners? Hopefully, this is where sponsors will step in and support their runners financially so they can chose their racing calendar based on prestige of events just as much as possible financial gain.

Already, we have seen events such as TNF EC 50 miler in San Fran, the UROC 100k, and the Run Rabbit Run 100 spring up and advertised to many on the basis of the prize purses. Yes, the money is only up for grabs by the faster end of the field, but many other runners are drawn by wanting to participate in events with the likes of Anton, Hal, and Dakota. What if any of these events lose their sponsor support after a few years and thus can no longer offer up the same level of prize money? Will the ‘elites’ move on to the next big race with big money and races without money fall off the radar? I personally think this would be a really sad thing for ultrarunning.

To me it’s more exciting to watch and see if a 20-year-old course record will be broken than to see who will win the big prize money at a brand new event. I, for one, will be racing JFK 50 miler this November. I have no idea if there is any prize money and if so I’m guessing that it’s not a lot. But I’m excited to go race an event in it’s 50th year where there is so much tradition and where so many amazing runners from the past have set foot and recorded inspirational times on the same trail that I’ll have a chance to run on. I’m proud to have my name on the Western States trophy because it’s alongside the likes of Ann Trason and Nikki Kimball, okay – that doesn’t pay the bills, but it’s that sort of thing that makes ultrarunning meaningful rather than just money-driven.

Oh, and I won’t even open the ‘doping’ can of worms. Safe to say, I can’t see anyone doping for the sake of a cougar trophy, a silver belt buckle, and, possibly, a resulting better sponsorship deal. But how much money do you have to start offering before someone starts thinking that a little extra assistance might be justified…

Let’s support the competitive element in ultrarunning by allowing competitive runners to make a good income, but let’s not close our eyes to the challenges and changes this may cause to our sport.

There are 147 comments

  1. Bartman

    Thanks Ellie for a very thought provoking article. I suspect many of us are concerned with prospects of what influence money will have on the ultra running community. At least for now, so far it has been positive.

  2. PepeLp

    Big prize money screws up everything. It takes the fun out of things and promotes gaming/cheating. Do you start drug testing everyone? How do you ensure people run the entire course?

    But……….your sexism is showing. The record is the record, the fastest time by anyone, male or female. The prize doesn't specify it's for men only. You say "one of the reasons I love ultrarunning is that I feel it is a sport that both men and women can compete in …….." But then you argue that you want special rules for girls. Maybe you can lobby for a ten mile head start…….

      1. Ellie

        Exactly Pete. PepeLp, you can ensure racers complete entire course with scanning of bibs (as in UTMB) or timing mats (if course crosses road etc). And I do not believe I am being sexist, I can't find any competitive 100 miler where an woman has won outright in the level of competition there is these days, because due to physiological differences a man will win. But I agree, if you are to only have one prize incentive then indeed women could start first (a time based on past race results) and then men chase them – this was done recently in a half marathon with Paula Radcliffe and Haile Gabreselaisie

        1. luis

          Yes give the women a head start like the LA marathon. First to cross the line gets 25,000. Adds a bit more excitement and makes it even more competitive.

        2. Scott S

          Ellie, We all know that you're an awesome runner and a big-time competitor, however nicely you approach it. And me, I am merely a participant in this sport. So, speaking from the back of the pack where even the grandparents and grandchildren pass me by with ease, I don't have a dog in this fight; however, the following statements that you seem to be making are rather mutually exclusive: "I want to be treated equally" and "I wanted to be treated separately". Choose one. I was born with slow legs and just got older; how fair is that? At least you fast ladies have a chance to beat the fast men; I never had one.

          1. Ellie

            The top 10 women who train the hardest and are the most naturally blessed will always have a slower average time than the comparable top 10 men, this is why in practically all physical sports there are separate categories based on gender. Separation by gender means men and women are getting equal treatment and recognition.

    1. joe

      " But then you argue that you want special rules for girls. Maybe you can lobby for a ten mile head start……."

      That is actually a good idea.

    2. Alex from New Haven

      PepLp, I am beaten by many women on a regular basis, but on the elite level, in all sports around the world, in all distances in running, as a global culture of sport, we've decided that men and women compete in their own categories. Is it awesome beyond description with Ann T or Ellie or Lizzy Hawker put pressure on the top men? Of course, but across all endurance events, the WR is typically 8-10% different between men and women, so let's not get the whole "reverse sexism" thing going :)

      Ellie, wonderful article. Thank you

    3. Josh

      Sorry Pepe-

      Gotta call you out on the sexism comment. Men & women are in fact different. It's a fact. Anatomically and physiologically. Pretending that this is not the case is a pointless exercise.

    1. Ellie

      If you class masters as over 40 then I think there are many examples of the physiological differences being small enough between 'open' and 'masters' that separate prizing/ incentive is not justified. Check out the age of Run Rabbit Runs winner this weekend :) If we call 'master' over 50 then you may have a point (Meghan is a one off!)

  3. more + than -

    Big prize money will give more credence to the sport's top performers. On the other hand if it forces better course marking as a result it can help the rest of us too.

  4. Jeremy

    I don't know why we keep thinking that it is potential prize money that might lead to doping. I'm doping right now, just so I can beat Toshi at Firetrails (I didn't see anything in the race rules that prohibits performance enhancing drugs, so I think I am in the good). And I'm pretty sure the only reason any girl is beating me in a race is because she is using better drugs than me, and if Toshi wins, he has better drugs too…

  5. Jess Dagg

    I think its more admirable when elite ultra runners also hold day jobs, and don't run "professionally", but that can take a toll on life :-)

  6. Mt. Mutt

    Well thought out article,except Hardrock will never "fall by the wayside",and less participation by top level runners,meh,who cares,it's all about the "average"Joe's and Jane's getting thru that monster.But other races being affected,yea.

      1. CraigR

        I just spoke briefly with the RD. To clarify my remarks. This section of trail or sections of the trail that were under water during the 2011 HUFF 50K have been eliminated from the course.

        1. Ellie

          yes, from what I know the course at Indiana is a brand new one so looks like the RD has put thought into problems that might have occurred on past events on similar trails

    1. Charlie

      I agree that it appears the RD's ONLY intention was to simply offer a prize that would create excitement for the new event and get it on the map by having some elite runners participate. The fact that this situation quickly tuned into the RD being called "sexist" is not fair to they or their new event in my view. He did not say anything "sexist", he simply made an oversight in attempting to do something innovative within our sport. Based on all the heat the RD and the event has already taken from their peers in a sport they probably love as much as any of us, we should forgive the oversight and now send a thank you for adding an equal prize for the women. This effort to make things right and admit the oversite speaks volumes to me and I hope they have a great race and someone wins the prize!

      1. KenZ

        Agreed. I just read through the site, and unless I'm reading it incorrectly, the net proceeds will go to the park as stated. So this isn't some jump at commercialism, in fact it seems that the spirit is both love of ultras and love of Indiana, with special recognition for in-State winners. How cool! (**Not taking anything away from any RD who makes money from an event which I think is also totally fine, by the way. People gotta make a living; prize money can help some runners go professional, and profit from races can do the same for some RDs who love the sport and want to make it a profession).

            1. KenZ

              Bryon, you must spend two full time jobs monitoring these blogs. I'm going to nominate you for the "2012 Hero of Internet Civility" award, which if it doesn't exist, should. Just following how ya'll coax and corral the comments leaves me exhausted. Only an ultrarunner could pull it off… do you ever sleep?

            2. Bryon Powell

              Do I sleep? Yes, and if it was last Friday/Saturday, it was after 39 hours, covering a 100 miles race, 15 beers, and, at the of it, an all-out effort racing Jason Schlarb up two thousand feet of ski slope in the dark. ;-)

    2. Speedgoatkarl

      The RD would be better off giving a smaller purse but 5 deep. The field will never be strong if everyone is chasing one carrot, and carrot that Bugs Bunny has buried deep in his hole. I bet no more than 2 fast guys show up,and only one even comes close to 14 hours. Go 5-deep, there will be a field.

      1. Ellie

        Congrats on your exemplary racing at the w/e Karl! But, the $25k is not a prize – it's an incentive to beat the 100 mile US-soil record, so if it was given 5 deep then this implies that 5 have to beat the record? Anyway, after your upset on any bets on RRR mens win I think we realise that we can predict race winners and performances a lot of the time but then once in a while a surprise comes out of the bag, and with $25k on the line that might encourage quite a few fast guys even if they've only got an outside chance thinking it's worth a shot?

        1. Fred Abramowitz

          Predicting race winners is tough; we offered $500 to any runner completing our 100 mile race who could predict the four winners of our 100 miler and 50 miler. We thought it would add interest in the sport. No one got more than 2. I think we'll roll it over until next year.

  7. Andy

    Great article Ellie.

    Well, without a doubt the sport will change with the element of prize money. It will be mostly better for the elites and will elevate the competitive aspects of the sport. For everyone else it will pretty much be the same as it is now. There will always be the smaller event out there that you can participate in if you don't want to partake in the corporate sponsorship vibe of the big money events, that will be absolutely just as challenging as a high profile, big money event. Hardrock, for instance, will always be Hardrock. Their core values aren't going to change, and the purists (I'm one of them) can take solace in knowing events like this will always be there. Hard to imagine the other low key events such as the Bear 100 changing either. These events are the vision of the race directors who created them, they'll likely be around as long as people keep showing up for the event. What's likely to happen, as I see it, is that there will be more and more new events coming to fruition with prize money being the carrot to get the elites to show up at the starting line. When the elites show up, so does everyone else. We're all speculating at this point. The sport has grown and changed a lot since it's inception, and will continue to do so. If it "gentrifies" into a soulless pursuit, with doping, advertising and serious faces all around, then those of us who care will start something else up that creates meaning for us. We're all speculating though, this sport is (still) amazing and representatives like Ellie will help keep it that way for as long as possible.

  8. Tarzan

    Srong Work Ellie! Just reading about the possibility of the classics falling by the wayside saddened me…..it's so awesome to see everybody out there, course record breakers or the last person to finish, just grinding it out there for the sake of the challenge and the purity of the sport. I also believe, that yes, hell yes, there should be $$$ for the women's field, always. That shouldn't even have to be an issue! I'm surprised they made the announcement before they had the $$$ for both sides! I for one, have been stomped by a number of women in my ultras, care factor "0", they are working just as hard and probably ran a way smarter race then I have…..it's very awesome to see a pack of them blow by me like I'm sitting at the local coffee shop, I have 4 daughters and I hope if they decide to run someday, they lay down an ass-whooping like that, the fairer sex my arse'!!!…..I wish that $$ had nothing to do with marking trails better, but I understand in same cases, the RD's totally rely on volunteers to go out and set this stuff up and may walk away with a t-shirt and bagels! Special thanks to all who volunteer, without them, our race would pretty much suck!

  9. Coach Weber

    Make sure the money is in escrow … further, with just 15 runners in the prize money heavy monied RRR100, I suspect sponsors will be reticient to back such a proposition (of course one can insure the bonus prize money like if Lance won a 4th tour way back when).

    In my opinion, forget the prize money and provide a quality experience for every runner (spread whatever $$ there is and divide it equally in terms of food, shirts, volunteer swag, course markings, and so forth). Ultrarunning is about every participant getting treated with equal respect and opportunity.

    1. Ellie

      I think there is space for all kind of events just like in marathoning or shorter races, ultras can exist where there is no special treatment for more competitive runners and so the funds available get spent equally on provisions and swag for every participant but we can also have ultras where those who run faster get more money spent on them (to encourage them to participate) when others further down the field in those races still get all they need to finish the event and a souvenir garment that they feel justifies their entry fee and leaves them going home satisfied with a great race experience.

      1. Coach Weber

        To be honest, I find no drawing factor if the elite runners are running or not – prize money or not. True, I find them interesting guys and gals, but no more interesting than anyone else in the field … they simply run faster … admirable, but not more so than the guy or gal who fights their way past obesity and runs a 7 hr 30 minute 50 km as the greatest accomplishment of their life.

        This is in no way to disrespect the efforts of the elites, but to put their efforts in perspective within the whole.

        The true coolness of the ultramarathon is not so much that some extemely talented and lightening fast runners particpate, but that **anyone** participates in such a tough endeavor.

        1. Bryon Powell

          Coach Weber,
          While you might not, there's certainly a large number of folks that like lining up with the speediest trail ultrarunners in the world…. or, with Run Rabbit Run, running a race on the same trails where you get to have personal interactions with them. After the race, Dylan and Timothy reflected on how they intereacted with everyone they saw on the trails. I don't think this takes anything away from the rest of the field… it's just something that some folks enjoy. It'd be like a basketball fan shooting hoops on the same court as Michael Jordan. :-)

            1. Slow Aaron

              I can sit in my driveway and shoot jumpshots all day, reflecting on my "glory days," while wondering how I didn't make the NBA. In a race like RRR, the tortoises could see exactly what someone like Karl does at mile 75 (if they didn't drop before then ;) ) and think "holy crap, I can't even run like that at mile 10, no way I can win money in this.

          1. Fred Abramowitz

            That was the idea with the separate starts for the Hares and Tortoises, which everyone raved about: how cool it was to actually watch the race develop ahead and to interact with the elite runners, and, yes, to learn that elite vomiting techniques are just like everyone else's..

            1. Josh

              I was at Speedgoat this year and got to see Kilian, Tony, Thomas, etc. coming back while I was still heading out (yes, I'm that slow). Honestly, it was AMAZING. That kind of ability is almost beyond my comprehension, and you cannot appreciate it just from videos. Just like Slow Aaron said. Incredibly inspiring just to see. I really do hope that opportunities like that don't go away … to use the analogy Bryon brought up, nobody ever gets to just sign up to go shoot hoops with Jordan. But I got to sign up to run alongside … well, way, way behind … the best of the best. And because I geek out on this kind of stuff, I'm sure I'll still be talking about it years from now.

    2. Fred Abramowitz

      I think you misunderstood, Coach. The RRR100 had about 150 starters. There were about 50 Hares (going for the prize money). They had 5 hours less time to finish a course much harder than they expected. Only 16 finished.

      1. Mike Hinterberg

        I'll consolidate my RRR feedback* soon enough for Fred (which I could summarize as "optimistic but brutal honesty"), but the split start, combined with lack of pacers, a smaller field (especially being split up), course marking issues, and a cloverleaf course (that re-uses aid stations and trails), in my opinion, made things a bit more confusing overall (for racers and aid stations). Sure, I saw Dylan and Karl in the middle of the night for about 40 seconds, but you also see the guys at Leadville by different design.

        However, I think these are actually easily fixable and it is worthwhile to do so. Several variables to play with here.

        For me, the race money bringing out some competitive runners, and thereby also drawing attention via Irunfar's coverage, does make the race more fun for everyone. That was more of an entertainment value, to me, than the split start.

        (* In a few days, or tonight at the Trailhead bar!)

        1. Fred Abramowitz

          I won't be at the Trailhead but welcome the feedback. No question course marking will be better. It was our first year. But I will say everyone I've heard from thought the split start and seeing the fast folks late in the race was terrific.

            1. Fred Abramowitz

              Are you kidding? A first year 100? I was shocked we had 150. I wouldn't run a first year 100. Our 50 miler had 60 its first year. Three years later it has a long wait list. You put on a first class event, acknowledge mistakes, and try and do better every year. And love and respect the sport. Our sport is still very much a word of mouth one.

  10. brank

    I just hope 100 mile races are still affordable by the time i get to try one. Inevitably, there will be a pro ultra running circuit. i hope it doesnt croud our training runs.

  11. dogrunner

    Thought-provoking article. Personally (as a non-elite), I would enter a race to see what I can do and enjoy the challenge, and that does not depend on the presence of elite-level competitors. I am also a fan of the sport, though, and enjoy the race coverage and view of human performance provided by elite-level runners. I think money has the potential to be corrupting in all things, but what else is new? Put in appropriate safe-guards and rules and let the top runners get a paycheck!

    On the gender equity issue – spot on! As numerous others have posted, there are real biologically-based performance differences between males and females, even though there are also notable women that routinely beat a lot of guys. From a sports perspective, men and women should both have opportunities to get that paycheck. Apples vs apples. From a pure performance perspective (irrelevant to the sports discussion), we put mostly males in our sledteam (dogs) because we want a certain level of physical capacity out of the team (although my primary running partner is a little 35lb girl (still talking 'bout dogs here)). But if any of the girls has the strength, endurance, and stride length to fit in the team, she can be in the team too. Sorry for the dog digression.

  12. yroc

    the new shout-outs while cheering on fellow runners:

    "nice job runners, make that money!"

    "stay strong, get that cash!"

    "money makin!"

    except we'll just smile or laugh at such notions, because we're in the middle or back of the pack, and are there to reach our personal goals and to have fun together

    1. kyle

      I ran a few times with a kenyan guy in my college town. He was training to go after prize money in some marathons. Whenever we would come to an uphill, he'd start sprinting, then look back and say "Easy money, easy money".

  13. George

    Great article Ellie and very timely.. Its a tricky subject and one that has a host of opinions. Having watched my first love of life, surfing, struggle with this same issue over the last thirty years I can definitely say that money changes everything – and unfortunately its mainly for the worst. Do we really want to watch this special little world slowly become like every other pursuit out there?

    The purity of all that time in the back country becomes lost, big names with no care for the wild places we enjoy or the soul of the sport begin to circle like vultures and worst of all it warps the next generation's view of trail running before they even get to form one.

    To me, what is so special and cool about ultra-running is its complete rejection of all the usual incentives in the sporting world. There really is no reason to do it unless you really find it inspiring.

    If you want to make money as a runner go run road marathons – there sure are lots of chances to get rich there. Please leave trail running and ultras to the nutcases that want to leave all that crap behind when they step off into the woods.

  14. dave

    $25K, Cool April, Sea Level, Soft Trails :) ….. now that is what I call motivtion folks ;) Who else is in for a track meet in Hoosier Country?! Ian? Hal? Tony? Mikes? Karl? Timmy? DBow? Dave? Clarky?…. This is just AWESOME! Thanks for the heads up Ellie!

    1. Tom W

      Ian's 12:44 is an incredible time, but the way Mike Morton is running right now I believe the record has a good chance of falling at Rocky Raccoon in February 2013. Raising the bar that much higher for anyone to collect the 25K in April.

      1. Ellie

        Or would a runner like Mike hold out running a fast 100 until April when money is up for grabs and skip RR100. i don't know Mike at all but some might make that decision….

        1. Drew

          If that ends up being the case then that in itself is sad, and your comment about Western States/Hardrock/Leadville et al may just come to pass. The elites will go to the races with the money and tradition be damned.

          Sad day if that happens…

          1. Josh

            Drew brings up a good point here. If WS & Hardrock were to fall by the wayside due to money drawing competition elsewhere …. were they ever even the races we thought they were?

        2. Tom W

          Certainly an option for top runners.

          Of course if Mike has good weather and runs a 12:30 at Rocky what does that do to Indiana's marketing? Realistically how many runners in the world could run 7:30's for 100 miles on trails?

          1. Ellie

            If the 100 mile record is bettered before Indiana Trail 100 race day then the new record stands as the goal to beat for the $$$ – the RD has thought of that and it's stated on their website.

            1. Tom W

              That is my point. A lower record makes it less likely that elites will even bother showing up. If they know that on their best day they cannot touch a 12:44 or lower then the 25K means nothing.

  15. max

    Prize $$ will only affect a very small percentage of ultrarunners – the handful at the front who have a realistic shot at winning any race. I am not one of those runners.

    For the rest of us, $$ won't make a difference, other than to maybe raise entry fees (which would suck. We know when we sign up for a race that we're not going to win, but we do so for our own reasons. Personally, I don't care if any "elite" runners are there, but like everyone else I enjoy the sport, atmosphere, camraderie with other runners, and I think it's cool to challenge yourself. A PR is always awesome, no matter what place you come in. And sometimes, just finishing is awesome enough in itself.

    If prize $$ makes the "elite" guys (and girls, Ellie) choose to dope, cheat, or pick races based on potential winnings then you just go right ahead. A vast majority of us won't care.

  16. John

    Thanks this is interesting, and like everyone else I can only agree that this debate is only going to grow with the prize money (regardless of gender issues I mean). Do you think at some stage we will see a split into two camps, the purists and the less-pure?

  17. Chris

    For myself as a back of the pack runner, the concept of running in a race with elite runners going after prize money is really exciting, I hope this money brings them in. I run for all kinds of other reasons but this is a nice bonus to toe the same line with top runners you might not ever get the chance to see or run with. I'll be looking to run in Indiana in April now:)

  18. Paul

    Good article. More money will follow in both top finishers and companies providing more to the sponsored athletes. It's a great way to promote the sport that much more. For instance Mountain Hardware has now decided to add trail running specific clothing to their line. It's good to see more and more come into the sport. Many of the marathons have had big money for the elites for years, and there are still hundreds of thousands of people that show up to run it even though they know there is no chance for money. It's great we have the elites to help push the sport forward and gain more recognition. It's even better there are thousands of other "non-elites" that want to enter into the races as well. The more people participating means more races! Who doesn't like that?

    On a side note I say lets borrow some ideas from cyclocross such as spectators throwing dollar bills out on the course to see which runners will stop and pick them up. It may start to make people think, "well, I don't think I'll finish in the top 10 and get the cash prizes so I might as well stop and pick up this money."….Just sayin'

  19. Cooker

    The traditional events will continue since they will attract the greatest sponsorship money to fatten the prize pot. Sponsors will want to associate with prestige. As the sport becomes more professional, more reported, more popular, then sadly the barrier to entry will rise also. This is already the case with a number of events where you have to be pretty experienced or fast to get a place on the line. But it also means that other events will spring up to accommodate the rest of us. We've seen it with marathon running, and we will see it with ultras I'm sure. A the end of the day though, more people will be enjoying this great sport and that can only be a good thing unless the existing community (who incidentally attract more followers every day through the inspirational reporting and dialogue on sites such as this), are keen to keep a degree of exclusivity…..which I'm sure you are not.

    Excuse the ramble….I haven't done an ultra yet, so still officially a rambler :)

    1. Jeremy

      Sorry Cooker,

      You have to run an ultra to leave a comment this long. Until then you will have to keep your comments to 5k length: about 5 words. Thank you.

  20. Fred Abramowitz

    I suppose as race director for the Run Rabbit Run I am in large measure in the middle of this and I thank you, Ellie, for bringing this to the forefront again. Those who love our sport need to think about these things.
    I've never said that I think purse money is good for the sport. I don't know if it is. In large measure I suppose that depends on the athletes. While I enjoyed writing an $11,000 check to Karl, who, if anyone after all these years of winning, deserves it, would I have been just as happy writing it to one of our charities? Of course. But I do know prize money is inevitable. There's too much money being made from the sport, except by the runners.
    The question then is, what is the structure it will take? Will it be run by people who love and care about the sport, or by corporations whose only interest is in using the game for marketing their products. What we're trying to do is set a template. There may be others, but I think it's too late to debate whether prize money is good or bad. The question is only, how do we make it so our sport remains what it is.

    1. Andy

      Nice response Fred, and I agree. Great to see so many people responding to this subject and it shows how great this sport is and a genuine concern that it stay that way. I especially like your point that money is already being made off the sport, with little of it heading the runners way. In saying this, I don't think most people care deeply if the elite are earning a bunch of money or not, so if it can be done in a way that doesn't dilute the ultrarunning community, have at it.

      The "feel" of the races in the U.S. are generally low key and communal in spirit. It's just great, and that is what I think most people worry about being diluted. So that's what I would like to see remain as it is, more so than how much the elites are or are not making. Maybe a governing body should be developed to hash this out(that's another debate altogether), creating standards for events to keep them from turning into a corporate circus. I live in a ski town, and there are all sorts of rules for businesses and home owners to abide by so that the town's spirit doesn't get diluted by advertising and marketing. For me, it would be a really cool thing to see such standards followed as this sport grows and makes a profit for all involved. This, to me, is what everyone is mainly concerned about, not whether there is money doled out to the winners or not. We just want our community to stay whole. I wish you well as your race grows and I hope you become the standard that keeps this sport great as it enters new territory. But without a governing body there will be no standard and some races will indeed be a corporate circus given enough time.

  21. OOJ

    A new column on iRF? Most excellent, I look forward to it!

    Per Indiana 100: the $25K is not prize money. It is *incentive* (read: marketing ploy) money. Prize money is awarded to the top competitors, regardless of what or how they perform. Incentive prizes are awarded only IF conditions are met.

    Though not confirmed, I am fairly certain the $25K at Indiana is supplied not by real sponsors with real money, but covered by an insurance policy paid for by the RD – and the reason companies would offer said policy is the odds are SO LOW that they make a calculated risk by allowing an RD to pay $x.xx in exchange for covering such a rarity.

    As for actual prize money, the bits that *are* out there are having a relatively positive effect: while it may truly draw a few of the very best, others (like myself) are attracted to that competition and the opportunity to run against them. TNF is a prime example of that.

    That said…do "ploys" really have to be equitable? It seems like having a slot machine that takes a "man's strength" to pull the lever…

    If it's not true prize money, whether or not male and female ploys exist is almost secondary. Let's try for real rewards, not ploys! :)

    But I don't think $$ is going to detract from the classics, yet. People run WS and HR, not only to race the present, but also race against the past. However, it's incumbent upon these prize-free races to maintain their relevance in an evolving sport.

    1. KenZ

      I love ya brother, but that's a bit speculative (the insurance part) don't you think? (Not saying it isn't true… and fascinating as a concept by the way) but perhaps a word from the RD would be in order first.

      I've got no issue with it either way. It seems like a solid race and in order to jump start the event, found a way to get it on the map/radar. Let's say you're right… then the "ploy" really is the easiest way for them to get the jump start. Good on them, right?

      1. Ellie

        KenZ I think OOJ is correct but re. the insurance company but again i only know by hearsay. Mike Pfefferkorn is the RD and wherever he has got the backing for this incentive insurance company or not it is impressive! I also agree that although it could be labelled a 'ploy' I think this is the wrong term to use as it sounds as if racers are going to be duped which they are not, which is why the word 'incentive' I think seems both more correct and more positive. OOJ I'd also question what you say regards the odds on the money being paid out as being low, I'd be willing to bet that both the mens and women's records will be under serious threat.

        1. KenZ

          VERY interesting if true. Not bad as noted above, just interesting. That would mean that… ALL flat-ish 100 milers could, in theory, offer the same thing? The super fasties might then focus on the flat courses rather than the mountain courses, because each time the record falls, each subsequent race's $25k (or whatever) would still stand, as you'd have to exceed the new record. So, in THEORY, someone could make $100k in a year setting four subsequent records? OK, I realize I'm postulating a scenario that clearly will NEVER exist, but it does open new doors for the notional flat speed series. You'd have the Grand Slam, the Western Slam, the Rocky Mountain Slam, the Eastern Slam, and now the… Flat and Fast Cash Slam. Just sayin'.

          1. Bryon Powell

            KenZ, are you suggesting some ultrarunner could go all Sergei Bubka on the 100 mile record? I'm no insurance guy, but if this started happening, I'd assume that the insurers would quickly raise the premium and/or deductible, if those are applicable, and, regardless of the details, the total cost of offering the incentive.

  22. Ian

    Sorry Ellie, you don't want to open up the doping can of worms, but prize money or not it's here. Humans are flawed, it's amazing what we will do for money or vanity. The old days of Gordy racing horses are long gone, sad really.

      1. fred p

        And yet, you wrote, "Safe to say, I can’t see anyone doping for the sake of a cougar trophy, a silver belt buckle, and, possibly, a resulting better sponsorship deal." Yah, sure…

        On another note, why should women get equal prize money? The prize money should be distributed based on the overall percentage of women runners. If only 10% of the field is female, then why should they get 50%?

  23. TC

    Great article, it's pretty obvious that there's a lot of money involved in the sport because of the ultrarunners' rate of growth; there's no way to stop the prize money standard in, eventually, a lot of races.

    But I think everything will be alright, altough many of the arguments above are valid, there's one huge wall that should be destroyed in order to "corrupt" the ultrarunning scene; the profile of ANY (with a huge positive bias in the elite subset) 100-miles-runner is way too different than other not-that-extremely-endurance sport. I really can't imagine someone like Geoff Roes (just an example) changing his motivations because of the money, ultrarunners are intrinsically motivated by very different entities.

    The process to become a 100 miler is the filter that will keep the sport safe.

  24. Ben Grim

    I saw a race once where a woman finished 4th and won 10,000 for breaking a woman's record, even though 3 men were in front of her. The same was offered to the men but none were up to the world record task. I have heard Racoon was easy at best and perhaps a short course, since trails can't be certified all the hoopla is amusing, but we are not talking real records here. (There is no mention of where Jenn's 100 mile record was set, women have run faster (Trason's 13:47, but there is that pesky trail aspect again. (Is 14:57 really the fastest women's "trail" hundred? Umstead? Rockey? none faster?

  25. mtnrunner2

    With prize money being more prevalent, races will just have to think things through much more carefully, and have their bases covered. Runners are more likely to forgive a hiccup now and then at a charity race or even for a nice buckle. But when money is at stake, legal squabbles are inevitable. RDs beware.

    I don't buy the "money is the root of all evil", and money corrupts all, stuff. Nonsense. Some people would like to — and deserve to — make a living off all the hard work they put into running. I wish them well and success. We should all be so lucky.

    P.S. – Glad to see some trail running sprouting up in my home state of Indiana. I didn't run when I lived there, but the south part in particular has some beautiful hill country.

  26. brett

    Elite female ultrarunners are not entitled to equal prize money. They are not entitled to any prize money. Male ultrarunners are not entitled to any prize money either. No one on the planet is entitled to earning a livelihood by practicing a sport. In general, athlete incomes–in one form or another–come from profit oriented entities. Ultimately who gets paid is decided by the people writing the checks. The money coming from companies will [and should] naturally gravitate to where the highest expected ROI is. People may think this is unfair but I think it is unfair to expect anything else from the people writing the checks. It is a calculation on their part.

    On another note, why is partitioning by gender important? Why is it done? As far as I can tell it is done for three reasons. 1) Gender [genetics] matter. 2) It is trivial to screen people for gender. 3) Large populations of either gender exist. Ok, so essentially we are trying to compensate for genetic variations in performance–and doing so by singling out the most obvious genetic variation. This is the tip of the iceberg though. If we were much more (infinitely?) knowledgeable about human genetics we could construct an entire genetic profile and come up with a normalization factor for everyone. Gender differences would no longer deserve special attention as it would just be one genetic trait among a long list. So what race results would people care about then? There would essentially be two times of note. The fastest time of anyone and the fastest time normalized by everyone's genetic potential. How would people value the two? How should they?

    1. Ellie

      I never said that any runner was entitled to prize or incentive money but if it is to be offered to one gender then it should be offered to both and profit oriented entities should be smart enough to see that. Note the Indiana Trail 100 is not for profit though with proceeds going back to the park in which it will operate.

  27. yroc

    It might be interesting to hear a story about how or why Fred decided to offer such a purse.

    Also, it might be interesting to know specifically where the money for RRR came from (and Indiana).

    Beyond that, ours is a small enough community that most of the time, the RD is going to be standing at the finish line high-fiving or hugging or otherwise congratulating every finisher.

    If that RD wants to use a reward to make their event popular, go for it.

    If that RD wants to find a way to channel money to the fastest of his or her favorite runners, seems good too.

    If that RD solely wants to help a corporate exec maximize profits by calculating ROI on a large purse investment, well then maybe we have a problem, and we'd probably have less high-fives and hugs (=less participants (=less race success)).

    To that end, it would be nice to see RDs state their case openly and transparently.

    realistically who can WR or CR or win a 100 mile race? Probably not a lot of disingenuous runners who are just in it for the money. "I was a ___ (pro triathlete, IT nerd, road marathoner, used car salesperson, etc) until i realized i could win $25,000 by setting the 100 mile trail record at the Indiana 100" just doesn't seem like a real risk to our community.

    corporate profits… curious as to how much of any one of the bigger company's profit projections would be impacted or affected by investing tens of thousands in a few races per year.

    what, we're all gonna buy Hoka's or Sense's or 110's? (full disclosure: i own and love all of these already.) Nike? Seemingly too small of a slice for them to even acknowledge us.

    Even if everyone who read Ellie's article(a few thousand people?) bought the sponsors stuff from the $25k race, it seems like that would just be a minor blip on the overall radar (maybe hoka excluded, sal and nb seemingly already have plenty going on). and we, the target market, would probably buy that stuff anyway, just because there are only so many good options and our favorite peeps we see out there are wearing or using these products.

    in short, fortunately, as an armchair economic psychic, there is very little downside risk to our community, and a reasonable amount of upside risk for our heroes that inspire us.

    1. Fred Abramowitz

      We have been very open and transparent and after picking up ribbons I will write an article explaining the how's and why's of the Run Rabbit Run purse. If Bryon will let me.

  28. Mikey P

    A complex topic. Congrats for tackling it Ellie. I hope that one day Ellie and other elites (who undoubtedly help sell products) get a fair piece of the corporate cash pie simply because they are positive role models that give companies like Mountain Hardwear and North Face and Salomon a positive name which helps them sell products which is of course what they are really all about. They should be so lucky that the Ellies of the world are just so nice.

  29. Rasmus

    I worry about the doping aspect more than anything.

    I will go as far as stating that dopers exist in the ultra ranks already. Money will only make this worse. Read about Joe Papp and who he sold his drugs to; these were not professiona, athletes. Remember that a Gran Fondo charity ride recently tested their riders and caught a recreational master cyclist with epo. Think of the world's most likeable professional cyclist, Christian Vandevelde. Realize that he used multiple modes of doping, as did 99% of pro cyclists in the early 2000s. A study showed that something like 40% of Indiana high school football players had taken steroids.

    To think that no ultra runner has used PEDs is naive.

    Now, I know of absolutely no juiced ultra runner. I have heard no rumors. I suspect no one in particular. But statistically…

    1. fred p

      Well said Rasmus, extremely naive to think it hasn't been in the sport for a while. And TC, you said, "The process to become a 100 miler is the filter that will keep the sport safe." Actually, I think the process of becoming a 100 miler makes doping MORE likely. We alreacy have a reputation for OCD and the fact that so much effort is put into training means runners are more invested in the sport and thus more likely to dope.

      Ellie, your argument that women train as hard as men is true, but doesn't seem like a powerful argument for awarding equal prize money since the prizes come from entry fees paid mostly by the men. Also, should we have a separate category for black, hispanic, indian and moslem men and women?

      1. Cooker

        "Also, should we have a separate category for black, hispanic, indian and moslem men and women?"

        No, because there is nothing to differentiate these 'categories' with respect to their potential to win. Ellie's point is clear…without a staggered start (as explored earlier), this is not a level playing field. Segregating sports events based on gender is the norm for the very obvious physiological reasons.

        Sadly, the norm is also for women to be rewarded disproportionately for their efforts (just look at tennis as the best example). It is argued that people are more inclined to watch the men (thus drive advertising revenue), but I have never seen the stats on that.

        1. Scott S

          Over the years, many of the women that I have known have preferred to compete head to head with the men. It seems that many women would prefer not to compete against the best irrespective of gender, just the best women. Fine. But there is only one fastest time. And when that record belongs to a woman, it will be quite interesting to see how we handle that.

      2. Ellie

        Race or religion does not affect physical performances, gender does; so no I do not believe on separate categories based on race or religion. Also note that incentives and prize money usually come from sponsors not race entry fees so saying that most race entry fees come from men so men should get the larger share of pricing would seem unjustified. Very sad to see comments like this which seem to appear to show that women are welcome to run ultras but just on the sidelines. I'll remember to eat less off the aid stations at the next race I do, afterall only fair that men get more of that given they've paid a higher percentage of the entry fees, right?

        1. fred p

          I know it is politically correct to claim these days that race doesn't matter, but it obviously does matter a huge amount in running. Virtually all of the top runners in the world are 'black.'

          I didn't mean to imply that women are not welcome, I love skorts as much as anyone, and I can see offering equal prize money as away to increase female participation, but, using RRR as an example, only about 20% of the elite field was female which means that a women racing RRR has much LESS competition than the males do. A female that wins RRR has only beat 10 other competitors, while the man who wins beats about 40 competitors. Women's tennis is an example where women make as much as men, but the WNBA model is also apropros. Should Chamiqua Holsclaw make as much as Lebron James? She trains as hard.

          1. Ellie

            Looking at top marathoners many are kenyans and Ethiopians and the color of their skin likely has less to do with their performances than their lifestyle, their upbringing, their countries foods and the high esteem in which distance runners are held in their countries. Nature or nurture? It's pretty complex.

            1. fred p

              True, it is complex and probably a mixture, but almost all of the top sprinters in the world are 'black' as well and most of them are American, British, Jamaican, etc., with very western lifestyles. So, again race does seem to be an important factor though the PC thugs try to deny it.

          2. Fred Abramowitz

            I hate even to wade into these waters because for the RRR the issue is a no-brainer – equal prize money. But while it's true that 75% of the Hares were men, the vast majority of them had no real expectation of winning any prize money – they were just curious to see how they would do against some of the best in the world on a completely equal footing. Not so the women, almost all of whom I thought had a legitimate shot at earning some money and certainly went in there with that hope. In fact, while we did say that for us to go 5 deep there needed to be at least 15 starters, and only 13 women I think started, because the women's field was so deep, we had quietly decided to go 5 deep anyway. As it turned out, only 4 women finished (a higher percentage than the men, by the way).

            1. Ellie

              Thanks for an insightful perspective from a RD, Fred, and encouraging to hear. Congrats on getting so many participants – hare and tortoise – to the first year of the 100!

        2. Alicia

          I second your "very sad to see comments like this"–I thought the first comment along those lines was going to be a one-off, but then I scrolled down and continued reading…

          1. Chris

            I'm not sad to see these comments. I'd rather them get a full airing in a positive conversation, with pros and cons debated. It's the only way that people will learn other viewpoints – thoughful, respectful airing of ideas. I'd much rather these comments get aired here than for people to keep them to themselves, act on them, and never hear other perspectives or ideas. I think this is all part of a healthy and sometimes challenging discussion that's useful to have.

  30. Mike Hinterberg

    WS and HR aren't going anywhere. I am especially sure about HR and it's following in Colorado, but observed the same local pride and love in Auburn.

    There are still plenty of people whose main focus would be sharing the trail with Handies Peak, mountain goats, and a summer rainstorm, moreso than someone from a magazine ad.

    This goes back to what myself and others have said: I'm really, really, not particularly concerned with "big names" running on the same day. It's great to see them and it's awesome how down-to-earth many of them are, but I'm mostly concerned about my own race, and mostly that their are people running similar speeds as me. (And, yes, it's because I'm not as fast as them — so I can totally see why runners of similar ability do want sufficient competition in the races they do choose to do and choosing races accordingly).

    As little as I am concerned about what the "elites" choose to do, I think it's equally strange to /question/ or criticize what they do. People question why more of them didn't do RRR, and/or which ones choose to do WS, or might choose money races, or why they dropped out of such-and-such race…Again, precisely because they *are* also people, I'm personally cool with whatever they choose to do: they've got finite time, specific interests, families in some cases, travel expenses, etc.

    Anyway, there are enough cool races for everyone and more coming up, so everybody is winning on that front!

  31. yroc

    Does anyone have an idea how much the more effective doping techniques cost?

    Seems like it could easily be at least thousands for an effetive and incognito program, so maybe the risk/reward wouldn't be there anyway. I'm thinking TDF cutting edge kind of stuff, maybe there are cheaper or more acessible approaches.

    1. fred p

      It doesn't look that expensive, so I don't think that price would be a deterrent since most ultrarunners already have some degree of affluence anyway:

      6 boxes of epo for $120.00 http://www.make-you-stronger.com/erythropoietin-c

      HGH is about 100 tablets for $30.00: http://www.a1supplements.com/Growth-Hormone-HGH-p

      Testosterone patches are similar to epo: http://www.make-you-stronger.com/testosterone-cyp

      Anabolic steroids-Dianabol is comparable in price to EPO: http://www.make-you-stronger.com/dianabol-c-12.ht

      1. yroc

        is doping sill doping if there are no rules about banned substances?

        are these internet/otc things real doping?

        can we just put these products/substances at aid stations for everyone, call it fair, and not worry about it?

  32. male runner

    People should be free to put up money for whatever they want without being attacked and labeled as sexist. In this case there is clearly a lot of interest in Ian's record. If someone wanted to put up money specifically for a well-known women's record it wouldn't bother me at all.

    1. Meghan Hicks

      male runner,

      First, we don't consider Ellie's article as an "attack," more like a constructive dialogue for the way she presented a logical argument in a respectful manner. We also have no reason to believe that Ellie's approach with the Indiana 100 race director before she composed this article was that of an "attack," either.

      We also believe that Ellie was appropriately labeling the potential behavior (Read carefully, she was labeling a person's potential behavior as sexist, not the person.) (A potential behavior that will not, in this case, manifest due to the constructive conversations that Ellie, other ultrarunners, and the race director had.) of incentive-izing a men's record performance in the absence of doing equally so for a women's record performance as sexist. Sex-based inequality, whether it comes intentionally or unintentionally, is the very definition of sexism.

      We commend Ellie for choosing to responsibly, democratically speak up for an ethic she believes in. We hope the ultrarunning community, too, believes in the principle of sex-based equality as it applies to our sport.

      1. male runner

        Just stating my opinion. No matter how nicely it was done, it seems to me that the RD was pressured by the implied threat of being labeled as sexist. My values clearly differ from yours and Ellie's on this topic. Still a huge Ellie fan and I think this is a great discussion.

        1. Tom W

          I guess I don't understand the logic that Ian and Jen's records are equal? If there were a comparable number of runners that had completed the 100 mile distance in each gender then those numbers would be given the same level of respect. But, as it stands, a far greater number of men have run the 100 mile trail distance and Ian's record has emerged.

            1. Scott S

              To me, 20 hours is an impressive feat for 100 miles, while Ian's and Jenn's times are incomprehensible; however, one is much faster than the other.

              male runner, I agree with you, Ellie seems to have said it quite nicely, but it appears like an attack to me too, albeit a nice one.

  33. Jeff R

    Ellie, like anything in life, change is inevitable, and that will be very threatening to those who like the way things are now. To me, it seems like you're really grasping at straws with some of these what ifs to find any reason to justify why change could be bad.

    You might find it interesting that after WS this year I was talking about my experience with a friend and former champion from way back, and was really shocked to hear that she was very dismissive of your and Tim's exceptional performances. To her, the amount of sponsorship support the top runners get and the lifestyle it enables already makes you professionals, and it cheapens the sport she once loved. So as you're so worried about the sport being ruined, keep in mind that to some, you've already ruined it (this is not my position, just adding perspective).

    My prediciton is that in another 10 years, the sport will be different. Some people will still be very inspired and passionate about it, while some old timers will shake their heads and pine away for the purity of the gold old days, and others will think that these are the good old days and will be very anxious about change.

    1. Ellie

      I am not sure where I said change would be bad and if I did then I did not explain myself well. I simply believe that as change takes place we need to look at the big picture and ensure that as a community at large we are overall happy with the direction we are heading and discuss the changes as they take place. Change is inevitable part of life for sure. As for your friend being dismissive of the WS performances this year, seems well grounded to me – there are more important things in life than running 100 miles :) Oh, and i get great support from sponsors that for sure allows me to travel more than I would otherwise but I do not class myself as 'pro', I am very grateful for being 'semi-pro' but I am typing this on my coffee break from my main (totally unrelated to running) job and have chosen not to be a full time runner as I don't want to be.

      1. Jeff R

        You could rewrite pretty much every paragraph with the perspective of why prize money will usher in a great new era for the sport. You're not excited about the meticulously marked courses and well organized aid stations that events will be forced to provide, or happy that Hardrock and Western States, both of whom over their histories have gone out of their way NOT to create the most competitive fields possible, may be able to return to their core missions while letting someone else create the most competitive races possible. I think it's pretty clear that you're concerned rather than optimistic about change.

        We don't really have a unified voice as a community and can't make the kind of collective decisions you want. My point was meant to illustrate that, as I was suprised to find that what I currently think is a great time in this sport is an abomination to some (or one). If I could sign up for Western States any year I felt like it, and then could come to this site and follow you and the other top dogs battling it out in some "pro" events, that would work just fine for me. Doesn't sound like you'd like that as much. Given that you've accepted the impact of sponsor dollars, we're kind of at the mercy of where that takes us.

  34. Deb

    I think a big misconceiption is what type of support top runners get. Many sponsored athletes are only getting some help with product and still incur a great deal of product costs as well as travel costs, race fees etc. You may have a few athletes who have become ambassadors of the sport and do a great deal of writing, coaching, endorsement of products, etc who can make a living off of ultra running. However, in general I would guess that is after success in the sport over a period of years. But how is that different than working in other industries? They are supporting themself by use of personal time and talents.

    Ultra running due to restrictions on the number of people that can run a race don't have huge sponsorship dollars available to them. Western states had 382 starters Hard Rock 140 starters versus some of the big Marathons such as Chicago or Boston that have 20,0000 to 40,000 starters.

    In my opinion this will help maintain the tradition of the sport that many are so afraid of losing. .

  35. Eric

    @ fred p,
    Why should men/women be penalized if fewer male/female participants decide to compete? That's out of their control. It would also cause the amount of prize money distributed to change frequently, as the number of participants can change drastically in the days and weeks prior to a race. I can't imagine sponsors would want to play that game each time someone dropped/entered the field. Also, what if there were 25 male runners, and 100 female runners, yet all 25 males were top runners and 2 of the females were top runners. Would the males be entitled to less prize money despite facing much fiercer competition than the women because fewer men entered the race? It's not as black and white as you make it out to be.

    1. Fred Abramowitz

      Geoff, I said WE, not ME … lol. But you correct. I need to have my head examined. And if I could figure out a way of blaming it all on you, I would ….lol

  36. Anonymous

    Why does giving money to a few fast runners improve anything? They show up? They put on a better show than if there was no money? They talk up the race more?

    Seems to me the sport could do just as well without the prize money.

    1. Bryon Powell

      Anonymous, I'm not sure if the lack of name was accidental, but it's probable that you're someone who regularly comments on iRunFar. If that's the case, it'd be awesome if you'd make such statements with a name attached. No, it's not required, but it'd be nice.

      Respectfully,
      Bryon

  37. Dean G

    I'd put the likes of Kilian Jornet on par with Michael Jordan, Oscar Robertson, or Jerry West…

    All are Athletes who were considered (by their competition) to be awe inspiring, at "another level", won multiple championships, and helped spread the appeal of their sports…

    Sure, the ultra world is tiny compared to the NBA… But that doesn't make the comparison any different. People are either legends in their sport or they aren't. Do you really think Jordan would be less great if he played 30 years ago and you barely knew him today?

    Would comparing MJ to Pele be a joke because, in relative terms, Pele was a legend at a sport played by 10 times as many people?

    Would say Ann Trayson is no MJ or Babe Ruth?

    Because it sounds like what you are saying is "easy Bryon, there are no Michael Jordans in Ultras" — which is as arbitrary as saying MJ would have been an also-ran if he played against Bill Russell. Or that Oscar Robertson was no Michael Jordan because BB players are so much better now that the sport is more mature.

    At Western Stares and a host of other events, you can actually talk to, question, and even run next to (for five seconds) the actual athletes. You can feel how fast they are. You can crawl up the hill they run…etc.

    That is clearly something unique to Ultras at this moment in time.

  38. Andrew

    Slightly different angle. I was very surprised in my first WS100 this year to discover that the elite runners get boated across the Rucky Chucky river whilst us mortals have to wade through the water over waist high. Furthermore the elite runners are crossing in the heat of the day and often welcome a dunking, whilst most others are crossing in the cool of the night (and it was cool this year I can tell you).

    This seems utterly ridiculous to me, and i'm moderate Englishman! Surely should be a level playing field for all competitors

    1. Bryon Powell

      Andrew, the elites were boated across the Rucky Chucky this year as the river, the flow of which is control upstream at a dam, was kept high early in the day to allow paid rafting trips in the river. Due to the very fast times, the planned flow reduction was not at low enough level to allow the first runners to safely cross. (I was in the river's edge at that time and can vouch for that!) Runners were allowed to cross once the level was low enough for a safe crossing. This wasn't a special privilege of the elite runners (most of who would have welcomed the crossing), but a safety concern.

      1. Mike Hinterberg

        True, I thought it was weird until I learned the real reason (which made a lot of sense) that Bryon mentioned! Then I bragged about the fun of being able to cross it on foot rather than being transported.

        In general, I'm not a fan of big distinctions /during/ the race between "elites" and everyone else, except for prize money and all deserved accolades and entries for impressive performance. When things are differentiated /during/ the race, I feel less like I'm sharing the trails with "elites." (Also putting the word in quotes because even some of the fast folks are hesitant to embrace it! We all know who's awesome in other professional lines of work based strictly on their performance).

  39. Dan C

    I am really surprised to see so much back and forth bickering and complaining about a topic like this. We’re out there running in some of the most amazing places around. Lighten up, breath deep and run on… Exposure to nature is a proven antidepressant. As such, ultra trail runners should be the happiest group of folks ever!

    And I would like to mention that Ellie has maintained her composure quite well. I am surprised to see that she’s responded at all to some of these inconsiderate and rude comments. I would have told some of you to ef off by now.

    Rock on Ellie!

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