Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes!

[Editor’s Note: This article was written by the Trail Sisters’s Gina Lucrezi.]

I’ve been a part of mountain running, ultrarunning, and trail running for eight years. I can remember my first race, the Greenland Trail Races 8 Mile in Larkspur, Colorado, and my first pair of trail shoes, the La Sportiva Crosslite. Eight years isn’t a super-long time, but it has been long enough to witness change in the sport, among athletes, and within our approaches to racing.

Disclaimer! I’m not here to say what is right or wrong, or what is good and bad, but instead create some food for thought and perhaps some dicussion. I’m curious as to what readers have to say about their own experiences, and especially what long-time veterans have observed through the decades of our sport’s history.

Let’s start with the sport itself. Mountain running, ultrarunning, and trail running. I’ll never forget thumbing through an issue of Trail Runner Magazine circa 2008 and seeing ads for the Leadville Trail 100 Mile and the Western States 100. At the time, I didn’t quite understand why people tried to run for 100 miles straight, and I also wondered how large this participant group could actually be. I remember thinking that it must be a ‘thing,’ though, since there were advertisements for it in the middle of a magazine.

Today, I believe we are seeing an increasing popularity in these longer events to the extent that there are now (more) lotteries and wait lists to get into them. At one point, you were able to sign up on race morning at some of these events. To take it a step further, some races are so popular that they’ve created point systems to help your chances if you get shut out of the event multiple years in a row. Qualifier races aren’t necessarily new, but I think they are becoming more popular and ‘extreme’ races are requiring runners to complete a rite-of-passage event before even applying to their lottery.

Another interesting observation, what seems to be an increased appetite for vertical-gain-focused courses. The International Skyrunning Federation has been around since 1992, thus the idea of racing at altitude and doing large amounts of vertical is not new. Personally, I enjoy courses that are a bit more rolling versus ones that force you to hike. I’ll speak with runners about their training or upcoming races, and ‘vert’ never fails to pop up in the conversation (along with the word ‘epic’… ugh). Whether it’s how much they’ve done in week or how much is in their next race, the vertical gain one achieves in running is definitely a focal point among the people with which I spend time. Why is this? Is it driven by athlete demand, created by race directors, or inspired by outdoor companies? Is vertical gain a new obstacle in the sport that helps separate speedsters from mountain goats? I don’t believe that moderate-to-little-elevation-gain trail races are any less important or legit, so why aren’t these events receiving the same recognition and excitement from media and participants?

Time to shift gears; let’s talk about athletes. Once upon a time, being sponsored in the sport of mountain running, ultrarunning, and trail running meant receiving a modest amount of shoes, a race uniform, and maybe a small stipend that helped pay for race entries… and this was reserved for the crème de la crème. Today, high-level sponsorships include copious amounts of product, trips, photoshoots, bonuses, public-relations events, and of course, a monetary stipend that pays for much more than just race entries.

Did this change come because of participation, social media, both, something else? Obviously there many ‘godfathers’ and ‘godmothers’ in the sport–THANK YOU for paving the way!–but I’m guessing the perks they received were a bit different. Personally, I think it’s great to have role models who inspire and empower others. I also think that these role models deserve to be compensated for their image (or the like) if it’s used to sell a product or service. Additionally, these athletes have the responsibility of looking out for one another and the sport, as they are driving force of influence.

Staying on track with athletes, has anyone else noticed the swell of mileage comparison and its seeming importance among our community? I’ve kept a running log since college and can be totally compulsive about writing my entry each day. I add up my miles and either be super excited about how many I ran that week, or bummed that I didn’t hit some arbitrary quota. Though I poke fun at myself, knowing your mileage is a common and normal thing for a runner.

With new technologies like Strava, Movescount, and more, people now have the ability to observe, critique, comment, or secretly stalk other’s stats. Though these are innovative and fun platforms, they present the ability for people to compete with one another over the most, fastest, highest, and more amount of miles. Will this influence people to overstep their abilities? Foster an overly competitive environment that can lead to injuries? Inspire people to do more than they thought they could? Simply provide motivation? Maybe all of the above.

Ironically, if you have competition in one segment of your life, chances are that it will spread to other areas. What am I hinting at now? Race schedules! Raise your hand if you have signed up for an increased amount of races in recent years. Being a fan of the race scene, I’m thrilled to see more events pop up each year. I don’t necessarily believe that means athletes should try to run all of them–except Mike Wardian–but participation growth creates excitement. Excitement can lead to UltraSignup experiencing a hefty payday! As people continue to bulk up their schedules, will we see more injury? Or, will more frequent racing help people improve from what they thought was possible? With an increase in participants, will race-entry prices increase? Will we see more lotteries? Undoubtedly we are seeing more events.

Call for Comments (from Gina)

Obviously nothing in this world will ever stay the same. Evolution is inevitable, and the sports of mountain running, ultrarunning, and trail running are not exempt. Though we can always expect change, we also have the ability to create change. I’ve only rattled off a few observations, but there are many more to be noted. What do you think the future holds for the sport, for the athletes, for the industry? Do the changes I’ve detected seem accurate to you? Are these changes good, bad, or neutral? I’m curious to hear your opinions and observations! Please share your thoughts!

Trail Sisters

is a group of three women, each with unique opinions, ideas, and attitudes toward all things trail and ultrarunning. Pam Smith is a mom, physician, and lover of running who lives in Oregon. Liza Howard is a mom and 100-mile specialist from Texas. Gina Lucrezi is a Colorado-based short-distance speedster exploring the realms of ultrarunning.