Thoughts on the Trail Running Boom

AJWs TaproomLottery season is upon us and along with it comes the annual conversation about the exponential growth in the popularity of our sport. To wit:

The Western States lottery has more entrants than ever before, the Vermont 100 filled in less than 30 hours, it looks like the Hardrock 100 will, in the first year of their new tripartite lottery system, have over 800 entrants in their lottery. Additionally, many shorter distance races are instituting lotteries for the first time this year and several races are seeking new venues that will allow for expanded fields. It is astounding that just five years ago the number of 100-mile races listed on Stan Jensen’s run100s.com website hovered around 40. Today, he lists 107!

Why such tremendous growth in what was, not long ago, a quirky fringe sport? Five thoughts:

1. Corporate Marketing – Over the past two years the number of companies competing for trail runners’ dollars seems to have exploded. Along with that, large companies are investing significant marketing and advertising dollars in print and online media. Furthermore, we are seeing more and more companies providing financial and logistical support for athletes to, essentially, become full-time runners apparently in exchange for brand promotion and product development. All of that seems to point in a positive direction for the growth of trail running. What I am curious about is if this marketing and promotion has led to as significant an increase in sales as it has in participation. While I have a hunch it has, I also can’t help but observe that many of these companies and their campaigns seem to be selling a lifestyle along with a product and in many cases that lifestyle runs contrary to that of the typical consumer.

2. Event Promotion – Just last weekend the Western States 100 launched their extraordinary new website. Along with all of the informational content typical of most race websites, the new site features a dizzying array of additional information on the history, culture, and ethos of the race in a crisp and user-friendly format that can be easily accessed from any device. In short, finding information about the race is now easier and more comprehensive than ever. Other ultra events will undoubtedly follow suit. Additionally, through social networking platforms, events are now able to consistently and inexpensively promote their races to target audiences and shape the messages about their races through the participants themselves. This seems to appeal to people as it takes the otherwise far-out idea of running a trail ultra seem accessible and cool. And, it sure beats putting paper flyers under windshield wipers!

3. Books and Movies – If I had a dollar for every time someone asked me if I read “Born To Run” I could buy Bryon that private jet he’s been asking about. Seriously, the incredible commercial success of Chris McDougall’s Born to Run and Scott Jurek’s Eat and Run along with the cult following behind JB Benna’s film Unbreakable, seems to have significantly pushed ultramarathon running out of the shadows and into the mainstream. My guess is that the increased exposure these projects have provided to potential runners combined with the “buzz” they have created have, consequently, dare I say it, made ultramarathon running seem just a little bit more normal and, therefore, something people might want to try.

4. Culture and Society – The last decade has been a tough one for many. The economy has been volatile, the United States has engaged in two long, difficult wars, the political landscape has been increasingly divisive, and daily life has become seemingly more and more complex, stressful, and frustrating. At the same time, the pace of life has increased tremendously as a consequence of improvements in transportation, technology, and communication. In that context, it’s no wonder that more people have been seeking ways to “get away from it all.” Perhaps for those with the means, the interest, and the training, running an urban marathon is simply not as attractive as running a 50-miler through the Rockies or a 100k along the coast. Maybe the stresses of life are pushing people out of their comfort zones and onto the trails.

5. Thirst For Adventure – One of my favorite little text codes that kids use these days is YOLO (you only live once) and, I must say, over the past ten years this mantra seems to have crept into our collective conscience a bit more assertively than in the past. In popular culture, sports, business, and politics, this notion of making every moment count and living life to its fullest has achieved a currency that cannot be ignored. Hence, I believe this is the fifth factor leading to the exponential growth in trail running in general and 100-mile racing in particular. Because, after all, if you only live once, you might as well take your daily run in beautiful places and compete in special events that will provide once-in-a-lifetime memories.

I have to say, regardless of which factors have contributed to the growth of the sport and why, it is a fundamentally good thing to me that more people than ever are out of the trails, lacing ’em up, and enjoying the simplicity and wonder of a run through nature.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Bear Republic Racer XThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Bear Republic Brewing Company in Healdsburg, CA. The sponsor of John Medinger’s Lake Sonoma 50, Bear Republic is a running-friendly brewery. In fact, they are so runner friendly, that they provide a 22-ounce bottle of Racer 5 to every finisher at Lake Sonoma. This week’s beer is the “Big Brother” of Racer 5, Racer X. This annually produced Double IPA is a tangy treat that tips the scales at 8.3% ABV. For IBU’s the guys at Bear Republic simply say, “lots.”

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • What do you think is driving the growth of ultrarunning?
  • Is that growth a good thing?

There are 58 comments

  1. Martin from Italy

    I can only talk from a European (principally Italian) point of view but I see the investment, and consequent visibility of trail racing, by various companies being the key driving factor. Up to quite recently very few companies were investing in trail racing, the principal exception being TNF with the UTMB. Over the last few years other companies have stepped up to the mark with firstly teams – Salomon being extremely active though other companies such as Tecnica, Vibram and Inov8 have also created teams – and then secondly by sponsoring races or even a series of races. In Italy both Salomon and Tecnica sponsor a series of championship races while Tecnica has been sponsoring the "Tor des Geants" since a few years.

    The second is almost certainly an effect of the economic crisis which we have been experiencing for the last two years. This is manifesting itself both in people having more time to train and also the effect which AJW mentions in his last point (YOLO), people are realizing that the comfortable (boring) lifestyle which worked so well for our parents and grandparents is just not going to happen anymore so we might as well get out there and mix it up (in a peaceful way of course).

    Is it good? Yes and no (like everything). There's a lot more races out there (sometimes 2 or 3 in the same weekend which in a small country like Italy is positive but confusing) and the more important races tend to fill up much quicker than before (easy to wait too long and miss a race). More equipment choices (great) but often becoming quite expensive (not so great). A lot of people coming straight from road running to trail races – this can become dangerous in European races which are generally held in high mountainous places with significant elevation and rapid changes in weather (the guy in front of me on the 2600m Col di Youla pass during the recent TDS race around Mont Blanc wearing Asics road shoes found out what I think about that)

    1. Mic

      Serious question, did the guy wearing Asics road shoes beat you to the finish line?

      You also mentioned equipment choices; I find that some shoes are concept shoes, not tested well, and don't work well in real environments. For example the protective armor for the foot arch that shoes used to have or still have – making it feel like you are running on road without shoes after 25 miles. That is why some prefer road shoes.

      1. Martin from Italy

        I don't honestly know – with 1400 racers and a 115km route it would be difficult to know unless I took note of his race number (a bit too anal). I sincerely doubt that he went all the way. He was slipping badly on the first pass (I managed to overtake him just before we got to the top of the pass where the path widened) and we had another 6 to negotiate with absolutely atrocious conditions – rain, mud, snow, ice. This is a race with serious elevation – 7200m+ (a little under 24,000ft) and much of it in high alpine terrain – no place for road shoes.

  2. Shelby

    I agree with AJW's thoughts on why ultras have been growing the past few years. I know that sponsorship has definitely influenced my choice of running gear and apparel and I’ve bought hundreds of dollars worth of product that’s been touted by some of my favorite runners. While Born to Run got me introduced to and intrigued about ultras, it was Unbreakable that convinced me that I could do one. The use of You Tube, Blogs, Facebook and Twitter to show the world the kind of adventures that are available is also fueling the pursuit of extreme outdoor sports. The videos that Saloman have mastered in showing the excitement of running over trails and mountains have been inspiring to many like myself. None of this was available in the 80’s and 90’s when I was still pounding the pavement, being utterly clueless about the trail running scene.

    One of the shifts that I see culturally is that those dubbed Gen X, Y and most notably the New Millennials (teens to 40-somethings) are not willing to grind away for 50-60 hours at a desk waiting for retirement in order to pursue what they love. I’m seeing a willingness in these folks to give up financial comfort for the pursuit of things that feed the soul and bring a deeper sense of happiness in life. I think we all seek out both beauty and adventure and many of us who are consciously aware of that need will find it in something like trail/mountain/ultra running where we can have both.

  3. Andy

    Expanding on #4, history shows us that running in general has boomed when culture and econonomy are strained — look at the "jogging" craze in the 1970s post-Vietnam, with the nation in econonomic recession and gas prices soaring. Running was — and continues to be — both free and freeing. In keeping with this trend, it seems that the growth in trail and ultrarunning is tracking with the upswing in running in general. I ran a local 5k road race last weekend (you gotta support local events, even short ones on pavement!) and there were over 2,000 people there — young, old, male, female, and lots and lots of kids. And this is only the 4th year of the event! With that many people running, the surge in popularity of trail and ultras will be a natural spillover.

    Like most things, the answer to whether or not such growth is a good thing is mixed. Most of us mid-packers wish it were easier to get entry into big races, and the crowds at some races (e.g., TNF events) are becoming somehat of a disadvantage. For elites, however, the sponsorships and money are a huge plus. As long as it doesn't become so popular that I can't escape quickly to the solitude and solace of a long local trail run with only mud, rocks, and roots to crowd the trail, it's fine. I don't think I've got anything to worry about.

  4. Pete

    Hmm I am going to have to try this Racer X. I am going to have to compare it to Pliny The Elder which is also a double ipa which happens to also reside in the same area.

  5. art

    I blame/credit the surge in trail ultra running on primarily two things :

    25% the increased ease of communications due to technology.

    75% the book Born to Run (the other 2 you listed were, I think aimed mostly at those already in the sport). wasn't Born to Run a NYT bestseller ?

    I mentored a new ultra runner this past year whose entire reason for being is now based on that book.

  6. ziel

    good points mentioned about the past decade (and 1970s) being tough on people. i think one of the single biggest reasons that running's popularity is surging is: wallets run low these days. With no lift tix, no bags/cupboards/closets full of gear, no membership dues, no rulebooks, no extensive travel, etc. required it's much more accessible to the masses. i also think that suffering through races and training is not only fun and rewarding but helps put day-to-day life issues into perspective. we're just getting back to the basics.

  7. art

    we were getting back to the basics … until the dramatic surge in race prices the last couple years. now we're just fodder for the profit mongers.

    less racing more wilderness runs.

    1. Yeti

      I hear that Art, I'm done with racing. The entry fees and quick fill-ups have turned the race scene into this silly, overpriced, shenanigan that I won't personally be a part of anymore. Wilderness runs are where it's at for me too; relatively free, more fun and any day or time of the week that works for me and some buds to get together and suffer and play in the woods for the day. Following these events has become more like reality T.V. for me now: ass firmly planted on the couch with a cold one in front of the T.V err…wait, the computer to follow along in the adventures of the wealthy, elite and even wealthy elite in the hunt for glory and meaning. Keep up the great coverage and articles irunfar!

    2. Jason

      I stopped doing triathlons b/c the "scene" just got to be too much. I'm hoping ultras don't end up the same way. Of course, many already have, but there are still great events out there without all the hype and corporatism.

  8. Mic

    Ok, now I understand, Thanks. Yes, I too would not be wearing my road shoes there. But I like them often. Thanks for the reminder to not relinquish all my rugged trail runner shoes.

  9. Capster

    IMO, both are quite good but Pliny takes this fight, hands down. But I absolutely encourage substantive taste testing to reach your own conclusion.

  10. Dan H

    I just did my first ultra a couple months ago, and I won't lie, Born to Run got me excited about ultras. But minimalist shoes are what got me back into trail running in the first place. I never felt in control running in big cushioned trainers on the trail. But the first time I hit the trails in my MT10s, I was hooked.

  11. Guy C.

    Not sure about the running is "free"/economic hardship argument. Sure, in theory it could be inexpensive if you run in your old gym shorts and cotton socks and put 900 miles on your sale-rack Nikes. But when you start looking at racing packs, bottles, gels, new shoes every 4-500 (even if you don't buy Hokas), GPS, gloves, arm panties, drymax socks etc, etc… the bill adds up. And never mind the cost of out-of-state runners who arrive at these big races (flights or long drives/ hotels, meals…). I think this points to something other than economic hardship driving the boom. I think the desire for adventure –especially the very human longing for the journey, the pilgrimage– coupled with the increased media exposure is pushing a few more folks off the road and into the mountains. Have ultras reached the tipping point or is the "boom" only gearing up?

    It's not hard to imagine a near-future nostalgic longing for the days when only 800 people were in the Hardrock Lottery…

    1. moshe

      Agree that the sport has become more expensive, if you're up for buying all Guy has mentioned. Yet, if I'm comparing trail running to other hobbies, such as dirt bikes or even mountain biking, the sport is extremely affordable.

  12. Ben Fowler

    I agree mostly with art.

    The popularity started with Born to Run. EVERYONE was talking about that book a few years ago. The corporate marketing machine didn't take stock and begin playing in the field until well after the book hit the streets and they noticed all these runners trying to bound through the forest in their VFF's.

    There are some interesting comments here about the correlation between running and hard economic times. Not sure if that's true, but that could be another factor.

    As to why Born to Run took off in the first place though, I have one thought. The book was (and still is) a cultural phenom for sure. The Zeitgeist of the past decade has been the concept that natural is better: Organic produce, hormone-free meat, naturopathic healthcare, and the like. Trail running, the way that Born to Run laid it out to be, was an extension of our natural (and ancient) selves. It just made sense. After reading the book you had really no choice but to get out of your chair, take your shoes off, and see what "natural running" felt like. I know that's what I did.

    But to be clear, I don't think that corporate marketing had anything to do with the "explosion". That was Born to Run. The big brands are now just picking up where the book left off, and doing a better job of supporting this relatively new and growing market.

    And I think they've been hugely successful because of current technology, with social media being the prime force and targeted advertising playing a supportive role. With a bootstrap budget they can create a magnificent presence on the web, both in terms of original, engaging content (the aforementioned Solomon videos on Youtube), and precision targeting of ads (how many of you researched a pair of shoes and then started seeing those ads everywhere – including this blog? – after four or five impressions, I usually end up clicking and buying!).

  13. Bryon Powell

    For all the talk of Born To Run, I'll have to point out Dean Kanazes' Ultramarathon Man. It certainly gave trail and ultrarunning, in particular, a jolt before B2R was ever released and without which B2R may not have received the reception it did.

    1. Sarah Lavender Smith

      Bryon, great point — I agree re DK's influence. I've met more people who've said they got into running and were inspired to do ultras after reading Ultramarathon Man than BTR. Born to Run, however, broke into the mainstream more and appealed to non-runners more, raising awareness of the sport more generally (though both books were best-sellers).

      Also, I'd add a point regarding events & event promotion: Over the past several years, certainly here in the Bay Area and I think elsewhere too, more race directors have put on trail events with graduating distances (e.g. 10K, Half Marathon, 30K, 50K), which has introduced more people to trail running at shorter distances. From there, they're inspired to go longer.

      1. Padraig

        Totally agree Bryon. At the time I never heard of a race longer than a marathon till I picked up that book unknowingly at an airport. By the time I had finished it, I had decided I was having a crack off the Western States even though I couldn't run a mile at the time. That I did.

    2. Dean G

      Both books made an impact because there was a pretty solid myth/wall that needed to be broken. The myth that the Marathon was the ultimate distance…

      I can distinctly remember how mind altering it was to read B2R and Ultramarathon Man and learn that there were people routinely running 100 mile races. And I still have mostly "normie" friends who don't believe me when I tell them this stuff.

      The notion of 100 (or more) mile foot races had not shown up anywhere on my sporting radar. A radar which included the Tour De France, Ironman…etc… The closest thing were those multi-day multi-discipline team adventure races.

      I was stunned to discover the vibrant history of ultra-distance running and walking. I've still never managed to see any footage from ABC in the 70's when they went to the Western States, but reading accounts of multi day runs and walks and how important they were to American sporting culture even in the early 20th century never ceases to amaze me.

      Which leads me to my last point: THE INTERNET

      Without a doubt, the ability to gain easy access to information, race reports, blogs, pictures and videos is critical to the development of this sport in particular.

      Because it is so mind-boggling at first — and because the setting is so remote (often) and so beautiful (nearly always).

      I watch the English-dubbed 17 minute film from the 2011 UTMB about once ever two months – just to marvel at the scenery and the sense of scale. It looks and feels epic. And the Raid de Reunion?! Sign me up. Hardrock, in my dreams… These are wonderful arenas in which you don't have to be a highly paid professional to play.

      Bottom line: if it all gets "too popular" blame it on iRunFar ;)

  14. Paul

    I also agree that a major factor is the amount of companies now pushing trail running. It's also interesting to start seeing Trail Running specific gear. Trail running has been around for years, and no one needed trail running specific gear to do it. It was the life style people chose to participate in. But if trail running specific gear gets more people out on the trails then great! The more people we have on the trails then the more people we have in the world fighting to keep wilderness areas protected, and create new trails, new wilderness areas etc.

  15. Ron

    This is one of the most thoughtful pieces on this subject that I've read, and the comments as well. Thank you. I enjoy following, in irunfar and elsewhere, particularly the young people who have forged into unknown territory and distances, which when I was young was not even considered. I also very much admire the younger ultrarunners and former runners for living on relatively little and rejecting the corporatist ethos of the 1980s and 1990s, no matter if they are running or doing other things that they are committed to. On the other hand, as someone now 53, I am aware that commodity values infiltrate so many more aspects of our lives than even thirty years ago. I am concerned about young runners being co-opted by (and stuck within–such as 'minimalism') corporate identities, and also their being paid comparatively little for that. And when I first saw the terms and identities of 'trail shoes' and 'trail runner' a few years ago, I suspected that the commercialization of the first running boom that drove me away from even a lose identity as 'a runner' (but not from running), was going to happen to 'trail running,' and maybe ultra-running, as well. Last, as with the first commentator, as an older person I am very concerned with the very real contradiction and the consequences that will occur between commodity-fantasies and the reality of running very long distances, particularly in dangerous terrain, and especially with older and average runners. Fifty and especially a hundred miles or more is a very, very long way to run, and it is very taxing on bodies, especially of average and older runners; I think that this is being lost sight of with dangerous short and long term consequences. (And the same goes for mountain running.) I am struck by viewing the European races where the town people seem to come out to cheer, and not necessarily to race. There seems to me to be something about the American psyche where everyone thinks that they should do some extraordinary thing, rather than to be there to celebrate the extraordinary, especially young, people who can and do do such things with such grace and stamina. Frankly, I am amazed at the feats of Killian Jornet, but have no such feelings reading about a man in his 50s running across the U.S. against the pleas of his wife and doctors (only to say that it made him aware of his frailty!) And if I see another video about an average runner forging on despite injury and vomiting, or a young woman dodging bears and cougars in unfamiliar surroundings while hallucinating for two days, I will die from the narcissism of it or fall into idiocy wondering why anyone would risk his or her own life and those of rescue teams doing such stupid things. In short, capitalism sucks profit from people's needs after turning those needs into fantasies and fixations to make up for the inadequacies that it produces in other parts of their lives. Long distance running, like other 'exercise,' is a physical need for most of us because we live in a leisure society with excess wealth, pointless work, and isolation; but the element of fantasy, which in small parts perhaps is needed to go such long distances, is also being exploited for profits without due concern for either the long term well-being of young people or the physical limitations of older and average runners. It needs to be realized that the book, _Born to Run_ is a fantasy based on Kerouac's _On the Road_ genre. Fantasy is necessary to get us through life, but we need to be careful not to put all our eggs in its basket when young or when old. I think that with ultra running, the chickens may come home to roost in a way that they didn't even with marathon road running. And there seems to be a lot of people trying to make a buck off it before that happens, which makes me very sad. I feel very badly for the economic and environmental prospects of young people, and so I hope that they can experience the natural and social worlds and also have careers (which will largely come from non-running activities) with the least exploitation. And as an older person, I feel privileged to see in them what I was once or could have been, and I feel fortunate to be running, personally without the need to run a hundred or even fifty miles. I'm not an extraordinary runner or person, but only an average one, as most of us are. But, I've always loved this activity and I hate to see it further commercialized and to see people exploited.

    1. Mike Behnke

      I disagree Ron. 53 years of age is not old at all and certainly does not put one at certain health risks in ultras. I have seen plenty of runners in tremendous shape in their mid to upper 50's placing quite well in races and looking strong and at ease doing it. We are all ultimately different but to me it simply comes down to one's committment and dedication to training and this doesn't have to end at 50 or any age as far as I am concerned.

  16. Ben Nephew

    I used to be impressed by the growth in ultra running over the past few years, but when compared to the recent growth in obstacle races and things like cross-fit, it is not that substantial. Sure, the rate of growth has been rapid, but the absolute numbers of people running ultras is not relatively large. When you realize the size of the other markets companies could invest in, it is hard to make an argument for throwing lots of cash at ultrarunning, or even trail running in general. I'm sure ultrarunning will continue to grow in the US, but I don't see it getting as big as in Europe, or to the point where it is a professional opportunity for more than a few people. Think of how difficult it is to be a professional marathoner relative to the size of the road running market.

    The trend of increasing costs in ultrarunning is certainly not helping to retain the current cohort of runners, as seen in this thread. The tactic of making events bigger and more expensive will only work if companies can lure road runners, triathletes, etc, to ultras. Like many others, I'm not seeing a great deal of benefit to much of the growth. The same races are getting more expensive and harder to get into, I'm not sure what runners are getting from the price hike.

    The most positive growth I have seen is with RD's working hard to establish outstanding new courses in places where few would have thought a race was possible.

  17. Luke from California

    I never even knew what a marathon really was or even heard of ultras (even Western States 100) until I read Born to Run, then read Ultramarathon. That was 3 years ago and I quite motocross, and sold my dirt bike. I now just finished my second 50 miler last month.

    If those books were never written I would probably still not be into running. I may have never realized my success in this sport and what my potential might turn into.

  18. Chain

    I agree with #3's major influence… someone not mentioned though— Dean Karnazes. I believe his book was the first out of those listed… and definately what 'hooked' me to Ultrarunning.

  19. maggie

    I agree with dean karnazes and ultramarathon man for the first round of popularity, but certainly born to run has had an amazing effect. I work in run retail and that has become the new phrase people utter through the door…"just read, have you read"… we've heard it all. While it's good for business and exposure to the sport, its is a shame to me that many people don't always have a solid understanding of the training and dedication it takes to run 100's; 50's for that matter and wait list and sign up spots are often lost to those that work very hard to prepare. I like that western has requirements and i think more races should do the same.

  20. Hone

    2 or 3X as many people attended the USC/ND football game last week than will run an ultra next year and that is just 1 game in L.A. Ultrarunning is a tiny ESPN 8 (the ocho) obscure sport and always will be. Nothing wrong with that.

    Also while I have never seen Unbreakable or read Born to Run but if they help people get out of the door then stuff like this is worth making/writing. I say let this sport grow from a speck of sand to a pebble!

  21. Carey

    I think all AJW's suggestions are very plausible. I can speak with certainty only for myself, though — the single thing that led me into the sport was the internet and the coverage it provided of ultras and mountain running.

    YouTube videos of Kilian Jornet. iRunFar interviews with Mike Wolfe. Blog posts from Ellie Greenwood.

    How else would I have ever learned who Andy Symonds was, if not for the internet?

  22. Rudy

    AJW, fantastic thoughts! As one of the Virginia Tech ultrarunners (we have like 8 people in our club), who got into ultrarunning from seniors when I was a freshman, my two following thoughts are:

    1) The boom in trail/ultrarunning is not a bad if people do it for the right reasons. By right reasons I mainly mean having respect. Respect for the environment, harsh weather, the mountain in general. Trailrunning, to me, makes me check my ego at the door, which I love. A finish at an ultra is never really guaranteed. As long as people have the humble and friendly and passionate mindset that's associated with utlrarunning, I have no problem with the trailrunning boom. Competition is great yes, but running for the fun of it, just playing in the woods, forming meaningful relationships, is the core of ultrarunning and needs to be kept intact.

    2) Ultrarunning is humbling. It is difficult. For these reasons I don't think ultrarunning will ever become HUGE. I don't quite want to expand on this point because it can easily be refuted, but it takes the not-"mainstream" person to do physically demanding tasks like ultrarunning.

  23. joe

    I think this was a common path for many of the runners in the ultra world today. I think it is also the reason that so many of them are running injured. Most folks don't want to build up these days. I guess it has a lot to do with this yolo stuff that AJW is talking about.

  24. joe

    It might put them at risk if they just got off the couch at age 50 because they read Born to Run. For a seasoned runner, I agree with what you say.

  25. joe

    I kind of wonder if you would continue to believe that the large increase in trail running participation is "fundamentally good", if you actually had to compete with the masses for a lottery spot at WS.

    1. Patrick

      Trail running does not start and end with WS. Go run something else if you can't get in. I think anything that gets people active is good.

      1. Joe

        I agree and I do although not because I can't get in. I've run WS once and I just prefer to stay a bit more local so I pass on the WS lottery. But, if I were as emotionally vested in one race as AJW appears to be then I'd probably have some level of issue with the crowds if I was having to gain entry via the lottery.

  26. Ron

    Mike, thanks very much for your reply. I agree, that one can be in great shape in one's 50s. And I agree that it depends on the individual as to what they want and can do. But, I also know old ultra runners who got beat up by doing ultras in their 50s years ago. And I know that I'm not the physical person (or the mental person) that I was even a few years ago (better in some things, worse in others). All I'm saying is that I think that there is a necessity to recognize such things and others that I wrote about because trail and ultra running are becoming commercialized in such a way that there is profit to be made in erasing such differences and in creating an 'illuminated' product that doesn't correspond to reality for many people, through no fault of their own really. Commitment is important in any aspect of life, as you wisely note and I agree with, but commitment to what and how, are, I'm sure you'll agree, not always easy questions, particularly when media images are involved, and when we are doing things that we love and things change (because of age or other life factors).

  27. Yeti

    I think Joe's question is perfectly acceptable and doesn't deserve such a snarky and dismissive response. He didn't say that trail running started or ended with WS nor did he say that he wasn't able to get in. I think everyone here agrees that being active is good and I don't see what that has to do with his comment/question. AJW is in a unique position as far as being able to get into WS, both through his reputation and previous success and doesn't have to deal in the same way with the growing pains that the rest of us do. How does that affect his feelings about the lottery process at races like WS(or really pretty much any other race, I mean, c'mon, he's AJW, of course they can always make room for such a prolific ultra icon)? Probably a lot, I don't know, only he can answer that, which is what Joe was asking.

  28. geoff roes

    Good point Bryon,

    I think it's hard to deny that B2R has brought several new people into the sport, but it's important to remember that the sport was already beginning this rapid growth phase when B2R came out. That book became a huge catalyst that so many new trail runners identified with, but it's hard to say if most of these runners were turned onto the sport because of B2R or if B2R became so popular because there were suddenly so many new folks pouring into the sport every day who were looking for something to identify with. Personally I think it was probably more of the latter than the former.

  29. geoff roes

    I agree,

    I think the advances in worldwide communication that technology has brought about in the past 2 decades is the largest factor that has led to the growth in the sport. I think most people are probably introduced to ultrarunning through word of mouth or some other direct exposure to the sport, but then when they can go online and spend days reading whatever they want about the sport, that is what takes them from being aware of it to being interested in actually trying it out themselves.

  30. AJW

    This past weekend at the Western States lottery I was offered entry into the 2013 event by the Board of Trustees Special Consideration Committee. The Special Consideration Committee is a standing committee of the Board that reviews lottery entrants annually on the following criteria:

    " the Board of Trustees reserves the right to grant admission to runners whose contributions to the sport of ultrarunning or to the organization of the WS event have been unusual and substantial. While this “special consideration” definition is broadly drafted, it is narrowly applied. For example, no special consideration is given to athletes who would greatly enhance the competitive aspect of the race. Such athletes have the opportunity to gain entry into WS via the Montrail Ultra Cup Series."

    Perhaps a bit of history of my participation in Western States would be constructive before discussing the particulars of this year's circumstances:

    I first ran Western States in 2001 after gaining entry through the lottery. I enjoyed the race immensely that year but also realized that I was not a good enough 100-mile runner to attempt another Western States race. So, over the next three years, I ran Vermont and Angeles Crest a couple of times each, many other shorter ultras, and through the help of a group of mentors and friends learned how to run 100-miles. My second place finish at the 2003 Angeles Crest 100 convinced me to try to run Western States again.

    I registered for the lottery for the 2004 race and did not get selected. However, a week after the lottery, Race Director Greg Soderlund called and offered me an entry to the race on the basis of my race results in the 2003 season. At the time, Montrail was not a Western States sponsor and while the Montrail Ultra Cup was in its infancy, automatic spots were not granted through the MUC events. Therefore, the Race Organizers at the time did extend Special Consideration entries to runners "whose participation would greatly enhance the competitive aspect of the race" and that was the basis of my entry. I was seeded, that year, with race bid #22 and was fortunate enough to run well enough for an 8th place finish.

    Following that race, between 2005 and 2011, I attained an automatic entry each year by finishing in the top-10 (men). I was registered for the 2012 race but was unable to start due to injury. I did attend the race helping out where I could and riding around with Bryon covering the race for irunfar but knew, at the time, that my "automatic" status went out the door when I watched the runners leave Squaw Valley.

    A few weeks before this year's lottery I sent a letter to Greg Soderlund asking that the Special Consideration Committee consider offering me a spot in the 2013 race on the basis of my "contributions to the sport of ultra running and to the organization of the Western States 100". I did not request Special Consideration based on any competitive credentials or on the basis of my 2011 automatic status. I didn't suggest that my 2011 status should be carried over to 2013. Additionally, Assistant Race Director Craig Thornley, when informed of my request, told the Committee that he would recuse himself from the process of reviewing my request on the basis of a conflict of interest.

    Last weekend when I was informed of the decision of the committee I was told in very clear terms that this was to be a one-time consideration and that were I unable to participate in the 2013 event or if I sought future Special Consideration it would most likely be denied.

    A quick review of the updated entry list this week suggests that there are several other runners who were offered entry on the basis of Special Consideration. I do not know the details of those entries nor have I requested it. What I do know is that the Special Consideration Committee adhered to a rigorous process in exercising their right to grant entry and labored extensively over each Special Consideration request. Moving forward, it is my understanding that the Western States organizers will work to denote, alongside each entrant's name on the entrants list, their path into the race. Obviously, Special Consideration is perceived as the most subjective path into the race as it is difficult, if not impossible, to accurately measure an applicant's "contributions to the sport of ultra running and the organization of the Western States 100." However, one thing is certain, the current process the committee employs takes very seriously the importance of balancing the best interests of the event with each runner's individual circumstances. With an event that has become so popular it seems to me that they are doing the best they can. When all's said and done, what more could we ask of them?

    1. Pete

      Thanks for the honesty AJW. While I am not sure these special considerations are fair since the race is run on public land and it is very difficult to get in this is the choice of the western states committee and it should be respected. I think all special consideration individuals should be required to do double the service requirements and should all have to be done on the western states trail. Regardless I wish you the best of luck on your western states journey.

  31. Gary Gellin

    That's a great, albeit over-the-top explanation AJW. The whole admission process is incredibly transparent – much more so than necessary in my opinion. The "Committee" will keep introducing more ways to keep more people happy, and the number of disgruntled people will keep pace.

    1. Pete

      It is by no means that I am disgruntled. To me in a sense this is more of a "who you know" acceptance. Almost in a sense AJW has gained acceptance via cheating the lottery. I basically put this in the same aspect of ped usage. Cheating is cheating plain and simple. I certainly understand the committee has its hands full however I feel they have a public duty to make everyone go through the lottery since the race is run on public land there should be no exceptions. I dont even really agree with the MUC entries either. This is just my opinion. As I stated earlier I wish AJW the best of luck as do I to all of the competitors and hopefully one day I get to join them. My post are by no means meant to be mean or an attack on the Western States committee just a opinion. This national forest is in my back yard so I guess I get to enjoy it regardless so maybe I am being slightly petty in the same sense. Oh well.

  32. Jeff R

    Your stance on public land seems quite absurd to me. Virtually every endurance event is held on public property and I highly doubt any race has ever received a permit to hold their event conditional on giving absolute equal opportunity for entry for all US citizens with no exceptions. Should I feel entitled to run in the Olympic Marathon trials despite being a horrible runner due to the fact that the race is held on public roads? It doesn't seem at all controversial to me that in any competition, the race organizer or organizing body holding the permit is given complete discretion on how to mete out their entries.

  33. Tim L.

    I just wish I had the expendable income to keep up with the boom. Of course, one can always run trails for free, but an occasional race is nice from a point-of-view of both performance and hanging out with like-minded folks for a day or two. Fortunately, I don't buy in to all of the gear that most have, but race prices doing what they are doing, I will be bowing out of those as well. And yes, I know there are costs associated with putting on races, but there are RDs now doing these essentially as a business which, yea! for free enterprise I guess. But now profit is entering into the equation as well as demands from runners that they get more "stuff" from the race before they've ever even stepped foot on the course. Supply and demand I guess and, in the end, I will lose the ability to race anything but my most local 50k.

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