Governing Bodies

Ultrarunning holds its values in high regard. In a sport like ours where people are fiercely proud of authenticity, the topic of money is quick to attract naysayers. Many people think the influx of money means that runners will start competing for the wrong reasons, that they won’t hold the same values as the core community of runners do today, and that the core community will become less of a community and more a field of war. Ultrarunning’s values are based so highly on things like camaraderie, friendship, integrity, and appreciation of wild and beautiful places. That fierce competition and an influx of money is often seen as a corruption of what is most dear.

This fear seems to be escalating with the creation of governing bodies within the sport such as the recently announced Ultra-Trail World Tour that are perceived to be motivated by profits and control of the sport. These governing bodies are sometimes seen as avenues through which powerful corporations will control our idealistic sport. The very best of ultrarunning seems to be at risk.

But you know what? I can fix this right now. I have the answers that will avoid all negativity and keep the sport the way people want it. I know the facts that will make all of this okay.

Fact 1: You don’t have to let any system take control.

Simple as that. The Ultra-Trail World Tour may be good and it may be bad. That’s your opinion. On the one hand, it may unify the sport and streamline the competitive races into a single series that will benefit both the fast runners and the fans of the sport. On the other, it may be a poison that attempts to incapacitate free will and force people to do things their way. Regardless of any of that, though, you don’t have to be part of that system if you disagree with it.

So you learned enough to formulate an honest opinion on the subject, and you hate what they are doing? The solution is to just not go to those races. There are hundreds of races in America and abroad that have nothing to do with any kind of governing body, all of whom would love to have you. I ran the Breck Crest Mountain Marathon just this last weekend on a whim, signing up the Friday before the race, and I had a great time! They put on a small event with great trails, great aid, great people, and outstanding views, and you have likely never heard of it. That’s because the Breck Crest is not part of any big series. And there are hundreds of other races just like that.

The bottom line: if you don’t want to support or be part of a particular style of racing, then don’t. Ultrarunning is a product of the people who take part in it. And that brings me to the next major point.

Fact 2: Your choice of where to race is a vote in the direction the sport should go.

Here’s a problem that could arise: what if your favorite race is part of the series that you don’t want to support? If, for example, a hypothetical runner doesn’t like the UTWT , but loves Western States more than his or her own family (not uncommon, I believe), he/she will have an ethical problem. On the one hand, he would do anything to run Western. On the other hand, if they doesn’t want to support the series of which Western is now a part, their decision to race is going to be very difficult.

My answer is this: since every person’s race choice is a vote, this person will have to vote for what he believes in the most. If he dislikes the series enough, he should abstain from running Western States until it is no longer part of the series. If enough people who feel similarly do the same thing, the race will get the message and revert to its former non-governed ways. But if he decides to run Western anyway, despite its association with the series, the race organizers will see no reason not to continue with their new course of action. The direction will be maintained. We must race in accordance with our values.

Fact 3: You can do exactly the same thing as any governing body.

The solution to these problems comes from the same source as the problems themselves. The Ultra-Trail World Tour is a big deal with a lot of powerful backers, and this makes them seem official and in charge. But if you look closely enough, you’ll see that they are nothing more than a group of people with similar views who wish to promote those views on a large scale. That is an admirable goal. What this means is that you can do exactly the same thing. If you don’t like something about the sport, if you think people are littering too much or competing with too much attrition or losing their values, if you feel that races are too big or expensive or any other of the million ways that any race, big or small, could be doing wrong, then start your own race. Explain how you feel and what you want to do differently. You will likely find lots of people who feel the same way.

As a personal example, I just started the Telluride Mountain Run with Reese Ruland. What really excites me about the future is that we can take our race in any direction we want. If we want to be part of a series, we’ll join right up. If we want to stand alone and act as a bastion of independent events, then we’ll just stay right the hell out of any governing body. We guide the future of our race with our values and beliefs and hopes, partnered with feedback from the people who’ve participated. Our race, like any other, is a result of the people who run it. Their vote counts the most, even if that vote is just to continue to be part of the event.

Another, albeit extreme, option is to quit competing entirely. You don’t ever have to race again if you just want to run in the mountains with your friends. That’s as admirable as any other course of action. The only difference is that by abstaining from racing entirely, you are also abstaining from your vote in how the sport should grow or change. If you have read this far down this article, I suspect that you have strong feelings about ultrarunning because you genuinely care. If you’re passionate about ultrarunning, then please, don’t leave us. To leave is to give up, and we need most the people who care.

Fact 4: Any governing body will only have what power we give it.

The UTWT is by no means the first attempt at a governing body within the sport of ultrarunning. USA Track and Field, the International Association of Ultrarunners, the Montrail Ultra Cup, all these and more have attempted to provide a multi-race structure. Probably the series which has taken root best is the Skyrunning Federation, which hosts several difficult races throughout the year all over the world. They feature a point system which allows for runners to compete with each other over multiple races for a grand prize at the end of the year.

Skyrunning, like most other governing bodies, is essentially a middleman. They partner with existing races and create an outside structure, but they don’t actually direct the races. But unlike some of the other series, Skyrunning hit the right chord with its demographic, which is mostly European. The Euros in general like steep mountain races, and Skyrunning is dedicated to partnering with the steepest, toughest mountain races in existence. Because of this, people can run races they would run anyway, but in doing so they get to compete for much higher stakes than if Skyrunning were not part of the series.

If the Ultra-Trail World Tour can really honor its stated goals–to bring together the greatest competition in beautiful places, honor different cultures through shared interests, partner with the most storied events around the world to showcase their different styles, and provide every type of runner the opportunity to do well on their preferred terrain–they could potentially do something amazing. The fear is that those high-flown values could be a front to make a few people a lot of money through control of the sport.

As a competitive runner, I expect I will participate in the series to some extent, if only to try it out, because I want to believe that they really are trying to do what they say. The quality of this series or the lack thereof will become apparent within the first few years. Right now everything is up in the air. This could go either way.

As the sport grows, attempts to create a governing body seem inevitable. Rather than a disjointed collection of races spread throughout the year, people want to see a streamlined series that will conduct runners into the most “important” races if they wish to compete against the best. This is an admirable principle, but it can be taken too far. Triathlon, for example, is so hindered by governing bodies that performances are often forgotten in light of arbitrary points systems that often seem based more on politics than ability. That sport has created a bottleneck with the Olympics, which are highly valued by competitive triathletes. The Olympic Committee is in charge of who gets into the Olympics, which gives them power because they control the only path to the goal. In a situation like this, personal biases and petty differences are quick to take precedence over actual merit.

Fortunately, we don’t have to worry about mountain running in the Olympics (ultrarunning, perhaps, but long-distance road racing is only a small subset of the sport). Our playing field is still broad enough that no single organization can tell us what to do. One of the greatest things about ultrarunning is, as AJW put it, the “we’re all in this together” ethos. That’s why this is such a sensitive subject, most of us feel that we are part of something authentic and real in the world of ultramarathoning, and we want to protect its values. If you look at the stated goals of most governing bodies, they are only trying to further this ethos by creating stronger structures that bring people together. But they don’t get to say how people should race unless we let them. I would love to see the UTWT do all that it has set out to do. But at the end of the day, our choices will determine their success or failure. We are still the guardians of our own values.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

Dakota wrote this article because he thinks our community needs to ponder the bigger picture of what governing bodies mean to ultrarunning and to remind us that we have a stake in what our sport is and should be in the future.

In order for Dakota’s intended discussion to occur, all comments must be civil and constructive. If you wouldn’t say something to someone’s face on a trail run, it does not belong in a comment here. Discuss; debate; establish logical courses of action. Please do all of this in a kind, respectful-to-all manner.

Additionally, we’ve had several days now to debate what we’ve learned about the Ultra-Trail World Tour, so this venue, Dakota’s article and invitation for conversation, presents a great opportunity to look at the idea of governing bodies from a more wholistic perspective. We, thus, encourage you to direct your comments to the idea of governing bodies in general and not the UTWT specifically.

Thank you!

  • Governing bodies are not new entities in the sport of ultrarunning, yet the introduction of the UTWT created vociferous response from the community. Do you think this is because it’s the first new governing body to introduce itself since the massive expansion of trail and ultrarunning began several years ago? That the others, which have been around for longer, are now accepted as status quo? Or do folks’ opinions originate out of some facet of the UTWT itself and its differences from other governing bodies already operating?
  • Governing bodies of all kinds seem to be largely oriented toward the top end of the field, though they have trickle-down effects into the rest of community. Thinking about the other, already established governing bodies out there, what trickle-down effects do you feel within our sport, if any?
  • In the past, there has been room for both independence and governing bodies in our sport and keeping this diversity is likely a concept our community values. What can we do to help maintain this diversity?

There are 53 comments

  1. Jim

    There's a difference between what I would call a governing body (worldwide the IAAF for most running, jumping and throwing sports, but USATF and the UKA would examples of national governing bodies)and what I would call race series organisations.

    There is some blurred ground and a little turf warfare in Europe, notably between the International Skyrunning Federation (which is 90% in the race series camp in my view) and the World Mountain Running Association (which is affiliated to the IAAF and is the governing body for mountain running events).

    But generally to me a governing body sets and adminsters the rules for the SPORT as a whole (be it internationally or within a particular terriotary or jurisdiction) and the race series organisers may then have specific rules for their races. Where there is a governing body the race series rules are usually additional overlay on the governing body's rules.

    This is only really important because there is as yet no agreement on who is the governing body for trail running. (I think the subset of ultra that is road / track running is covered by the IAAF). Even in the Britain where UK Athletics recognises and permits trail races we have a slightly confused picture because it does so via both the Trail Running Association (TRA) and the Fell Running Association (FRA) which have different additional rules (e.g. the latter's rules effectively ban the use of trekking poles and pacers).

    As far as I understand in the US there isn't really any overall governing body sanctioning events, so you're bound to have more race series organisers wanting to step into the void and set up their own series and rules. That's great in that its a sign of a maturing sport starting to try to organise and regulate itself more consistently.

    BUT, the first attempts at this are suffering in my view from too much commercial interest – RO's will always want to attract headline sponsors and big name athletes and this will affect how entries and events are managed. I think we need to ask ourselves whether having commercial interest close to the heart of the governance of our sport is going to be best for the 95% of us who run and race because we love to do it but without any realistic hope of ever making it into "the elite".

    Ultimately it would be good to see a single worldwide governing body (which might or might not be the IAAF) looking after the interests of the sport as a whole, and also to see a strong lead from USATF and other national bodies.

    Because trail ultra running is still (in mass participation terms) a very young sport we haven't had to cross these bridges yet, but we need to do so fairly soon if the current growth and the challenges that brings are going to be accommodated whilst maintaining the unique ethos of the sport that Dakota so rightly treasures.

  2. Charlie Hunsberger

    I'm all for the new series. I think it will help spread the news of not just ultra running, but nature and fitness as well to the general public. And with the state of obesity and mental health disorders in our world today, that can be nothing but a good thing. The more people we can get active, and the more people we can get aware of our wild lands the better. This also should help with getting people more involved in protecting our wild places.

    And as Dakota points out, this new series only effects a very small percentage of races out there!

  3. Lstomsl

    I have no problem if somebody wants to start a new point series but I have doubts whether it can succeed or have any validity but time will tell. Ultra-running right now is like the wild west, there is no law. If someone wants to be a race director they can do it. If someone wants to start a web-site for news and info they can do it. If someone wants to lay claim to he term "grand slam" and trademark it they can do it. If someone wants to call their race the world championship they can do it. Anything is possible because THERE IS NO GOVERNING BODY. This is one of the beautiful things about the sport but as it grows is becoming increasingly problematic.

    More established sports have gone through these growing pains and most have a hierarchy of governing bodies from local to international. These set up consistent rules, provide opportunity for advancement from one level to the other, enforce the rules, and provide formal methods for determining the worlds best. Soccer has the world cup, football has the Super Bowl, for many sports an Olympic gold medal is the ultimate goal. The sport with the most parallels with ultra running, I believe, is cycling. Both have a huge number of recreational participants, many of whom could care less about competition. A huge number of weekend racers who occasionally compete for fun, and a pretty large number of elites for whom competition is the main focus. Both sports are very diverse in the types of races available. Road, trail, short, long, flat, mountainous, etc. there is a huge difference however. Cycling is organized at regional, national, and international levels. Talented regional cyclists can advance to national races and talented national level racers can advance to international competition. There are national federations like USADA that fall under the international umbrella of the UCI. Even within the UCI there are multiple levels of competition and multiple,goals available.

    Because cycling is organized it can have legitimate point series like the world tour. It can have legitimate national and world champions who get to wear special jersies. But even though these titles have legitimacy they are not necessarily viewed as worthy goals. Many of the best cyclists in the world don't even bother to race the world championships, or the world tour races, or the Olympics. The world tour races are diverse enough that any one cyclist can only be competitive at a couple events. The world championships differ every year and some years only a sprinter has a chance and the next year only a climber has a chance. Each cyclist picks races that suit their specific capabilities and goals and sets there own schedule for a year. The most prestigious races are those that attract the best competition by consensus such as San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, and the Tour de France. Those are the races that the best of the best focus on, not what the UCI decides to include in its point series.

    Ultra running is even more diverse and completely unorganized. UROC can call itself the world championship, the UTWT can call itself the world tour, Sam Baugh can trademark the words "grand slam" but without a real governing body none of it means jack. Even with a real governing body I would guess the winners of Western States, Hardrock, and UTMB will still be seen as the best of the best no matter what said governing body says, just like in cycling.

    I will make three predictions. 1) in time there will be a legitimate governing body like the UCI that will offer a hierarchy of races, consistent rules, point series, a legitimate world champion, and drug testing. 2) while some elite runners will fall in line, others will continue to pursue their own personal goals. Karl might still take a year off to run the AT, Anton will still be running free in the Rockies and trying to break FKTs, and Killian is still going to run up Mt. Everest and all of these performances will be just as respected as race results. 3). The vast majority of us will still be running trails to explore our world, hitting up local grassroots races to test our limits, and be personally unaffected by anything a governing body decides to do.

    1. Molly's dad

      Well said on pretty much all of the above points Lstomsl, I guess we are all resistant to change (some more than others) and this is completely natural. I am resistant to the idea; essentially as I do not think the winner of WT would hold any credibility for me. The winner of the sky running champs seem a little more credible in the sense that in a sky race, you know what you are going to get, a steep, technical course. The winner of the championship will obviously excel in this type of terrain. In the proposed WT, the range of races are so broad that it does not really have a strong identity, well at least for me and therefore its winner will suffer the same fate in my eyes.

      In terms of how it will affect me, not a jot. I still want to sort out my patella tendon issues (any advice much appreciated), I still want to get to a state where running the CCC is not likely to lead to my instant death from over exertion. Even if the CCC becomes so popular as a result of a new governing body (or whatever) that it is impossible to get a spot. There are plenty of other incredible races in Europe (the world) for me to trash my legs on. I will still want to run alone in the hills and with my local crew 'mynydd du' (based in South Wales, always looking for new members :) I will (also) still want to reduce my parentheses useage in the closing paragraphs of forum posts.

      1. MikeC AK

        Cycling has some good and some bad. UCI, a major mt. biking governing body, has gone so far as to ban riders who ride in non-UCI sanctioned events. A horrible developement.

        Excellent article Dakota. Here's hoping governance will stay appropriate and greed free. That's not human nature, but if intelligent conversation like this continues this sport can carry on its feel/traditions.

    2. Jeff

      The UCI is not necessarily the model for a governing body, nor is cycling a model for trail running.

      First of all, the UCI has had serious credibility issues, both in terms of drug testing and in terms of trying to organize its own world tour. The main monuments of cycling are not owned or controlled by the UCI (e.g., the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia, Vuelta, Paris-Roubaix, San Remo, etc.) so the owners of these races rebelled and continue to wield significant authority over the UCI. Also, sponsorship of teams is so fragmented funding is in question from year to year even for major teams.

      For the elite runners seeking to make a living from running, there needs to be a series of key events and a governing body. Perhaps tennis is a better model here since it is more of an individual sport.

      My thoughts:

      (1) For this to work as a meal ticket for elites, they need more races and prize money. People looking to compete should have to compete in a minimum number of races, and a point system could guarantee entry into key races. UTWT looks now like TNF races with a few other sprinkled in. Also, most of the races are in Europe, so geographic diversity is an issue.

      (2) If a governing body and "pro" circuit evolve, fewer spots will be available for non-elites in certain races, and it could eventually lead to a split where some races become elite only (only 128 men and women can play in Wimbledon, and they are all pros) or something like the Kona Ironman system. Part of me would hate to see the sport go this way, but the best of the sport should be able to earn a living based on more than just sponsorship.

      (3) If a governing body is to work for the interests of the entire community, it should uphold standards and sanction races that uphold those standards. It could do a lot to help there be races for all runners. To go back to the UCI example, none of the cycling events I participate in require a UCI license, so it is irrelevant to me as a cyclist, but not as a fan of pro cycling. I would hate to see the trail/ultra running body be irrelevant to most of the community.

      1. Lstomsl

        I would agree that the UCI is not an ideal model for ultra-running. I would say though that most of its problems are not structural but personnel related. And yes, there are still power struggles even after 100 years between races, teams, riders, and the UCI. Not perfect. But it began the same way ultra-running did. Even the tour de France began as a way to advertise a newspaper. In the beginning anyone was able to ride it. That would be untenable now. If ultra-running continues to expand we will likely see some classification and differentiation between elites and non-elites. We already see some of that at races like run, rabbit, run. But there will always be low-key less competitive venues available to everyone. I hope.

  4. Charlie M.

    The world is a complicated place.

    Running used to be uncomplicated.

    Running was never totally uncomplicated.

    Now it's still uncomplicated, but kind of complicated too.

  5. Adam

    Just a few points phrase as questions…

    1. I am confused, why can't we run, call things whatever why want, have whatever realistic rules we want event to event, and call each event a different experience?

    Why is there a need for anything other than race swag, aid stations, and running?

    2. Creating a race organization or series is great, but why can't it by formed out of enjoyment with a side result of finance gain?

    3. Is there a need for formalized rules, or is fear creating a fictitious need?

    All the Best!

  6. Jimmy Mac

    I like what Dakota said about "where you spend your money will send the biggest message" (paraphrasing, of course). I guess this is why Nike isn't involved in our sport- I think they make one model of trail runner? I don't know, I'm not a Nike fan. And they've gotten the message- people aren't buying their trail shoes so they probably have no desire to get into the trail game (I hope).

    I guess I'm lucky that I live in the Bay Area, there's like 4 or 5 companies here that throw awesome trail races almost every weekend of the year- Coastal Trail Runs, PCTR, Inside Trail, Envirosports, Brazen; probably 2 more have started while I'm typing this. I can spend all my money here in the Bay and never have to wonder where all the "cool" races are happening because (in my mind) they're all right here, maybe an hour's drive.

    So I think that's really it- the whole crux of the biscuit is where we as a community, with our wallets and purses- are the governing body of ultrarunning.

    1. Amy

      Nike is jumping into the trail game this season (or next). They've got several new models and are starting to sponsor races, at least locally here in Portland and Oregon. They've approached local trail runners as wear testers, and from friends that have tried them out, responses are favorable. I'm not saying anything for or against Nike, just that they do seem to be making a big move in the past few months to jump into the game in the coming season or two.

  7. Ben Clark

    Two years ago I had heard of Hardrock and Leadville. I completed my first Ultra by myself last summer, with no idea it was an ultra-it was just a long run I wanted to do. Since then, it has been amazing to discover the passion, values and destinations that drive this community and to participate in organized races. I don't think money will change the sport at it's core which for most of us is the training we do no? That's what most of my time on feet is spent doing ;-)

    Despite racing in 5 ultra's this year I spend most of my time running with no aid and no partners. If anything, the investment and structure will enable growth and discovery for the pursuit of happiness as we know it on the trail and encourage companies to confidently create specific products today that let us go farther and at whatever pace we like as we train or race. Since races are so awesomely supported to carry the bare minimum while running great ultra distances, it does not seem to have a direct impact on that experience for me other than being a target to aim for in my training which is often heavier and slower. In my limited experience however, the community of runners I have met at races have welcomed all newcomers ranging from those who may challenge, inspire and educate on new ways to do things or humbly just want to learn. I like that and I don't see that going away.

  8. Pedro Caprichoso (Po

    I do not think that the Ultra-Trail World Tour will enjoy much success. To succeed as a series, you need – first and foremost — the presence of top athletes. And I don’t see Kilian Jornet and company running the Marathon des Sables, for instance. Much less the Americans. And if the best don’t show up, the series losses its credibility. For how can a series (design to find the best ultra-runner in the world) be respected if the best in the world don’t take part in it?

      1. Bryon Powell

        There's also been another American winner – Lisa Smith-Batchen. On the men's side, Michael Wardian's also had good showings. (I'm also proud to have run on the all-American third place team with Wardian at the 2009 MdS. :-) )

        Numerous top American runners that I've talked to have interest in running MdS should they be able to find the funding.

        In recent years such notable runners as Carlos Sa, Emma Roca, Marco Olmo, and Laurence Klein have all MdS.

        With the team competition, you could also have some great battles there, whether the teams area based on country or sponsorship.

        1. Pedro Caprichoso (Po

          Yes. It’s true. I don’t know why, but I completely forgot about the women side of things – does this mean I'm misogynist. Not really!

          For some reason, I find that women are more open-minded to running in different surfaces; men not as much. Men tend to focus – almost as a matter of pride – in one specific kind of running, whether is trail, road or track.

          Being Portuguese, I know very well that Carlos Sá is an exception, given that we does pretty well in the mountains, in the desert and on the road (by winning Badwater) – and he would be one of the favorites to win the Ultra-Trail World Tour.

  9. Buzz

    Dakota's lengthy post missed making the important distinction between "governing bodies" (IAAF, USATF) and "race series" (UTWT, Skyrunning, etc), but his main point cannot be emphasized enough: we are always responsible for our own experience, and we vote with our pocketbook.

  10. Ian

    This will mainly benifit the burgeoning group of pro runners, as well it should. Anyone who wants to try and eke out a living, as Ricky Gates put it, "running for your next meal", more power to them. Where we need change is in the allowable number of runners in an event. Having a greater field of runners, say 1000+ should be doable if races get the money and support from the shoe companies that we are giving millons to with our purchases. As for damaging the fragile nature in these remote areas, bullshit! We leave barely a footprint in the areas we run through, I have never seen any amount of litter, that justifies that as an excuse. As long as we see ourselves as guests out there, nature will be fine.

    1. Lstomsl

      The allowable number of runners in a race will never be 1000+ at races in the US (probably not even Leadville in the future). It's not up to the runners or the race directors it's up to the land management agencies and they are tied by federal law. It's called the National Environmental Policy Act and it requires a public review process for any commercial activities on public land. That's a good thing. Race directors have the option of conducting such a review but it costs more money than most feel justifiable.

      I think you might also underestimate the impacts, especially at more popular races like Hardrock where many people come out 2 or 3 weeks in advance to acclimate. And many bring families, and crew, and pacers, and there are lots of volunteers who didn't get in and still want to experience the event. I live close by and I can tell with out a doubt that the trails around Silverton see 10 or 20x their normal use minimum in the weeks leading up to hardrock, it becomes very hard to find a campsite.. The town itself gets way to full (in my opinion). Making matters worse is that much of the race is run on non-system trails meaning they are not engineered and maintained by the forest service and BLM. The HR organizers do some maintenance but it is limited. That would be fine if was only 140 people once a year but this very morning I was at Island Lake for 15 minutes and saw seven people descending Grant Swamp pass. This is two months AFTER HR and on a Thursday in September. On an unmaintained trail crossing an active talus slope that very few people would know about if not for the race. That seven doesn't include myself or my friend or our dogs. I have doubts that the town or the environment could handle doubling the number of runners let alone 1000+. I realize not all races see that much increased impact and not all are in such sensitive areas but I see those impacts in my backyard. And the human impacts exist as well. At Leadville this year the only place serving breakfast Sunday morning got stressed out around 4am and closed their doors and went home leaving 4-5,000 tired hungry runners, pacers, and crew without a single place to eat. This in a town that initiated the race to bring in business. It's just too much. Europe has the option to have larger races because they have long ago shot the wildlife, trashed the environment, and turned their mountains into playgrounds with broken ecosystems. I don't think that is a model that we want to emulate in the US.

  11. Anonymous

    One would hope that at some point the world-class ultrarunners could do as well as, say, the poets and chess players? And on the other hand, the rest of us, while not likely to see too many headline events, have more than enough opportunity to run incredible courses with, in my opinion, some of the finest people on the planet… and as more and more of us are starting to see, it need not be an "official" event to be good: Last weekend up in Santa Barbara there was an "unofficial" running of the Nine Trails course, no T-shirts or medals, and I can't recall having a better time!

    JV in SD

  12. Flashman

    I like this debate but as a mid packer I can't see this having any influence at all on anyone apart from the top 5 in any race. I feel a bit like a weekend tennis player commenting on the benefits of the WTA as they watch Wimbledon and the rest of the Slams.

    I suspect that if entry fees ( which in Australia are generally already at the $150plus mark per event) start rising more to pay for the privilege of being associated with the UTWT, and the cost of travel and prizes for the pointy end of the field, then the events with less glamour like FatAss events and local races will see an increase in participation from the mid pack punter.

    At best it seems like there might be 50 runners worldwide who could consider themselves close to professional and therefore affected by a "Tour". I like running, and I like running in ultras, but for me part of the appeal is the egalitarian nature, where the only real difference between the elite and the tail end is just the extra time spent on the trail.

  13. NErunner

    I am not an ultra runner, but belong to a population you may be interested in: longtime racer at 26.2 miles or less (40+years since first marathon). I used to be an avid and up-to-date track fan, but have gradually lost interest over the decades, largely due to the widespread effects of $$ in track and roadracing. I am now a fan of ultra races, even if I don't run them (yet).

    If you don't want to read all of the below, the short version is that

    1. Racers become interchangeable when they race for money only.

    2. Drugs follow money.

    3. Money and "governing bodies" have a mutual attraction.

    4. Items 1 and 2 have dissolved spectator interest in T&F; I believe ultra running faces the same peril.

    I follow the races on irunfar, read all the interviews, and try to imagine what running 100 miles feels like. I feel like I know the top runners, just as I felt about Pre, Shorter, Clarke, Viren… when I was a boy, in the amateur (or close to it) era. So I am a fan of ultras.

    Not so for shorter stuff. I can no longer name the Boston marathon winners (and I live in Boston, have run it 12 times, and can list most winners from 1960 to 2000). I no longer care which Kenyan or Ethiopian wins. Someone will win anyway, it won't be anyone I know, and next year it will be someone else, whose win completes their plan for buying a farm, and they will go home. This is what happens when people run solely for money, and is enabled by governing bodies.

    Governing bodies themselves can be a good thing. Here in New England, our local branch of USATF (in contrast to the national version) does a great job with grad prix series in rr, xc, and in all-comers track. These gather all the top folks in one race and promote great competition at all levels. But the money, while there, is minuscule, and is not why people race. We're lucky that USATF-NE is run by great people on a shoestring budget.

    But if you put governing bodies next to large amounts of cash, like national USATF vs NIKE,

    then athletes become marketing commodities rather than unique heroines or heroes.

    In the best case, they win and go home. But there is also every incentive for drug use (now even in top Boston marathon finishers) and coverups (as in UCI and surely some American sprinters).

    All sponsorship is marketing, and must be examined for its longterm effects. In this case, North Face, one of the big players in ultrarunning, seems to be moving to another level beyond simple sponsorship,

    heading toward a governing structure. There may be benefits, but they won't come for free.

    1. Randy

      I remember going to one of the first pro track meets,headlined by Jim Ryun,Kip Keino and Marty Liquori.Awesome to see those great milers racing,but the track meet felt like more of a circus with performers than a competitive event.Not sure if it was the money involved,or the way it was all set-up,but definitely lacked something that you would see at the other major track meets,kinda lost my interest as an avid track fan around than also.

  14. Ben Nephew

    The key to the development of an organizing body for ultrarunning at any level is the involvement of the athletes. These corporate ventures do not have the best interests of runners as their goals, and it's nice to see so many people recognizing this. Look at what the Competitor group just did as an example of a potential negative impact on competition, or what the new owners of Leadville as something more directly relevant. That sounded like quite the mess.

    Even with athletes involved in UTWT, many of these runners may be unlikely to be critical of decisions made by organization due to the fact their sponsors are involved in some way with the series.

    I've seen the negative impact of corporate or special interest influence quite a bit lately from several angles. I think USATF does some good things at the local level in New England and other regions, but it's clear that many athletes at the Olympic level are not happy with how Nike and the senior executives are influencing individual sponsorships and earning potential. In contrast, when you have people that are close to the athletes in a position to make decisions and have some impact, for example with the mountain and 100k teams, you have the potential for positive change. My own experience with the USATF has been being forced to buy Nike gear after being selected for a national team that gets no USATF funding, even if the team could get uniforms donated by another company. This type of decision is not in the best interest of the athletes, and what we need is better representation at the level of decision making to address these types of issues.

    At the international level, the leadership of the IAU includes a number of very experienced ultrarunners, but most of them have more of a road background. To address this, the IAU is establishing a trail committee, which is progress. As with some of the big independent trail ultras, the IAU races have been facing challenges due to growth, especially recently. I think the solution to many of the problems at championship events, whether it is USATF or IAU, is to have successful established events host the races.

    The main issues I see with a corporate based series or governing body in trail ultrarunning are doping and the regulation of championship events. Maybe Dakota can comment on this, but I think when he ran Transvulcania there was an agreement that Solomon support crew were going to deliver drop bags for all the top competitors so that their own runners did not get an unfair advantage in terms of crewing. This year I read all the comments about how Sage was carrying way too much gear. I would bet he had much less support out on the course, making it necessary to carry more. I'm pretty sure I saw Luis Hernando produce poles for the last climb. Support and assistance need to be clearly regulated at championship events if you want a fair race, and this doesn't seem to be happening at ISF events.

  15. Kelly

    I don't know that money is automatically bad. It can incentivize behavior that is problematic, but in itself it can also bring more resources, etc. Which isn't bad.

  16. Simon Edwards

    "Europe has the option to have larger races because they have long ago shot the wildlife, trashed the environment, and turned their mountains into playgrounds with broken ecosystems. I don’t think that is a model that we want to emulate in the US."

    What a complete and utter load of nonsense…

    If you'd ever travelled to Europe you'd have some idea of what you're talking about – broken ecosystems? The American way bemuses me – let's keep everyone out of an environment to retain it's natural state… Only it doesn't retain it's natural state at all, because keeping people out is as fake as letting people in to do what they want. In Europe we have trails that have formed over hundreds of years by farmers and villagers moving around, these trails are what we run on, not something manufactured. All these calls for trail maintenance, or trail construction in the US – in Europe we need neither!

    1. Lstomsl

      Sorry Simon but western Europe has no intact ecosystems containing natural predator communities. What little game exists needs to be intensively managed. I don't want that in the US and I don't think many others do either. And yes I have traveled in Europe. And I am a wildlife biologist. And I've been to chamomix, so spare the line about how the trails are used by simple farming folk. Hahahaha, somebody has designed and maintained those trails very well or they wouldn't exist.

      1. Simon Edwards

        Designed Trails????

        Your country might only have 300 years of history, but ours goes back a bit further! I'm from the UK – we had a national census approx. 900 years ago, copies of which still exist, that clearly show the existence of towns and tracks that are still used today, leading between settlements in neighbouring valleys etc. These trails have been used over those intervening hundreds of years to become established trackways, turned into roads etc etc – but the only "designed trails" you'll find in the UK are LandRover tracks in Scotland for shooting parties – and you certainly wouldn't want to run on those!

        1. Charlie M.

          This country has more than 300 years of history…Indian trails became Settler roadways, and the Indian trails were formed from following natural wildlife trails.

        2. Lstomsl

          I think we are talking about two different things. By designed I mean engineered to prevent water damage and erosion and avoid sensitive areas. Yes your trails are designed or they wouldn't exist a year let alone 900 years and I don't need to be there to know that.

          And for what it's worth North America has well over 10,000 years of history. Many of our trails follow old native American footpaths, many others, including those at hardrock follow old mining and logging roads. I am not sure why you seem so offended, I am not accusing you of anything. Just stating facts.

          I am pretty sure the UK wouldn't allow 1000 runners to take off across a trailless moorland. If they would then I am even more thankful we have NEPA to prevent such nonsense here. And by the way, the only land that humans are kept out of in the US are private lands. The only thing NEPA does is say that commercial activities on public land are required to evaluate the impacts to determine the best way to minimize them. Thank God (whoever she is) for that.

  17. William

    I love Dakota's points mentioned above, especially #1 and #2. It's exactly what I thought when I saw some of the news about this.

    I agree with Ben Nephew above: the governing body must have strong runner input to succeed. Ultra Running is NOT like NASCAR, the NBA, or some other highly regulated sporting event. Athletes can always run new races, and find new challenges worldwide. It seems to me that a successful governing body must try to understand the needs and wishes of top runners, and then try to accommodate them in a flexible manner.

    One big question is: how many races can (should) a runner realistically do per year? Tim Noakes and others might say 1-2, due to over-training, and this is an issue Geoff Roes and others have started to raise.

    In this sense, I'd like to see one international "Super Bowl"-like race per year. From a fan point of view, it'd be great if the elites could agree to all race each other at UTMB one year, Western the next, and maybe another the next year (there could be a rotating group of 3-5 big races). Of course, this wouldn't stop people from running other high profile races, but I think the series should be much more limited, in order to prevent over-training and career burnout.

  18. Henry Bickerstaff

    Look at the history of triathlon from the 1970's. The growth of the sport the intruduction of national and international organizatinos. Becoming an Olympic sport. The split of Ironman racesa and 70.3 races. I would think ultra running would follow a similar path. Has it made triathlon races better or worse? I do not know. Everyone has their own opinion. But I think it is a fair comparison and may provide a look into the future of ultra running.

    Henry Bickerstaff

  19. Garry Curry

    Unfortunately increasing the money involvement with ultrarunning may provide some minor benefits but the overall impact will be negative. Sponsor's alliegence is to their products and the sport only a secondary interest. Money changes the stakes of races and will corrupt runners and the sport. The idea that runners can vote their preference by their participation would only be true if money did not corrupt that preference.

    1. Charlie M.

      Everything was already corrupt! Geez, you don't think your pricey running shoes that you've been buying for the last 20 years haven't been made on slave labor???

      Everyone needs to chilax, money corrupts all facets of modern life, running included. This new stuff just adds on, but doesn't make anything worse.

      Carbon footprint will increase, elite doping will rear up, blah blah, it goes on and on. But trail running as a sport never had a taint-free existence. Nothing does that is organized. Nothing. Period.

      Guess I'll go for a run now. Gotta train so I can make some money!

  20. Randy

    What i find telling is we never hear directly from these companies involved.Where are the Salomon,North Face,New Balance,Lifeline,etc spokesman and women explaining and responding to a lot of these questions and accusations about sponsoring and soon governing races.Maybe Bryon or AJW can meet with some of them and try to get a better understanding of what to expect concerning a sport we all care about.As consumers,most of us can weed thru the BS and make up our own minds whether a company is strictly looking at the bottom line($$$$),or also have an interest in keeping it's athletes and ultrarunning intact.(Course maybe i'm just being naive about whether there ever is anything but the bottom line($$$)involved with large companies).Seems like some companies will shoot themselves in the foot,milk something dry for the profit,and move on too the next conquest,hope this wont be the case.

  21. Kiefer

    I agree with NErunner. Governing bodies+more money=cheating (drug use.) That's what happens when there's lots-o-money involved. It doesn't matter if it's from sponsorship, endorsement, or cash prizes for winning races. We've all watched the cycling world, among a handful of other endurance sports, tainted and tarnished from exploitation. Don't get me wrong here. I would love to see the fastest guys in the world go toe to toe against each other throughout the year. From a spectators perspective, that would be awesome! But, we as runners, and spectators of our beloved sport, need to understand the implications of all this.

  22. Lstomsl

    Don't think running is safe from drugs because runners aren't going to get rich from it. Not all doping is Lance Armstrong paying millions for a doctor and blood transfusion program. In cycling there are Cat IV riders who dope, not because they will ever get rich but just to move up to Cat III or at least be competitive with their buddies. Testosterone, HgH and even EPO are pretty cheap and easy to get a hold of especially in some areas, that I won't mention, that have large biking communities coexisting with large running communities. It would be naive to think that keeping money out of the sport will keep it clean.

    1. NErunner

      I was not saying that no money implies no drugs, but the converse: money leads to drugs.

      It could be that every sport rises and falls, like an empire, as a consequence of its own size.

      I was trying to say that ultra running feels to me like Track and Field 40-50 years ago (ignoring the Eastern Bloc which is a whole 'nother story), and that the changes being proposed for ultra running today remind me of what led to the decline of interest in track over the past decades.

      It could be that such decline is inevitable.

      Maybe the best thing is to forget competition and just go run in the woods!

      1. SageCanaday

        It's great that they test at the big races (prize money or not). I agree with Lstomsi that PEDs are likely to be used by those competitive to win their age groups and merely just to impress their peers or get an fkt on Strava, etc (and not just those at the front of the pack competing for a couple thousand dollars sponsorship and pride).

        What I'd like to see is out-of-season drug testing….or at least testing BETWEEN races. In my days at Hansons I used to hear stories about how Olympian Brian Sell (2:10 marathoner) was tested about 50 times….at work and at his home…without notice (of course he was clean as Brian is a very hardworker who ran 165miles a week). But the point is if you don't do out-of-season at random times it's going to be hard to catch/bust people. And for the record, I would be honored to be tested anytime!

        1. Lstomsl

          Sage makes good points. One of the ways cyclists have been able to avoid tests in the past was to dope enough during training to get super strong and then back off for races. It was always suspicious when a cyclist would go to Mexico or Colombia for "altitude training" for a month or two. Crap I hate even thinking about this stuff in relation to ultra-running….

  23. Michael

    Cycling HAS to be organized, it requires in general public road closures for relatively long periods of time. As with marathon running and triathlon and I'm sure others. Although there are some parallels, fundamentally they require different organization. As mountain ultra running continues to grow, there will be a point where I will not be a le to enter races such as WS for example, just as I can't enter 99% of the great cycling races. But, like DJ points out, it's not TOO hard to start your own race, you don't need to close roads.
    So, I'm on the fence with overall governance, but I think that we cannot compare ourselves to cycling… Yet.

  24. Cristóbal Sah

    Dakota Jones once again give us a great article and a great discussion for the trail running community.

    As a Chilean citizen I believe the Ultra-Trail World Tour will be great for the integration of the world racing as a whole. In South America we've got great races, that have nothing to envy from the northern hemisphere races. The biggest concern for our runners is the standard of this races, so a governing body would be great to give some base on organization, logistic and support of this races. For foreigners, South America still seems more wild than it really is, so getting inside the series will also give more support to plan a trip and race over here.

    So the challenge is on our side to show we are ready to become part of the series, and on the UTWT to really take the challenge on becoming a WORLD tour.

    Thanks Dakota!

  25. Fabrice

    I am Fabrice Perrin, one of the organizers of the Ultra-Trail World Tour.

    I have been reading these posts with great interest. I see a lot of passion (which is good… it's also what drives me), but I see also some points not yet understood. I will try to clarify our position here.

    I cannot not promise that I will have time enough to answer to all the questions, or to do it fast enough, what I do for the Ultra-Trail World Tour is as a volunteer, and I have also to train and take care of my family :-)

    As a start, I would like to say:

    – we clearly do not want to be a "governing body" for the community

    – our whole project is about sharing our passion for ultra-trail running, and discovery of other cultures through travel

    – we discussed with the race directors of what we think are the most beautiful (ultra-trail) races of the world, and we were lucky enough that they accepted to join their efforts with us, to develop something that made us all dream

    – we do not want the races to change their DNA, the entry rules should remain the same for all of them

    Waiting for your questions,


      1. Ben Nephew

        Sounds like a plan. Some of the discussion on this concerning governing bodies was off topic; no one would think of the world marathon majors as a governing body. I do see the potential for the UTWT to increase international competition in an organized fashion. I think the conversion got off topic because there are issues that people would like to see addressed that are related to the UTWT races.

  26. Jeff

    I am not sure where the race world is headed in terms of ultra-running. There is little question in my mind that things have changed over the past few years – from elites being upset about not having passes on lotteries like hardrock to locals not being able to get into their first choice race because lotteries are being filled up by runners who have little or no intentions of running the races they have signed up for if bigger and better things come along to people/races being unduly/duly stressed about who is or who is not part of this or that slam … I have thought for a few years now that it would be great if some sort of organizing of "the big races" could help work out this kind of undo stress – possibly organizing lottery dates so they don't overlap – but worry that as the "scene" continues to develop the community sense of ultra-running may continue to dissolve if for no other reason than sheer population pressure (ironically the bigger the community, the harder it is to maintain a sense of community). I hope this isn't too off subject, or something I wouldn't say on trail to somebody else but it did occur to me yesterday at wasatch that 100s remain the dead shows of running but dead shows evolved and changed over the years as well …

  27. Jimmy Mac

    I did not know that. I have a lot of strong feelings about Nike, mostly negative. I've seen what they've done to the skateboarding industry (and their parasitic business practices towards small mom-and-pop type skate shops) and I can only think that this can't be good for trail running. I have a lot of friends closely tied to (and working in) the skateboarding industry here in the Bay and they all have said that Nike is the reason that some shops survive while most don't.

    To paraphrase an interview: "Nike has a policy where if a skateshop wants to carry that ONE shoe that everyone wants, the skateshop is forced to carry ALL of their shoes. FORCED to carry all of their shoes. When those shoes don't sell, the skateshop goes into debt and that debt gets bigger and bigger until the skateshop goes out of business. Your local shop owes Nike a lot of money and must continue to sell the popular shoe just to pay their bills, and then they go even deeper into debt because the other Nike models don't sell at all. No one wants them. But skateshop is forced to carry those shoes too in order to be able to sell the one popular shoe. And now, skateshop doesn't even have a choice about what they order. Shoes just randomly show up at the shop, and now skateshop owes Nike money for product they didn't even order."

    Kind of scary to think that might happen to a running store.

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