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

AJW’s thoughts on the growth of ultrarunning, media exposure, and the American dream.

By on July 26, 2013 | Comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

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

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

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

Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.