The New Global Picture

Mountain ultrarunning has undoubtedly become a much more international sport in the past several years. A decade ago, American runners pretty much raced in North America, with very few options to race internationally, especially if they wanted to stay on trails in the mountains. As much as ultrarunning has grown in popularity in the United States in the past decade, it has grown even quicker in other parts of the world. In my opinion this trend is most certainly a good thing for the sport.

Runners from around the world are racing each other all over the planet and everyone is learning how to be better runners along the way. There are different styles from region to region, and as runners spend more time running with those from other parts of the world, they pick up on things which other cultures are doing that seem to work effectively.

Modern day ultra distance running has been prominent outside of the United States for decades, but this has largely been flatter, smoother, road-type events, or more adventurous overland-type events (think fell running). However, the collective energy and culture of the current style of trail ultrarunning was once a decidedly American thing. Now, though, it is an entirely international thing, and in the process has become a much more refined, talented, and competitive entity.

Despite all these positive things about this trend toward a more global sport, I do, however, think there are a few things in this process which have the potential to subtly undermine these benefits.

The first thing, I will only mention briefly, not because it’s not important, but because it’s so definitely a concern that it really doesn’t take any extensive explanation. This is the ecological impact of runners traveling half way around the world to do something so basic as to run in the mountains. Also, beyond the ecological impact of this travel there is also the physical and emotional stress that this much travel puts on anyone trying to perform at such a high level. Ultimately I think these factors will limit just how extensively international this (or any sport) will become. People are certainly going to continue to race in far away places, but they are also going to continue to race closer to home a lot more often, as it’s simply a lot less stressful on our bodies and a lot less stressful on the environment to race in our hometown than it is to race thousands of miles away.

Another thing which seems to be showing up more and more as the sport becomes more and more international is that different countries and different regions seem to have very different desires to promote and encourage the sport as an international event. This isn’t inherently a bad thing, and is almost certainly an unavoidable thing, but I do wonder what effect this may have on the sport in the coming years. Trail ultrarunning has been around in the United States for a long time; there is a very established culture around the sport here, and many people (perhaps most?) within this culture see no reason to do much of anything to promote the internationalism of the sport. On the other hand, in Europe, Asia, and other regions of the world where the sport as it is known today is a much newer thing, there isn’t nearly as much of an established culture and is therefore a much stronger desire to promote their athletes and their events to the rest of the world, most specifically to the United States. In a nutshell, it is the “new kids on the block” trying to be sure they are taken seriously by the “old guard”. It’s no coincidence that the two trail ultrarunning series’ that are most actively trying to promote themselves as specifically international events are both based in Europe (Skyrunning, and now Ultra-Trail World Tour).

What’s the problem with any of this you ask? Perhaps nothing, but from an American perspective, I do see the possibility of the modern international changes in the sport essentially passing right over the “old guard” here in the United States. In some regards, this is already happening. Mountain running (on very steep and rugged terrain) has been popular in Europe for many years, and as ultrarunning has gained popularity, it has been greatly influenced by that style of running. As a result, the typical course in Europe is significantly steeper and more technical than a typical course in the United States. This wouldn’t be a problem for things here in the U.S. except for the reality that the majority of people inherently like things which are bigger, more rugged, and more challenging. As the sport becomes more and more of an international competition, the style of races here in the U.S. will either need to change, or we will find ourselves and our events being taken less and less seriously by the larger international aspect of the sport.

It’s not by accident that hundreds of American runners have gone over to Europe to race UTMB in the past six or seven years while no more than a handful of European runners come to the U.S. for any of our races. Yes, some of this has to do with the fact that many races in the U.S. are so hard to get into, but I think it has more to do with the reality that, outside of Hardrock and a few other similar races, we don’t have events here that take place on the type of terrain that large numbers of people are going to travel thousands of miles to be a part of. At least not with the direction the sport is moving as it becomes more and more of a worldwide event.

On the other side of this you have the “new kids on the block”, especially Europe and Asia, where they are trying hard to embrace and promote the worldwide aspect of the sport. There is an eagerness and a rawness to these young ultrarunning cultures that is refreshing and inspiring. They do a lot of things for the right reasons and there is an excitement among the general public about the sport that you just don’t find in the United States. Again, you ask, what then is the problem?

Again, the answer is that there may not be any problem, but a concern that I have, and a concern that was increased by the announcement of Ultra-Trail World Tour, is that the culture of the sport in Europe (and to a lesser degree Asia), and thus to some degree the larger international energy of the sport may be beginning to overlook the U.S. as a significant part of the picture. One could argue endlessly whether this is more a function of the U.S. being a stubborn, grumpy, old man or whether this is a function of the new kids being brash and independent (it’s probably a little bit of both), but it’s hard to argue that this isn’t something that is, in fact, beginning to happen.

Not to say that the Ultra-Trail World Tour is the entire voice of international ultrarunning, but it is one of the only events in the world that is specifically intended to be a series of races that promotes and encourages a more worldwide view and dynamic within the sport. This being their intention, I find it interesting that they are currently planning to include only one North American race in their first season. Racer’s standings will be based on their three top performances within the series, and with three races occurring in Europe (as well as another just a short hop away in Morocco) a European runner won’t even need to leave the continent to take part in the so-called “world tour.” There are probably still more trail ultramarathons in North America than the rest of the world combined (although this will not be the case for long), so it’s a little hard to take a “world tour” seriously that has essentially four European races and one North American race (especially when the one, Western States, is nearly impossible to gain entry into). It reminds me a bit of Major League Baseball using the term “World Series” for its championship event which only includes teams from North America. In the case of baseball, though, when the phrase was coined, the sport was essentially only played in North America. It may just be an accidental oversight by one, small group of event organizers, but I do think the events included in this “world tour” do say something about a shifting dynamic in the sport, as well as something about how most Europeans view the sport as compared to how most Americans view the sport. To be fair, the Ultra-Trail World Tour has said that their current schedule is tentative, and that more events may be added later. I certainly hope they include another (or two more) North American events. I think this would go a long ways in making this series a legitimate world tour.

In the end, none of this may really matter. The majority of runners and races in the United States may happily move forward largely separate from the larger international energy of the sport. The new worldwide dynamic (led primarily by Europe) may move in their desired direction without much need or desire for involvement or input from the United States. This would not automatically mean either one would be any worse off without the other, but I do think this is a possibility. I think there could be a lot to be gained by moving ultrarunning in the direction of a truly worldwide sport with truly international events on the calendar, but I think we are at a point in which much more effort will need to be made by all sides involved to make this happen. In the end, this will probably happen if the demand is legitimately there, but certainly it’s going to take more than what is being newly offered by the Ultra-Trail World Tour. This is of course a brand new event, and a fairly new concept. Maybe starting out with a lot of room to improve isn’t necessarily a bad spot to be. Let’s hope so.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

We’re really grateful that Dakota’s column last week incited a civil conversation in its comments section. Thank you! As we move forward with discussing Geoff’s thoughts this week, please continue to comment in a constructive, respectful-to-all manner.

  • What are your thoughts on the globalization of trail ultrarunning? Have you raced abroad and felt some of the cultural mixing that occurs when runners of multiple countries come together? And, what do you think of some of the consequences of the sport’s globalization to which Geoff refers?
  • What do you think about Geoff’s hypothesis that American trail ultramarathons need to become more like European trail ultramarathons, in terms of their technicality and elevation change, in order for the U.S. to remain relevant to international racers? Does this present concerns about homogenization and loss of the U.S. trail ultrarunning tradition? Does this open up opportunities for U.S. runners to try new things closer to home? Do you think this will, in fact, make U.S. races more attractive to non-American runners?
  • Finally, what is your present interest in trail ultrarunning? Do you want to stay close to home, experiment internationally, race little races, run with the best competition, run without entering races at all, or something entirely different?

There are 57 comments

  1. André Cruz

    Well, I´m from Brazil, Rio de Janeiro.

    The scene here is increasing like in the rest of the world.

    The trail runners here look like the european, they use back pack, calf sleeve, a lot of salomon shoes and nobody uses a simple handheld, even if they will run only 10Kms.

    I know a lot of brazilians that traveled to Chamonix to run CCC or UTMB and only one that ran WS100.

    Another day, I spoke about that with a friend and We didn´t understand why. He said that a place do UTMB is easier than to WS100. But, in fact, I´m not sure about that.

    Well, I really prefer the way americans organize their races, like Seb talked about the Hardrock, the low profile way is better for me.

    Tks for the opportunity and sorry about my english.

    See you.


  2. Qba Krause

    Geoff, the difference between European and American approach is mostly due to the fact, that the ultra trail running in Europe comes from the mountain-oriented environment: ski-mountaineers, climbers, so on, while in the U.S. it has primarily started from running, lengthened and taken outside towns and roads.

  3. Charlie M.

    As an online Fan it makes no difference re: locale. Whether the races are in Europe, Asia or America, it doesn't matter to the online fan. Now, the travel stress for the runners and for the iRunFar team is a different matter…I'm sure they'd love for many more of the races to be in the U.S.!

  4. David T

    There are a number of well operated, high profile U.S. ultras that ought to be considered for this series. I have to agree, it is a shame that only Western is currently represented in the series.

  5. Molly's dad

    Hey Andre, there is no need to apologise about your English, its as good as mine and it's my first language!! I don't think the "low profile" way of organising events is a typically American thing, here in the UK and all over Europe there are plenty of low profile races, its just you don't get to hear about them …..because they are lower profile.

    I would love the opportunity to run some higher profile races in Europe; the CCC/UTMB or Zegama, simply because the atmosphere looks amazing but equally there are plenty of races in places without all of the razzmatazz.

    With regard to Geoffs fears/thoughts that the US is being somewhat overlooked by the so called world Tour I really wouldn't worry to much about it. I don't think there are too many people who would attach a great deal of importance to winning a world tour.

    In cycling (as has been pointed out in various posts) there is a similar system for a points scoring system over a season, no one really cares though (except the UCI); its the winners of the classics races, Grand Tours and any races with a bit of history that get the plaudits not the points winner at the end of the year.

    For me, the most important factor for a race or race series having a clear identity, whether it be through the atmosphere that is created by fans/runners or through the scenery it passes through and the profiles of the course. Zegama does not include massive mountains and profiles, the scenery is beautiful but not so different from 100's of other locations around Europe but what makes it so special for the people who participate, is the atmosphere created by the locals who come out in the 1000's to support it, I have never been but I guess its the closest you will come to the atmosphere on one of the famous climbs in one of cycling's grand tours. For the Western States its the infamous canyons and their potentially searing heat, the monster descents and the history that hold my interest. Inclusion or not into any race series is not going to change this for me and I would guess for the majority of fans.

    I do wonder whether there is a real desire amongst the elite athletes or their teams for such a series, or is this purely being pushed along by race directors and marketing men?

    1. André Cruz

      Tks about my english.

      I agree with you, I don´t think that are too many people wouring about the importante of winning a world tour.

  6. Max

    I do hope that the american running community adopts the mountain approach to ultra running. There are plenty of locations where awesome mountain races can take hold. DJ is putting on his telluride race, here in Montana the Mikes are putting on the Rut 50k

    As for Europe based "world championships" the problem is that unless the athlete has a juicy enough sponsor deal that covers travel costs flying to the states is as difficult for a Spaniard as it it for a yank to fly to France. I suspect this has a lot to do with race selection.

  7. rich

    Globalization of the running community is mainly positive – it is fantastic to see running and trail running in particular as a common interest uniting us around the globe. The different trail and ultra racing traditions in different regions are something to celebrate, I think, and hopefully something to preserve. Otherwise there is the risk that courses become contrived to meet a certain expectation of, for example, vertical gain or loss. It would be a shame to see American races strive to be like those in the Alps, which are very different again from those in the UK or in Scandinavia. Most of the runners at any race are from the home crowd, so it makes sense for race directors to appeal first and foremost to this group. In the spring while visiting a colleague I took the chance to run a nearby trail race in the Pyrenees – 160 were French and very local and then there was me. Even for a big international race like UTMB, if you comb through the results list half of the finishers are still French and the majority can reach Chamonix within a day’s drive or less; and at Sierre-Zinal 80% were Swiss, who were also mostly from the French-speaking cantons. Even these races with an international following are still mostly ‘local’ in participation.

    However, I would counter the idea of Europe as a ‘new kid on the block’, if you consider how many years some races have been run. Sierre-Zinal in Switzerland was just run for the 40th year, Swiss Alpine Marathon celebrated 28 years, and in the UK Ben Nevis race has been run since 1951 and the Fellsman celebrated 51 years. Obviously some of the newer races such as UTMB have picked up some influences from the American ultra world, such as the fact it is 100 miles despite being in a metric world and the main sponsor is an American brand. But the format for the race clearly remains in the local alpine running tradition. Instead I would suggest simply that these races are new on the American horizon. That fewer Europeans are travelling to races in the US is not so surprising, when you consider that you can travel quite short distances in Europe, change countries and find countless races to try out; and it is logistically very simple nowadays because there is less need to change currency or carry passports. If American races become more ‘European’ then why travel all the way there to run the same thing.

    Europe may be dominating this globalization of trail and ultra running at the moment (or it may look this way in American eyes), possibly because of the large participation in the sport and as Geoff alludes to the large fields permitted in many of the races compared to many American races. Sticking with the two examples from the Alps, UTMB has an entry limit of 2300 just in the main event, while Sierre-Zinal had 1140 runners and an additional 2000 ‘tourists’ with an earlier start. So there is a logical reason why this European perspective seems at the moment to be a dominant face right for the globalization of the trail and ultra running industry as marketed by companies such as North Face or Salomon. I can’t complain about the developments in the sport because the quality of the running gear from these and other companies today beats the crap out of stuff I had 10, 20 or 30 years ago. But I hope most races stay local in character and participation.

  8. John

    I think the big barrier for the race directors over here in adding their race to the UTWT is the 15K euro fee. How can a race like Wasatch afford that when only a few hundred people are allowed in? Western can afford it because of all the sponsorship and what not…but very few of our races over here actually generate significant revenue. They are first and foremost labors of love and for many any left over funds go to charity.

  9. Dennis Claire

    It seems like there are certain sports in Europe that have a huge fan base; those same sports here are followed only by the few that compete in them. (trail/ultrarunning, cycling (esp road and cyclocross), soccer, alpine/x-c/and ski mountaineering, climbing)

    I think some of it with the mountain-related sports is the fact that there are many big European mountain towns where you can walk out your door and into the mountains. The fan base is right there. We definitely don't have the same infrastructure here. (though like Speedgoat, I think the ski resort is the perfect place to stage and market our races. I did Jay Peak this year and it was very well run and had a decent amount of spectators)

    We also don't have the same environmental ethic. We seem to let the vast majority of our country suffer environmentally, but in our national parks and forests we cannot touch a leaf without a permit.

    Neither do we have a culture of physical activity that almost all Euros seem to partake in. The more of a sufferfest the sport is, the more they seem to love partaking in and watching it. This flair for the dramatic is not typically appreciated by Americans. We think these sports are extreme and dangerous while team sports like football, we assume to be more safe.

    Great post–it's interesting to consider how this sport has evolved simultaneously in multiple areas based on the culture of the region as opposed to other sports that emerged specifically out of one region!!

    1. Molly's dad

      I certainly wouldn't put trail/ultra running in the same category as football/cycling etc. There is nowhere near the same following or even awareness that this is what people actually do! Other than when I run with my local mountain/fell running crew I rarely see anyone else out in the hills when I am on my jaunts in South Wales (UK).

      However I agree that the accessibility of large mountains across Europe adds to the ease of spectating and participating. There is also a mystique and genuine appreciation of the mountains in Europe, they are intrinsically entwined in the histories of certain areas of Europe.

      The high mountains of Europe have acted as both the protector and persecutor of men (and women) for centuries, preventing invading parties from being successful and claiming the lives of countless people through adverse weather and careless folly.

      1. Dennis Claire

        I'd definitely agree that trail running and football are not the same, but in America it seems those that like with the sports I mentioned, the people that participate in them and are the only fans, and no one else pays attention. It seems in Europe mountain/ultrarunning is more socially acceptable and there are a lot more fans/sponsors for mountain and ultrarunning, but maybe I'm wrong.

        I first started trail running after seeing fell running races as a teenager spending a summer with my Irish family. In your experience in the UK, is there a real divide between road runners and trail/fell runners? Do a lot more people partake in road races vs trail or fell races?

    2. Lstomsl

      I was involved in mountain biking from Almost the beginning. It began in the US as a way to explore the woods and of course races developed organically but were mostly low-key fun events which were very social with group camping, BBQs, and concerts at most races. As it got bigger it started attracting people more focused on competition but was still largely dominated by US riders. When the Europeans became involved it seemed to become definitely more competitive and the Euros began winning all the races, and most of the big races were in Europe. Even in the US the sport took a more competitive bent and the races became less fun and I stopped racing because of it. A lot of others did too and eventually there was a backlash. People began putting on a lot of long unsanctioned races that were more endurance rides then races. 12 and 24 hour races began that were a lot more sociable and fun and even slow folks could go have fun in the woods with their friends without being blown out of the water. And through the whole time there were tons of people who just enjoyed getting outside on a bike and couldn't give a rats ass about racing.

      I definitely see some parallels in where trail running was, is and seems to be going to the early days of mountain biking. I also see parallels in the differences between American and European approaches to it. One explanation that comes to mind is that many of these activities are primarily viewed as recreational activities in America rather than sport. We have less people, more wildland, and many of us have the opportunity to hit trails every day not just on weekends and vacations. It's easy for many of us to just go for a ride or a run and enjoy the mountains and woods in solitude. Just by the fact that Europe has more people and less space the trails there have to be more crowded and solitude less available. My experience in Europe is definitely limited but it supports that idea. just one over generalized stereotypical possible explanation for the difference….

      I suspect we'll see more focus on competition and domination by Europeans just like we did with mountain biking. I suspect a lot of people will complain ( its killing biking/running !) and stop racing like many of us less competitive bikers did. I suspect we'll see a backlash in the states and a movement towards more grassroots, social, and less competitive events. I suspect that many people in the us will continue running and not give a rats ass about racing. In the end everything will be ok.

  10. Shelby

    I suppose that if the "world tour" is looking for a specific, European style of race, they will have a hard time finding that in the US, outside of HR. But if they want to give the participants a flavor of the type of racing in various parts of the world, then it would be great to see them look at other races in North America other than WS, such as Fat Dog, H.U.R.T. or Grindstone. Runners may find the low-key nature of North American ultras refreshing.

    On a side note, for those who love hill climbs, Alaska's got a whole series of them, the toughest being the Matanuska Peak Challenge — 14 miles and 9,000 ft of vert for some lung-busting fun! Easy to get in to and you can combine it with a summer vacay. Boom!

    I'm just happy there's something for everyone… inexpensive, local races and international ones with all the hoopla, for those with the means to participate.

  11. Trey

    If its not in a stadium, average americans don't care, and especially if it takes hours to finish an event. American don't care about endurance events. Trail running in the US, like cycling, may be popular, but only to those who are participants. Train running, like cycling again, is also becoming more international, but there will always be certain parts of the world where certain sports take hold, and Europe is the place for both of these. Compared to the US, both sports are "huge" in Europe and I think this is the way things will stay…..

  12. Lstomsl

    Also I always am surprised by the amount of spectators at european races. More power to them but I'll never understand it. Biking and running are the most fun things I can think of to do, but incredibly dull to watch…

  13. patrick t.

    I think big part of what we aren't mentioning is that so many of the euro and international ultras are funded in a big way by the local government as a way to promote their country and increase tourism.

    my point is: without that sort of larger backing from a regional/national government, it will tough for U.S. races to be able to part of an expensive race series whose style is more along the lines of "big festival vibe, lights, big TVs, helicopters etc." We don't have the means to create a "media event" that many of these new races are able to have thanks to government funding. I'm not saying we can't/shouldn't still be a part…but as you've pointed out. The money isn't quite there for many of our best races.

  14. André Cruz

    Reading your comment, I rememberd what Greg Vollet said about the MTB races and what happened with them. Let´s see with it happen with ultra trail.

    1. Lstomsl

      Hey thanks for that, its definitely interesting to see that story from a European perspective. I wonder if Europe has seen the same backlash and movement to less competitive events that we have here.

      1. Molly's dad

        I think there will always be something for everyone in trail/mountain running. In the UK at least its pretty easy to set up a race.

        With regard to spectating, it is rather peculiar to stand on a hill for hours to watch people flash by in a minute (or less in cycling) but its very social event. The fact their is a race going on just adds to the flavour of the occasion. Continental Europeans love parties and fiestas these events just serve to move the event up the mountain a bit.

        Im not sure about Europeans being more competitive than in the US, i am not sure why one would enter a race and not want it to be a competitive event. Also, i would disagree with the comment that Europeans only get to run in the hills on weekends. In general, there are more towns closer to mountains and thus there is easier access in Europe.

        With regard to cross over between road and trail/mountain; i think it is probably similar to the US, some run both some run exclusively road or trail.

  15. Watoni

    Putting aside the environmental impact of travel to race (or cover a race), which as Geoff notes is an obvious concern, the globalization of the sport should be able to adapt to different styles of racing.

    Other than UTMB, most European races are less than 100 miles as far as I can tell. Yes, many have lots of elevation gain and are technical, but tougher US events could be devised, certainly that would be more comparable than WS.

    The question is whether that is really desirable. Coming from a cycling background, where 4000-5000 meters of climbing in a stage or a race is considered very difficult (think a tough Ardennes classic or a mountain stage of the Tour de France), I find it odd that 100 mile races in the US with 6000-8000 meters of elevation gain are considered "flat." The climbs may be shorter or not quite as steep as some in the Alps, but the courses are certainly not flat. I have not heard cyclists call Liege-Bastogne-Liege flat with 4700 meters of climbing even though none of them are long climbs since we are talking about Belgium …

    Also, having super steep climbs that even the best cannot run is not always a plus. Cycling races have moved to ever more extreme climbs (Zoncolan, Angliru, Mortirolo) and a reasonably fit cyclist can climb them with appropriate gearing, but they are quite controversial. Watch stage 20 of the Vuelta Espana on Saturday to get an idea. Then consider many ascents in trail running are steeper/longer than anything in pro cycling.

    Bottom line is that there can be a convergence in the types of races, an appreciation for their differences and, ideally, a bit of both …

    1. Lstomsl

      In cycling there are pushes in two different directions. Shorter races, especially shorter stages to reduce the incentives and benefits of doping, while at the same time fans and media pressure towards harder and steeper because its more fun to watch. In the first tour de France stages averaged around 400km and took 18 hours to ride. (on single speeds with wooden rims….).

      Flat cycling races are less interesting because the influence of aerodynamics means that everybody stays together in one pack for 5 hours and then they sprint the last 200m. Running wont have that problem until people start hitting about 5 minute mile pace. There will always be big time gaps.

      I get that running fans like cycling fans will always be wanting to see longer, steeper, more technical races with more and more elites so we can see who is best from the comfort of our armchairs but how far do we want to push them? How much is enough? Running, especially mountain running, is much harder on the body than cycling and there is only so much they can take. Already we hear that the race doesn't start till mile 60, or 70, or 80 so what is the point of those miles. Maybe shorter races that are being raced from the get go would be more fun to watch and even more fun to race. I think that in running, even more so than cycling, the competition makes a race exciting not the course.

      1. Watoni

        Scenery at the races plays a great part in the viewership, and climbs/routes that are well known. Think of the crowds at the Tour of California on Sierra Road, Mount Diablo, etc. in CA. Europe still has a greater spectator culture, but it could build in the US.

        I agree that longer/steeper is a question, especially when doping inevitably becomes more of an issue in the sport. Interestingly, some have argued the classic longer stages a la the Tour de France of earlier days are less apt to reward dopers than the more extreme climbs but shorter stages we see now (engine vs. tank).

        We will see as racing develops

        1. Trey

          We only televise two cycling events on TV, the whole year – that's not many! Watch the coverage and its obvious its watered down for an audience that doesn't know anything about cycling, and on top of that, these two races don't really mean much compared to the Euro events. Ask the average person to name an American cyclist and most will still mention Lance.. Yes, trail running will still grow in the US, but like cycling, will always have its struggles….

            1. Molly's dad

              My general impression of US audiences is that there is a bit more of a need for Glitz and Glamour surrounding events and the subtleties of a 100 mile mountain race or a 21 stage cycle race don't provide the immediate audience gratification that is maybe required by US audiences.

              I think the same is true of UK audiences, but just to a lesser extent, I mean we did come up with playing cricket…..for 5 days!!

  16. Jeff

    Perhaps I am in the minority, but the more the sport expands globally, the more I am drawn toward a "deep dive" into my local trail running scene. Besides, the ecological concerns Geoff mentioned in his post, I find greater personal reward in getting intimately and personally familiar with the races and racers in my local community than I do from travelling the country (or the globe) in search of adventure or camaraderie. Following along with Dakota's recent piece I also prefer to "vote" my dollars in favor of home-grown events promoted by local race directors who share my values rather than support events in far away places put on by people who are not connected to my community and to whom I may not relate.

    This is no knock on those who want to spend their time bonding with other cultures and experiencing different styles of racing. I understand why the allure of an international competitive milieu is appealing to some. As long as the "big boy" globalized races and racers don't push my beloved local scene off the map or transform it beyond recognition, I see no reason why the two can't co-exist side by side.

  17. Jim Skaggs


    I didn't realize there was that high of a fee to a race to have it as part of the series. I think another question is why would a race like Wasatch want to pony up the 15K when 1) they have a limit imposed on them on the number of runners, 2) they have no problem reaching that limit, 3) that kind of cash isn't necessarily going to draw better talent to the race (they already draw some pretty serious talent), and 4) they may want to keep it low profile. I think it gets to Goeff's point about the ultrarunning culture here in the US. We tend to like low profile events.

    I used to try and think of ways to draw bigger talent to the Buffalo Run. Then I thought why should I. I would much rather put on a high quality local race than have to deal with the added hassles of complying with some sort of rules to join a series. I'll continue to do it the way I always have as long as the state park will let me.

    Jim Skaggs

    RD Antelope Island Buffalo Run

  18. Aaron

    I'm glad you mentioned the physical and ecological costs of long distance travel. Even just staying within the continental US, I have a difficult time with managing the physical demands of both the travel and the race. My recent 10 hour drive, 100 mile run/hike, and then 12 hour drive after a night's rest left me just a bit done in. I don't even want to think about what that would be like with overseas flights, especially while dealing with the usual sinus infection or cold that I always seem to pick up by the time I finish the race.

  19. Paul

    interesting read. I see it all as a money/sponsorship issue. Look at the big races that get most of the attention. In Europe and other areas there seems to be a much higher number of racers allowed into events compared to the US. It seems in the US we have to have much smaller field sizes due to constraints put on race organizers fro Forest Service. This cuts down on the amount of money that is available for advertising. We have a few races in the US that stand out and get the attention but there is not a ton of advertising for it. Also have to look at the culture in Europe and Asia and what sports stick out over there compared to the US. Look at the amount of people that are drawn to racing events as solely spectators. There are a hell of a lot more people going out to watch the races than we see in the US. Look at the finish and start lines in Europe. In the US we get a fraction of what there is in many events in Europe, and therefore companies aren't going to put in advertising dollars when an event doesn't attract a lot of eyes. Europe is where the eyes and ears are and we are seeing that with the sponsorships.

    As a non-elite runner I will not be spending my extra money on traveling to far away locations to race. That is unfair to my wife to either spend our vacation money on me doing what I want, or dragging her to places just so I can spend the entire day running while she sits and waits for me, or spends the day by herself sightseeing. These big world tour circuits will have a few of the sponsored runners going to compete at them, while the rest of the fields are filled by more local runners. No matter what there will only be a select few at the top of the sport that will truely be able to compete for the "title."

    I'm not concerned that europe is going to take away from the sport here in the US. We are consistently seeing more and more races being held in the US, and a majority of the fields are being filled. We have our big race, and they will still be seen as big races, and just because they are not part of some world tour circuit doesn't mean they will not fill up.

  20. Paul

    i enjoy your thoughts. i'm gathering the sense that most of these series are created by marketing folks and full time race directors trying to make their living. The runners go to them because they can increase their name by finishing well in tougher fields. If I was a professional runner that's what I would do, until I had a high enough stock to be able to write books, make appearances etc (Karnazes, Jurek).

    World tour points mean nothing. Winning big races filled with tougher competition means a lot

  21. drew

    i know it will never happen because of permits, but i would love to have a hardrock type event in the sierras. i guess thats what my PB vest is for…….

  22. adam w

    I'm glad we have strict rules that protect our wilderness and keep events like utmb from ahappening. When we created the world's first national park in 1870 something. They were smart enough to lock it up tight so fads like running and biking or whatever may come and go wouldn't ruin the land before future generations could experience the ecology, animals and wildness as close to the way they did back then.

    I celebrate all cultural differences and see no need to change just so we can have a one size fits all world.

    1. Aaron

      Here here. Poland at least has the Białowieża Forest which is closed off to visitors in order to keep it pristine and prevent visitors from disturbing the forest ecology. There may be more such parks in Europe. I only recently learned about that one.

  23. Ethan

    André – it is several times easier to get into UTMB (a bit less than 50%) than it is to gain entry to Western States (about 10%)…for now. If Geoff is right this may not be true for long.

    1. André Cruz

      Tks Ethan.

      I read that the number of runners can´t increase in WS because there is a law that regulates that, no? A law that says the number of people inside the Park.

      And, i read about the new number of participants in the Leadville 100.

      What do you think?

  24. Raymond Wennier

    The international Skyrunning Federations, Sky; 1 out of 5 races is held in USA

    Ultra; 2 out of 5 are in USA and only in vertical; none in USA.?!

    This great article came to me at great time… I am from Guatemala but have been away for 13 years (10in USA and 3 in Germany). In both countries and I have experienced trail running and have to say that the atmosphere of trail races here in Europe felt to me very similar to that of a city marathon in USA. The amount of people racing and spectators along the route and all during the race is unreal. It a very competitive feeling but at the same time they all support each other. I have felt a little bit more of competitive feeling from other runners when asked, -where are you coming from? and I'd answer "I came USA" than if I say I come from Guatemala…go figure!

    The sport has grown and so have the ideas for races. Distance and terrain; Vertical mile; flat- road long races; high elevation races; technical mountain terrains races; Jungle races, Dessert races, and a mix of all races. I think that the USA should not change! keep them the way they are. Making things interesting for runners worldwide. The UTMB is not the WS or Hard-Rock and that is why US And the rest of the Americas runners go to the UTMB to run. Keep WS hard to get in, the same as it is for new runners to try to qualify for the Boston Marathon…incentives-motivation-GOALS!

    And being from Guatemala I have as a goal to promote the trail running in Guatemala, so the next time you (worldwide) want to run something different think of Guatemala…the place of many trees and eternal spring!

    that was my little bit of trail-running and Tourism.

    1. Molly's dad

      Nice plug….. If It wasn't for my terrible fear of flying I would love to experience "the place of many trees and eternal spring".

      Unfortunately the USA's reputation proceeds it. I would get a similar reception if I were to say I was from England rather than Wales on the European continent.

  25. Rachel

    As someone living and running in Asia – "a new kid on the block"- there's just something about this piece that stirs a little annoyance within me. The States has some incredible, incredible running, at least from what I've seen. I can't wait to get over there and do more.

    (… And leaving aside the argument that the UTWT only includes one, very difficult to get into USA race….)

    But I think the point is… there are some incredible places around the world to run, too. The UTWT, as a core principle (forget about the competition & all the other niggly aspects), is about inpsiring people to see other parts of the world, to explore and discover. To meet new people, engage in new conversations and build a beautiful, interconnected community.

    As a writer based in Asia, I make it my mission/goal to write about and inspire people from other parts of the world to learn more about what is going on here. By running in other terrain, running against new competition…. don't we in turn make ourselves better runners?

    (And it's worthwhile to note that while ultrarunning in the US has been going on for the last fourty years, it's also been going on around the world in perhaps a less celebrated fashion. Places like Hong Kong have had the Oxfam Trailwalker 100km team ultra going on since the 80s, and Australia has had bush marathons going on since the 80s as well…the Six foot track marathon springs to mind.)

    I feel like THIS is the opportunity – exploration, new challenges, the joy of something new and different – that is getting lost in all these arguments about commercialism of ultra running.

    While there is something warm and familiar about lacing up the shoes to go for a run in your own neck of the woods, there is something so deeply exciting and thrilling about taking on a new challenge in new territory.

    There's a whole world of trails out there waiting to be explored. Why limit yourself.

    1. CLF

      Thanks Rachel, well said!

      Personally, I feel honored to to count both Daniel and Tetsuro amongst my friends. Each had come to Hardrock in separate years from far far away to take part, and as anyone else who's ever met them knows, are fantastic people. And their example helped inspire me to get out there, out of the comfort zone of my own local race scene, and go for it. I did so – UTMB two weeks ago – and it was a blast! Yes there were many travel and cultural challenges to overcome, albeit minor in the big scheme of things, which only served to enrich the experience even more. I would encourage anyone else who has the time and money to travel to a big world event to do so, you will not be disappointed.

      Ah, the money. The author seems to have shied away from this, probably the most basic and important ingredient to globalizing the race scene. Yes, world travel can be expensive, and for many folks, is the limiting factor. I get it, we all get it, and I am indeed fortunate to be able to afford a trip abroad on an occasional basis. For those who cannot, consider it fortunate if a foreigner, such as Daniel or Tetsuro (literally or figuratively), appear at your local race. Take the time to bond with them, you will not be disappointed.

  26. grae

    I agree 100%. I raced the NORBA circuit back in the day and the parallels you draw appear very similar. But isn't that pretty much how it goes is sports that aren't team sports? The U.S. invents it, the Europeans perfect it, and take to a whole new level?

  27. Lstomsl

    Can confirm that there are many absolutely gorgeous trails in Guatemala, although at least as of a few years ago, I never saw any maps and land ownership was always pretty ambiguous although nobody seemed to queston anyone's right to use a trail. Maybe you could start a Guatemala race series? I bet threr are some strong runners there.

  28. Molly's dad

    I am not sure what I will be running in 2014, currently suffering form patella tendon problems at the moment. I was hoping to have a crack at a few of the might contain nuts events though.

  29. Anonymous

    That is the goal! For the last year that is what a group of freinds and I are scouting out. We hope to have something for next year. I will keep you posted, you are invited! Maybe the iRunfar team could participate and tell the rest of the world?!


  30. Paul

    closed off? I don't want anything closed off to visitors completely. Why keep something pristine if no one can experience it. Limit the number of visitors, keep the cars out.

  31. Anonymous

    Many European events are really fast packing or involve large amounts of hiking for all but the top runners. While there is certainly a tradition of walking and hiking in ultra running, maybe like other sports that have evolved simplified aesthetics, such as climbing, we will actually see runners move towards events that can be run through, where pole use is frowned upon etc. Less chalk on the climb, minimal protection and gear so to speak. RT = run through (minimal walking, no aids). So folks start posting those FKT RTs. Turn the ultra pure runners loose. American has some of the best races and trails for RTs. But hey, we are still going to race in Europe . . . because it rocks.

  32. max

    I too wasn't aware of that huge entry fee for events. To be honest, I doubt I'll be disappointed if ultra running in the states remains small while it explodes into a circus elsewhere. So long as we get the inspired mountain (or otherwise) events, and I can drive for 7 hours and feel as welcome in a small island as I do in my town's running club I'm pretty happy.

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