I wasn't very fast when I ran in high school and college. I wasn't the top runner on my high school cross country team until my senior year and the one year in which I ran in college I was the 3rd or 4th guy on a very bad team. In the most competitive race I ran in college I got beat by more than 100 runners.
I know there is a HUGE difference between running 5 and 10k's and running ultra marathons, but I can't help but wonder just how many of the tens of thousands of runners who were and are much faster than me at shorter distances could be elite ultra runners if they decided to devote the time to it? On one hand I feel like very few of these runners have the mental strength, tenacity, and patience to make great ultra runners, but on the other hand there are so many people out there who can run so much faster than me at anything under a marathon that certainly many of them should be able to be very fast ultra runners as well.
There is the "cream rises to the top" idea that perhaps runners who are genetically made up to be elite ultra runners tend to come to realize this sooner or later. On top of this is the fact that being an elite ultra runner almost certainly requires that you passionately enjoy running or you're just going to get burnt out from all the training that is required. There may be thousands of runners who have the physical potential to be top ultra runners, but don't enjoy it enough to ever put in the time to get to that level. But there is also the idea that there just might be thousands of runners out there who have the ability to be elite ultra runners but they just don't ever pursue it because they simply aren't aware of their abilities or just aren't interested in running that far.
The question then that this raises is if the elite ultra runners in the country (Jurek, Krupicka, Skaggs, Carpenter, Steidl, Meltzer, Koerner, Pacheco, Mackey, etc.) do in fact represent, for the most part, the best ultra runners in the country or would these names just be anonymous names mixed in with thousands of other runners if ultra running were as popular and as widely contested as 5k, 10k, and marathons? Am I actually a better ultra runner than the 100+ runners who beat me in one race 12 years ago in college would be if they decided to train for and focus on ultra races? I'm really not sure what the answer is to this question. What do you all think?