With Whom Lies Responsibility

I closed the door and my wife started to drive away from the trailhead. Thunder boomed through the forest. I chuckled, hit start on my watch, and began to run. Over the next four hours I would run through rain, hail, snow, wind, flashes of lightning, and thunder claps so loud it would cause me to jump. I was alone, far from anyone, particularly from a rescue, and I was completely comfortable with the idea. During long mountain runs you have plenty of time to get inside your own head and hash out the world’s problems. On this particular run I spent a lot of time thinking about responsibility in the mountains. Given recent events in the ultrarunning world, this had been weighing on my mind quite heavily. I was making a deliberate decision to accept a certain level of risk and exposing myself to inclement weather while pushing my body to cover many miles far removed from, well, everyone.

Over the weekend of April 15 and 16th, earlier this year, Arturo Hector Martinez Rueda passed away while participating in the Ultra Fiord race, held in Patagonia, Chile. Like many, I first learned of this through social media and over the following couple of days I watched a shit storm of commentary, opinions, and finger pointing unfold on several social-media platforms. I was bothered by the whole thing. What had happened, what were the events that led to this unfortunate outcome, and, maybe most importantly, what lessons could be learned? These were some of the questions that came to mind nearly every time I saw Arturo’s story come across my feeds.

I want to take a moment to be very blunt. I am not at all interested in pointing blame or defending anyone, especially when it relates to Arturo. I don’t see that as useful. I do think it is important to look at some of the facts of this instance and to try to apply them in a productive way. Most importantly, I want to answer the question of with whom lies responsibility for our actions in the mountains.

Here are a few things I know; Ultra Fiord is held in one of the wildest places on the planet. The terrain and the weather are notoriously fierce. Certain people are drawn to this wildness and the challenges it presents. I also know that the race has a very extensive mandatory equipment list. All runners are required to carry an extensive amount of clothing and equipment. It is one of the most elaborate mandatory kits I have seen. According to the event website, runners of the race were also supplied with the “Runner’s Kit,” which included maps and elevation profiles of the race, some type of runner ID, and a timing chip. The website has a lot of information about the course, the itinerary, and most of the standard fare for this type of event. The event organizers had to make last-minute changes to the course due to the weather. I do not know how this was disseminated to runners, but having experienced last-minute changes during a UTMB I was at a few years ago, I can tell you that it is very stressful for the runners involved and equally, if not more so, for the event organizers.

From an outside perspective, it looks like the race organizers did work to put on a good event. They discuss on the website the course marking, the aid stations, and what will be done for runners including a “mobile unit” that sounds like a group of sweepers to close the course after the last runner. I was not there and will not speculate on how this was implemented. There is a common saying, “Everything is okay, until it isn’t.” Any travel in the mountains is enjoyable when it goes to plan, but sometimes it simply doesn’t. From the uninvolved onlooker it is obvious that things did not go according to plan in Chile. The weather was bad. Really bad. It was very tough on the runners and so gnarly that many participants had serious trouble on the course.

One additional fact: a runner died.

This leaves us asking, who is responsible for this tragedy? I am going to go out on a limb and answer, all of us and none of us are responsible. Hang on. Before you scroll down to leave an angry comment, allow me to explain. This is a complex issue and as I have pondered the deaths of several friends who have died in the mountains, I have found a few concepts that hold true in the majority of these tragic events.

The first concept is that of an accident. The dictionary defines an accident as “an unfortunate incident that happens unexpectedly and unintentionally, typically resulting in damage or injury.” I think we can mostly agree that, when someone dies in the mountains, this definition can be applied. Accidents are unintentional. We don’t plan on not coming home from the mountains when we leave a starting line or a trailhead and the race organizers certainly intend on all the runners getting back safely.

The next concept that can be applied is ignorance.

Ignorance can be a touchy subject, mostly because of the negative connotation that often accompanies it. Looking at the definition of ignorance can be quite helpful. “Ignorance is a lack of knowledge or information.” Looking back at an accident, we often have much more information than we had beforehand. After, we know what the weather was, we know what decisions were made, we know what was not done, etc. The lack of knowledge can lead to bad decisions and unfortunately bad outcomes. It is quite often the case that we rely on what we know as being prepared enough. For example, how many of us have been lost during a race because we ‘knew’ the course would be well marked? Who hasn’t been surprised that their favorite aid-station food was not supplied even though it is ‘standard’ at ultras?

A lack of knowledge or ignorance is also very closely tied to the last concept, complacency.

Complacency is defined as “self-satisfaction, especially when accompanied by unawareness of actual danger or deficiencies.” More specifically, it is our experience that shapes our decision making, and applied here, it could be a train of thought something like this, I have been in bad weather in the mountains before, and I was fine, so even though the forecast is bad, I will be fine again. To take a page from climbing, it could be, I have tied into my harness a thousand times, I don’t need to double check that I did it right. I haven’t done it incorrectly before. Do you see the flaw in logic? We let our guard down because we have gotten away with it and we have no reason to believe that anything negative will happen to us. Drew Hardesty, an avalanche forecaster and Grand Teton National Park climbing ranger, wrote a blog post for the Utah Avalanche Center titled, “Drift into Failure…or, Mathematics and a Few Thoughts on Risk” that points out how complacency can be our downfall. In the post he quotes Sidney Dekker on the following: “a series of small relaxations on safety standards can lead to catastrophic system failure. These systems drift and from inside the system, such drift isn’t visible until failure occurs.” Drew goes on to say, “Please read that sentence again–I had to.” The imperceptible drift, the relaxation of our actions, could eventually lead to complete breakdown of the entire system put into place to reduce risk.

I hope that my thoughts are starting to come together. When people we love die in the mountains it is hard. We want to place blame, but with whom lies the responsibility? The deaths are accidents, unintended consequences of action. The lack of knowledge or ignorance of what will happen under a certain set of decisions and the clarity that hindsight brings after the accident occurs add to the sting. The imperceptible shift in acceptance of additional risk that complacency brings can result in the collapse of the house of cards. Instead of focusing on who to blame, I think that we need to strive to do better. We need to learn from past events and try to not repeat them.

A few years ago while out on a training run, I ran past a piece of trash on the trail. A few steps later, the question of, If not you, who?, came into my mind. I stopped, turned around, and picked up the trash. Since that moment, this mantra has been very useful in many aspects of life and I think it can apply here. Ultimately, only we can be responsible for our actions in the mountains. Applying the mantra, if you are not responsible for what you are doing in the mountains, who is? Wilderness medicine often teaches to “look out for number one.” Who is number one? It’s me. It’s you. I have to look out for me, just like you have to look out for you. No one knows what I need better than I do and the same applies to you.

The sport of trail running is growing and it is growing fast. There are more and more people venturing into the mountains to train and race. New events put on by new race directors are popping up at a surprising rate. What should be done to reduce the risk of something unfortunate happening to one of us? I would propose that we as a community ask ourselves a few questions. Do I know about the area I am running in? Do I have the appropriate skills to take care of myself if I get lost or injured? Am I adequately prepared for the weather and environment? What will I do if things go wrong? Race directors or event organizers should be asking those questions to their participants and should be asking themselves if they have the systems in place to handle changes during the event. What is our emergency plan to deal with injured or lost runners, bad weather, or the unexpected? What is our backup method of communication with volunteers and participants? The list of questions can and should go on and on.

Recently, Jared Campbell made the following observation regarding the notoriously difficult Barkley Marathons, “By creating a non-obvious application process, intentionally limiting course information, and letting participants decide for themselves what gear they should bring, the result appears to be participants who arrive well prepared, having done their homework, and equipped for all conditions. A pretty distinct difference from the usual ‘just show up, put your head down, and follow the markers’ mentality. Essentially everyone is capable of self-extraction and they understand that is standard protocol.” It continues, “The result of this lack of infrastructure, interestingly, is exactly what events with lots of infrastructure desire, knowing that every runner will be okay and give it everything they’ve got.” Having well-prepared participants does not eliminate the possibility of an accident, but I believe it lessens the chance of them happening. Considering this mentality are event directors increasing complacency but providing too much for runners? Are we getting lazy as runners, just expecting the race directors to provide everything we need? There are other events that have very experienced runners, that tend to be very well prepared. Does anyone remember Hardrock a few years ago? There was a very experienced mountain runner, Adam Campbell, who had a close call with lightning that could have very easily resulted in his death. I know that this runner was well prepared for the weather, and had the knowledge of what to do, but simply being where he was, when he was put him at a high exposure to risk, and he was lucky. There was a social-media fire storm after that incident too, but it many ways it sensationalized the experience and in my opinion, perpetuated an attitude of complacency.

During the run I mentioned in the beginning of the article, I made the decision to continue running despite the risks associated with it. I had just enough clothing and know-how to come home safely so long as things went according to plan. Thankfully, they did. But what would I have done if things hadn’t gone well? I thought about this a lot during the time I was on the trail. I realized that I had made the decision to accept a certain level of risk and to proceed. There was a level of complacency and certainly some ignorance, but there was no accident.

Going into the mountains is inherently risky. No matter the form of travel, as you leave the trailhead there is risk. It is our job as runners, race directors, and friends or family to those in the mountains to ask how much is too much. Ego is a hard master and we often accept risk because of the risk that others are accepting. But the acceptance of risk should be my decision. It should be your decision. No one can or should make that decision for me. No one can or should make that decision for you. Which, I think, means that we, as individuals, are also responsible for the risk we accept. There are times we may need to speak up, let others know that the collective acceptance of risk is too high. Let us not be afraid to face risk and have the courage to make good decisions regarding our actions.

As a community it is time that we have this discussion, and I expect it to be a spirited discussion. Modern society often takes the easy road and blames others for shortcomings and failure. Our community, a community of people who do hard things for fun, does not pick the easy road. We need to fight ignorance and complacency. Tragedy cannot always be avoided, particularly in the mountains, and it would be a tragedy to not take a moment to reflect and to learn from the experience, mistakes, and shortcomings of the past.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

A note from the iRunFar editors, we sincerely ask for a constructive discussion in the comments section. Luke uses two real-life anecdotes, one from his own life and Arturo’s death at Ultra Fiord, as launch points for a bigger discussion. We wish to host a discussion in this article’s comments about how our community can learn to be smarter, more aware adventurers and not a discussion which places blame in Arturo’s story or any other story about which we do not have all the facts. Thank you.

  • Have you ever unintentionally taken on more risk than you would have liked to on an adventure? Can you explain what happened and how you navigated the situation?
  • What actions do you take to keep risk within an acceptable range when you play in the backcountry?
  • Do you ever turn around or stop an outing when conditions change and more risk than you are comfortable with develops?
  • What can our community as a whole actively do to help keep the sport of trail running collectively within the risk limits of its members?
Luke Nelson

is a very busy guy. He is a husband, and a father of three amazing kids. He is a Physician Assistant in a very busy sports medicine practice and a professional endurance athlete. Sponsored by Patagonia, UltrAspire, GU, Zeal Optics, and La Sportiva. He is the Race Director of the Scout Mountain Ultra Trail Races. You can read about his adventures and the struggles involved with trying to wear too many hats at his website, the Challenge of Balance.

There are 42 comments

  1. Jake

    With respect to Meghan’s last question, I don’t know that there’s much we can do to reduce the number of bad outcomes, regardless of whether we’re talking about solo adventures or organized events. Even if we each have perfect information about the risks and potential consequences of doing a particular run, we all process that information differently.

    Bad weather is a great litmus test of how a person analyzes risk. In the Colorado mountains during the summer, for example, late-morning to mid-day lightning storms are common. And while fatal lightning strikes are relatively rare, they do occur just about every year. So let’s consider a runner who has a nice long mountain run planned with some decent mileage above tree line, and they’re somehow are able to accurately identify a 15% chance of electrical activity at some point during their time up high.

    Some individuals are going to forego that run, while others are going to choose to accept the risk. I can’t really say that one decision is correct and the other is wrong — after all, it depends on the individual, right? For some, a 15% chance is going to seem slim, while others are going to focus on the seriousness of potentially getting caught up high in a lightning storm, and decide that a 15% chance is much too high for them.

    Beyond the simple probabilities, there are also many other individual factors that go into deciding how much risk is acceptable. Maybe this was a planned mid-week run and the runner took a rare day off from work to avoid the weekend crowds. Maybe they’ve been dealing with some difficult personal circumstances, and a mountain run would help them process it all (and maybe avoid the bottle). Maybe this is a run they do every week, so doing an alternative run would be no big deal. Maybe they have a running friend visiting from out of town and the whole point of the trip was to run this trail. Maybe this is a key workout in the final weeks before a big race. Taking all the other factors into account, I can never know what’s a good risk or a bad risk for someone else. Heck, sometimes I struggle to figure it out for myself. But I understand that there are often other things at play which make a person more or less willing to take on those risks.

    And if we consider similar issues in the context of racing (where runners are coming into the event with a lot more at stake in the outcome), then it’s likely the decision making and risk analysis process is going to be quite different for everyone.

    So while I agree it’s good to learn (or be reminded of) the risks that are involved in mountain and backcountry running, I know that there’s still a huge range of what running community members are going to define as acceptable risk.

    1. Luke

      Jake, I agree with what you are saying. I think risk is inherent when going into the mountains. There are some out there, me included, that need a certain level of risk in life in order to feel alive. What I want to highlight here is not the fact that there is risk, but who is responsible for risk. I think it boils down to each individual needs to determine what risk is acceptable for them and be aware/educated enough to make informed decisions about risk. That decision should not be made for us, nor should we simply ignore the fact that there is risk.

  2. Richard Senelly

    Good thoughts… very well expressed. While mountain trail running may not provide the adrenaline rush of flying through the air in a bat suit, it can be thrilling, especially to urban and suburban dwellers… and this is probably one of its strong appeals. As you wrote, organized mountain trail running events can provide thrills with somewhat controlled exposure while less organized events (E.g., Barkeley) can more strongly emphasize participant responsibility. Most events clearly state up front what dangers may be encountered and who is ultimately responsible (us).

  3. Quigley

    I opened up the Ultra Fiord website and noticed the quote from Jeff Browning: ““It has the potential to be a big, classic world race. It seems to me like what Hardrock was in the beginning, like before they thought ‘Oh, we should probably put a fixed rope on the snowfield coming off Virginius Pass’. I really think it has the original Hardrock spirit.” Thanks for your article. Arturo Rueda’s death is tragic. I don’t know the veracity of the statement, but I found this online: ““Up on the mountain, he was seen by other racers wearing shorts and with no hat on, seated on a rock, while the area was affected by strong winds and snow.”” http://www.runningultramarathons.com/mexican-racer-dies-hypothermia-ultrafiord/ If Arturo was allowed out on the course without the required gear, I believe that the race director and management, unfortunately, need to bear some of the responsibility. Given the extreme weather possible, and the fact that many people may not have the local knowledge or necessary mountain experience, race management has a responsibility to make sure that people that they helped encourage out into the wild are able to handle the course and weather.

    1. Luke

      Quigley- I want to be clear here that the purpose of this is not to speculate with what happened with Arturo. I was not there, and frankly I do not think it is possible to get a clear picture of exactly what happened. I do think it is very important to note that a series of events built up and resulted in his passing. You bring up points that I think are worth discussing, you mention that the race management should encourage the runners of what they should take in to the mountain environment, and as a race director I agree, I want to help runners be as ready as possible, but is this the critical flaw? . As I put together my thoughts on personal responsibility I had a very interesting discussion with Jared Campbell about Barkley and Plain 100. It was fascinating to see the lack of direction from the race directors and how that led to very well prepared racers. I wonder the effect this hands-off attitude would have had at Ultra Fiord. In the end it is the runner’s responsibility to be prepared for the course, and I think that complacency and complete reliance on race management opens up the potential for unprepared participants.

      1. Yitka Winn

        Luke, thanks very much for this thoughtful, important piece. I’ve spent the last two months somewhat tortured by a lot of these very issues, some of which I have reflected on on my blog: http://yitkawinn.com/2016/06/beautiful-cruel-patagonia-my-ultra-fiord-race-experience

        For me, the biggest takeaway is that risk is a far murkier, more relative concept than many of us tend to think of it as. It’s impossible to really grasp the extent of the risks we take until after we’ve already taken them and can evaluate the outcome with the gift of hindsight. Even then, our evaluations are colored heavily by luck–good or bad–in any given scenario.

        Ultrarunning is a jigsaw puzzle that never quite solves itself, which is probably why most of us find it so damn compelling. One of the things that draws me to this sport is that every running experience I’ve sought out in the mountains–every run shared with others, every race, every solo venture into the backcountry, every mistake I’ve made, every failure and success alike–is a teacher. Risk is a part of that, but as you put it so articulately, “It is our job as runners, race directors, and friends or family to those in the mountains to ask how much is too much.”

        Thanks for writing this, Luke, and thanks to iRunFar for publishing it and raising these important questions.

  4. Pacer1

    As a long time outdoor field worker, SAR/Mountain Rescue volunteer and ultrarunner, I really appreciate your post. This is a very important discussion.
    A few years back I ran a race in Canada where the weather turned hard and fast from hot and humid to freezing black skies and hail. There occurred 60 rescues of runners atop one of the climbs. Many of them terrified and cold and some without the required gear that the RD was very specific about being “required.”
    A person suffered a potential life threatening event and was also brought to safety.
    The adventure was amazing for some of us nutty hearty outdoors types, however, the thought that so many disregarded the advice and requirements of the race officials was disturbing. Running in the Rocky Mountains in inclement weather in a singlet and tiny shorts carrying just enough to get to the next aid is dangerous. While I do not believe runners were intentionally trying to put themselves/ race organizers/ volunteers in any danger, and truthfully most days all ends well (and no one dies or ends up in a med-evac) it is still something we as a community need to address.
    As times get faster, races get fuller and people come from all over to extreme mountain and more difficult/remote races, we need to be vocal and look out for one another.
    Simple things to urge runners: carry warm gear, glucose/food, water treatment a non GPS compass (and know how to read it). Know where you are, where you are going and what surrounds you. Pacing many 100s I have realized that a lot of runners band together at night or when things get tough or you find yourself “way out there.” I love that about this sport; that we as a community for the most part work together deep in the woods not out of responsibility but out of a particularly warming camaraderie. For me, it is the spirit of the sport.

  5. Luke

    Very reasonable and thought-provoking. The constant cycle of success leading to risk rebaselining until failure happens is an insidious problem. And I agree that the unintended consequence of very user-friendly ultra events has been participants who are very unprepared to be self-sufficient.

    Last year in an ultra I encountered a group of 15 or so people who had become convinced they were off trail and were headed back. I pulled out my course map and showed them that we were in fact on the right trail. Only one person was willing to turn back around and continue, the rest ran back several miles to the last aid station. The course was well marked but ironically there were fewer markings in this section simply because there were no opportunities to leave the course. It was extremely clear throughout this interaction that none of them had even seen the course map beforehand, let alone considered studying it or going to such ‘extreme’ measures as printing it and carrying a single piece of paper in one of the pockets of their $150 hydration packs. Because of this when a single person, for some reason, thought they were all off they didn’t know what to do other than follow. Fortunately this was just an inconvenience, not a safety situation.

    1. Quigley

      Mandatory gear lists are a hard call. You can 99.9% of the time be self-sufficient with very little, but then when shit hits the fan or your legs cramp and you are stuck up on a pass in a snowstorm … As another example, Killian Jornet almost won, but ended up third at WS in 2010. That year he didn’t even carry a water bottle. Similarly, Killian climbed Denali carrying only a single liter of water a bit of energy gel and no stove. Killian and Emilie Frosberg got a lot of negative press after they were rescued on a mountain with basically no gear, although I thought Emilie’s response was reasonable: “Despite being rescued because she had gotten cold, Forsberg maintains that the “light and fast” style of climbing is still what she prefers. She writes: “And to the question, why are you out on Frendo with only running shoes? I guess everyone needs to find his own way to approach things. This is how I want to do it. We make mistakes and learn from them. But this is still the way I love to be in the mountains. Light and fast.” http://www.rockandice.com/lates-news/kilian-jornet-and-emelie-forsberg-rescued-from-frendo-spur I think races should have only a very limited mandatory gear list, but there should be an inspection of the gear.

      1. Luke

        You are right Quigley, mandatory gear is a tough one. Both of the instances you mention with Killian are interesting. He and Emilie have a lot of experience and are very comfortable with a much higher level of risk than most of the rest of us are willing to take on. Given that they are public figures it is easy to point fingers and question what they are doing. In the case with a large field of runners, some have lots of experience, others very little. So, what do we do as a community? The race director in me wants to tell all of the runners what they have to carry or do to be safe, the athlete in me wants to tell the race director in me to loosen up and let the me make my own choices. This is what I want to get to with this discussion. How as a community, do we help our tribe understand the risk and to choose to prepare themselves for it as opposed to forcing them to be prepared?

        1. Cary

          I think the mandatory gear question really ties into Luke’s points about ignorance and complacency. Judging risk requires assessing information and appreciating consequences when the expected does not go as planned. On a warmish spring day in Georgia, during a particular race that seemed to have a ridiculous mandatory gear list (thermal layers, seam sealed rain gear, emergency blanket etc.) nearly all runners grumbled about having to carry an extra 5 pounds. the race director stuck to his plan. The race went well for nearly everyone. However, one runner rolled his ankle on a high remote ridge at dusk. From my understanding, he was near the back of the pack at the most difficult place on the course to access for rescue. The temps dropped quickly, the wind picked up, and the runner started to get very cold very fast. The runner put on the required gear, wrapped himself in the emergency blanket, and survived. The next day he was reported as thanking the race director and saying “without the gear you required, I might have died.”

          So, while I also take risks on runs very similar to Luke’s described run, I also think about the consequences of my decisions. What is my backup plan. How will I survive if something goes wrong. Can I survive. I now carry an InReach on very remote solo runs.

          I agree entirely with Luke’s point that we as runners need to be responsible for our own level of risk tolerance based upon our own level of knowledge/skill and fitness. We should always be trying to improve both. That is the essence of mountain ultrarunning to me. Map reading is as important as quad conditioning when safety is concerned, maybe more important. However, in the racing environment, race directors typically know the risks associated with their events (and fully appreciate them) better than some (maybe most) of their participants. That is to be expected. Anyone who has put on an event know about the months of planning. Thus, in the race environment, the responsibility is shared by both director and runner. The director needs to tailor the kit, information, and flat out warnings, to match the risk that might be encountered. He/she must also tailor them to the participants, erring on the side of safety. Participants need to tailor their choice of races to their knowledge/skill and fitness. It is a partnership. There will still be accidents, but I think they can be reduced without eliminating the thrill of running in amazing (but risky) environments.

  6. Steve

    Good thoughts to ponder on. It’s interesting that we’re having this discussion on the internet because I think the internet is primarily responsible for needing to have the discussion in the first place. A thorough examination of our own tolerance of risk is vital, especially taking into account our own life situations – family, career, etc. But I think a lot of talking about risk ends up being defensive because of the Monday morning quarterbacking ubiquitous on the internet. Nowadays, everyone with an opinion can spout off in the most obnoxious, uninformed, unempathetic, and all too often vile and disgusting comments in near anonymity.

    If Luke had broken his ankle and ended up a hypothermic search and rescue victim, I wouldn’t have posted some snarky or sanctimonious comment online because he’s a friend and we give friends the benefit of the doubt. Just because I didn’t know Arturo or the Ultra Fiord RD does that give me permission to post those kinds of comments about them? Some other runner’s level of risk tolerance has almost zero influence whatsoever on anyone else’s life. Why would anyone take 30 seconds out of their day to post a hateful, ignorant comment about it?

    As the saying goes, haters gonna hate. Unfortunately the internet make that very public. Maybe we can’t change the world but we don’t have to sink to that level ourselves.

  7. Jon Tanner

    It is going to be really tough to ever convince me that responsibility lies with anyone other than the runner. It’s your life, your family, your risks, your rewards. This is a very well written piece, but I think it has a simple answer.

    Thanks for your well thought out words!

  8. Emerson Thoreau

    The biggest mistake I see is not telling someone where you are going to be running — an easy mistake to make. Whether deep in the mountains or out on a short local trail run, if $hit happens it is critical that people know where to look.

  9. Sebastian

    Good article.. I think the runner / explorer needs to make a reasonable effort to receive the benefit of doubt. Taking precautions both high tech and low tech is key: GPS tracker (+ back-up battery) and (laminated) Maps / Whistle, inclement weather gear, extra food, water purification tablets… As somebody else mentioned, letting folks know (both professional and personal) you’re out there is equally important..

    If it is an organized race, there is a burden of proof on the RD as well to have mandatory pre-race briefings, detailed course descriptions, including risk factors and perhaps even a required gear list… Some participants travel from far and have no opportunity to explore the terrain/course beforehand…

    1. Sebastian

      …For mandatory briefings, don’t head out the bib numbers until you have proof the runner has attended the briefing or has otherwise proven to be fully up to speed on all the specifics of that race…

    2. Matt

      Using the excuse of “not being a local” is complete bogus. It’s your responsibility to do your homework, be intelligent about what you can expect to face and understand your risk tolerance. Offloading that onto someone else, even if it’s an organized race, is negligent.

      1. Sebastian

        Hmmm.. there is only so much you can do on paper.. It is usually the unexpected (weather/wildlife/diversions) that make things more complicated. ‘Just doing your homework’ could get you into trouble in those events… I just wanted to convey that pre-race briefings are important and RDs who would just send people out into the wild are perhaps falling short on the required standard… One year I did a race that involved travelling and breeding moose, knowing where were the most recent sightings was a very relevant fact that no amount of homework could prepare me for…

  10. Jake

    I think just about everyone would agree with the need for personal responsibility when it comes to going out for a run, but there’s an additional set of issues when we’re talk about organized events. I’m not an RD, but my understanding is that (most of the time) putting on an official event requires one or more permits from the relevant public land managers. And in order to secure those permits, the RD needs liability insurance. And that insurance is likely to come with a number of conditions and requirements, including those that relate to participant safety (which can be defined however the insurance company chooses to define it). The race organizer won’t have the flexibility to ignore those requirements, even if individual participants are entirely capable of keeping themselves safe.

    So in these races, decisions sometimes (though thankfully not very often) do get made for us. Just last month, for example, the Vermont City Marathon (not a trail ultra, I know…) was cancelled because of heat — while a number of runners were still on the course. Could every one single one of those runners safely finished if they had slowed down and adjusted their strategies to respect the prevailing temps? I’m pretty confident the answer is yes.

    But the RD was concerned about the risks to the runners still out there, and decided to stop the race. Maybe it was required by their insurance policy, or maybe part of the decision was based in a desire to not have any serious injuries or fatalities at their event. And I’m in no way criticizing or second guessing that decision, but the net effect was to prevent a lot of individuals who had a perfectly well developed sense of personal responsibility from finishing the race. That’s just the world we live in.

    This obviously sucks for those runners who could have finished, but weren’t allowed the opportunity. Unfortunately, I don’t see a solution to this. Running under someone else’s race rules doesn’t eliminate my need for personal responsibility, but it does mean that they can impose their own risk analysis (or their insurance carrier’s) upon me.

  11. Marco Pablo

    Good article. The only thing I would add is I think we all have the responsibility to share info with each other. This especialy important for newbs and people unformilar with a particular area. Also we also have to ask questions when we are not sure of something.

    1. Luke

      Marco- I totally agree. I think those of us who have been around really have a responsibility to mentor newcomers to the sport!

      1. Matt

        There is also an aspect of personal responsibility when sharing information. For example, it would be a better decision to not tell a newbie the route to get to the top of Virginius pass if they are asking you at noon and the clouds are building. If I don’t know the capabilities of a specific person in the backcountry I will be very careful about what I share.

  12. Kyle

    Luke,

    You wrote in your article: “But the acceptance of risk should be my decision. It should be your decision. No one can or should make that decision for me. No one can or should make that decision for you.”

    I would like to offer a counter view to that: If my wife says to me that free soloing and ice climb is a bad idea, or running deep into the hills without a partner is unsafe, I tend to listen despite my own level of risk acceptance. Those of us with loved ones (mother, father, sister, brother, spouse), especially with children, need to make slightly different decisions about how far we are willing to hang it out there. I believe that my family has the right to make those risk assessments on their behalf as well. After all, as Ed Viesturs says “Getting to the top is optional. Getting down is mandatory.” Sometimes the risk isn’t yours to take.

    1. Luke

      Kyle- you make a very good point and I totally agree. Speaking personally, I am a family man. I have a lovely wife and three kids that count on me coming home. I don’t think that your view counters the point of the article, actually I think it is quite synergistic. You (or I) make a conscious decision to take less risk simply because of our loved ones. It still boils down to us making that decision, but that awareness of others and their desires changes what we determine as acceptable. When I found running it was just after our first daughter was born. At the time I was very serious about whitewater kayaking, steep creeking in particular. I had friends that didn’t come home, and as I pondered their passing I found that I was no longer willing to accept the amount of risk that I had previously. This was heavily influenced by the newborn baby at home. We are fortunate souls, those of us who get to travel in the mountains with the support of loved ones. To not come home would be an incredibly selfish act.

  13. Jeremy Smith

    Love the thoughts and comments on this thread! A few additional thoughts:
    1. As a RD and event organizer myself, I feel it is my responsibility to educate all participants and carry out my promises when I am in charge– Course markings, aid stations, medical staff, etc. Luke did an amazing job directing last week’s SMUT race btw- I completed the 100k and was very impressed with the event. Some races, like the Barkely, promise less support, and this is also fine, because that is the expectation. I do feel when there is a discrepancy (ie, RD promises are not kept) then responsibility falls in large portion to that RD.
    2. As a participant in organized events or in training, it is ultimately MY job to stay safe and make good decisions. I admit that I love risk– but my risk level tolerance should only grow as I grow in experience. 10 years ago I climbed the tallest mountain in Idaho and used fixed ropes to cross a notorious ridgeline– two weeks ago I climbed that same mountain in a full expedition pack with no ropes and no fear– And I feel there was less risk on the more recent climb, because of my current knowledge and experience. Jornet is a great example– his experience allows him to do things most mortals would never attempt–And it’s not like he was summiting Denali with 1 bottle of water when he was 16 years old. We are always growing and learning and that learning curve must be respected. A big part of learning is failure, and mishaps are sometimes the best teachers– I now always carry a map with me during long races, because of an experience with a poorly marked race course. I now carry an InReach Satelite on long runs or overnight adventures to mitigate risk and help my family be comfortable with my decisions to be out there. My personal safety kit is full of items that experience has taught me that I need– Reading a gear list or buying expensive gear is no substitute for knowing why you need certain items and how to use them
    3. DRIFT is real! There are climbers and runners and mountaineers with far more experience than I have, who get relaxed and make fatal errors. None of us are immune– just weeks after safely submitting Mt Rainier several years back, I nearly died on a 300-foot icy slope on a small local mountain– The scars I still have from that fall remind me that even when we feel like we are at the top of our game, it pays to have a checklist and to create safe habits to prevent dangerous complacency. Arrogance is dangerous.
    4. Education: As a coach myself, I am passionate about helping others learn from my successes and mistakes- as the sport of ultra-running grows, we can all increase the safety of the sport by mentoring others and helping them increase their comfort level and risk-awareness. Our technological world has access to do much online information– But in a sport that involves hours upon hours in tough, potentially dangerous terrain, nothing will ever replace a friend or mentor or coach to guide newcomers safely into the sport

  14. astroyam

    It is tragic that Arturo died, and I can only imagine the sadness that his family and friends feel.

    Race director recommendations and gear lists are very helpful tools for the runner, but…

    At the end of the day, it is the individual’s decision to enter the race, sign the waiver, and take responsibility for his or her actions. No one is forcing anyone to enter a race.

    Besides, if we remove the responsibility from the participant, then we will eventually be left with only road races, because of law suits, at least in the US.

  15. Marco

    I recently had my first DNF at Jemez 50 miler a few weeks ago.

    I felt prepared for this event as it was going to prep me for the Never Summer 100k. I injured myself three weeks before the envent. Strained my left lat muscle running hard downhill with a handheld. This changed my entire race strategy three weeks before the event. I left handheld and belts, and re-entered the world of vests. I gravitated from vests to begin with because the hard bottles bruised my ribs after a long time. A friend informed me of some new collapsible bottles which would mitigate this type of bruising.

    So, 5 days before the race the bottles arrived and I messed with them around the house and felt like I had a good idea of how to use them. I have been told by books and friends to never deviate from your training. Do not do new things for a race (nutrition and gear), but what if you get hurt (not seriously) and think you can still participate, but have to alter you race strategy to mitigate the risk of re-injury? That is where I was.

    I rolled into Jemez knowing I had an injury that may not be fully healed. I knew I was breaking a cardinal rule of using these bottles in my vest without training with them. I also knew that this race was a tough one. In Parajito canyon, .75 miles away from last aid, I squeezed one of the bottles too hard and the cap literally flew in the woods. I was so surprised about the cap, the rest of the collapsible bottle gurgled all down my shirt. Found the cap and stopped and thought for a moment, should I turn around and refill the bottle at the last aid station or plow forward? I noted to myself I was making good time overall in the race and thought I could make it to the next aid in 6 miles.

    In hindsight, this decision cost me finishing. At the time, I did not realize that. Finished off the six miles through Parajito Canyon and ran the last two miles with no water. When I got to the next aid station, the initial strategy had been to chug water before the second massive, exposed climb ahead. When I arrived, I tried to chug, but dry heaved in the process. The strategy of taking small sips through the whole day had been blown up by not training with the equipment I brought.

    I did not drive six hours away from my family to fail. However, at mile 35 I was feeling so awful and was down to 8 fluid ounces for three more miles. I tweaked the lat injury (I have no idea how, probably sloppy foot placement) and then my breathing became labored because of the pain in my left lat. So, dehydrated, re-injured, and my heat training was not up to par with what I was experiencing.

    I kept trying to tell myself all the normal sayings that had helped me be successful until now.
    “This is who you are, this is what you do.”
    “Pain is temporary, pride is forever” (back from my wrestling days)
    “Nobody wants to read a race report where you failed.”

    None of these worked. I thought about my wife and two young daughters and reset my goal immediately. Parajito ski lodge for the second time and you are done. Once I made that decision, I knew it was over, but that did not stop the wave of disappointment when my tag got pulled from my bib and I got into a volunteer’s car to go back to the starting line. The volunteer had to pull over twice so I could try and puke with nothing coming out. For the first time, I got to hob nob with the elite runners and ask them questions, hang out with them. They are all normally gone before I finish.

    The long winded account of my DNF correlates to Luke’s article as such:
    I knew my current weaknesses coming into the event. I was honest with myself even though I know my abilities and know what I have done. I used thinking about my family to squash my ego. I told myself after the race that I still had fun, and still had accomplished something, even though I was going home without the Jemez pottery I coveted. I told myself, it is a good reason to come to this wonderful Locale and give it another try better prepared.

    In the end, just because I did not finish the race, did not make the experience any less awesome. I value experience over accomplishment. Once I said that aloud to myself driving home, it was all smiles. I have heard motivation is an mountain runner’s best friend. After my Jemez failure, my motivation of being a competent mountain runner has gone into another gear.

    One last thing, I have learned people prefer trip reports that were not successful to ones that were.
    Much love all,
    -marco

    1. Marco

      Not commenting directly towards Arturo. I know little of the details regarding the tragedy. More commenting towards the side of personal responsibility. Rest in Peace.

  16. Cameron

    Great article and comments, people! Thank you, Luke, for being so thoughtful about the discussion. There has already been a very real “drift” away from safe practices, even inadvertently, because our community keeps doing two things: 1. getting more experienced (more confident AND presumably taking more chances) 2. Attracting new trail/ultra runners who are not as experienced. Even well-run ultra trail events are offering risk to a new ultra runner or to a person who simply doesn’t do the work to prepare for the race/conditions/potential risk of a particular event. Personal responsibility is key, as several people already mentioned. I, for one, just don’t consider running high-altitude technical races at this point in my career due to their elevation/terrain and my own challenges in preparing for that style of event. With that said, I do still want to stretch my limits, but I try to do so with an experienced trail runner or three first, before I try something on my own. But let’s face it, some people don’t prepare, won’t prepare, and will put themselves (and our favorite Race Directors) in a bad situation from simply NOT taking personal responsibility. We unfortunately live in a society where people often don’t take personal responsibility. Somebody else is going to mark the course; an aid station volunteer will give me food or a ride; some other runner will have a salt tab or extra water; some nice helicopter pilot will pick me up from the side of the mountain, etc. I suggest we double our efforts to do both “in-race safety” training and FKT/Adventure safety training using our running clubs, REI, and our ever-popular trail running movie series venues to keep the discussion fresh for both the newbie and the experienced alike.

  17. Greg Salvesen

    Luke emphasizes preparedness in the mountains, which we can all agree on, but shies away from the responsibility of the race organization. If you go out on your own run in the mountains, that’s fine and you should accept the risk, as Luke himself does. However, a race is different and has an obligation to place the safety of the runners as a top priority. After all, one is paying for a supported course with aid stations, runner tracking, contingency plans, etc.

    Luke ignores some facts. At Ultra Fiord, other runners were stranded on the course for over 48 hours. That, along with Arturo’s death, is suggestive of negligence on the race organization’s part. What’s more, top US runners from the inaugural event warned about the unnecessary danger that the runners were subject to at the hands of the race organization.

    The bottom line is that I was disappointed to see that this was a wordy opinion piece, rather than contributing new information about this horrible case.

    1. Luke

      Greg, I am sorry that you were disappointed by this piece. I think I should point out that this article is about runner responsibility and not about what happened at Ultra Fiord. I mention some information about it only to reference what led me to share my option about responsibility in the mountains. I have no intention of going any further into the events that unfolded in Patagonia, not with Arturo or the other runners. I purposefully did not discuss any more about the event as it would likely lead down a rabbit hole of speculation and finger pointing.

      I do completely agree with you that races or organized events are not the same as a run that one does independently and this is a good conversation to have. Just last week I hosted the 2016 Scout Mountain Ultra Trail, of which I am the Race Director. The thoughts I had and wrote about in this article weighed heavily on my mind during the event. I agree with you that the race organization has a responsibility to care for the runners and to provide a certain level of safety. There are times that, regardless of best intentions, those safeguards breakdown. I figured, that for the 100k runners in our race that we would have direct interaction with the runners for about 200-150 meters of the 100k. That distance would be the time spent at the manned aid stations, the remaining 90,800 meters the runners would be on their own. We would not have influence over how much they ate or drank, or how they responded to the frequency of course marking, how they would deal with weather, or what they would do if lost. As a race director I try very hard to have multiple levels of backup to track runners, or at least determine their whereabouts in the case of an accident, but it is impossible to account for all situations, which is where personal responsibility comes in. I think that Race Directors need to have this conversation as much as anyone. They should ask themselves what can they do to facilitate runners being more prepared, and what can they do to make their events everything they are expected to be.

      Since this post went up I have had several conversations about action. About what should be done to help our sport recognize the importance of being responsible for our own actions and how to we foster that attitude amongst our community. I am open and quite interested in any ideas on how to do this because I think it is the type of action that could help lessen that chance of the past repeating itself.

  18. PutMeBackonmyBike

    First off, I’m not commenting on Arturo here, but generally about people outdoors.

    I think part of the problem is that just like every other outdoor activity, there are people with the right skills and people without them all in the same arena. I hiked, rock-climbed, and mountaineered for years in the UK, before I moved to Canada 15 years ago, and every trip out would reveal the same thing, people that were properly equipped and knew what to do with it, people who were properly equipped and didn’t know what to do with it, and people who were unequipped. Group 3 were thankfully, the least populous. I was there again last week, running in the mountains that I hiked in my youth and it was superb. I carried electronic maps on my phone and navigation has never been so easy, but in my pack was a waterproof map and a compass and a flashlight, and I know how to navigate effectively the old school way. Group 2 however, might now be expanding and Group 1 reducing as electronic navigation aids become the norm.

    On arrival at one of the summits last week, I was not surprised to find a “Group 2” asking for directions on a perfect, cloudless day. How would they have been on a more typical, restricted visibility day with less people to guide them.

    I sat there thinking about this and it made me wonder “do they know that they are Group 2 or do they think they are Group 1”. This is Dunning-Kruger, where the self perception of skill is far higher than the actual skill level. It exists everywhere in life, but in some situations, can obviously become a life or death issue.

    The mandatory kit lists for races prevent Group 3 from running. Group 2 get through. Group 1 accept the risk and know what to do. The question is how do you stop Group 2 from getting out of their depth and how do you move them to Group 1?

    1. Cary

      I agree with your analysis completely. I for one think I am a group 1, but I am certainly a group 2 in some technical situations. As the last sentence of your post states, the key is know where on the scale you are in comparison to the risks involved on the course.

      Perhaps our sport could promote more education and training in backcountry skills and create/use existing certifications to verify those skills. Some of the more remote/risky events could then require this certification as part of entry. That might help reduce the glut on lottery day as well.

      1. PutMeBackonmyBike

        You are absolutely right about promoting education and training. I think the the problem arises with certification for many people as it is contrary to the concept of freedom that outdoor activities are all about and could generate a lot of resistance as a result. It is a really difficult area to address because of this, but some proof of competency system would be a great goal.

        I know that when I climbed in the Alps, I used to take out an insurance policy for the duration of the trips that included full mountain rescue coverage (which most policies excluded). This was many years ago now, but I’m pretty sure that you could reduce the cost by demonstrating certification from a proper climbing course, so there are precedents out there, just not the kind that many want to see in a sport (who wants insurance at the individual level to go outdoors, after all).

        This seems like a topic to be discussed at length on a nice long run, where the world is often put to rights :-)

  19. Cary

    I agree with your post entirely. I for one think I am a Group 1, but I amp probably a Group 2 on more technical terrain. Perhaps our sport could promote training with certification. Races that are more risky/remote could then require this certification. In other sports this is common. I cannot rent a sea kayak without proof of self rescue. Most heli-skiers must prove avalanche training before take off. There are plenty of courses for the Group 2 runners, and most Group 2 runners would love to be Group 1. Race directors, our running community and individual runners should all share in the responsibility for safety.

  20. Stano

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts Luke!

    Here are some of my thoughts on risk and responsibility in the mountains from a perspective of mountain athlete, race organizer and someone who wants to enjoy it all for a long time:

    1) It’s impossible to have a clear “law” of with whom lays the responsibility because it heavily depends on context of a specific situation, meaning, the complexity of events that lead to that situation can range widely. Three examples:
    a) Our own individual responsibility is obvious when one goes to mountains on their own (outside of organized event).
    b) It’s shared responsibility for an accident when one follows an incorrect map.
    c) It’s not passangers responsibility when a well working plane crashes and kills everyone aboard, although, they all accepted the risk of flying.

    2) Strictly in mountains, I think, the similar applies as in my point above, however, there will always be (or should be) more individual responsibility regardless whether it’s a race or not. Why? Because who cares about who is responsible if I or you die – at that moment, in that situation, you are dead and no blaming anyone will bring you back. Of course, lessons should be learned so future “accident” can be prevented but that doesn’t help the dead person (me or you). And because of that, because we know we are mortal, we should know that we are mostly responsible.

    3) What Kilian does is amazing but I don’t see why he has to discuss on social media right after he finishes an FKT that he brought only 1 bottle and 1 gel for whole Denali. He is free to do so and other people should be responsible for themselves if they follow his lead, but I don’t think that should be one of the first messages send to the world.

    4) In 8 out of 10 ski mountaineering races I carry more than required gear which only means up to 100g more – extra hat and extra food. Because it’s winter, I know that to abondon in a skimo race it is no joke, not like you can sit on a side of the road in an Ironman :) This should be the logic of all ultra runners cause u guys get out far away in races. Unless you are going for the overall win then you don’t have a execuse, and if you are going for the win then you got “excuse” but you are still responsible.

    Bottom line: I guess in the mountains, whether in a race or not, more or all responsibility should be accepted by the participating individuals/athletes because they would be the victims of actions no matter who caused them.

  21. Kevin

    Cool post, and comments.

    On the risk spectrum of wilderness/outdoor activities that exist to push the boundaries of human limits, I’d guess ultrarunning is on the safer side. Particularly in sanctioned ultra races with support.

    Should RD’s and volunteers do their best to ensure all runners arrive home safe after the event? Yes. Should runners arrive at events prepared, with safety in mind? Yes. Will occasional tragedy still strike? Yes, unfortunately.

    I think people that free solo climb El Capitan and Half Dome at Yosemite take too much risk, but more power to them. Who am I to say what risk they can or cannot take to push their limits?

    There seems to be a general armchair quarterbacking of tragic wilderness events. No matter how experienced, prepared and tough you are, the wilderness is more experienced, and tougher.

  22. matthew

    Perhaps we can look at other sports for insight. For example, racing car drivers have got together before races where they perceived the risk to be higher than usual to decide whether or not to race. There are also player unions in some sports (eg NHLPA) who have forced safety standards to be increased.

    Running is certainly more individualistic than either of these examples (and yet, as others have mentioned above, also more prone to teaming up to help each other finish a race!) Maybe the trail camaraderie needs to extend to before the starting gun goes off; runners helping each other to be sure to have the required gear, maps, etc.

    This is an important discussion to have, and one which is going to be influenced by the cultures that we are each from. Americans have a more self-reliant streak and Europeans are more communitarian.

  23. Greg Reynolds

    Thanks for the thought-provoking words, Luke. I think they were just right to start off this discussion.

    As has been mentioned by many already, in my opinion, both the participants and the race directors bear some responsibility for the safety of the runner. But, in my opinion, the ultimate responsibility must always lie with the runner. It is impossible to get rid of all risk, and if it was, most mountain runners would not be interested in participating. The runner should know that the activity they are participating in is inherently dangerous. If they decide to participate in the race, they are choosing to participate in the risk. The consequences are their’s.
    Of course, every race director wants the runners to be safe and goes to various lengths to make the race safe. They bear some responsibility in helping the runners understand what they’re getting into or screening out those that aren’t prepared. For some races that means required gear or past completion of another similar race or many aid stations. For other races (Barkley, for example), it is advertising the insanity of the race and telling the racers they are on their own so that the racers prepare themselves properly. I like the Barkley method most, but it may not work in every race, and limiting aid like they do would likely cut participation way back.
    So what can be done? I don’t think there’s one answer, or even ten answers, that would stop all accidents and tragedies from happening. But I do think there are things we could do that would decrease their occurrences.
    Most ultramarathoners already understand the risks and take personal responsibility for their choices. Historically, ultra-runners have been the hardcore that have accepted the risk and have no intention on placing blame for their own failures on others. But, as the sport grows and more new people participate, I think this culture of personal responsibility and preparedness could be at risk. The more the average joe participates in ultras, the less risky it seems and more underprepared people will participate. It is every participants’ responsibility to encourage a culture of responsibility and preparedness by personally preparing properly and expecting others to do the same, but it is the elites’ opportunity, in particular, to make proper preparedness the expectation. Others would hopefully catch the spirit of it and spread it further. Absolutely continue to invite new people to participate, but set the expectation that they need to be able to take care of themselves, even when everything turns south.
    If participants are taking these races seriously and doing all they can to prepare themselves and race directors are doing what they can to help the racers know how to prepare, I bet that tragedies like the one in Patagonia would occur less.
    Again, I think this culture already exists and that racers and race directors do a pretty good job already. Tragedies like the one in Patagonia do not occur often. The danger, I believe, is that this culture may get lost as more and more people choose to participate, particularly those with less experience in the mountains.
    No matter how good things are, there will inevitably be detractors and critics. It’s a tough balance to strike – encouraging new people to participate while requiring a certain level of experience and preparation.

  24. joseph

    Great discussion. I think that ultra runners can investigate the issue more by looking at the long discourse that climbers have had on the subject. They often deal with much more risk and responsibility for their own safety than runners. There are dozens of books on every aspect of climbing risk, self-rescue, etc. And many more books on perilous escapes and tragic deaths. The running community would do well to look to climbing for help on the subject.

    Like most people on SAR teams, I do everything in my power to avoid having to utilize SAR resources. There will always be those who are in way over their heads and those who don’t realize their peril until too late.

    The book Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzalez is a great entry level discussion on all these issues.

  25. Greg Half

    I liked that article, thanx for posting it Meghan (and of course, perfectly written ;-) ). I appreciated the gist of Luke’s point…it is the point of view of someone focused on the race (which is an artificial entity and infrastructure, superimposed on an environment, seeking to provide racers with some measure of safety), rather than the environment (the mountain).
    He notes the community focus on the ways in which external organizers mitigate risks for participants.
    Personally, I agree with Jared Cambell; this is the wrong place to focus, both from an environmental and personal satisfaction point of view.
    Adding focus on further external risk mitigation creates a downward spiral of environmental invasiveness in the name of safety. More and closer aid stations, more elaborate and mechanized rescue machines and systems, more frequent and permanent course markings, etc, etc. All of these do decrease risk; in the same way that cutting stair steps and installing hand rails and bolting ladders makes “climbing” Everest safer. It diminishes the task in order to expand the pool of participants.

    Like Jared, I feel the focus should be on greater personal accountability and skill acquisition, and greater acknowledgment of consequences for the under-prepared.

    The goal should not be to reduce the objective difficulty of the task to a lower standard of participant, but to raise the ability of the participants to accomplish the task.

    There are, and always will be, two kinds of hazards in the mountains: Subjective hazards, and Objective hazards. You control the first, nature controls the second. Mountaineers understand that external rescue is not on the menu, and they prepare with a gravity and focus commensurate with that requirement, as do entrants at the Barkley. This year, when blind runner Rhonda-Marie Avery and guide Christian Griffith were unaccounted for at hour 23 of the first loop, the film crews asked if there would be a search. They were told by all present that Barkley is self rescue only. It is a real thing.

    As ultrarunning morphs into adventure running, that is the standard to follow.

    Unfortunately, for events whose primary underpinnings are financial, the motivation is towards external mitigation, as it increases the pool of paying customers.

    Since that motivation will not be disappearing, perhaps it is time for a more nuanced rating system for races, much as we have for climbing, to describe the consensus of difficulty and risk for routes of the same height.
    Perhaps not just a 100, but a 100G1 or 100PG3, or 100X5

    Length, Risk, Steepest Grades Ascent

    G – frequent aid, easy extraction
    PG – frequent aid, delayed extraction
    R – infrequent aid, some self rescue, objective risk of serious injury
    X – infrequent aid/self supported, self rescue only, objective risk of serious injury or death.

    1 – mostly flat
    2 – rolling
    3 – rolling w occasional steep ascents or descents
    4 – continuous steep ascents and descents
    5 – continuous steep ascents and descents, highly technical requiring hands on rock to climb/descend

    I envision this creating a financial motivation to leave wild places untrammeled, as taming them would reduce the objective difficulty of the rating, and so the desireability of completing such a course. Something like this has to happen, or RDs will be Disney-fying their courses to keep people coming.

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