Switching Sponsors

I started running ultras at 18 and, at 19 and through an ambitious but totally unmerited barrage of emails and phone calls, managed to pick up a sponsor. That sponsor was Montrail, and I stayed with them for over five years, until the end of this year. Beginning January 1, I will be an official Salomon runner. And that means I no longer endorse Montrail or Mountain Hardwear and instead believe wholeheartedly in Salomon, as if my pure motives in representing the brands I truly believe in have shifted overnight. This feels a little shallow. Indeed, it borders on hypocrisy. But my motives in moving are not necessarily representative of a cynical, take-the-highest-bidder mindset. I believe that within the confines of sport, my move is entirely reasonable. And I’d like to explain why.

Top runners may be the faces of the brands they endorse, but they certainly don’t have much voice within their companies. However, these brands make equipment that runners use, so they have an incentive in paying top runners to use and endorse their gear. The mindset is, “If this guy wins races, other people will want to emulate him. And if he’s wearing my brand’s gear, people will buy it so as to try to give themselves an edge.” On the other side, athletes sell their power to endorse in order to earn money by practicing their sport. Some top runners choose to keep day jobs and eschew sponsors, but no one can deny the allure of having the financial freedom through doing what you love, just to keep doing what you love. This is inherently materialistic because the athletes are essentially selling themselves in order to sell products. But for most people, this is a worthwhile side effect.

Indeed, sponsorship is so common at all levels of our society–whether it’s actors selling cars or rock stars selling energy drinks–that people rarely consider how or why it works and simply focus on how to do it. But the truth is that sponsorship is shallow. Here’s an industry of companies making variations on the same product, and one of the ways they choose to stand out is by getting people who are good at the sport these products are made for to say unequivocally, “I don’t just do well in this product, I do well because of it.” Look a little deeper and you’ll see that top athletes are good because of a huge host of factors that only includes gear in the outer rim. Factors like aerobic capacity, muscular endurance, pain tolerance, hematocrit, and much more are far more influential on ability than are shoes or shorts. But those factors are personal. Nobody can buy a better VO2 max; they have to earn it. People, can, however, buy shoes with better grip, or compression tights, or light backpacks, or sweat-repellant shirts, or a million other products marketed to make runners run faster. And it works.

It works because people do need equipment to run. Our sport’s simplicity is beautiful, but it’s not total. Unless you’re a bit of a weirdo, you’re going to need at the very least a pair of shorts and some shoes. Most of us like to wear other things like shirts and socks, too. If it’s cold out, you need gloves, a hat, long pants, and a jacket. If you want to go a long way, you’ll want food and water, so you’ll need a way to carry it all. These things aren’t nonsense. They may be materialistic but materialism is a thing because otherwise we’d be naked and cold and probably hungry and wet a lot.

Materialism is bad when taken too far, as is everything in life, including running. The basic runner’s outfit is a good thing, and people who run are going to wear it regardless of ability level. And if top runners will be wearing the gear no matter what, where is the harm in getting paid to do it? Especially if that means they can then spend more time and energy focusing on being even better? That’s as simple as it needs to be: I wear this gear, I win races, now I get paid to do exactly that, plus a little marketing.

The ethical problems arise when people set aside their values and endorse brands they don’t believe in for the sake of money or prestige. Since athletes have little say in how a company is run, they must be vigilant about which direction their company is headed before signing on as its face. An athlete’s power to endorse is diluted by inconsistencies like saying one thing and doing another, or by frequently switching sponsors. However, when undertaken with a conscience, sponsorship can be entirely relevant and totally defendable because it allows athletes to practice their sports with total focus, and in exchange they must simply endorse brands whose products they already use.

I got sponsored by Montrail at 19 because I was lucky. I arrived in the sport at an age and time when almost any moderate success was met with some kind of sponsor support. The industry was just beginning to take off, yet the pool of competition was still relatively shallow. Nowadays the competition is much closer than ever before and people like Seth Swanson, who took a close second at Western States and then destroyed Cascade Crest this year, remain sponsor-less. Montrail must have been throwing out sponsorships like candy in 2009 because I had at that point accomplished almost nothing. They took a risk on me and I just took the first opportunity that came my way. The truth is that I had asked as many shoe companies as I could think of for sponsorship and Montrail was the only one that responded. As far as values went, I valued being sponsored more than anything else at the time, so I was very lucky that the first sponsor to bite happened to be a good one.

I ran for Montrail for five years and believed in them wholeheartedly. I liked their shoes and was proud to represent them. Because Montrail is owned by Columbia–who also owns Mountain Hardwear–I was also a Mountain Hardwear athlete. Between the two brands, I was fully kitted out in everything I could need for running, plus lots of great gear for climbing, too. Even now I would say that both of those brands make good products. Our differences in direction should not be construed as my condemnation of their practices. The reason I chose to leave Montrail for Salomon is simply that we have grown apart. The kind of running I now do is too divergent from the kind of shoes Montrail makes for us both to be able to maintain an honest partnership. I still believe in Montrail and Mountain Hardwear as brands even if our specialties are different.

Good brands grow and adapt to changing industry conditions. They are not stagnant because they would soon be overtaken by innovation. And innovation is what changes not just the industry but the sports themselves. While top athletes have natural attributes that would allow them to be good in just about any product, the best products make them even better. The difference is marginal, but marginality is what now counts. People used to win ultras by 10 to 30 minutes or more. Nowadays, many competitive races see the top-three runners within five minutes of each other. These margins will continue to grow smaller and as they do the tiniest advantages will make the difference between first and second place. The right shoes for the course, the right clothes for the conditions, and the right food and hydration are factors that really determine position. Thus the right sponsor is crucial for those who want to take part in the competitive world of mountain running. That, or a good job that provides the financial means to buy the right gear and travel to races. But if you’re winning races, you’ll be endorsing the products you wear whether you want to or not. So you may as well be paid for it.

A lot of us choose to take the easy(er) route and endorse a product. For me and my focus, for the particular goals I choose, the right brand is Salomon. I feel that because of how I have grown as an athlete and person among all the shifting forces of the mountain world, this is a decision I can stand by and be proud of. I’m not asking for anyone’s validation or approval. People can no more stay in one place than can brands, and if athletes don’t move with the brands they represent, they will come to support a lie. In that case, moving is often the best option.

Let’s consider for a moment the world of mountain running as a giant sphere, and within it move all the other spheres of races and racers and ideas and products. Fact is, not all mountain runners are contained within the mountain-running sphere. Only those people who choose to engage in the ‘scene’, interact with other runners, partake in events, and generally participate in the sport overall would fall into the sphere. Some people run long distances but choose to keep it to themselves, and that’s fine. But if you choose to enter into the sphere of the mountain-running world, you must also engage with the sport that it is. You don’t necessarily have to agree with it, and change is very possible. But the fact is that by entering into this sphere you must contend with all the forces, good and bad, which comprise its character. One of those forces is sponsorship and all the factors that comprise its sphere. If you’re sponsored, you get paid to run. If you’re sponsored, you lose some control over how you are portrayed/viewed publicly. You get to travel the world to events; but you accept that your likeness is being used to promote a materialism far beyond what is actually needed to be a runner. These are factors that must be understood and come to terms with in order to be part of the ultrarunning sphere.

Personally, I see some things in this sphere I’m not too proud of. But I see a lot more things that I am proud of, including the capacity for innovation. I want to be part of this world even though it isn’t perfect, because I love what I do and I love to engage in this world with other like-minded people. I believe we’re moving in the right direction and by choosing to be a ‘top’ runner, I choose also to partake in the world of mountain running. Sponsorship allows me to maintain a bonafide career, and because of that I’m proud to support the companies that support me.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What are your thoughts on the relationships that sponsored runners have with the companies they are sponsored by?
  • Do you, as a consumer, base any of your purchases on which athletes are sponsored by what companies, and what kind of gear those athletes wear for their races and adventures?

There are 63 comments

  1. Steve Pero

    Congrats on your new sponsorship, Dakota…may your 2015 be a successful one.
    I am not and should not be sponsored, but wear Altra shoes because they are the ones I find work best for me and are simply the most comfortable.

  2. wasatchnick

    I love Salomon products. In fact as I head out the door it's laughable how much I'm wearing is from the brand. They make shoes that fit my low volume feet, packs that don't ride low on my back and clothing that lasts. I'm never pay full price by purchasing last years colors/models.
    Because I'm already a fan I like to see what new products Salomon athletes are using. Stoked to see Dakota on the team!

  3. @frumioj

    It's quite funny that your byline still says that you run for the Montrail Trail Running Team even as you tell us you are switching sponsors ;)

    Nice thoughtful piece as usual Dakota – if I were you, I would consider writing as your non-running career. That way, you could clearly wear whatever clothing and shoes you'd like!

    In my experience, both Montrail and Salomon make excellent shoes and other stuff that I use all the time… along with many other companies. I feel fortunate to have the ability to get such great equipment for my adventures!

  4. @bpurcell72

    When I saw Dakota after my race at North Face, I thought about asking him why he was wearing Salomon shoes but thought it a little rude. Now I can see the story behind the shoe choice.

    Personally, I can say I'm influenced by what elites are wearing only in the sense of "oh that product exists." If if looks like something that would work for me, I'll try it out, but I'm also slow to experiment on new things. What I find most influential for me is when a product has a free demo day at a local running store.

    Best of luck to Dakota in 2015 in whatever brand he wears.

  5. Jimmy Mac

    What's the average life span of a dominant elite athlete in this sport? Five to ten years?

    I've heard you can only expect to get about seven really great years at the top of your game, so it makes perfect sense to want to maximize your potential (whether it be through earnings, travel, gear, etc.) through sponsorship; especially Salomon- I look at their team and products and they way they approach testing, research, development; not to mention those amazing short videos they pump out every month.

    Nice move, Dakota.

  6. TropicalJohn

    Preternaturally wise words, once again, from Dakota. Most of us understand that athlete sponsorship is a fickle thing, usually having more to do with money, the direction of the shoe company and the way it chooses to spend its advertising budget, than the quality of the actual product they produce. And money. Did I mention money? Athletes are free agents and should maximize their income potential, just like everyone else does.

    It is undeniable that sometimes sponsoring an athlete results in increased sales – to wit: Air Jordans – or shoe companies wouldn't do it. And athletes often become ambassadors of a company and its products, which is why good athletes who are also high-quality people (see: Dakota Jones) are in demand.

    But, ultimately, it's advertising. Most of us realize that Dakota's switching from Montrail to Salomon doesn't make Montrail shoes any less of a good product, nor does it necessarily make Salomon's shoes superior. Fortunately, there are lots of very high quality products out there and what works best for Dakota might or might not work best for me. And, wearing the gear that Dakota wears (or Rob or Max or Sage) isn't going to make me run like Dakota. You could outfit Dakota in a pair of Jimmy Choo stiletto heels (apologies, there's an image you won't easily be able to get out of your head) and he'd still be miles and miles ahead of me.

  7. Joey

    Just from video production Salomon and The North Face dominate in creating meaningful and inspirational material. Both companies appear to absolutely care about their athlete's pursuits. I really don't see why other companies aren't that supportive and genuine towards their athletes. Maybe we will see a major shift in the next few years

  8. DogrunnerDavid

    As a consumer of gear in this sport of course you do take note of what the top runners are wearing and using. So it naturally creates awareness an is indeed advertising, but if the products don't have the specs you like it probably doesn't matter – like I wouldn't buy a 10mm drop shoe from any company, even if all my favorite runners were in that brand's stable. I also tend to think sponsorship has a downside, albeit small, for top athletes. Sure it's nice to get paid but then you are locked into one brand. Bet anything there are sponsored runners out there who look around at products from other companies and think, "hey that looks pretty cool, I wouldn't mind trying out those shoes!" At least us lesser talented plodders get to cherry pick the best stuff from all the different companies in the industry.

  9. Ben_Nephew

    I think there are things to learn from observing the relationships between sponsors and athletes. Seeing a runner sponsored by a company that makes shoes wearing shoes from another company, that is a good indicator that the company does not make good shoes for that particular race. Pictures of destroyed feet are also a good indicator that there might be something wrong with the shoes. Even when athletes wear their sponsor's shoes, if they are only wearing custom/ prototype models, I wonder what is wrong with the standard models? On the other hand if you see sponsored runners wearing their sponsors shoes even in races that are not an ideal fit for that shoe (and performing well), in addition to more typical events, that suggests the shoes are a high quality item.

    While I agree that some top athletes have little say in the direction of the companies they are sponsored by, many do, especially with smaller companies. This can be both good and bad. What works for runners at the front may not work for everyone. On the other hand, top runners may suggest beneficial changes that would not be likely to develop from the standard shoe development process.

    1. @EricAshleyNJ

      I wish you and the other sponsored runners had more input into product design! 2014 was a frustrating year for me, as several shoes I loved (Brooks Pure Grit and Altra Lone Peak atop the list) gained unnecessary weight and stack height. I think that sponsoring companies should view their sponsored athletes not just as an advertising tool but also as a wellspring of information regarding how their gear performs. Sponsored athletes are, on average, running more miles at faster pace than the rest of us, so I'm guessing you guys (and gals!) might have a few valuable things to tell the companies.

      1. Ben_Nephew

        Hi Eric,

        I didn't see this before. You have a good point, and I would bet that when you see examples of common shoe failures, those shoes went to production before there was much testing by sponsored runners or wear testers. You are right on the increased wear by sponsored athletes to some degree, but then again, sponsored runners are also often lighter and have lower volume feet. I've seen plenty examples of blowouts by common runners in shoes that I put hundreds of miles on with no issues whatsoever.

  10. panos from greece

    I never buy products because some athletes wear them.

    The procedure i follow when i want to buy a product is this:

    1. Do i need the product ?

    2. Do i like the product aesthetically ?

    3. What are it’s technical characteristics/functions ?

    4. What did other people who have used the product say ?

    5. What is my previews experience with similar products of the same company ?

    6. What is the price ?

    1. KenZ

      I like the list! I have a counter approach which really and truly gets to the core of what one really needs:

      Excerpt from this very well written fountain of advice:
      "In order to "work out" to a hardcore degree you will need the following things: some old shorts, old shoes (optional), old t-shirt (optional), caffeine, and a will to achieve that burns like a fire unto your very soul. The total cost of these items is about five bucks, give or take. It's nice to join a gym, if you can afford it, because they have barbells and cages and hundreds of pounds of iron plates, which you probably do not have in your apartment. But if you can't afford it, you can carry some god damn rocks and sandbags and gallon jugs of water. You say that I need to pay a hefty fee in order to come into your "fancy" gym? I say that I'm right on the public sidewalk outside, doing pushups until I develop tetanus in my palms, absolutely free, until the police are called. Now who's fancy? You are. But I have fewer expenses."

        1. KenZ

          Yeah, caffeine is not optional, but shoes are! My other favorite section from that page is:

          "You do not need a "fitness app" to "share your progress" with your "virtual community." I'll tell you where to share your progress: in your head. While you're doing neck bridges, on a dirty towel that you found on the curb on trash day."

          It's funny because it's true… stop worrying about how widely you can share your accomplishments (unless you actually ARE sponsored), and do it for yourself!

  11. rkmk

    Hey D,

    As usual, it's a pleasure to read you. You're quite good with the words.

    However, and this is unusual for one of your articles, I feel that there is a whole part of the story that is missing here.

    A. First of all, in what way are you/ Montrail now different? What is it specifically that make you less of a fit for their products? Is it the type of mountaineering you do? How is Salomon going to cater better to your needs? If you believe that a company is only its products and that you are the face of them, then please help us understand what in your view those company's products are a fit for? (I do actually agree with you that almost no company makes bad products, it's just a matter of which one is good for you at which time)

    B. Second, I'd like to challenge the fact that a company is merely the set of products that it markets. There is much more to it for the customers (non sponsored runners) and hopefully even more so for the sponsored athletes. As an example, Salomon is a company that has been really pushing trail running at large to the next level, through developing products, races, movies, etc. They have done much more to develop the sport than create a specific set of shoes. The message they convey (largely marketing, but eventually this has an impact on all of us) is also a large part of why people will buy their product. As a sponsored athlete, being part of a company should be much more than standing for its products, it should be a reflection of its values and culture. The north face athletes keep inspiring us with all the fun trips and adventures they organize, while the team setup as Salomon seems to me that they're trying to build the dream team in order to define what trail running could become (and creating a new market in the process, it is commercial as well). Being part of such a movement and agreeing with the way it is done should be part of your decision, surely.

    C. Finally, and building upon B, I was quite surprised to read you say that sponsored athletes don't have a say in developing the products of their company. That would be a crappy sponsorship contract indeed. It certainly seems that New Balance gave Anton quite some freedom in designing a shoe that worked for him. It also seems that Salomon or Nike are taking more than a little feedback from their athletes on the products they develop. No one owns innovation, and the best way to get there is to collaborate. Sponsored athletes should be an essential part of it, which I know them to be in many cases.

    So I guess I'm just saying that while I completely understand your move (congrats for landing the contract btw ;-) I hope (and trust) that there is more to it than the fact that you currently like Salomon products better. And if you were to respond, it'd be great to heat what are those values of the sport that you share with Salomon that make you a good fit.

    Happy mountains!

  12. @DomRepta

    follow the money. It's that simple. The rest is convincing ourselves it's not about that. And there is nothing wrong with basing a decision on such a small and for the most part financially meaningless aspect of each company on getting paid. I managed montrail team for over a decade. If someone left to get paid more awesome. Be about it. The rest is gravy. If montrail came back and offered 50 g more a year.

  13. @DomRepta

    And lastly. Social media will be death of ultra running. It just makes is think we have to explain things. Change sponsors and run. Why an explanation. Old crusty ultra dude here.

  14. AriHammer

    Did a runner coached by Carmichael Training Systems really write "Nobody can buy a better max V02; it has to be earned."??? I admit I don't always "get" Dakota's humor but that is hilarious. To clarify, not accusing anyone of anything. Just given the affiliation I find that really funny.

  15. @garyaronhalt

    Fair play, Dakota for taking some time to explain your thoughts and intents. Many of us appreciate it greatly. Now, can you talk to Salomon about making a shoe for someone with slightly wide feet? Those things seem to only fit people with feet like Victorian-age women…

  16. JxanderW

    I would like to give a shout out to Patagonia here for attempting to take our consumerism in a more ethical direction (within the confines of consumerism). The cradle to grave approach of raw goods, humane animal practices, transportation and product recycling is highly commendable. Sponsored athletes can influence the company in more ways than R&D and we all can support companies that support good living and good wages and good environment; its our choice. It might not be perfect but it would be nice to see other gear companies taking things in that direction and sponsoring athletes that endorse these values as well as the values of badassery.

  17. @DomRepta

    Oh, and people sure can buy a better VO2 max and I guarantee some people in this sport are/have. Let's not have our head in the sand about that.

  18. totops1

    One more time, we read that sponsored-athlete's mission is to "improve" their brand's gear…..the same people that claim that one's gear is not important to run x amount of miles.

    Personally, I don't need my gear to be improved, I actually think that running gear gets renewed too fast. When I have found a pair of shoes that "fit" me, why would I need a new different one ? Sure I have several types of shoes for each different terrain (rocky mountains, flat trails, road…and that's it) but when I find every 6 months that my pair of shoes doesn't exist anymore because a "better" one (and more expensive one) has just been released, I can feel the hypocrisy of our sport ("Running is great because you only need so little but……. no biggie, we will make you renew this "little" VERY often by forcing you to buy our new shoes!!!!! But what about I don't want to change my shoes and only buy the same model over and again ? Well, forget about it, it doesn't work with their consumerism marketing model!!!)

    I am glad for Dakota to belong to the Salomon machine, probably the best brand when it comes to gear and athlete's support but let's not forget that given the price of their products, they better support their athlete !

  19. @DomRepta

    let's just say the obvious. We have a young athlete in the world of social media that feels we need an explanation or care why. That's understandable in the world of narcissist social media. With tons of respect. He's a better runner than I ever was. But we don't care. Just change. And carry on. It's a maturity thing. So I am not hating. I am actually smiling. It's a different sport and world. I too once thought people cared about what I did. Just run man. Just run. Stop thinking we care. We don't. Run. Win. Lose. We just want ultras to be healthy.

  20. lstomsl

    I second the hilarity of a Carmichael Training Systems runner claiming you can't buy a better VO2 max. As a cycling fan from decades back I am very disturbed by Carmichael's increasing involvement in ultra running. And I am even more disturbed by the ultra running media's refusal to address the issue or even allow discussion of it. It's nothing but bad deja vu for folks like me.

    I'd love to hear someone have the balls to ask these athletes how they manage to justify supporting Chris Carmichael given his history and why we should not question when we see a majority of top placers in competitive events using the same coaching service.

    But given my experience here I fully expect this comment to be censored. If not, then kudos to you Bryon.

    1. Bryon of iRunFar

      I think it's a bit disingenuous for you to close your comment with "I fully expect this comment to be censored" given the ridiculously free-rein we've given folks to comment over the past 7+ years and the previous dialogues in which we've allowed you and others to discuss Carmichael in the past. (See a multitude of comments in Intervals.)

      We've got a very clear and open policy on this subject of doping. (See #2 iRunFar's Comment Policy) If you want to question why athletes can justify supporting Chris Carmichael, fire away. Go ahead and laugh about "the hilarity of a Carmichael Training Systems runner claiming you can't buy a better VO2 max"… there is irony there. If you want to start talking about ways in which we can keep our sport clean – AWESOME! What we do not permit is baseless allegations of doping by individuals or groups and that's a position I stand by. I hope you understand.

      Carry on.

      Ps. Thanks for the kudos.

      1. lstomsl

        Bryon, my expectation was based on previous comments I had made about Carmichael that never got published. If there is another explanation about why they were not published then I apologize.

        FWIW, I absolutely HAVE posed that question to some of CTSs clients who I know personally, to some who have jumped to his defense, and indirectly to Jason Kopp himself (when he was tagged in a Facebook post). The silence has been deafening. Of course I am nobody important in this world so I can be ignored with no consequence, but YOU are the primary source of information for ultrarunning, so my question for you is, do you want to be a credible journalist or do you want to be just a member of the ultrarunning community and drink beer with your buddies without making waves? I hear Jason Koops name mentioned with increasing frequency on this site and never once have I heard any question regarding his association with Carmichael. Surely you can figure out a way to pose the question without sounding accusatory. For example "how do you respond to people who are concerned about Chris Carmichael's increasing influence in ultrarunning given allegations against him?" Some of us would really like to hear their answers, because we simply can't understand why someone would put themselves in the position of having their results questioned or why they would knowingly allow Carmichael to profit even more, when there are so many other good coaches available without such a sordid history.

        As for ways in which we can help keep our sport clean, I have little ability personally to do much other than to try to raise awareness of the issue within my small sphere of influence, which I have been trying to do. I can tell you, however, that YOU do have an important role to play. One of the reasons that doping became so prevalent in cycling is because the cycling media looked the other way and never asked hard questions. It wasn't until the problem became so bad that it attracted the attention of mainstream media and law enforcement that the scope of the problem became evident and cycling became a laughingstock of the sporting world. I hope that doesn't happen to ultrarunning. And Phil Liggett, the face of cycling media was famously buddies with Lance Armstrong. He publicly praised Lances "coach" for his training abilities and defended him until the end, when the truth came out and his career ended in disgrace. I would hope that doesn't happen to you.

        So, my answer to how we can keep our sport clean, given the absence of governing bodies, regular drug testing, or the stature to attract attention from outside our community is to encourage you to at least address the issue, help raise awareness, ask difficult questions, and hopefully encourage runners who may not be fully aware of what the name Chris Carmichael implies to many of us to think twice about contributing to his continued involvement in our sport and its potential implications, valid or not.

        I do understand your position about making accusations, howevery there is absolutely nothing baseless about Carmichael's involvement in doping, it is quite well documented. I hope you understand my (and many others) concerns when we hear your site being used to sing the guys praises without question.

        1. EmersonTA

          Fantastic post. During the Armstrong era, journalists and cyclists who raised doping questions were denied access to Armstrong and other top cyclists, ostracized, sued, run out of business, and worse. Mainstream journalists thus failed to ask hard (or any) questions out of fear, sloth, and/or the pursuit of feel-good stories. Meanwhile, commentators like you were shamed for merely raising the specter of doping or asking legitimate questions (e.g. why Lance was hanging out with Ferrari). Ultra running journalism (or lack thereof) appears to be a rinse and repeat of that era.

        2. @SageCanaday

          Well said! A comprehensive, research based article on the subject of PEDs and their history in endurance athletics might provide some insight. I think awareness is key for the future. As someone who was accused of doping (during race coverage) I took it as a compliment! When I got to pee in a cup at Pikes Peak (the one and only time I've ever been tested) I treated it as an honor. What WADA needs to do is starting gathering data for bio passports and then run surprise, out of season tests. I know most people aren't competing for prize money as a main source of income, but the integrity and values we all share in MUT Running are important for the community to fight to preserve IMHO. I personally would like to see a future where these key values of the sport will continue be honored by keeping things clean and performances pure.

            1. lstomsl

              Haha, unfortunately then all the other runners who have the same name as me will be blamed for my stupid comments…. I apologize to them in advance.

        3. @Watoni

          Let's keep two issues quite separate.
          Bryon, unless I am missing something, is in no way implicated here.

          As for Carmichael, what a joke. Why not just get the real scoop from Ferrari? Without any real testing regimen, there is little comfort of a clean sport, which makes any appearance of impropriety very damaging. In that sense, I find it hard to understand any athlete getting training advice from CTS.

        4. Bartels

          Can you please elaborate on the link between Carmichael and Koop. I've seen Koop and the trails a few times and let's just say he's not my favorite person.

          1. lstomsl

            Koop is director of coaching for Carmichael Training Systems. I don't know him personally. The people I know who do know him have all had nothing but good things to say about the guy and I have no reason to doubt that. I simply don't understand why someone who is truly a talented coach and a person of integrity would ever work for Carmichael. Surely there are other options out there and I think the ultra-running community deserves an explanation.

      2. lstomsl

        So Bryon, it's been a week. Is it safe for us to assume that you are not interested in talking about doping on iRunFar or is there another reason for your non-response? Trust me the issue is not going away….

        1. Bryon of iRunFar

          Hey Lstomsl,
          I did read your substantial comment and digested it. I'm not able to comment at length often on iRunFar as there's a ton of other stuff to do. Here are iRunFar HQ we do talk about doping regularly and how to deal with it editorially and as a sport in general. We also provide a place for respectful discussion of the issue (not allegations) here.

          I'm doubtful that dropping a doping-related question in an interview with an athlete coached by Jason Koop will lead to a cleaner sport. Would it make things /easier/ for most everyone except possibly Koop if he wasn't under the Carmichael brand? Yes. I think we agree on that.

          The bigger issue is how to actually keep our sport clean. And, sadly, we're pretty fncked on that account. One could say we just need enough money in the sport to pay for extensive testing for the top XX athletes (however that'd be determined) in trail and ultrarunning… but that's not worked in cycling, athletics, or road racing. It's easy to just want to throw your hands up and say "f it." It's likely that before we can successfully prevent doping in our sport that we've first got to succeed in the more prominent endurance sports where there's already an intense anti-doping effort… that's not really been successful, no?

          As for the public side of iRunFar, we're aiming to find the right anti-doping experts to pull together an article on the big picture of what the issues are and to what degree a small, low-money sport (compared to pro cycling/athletics/road running) can effectively fight it.

          1. lstomsl

            Thanks for the response Bryon. I'm glad you are taking this issue seriously and I look forward to reading your article on doping when it comes out.

            That being said, I think you seriously underestimate your role here. Of course simply asking a runner about doping in an interview isn't going to change the world. But if the media doesn't ask those questions it sends a clear message, that ultra running is the wild west of sport where anything goes. There is very, very little testing. Sage has only been tested once (and never in an ultra) despite focusing on the most competitive races and shorter races where doping is likely to be the most beneficial. Another top runner has told me he has been tested twice, both at World Tour races outside the US. I think it is safe to assume that an elite US runner could spend their entire career without being tested if they were careful in their choice of races.

            It is true that testing in cycling and other sports is not perfect but it has caught a huge number of cyclists and runners whose careers have been forever tarnished. Most of the top cyclists of the 2000's have tested positive. One reason Lance didn't was because there was no test for EPO in his early career and when one became available he was able to afford to pay Ferrari millions to set up a transfusion system which was undetectable. This allowed him to look into the cameras and say I never tested positive dozens of times and not once did a journalist say "But Lance, we know there is no test for EPO, or HGH" or "We know that there is no test for transfusion your own blood". If they had, the mainstream population would have understood how increasingly unbelievable he was. But ultra-running is not cycling. It is unlikely that anyone is making enough money to justify hiring doctors to set up a transfusion program. Testosterone and hgh, however, are readily available. Even EPO can be found if one goes looking for it, or if an unscrupulous coach offers it to pad their own reputation and wallet. Testing is not 100% effective but there are many common doping methods that ARE detectable and removing them from the table through testing makes it much more difficult and expensive to implement an effective doping program. That difficulty and expense is what allowed law enforcement to find and shut down major transfusion operations, and pursue Lance for fraud.

            We've seen what happened in cycling when the media refused to ask hard questions. If someone had asked Lance why he chased down Basson in the 1999 tour or dug deeper into his cortisone positive the same year we might have been spared that whole fiasco. If someone had dug deeper into who his real coach was Chris Carmichael might still be working out of his spare bedroom instead of running a multi-million dollar coaching empire and getting even richer and now, increasingly involved in ultra running.

            If you at least ask the questions then we will know which runners, such as Sage are willing to talk about it and even call for more rigorous testing and which runners are not willing to talk about it. Some runners may get pissed at you and refuse to be interviewed but that's OK. We should know who they are. We should get these runners on record and know what their opinions are. Why do they think it's OK to work with Carmichael? Do they think he is innocent? Do they just not care? What exactly is their relationship with Carmichael himself? The cycling media didn't ask those questions because they were afraid of losing access to top cyclists. But there was a lot of cycling media and so cyclists could pick and choose who they talked to. In ultra running you are the main source of news. If runners refuse to talk to you they are left with only a few minor outlets to build their brand and without that brand their sponsorship opportunities will be limited and their chance of making a career out of running will be greatly reduced. You have a lot of power in this community Bryon (rightfully so, you took a big chance and did a great job with iRunFar) If you lead, others will follow. if you don't who will? Also clean runners should have the opportunity to speak out in favor of clean sport and they deserve to know who has been cheating them out of prize money and sponsorship opportunities.

            At this point I fail to understand what benefit Jason Koop gets from CTS. It seems Carmichael is getting all the benefit from Koops reputation while Koops reputation, and the reputation of his clients, is only damaged from his association with Carmichael. Surely if he is such a brilliant coach and has many elite clients he can go out on his own or team with another coach. This issue isn't going away.

            Finally you need only to look at how many likes my comment challenging you to be a leader and ask questions received to understand that I am not the only one with these concerns. Clearly the majority of your readers want this too. What is your responsibility as the editor of IRF? If not to your readers then to who?

            1. afvarner

              I'm open and willing to answer any questions you might have about my training, thoughts on doping, and/or relationship with Koop/Carmichael.

              I started working with Koop in September. I looked at multiple coaching options and talked to a few athletes, and he came very highly recommended. Never heard a negative word about him. The main driver for my decision to work with him was simply that I saw his training in action, saw the results it got, and wanted to try it for myself. I never once considered his connection with CTS as questionable or as a problem – in fact, I figured it gave him more flexibility about whom he could choose to work with because he had the support of a larger organization, rather than an independent coach who has to take any and every client to make end's meat. Everything happens (or exists) for a reason, and I think speculating on why without knowing the full story only causes more harm than good, especially in this case, where people may already have a negative opinion of Carmichael (the man), and may carry that over to others connected with him and CTS.

              I'm not in a position to make any sort of judgment on Carmichael himself. I don't have any relationship with him and don't see why I would, since I'm not a cyclist. Koop is my chosen coach. I consider myself very lucky to get to work with him. I trust him and his training methodology.

            2. AriHammer

              To pick a coach who works for a guy that was invloved in cheating in endurance sports seems like an odd choice. I would think most ultra runners would like to keep Lance Armstrong's longtime coach far away from our sport.

            3. afvarner

              As I said, I have NOTHING to do with Carmichael himself.

              When I chose Koop as my coach, I was choosing him as a person, not the organization with which he is affiliated. I'd still have chosen him if he worked for a marijuana dispensary or was a used car salesman. Some might view this as short-sighted, but that's the way I choose to look at it. I think he gives me the best chance to succeed as an athlete and so I'm working with him.

            4. AriHammer

              I understand. You made a choice (as did Koop) to be affiliated with a company that was involved in cheating in endurance sports. If you had chosen a coach that worked for a marijuana dispensary or a used car salesman we'd probably say well that is interesting. But you, and others, chose to be affiliated with a company that one might say was involved in the biggest cheating operation in the history of sport. I find it odd but do appreciate you speaking/writing openly about that choice.

            5. lstomsl

              I appreciate your honesty but I do have a few questions for you. How aware were you of Carmichaels thirty year history of association with doping in Cycling when you signed up with CTS? If not a good overview is here from his hometown newspaper http://gazette.com/doping-questions-remain-of-spr….

              Does it bother you when you write a check to him every month that you are supporting such a man?

              Does it bother you at all that Koop supports such a man? No matter what people tell me about what a great coach he is I just cant get past wondering how anybody who cares about clean sport would make a conscious choice to work for someone like Carmichael.

              Do you believe Carmichael is innocent or do you just not care what he has done?

              Have you ever spoken with Koop about doping in any context?

              What are your personal opinions about doping? Is it a problem for ultrarunning? Will it be a problem in the future?

              How would you feel if a hot new runner started showing you up and beating you in races and then you found out he was using a coach who voluntarily chose to associate with one of the biggest frauds in the history of sport? Would it make you suspicious?

              Does it bother you that your own reputation automatically becomes questionable when you tell people that you are coached by CTS? That there is only one degree of separation between yourself and Carmichael? What would you tell someone who asked you why your sudden rise to ultrarunning super stardom should be believable?

              What exactly is it about Koops training methods that you believe make him so good that nothing else matters?

              Thanks, I look forward to hearing your answers.

            6. afvarner

              So here we go. Should there be a next time, I'd ask you to please number your questions so that I can be sure to address them all. I've done my best to do so. I'm sure some answers will not be to your satisfaction, but I've found that the Marshawn Lynch approach to post-game conferences can be quite effective.

              I was vaguely aware of Carmichael's history of association with doping.

              Nope. Maybe the fact that it automatically charges my credit card helps me avoid the thought process, but it doesn't bug me.


              Don't have enough info to make an educated decision about whether or not Carmichael is innocent. Don't really care, as he's not my coach.

              Have not spoken with Koop about doping. I don't dope so I've never thought to bring it up.

              Doping is very, very bad. While it's not a problem for ultrarunning right now, it certainly will be as the sport gains momentum with new sponsors and money, and more and more athletes seeking them.

              You use a lot of strong terms in this question. I'd look at the runner's history and see what he'd done. There are usually long term progressions that lead to strong performances at the longer distances, rather than just popping onto the scene having done nothing else. I would be suspicious if this person just popped onto the scene not having done anything prior to it, but if they've worked hard for a long time, I'd give them the benefit of the doubt. If you're implying that I'm in this position, then I would point out that I only started working with Koop in September and that I had success before I started working with him.

              Well, my reputation hasn't been called into question until now (unless I was unaware of it), so no, it hasn't bothered me. Be it one degree or seven degrees or 98 Degrees, people are going to think what they want to think regardless of what I say, so I just let my training and results speak for themselves. To convince someone my rise is believable, I would tell them to look at my results. I was mediocre in high school and college but started training in earnest in around 2008-2009. I have pretty complete running logs in an excel spreadsheet that I could send to them, documenting mileage and workouts and races. I'd point them to the progression I had in the marathon, culminating with my PR at Boston in 2013, before moving towards ultras in 2013. None of my performances have been enormous jumps (except for my 5k PR a couple of years ago, but that was due to not having raced a fast course while doing some serious training), so I would hope that would suffice. But again, if someone wants to believe that my rise is suspicious, no amount of evidence will convince them otherwise. That's not something I can control, but I can offer to take a drug test, which might help.

              I've seen Koop's methods work for good friends. I talked with him and a few other coaches before choosing him and what he said resonated the most with me and the way I view training, so I chose him. I want to be the best honest, clean athlete I can be, and I think his training puts me in the position to do so. I know the work I put in. People who know me know the work I put in. That's what matters to me.

            7. lstomsl

              Thanks Alex, you are right of course that once people have reasons to be suspicious, athletes such as yourself are in a bad position. You can't ever prove that you don't dope. That's exactly why it's important to stay away from associations with people like Carmichael. As long as coaches with dirty pasts are involved in ultra running there will be reasons to be suspicious of their athletes performances.

              I don't care about your training logs or past performances. I have no doubt you work very hard. Lance worked really hard too. I was hoping to get an explanation of why you thought it would be OK to work with Carmichael. Why working with koop was so important that you would be willing to risk your reputation for it. Maybe there was something I hadn't thought of. Maybe you could convince me with a carefully worded explanation of your thought process. Instead I got "the Marshall Lynch" approach. And cynical attempts at humor. And quite frankly the idea that you don't know enough to decide whether Carmichael is guilty indicates that you just don't give a shit. Lance himself has testified under oath to that fact. It is quite likely that in the next year or two as all the investigations are completed Carmichael will be banned completely.
              That gig is up, you can no longer credibly claim ignorance as an excuse.

              Do I think that you are a doper because you are coached by CTS? No, but I think that your personal ethics are highly questionable and you have said nothing to convince me otherwise. You have publicly stated that you just don't care, which is a pretty slippery slope to be on. If I were a sponsor I wouldn't touch you or any other CTS athlete with a 10 foot pole. But I'm sure Nike doesn't care either, they stood by Lance until the end too.

              I certainly hope you arent doping but I know that the truth will come out in the end. It ALWAYs does, But I also could care less about your future results. There are plenty of other runners without questionable ethics and ties to coaches with sordid pasts that I can cheer for. I'm sure you don't care about that either. Whatever.

            8. AriHammer

              "I want to be the best honest, clean athlete I can be" CTS and CTS athletes have a well documented track record of being neither honest nor clean. As long as you are with Carmichael, and you are no matter what you claim, you will have credibility issues. I urge you to encourage Koop to leave Carmichael…. he seems to be a great coach with really lousy judgement.

            9. AriHammer

              One more point. You say "doping is very, very bad" (odd choice of coaching given your position) and "while it's not a problem right now, it certianly will be" How would you know if doping is a problem when there is virtually no testing for ultra doping currently? If you think it is going to be a problem in the future, why send your money each month to Carmichael. Joe Grant, like you, doesn't think it's a problem currently and said on his blog he doubts ultra runners have the knowledge and know how to dope. I can assure you that Chris Carmichael has the know how, connections and everything needed to cheat. Pretty sweet that he has a stable full of elites in a sport with no rules on PED's and no testing.

            10. afvarner

              Doucement, eh? I didn't see your post from 5 days ago. I was swamped at work and have spent most of this long weekend with family and training hard for a better V02 max (the honest way, of course). As a result, I haven't been watching these boards with the same fervor as some (please forgive me Bryon and Meghan).

              Anyways, yes, I'm still willing to answer your questions, but I'd ask for some understanding. I'm taking the time to try to shed some light on my thought process, but being prodded to do so doesn't sit well with me. My willingness is not without limits.

            11. @SnowyScott

              I've been a lurker and occasional comment-er here for a few years now and if you are under the illusion you are going to find critical journalism here you are smoking some good stuff and I want some. This site is more , which I actually appreciate and why I come back to it, for spreading the silver lining aspects of MUT running. All the gritty stuff about the sport, it's athletes, brands,etc. is only going to serve to ruffle feathers when all the site's stakeholders are in it for the vicarious/side-benefits of befriending those same entities.

              But as bad as that might sound it's fine, imho, because there are going to plenty of other outlets that hammer down on these guys once they start getting caught.

  21. @scott_dunlap

    Good for you, Dakota. Best of luck with Salomon.

    Given where we are in the evolution of our sport and its support of professional athletes, I would encourage you to align with sponsors willing to invest in media to promote the lifestyle you align with, more so than the products they make. You likely won't get a runner to switch a shoe brand, but you may get a few hundred people off the couch and into their first trail experience with the right video. That is worth everything in our obesity-fed world.

    You are a great runner, but also a gifted storyteller. I hope Salomon sees that and lets you explore all the media it does so well, so the latter can serve you long after your speed clocks out. ;-)

  22. dctalk007

    Honestly, I fully support sponsorships, I love the idea. I always tell the joke (but maybe not soon), that one day running shoes should be like basketball shoes. Why can't I just run in the Hoka One One Canadays or The North Face Krars, etc… I can't wait till that naming starts up.

  23. nevtrik

    Seriously the only article of Dakota I wasn't able to read till the end, but it will be fun to see him (and Max King) in skinny Salomon outfit.

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