When the Race Flame Dims

Ideas for enjoying our sport and the outdoors when you aren’t inspired to race.

By on August 11, 2023 | Comments

AJW's TaproomBack in the summer of 2020 in the midst of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the world of ultrarunning and trail running, like every other part of the world, was brought to a standstill. While we, as a community, attempted to grapple with the fact that we couldn’t gather together to race, train, or even socialize, a cottage industry of virtual events evolved as people found ways to compete with one another from afar.

A year or so after the initial COVID-19 outbreak, the virtual movement slowed and in-person trail and ultra events got back off the ground. At the time they looked and felt quite different, but the general feeling of getting back together with our people was invigorating and exciting. Not surprisingly, one of the byproducts of the return of races was that many folks jumped into too many races and became burned out.

I reflected on this earlier this summer during a conversation with a friend, formerly a prolific racer, who admitted that they were “not really inspired by racing these days.” It was the third such conversation I have had to this effect and it got me thinking about people’s options when the race flame dims.

Here are the three options I came up with:

Sign Up for Another Kind of Race

A few that come to mind are obstacle races, relays with a group of friends, and gravel-bike races. I participated in one of the latter last November and found the experience both refreshing and invigorating. By mixing it up a little and getting a bit out of my comfort zone in a bike race, I gained a renewed appreciation for the trail and ultra races I love so much and also got to meet a whole lot of cool, new people.

Hannah Green's bike

iRunFar columnist Hannah Green’s bike on a dusty trail. Hannah incorporates bikepacking into her adventures. Photo: Hannah Green

Go Out for a Long, Non-Race Adventure

For years we have seen growth in the fastest known time (FKT) movement, but what I am talking about here is a little different. For those who might have lost the spark for racing, simply being out on the trails with a group of good friends might just be enough.

I was reminded of my good friend Don Freeman who, along with two friends, hiked/ran the entire Western States Trail in August of 2020. The joke is that they achieved the slowest known time (SKT) along the way as they relaxed in their self-made aid stations and lounged by the creeks and rivers.

Fastpacking in the mountains - camp setup overnight

An overnight fastpacking trip with friends might help you find your love of nature if trail racing doesn’t currently interest you. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

Volunteer at an Ultramarathon

Either through working an aid station, helping out at packet pickup, marking the course, or doing trail work, there is nothing quite as satisfying as volunteering at an ultra. Each time I have volunteered, I have learned something valuable and returned to my own running with a new sense of appreciation for all that goes into such events.

So, if you are one of those people who’ve lost a bit of the spark, sign up for something completely different, go out on a new adventure, or volunteer at a local ultra. I suspect your spark will be reignited.

Bottoms up!

Volunteering at an ultramarathon is a great way to give back to the community that has given you so much. Here, runner Noé Castañón (left) volunteers at an aid station. Photo courtesy of Noé Castañón.

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Grand Canyon Brewing CompanyThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from the Grand Canyon Brewing Company in Kingman, Arizona. Known for their award-winning American Wheat Ale, they recently released a delicious twist on their standard wheat ale with the Prickly Pear Wheat Ale. Brewed with generous helpings of prickly pear, this has become an instant classic in the Copper State as it’s a particularly good beer to sip on a hot summer evening.

 Call for Comments

  • If your race flame has dimmed in the past, what other running and outdoor-based activities have you enjoyed?
  • And, was there a part of any of these activities that helped bring back your love for trail and ultra racing?
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.