The Future Is In Good Hands

AJW ponders the effect young ultrarunners will have on the sport and talks to two such runners – Dylan Bowman and Timothy Olson – to get their takes.

By on February 15, 2013 | Comments

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?
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.