The Future Is In Good Hands

AJWs TaproomA decade or so ago longtime ultrarunner Ian Torrence penned a monthly column in Ultrarunning magazine that was geared toward “twenty somethings.” In the column he would often profile a young ultrarunner or share collective ruminations about youth in the sport. It was always the first column I went to when I opened the magazine and I was a bit sad when Ian turned 30 and the column was discontinued.

Recently, I reflected back on those halcyon days of the late-’90’s and thought about the youth movement that was taking place in the sport. Then, I realized that period was nothing when compared to what is going on now. Over the past five years, as ultrarunning has experienced exponential growth, the number of twenty somethings in the sport has exploded. And, along with that explosion has come increased marketing money, higher-profile events, and iconic runners who are inspiring a generation.

As a somewhat older, somewhat curmudgeonly runner, I have been intrigued by this development but also, frankly, a bit worried about what all these young whippersnappers might do to the sport. Would they get it? Would increased exposure and individual competitive drive threaten the egalitarian aspect of my beloved sport? Would ego trump our collective sense of community? And, perhaps most significantly, would this new generation of “elite” runners bring a different ethos to the sport and the events that make it so special?

After thinking about this for a while I am now comfortable in my realization that all will be right in the ultrarunning world. And, while there are many people I could turn to for confirmation, two guys in particular represent, to me, great hope for the future – Timothy Olson of Ashland, Oregon and Dylan Bowman of Aspen, Colorado.

Olson was attracted to the sport because it is simple, peaceful, and freeing. As someone attracted to like-minded, healthy and vibrant people, Olson found, in ultrarunning, a refuge from his past and place where he could excel at being the best human being he could be. Running has given him balance and perspective whether on joyful group runs with Ashland’s finest or on long, solo jaunts that allow him to connect more deeply with his body, the earth, and his spirit. As Olson puts it, “I started running longer and longer to discover how my body and mind were connected and how far I could push them, testing their limits. I found that the further I ran, the more I was at peace and relaxed within myself, it turned into a form of meditation.”

Bowman became transfixed by the concept of running 100 miles after reading Zeke Tiernan’s article documenting his 2008 Leadville 100 race. Overwhelmed with intense curiosity, Bowman confronted an intense inner voice that wondered, “Could I do that?” At first, the notion of running 100 miles sounded absurd and impossible. But, as the voices in his head grew louder, running gave Bowman the opportunity to scratch a competitive itch that had been nagging since he completed his NCAA lacrosse career. As he noted, “Ultrarunning has satisfied, in me, an innate curiosity about my own limits as a runner and as a person.”

Both Bowman and Olson find their greatest satisfaction in the 100-mile distance. Whether it is the joy of finishing that first one or the thrill of winning one (Both runners have several 100-mile wins on their resumes.) the shared experience of suffering and the sacred nature of covering 100 miles on foot have inspired both men to become tougher, more reflective, and grateful for the gifts they’ve been given. As Bowman says, “Running has taught me about discipline, dedication, and stubborn perseverance and has helped me improve as a man more so than as an athlete.” And Olson notes, “I simply enjoy what I do. If I didn’t, I would stop; my passion continues to grow and each day I look forward to getting up and playing in the mountains and forest.”

Each have considered what the future holds for themselves and for the sport and both look ahead with cautious optimism. While Bowman knows that there will be inevitable growing pains he believes the growth is, by and large, good, “Better athletes are being drawn to the trails, more events are popping up, and more people are discovering the joy and health benefits of endurance training… I really don’t think the ‘professionalizing’ of the sport will do much to corrupt its modest roots or affect the friendly atmosphere of the events.” However, Bowman adds one word of caution, “I want to see drug testing in our sport soon. As more money comes into the sport, so, too, does the temptation to cut corners. It has been documented in every endurance sport since the dawn of time, so thinking we are immune would just be naive and destructive.”

Olson strikes a somewhat more reserved tone in his observations and sees some challenges ahead, “I think the major challenge ahead is keeping the sport clean; clean from the use of performance enhancing drugs, pollution, arrogance and bigotry…. Hopefully, as present and future generations grow our sport, the collective voice will remain compassionate and conscious in thought and action.”

I, for one, am thrilled that these two guys are carrying the torch for the new generation. While we have certainly come a long way since Ian’s early columns, the foundation of our sport remains unchanged and if guys like Dylan and Timothy continue to thrive, particularly on some of ultrarunning’s grandest stages, the future will be in good hands.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
We’ll have two beer of the week recommendations this week from our two featured runners. Dylan’s choice is Independence Pass IPA from Aspen Brewing Company and Timothy is going with Portland’s Omission Brewing Company and their gluten-free Pale Ale. I must admit I have not tried either but coming from these guys, they must be good!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • What can the influx of youth add to our sport?
  • What perils does our sport face now (and in the future) with an influx of new athletes?

There are 49 comments

  1. thomas

    i totally agree with your thoughts, for me Olsen and jornet show the the world where the limits are, in the past roes and jurek showed us what is possible, (I hope roes comes back), but now olsen and jornet, may be also TK and dakota represents the new generation of ultra running.

    I hope we will see more of their awesome runs.


  2. mtnrunner2

    I've watched those guys tear it up lately, and it's been fun.

    Even though they've been running for years, lots of runners are new TO ME, and it's great to be able to Google for blogs and bios to get the scoop — not to mention follow standings live on the web or on Twitter. Remember the days when you used to have to read a newspaper to learn a tiny little bit about an athlete?

    I can vouch for the Independence Pass IPA, and appropriately I had my first ever after riding up that pass to watch the Pro Cycling Challenge riders come over. Thus far I've only seen it locally near Aspen.

  3. Daniel

    Young runners in general don't get nearly the base of miles in their legs that alot of other countries youth does. (Way too many other things to be doing)

    The cross-over of elite track/road athletes into ultra-running is scene rightly as a boost to the talent pool and an increase in Ultra competitiveness, but perhaps younger involvement in ultrarunning will change that, and perhaps a byproduct of that will be ultra-running having a bit of influence on the US ability to compete at the shorter (Relatively) distances on an international scale.

    But first traditional coaching dogma about younger athletes has to be shed…

    1. Daniel

      As long as there are still places I can climb/hike/Run to and pull out my flyrod without seeing a bunch of trash or other people…I say bring on expansion

  4. Pete

    Expansion is always good for a sport. Sadly some of the older veterans stick their nose into the air to the newbies. That is the impression I have got from some of them. Seems to me that the ego surrounding some of the runners who have been doing this for a long time needs to be shed a bit. It is almost an arrogance. Not all of them are that way but some are.

  5. Patrick

    Pete, unfortunately, I'd have to disagree with you. I've been running ultras since I was 20 and in my 4 years experience, I have yet to have any experience other than support from the "old heads." Most (or at least the one's here in VA) will even share their Jim Beam with you afterward. But I think that support would definitely change if the young guys came into their sport with arrogance, a lack of respect and no sense of humility.

    1. Pete

      I have personally witnessed some arrogance and some ego thats all. I am not gonna name names regardless trail running is a great sport and for the most part the veterans welcome people in for the most part.

  6. James @RedDirtRunner

    I am far from being anything close to elite. In my experience I have had the good fortune to meet some of the better known athletes of our chosen sport. Karl Meltzer, Hal Koerner, Bryce Thatcher, Mike Morton, Ian Sharman, Luke Nelson and Krissy Moehl to name a few. I have found every one to be grounded, friendly and generous. But the future lies not only in the hands of guys like Olson and Bowman but in the hands of each of us. If we each accept the responsibility of being a good steward of the gift then the future is in good hands indeed.

    My beer of the week:

    O'Malley's Stout from the historic Weston Royal Brewery first established in 1842 at Weston, Missouri.

  7. Mel

    Another otherwise very good irunfar article that makes me sad, because it mentions zero women. Which is too bad, because one way of looking at the future of ultrarunning is not the top racers themselves, but the races offered. Many of the big and/or popular races are organized by women RDs.

    While there are some fantastic young male role models (um, and women too) in the sport right now, always gotta look at the big picture!

    1. AJW

      Mel. In no way did I intend to leave women out of this discussion. Rather, I chose to profile two men. A quick review of the Irunfar index will show plentiful examples of content focused on women. Nonetheless, you are right to suggest we keep our eyes on the Big Picture. AJW

      1. Jason

        For the record, I think Ellie Greenwood is one of the most amazing runners (male or female, ultra or otherwise) currently competing. But then again, there are so many people doing amazing things right now. I watch with perpetual awe!

        The future is indeed alright!

      2. Mel

        Thanks for your reply! Indeed this is a very nice profile of Bowman and Olsen. I read and greatly appreciate all the "content focused on women" produced by irunfar. One could perhaps argue that the future of ultrarunning is sites like these- you have the platform to shine light on the great people in the sport and spread information. I note, a quick tally of names mentioned in ~6 recent articles filed under Races are: 60 male names and 31 female names. Perhaps this is an artifact of less women racing, but whatever it is, at the moment, it is an observation. I certainly look forward to the future.

  8. Jeff H

    Nice article. I really appreciate elite athletes with a spirit of 'keeping the sport clean' – especially clean from performance drugs and arrogance. I would hate to see this great sport and community overrun by the likes of other endurance sports (e.g. cycling, triathlon).

    Also, I had the pleasure of seeing Dylan Bowman, Tim Olson and Hal Koerner on trail at Ray Miller 50/50 a few weekends back. I ran the 50K course and during the last 4 miles I was overcome by Dylan (1st), Tim (2nd) and Hal (3rd) as they were coming in for the 50 mile course – it was amazing to see how fresh, strong and happy they all looked while hammering out very fast long miles!

  9. CJ

    “I want to see drug testing in our sport soon. As more money comes into the sport, so, too, does the temptation to cut corners. It has been documented in every endurance sport since the dawn of time, so thinking we are immune would just be naive and destructive.”

    Couldn't agree more with Dylan

    1. Amy

      Drug testing is here, speaking from someone who is now in the USADA testing pool. At least for those that compete at world events. There's in-competition testing for races such as Comrades, World 100K, UTMB. And out-of-competition testing for at least a handful of us (in my case is a result of the World 100K).

        1. Speedgoatkarl

          I don't see it happening soon with the D-testing in competitive trail races. Why? With the FS only allowing a certain amount of participants, the dollars collected just aren't enough to support all the testing. It doesn't pay, and most RD's could more or less care less about spending more money on testing. USADA and WADA have rules, and that's all good, but it particulary co-insides with USATF and their policies, which in trail running are essentially Moot.

          What is interesting is with the Skyrunning series races taking off, they do say they drug test. Do they really? I haven't heard of it happening yet. I could be wrong, but has anyone been tested at Transvulcania, Calls De Vent (sp?), Speedgoat? No, there was noone present. I think the money is the issue. In cycling, there is ALOT more money to make it happen, in ultrarunning, big "sponsors" don't even throw in much cash, they throw in schwag, which is nice and all, but….it all comes down to money, in trail running in the US there is no money to support it, until the FS allows 1000 runners into Western….which we all know ain't happening.

          Badwater can probably do it, but that's because they charge a whopping 1000 bucks to enter….and don't offer support on course. Money….

    2. KenZ

      Badwater site just updated its rules for 2013:

      All racers must be willing to submit to a drug urine test before (at any point prior to the race, after being officially confirmed for entry), during (at any time), or after the race (up to 90 days after the conclusion of the race). If any WADA banned substances are detected, the racer will be disqualified from competition, listed as DISQUALIFIED FOR DOPING in the final standings of the race, and banned for life from any AdventureCORPS event. Refusal to submit a urine specimen upon demand will also result in the racer being disqualified from competition, being listed as DISQUALIFIED FOR DOPING in the final standings of the race, and being banned for life from any AdventureCORPS event. Additionally, any Badwater Ultramarathon finisher who fails a drug test within 36 months after competing in any edition of the Badwater Ultramarathon will be retroctively disqualified from any and all previous Badwater Ultramarathon races, removed from all Badwater Ultramarathon race results, as well as banned for life from any AdventureCORPS events.

      1. CJ

        Good for them…it's a start. I think most of us trail runners would like to think that there's nobody doping in our races but competition and the need to win is growing. Trail running is perhaps the fastest growing sport in the country

  10. Dave M (the real one

    Domestically, it really is a bumper crop of runners instead of individuals: in addition to Bowman and Tim, Dakota Jones, Sage Canaday, and Tony are worth a mention to name a few; Ellie is still a spring chicken yet as well. Internationally, the list goes on and on a la Kilian, Forsberg, etc.

  11. Anonymous

    Unfortunately, I (somewhat) agree with Pete. Some of the "veteran" elites seem to display arrogance. It's as if you haven't earned the right to be part of their club. Maybe this has nothing to do with their age – just their "elite" status.

    I still love the sport and think it has a great future.

  12. J.Xander

    My personal, and therefore completely subjective, experience has been that ultra runners/races/scene/group runs/groups/elites/non-elites are a warm, friendly and inviting bunch of people. That's how I got into it. I was encouraged by these veteran runners 40-60 years old to come join the fun. They always are so encouraging.

    Conversely, the mountain races and short trail races that I do are full of tons of ego. The machismo in the lead pack is thick! They all know each other and have a pretty tight click. Some folks are really nice but for the most part there is a lot of cockiness, preening and ego snorting going on. The mid and back of the packers are a friendly bunch though but there is no denying the elitism that is in the air.

  13. Jimmy Mac

    I think another awesome thing about younger folks being involved in this amazing sport is the amount of access they grant to the average runner (i.e. "me"), mostly through social networking & technology- I've gotten replies from comments from both DBo (on the Twitter machine) & Timmy (on his personal website), so the fact that they not only embrace the technology but use it responsibly and are totally reachable in a way that other professional athletes aren't gives some insight to how egoless this sport really is.

  14. Evan Honeyfield

    Dylan and Timothy – two class acts. I love this from an apparent renaissance man:

    “I think the major challenge ahead is keeping the sport clean; clean from the use of performance enhancing drugs, pollution, arrogance and bigotry…. Hopefully, as present and future generations grow our sport, the collective voice will remain compassionate and conscious in thought and action.”

  15. Zeke

    AJW – Nice article. You chose two stellar representatives of the young ultra community. I've only raced Tim once, during his other-worldly performance at western last year, and he is a true steward of the ultra ethos. Dbo is a training partner and close personal friend. Dylan too reflects the trail runner values that have been a hallmark of the sport for decades, which is good because I think his true potential is just starting to be revealed. Thankfully I'm taking 2013 off, cause I wouldn't want to toe the line with either of these monsters. They are fast! They look good doing it, and they spread the good ultra vibe as they shred the, "brown pow!"

    1. AJW

      Zeke, thanks for checking in. And, while I know you're taking the year "off" I sure hope to see you out there. And, when you come back, I look forward to seeing you then, too. I've never seen a guy who looked like such crap at Robinson Flat finish like you did at WS 2012. Cheers brother! AJW

  16. Max

    With the idols my generation of ultra kids (nice to have an article about us 20-somethings) looks up for inspiration I don't think egos are something to worry about. To paraphrase what Dakota recently wrote, we are all small people in very big places.

  17. George Katsikaris

    We all just worry a little bit I think about the "tainting" of a sport that is so pure. Most likely the purest of them all. We tell ourselves it's the younger masses flooding in that will, if at all, put a negative connotation on our sport and strip away it's purity and our current easily available access to events. As I observed at Bandit 50K this past weekend there were no age limitations to the person that would spoil this experience for us. There was a large amount of newbies from 18-65 years old that obviously just did not share the shame passion and love for the trails as most ultrarunners do and riddled the mountain sides with trash and debris. The truth is, age is irrelevant, it's what's on the inside that determines the outcome of ultrarunning, it's the motives of an individual. I think it's our responsibilty as the experienced UR's to educate, come along side of, and set examples for the new ultra community of Ultra Etiquitte/Respect. So lets not let these minuscule details distract and deter us but lets use this nearing reality to reflect on our personal motives and help others achieve the peace and respect we all are acquainted with every time we set foot on the trail.

  18. Patrick McKenna

    The elites have been very kind to me in person, and have even taken the time to respond to every e-mail question I've ever sent them. Olson, Koerer^2, AJW, Karl, Bryon, Benna^2, Rivers^2, Maravilla, CW Smith, etc…

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