My Thoughts on the Growth of Ultrarunning, Media Exposure, and the American Dream

AJWs TaproomRecent discussions and comments on iRunFar have led me to reflect a bit on where we are and where are going as a sport, and, perhaps, as a culture. And, as one of the “editorial voices” here, I feel compelled to comment. But, before I do, please know that these remarks are entirely mine. With the exception of the usual proofreading eye that Meghan and Bryon lend to my weekly posts, everything written here is mine and mine alone. Think of this as just one guy’s ruminations on a fast-growing sport looking to find its way in the world.

Many of us look back fondly on the good old days of running and I admit, as an experienced ultrarunner, I am one of those guys. But, I also know that those days are the “old days” for a reason and we’ve clearly moved on from Montrail Vitesses and Gookinaid. Ultramarathon running is now a legitimate, mainstream sport with fully professional athletes, companies with large marketing budgets to promote the brand and the lifestyle, and global events that are followed eagerly around the world. The sport has grown quickly and along with that growth have come, well, growing pains. Let’s look at a few examples:

Several years ago, San Francisco’s Dean Karnazes was brutally scrutinized for “commercializing” the sport through the publication of his books, his 50 Marathons in 50 Days effort, and his aggressive promotion of The North Face ultras. And, say what you want about Dean, his efforts brought thousands out to the trails and mountains, many for the first time, to enjoy running in ways they never thought they could, or even should. His charisma and energy were contagious and gave regular folks permission to get out there.

Next, after winning the Western States 100 a record seven times, the legendary Scott Jurek appeared prominently in a bestselling book about a mysterious running tribe in rural Mexico and then went on to publish his own bestselling book about, of all things, eating and running! Jurek’s Zen-like attitude had tremendous appeal in the midst of the dot-com boom yet some belittled Jurek for capitalizing on his fame to promote an alternative lifestyle. Whatever your position, however, there is no denying the powerful impact of both Born to Run and Eat and Run on the collective psyche of the running public.

Then, working on a shoestring budget with no clear goal in mind, Reno filmmaker JB Benna produced a remarkable little film chronicling the 2010 Western States which featured the battle between eventual winner Geoff Roes, iconic Catalan mountain runner Kilian Jornet, and the enigmatic and enormously talented Colorado ultrarunner Anton Krupicka. The film thrust the race into the global spotlight and all three runners became celebrities in their own right, perhaps none more thoroughly than Krupicka. His look, his lifestyle, his intellect, they captured the imagination of a global public looking for a hero. Like it or not, atop windswept Colorado peaks, Krupicka appears heroic and living a nomadic lifestyle out of the back of his truck has inspired thousands of desk jockeys to dream of a different life.

Undoubtedly, Karnazes, Jurek, and Krupicka all share a love of running. They share a deep passion for the outdoors and, for some reason, with entirely different temperaments and significantly unique personalities, these three men have inspired a generation and fueled the growth of one of the most quirky, bewildering, challenging, and fantastic sports in the world.

Along the way one guy has been on hand to chronicle it all. After leaving his Washington, DC law practice in 2009, selling his house, driving across the country in his Prius, and settling into a doublewide in California (and now Park City, Utah), Bryon Powell slowly transformed his personal running blog into iRunFar. At first, the website was a fledgling attempt at an online publication to provide a venue for race reporting, gear reviews, and reflections on “Mud, Mountains, Miles, and More.” Just as Karnazes, Jurek, and Krupicka followed their dreams in the process of making their passion their profession, Powell did the same thing in leaving the comfort of his comfortable DC lifestyle for the uncharted world of online journalism and covering a sport that, quite frankly, did not know how to grow.

What is it, many have asked, that makes iRunFar so compelling?

I suggest it is the same thing that makes the worlds inhabited by Karnazes, Jurek and Krupicka so provocative. It’s that unknown, mysterious realm of possibility and wonder. A place with few rules and almost no guidelines. Just as Anton doesn’t always know what line he plans to climb as he conquers his next 14er, neither does Bryon necessarily know the next twist in the iRunFar road. However, what these guys both know, and what countless other American dreamers who came before them knew, is that anything worth dreaming is worth doing. Here’s hoping that they both keep doing just that!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Green Man IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Green Man Brewery in Asheville, NC. I was down there last weekend and picked up a six-pack of the Green Man IPA. Sessionable at 6% and 63 IBUs, it has a touch of citrusy sweetness that makes it wonderful on a sultry summer’s day!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Certain events and people are, indeed, turning points in the evolution of our sport. AJW’s examples (except for Scott Jurek’s first win at Western States) have all taken place in the 21st century, now going on 13 years where our sport has exploded in popularity as compared to the previous century. If we look even further into our sport’s history, are there other runners and events that you think have contributed to creating the sport we call trail and ultrarunning today?

There are 108 comments

  1. Charlie M.

    Globalization, Internetization, MediaNation, IncomeSensation, Marketization, BrandVacation, SponsorInflation, Commercialization….the list goes on and on.

    Love it or Hate it, doesn't matter, just gotta roll with it, and keep runnin'. Sometimes it's fun to run alone, sometimes with a few others, sometimes in a UTMB/Boston Marathon type atmosphere. It's all good. Only thing that's bad: Polarization…narrowness of viewpoints….it's all good.

  2. Chris Parrott

    Excellent post! It's the nature of any sport. In 1950 gymnasts could stop and sit on one of the uneven bars in their routine to rest with no deduction. You could hand time down Hill Skiing. But now if your pinkie slips off or your 3/100's back you lose the gold.

    I could go climbing in Joshua tee and not have to get up at the ass crack of dawn to climb "Walk on the wild side" before lunch. Now forget it, don't even try on the weekend. I guess I should be mad at every climbing book and climbing movie, climbing gym for ruining it, But I'm not. I love it. I love to see more people enjoying nature and connecting with mother earth. (plus that sucker is runnnnn out, so now I have a good excuse to go for a run and not climb it.. "Dude it will be packed, lets skip it :)"

  3. Anonymous

    Not sure exactly his role, but Eric Clifton has to be given some mention for the fashion sense of ultra runners!

  4. Ricardo

    Thanks AJW. Write on! My thoughts: running is free… the roads and trails are there for you, whether you were selected in the lottery or not. And, thank you Byron for iRunFar. Your work is a great gift to us.

    1. Bryon Powell

      If we look to Greg Vollet, then we must also look at his predecessor in trail running marketing at Salomon, Jean-Yves Couput. JYC was much more behind the scenes, but he was directing things when Salomon moved into producing high quality trail running video vignettes a la Kilian's Quest. Arguably, other than Born to Run no other extrinsic factor (i.e., not the joy of running itself) has contributed to the growth of trail running and ultrarunning over the past five years than Salomon's and, now, others great trail running videos. His vision and inspiration go the movies, but they're the most concrete examples of his gift to the trail running community.

      Although "behind the scenes," JYC was heavily involved personally. When Kilian's Quest kicked off on the Tahoe Rim Trail in September 2009, JYC was there, for hours on end, lending support and mountain biking behind Kilian with a GoPro strapped to the handlebars. Furthermore, without his inspiration and support, I'm not sure that iRunFar would be here today.

  5. Steve

    Great piece AJW. It is amazing at the development of the sport. There are now signature lines from UD, Salomon, Buff, etc.. With that being said, all of this "publicity" has done wonders for the sport such as better gear, more races, and of course, more blogs to read.

    Now the shoe and gear companies as getting into it. Just look at all the Salomon vinettes and now the New Balance ones. I know I look forward to when they come out.

    It is a shame that Dean took the brunt of the criticizm a few years back especially since some of those that were his harshest critics have gone on to do similar things.

    1. AJW

      Steve, thanks for the comment. On your last point, as someone who knows Dean pretty well I can assure you he took the criticism in stride. He's a pretty thick-skinned guy (as all 10-day Western States bucklers are:)

  6. David

    Well said Andy. It does seems like DK's Ultramarathon Man, Born To Run, and Unbreakable are the 3 major "events" that have opened the eyes of many a newbie and shaped the course of this sport the most.

  7. Michael Owen

    Ultras are very unique in the way they are learned and followed. It's not like mainstream sports where our dad's bring us to a game as a young person (some children get brought to ultra's now though!). For me, after reading Dean's book Ultramarathon Man, I found Anton's blog and was captivated by the sport. Ultra runners' blogs in general have had a profound impact on the sport. Bryon has also revolutionized the way we "live follow" races and he has done a tremendous job at keeping the sport as authentic as it ever is.

  8. art

    it would have been more dramatic if you had written Bryon left D.C. in his Ford pickup rather than his Prius, but at least he did leave, good move Bryon.

  9. Tony Mollica

    The first ultra book I read was Dean's "Ultramarathon Man". It wasn't the reason that I ran my first ultra, but it was the first book I read about ultra running.

    I was actually tricked into running my first ultra. I accepted an invitation to be on a relay team for Cody's Crew (a charity foundation for fighting Neuroblastoma) and run 17 miles over 24 hours. No problem I thought. I can handle that. Then at the pre-race dinner it was decided that we would all run 50 miles. I swallowed hook, line and sinker.

  10. RunDC

    Great observations, which I'm sure reflect the thoughts of many!

    I'd add that as the ultra community grows it's also important to consider the environmental impact of the sport. While many current runners live in rural areas and are actively involved with conservation, runners from other parts of the country becoming involved in the sport may not be as knowledgeable.

    Travel to races, for example, has a substantial environmental impact:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/sunday-review/t
    Races attracting lots of out-of-state participants could either suggest or require anyone traveling by air purchase offsetting carbon credits.

    iRunFar could build the site, encourage community, and discourage air travel by adding local coverage sections for different regions. While smaller races don't need live coverage, readers might appreciate regional contributors. The current format (not a criticism of the excellent work by Byron & co!) is definitely western-centric and I think perpetuates the idea that "real" trail runners should be flying to Colorado, Utah, or California for races.

    WS100 has a service requirement, more races could partner with parks, the Sierra Club, or other organizations to support either trails or other ecological efforts.

    As the community grows, it's important to ensure trail running continues to be a sustainable and responsible way to enjoy nature. This growth is also an opportunity for the existing community to engage others in maintaining our natural resources.

    1. Allisa L

      Your comments are very interesting and make me wonder why people in other regions of the US besides the mountain west haven't started their own versions of irunfar. Yes, irunfar could have regional sections, but why haven't more inspired easterners/midwesterners/southerners/etc started their own enterprises?

      About your "real trail runners comment": I used to live in Western PA surrounded by great trails, but I rarely saw people running them. When I did happen upon another trail runner you'd just give high fives because it was so rare to encounter someone else in the sport. Races were fun, but much less competitive. Then my husband and I moved to Colorado. He was used to finishing on or near the podium. It took him a while to adjust his expectations at races because the field had so much more depth. And now we see a dozen people running the trails during every training run.

      My point isn't that real trail-runners live in the mountain west. Really all I'm trying to say is that the "real" trail runners of the east could make a big impact by focusing on growing the sport in their own region instead of traveling to the west to test their fitness. Bryon lives in the west so it makes sense that he shares mostly news of the west. Why doesn't someone go cover the Vermont 100 or the Laurel Highlands Ultra the way that irunfar covered Cayuga? Why haven't there been any eastern Bryon Powell copycats? Maybe there are and we just haven't heard of them yet…

      1. Jeff

        I've often thought of that – there are some great races that could be covered in the East, but it takes someone with a special "something" (passion? insanity?) to put in the hours that Bryon does on a fledgling website.

  11. Heather

    A really positive start to the weekend, loved this article!

    I am new to the ultra scene after stumbling upon it about 2 years ago and I understand the growth of the sport has some people a little unhappy, but what a world to try to hide from those who are truly passionate about the outdoors/running. Ultra running is definitely not for everyone, so there is more of a natural selection process that you don't always get with road running/marathoning – maybe.

  12. Justin

    Like everybody else and their mom, I too read Born to Run and loved it. But…Dean Karnazes was the first one that planted the ultrarunning seed in my mind. Even is he is a shameless self-promoter, and even if he may not be one of the "best" ultrarunners, his passion and love for running shines through in his writing…and his actions. Thanks Bryon, AJW, and everyone else at irunfar for your constant passion and inspiration. Hope to see you in Steamboat!

  13. Kent

    At 56 years old, it was Dean's book that gave me the inspiration to go out and try yet again what I never thought I could possibly do. I'm 59 now, training for my first marathon and I'm never looking back. Personally I think anyone who criticizes folks like Dean, Scott, etc. are simply jealous. Because of this boom, there are now many others who now inspire and motivate those of us who once thought running 5 miles was an insane thought.

  14. Randy

    So many pioneers in this sport,Trason,Kouros,etc,and don't forget Ultrarunning Magazine,they showed that there were other crazies all over the world going over a marathon distance.

  15. Dean G

    Great post…

    …that had me thinking…

    …how empty it would feel if iRunFar disappeared.

    Where's that 'donate' link again? Oh, there…

  16. Cody C

    In my opinion, Born to Run is one of the bigger turning points in the sport in that it brought public awareness to the sport like no other person/event. As cliche as it sounds, it was the reason I started running a few years back.

  17. Johnny

    I like Dean Karnazes. Read his book. And he seems like a genuinely nice guy from his interviews. Got into running after reading Born to Run, by the way. Read Ultramarathon Man a few months after having read Born to Run.

  18. Sage Canaday

    Great post AJW! Being a newbie to the sport of ultra-trail-mountain running it is very interesting for me to hear about the history of how things have evolved from the "old school days." Even though I've entered in a different time of sponsorship support and media coverage I can appreciate the influence of my elders and how ultra runners 5, 10 and even 20 years ago have shaped the sport that I enjoy today. This is going to be a key theme of my personal video project this year…how the sport has changed because of new sponsorship opportunities, media coverage, the rise of social media/blogs, increases in field sizes, etc.

  19. Ethan Veneklasen

    Thanks for posting such excellent and thought provoking column, Andy.

    I’d like to suggest another contributing factor to the growth in popularity of ultras. In my opinion, the mass-popularization of marathons was both a necessary pre-condition, as well as perhaps the greatest contributing factor, to the explosion of ultrarunning.

    Once considered the exclusive realm of "serious runners", marathons have become accessible to the wide range of citizen-athletes. As humans, and especially as highly motivated runners, we have the tendency to do something and then ask, “What next?” Some runners responded to the democratization of the marathon by striving to get faster, others by running more races in more exotic locations and others still have sought new challenges in ultra-distance events.

    I agree with your premise that the marketing of ultra celebrities like Scott, Dean, Anton and Killian has contributed greatly to the rapid growth of our sport. However, I believe that the “marathon effect”, driven by the explosive growth of programs like Team in Training, was necessary for the leap of inspiration to take hold with a broader audience.

    It takes a certain boldness of spirit to sign up for ones first ultra. However, once you have run a marathon and survived (or watched your Aunt Lucy finish one), a 50K race seems more attainable. Once that threshold is crossed, a 50 miler seems perfectly reasonable…and so on.

    For years this mainstreaming of the marathon has drawn criticism from certain segments of the running community. I have heard faster runners lament having to sign up for big city marathons nearly a year in advance. This has prompted some to call for more races with stringent qualifying standards like Boston. Others complain about the crowds and increasingly prohibitive entry fees. The corporate community has added fuel to the fire with ad campaigns like Pearl Izumi's "Respect the Distance" campaign.

    Do these complaints sound familiar? I’m sorry to say these are the issues that our sport is now forced to grapple with. Road…trail…marathon…ultramarathon…our challenges are not so different.

    Lest I be misunderstood, let me be very clear, as someone who has struggled with weight much of my adult life, I for one embrace and applaud the growth in popularity of both marathons and ultras. As far as I am concerned if it is inspiring people to become more active and healthy, I am all for that!!!

    So, here’s my point: change is here. For years we whined that ultras were not taken seriously by the rest of the running community. Now they are. My question is OK, what now?

    As an “old schooler”, Andy I think you will agree with me here. Those of us who have been around the sport for a while have a critical role to play in maintaining the ethos of the sport we so love.

    This sport is, above all, about community.

    I have always valued the genuine respect shown by front of the packers (like you, Scott and others) for those who struggle to finish just before the cutoff. It makes me proud to see athletes running through an aid station, smiling (or struggling to, in between fits of vomiting) and thanking the volunteers for being there. As a middle of the pack runner, I appreciate the nods, waves and “looking good” comments from faster runners (and slower ones as well) as they pass me going the opposite direction. THIS is what our sport is about and what makes it special.

    As we continue to receive an influx of talented new runners (elite and recreational), including cross-over athletes from road running and triathlons, we need to educate them and work hard to maintain the soul of the sport that we love.

    1. Ian Burton

      I agree 100% – the elite folks and their high visibility rise in the athletic community is surely an inspiration and I would be flat out lying to say that I am not in part driven by their stories and well documented successes. However, the true burning desire that has been fostered within me took exactly the path you described.

      Some years ago I was cajoled into a 5k with friends and family. It was an arduous task, but the thrill of finishing was a drug I loved. In the heady celebrations post race I laughed at the idea of tackling an (at that time) unconscionable 10k. Fast forward to this very day and I finished two marathons last year, DNFed 50k (probably a better lesson than finishing) this past winter and am sitting here ready to pack out for the White River 50 miler in beautiful Washington state. I'm not by any means a great athlete – I'll be thrilled with a sub cut-off finish never mind the 12 hour pace chart I've cautiously drawn up for myself.

      In finding the ultra community I've found a home in the oneness with the trail and mountains, the camaraderie of the people and the elation of the struggle and achievement that make this sport so special and appealing to new runners. It just so happens that at a time when I want to consume it, there's all the information and inspiration I could hope for and irunfar.com is a big part of it.

      Our task now is to live by what brought us here in the first place and safeguard its future development however we can.

    2. Jeff

      I think we're pretty safe when it comes to preserving a sense of community, simply because ultras are nothing if not humbling. Most of us need the community just to finish. As a result, I have a feeling that the vast majority of us will continue to extend a helping hand to those in need and take sustenance from others when it is offered. And what else is community, if not reciprocity?

      1. Ethan Veneklasen

        Jeff…

        I MOSTLY agree with you. I agree that community will remain central to the sport.

        Some of the traditions and how "community" is manifested though are worth actively preserving.

        With the influx of lots of new people, I will admit I have seen less "thank you's" in aid stations and some of those things among individuals who are new to the sport. This in no way implies they are bad peoplle, they may have not yet picked up on these nuances.

        I'm not complaining…I'm just saying that things that are worth preserving are worth consciously WORKING to preserve.

  20. Adam S.

    Flamers will flame…but DK's books helped me believe that I could become an ultra runner and still have a family and day job. Two years and a couple marathons later I completed my first 50.

    1. Ethan Veneklasen

      Adam…you are so right. And congratulations to you!

      I have given a lot of thought to the flaming of Dean over the years.

      At times I have agreed with some of the negative comments (though I always considered Dean a friend). I even made a couple of quite public comments about the "World Greatest Runner" issue (back when I headed up a major team and was in a position to be listened to).

      Here's what I have come up with. He's done a great job of marketing himself, managed to make a living from it and inspired a great many people along the way. He has helped people like you take the "leap of imagination" required to commit yourself to running an ultra. I note in my post above that I am all in favor of those things that inspire people to seek a healthier, more active life.

      In other words, I think that Dean in particular has played a really central, and frankly important, role in the growth of the sport, especially among "recreational' (ie not elite) runners and I think that overshadows any of the negatives that have been put out against him over the years.

  21. Rich

    Very thought-provoking and well-balanced view. It is easy to be nostalgic; I can fondly remember 30 years ago when running on trails was just something to do in the evening with my dog in tow after a day guiding on the river. There was no 'trailrunning'. We guided, we paddled, we climbed, biked, hiked, skied and ran – all as part of the great outdoors. At the same time many of the developments leading to ultra- and trailrunning as we know them now are great. The diversity of race offerings is fantastic: short, medium, long and ultra long; fire roads, single track, up and downhill; forest trails or mountain trails; big event races and local gatherings; races in the eastern, centralmor western US or France, Germany, you name it. Yes, gaudy gear and sometimes too much of it, but the offerings in running shoes are fantastic nowadays.

    Thanks for the thoughts, AJW, very timely.

  22. George

    Is it safe to say that Kilian is the best payed/sponsored ultra runner in the world today? If he is, his skimo i'm sure only adds to it or is perhaps an equal part of his sponsorship package?

  23. Dave

    I think people complaining about the growth of the sport is a bit silly and elitist. The sport had less participants previous to each and every new runner joining whether you started last week or 15 years ago so how do you have the right to bemoan anyone else taking up the sport?

    You can always go out and run by yourself/with select friends on a trail any day of any week.

  24. RunDC

    Alicia & Jeff:

    Agreed!

    Byron being from the east coast, perhaps he knows runners that could leverage irf's popularity to create and east coast section? I'm sure folks in the midwest would love something similar as well.

    More broadly I think there's a lot more both media and races can do to make sure new big city runners don't just fly in and fly out leaving behind only empty Gu packets and water bottles. Race directors work with park services to mitigate their impact, but I think a big part that's often neglected is raising awareness among participants. Building a sustainable community should mean supporting the natural habitats we enjoy so much.

  25. caper

    Glad to hear that about DK…I can tell you I stumbled upon his book Ultramarathon man a few years back, couldn't put it down, and subsequently got off the ashvault and onto the trail, and began running Ultras. DK and DK only is the reason I've gotten into this crazy sport, and away from road races. I'd love to meet him someday and tell him that face to face…and let him know I'm down 50lbs since then. People criticize him because they are jealous he has the personality and the forethought to grow and profit off this business. I wish him all the best.

  26. Hone

    This sport is still a tiny speck of sand on the beach compared to mainstream sports. More people attend a random college football game on a Saturday than run an ultra in an entire year. I am happy more and more people are finding a love for the outdoors. I love to hear the excitement of new runners when they talk about their goals and how they plan to start racing. Besides no matter how many people pick up trail running if you get on the trails by 5am every morning you will have them all to yourself anyways.

    I became familiar with the sport about a decade ago. I started running with a group in Alaska and this old hippy dude was wearing a shirt that said Hardrock 100 on it. I asked him what the Hardrock was? After he explained he did a 100 mile foot race my jaw dropped. Later someone else in the group brought me a few black and white ultrarunning mags and told me to check them out. That is how I started in the sport.

  27. Hone

    Your personal video project? I am not trying to diss because you seem like a pretty cool dude but every time you post something it almost feels like you have a agenda to either promote yourself or a product. It is weird.

    1. Sage Canaday

      I agree. I'm a business guy and I love being online/marketing/pushing sales etc. – and in that vein there has been a lot of self-promotion and product plugs… (I don 't know, maybe I'm like that in person as well as I do work at race expos and shoe demos and directly size and sell shoes to customers for my main sponsor still..)

      For me though, to make running as a career/lifestyle I have had to be very aggressive on social media with sponsor plugs and comment online on such posts as these. Every single sponsor I have, I have had to go after and contact first. I thought mentioning my video project was related to the content of AJW's writing and I'd like to think that such videos are at least somewhat entertaining for other fellow runners to watch. I felt like it would be some small way of "giving back" to the community that has supported me (much like my YouTube "Training Talk" video series).

      Everyone has a voice here and it of course there will be some controversial (or commercial) posts and strong opinions..I think that's great and I appreciate the feedback -But believe me, you don't get a beer company sponsor without grinding some gears and throwing yourself out there on the interwebs…

    2. bohica

      Ironically, I think what's worse than having the best runners promote their product and brand is the "too cool for school / I won't do that race because their is not enough vert / fixie to work" hate crowd. In a world with so much cynicism and hate, I love that ultra running is mostly full of optimistic people who want to share their passion with others. We all run for different reasons, but my hope is we all can try to keep this thing positive.

    3. Yeti

      +1 to Hone's comment but I'll go one further.

      Amazing that people want to somehow blame Karnazes' "Ultramarathon Man" and McDougal's "Born to Run" for somehow changing the sport in a negative way. Far as I'm concerned, it's pretty easy not to pick up their books or click on their blogs. It's Canaday's sneaky, shameless, unwanted force-fed plugs on a public forum such as this one that I personally find unsettling and taking the sport in a really poor direction. Keep that shit to your own space, dude. You are ruining what this site is all about. You're taking advantage of some pretty kind, trusting and tolerant readers(myself not included) by using this forum as a personal venue to promote yourself and your master's crap. Bryon should seriously be charging you for ad space…Don't let the wolves in the gate!

      1. bohica

        If you think Sage ambushes you with his agenda, then why read any of his comments? To your point, look away. Nobody is forcing you to read his comments.

      2. Sandi

        Yeti- Sneaky and shameless? He's making a video for runners to enjoy! He even said it's his was of giving back to the ultra community. Maybe you should wait to make such judgments until you really get to know a person. Otherwise you're the person ruining what this site is about with your negative comments of runners trying to live out their dreams. As ultra runners, we should pride ourselves in supporting each others pursuits, not try to take anyone down with negativity.

  28. Mike

    I don't put Jurek and Krupika in the same category as Kardashian…err, I mean Karnazes. The first two are runners first and, especially Jurek, have race results that speak for themselves. Their running has put them in a position to influence others. In contrast, while Karnazes has done a admirable job inspiring people to run, he's a personality first and a runner second; he has a few decent race results and some interesting publicity-garnering runs, but the cult of Karnezes is more inspired by his running message than his actual running.

      1. Steve

        Besides the 11 WS sub 24 buckles, I am pretty sure he has won the Vermont 100 and Badwater (he also finished in the top 10 5 times). I would qualify that as being a runner, and I bet he was running before he even wrote a book.

    1. Alex

      If we're going to play that game, then ultarunners everywhere should be stoked to buy the latest Ultimate Direction gear from the Yiannis Kouros collection.

      But of course, that's not how it works. You market people, not results. And those people have to have a message and a narrative that sells. People can resent that, but it's the truth. Krupicka and Jurek are amazing athletes, but they owe much of their popularity the "characters" they embody: Jurek as the compassionate, chilled out vegan; Krupicka as the dharma bumming hipster. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THIS.

      Lack of marketable characters is basically killing track and road running as a spectator sport; let's not wish ultrarunning had less of them.

      1. Steve

        I agree with you totally Alex. There is nothing wrong with what any of these guys are doing. Heck, I would love to be in this position. People just love to rag on Dean cause he was the first to do it.

        1. Mike

          I agree that Karnazes is a runner, just not a runner first. He's the Brian Bosworth of ultra-running; a good player, but an excellent self promoter. And you're right, Alex, that that self-promotion makes ultra running a valued commodity. I liked running ultras before there were celebrity runners, but not everyone has to agree. In the end, my point was that Jurek and Krupika's achievements justify their celebrity, Karnezes' does not.

  29. Nick

    Nice piece, AJW.

    I am a big fan of Bryon and a big fan of you. I'm a guy who pretty much lived the development you outline here. Kind of.

    Except that I have never actually run an ultra, I am a one-man attestation of someone trekking along your rough descriptive recent development of this sport. As a fan, anyway.

    In the good ole days I was a good runner and ran marathons, on pavement.

    In 2006 I read "Ultramarathon Man" and thought it was so flippin cool.

    In 2009 I read "Born to Run" and was inspired.

    In 2010 I asked a famous author, Matt Fitzgerald, which online Ultra-Coach he would recommend to a 43-ish wannabe runner like me. He encouraged me to go with the best, newest, most passionate guy on the scene. He recommended Bryon Powell of iRunFar.

    Bryon started coaching me, we became friends, I did his LASIK, and at that time I actually had as many friends on Facebook as he did. I got to know of his running history, became impressed and enamored.

    I started following AJW because he is in his 40's like me. He finishes top ten at #wser100, has a really cool voice, appears to be a playfully happy guy, and likes IPA.

    I then watched some cool youtube videos of Anton Krupicka running through the hills to hip French rap music. How cool! Reality is that I am a short-haired, conservative minded surgeon. But sometimes when I run I picture my hair flowing like Anton's. I picture running without a shirt, or wearing a sleveless plaid welder's shirt with my shorts really low and then I can actually feel like I am gliding like he does.

    It seemed such a cool sport, trail running. Cool athletes, too. They cherish belt buckles for goodness sake!

    It was a non-mainstream sport that I could be a part of and yet be just a little different than my pavement-pounding friends. It seemed the most natural sport, too, running on dirt.

    For me, the sport of trail running was easy to love and identify with. The ultra-marathon part of it has been more of a vicarious endeavor so far. The "Ultra" part is who I want to be, still, and I work slowly towards that goal every day. Or away from it, I'm not really sure. But running in the woods is so much fun.

    So on the Ultra scene I am nobody. I have never graced the black and white list of results on a page of Ultrarunning Magazine. But I like the sport and have made it my thing, too. I have followed the sport, and its popularity, very close to how you outlined it here.

    I still love college basketball and high school football and a little ESPN every now and then. Now, however, I cared about how Meghan did in each stage of the Marathon des Sables, got excited when she won it. I care about Bryon's ultra finishes, training runs and pie-n-beer day traditions! I look forward to Ultra Running news!

    So, Thanks AJW for the great story, thanks Bryon and Meghan for making all this happen.

  30. Patrick

    As a reader of this website for 3 years I wish Bryon and Anton all the best! They make my life better in their own way as I strive to imitate parts of each of them. Thanks!

  31. Randall in Texas

    Tony Robbins Audio Tape: Heard of Stu Mittleman, blown away with the thought of running that many miles… Thank god for Wikipedia four years ago: Then led to–

    Stu Mittleman

    Dean Karnazes

    Scott Jurek

    Anton

    Meltzer,

    Then the online blogs, including iRunFar. Dean does take a lot of heat. However he has done a tremendous amount for the sport. He would also take time during his "Media Stunts" to answer emails which meant a lot. (Speedgoat Karl is the same way. I'm sure I have bothered that man a great deal. He is a class act.

    I don't know anyone that runs. I do all my running on my own and like it that way. My tuning into iRunFar at my cubicle at 4:30 a.m. sipping on coffee and then checking on a few favorite running blogs has changed my life. Someone posted earlier that "Its all good", yeah it is. Thanks Bryon.

    1. Scott

      YOU MEAN HE HADN'T RUN IN 10'S OF YEARS AND JUST WENT OUT AND RAN 30 MILES IN HIS UNDERWEAR WITH NO PAIN AND AINT PIZZA WHILE RUNNING?!! OMFG I AM BORN TO RUN

  32. Dejan

    I give all the guys above credit to popularize running in the wild to general public. With the help of their sponsors they truly make many of us envy their life styles, but let us not forget that we are what we are and if there is an opportunity to do it we will follow our roots.

    The book which really inspired me to run long distance is WHY WE RUN by Bernd Heinrich, check it out.

    thanks for picking my brain.

  33. bohica

    My first inspiration was a Wide World of Sports Leadville 100 television show – it was in the 80's or mid 90's. I think is was Wide World. I remember Steve Peterson, Johnny Sandoval, and Mike Ehrlich on the men's side and Ann Trason on the woman's side. Not sure what year that was, but I'd love to see that tape again. I'm sure my memory is off on the people, but I remember how that changed what I viewed was possible as a runner. 100 miles at freaking 10k feet seemed insurmountable until a regular looking guy like Steve Petersen kills it with near identifical 50 mile splits.

    Still, Matt Carpenter inspires me to this day. I know he ran in the Sky Runner series in Europe/Nepal and he obviously still owns a few stout records in Colorado.

  34. Sandi

    "It is not the critic who counts, nor the man who points how the strong man stumbled or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly…who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, and spends himself in a worthy cause; who, at best, knows the triumph of high achievement; and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat."

    Theodore Roosevelt, 1910

    1. Jason C

      Excellently cited quote.

      The irony that someone would criticize an extremely talented member of our community for promoting his running related side projects in a thread following an article highlighting four distinct examples of individuals growing the sport through promotion is absurd.

  35. Aaron Sorensen

    It's funny when Americans dream and then go over to Europe and struggle for a top 10.

    I believe European influence has had a lot more to do with what is becoming the American dream.

    We become overly hyped, getting good (a lot of podiums) then go over and get your booty kicked by someone (one of those 200 Salomon runners) I've never heard of before.

    Plus the races, oh the races, how amazing they are across the pond.

    Not a single person I know that doesn't run has ever heard of AK, Geoff, Timothy, or even Ann Trason.

    I bet half the European population knows who Emily Forsberg and Seb Chaigneau are (and one's from Sweden).

    I think in 20 years, I will look back and still see these days as the "good ol days"

    The popularity of ultra running is still skyrocketing, even compared to just 3 years ago.

  36. Sarah

    I haven't been an ultrarunner for all that long but when I first started thinking about doing my first one irunfar.com wasn't such a big deal yet. I remember reading Scott Dunlap's blog religiously. I also remember reading the Queen Meghan Arborgast's blog for her hilarious race reports and I was so surprised to learn later of all the trials and hardships she experienced during that time, but never wrote about. I also remember when ultrasignup first started keeping scores for everyone. They standardized the sport and made it so we could check out our competition virtually before every race. Then if I go way back, when I first started distance running and I was training for my first marathon, I would read my runner's world subscription after every training run while drinking my chocolate milk and planning to run my fastest 5k ever. I remember coming across an article about Comrades. That sounded crazy to me but so intriguing. It all started there I guess and we can't forget the impact that race has had on ultrarunning.

  37. Lstomsl

    I disagree that popularize means ruin. Even as some races get crazy with media coverage, popularity with elites, and difficulty with getting through the lottery process there are new grassroots races popping up all the time. Everyone has a choice, they can fight the crowds at Western States and complain about the Hardrock lottery or they can find any number of fun, low key, local events. Or they can chase an FKT on their own, make an awesome movie if that floats their boat, move into third and fourth class terrain, or just find a quiet trail and run. Popularity means more opportunities for everybody to follow their own path in whatever manner they prefer.

    Last year I ran Speedgoat. I had no idea it was a sky running race, or even what that meant. I just heard it was really hard and I wanted to see a part of the country I hadn't spent much time at. I found that that whole scene was definitely not for me. I'm sure that won't break Karl's heart in any way as many people do appreciate that scene. Two weeks later I ran Angels Staircase, a very low-key race in Washington. It was beautiful remote single track with no ski lifts in sight, I ran at the front of the pack rather than the back, I met tons of great folks and had a great time. That was my scene.

    The point is not that one race format is better than the other. One was definitely better for me. Others are looking for something different. The point is that there are plenty of opportunities for both and there are more and more opportunities all the time. That's what popularity brings us. That's a good thing.

  38. konrad

    I think the reason that DK annoys me is that when he speaks he's not addressing experienced runners he's trying to get through to people who don't run so to me everything he says sounds so goofy and simplistic. When others runners speak they're speaking to me as a runner. My opinion of him has definitely softened over the years. As our sport grows let's hope we can all get along and keep criticism to a minimum. Let's not turn on each other. And let's hope Nike stays out of it.

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