The Roar of the Crowd

On my recent visit to Spain to run the Transvulcania 50-mile race, I heard a lot of theories as to why trail races are so different in Europe as compared to the U.S. Specifically, why there are so many trail races in Europe that draw several thousand local fans while virtually none in the States do. This is a topic I’ve talked about on my personal blog in the past, but not until my recent travels abroad did I have the chance to talk about this with so many knowledgeable and experienced runners, race organizers, and race fans from around the world.

To my knowledge, Alaska’s Mount Marathon is the only trail race in the United States (if you actually consider Alaska to be a part of the U.S.) that draws several thousand spectators from the local communities on race day. I’ve heard that Leadville also draws a decent amount of local spectators (maybe someone who has been there on race day can weigh in with a guesstimate on that). Certainly, Mount Marathon’s volume of spectators is aided by the fact that it is held on the 4th of July, and many people are there simply for the Independence Day celebration. There is more at play than just good timing, though, the Mount Marathon race has become the most anticipated and celebrated part of Seward’s 4th of July festivities. At this point, it’s not as much a case of the race benefiting from everyone who is in town for the party, but the party benefiting from everyone who is in town to watch the race. I have not yet been there on race day, but by most accounts there are typically 20,000 spectators!

The most common rhetoric I hear when people talk about why these types of races aren’t the norm in the States, is that there is a fundamental cultural difference between the U.S. and Europe when it comes to individual sports, and that Americans just aren’t interested in attending this kind of thing unless they personally know someone who is competing. There are two things which come to mind right away that disprove this theory: car racing and Mount Marathon.

I think it is true that mountain trail running is much more a part of mountain communities in Europe than it is in the U.S., but I do not believe that this is because Americans don’t care about this kind of thing, and never will. Mount Marathon is a perfect example that “if you build it they will come.” That is, if you bring a race to the people, people will come to the race. For many reasons, the approach in the States has long been to keep trail races remote and thus removed from potential spectators. Very few trail races seem to advertise on the local level, and, more often than not, it seems like races that do start, finish, or pass through population centers try to schedule their events to occur when not much of anything else is going on locally. If, on the other hand, you want people to come out and support your event it makes perfect sense to time a race to start/finish in the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of town, on the 4th of July – as Mount Marathon does.

I would never want for all races to become large spectator events, and I don’t think this is anything any of us need to be worried about. But as an American trail runner who has now competed in a few races in Europe, it’s hard not to wish for at least a handful of these types of races here in the U.S. It’s not something that can or will just happen overnight, but I find it odd and surprising that few (if any) trail races in the States are making a conscious effort to lay the groundwork for their race to become highly supported and attended by local communities. I think trail running is an exciting and inspirational sport that would appeal to the masses if more events were structured and organized in a way that incorporates and celebrates the local population. I think I may still be a couple years away from having the time/desire/energy to tackle organizing a race myself, but, if I do, my top priority will be to create a great course, and my second priority will be to create it in a way so that the race has an opportunity to become an exciting part of the community that it takes place in.

There are 20 comments

  1. Stefan

    Whilst it is true that mountain running is probably more popular in some parts of Europe (in particular in France and Spain), it is also true that Transvulcania, Zegama and UTMB are extreme examples. Most races attract much fewer spectators and have a much more local feel to them. I live and race in Spain and in most ultra races I have participated in the only spectators are people involved in the sport or related to a particular runner. Obviously, the races that bring in American runners are the larger once, but I would expect most ultras in the US to also attract less attention than say Western States. One difference might be that races in Europe often start and finish in the middle of a town and not at a trail head. This alone adds a "importance" in terms of local involvement to the event. I would not describe mountain running as a spectator sport in Europe.

  2. Mike Papageorge

    Like Stefan, I live and race in Spain and have yet to experience something akin to the UTMB, Transvulcania and Zegama; most of the people on the course are friends and family.

    There are exceptions, and I think they are when a race passes thru small mountain villages. Having spent a vacation in the Pyrenees last summer and experienced the smaller villages and tight communities that are up there, I can see how, if a race passes thru town at a proper hour (perhaps not during siesta) people will be more than game to hit the streets.

    Its much the same out here with the Vuelta a Espana (Spain's version of the TdF). We get hundreds of folks out here in town when we're lucky to be used as a start or finish line, but if they're just blasting thru town during the stage you don't see so many people out. We're a larger (university) city and people have many other things on the go. But if this was a sleepier smaller town somewhere out in the hills and mountains, you would get people out no matter how the race passes thru town…

  3. Sebastian

    I think that one of the issues in the US is the difficulty with obtaining insurance and permits… Even for the most remote races there is a mountain of paperwork and cost for the RDs, which without any anchor sponsor becomes hard to stomach. I haven't spoken to any European RDs, but I believe that the process should be somewhat easier, or perhaps less costly.. I personally enjoy the solitude of the US races with simple interaction limited to other competitors, volunteers, pacers, and crewmembers..

    1. hp

      Thanks for the great comment Sebastian. It's good to be reminded just how much goes into race organization…and why we should always go out of our way to thank everyone involved.

    2. Mark

      Just an example. Kilian wanted to run John Muir Trail. Unfortunately he didn't get the permit, so decided to go and run Lake Tahoe Trail the same year. I wish he could run Mt Whitney main trail this summer while his long stray in US. But again you need permit out there.

  4. Gideon

    I think Stefan is right. Living & racing in france I hardly see any spectators except for the start/finisch. Concerning the Paperwork; that is a major hassle in France. Ther're very strict regulations. Disclaimers are illegal. Security, which involves all kind off thirs parties complicated. Authorisations from landowners and all sorts of administrations a must. Most RD's invest in good relations whith the start/finish communities, who are often quite supportive with their facilities. It attract tourism on a very small scale.

    Spectators are usally a few locals, friend and relatives.

  5. Doug (aka Snurfer)

    Here in Utah this might not be far off. I could see a time when Snowbird Resort (Speedgoat) gets more involved in Karl's race. Either directly, or peripherally.

    The resort is constantly trying to bring in the same crowds as it does in winter with various festivals and summer activities. Bloody hell, they even want to do wacky things like build a roller coaster up Mount Superior!

    The Speedgoat race already attracts many curious non-runners who ride the tram and hike the various trails in summer, much as they would at Chamonix. So it wouldn't be a stretch to see Snowbird add 'value' to the race through advertisement and non-race activities scheduled around the race.

    Karl correct me if I'm wrong, but Snowbird being mostly privately held land makes permitting easier as well. (?)

    Anyways, I'm not sure I'd like to see this sort of thing play out on public land, but I think we are well on our way in the states when it comes to resort based events. So it likely won't be long before the US has a mix of low key and hyped up events.

    1. Anonymous

      Its always surprised me that Snowbird doesn't embrace the Speedgoat more – such as having it finish right on top of the tram deck. The race is probably responsible for 90% or more of the (increasing?) trail runner visits throughout the summer and a good chunk of beer sales

  6. mylesmyles

    I think the issue has as much to do with access as it does to culture/ awareness. I run the NYC marathon annually and at the loop off the 59th Street Bridge alone there are 10,000+ specatotrs, let alone elsewhere on the course. That said, it's the largest city in the country, so they've got a large pool of people to pull from.

    For most trail runs I do in the states I have to take a bus just to get to the start (no parking allowed), not the most user friendly model if you also hope to get spectators.

  7. Keith

    I am working on an article right now on this subject about the Canadian scene. I think Geoff has a great point in that not every race will (or should) be like this but having a few truly international events with great competition is something North America lacks.

    Having races in series events like Skyrunner or WMRA helps to bring in more competition. With that comes spectators that are beyond just families but fans.

  8. Nick

    As far as Leadville is concerned, I think it depends on the definition of 'spectator'. If you include people that attend to support racers (family, crew, etc…) then you're looking at maybe 1200-2400 'spectators' (appx. 600 runners with 2-4 supporters) plus whoever shows up to watch that isn't supporting someone. However, if you only consider people that come to watch the race that aren't there to support a runner, I think the number is probably extremely low (compared to Mount Marathon and large European races).

  9. Chris P.

    A point to consider regarding the examples of Mount Marathon and car racing: if it weren't for the crashes, far fewer people would be interested in these events. I realize that car racing sports worldwide have broad fan bases and the above statement is somewhat in jest with regard to those, but I seriously believe that a main draw for the Mount Marathon spectators is the spectacle of watching hundreds of runners tumbling down the mountain with wreckless abandon. Not that this is a bad thing for that event, but if too many trail races became that sort of event I wouldn't see that as being a positive type of "support" that you would want to gain for the sport in general.

  10. Chris

    If you had a trail 1/2 marathon that started and finished on Pearl st in Boulder and cruised the trails around Boulder, it would draw many thousands of spectators for sure… But that won't happen, thankfully, because the trails couldn't take the damage. In Europe, there are trails built to stand the test of time, whereas here we have more basic trails.

  11. Speedgoatkarl

    Fair to say in a few european races, where 4000 runners are present, it brings more fans or spectators, no doubt. UTMB is the classic for this. If a race in Silverton had 2500 runners like UTMB, the town would be going off, just like UTMB. Red Mountain Pass would be a freakin' standstill. In the US the Forest Service would not like that too much. :-) In Europe, they embrace it, in the US, people as "why do that?, I can't even drive 100 miles" Isn't the game on? The way I look at it, the culture is just different, maybe permits in Europe are difficult, as they can be in the US, but at least they get a permit for a few thousand, HR gets one for a whopping 140 runners spread out over thousands of square miles over two days. All the US has to do is NOT allow crew, like UTMB, then the problems would be solved and races could add alot more runners. But in the US that won't happen, because everyone needs a "pacer", something Europe doesn't allow. I"m getting off subject, I"ll shut up on this one now.

    Snurfer, yah, Speedgoat is a very spectator friendly course, almost all of it is viewable from the top of the tram. We could easily have 500 folks up there going off. Permit wise, yah, it's private land, otherwise it would never happen. The FS is NOT giving any permits for any events on the Wasatch Front any time soon. Speedgoat is a real gem when it comes to races in these "precious" mountains. I am very lucky I can have the race at all.

    1. Nattu

      "All the US has to do is NOT allow crew, like UTMB, then the problems would be solved …."

      I don't think that is true for UTMB. From the website:

      (*) Personal assistance is tolerated at the following posts:

      UTMB® & CCC®: Les Houches, Saint-Gervais, Les Contamines, Les Chapieux, Courmayeur, La Fouly, Champex, Trient, Vallorcine

      TDSTM: La Thuile, Bourg St-Maurice, Cormet de Roselend, Col du Joly, les Contamines, Les Houches

      It is forbidden at all other refreshment posts.


        1. Nattu

          If you read Karl's response he says CREW not PACER. Maybe he meant pacer but I am terrible at reading minds and intents :-)


  12. Russell

    My cent and a half:

    Most sports fans, not endurance fans, are usually just that – fans. Sit in front of a TV… friends… beers… chips… lots of shouting… chest thumping etc. There are millions of people like these. But fans of endurance events are only those who actually run/bike/etc themselves. Those who understand the challenge and joy of aerobic movement, without any fancy dribbling or body checking involved. This also means places with a higher percentage of people who spend more time on their feet outdoor are more likely to follow endurance events. In the US people drive around a lot more. Gas is cheap. You can walk for an hour in most suburbs without meeting more than 1 person walking. Thus the obesity. It is very unlikely for an unfit person to be interested in a bunch of seemingly malnutritioned nutters crossing a mountain or a desert. In Europe average people cycle a lot more. They walk a lot more. Cars and petrol are super expensive. So are large flat screen TVs.

  13. Tony Mollica

    I enjoyed this article and all the comments. I especially liked hearing from the European trail runners!

    We are involved in a great sport!

  14. Jamil

    The Copper Canyon Ultra Marathon is one example on North American soil that attracts a very large crowd of spectators who are not pacers/crews. I think the point about the race starting and ending at a focal point in a mountain/canyon town holds true for the CCUM. The race there starts and finishes at the Town Plaza in Urique, at the bottom of the canyons. Almost 500 runners pass through the town 4 times (Start, 35 km, 64 km, and Finish)as well as visiting/passing by three other towns en route.

    The local community and government has thrown their full support behind the race, turning it into a weekend long community event filled with speeches, live music, dancing performances, parties, ceremonies, etc. The scene is electric with spectators in Urique lining the streets through the main part of town, a handful of onlookers in the other smaller towns, Mariachi band at the finish line, smiling aid station workers every few miles on the course, and an awards ceremony/after party with a completely packed out street and central plaza. The race is the focal point, but not the only thing going on that weekend that draws a lot of excitement for the locals to talk about throughout the year.

    I think the key is local involvement, other supporting activities surrounding the focal point of the trail race itself, a start/finish in the main focal point of the host town(s) and a large entrant capacity.

  15. Matt T

    Perhaps in the US trail race directors could actually spend some time and money promoting their races with the press and really reach out to local communities. It seems like for many races this is an afterthought. If the race promoters worked to make it fun for the spectators with a more festive atmosphere they might develop a stronger connection and tradition with the non-running community.

  16. AJW

    I think much of this has to do with different cultures and the role of sports in society. In Belgium, for example, the entire country shuts down for the Tour of Flanders bike race every April. For us, similar events are things like the Super Bowl, Daytona 500, and the Kentucky Derby. In those instances, the event itself is actually secondary to the spectator experience of the event (how many of the 135,000 people who pack into Churchill Downs on Derby Day actually know anything about horse racing?)

    Furthermore, the American athletic engine is fueled by hero-worship rather than passion for the individual sport and in that context LeBron James and Dale Earnhardt Jr tend to draw crowds wherever they go which, in turn, attracts more people to them and perpetuates the mythology surrounding them. I see that happening with some athletes in trail running due to marketing exposure, etc…but there's a long way to go (even if we want to go there).

    A small anecdote on this: At Hardrock I was quite surprised to learn that there are many residents of Telluride, CO (the town through which the race goes at either mile 28 or Mile 72 depending on the year) who know absolutely nothing about the Hardrock 100. In fact, in 2009 when I ran into town at 2am in the morning, a guy came up to me on a bike and asked me where I was going and why I had a race number on.

    Anyway, my 2 cents.

    1. Dean G

      AJW took the words right out of my mouth…

      Europeans have a tradition of turning events they care about into… well… events. I've been to the TDF and ridden the last 50 miles of many of the stages a few hours before the race came through. There are people lining the road the entire way. And I'm not talking about on a street corner across from a Starbucks. I mean in the middle of NOWHERE. Places they had to come to and camp out for days. 50 miles of road with spectators. It's like nothing I've ever seen.

      These fans cheer for all the riders. And each other frankly. They use the event as a way to come together and celebrate being alive (not to mention throw some pretty wild parties now and then).

      So I don't find it so shocking that they will naturally gravitate towards a few similar events in trail running. They know how to cheer like this. And they like it. To many of them it would be insanity to be anywhere near UTMB and not go.

      And based on what I've seen (thanks to I feel the same way!

  17. GMack

    To attract spectators, you’ve got to create a party atmosphere. At UTMB, the spectators in towns are drinking, singing, rocking-out, etc. Generally having a great time. At Hardrock, for example, they go out of their way to obscure the event for various reasons. In Telluride, hardly anyone even knows the run is going on and the Telluride aid station last year at night was as quiet as a tomb.

    Take, for instance, the HRH Runner’s Manual, Crew Commandment #8, which states, “Excessive noise, raucousness, and partying are not part of an effective aid station.” I love Hardrock, but c’mon, man. “Raucousness and partying” should be encouraged at at all times, especially at aid stations. And especially while you’re trying to haul your carcass over 33,000’ of climb!

    In Europe, they never seemed to view the sport as some sort of solemn ascetic, sufferfest. I think this low-key attitude in the U.S. is a holdover from the way things in ultrarunning were traditionally done. Well, things have changed…Ultrarunning Magazine is now printed in color ;-) there are books, movies and international ultrarunning stars. The youngest members of the sport don’t seem to hold these views. It’s time for our highest profile races (not every race) to go with it, too.

    1. Randy

      Not sure if having alot of spectators crammed into Virginius Aid station would work,but the people working it there do seem to know how to party!

      1. GMack

        I'm not running HR this year, but I'll probably be volunteering for the Virginius aid station. If you see any raucous partying going on up there, I'll blame it on the low oxygen at 13,100'.

  18. dogrunner

    I've never done a big city road marathon, but how abundant are spectators at Boston or NY or Chicago ? The argument that spectator-attraction is a matter of proximity to populations should be testable with existing races. Trail races may necessarily be harder to draw large crowds, if the trails are far from potential crowds.

  19. Brian

    It's not an ultra, but the classic Dipsea race attracts thousands for sure. I think what helps with this race is it starts in downtown Mill Valley and finishes in the town of Stinson Beach. Spectators all along the course cheering. It has a long history and everybody in these towns know about it.

  20. Russell N

    Geoff-thoroughly enjoying your articles/input on IRF.

    There is so much momentum in our sport right now that this 'is' the time to be asking all the questions (the easy ones and the hard ones), so we ensure that we don't miss this opportunity. Spectators, accessibility, local involvement, corporate involvement, etc; it all matters. Although I know well how vastly different our sports are in many ways, but a quick look at the mid week crowds throughout every route of The Tour of California bike race last week was encouraging, and does seem to indicate that Americans of all ages will come out to their towns and cities and cheer athletes on, even for sports that they may not fully understand or participate in (yet).

  21. Phil Jeremy

    Gotta add my 2 euro's to this. I am Brit and live and run in France…a lot. Apart from UTMB every trail race, ultra or otherwise has vitually zero spectators. The last ultra I did here, apart from the start/finish where there were maybe 100 people, had nobody. This is on the Riviera with tons of tourists about 500 yards from the trails and for 53k I saw zilch apart from a couple of wild boar ! There are no restrictions on anyone coming to watch, its publicised well and this is a UTMB qualifier.Having run in many places in France this is the norm.

    If Geoff, Dakota, Killian were in these races I suspect we might get a few more. If it was the Tour de France there would be thousands. I turned up at another 60k in central France (again a UTMB qualifier) and one hour before the race I thought I'd got the wrong place it was so quiet.

    I think the iRunFar readers in the US need to know that Transvulcana, UTMB etc are exceptions to the rule……most of the time running here is just like running there.

  22. Drew K

    While I think there certainly are cultural differences which may contribute, in part, to the difference in attendance at marquee endurance events in Europe and the U.S., I also think population density and travel logistics are an important part of the equation.

    I would love to hop around the U.S. catching all the big races-however, it just isn't feasible logistically (or financially for that matter).

  23. Dominic

    Last Saturday, the crowds at Mt. Baldy surged a little more for the Tour of California. The Alpe D'Huez is still much more exciting, but a decent amount of regular Southern Californians were out to see the race. At the end of the video you see that similar fervor and I think Geoff's point of "if you build it, they will come" is definitely true as this stage has only swelled in popularity.

    I do think more Americans need to get involved in hiking and mountaineering before we start to see them out on the slopes of our races..

  24. dogrunner

    Geoff – you raised an interesting question and it appears (so far anyway) that the premise was based on biased information? I mean biased in the sense that the races you have attended were exceptions and not typical. Still, your post is bringing out a more comprehensive view of the Euro race-scene.

    Now for all you British fell runners – how much of a crowd do those races draw?

    1. Phil Jeremy

      Most races I've done are 99% trail. The towns/villages are really small and in or on the edge of the countryside, so 2 minutes and you're in the mountains.Its cool.

      1. Stefan

        A format that work really well is to do a short lap (around 2km) through the town in order to spread out the field before you hit the single track trails. On the way back into town for the finish often soem creative route can be found to get runners within a short distance from the finish, for example a dry river bed.

  25. MikeC AK

    The Mt. Marathon race is NUTS. That spectacle has a lot of ingredients: history, world class local athletes, exclusivety(i've been unsuccessful in getting in for 6 years) really steep mountain, fun town, lots of free camping, 24 hours of daylight, Alaskans are also insane….

    Difficult to emulate

    1. Jared F

      Mt Marathon lottery system raises the questions about lottery. As you know most of the people running it are veterans of the prior year, intersting way of doing it. I too would like to get in but haven't wanted to spend the money for a 10% chance. For most people the race is simply out of reach.

      1. Matias Saari

        Lottery odds will be improving dramatically for 2013. New rules dictate that racers will need to place among the top 225 (among 375 entries) to guarantee a spot for the next year. Previously all finishers retained their spots.

  26. Sam Winebaum

    Mount Washington NH has lots of spectators at the finish as most get a ride back down and the train runs up the other side.

    I ran many Euro mountain races in the 80's and given how populated and accessible the Alps are often saw crowds back then.

    The ultimate spectate and participate race: Sierre Zinal. A couple thousand "walkers" start before the runners. As the runners catch the walkers several hundred Swiss soldiers posted on the course blow whistles and walkers step aside to let the runners through. I have done the race both ways and got to say it was fun to watch the leaders come through as a walker. Huge crowds in Zinal for the final half mile or so downhill to the finish.

  27. Jared F

    Way to represent Alaska Goeff! Another race this disproves the theory that Americans are not interested in running is the NY Marathon. I know it's a road marathon, but I had the opportunity to run it last year, and what an experience! An estimated 2 million people come out to watch the race, which means the course is lined with people the ENTIRE 26.2 miles, sometimes 5 or 6 people deep! So I agree with you Geoff, the right course, in the right place, with the right promotions, and you can get all those people to come out and watch. Which I think over the long run will start to happen. Just think about it, all the sponsers, the "celebrity" athletes (Killian of course but maybe Dakota, Ellie, Max, Mike W.?), and absolute explosive growth over the past few years could very well lead to huge increases in spectators, if the RD's choose however. I think there will always be those small, and little known races that are remote and difficult to get to, but an increase in highly public races that have sections that can cater to spectators could certainly happen, and probably will.

  28. Matias Saari

    Mount Marathon has a history dating to 1915 and has done a great job of creating a carnival atmosphere that will always draw big crowds.

    A couple corrections, though. I've done it five years running, and there is no way 20,000 people attend. I'd guess 5000-7000 for the men's race at 3 p.m. if it falls on the weekend. Fewer for the women's and junior's races earlier in the day, and fewer when it's during the week and the weather isn't great. The crowds are nonetheless substantial, and there is no greater thrill for an Alaskan runner. All the other trail and mountain races in Alaska only attract a smattering of fans.

    Also, spectators can see the results of bloodshed, but not many witness falls first-hard as only a few hundred fans venture onto the mountain. A large crowd congregates at the base (where a steep rock section must be negotiated and few runners tumble down scree) and everyone else lines up along the 2/3-mile stretch of road from there to the finish.

    Organizers help keep the crowd engaged by relaying standings from the mountain back to the PA announcer in town. Spectators can also view the racers' progress up and down the mountain with binoculars.

    Come on up and see for yourself!

  29. Matias Saari

    Despite its name, the race is not a marathon. It only covers about 5K and goes up and down 3,000 feet of Mount Marathon. The men's leaders take about 45 minutes and most runners are done within two hours, so the crowds need only be occupied with the race for a couple hours before resuming their holiday revelry.

  30. deeago

    I live in Italy and raced in Italy, France, Switzerland.

    Yes, crowded 100miler are not so many, crowded 50milers… same as few.

    Skyraces/skymarathons (up to 40-50km, technical terrain, steep slopes) are a different story: Zegama (Pais Vasco/Spain), Sentiero delle Grigne (Italy), Giir di Mont (Italy), Sierre Zinal (Swiss), etc..

    In these cases spectators are mountain lovers, not only runners, and people of the surrounding towns, who feel the race as an event of the local community.

    More or less the same story happens with Ski-mountaineering; with same people.

    Not sure that something similar is applicable in USA, where I expect mountain towns to be comparatively few: what would push anyone to settle in the farest corner of a valley, when you have so much space elsewhere?.

    On the contrary, the Alps have been inhabited for centuries even in extremely unconfortable places that were reached by the roads only 30-40 years ago. All this creates more familiarity with mountains and mountain based events.

  31. AJW

    One area of tremendous growth and spectator popularity here in the USA is with Nordic Ski Racing. It's certainly not Norway or Italy but in Sun Valley, ID every year the Boulder Mountain Tour draws an excellent field and the race director produces a very spectator friendly venue. The excited announcer (who actually knows what he is talking about) also adds to the fun and since pretty much everyone in town xc skis all winter it's one big happy party. Maybe something like this for trail running could work in Boulder? Or Ashland? Or at the OR show in SLC?


  32. Coach Weber

    While I'll watch every televised minute of the Tour de France (and sometimes twice or more), I cannot for the life of me watch a marathon all the way through – much less an ultramarathon even in abbreviated format. It simply isn't that interesting to me to watch … and I love the sport of running and am a fan. That goes for the various films like Indulgence and Unbreakable too … no offense but both were 5 star yawns to me.

    As far as going to a running race just to spectate, I only have gone to one in three decades and that was an international indoor meet at Madison Square Garden … the beer was good and so were the hot dogs and my date was pretty … that's all I remember :-)

    Running – even good running – just isn't that interesting to watch.

  33. Randall P

    As far as the "if you build it, they will come" notion goes, I have a feeling that Run Rabbit Run 100 is trying build a race that fits into this niche. While there is no way that spectators will be lining the course for most of the route, the fact that Fred designed the course to go through downtown Steamboat a couple times says that he is hoping to generate some spectator interest by bringing the race to the people instead of having it run through the woods the entire time. The large prize purse (up to $30K now, I believe) and elite race will surely draw more attention than a grass roots 100 miler would. I, for one, would be stoked to see some spectators whooping it up and ringing some cowbells along the way, even if they don't really understand ultras.

    1. Mike Hinterberg

      Let's hope! I think you and some other comments are right: going into town and promoting a relationship with the town are key to making people interested, whereas other races seem to try to sneak out of town and into the woods as quickly as possibly and try not to be disruptive, so nobody really knows what's going on. Also, possibly the knowledge of a larger cash purse, by casual observers, might make them more curious about a "serious" race with people racing for thousands of dollars.

      1. Ben Nephew

        For the large international events, whether it is Skyrunning, IAU, or WMRA, the host towns or cities have to provide a great deal of financial support. We are not just talking about a promotional relationship, this often involves very large amounts of cash just for hosting the race.

  34. Jared Friesen

    Everyone, just to keep you in the loop Matias won this race a few years back.

    Awesome finish at Boston BTW, I track the local guys just so you don't think I am strange stalker. You running Crow Pass this year?

  35. Dan Afshar

    I think it is all about marketing and publicity. RD's put all their efforts into organising the race to make it run as smoothly as possible for the competitors, but don't have the time and money to market it more widely to the general public in the vicinity of the race.

    Here in the UK, we have plenty of road races that thousands in the host town turn out for (I don't just mean the televised London marathon), eg, marathons in Edinburgh or Brighton, half marathons in Bristol, Reading or Bath, 10k's in Manchester or Glasgow. They are pretty high profile with big budgets paid by sponsors & charities.

    Trail events are light years behind in this regard. I think the general public would be interested if they were exposed to it, but ultras are like the problem child locked away from the eyes of the masses, staged to cause the minimum disruption to Joe Public. Contrast with how the South Africans close the roads and publicise/televise the Comrades, and the support and atmosphere that engenders.

    The nearest race we have in the UK to the UTMB is the Lakeland 100 (& 50), held in the beautiful Lake District of northern England. 2 years ago I was in the biggest town that the race passes through. One of the aid stations was inside a sports store in town. There were people shopping in the store who had no idea a race was on, despite runners being at the checkpoint at the same time!!

    If the organisers had the resource, time & money, and if the town properly got behind the event, I'm sure they could work together to raise interest and publicise the event to their mutual benefit – I guess that's the same for races in the US or elsewhere.

    Also, I'm sure that there are plenty of people who like it that way, and would shudder at the thought of the general public muscling in on "their sport".

  36. Mike Hinterberg

    But he mentioned, disparagingly, "everyone needs a “pacer”" and has called pacing "cheating."

    I understand the sentiment and desire to run without pacers, but I continue to strongly disagree with Karl on denigrating other people's desire to run with pacers, a tradition which many people enjoy, so I don't see a point to 'harsh other people's buzz.' Crew has been a fun way for family and friends to enjoy the race, as de facto spectators. Eliminating pacers and crew wouldn't change the race cap limitations in wilderness areas (e.g. WS and HR), and eliminating crew would only reduce the number of people watching or caring about races in the U.S. That seems like an illogical way to increase the fan base, in addition to alienating some runners that enjoy it.

    I think it's a worthy subject and I think worth thinking about — Speedgoat seems like it has great things going for it that could increase the spectator base — but I don't think eliminating pacers and crew from longer runs will help the fan base at all.

  37. art

    but would you watch Tour de Frane if it didn't have that goofy cast of commentators for entertainment value ?

    its all about the presentation. the athletes are a very minor part of athletics.

    1. Coach Weber

      I never thought of Liggett and Sherwin as 'goofy' … knowlegeable, indeed … it's what Liggett's 38th or or so Tour … knows everything for sure … Sherwin rode the Tour in addition …

      It is the presentation for sure … those helicopter and motorbike shots and start to finish coverage that makes its visually spectacular … probably impossible for ultras.

      Anywho, I love the Tour … and I'm a fan of ultrarunning, but watching it is a whole different thing at least for me.

  38. Ben Nephew

    Here is an interesting fact that says a great deal about the type of trail running that is popular in the US right now.

    The same organizers that put on the Spartan Races have been organizing ultras for years. The ultras they organize get at most a few hundred people, and very few spectators. The Spartan races attract 5-20,000 people a weekend, and I think spectators have to pay a small fee.

    I doubt many of us are interested in Spartan or Tough Mudder races, but one relevant point is that they are short trail events, as are many of the other examples provided in the comments. Even most of the very popular longer European races are in the 40-50k range, as noted.

    As a spectator sport, I think anything over 50k is a tough sell, unless the spectators are really not there for the race, just for some other sort of associated entertainment. I've always been fascinated that the majority of trail running videos are from ultras. Compared to video of hard shorter distance trail race or run, the pace of ultras is usually not very exciting. Some of the video from fell races in the UK are very entertaining, even the clips from the kids races (some of those kids are unreal).

    On the topic of Alaska, some of the best trail race footage I've seen was from the WMRA race up there in 2003. I haven't seen the coverage in years, but the shots from the helicopter were awesome. There is a serious effort to get the WMRA Championship to NH in the near future, and I would hope the people would come out for that.

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