Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Prize Money

There's been a lot of talk lately about the future of the sport of Ultrarunning in regards to globalization and money. I think a lot of this was a result of the recent North Face race in San Francisco that drew a large international contingent of runners wanting to get a piece of the "largest purse in ultrarunning." I realize that to 99.99% of the people in the world this might be the most boring topic imaginable, but for the .01% who give a shit I suspect that there are some really passionate thoughts about this. Here are mine:

Globalization to me is an easy one. We're all humans. When I line up to run a race it really doesn't matter much to me where the people are from that I'm racing against. It's a fast growing sport and this is leading to races with more and more people from all over the world. I love running day in and day out, but the thrill of lining up with hundreds of like minded runners and testing myself in a competition with them is something that I can only do in races. I thrive on the competition. Generally the more top level runners in a race, the more excited I get about that race. And thus, the worldwide growth of the sport makes me really excited to open up so many more possibilities of talented runners to race against. I want to race against the best in the world. More and more that is becoming a possibility. A possibility that might not have existed in trail ultras a few years back. To me these are all good things. It's the money issue where things get a little bit stickier:

There has been a fair amount of prize money making it's way into Ultrarunning in the past few years. There still isn't much, but if the amount of races with prize money (and the total amount of this prize money) grows as much in the next few years as it has in the past few years it will begin to be a fairly substantial amount. The North Face Endurance Challenge races are the most obvious examples of new prize money in the sport, but there have also been dozens of other new races to pop up in the past few years with small amounts of prize money. Why is this?

There are so many ultra races now that a new race needs to do something to separate itself from all the other races. One way of doing this is to offer prize money. The more money, the more separation. So far this trend hasn't really had much of an effect on the sport. The old established races are generally still the most recognized races and to my knowledge not one of these "old" races has yet added prize money. I'd be surprised if this still true in another year or two.

By putting up a $10k prize the North Face has created a race that in 5 years became what was generally considered to be the most competitive 50 mile trail race ever in the world. Surely someone else has noticed this and has thoughts about upping the ante. The North Face has done almost nothing to promote this event and tap into the real potential that they have in their lap here. Instead it feels like they just kind of threw down the prize money for the hell of it and then forgot about it. Someone soon will put down more money and will do more to take advantage of the runners that this will draw, and in short time they will have one of the most recognized trail races in the world. To me this seems like a given. And when this happens I think it will begin to force some of the existing "most recognized" races to make some decisions.

Right now there is a void. The North Face has shown that by simply putting down a little bit of prize money you can draw a ton of attention from top runners around the world. As more new races begin to follow suit this void will begin to fill up and existing races will need to decide if they want to play the game or if they want to fade aside into the category of largely non-competitive races. Most will probably choose the later. A few will choose the former and there will become a fairly distinct divide in terms of the level of top competition seen at various races around the world. Not unlike the current marathon racing dynamic around the world.

Maybe none of this is actually going to occur. I think it's going to though. I think it's already started and is virtually unavoidable at this point. Thus the question becomes whether this is a good thing, a bad thing, or neither.

I'm actually kind of split on this question. I would love to be able to earn decent money racing something that I love so much. More than this though I would love it if there were dozens of races around the world that drew the kind of competition that the North Face race is now drawing. I want enough money in the sport that truly elite marathoners (sub 2:10) are inclined to try their hand at it. Large amounts of prize money will make these things happen.

Where the problems with prize money start to creep in is when you start to think about where the money is going to come from. Ideally large corporations (North Face and others) put down the money and draw enough attention to the event (because of the elite runners), and their products, that they feel confident that they are making a financial gain. The other option is that races pay out large sums of prize money with money generated from race entry fees. In some situations this might be able to work (specifically in races which are allowed huge numbers of people), but in most cases this prize money will result in significantly increased entry fees or significantly decreased amount of amenities that we receive from races on race day. I think entry fees are already really high in this sport ($370 for Western States), and certainly nobody wants races to provide less for them before, during, or after the run.

And herein lies the potential problem with more prize money in the sport. Ultra running is already a pretty exclusive, middle to upper middle class activity. Right now I think this has as much to do with demographics as it does with the costs related to participating in events, but the thought of making events even more expensive, and thus less accessible to individuals with less money doesn't seem like a good direction to head towards.

Ultimately what I hope and think will happen is that large corporations will follow the lead of The North Face and put down some serious prize money to get their hands on some of the void that exists right now because of how fast this sport is growing around the world. Just think how strange it is that by simply throwing down $10k (which is virtually nothing to a company like NF) they were able to create one of the most competitive ultra races in the world almost overnight. It shows just how much the established races aren't keeping up with the growth of the sport. Companies that are able to maximize the attention they get from being attached to such a worldwide event should have no problem recouping the prize money they put down without any need to charge super high entry fees.

Many races will take a staunch stance against prize money and they will "thrive" as old-fashioned, low key, low competition events for individuals who are drawn to this aspect of ultrarunning. The ironic thing is that many of these will be the same races which are currently some of the most recognizable and competitive events in the sport. Personally I think this is all a good thing. I like the low-key, low competition events just as much as the events with world class competition. In fact I think the further toward either end of this spectrum that an event falls the more appealing it is to me. It's the ones in the middle that are kind of boring. Luckily these are the ones that will likely fade into oblivion (by moving far to the left or to the right) as more prize money comes into the sport.


footfeathers said...

Again, Geoff, you solidify why your blog is one of the few I look forward to reading. Your posts are honest, well thought out, and interesting.

Yours is the perspective of a front runner, obviously. My own feelings (as a regular guy who could never entertain the thought of winning prize money) are more mainstream, I think. Prize money will typically draw maybe 10-20 folks to a race with 300 participants. Working with established race directors, I tried prize money with them on some of their events both new and long-existing. The result was that we'd get about the same number of people registering yet there'd be maybe 5 "elites" show up, run a new course record, win some money, and be in their car driving home before 80% of the other participants even finished.

From my mundane ability perspective, I couldn't care less whether there's prize money at a race. It gives me zero motivation to enter a particular event. I'm clearly not speaking for all non-elite athletes like myself but I'm guessing if you asked 1,000 of them, maybe 1% would say prize money affects their decision making on participation in races.

I've done informal surveys of participants (mostly on the East coast) to determine what makes them choose one event over another. Prize money is consistently at the bottom of the list. Geography, date, course, reputation, etc. carry the most weight from what I've observed.

That being said, I'm a fan of ultrarunning and am thankful to know top ultrarunners merely by proximity like you and Mackey. From a fan's perspective, prize money is exciting.

Looking forward to following your success again in 2011.

Jeff said...

Geoff, I think you're missing the potential dark side to prize money: cheating. Most races don't have the means to do drug testing or have course officials out at every juncture where a shortcut could be taken or aid provided could be provided illegally (some races don't allow pacers to carry water or food for a participant). Having to police 50-100 miles of trails would keep even some of what are currently the top races (that I think will continue to be top races) from awarding big money to the winners.
That being said, I think the number of races that provide prize money will grow, in that companies like the North Face will see the benefits of sponsoring and instantly competitive race, but I would expect that the number would be few and isolated geographically from one another.

BrotherRunner said...

In the end as you stated, standing on the line running for the shear joy of good competition is what it's all about. Will money,power and status corrupt some individuals? Yes. Is that your responsibility? No.
It really comes down to if you love to run then run. Ignore all the rest. If you win money so be it. I would take it. All of us need an income of some sort. But if the income is your driving force to run then you have lost the art of running and become the slave to running.
Always run free for it's a blessing to your soul and others.
Happy Holidays Geoff, your running and spirit are a true blessing to me.
From the rolling hills of southern Pa,

Anonymous said...

I wouldn't be surprised if some races start popping up with some real prize money. The problem I see is that these races will not allow "average joes" to enter. You will have to be sponsored or have won another race just to get in. This will take away one of the great things about ultrarunning; being able to toe up to the starting line with the best ultra runners in the world (even if you're just watching them fade into the distance ahead). Of course, I'm not worried about prize money, so my opinions are naturally going to differ a little. Enjoy Alaska!

Martin GAFFURI said...


Thnaks for bringing out this very interesting point.

I was lucky enough to discuss this topic with Tony K., Rickey G. and Scott J. at a Brooks party during the OR show, this past summer.

We didn't go that far into details but they agreed that prize money was a good thing to allow elite athlete to live off of their passion. Very respectable thought.

I'm just very happy that Jeff brought up the doping issue, that shall most likely increase accordingly.

There is a proposal that I have talked some brands into already but with very limited succes. Here is my 2 cents vision:

Running brands like TNF, Salomon, Montrail, Brooks, etc. have budgets to throw cash for some race's prize money, we all agree that this won't affect the quality of the race since none of this money will be used to improve it. So if they don't put this money, the race itself won't be affected, and people will chose to go to this race for what it is.
So where should the brand put this money ?

I do understand that elite athletes deserve like in any other sport, to fully dedicate themselves to training.
So why can't brands pay their athletes to live a decent life. After committing to some specific races where the sponsor brand has an interest, the elite athlete will be free to race wherever they want, not having to chase price moneys.

This might not be the best solution, but at least it will take the money issue off the races, thus doping and wrong race appeal.

jack7son said...

Excellent write up Geoff. I agree with most of what you've said here. I don't think prize money is bad. People with extraordinary abilities in areas that are impactful and important to others shouldn't be looked down upon for receiving compensation. Gifted individuals the world over are financially rewarded for their abilities and hard work. Athletes shouldn’t be any different. I don't think prize money necessarily lessens the passion they have for what they do. It certainly can and does on occasion, but usually when someone looses the desire to be their best, their results suffer.
Cheating will certainly become more of an issue.

Events that offer the big bucks should also invest in keeping scoundrels in check.

KovasP said...

Interesting that, as more money enters the sport, more fat-ass events are being created as well.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, I was just thinking about this topic two days ago. I saw an ad in Ultrunning Magazine for a new 100 miler in 2011. This race had prize money and a bonus of a couple grand to the first person to finish under 24 hours. I wonder if this will have any affect on the numbers for an inaugeral race. Time will tell how it all works out and it will be interesting to see.

don said...

Ironically, while North Face ups the ante for elite racers they have cut back for age groupers. What I mean by that is that 4 years ago they gave out prizes/swag/ribbons to each of the top 3 people in each age category. Now they only recognize the 1st place winners in each category. So while the race entry fees keep going up each year it seems that only the elite runners are benefiting. Please don't get me wrong, I have competed at 8 North Face races and they are always very well run events. My point is that they have minimized their costs by eliminating age group awards in favour of funding the elite racers. And who can blame them? The elite racers bring the media attention.

Unknown said...

Great writeup! And a great perspective from someone who actually can consider themselves "in the money" at nearly every race he runs. Personally, I think prize money is needed for certain events, but not all events. I really think top races like Western States, White River 50M, Ice Age 50M, MiWok, Bull Run Run, Leadville, etc. should have some sort of prize money offered. But by no means should the average runner be shut out of any race, when really they are the ones who are just as passionate about this sport. The average runners support this sport just as much as anyone out there. Again, the top tier runners do need $$$ to keep things exciting.

Anonymous said...

Great post. It should be interesting to see where ultras go in the next several years. So many factors at play- we just hope that the changes are for the better for those who truly love this sport.

Phil said...

It's really cool to see where you're at in ultrarunning. Prize money may not bring me to any ultra run but it certainly has me glued to the computer during those events. Very addicting to "watch". As for cheating, well that seems to crop up prize money or none.

Eric@URP said...

Great discussion.
Jeff's point on cheating is quite germane, but I think an underlying fear that's not being discussed is the East African factor.

I love watching road races and am in constant awe of the Ethiopians and Kenyans, but I've got a feeling once they are drawn to ultra events and start dominating those, many in the ultra/trail community will take issue.

I'm not implying that there would be any racial motivations behind it, but right now we have our own little world where many people know each other, drink beer together after, and speak the same language, both literally and proverbially, and that would all change.

I say bring it on. I'd prefer to watch the best of the best duke it out, but it would certainly change the sport.

Guido Gallenkamp said...

Please link this at yout twitter account. I'd like to read more!

Patrick Thurber said...

this whole topic reminds me SO MUCH of growing up skateboarding. there was all this heat surrounding the X-games and money in skateboarding and, in the end, it has turned out to be a great thing.

the principal reason it's turned out well is that, like skateboarding, ultrarunning is a participant's sport. even all of us who dorked out watching a twitter feed of the TNF race are still also ultrarunners ourselves. so yeah, big shoe/clothing companies ought to start ponying up some cash for the elite runners that bring credentials and sales to their products. for the rest of us? well, i'll just keep running. i ran before i knew what a running race was and i'll run long after the ultrarunning bubble has grown, popped, gone back to grassroots and then began to grow again (believe me it will, skateboarding goes through it about ever 15 years, once the cycle started back in the 80's)

the income class issue is moot, frankly. for every absurd western states entry fee, there'll be a race that's <$100. we've got a nice 100 miler over here in MI that's $80 as i recall. bands, camping, food included.

anyway, long story short. get paid, man. get paid.

Anonymous said...

Elites living of their passion and then what? Here comes the doping or are they already.

Jason Schlarb said...

3 Ideas!

Prize $$, as Geoff and others have said, brings the top runners across the US and abroad, but it also has an invaluable effect on “future” or potential top Ultra runners.

Here are what I believe to be 3 things that could further “grow” Ultra running to be more competitive:

1) More events with $$, sponsorship and team opportunities

2) A SMALL (10-15%) reserve of entries for elites… just like big marathons. Just allowing winners or top ten finishers from years past stifles competition and growth.

And MOST important:

3) US championship races that are truly THE events to win in the US.
USATF Trail Ultra Championships are too diluted and numerous to foster great competition and excitement… 50K, 50M, 100K, 100M = way too many events for such a small community... and it shows!

- Drop the 50K distance, which would be considered “long trail racing” (25K and Marathon)

-Drop the 100K as it is only 12 miles different than the 50 mile

-50 Mile and 100 Mile USATF Trail Championships

These changes would further entice big name sponsors and races to compete to host the 2 Championship races.

Unknown said...

I love cycling as well as running, and would pay every weekend to watch a good crit - or buy a channel that carried a crit league. Unfortunately the audience is too small.

The ultra audience is barely a sliver of the cycling audience.

Even worse for ultra, is we (I'm using the collective very loosely - 20 miles is ultra to me these days) use less PRODUCT. Sponsorship opportunity is limited to a few supplements, a few clothing lines, and a dozen shoe companies - of which they would want some sort of exclusivity agreement.

I think its going to take an organized group of leaders in the sport, such as yourself, to meet with companies that could be Charter leaders in establishing the growth. Companies like NF, REI, SHOE, gatorpowerade, Garmin, etc., and take them some loose plans, and see what you can get in commitments.

I think for the next few years you'll have to go old school golf - the prize money comes directly from the entry fee pool. If WS is $400, make it $500 with an award split.

Great topic to launch, though. Thanks for your blog - love it - I check in every day.

Here's a thought.... Set up a "Support Geoff" paypal link where we can chip you off a Jackson on occasion.

Merry Christmas

Kieran McCarthy said...

I like P.'s point. Get paid. You're too good at what you do to spend your time having to focus on anything else.

It's not an accident that the only well-paid athlete in the sport is a former corporate marketer (Mr. Karnazes). There's money to be made in promoting this sport, it's a question of how and who gets a slice of the pie.

Will Cooper said...

the one thing that has kept our sport clean is the LACK of money...its also the one thing that has kept the worlds greatest marathoners from focusing on ultra running. I kind of like it where it is.

Anonymous said...

Did I read you are not motivated by prize money, but by competition. But the competition is motivated by prize money?

Have you ever entertained a 24 hour race?

I know Scott said it was not good for his soul - But I would love to see the best Team USA as possible at Worlds.


keirahenninger said...

Such a great post..wow! I myself am a race director that gives away some decent bucks at one of my races(http://leonadivide5050.com). I am 100% in support of this. Leona is not to expensive, the money is put up by my sponsors, and I guarantee you won't find a more supported organized race around..ok maybe Tia's Miwok(love ya T!!) Ultra running is hands down the toughest sport there is. It's a complete lifestyle, and we work our asses off to compete well in this sport. Ask Tiger Woods if he would play golf for free. As our sport starts moving through generations there is going to be some dislike towards this, but you can't please all the people all the time. Ultra's used to be thrown together by a cheap entry fee, and a few aid stations with crackers, gatorade, and maybe some gels. The sport is making a drastic change, and thats because the runners have changed drastically. We are a younger generation, and most have no problem paying 100$ to run a 50mile race that is organized well, and worth there buck. If a small portion of there entry fee goes to the winners I believe most won't care. Every other sport offers money to elite athletes, and I believe it's about time Ultra running does. In my opinion it will not change the dynamics of the sport. We are a family unit made up of many smaller family units. I spent the day with 8 of my closest friends running in the mountains, and these are the same friends I spent the other night at a Christmas Party with, and some I will spend Christmas eve and day with. We have a bond between us in my opinion that is unbreakable, and it is the best sport ever to be apart of!! A little prize money for elites isn't gonna change things to much...but sometimes change is a good thing!! This sport needs a little improvement, and we can't all be to afraid to leave room for change!!

Just sayin...

Geoff said...

a few responses starting at the top:

tim, i think you are mostly right with your points but i do believe there is more a trickle down effect from having 10-20 elites in a race than you are recognizing. people want to race against runners who are generally a little bit faster than them and push themselves to try to stay with them. this is how we improve the easiest - running with people who are a bit faster than us. 15 elites in a race might draw in 15 2nd level runners hoping to stay with the elites. then those 30 make the race more appealing to those in line just below that. by this point it isn't the prize money that's drawing people in but the competition that the prize money draws in at the top. maybe you aren't as drawn to this as some, but there were more than a few runners who i think of as being very similar to you in past performances who were there just to be a part of race where they might be trying to chase down 20 runners instead of the 1 or 2 at a typical ultra.

Atticus, I really don't see races getting to the point of not letting "average joes" in. The NF 50 is the largest purse and my dead grandma could get in as long as she sends them the $90.

Kovas, exactly. as you have more "big money" races you will get a response to that of more totally low key, "fat ass" races. to me these are both good trends.

Chris, The race you're talking about has gotten my interest. partly for the potentail payday but much more for the likelihood that it could be a very competitive 100 miler in it's first running. we'll see.

don, I don't see this as a trend that would be likely to occur across the board but rather just something lame that north face has done with their specific event. they've also cut back the awards they give to the top 3 who are earning prize money. i don't even know if this has been a planned decision or just an oversight.

eric, the east african point could be another post just as long as this post. personally i would love to see some of the top marathon runners in the world try their hand at rugged ultras. some would excel. some would get their asses handed to them. i hope i get to see it in the next few years. it aint gonna happen without the prize money though.

P, interesting analogy about the skateboarding.

Ronald, I did a "support geoff" type thing a couple years back. not a direction i want to go again.

keira, well said. this makes me even more interested in running Leona Divide than I already was.

and everyone concerned about drug use: I think this is a valid concern, but one that is hard for me to worry too much about as i know that i would never dope, regardless of how much prize money there was. i think most people fall into this category. yeah, it's a bit sad and frustrating to think about people doping in these events, but someone else doing so doesn't really change the experience of racing for me. to me not offering prize money because you are worried about cheaters is a fear based decision something like not getting married because you're afraid to get divorced, or not running because you are afraid to get injured. at some point you need to just move forward, even if there are risks.

Ben Nephew said...

I don't think prize money is going to force out the average ultrarunner from any races.

I think the opposite problem is currently more of an issue: top runners not being able to get into races. Whether or not there is prize money, many popular races fill up months ahead of time. While it may be possible to sneak in if you are fast, some people don't know this, or don't know who to contact. If races want to have the most competitive fields possible, they should set aside a handful of spots for top runners, and state this up front in the race description.

Although many seem to see the NF races as some sort of elite event, I think that these events have done more for trail running at the grassroots level than the elite level. I'm pretty sure the current 2 day festivals are some of the biggest trail events in each respective region. The recent lack of age group awards is probably due to NF added another 6 races. The prize money is a small percentage of the cost of putting on such a large event. San Fran may be an exception, but I'm sure Hawkeye makes some money.

Giving money to the athletes will not prevent doping. They will be dope to get contracts, instead of win races.

The rationale for larger purses is advertising. Why are we all talking about NF, because they sponsor Lizzy Hawker? Large purses bring in all sorts of top quality competition, and then that race generates top quality publicity for the sponsor who provided the funds. I doubt the trend for increased prize money will lead to increased race fees. Races will either get sponsors to donate money for the purses, or keep the event small, as Geoff has noted. Big city marathons have not quite killed off local marathons as far as I can tell.

In addition to reserving entries for an elite field, Jason S. has another good point about the USATF races. Increased prize money has the most potential to increase competition by increasing international competition. In almost all other sports, this is done through national and international sports federations. I'd like to see USATF actively pursue the most competitive races and name these events as national championships.

Chris Ⓥ said...

I have two worries about increasing prize money at ultras--there will be pressure to increase registration fees and there will be increased pressure to perform well (meaning more cheating and drug use). With no money, we all line up and take a fair stab at winning or doing well in our age group--I help others if they need it, they help me, no one REALLY feels pressured to compete in a cut-throat manner. And, with a few exceptions, fees are generally reasonable. More money may spoil our grass roots ultras. I do not look forward to paying more to race. I'll never win a race. It would be cool to run next to elite runners--but that doesn't draw me to a race. I want a nice course with good race organization. That's all.

Michael Owen said...

With prize money being introduced into ultra-running, how long will it be until elite marathoners (around 2:10) start running ultra's? And this isn't eluding to the current elite marathoners. I wonder if people from other countries (Kenya for example) will be pushing the young toward ultra running, as some do now toward marathoning.

Then I wonder what the connection is between the current elite marathoners compared to the current elite ultra-runners. It is evident that something like 50 miles or 100 miles is in such a different realm than 26.2 miles, but what effect would that have on the elite marathoners?

Can a 2:10 marathoner, with the proper training, be head over heels better than the current elite ultra-runners? Or, with the added 25 or more miles, does it lessen the gap? Because, I would think all of the elite ultra-runners (besides Uli in his prime) would even admit to not being able to run a 2:10 marathon, even with high intensity training (I don't think I could at least).

Its interesting to thinkk about things like this. I bet we will start seeing it within the next decade.

Michael Alfred said...

Geoff, this is something I've thought about a lot in the last couple years. There are potential analogies from other sports like surfing that went from super niche in the 60s and 70s to more mainstream today despite the fact that most of the world's population does not have access to surfable waves. I think television would have to be a component of larger and larger prize pools and I've already thought about how you might employ remote controlled helicopter cameras to capture some of the previously unseen action at the front in a race like Western States. Someone will crack this eventually and I agree that ultimately prize money will become a bigger part of ultramarathoning and the trend is probably irreversible.

Speedgoat Karl said...

Great post again Geoff, you keep leading the way in great topics!

I think it's great to see prize money, let the elite athletes live off their passion. I, too have done all I can to live off the sport. It's been tough, but I"m fortunate to be surviving. If Marathoners can do it, why not Ultrarunners. I don't think the regular joe runner is losing anything because there are a bunch of fast guys in the front racing for some dinero. Big deal, the race is the same no matter where we are in the field, whether we race the cutoffs or to win, it's all the same.

Prize money makes it more entertaining for the fast runners.

I'm trying to get the Speedgoat 50k as one of the top prizes in the sport, yah, it's only 500 bucks and 500 for a record, but it comes out of my pocket directly. If sponsors kick in some cash, we'll have a great race, some great competition, and I would bet most of these fast guys would hang around and have some brews and watch the rest of the pack come in hammered.

Prize money is good....period. If I were only younger....

TB said...

Anyone that tries to minimalize the impact of prize money and commercialization of the sport has not been paying attention to other sports.

Geoff is accurate about the competitive aspect of the sport. Great athletes will find their way to these great competitive events and that is no doubt a good thing for running.

In the end, it is the athletes that are exploited. Look at Golf, Tennis, and other individual sports. No one will be able to convince me that any other sport is different.

That being said, I am not a "front runner" either. The great thing about that is that I will always be able to find obscure events and enjoy just being able to go out and enjoy running. As a leader in the sport, Geoff is confronted more directly with these issues and the conflicts that arise from them. The great thing about the sport of ultra is that it has great role models.

One thing is for sure, however. Once money is involved things will never be the same.

Matt Davies said...

I certainly don't have the answers but believe we do need to continue to ask the right questions and come up with solutions that will protect the integrity of the sport. Right now we have a sport where respect and concern for one another along with sportsmanship are held in high regard.

In order to be proactive and in order to avoid the mistakes that other sports have experienced, i.e. cycling where even recently the masters div. has been found doping, what needs to happen now as somewhat significant amounts of money are being introduced?

Jeff said...

There is something beyond competition, beyond racing, even beyond running involved in trekking through the mountains for 20, 30, or 40 hours at a time. Without sounding too cheezey it seems like there is something spiritual or "overcoming" involved in ultras that push us past our everyday limits and force us to discover ourselves . . . that does not mean the elites shouldn't be able to win prize money and ideally make a living off the sport, but I do worry that increased "money" will negatively effect the overall sense of the sport. I hope the trails and the distances run will always be able to create the magic they so often create today, but as people we feed off of one another not only in terms of competition but also in terms of shared experience. Whenever money/corporations become involved in shaping the experience of the community (in this case the running community) there is a real danger that the spirit will be lost or changed . . . I hope Karl is right, I hope the elites will hang out after races and drink a few beers watching the rest of us limp in to the finish; however, if things become too serious we may find that the elites themselves will be of a different kind altogether and this will change the experience in what I fear might be less than positive ways.

Wyatt Hornsby said...
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Wyatt Hornsby said...
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Morgan Williams said...


Greetings from England.

You say you don't see the East Africans coming in to trial ultras without prize money.

You may be right, but I'm sure we all thought the same about mountain running.

In the last few years, they have started to make an appearance, maybe enticed by the fact that the old "World Trophy" finally was upgraded by the IAAF to a fomal Championship. Now you see Ugandans and Eritreans coming to run and winning titles and medals.

Also, there is now a Commonwealth Mountain Running and Ultra Championship, held for the first time in 2009 in Keswick in England and due again in 2011 in Llanberis in Snowdonia, North Wales. As well as mountain races (dominated in 2009 by a very decent Kenyan) there is a 24 hour race and a 100K race. So these guys are starting to experience these much longer distances (as well as the mountain environment) in this format.

Again, no cash avaialable, just titles and medals.

This may well act as bridge for the East Africans; only time will tell.

Happy New Year.

Morgan Williams

Anonymous said...

money will only lure the elite african distance runners into top ultras thats for sure. but, many bloggers seem to think they wouldnt be competitive in the TOUGH 50-100 milers. these are guys,many born at altitude,who train at altitude and have the physiology for endurance. why then,with training,couldnt they mix it?