How Much Racing Is Too Much Racing?

A discussion about overracing in trail and ultrarunning.

By on September 5, 2014 | 13 comments

AJWs TaproomLast weekend’s exciting results at The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (UTMB) in Chamonix got me thinking about racing 100-mile races and how much is too much. When looking at the top finishers, both international and American runners, the success stories seem to me to tilt heavily toward those who raced infrequently in the six months leading up to this marquee event.

I was particularly impressed with the performances of the two top Americans, Rory Bosio and Jason Schlarb. Interestingly, in 2012 and the first part of 2013, both of these strong and talented runners raced more frequently than they did in the build-up to this year’s race. A quick scan reveals that this season they seemed to drop off the racing map to focus on training and preparation. Then, on race day, they had extraordinary success. I wonder how much racing is too much racing?

I recall my race schedules back when I was running 100 milers competitively and I routinely ran three or four 100s a year. However, in terms of actually being competitive, I faced diminishing returns after one or two in a season. I, like many, got caught up in the fun and adventure of running multiple 100s in a year but as such, in retrospect, I may have done more damage than good. Now, focusing on one race a year, even though I am no longer competitive, seems to be the sweet spot.

The growth of the sport and the increase in sponsorship dollars, prize money, and event exposure I believe has caused an increase in runners overracing. Some runners seem to handle it better than others but the truth remains that in the midst of explosive growth we are seeing an interesting trend toward overtraining, fatigue, and burnout.

I, for one, love this sport too much to sit idly by while some of the world’s best runners run themselves into the ground. Sadly, ultrarunning lore is littered with the names of talented, hard-working runners who did too much, too soon and left the sport before their times were up. I sincerely hope that runners out there will take the time and energy to reflect on those runners who are picking their spots, running what is right for them, and enjoying success well beyond their more competitive years. After all, isn’t it the process not the product that all drove us to this sport in the first place?

Bottoms up!

Blackfoot River Brewing Tartanic Scottish AleBrew’s Beer of the Month

We toured Montana last week, and I was excited to visit Missoula and Bozeman because I’d heard that they’re cool college towns with tons of trails. And they didn’t disappoint. But the town that surprised me a bit was Helena. It has a great outdoor store (The Base Camp), an enormous city park (Mount Helena, with 85 miles of singletrack) with gorgeous views of the valley, and an awesome brewery–Blackfoot River Brewing–that’s just steps from both.

Blackfoot River’s Tartanic Scotch Ale is dark copper, smooth, sweet, and–like all Montana beers–really affordable. (Two of the three breweries I went to had $3 pints and $9 growlers!) We’re headed to Alaska next month for programs in Valdez, Seward, Homer, and Anchorage. Check out Jen’s website for more details.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you think that top Americans at UTMB, Rory and Jason, had outstanding performances in part because of their commitment to this race over other races, or do you think their efforts were more a product of circumstance?
  • What do you think about the concept of too much racing in trail and ultrarunning right now? Do you see this happening in your peers? Or, have you raced too much? (Let’s not name specific names here, and let’s please keep this conversation constructive. Thanks!)
Andy Jones-Wilkins
finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.