Now before I go too far here let me acknowledge what a lot of you are probably thinking: that this is a good thing. A big part of me agrees with this. Some of the most enjoyable races I've ever been a part of have been the ones that are the most low key/low energy. Bear 100, HURT 100, Run Rabbit Run - to name a few. A larger part of me though feels like a balance of the two would be more appealing and more satisfying. This touches a bit on a few points I made in my previous post about prize money. I think the more races you have with high energy (or hype or attention or prize money or whatever you want to call it), the more super low key races you are going to have as a response to that. To me these are the types of races that appeal to me: the ones out on the edge of either edge of the spectrum.
Back to my original point though: why don't we have any trail ultras that are even close to UTMB in "energy?" This is the question that has been bugging me for 4 months now. I've talked to a lot of people about this, and most seem to feel that there is simply a difference in American popular culture as compared to European (or at least French) popular culture that Americans simply don't have an interest in these kinds of events. I don't agree with this opinion. I think instead that it's a result of the fact that almost every trail ultra in this country does everything it can to create a route that takes the runners out into as much wilderness and away from as many settled areas as possible. We do this because we love running in solitude through the mountains and through the forest, and because here in the United States we have enough open space to actually do this. Thank God for that. I love this aspect of these races as much as anyone. In Europe they don't really have this option. If you want to create a Tour De France or a UTMB you are going to have to pass through settled areas. You bring the race to large populations of people and the people respond. Here in the states we just haven't brought these kinds of events to large populations of people because we don't have to the way that they have to in Europe.
And so the next question becomes: if we bring the race to the people, how will the people respond? I don't know the answer to this question. I don't know if anyone knows the answer to this question because I don't think anyone has really tried. I want to try. I want a mountainous trail ultra that embraces populated areas, rather than avoids them. Race mostly through the mountains, but also race right through the center of numerous towns. Promote the race in these towns. Get local businesses on board who get excited about the prospect of several hundred (and potentially several thousand) spectators being out and about their town on race day. We have places we could do this. There are places along the California coast where you could put together a 100 mile route, mostly in the mountains, but where you could also hit a dozen or more villages or cities along route. It would be a little trickier but you could also do this in a couple places in Colorado and perhaps some areas of Washington or Oregon. Or for that matter, out East, in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, etc. where there are plenty of mountains and trails, but also, like in Europe, small villages scattered throughout these mountains.
Anyhow, just a random thought that's been running through my mind. I think it'd be awesome if we had a race or two like this. And I think it's possible. I just don't think anyone has tried. Maybe I'm wrong. I'm curious to hear what others think. I can't be the only one who has had this thought. I suspect many are going to comment that they feel races like this would damage the existing low-key ultrarunning culture. I can certainly respect this opinion, and I certainly have some of these same concerns, but if you have been to France and been a part of UTMB it's really hard not to feel (at least for me) like there is a whole another aspect to ultrarunning culture that we are really missing out on here in the United States.