Friday, December 31, 2010

UTMB in the US?

There's been something I just haven't been able to get out of my mind since running the first few hours of the canceled UTMB race in August. This being the question of why don't we have any races like this in the United States? That is to say races with the kind of energy that UTMB has. Sure we have a handful of road marathons that have this kind of participation and energy, but as far as trail ultra goes we have nothing even close. Western States is probably the most "energetic" of our trail ultras, but compared to UTMB, Western States feels like a church bake sale. And where I see the real difference is that at a race like Western States the energy doesn't really spread out of the very isolated bubble that is American ultrarunning. Sure a few Auburn/Sacramento "locals" get a little bit excited about Western States, but for the most part the general American public doesn't give a shit about a bunch of people crazy enough to run 100 miles. Or do they?

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.


Deb said...

I'm not a runner these days, and back when I was a runner, a marathon sounded "ultra" enough to me. I never did run one (ITBS ended even the shortest runs for me), but all that to I am, a bike commuting non-runner reading your ultra-running blog, enjoying hearing about people who run these types of races. So yeah, I think people could get into it, people who aren't runners, and who don't really get the ultra-running mindset. I think even when people don't really understand it, they are likely to appreciate the kind of tenacity that it takes.

This post made me think of the Tour Divide and the GDR. Those could be seen as something of a mountain biking equivalent to the UTMB, and though no one could claim that these are big races (in terms of number of participants), there is a sort of divide-race culture/spirit in the town along the race (based on what I've heard divide racers say - you could better compare your own experiences). People follow the progress of the racers, cheer them on in a way that makes sense for a 3+ week race.

So I think you're right - build it and they (fans/supporters) will come. The divide towns had no idea there were these races until the racers started passing through, it would be similar for an ultra passing through.

Anyway, that's what I think, as a sort of random blog reader who is far removed from the world of ultra-running or any kind of racing at all.

PaulDJesse said...

I've done two Ironman distance events. Ironman Florida in 2007 as my first and Silverman in 2009.

Silverman was far and away my favorite. It was a low key event that was significantly more difficult that IMFL.

While I really enjoy and tend to prefer the more low key events, Ironman has more than proven what a highly celebrated and a heavily supported event can do.

There is no question I tend to lean towards the smaller races but I think a couple highly touted and spectator friendly race could be really good for the sport. Raise awareness and, going back to your last post, potentially bring more athlete and race sponsorship dollars to the sport for the elites.

trudginalong said...

I myself would cherish the opportunity to run an event like that. To some small extent Leadville is like that with twin lakes and Leadville along the way, but it could be grander in scale. I'd imagine that the east would be a but simpler logistically with trails that skirt major highways in VA for example. Anyway, I'm with you. I get goosebumps watching videos from UTMB.

Jon Roig said...

The VT 100 kinda seems like that... I love the way it meanders in and out of the towns and whatnot.

Zac B-S said...

I have been told, in relation to the TDF, that In Europe (and especially France) there is a cultural tendency to view physical suffering poetically. A sort of folklore is associated with such events because of the suffering that they involve. This may explain the immense popularity of the UTMB among non-runners.
I know very little about American culture, but from what I can glean from its influence on Australia, it seems that this is certainly not the case. Convenience, comfort and $$$ seem to be key to most people, and suffering is really the antithesis of these things. That's mainly why non-ultra runners call ultra runners crazy.
In Australia, the only people who care about ultras are the runners and their families, aside from a few fantastic volunteers (who are usually runners themselves). Here, it is a family affair, with the same group of about 20 runners at all of the most popular & longer races.

Scotty K. said...

I think you pointed out the reason for not having anything like UTMB in the States shortly after the UTMB this summer when you pointed out that the outdoor culture of Chamonix was beyond that of anything in the States. I would love to see an event of this magnitude and "importance" spring up somewhere that doesn't involve a flight and passport, and think that to have something like this would make a $300-plus entry fee more palatable.

Certainly I think there are groups of people that have that kind enthusiasm for the outdoors around the US, but I wonder if we maybe don't have enough in a single location to drum up that kind of interest. Because while peowple would certainly be willing to travel to compete in an event like that, I doubt there are very many people that would be willing to travel to spectate, minus those who are in some way related to the runners.

I'm wondering if an event like this might be more likely if it were held in conjunction with some other outdoor event...the Outdoor Retailer show and somethnig like the Vail Mountain Games come to mind. Some sort of event where there are a lot of things going on that would draw more people to the area who would spectate.

Russp17 said...

It would be awesome to have a race like that. I love the energy that is at the race like Mt. Marathon.

Anonymous said...

I must say I admire GR. A bit of a visionary, a bit of ... who knows

Martin said...

A problem you don't mention in your article is the bureaucracy factor. Many, if not all, mountain races cross Forest Service land. The USFS requires a permit for these events. The permit specifies the number of participants and that number gets pretty much locked in.

Western States can't increase their number because the race now crosses a (post-event inception) designated wilderness. Hardrock has a limit of 140 runners, with a waiting list over 200. The Swan Crest 100, in Montana, was not granted a permit at all (and ran "unofficially") due to the protests of an environmental group concerned with grizzly bear interactions.

Leadville, the exception, is somehow able to make the case for increasing numbers. It'd be really interesting to walk into the average USFS office, show them videos of UTMB and ask for a permit for a similar event!

Another comment pertaining more to popular culture and ultras is to look at the towns Hardrock passes through. Silverton and Ouray are supportive, or mostly so. Telluride is not supportive at all. Runners crossing Main Street Telluride could end up an Escalade hood ornament!

AJW said...


I love your idea and I think it could take hold in CA. But, absent that, I think somewhere east would be better. The big difference maker in Europe is the mountain community thing. The West doesn't have that. I remember running through Telluride at HR and the people didn't even know a race went through town. To tell you the truth, something in the Appalachians would probably be best as there are many small towns that would come out for support and the outdoor culture is alive and well. If this vision begins to take shape I'd love to be involved. Especially if the Appalachians ring true!

Steve said...

As far as the Utah trail races, I don't think the buzz will ever get much greater because these races don't go through any of the bigger cities. People have to go out of their way to see the race happen.

Maybe what needs to happen is that there needs to be something that people can latch their minds onto about the race. Name recognition (of participants), some kind of record attempt, or a huge amount of prize money. That's the American way of thinking, I suppose.

Or maybe there needs to be some kind of better prestige associated with winning and/or completing this kind of race.

I think much of it though has to do with the different culture in the US. People here don't follow track and field like they do in Europe either. They have so many options for sports to watch that running flies under the radar. This is a country where ESPN shows 50x more poker matches than foot races.

Unknown said...

As an Irishman who has travelled all over the world and has been residing just outside Paris (Versailles) for the past three years allow me to add my thoughts. For me it is a cultural thing, the French are insanely passionate about the outdoors and also about coming together to celebrate. In my area there are many very low key races throughout the year of anywhere between 50-200+ runners that are exclusively on the trail, these races may only pass through the village at the start and finish. Still, the route itself is jammed with people of all ages cheering passionately. The encouragement is beyond anything I have seen anywhere and this is not just for the race leaders, folks will stay out until the last man/woman is finished. As for bigger races well, its a whole different league. People bring picnics and enjoy extended aperitif's and live the experience with the runners. The French love their spare time and really make the most of local events, work is just a distraction :) Large prize money may make it a bigger deal in the U.S. but the raw passion in this country is something that cannot be bought.

Brian said...
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ultrarunnergirl said...

What a great idea. Something like UTMB here in the US would really be exciting. The East coast might be the ideal location. Thanks for this shot of inpired thinking!

Speedgoat Karl said...

It really is a different culture thing. Europeans are excited to test themselves against the elements and 2000 others. Euros are individual athletes, not team athletes relying on others.

Think about it, in Europe, work is a "distraction", in the US it's all about who can make the most cash. Running, or whatever sport, is a side gig. Shit, they take 2 hour lunches and close the stores (most of them) during lunch time. This gives an enthusiast a few hours to get off his/her ass and excercise if they chose to. That is cool.

Europeans are individual athletes, who love to suffer, US spectators like the couch view...bottom line. Who's playing this week?, we gotta meet at the "Sports Bar" and watch 30 TV's with 40 games on, and play trivia games. Lazy, lazy, lazy.

The key is we need to find a place in the US where these mountain towns actually enjoy watching individuals suffer and compete. I don't think we have that yet, and we never will, until you and I are dead.....unfortunately.

I'm all for it, and would jump on the RD bandwagon to try and make it happen. Step one: blow up the Forest Service. :-) Just kidding, but that is one major thing that holds us back from having big events in the wilderness. I don't think they realize that ultrarunners have alot of respect for the wilderness. We pick up garbage, work on trails (for free) and protect our land. If the BLM and FS would understand that, it would be the first step....but they never will. It's all politics.

It is pretty sad at Hardrock that when running through Telluride there is not 100s if not 1000 people cheering the runners. They don't care, they are rich, stuck up and live in a beautiful place. They stare at the nice view instead of hiking or biking into it. I don't speak for everyone here, I am sure there are lots of outdoors people there. But I would be willing to bet that AT LEAST half the town can't find the Bear Creek Trail. That is pretty sad. Ouray is almost the same way really, the only people I see when I run through Ouray at HR is random tourists looking for some junk or ice cream stand. Silverton is the only town that really gets into it....sort of, but with only 400 residents.....who's watching?

When is the game on today? I have to get on the couch, fry up some wings would ya?

We need to find a spot and work on this...Krissy any ideas?

Neal Gorman said...

All valid comments. Taking the glass-half-full approach, and echoing Scotty K, something like Breckinridge, through Copper Mtn, to Vail, to Beaver Creek, to Avon, to Edwards, etc. (or vice versa) might work. Support crew, fans, etc. could easily get in and out of the resorts/towns via I-70 and even take lifts up to the mtn tops for spectating. Plus, those resorts and towns always have food/wine/beer/music festivals going on during the spring, fall and winter which could coincide with a race and provide the critical mass with additional entertainment. (Because, in America, people do- sadly- expect to be entertained.) That area boasts great summer weather, views, climbs, trails, etc. Plus, well, I'm just partial to the Vail valley area in general even though I’m an east coaster.

Chris said...

I agree with what Karl said about the culture. Sadly, I don't think it use to be this way. The Bunion Derbies in the late 1920s went through towns and got a lot of attention. MultiDay races back then use to get lots of spectators. America use to have a very strong sense of adventure (Gold rush, exploring the west etc)that sadly it has lost. We have become so concern about protecting people from themselves and trying to make life consequence and hardship free that we have become a nation of wusses and have lost much of our adventurist spirit and culture that we once had. Who knows maybe ultramarathons will help get some of that back (provided that they don't get outlawed because they are "too dangerous"). In fact I think that is why ultras are growing in participants is people are look for that adventure in their lives.

Craig Smith said...
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Craig Smith said...

I recently moved from Oregon to Switzerland. There are definetely some differences in the running culture.
Races here go on for hours, even the short ones. There are many different start times for each division and it is much more of a community event. Even the marathons start at a reasonable hour, unlike any I've done in the US, perhaps due to stricter cutoffs and no Oprah-ification of the road marathon, ie 6-8 hr walkers. Ultrarunning is featured in the running magazines here. In the US if >50k distance is mentioned at all in a magazine its always prefaced with some reference to ultrarunners being crazy. Trails here are different as well. I havent seen enough to generalize but the towns in Switzerland have all kept pedestrian links to one another, which are used frequently by hikers. I think this is not only a function of how much people enjoy the outdoors here, but also how/when the settlement occurred viz a vis the automobile and reaching a high population density. Running through mountain villages is a must for any distance run around here, since that's where the trails go to or from. Finally there are way less 100m distance races here. While the US has more than 70(?) the choice of UTMB being an important race here is natural.

Unknown said...

When I tell a coworker, friend, relative that I'm training for a 50M or 100M trail race, they think I'm crazy and wonder why I'd do such a thing. Even some runners don't understand this. They think if you go out and run a 5k, 10k or half marathon, then that should be enough. We are workaholics, status worrying people in this country. Run a mile, why would you want to do that?

In Europe, the "mindset" is different. People care about things other then sitting on their arses, wondering when the next game is going to be on tv.

Personally, I like the latter mindset :)

Hone said...
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Hone said...

Everyone in Europe smokes. When I lived in Switzerland for 18 months that is the main thing I noticed...the other main thing was how much hotter the women were. Just saying.

Nobody in America gives a crap about ultras. I have stopped telling people I meet what I do for fun and pretty much always wear Sambas because I am ashamed of my hobby. I want them to think I am skinny because I play soccer or basketball and not because I run a stupid amount of mileage in the mountains. Where is the remote??

GMack said...

The UTMB race organizers and sponsors do an exceptional job publicizing the race around the different communities. It doesn’t hurt that half of Europe is on vacation in August or that the friends and family of 2,400 runners are there ready to party, too. But most important is that people have a connection to each other and to the sport of running that brings them together and creates a lot of energy. You won’t find that in the US to the same extent, the culture here is just different.

As far as Hardrock goes, I think Karl’s comments are off-base about Telluride being stuck up and therefore doesn’t care to watch the race. Ultra’s just don’t attract huge amounts of spectators regardless of the location in the US. Are there 1,000’s of spectators at the Speedgoat 50K, which draws on a lot larger population base in the area?

I wouldn’t want to see Hardrock become a big circus like UTMB, either. That’s not the vibe there and at a lot of other races. That being said, many established ultra’s, need some fresh air breathed in their organizations. By that, I mean bringing in some of the characteristics of UTMB and other international ultra’s and making their events more, for lack of a better word, fun and not just an act of enduring an endurance run. Major races aren't having any problem attracting entrants these days, but given a choice, I think most people would choose a UTMB-like event in the US.

Fairbanks said...

The problem I see is that Cham is central to all of Europe and in the states we don't have a spot like that with the population density to support the race. It's geography. Just looking at the map of Europe shows why it's the perfect set up.

The people: Euros are way more accepting of risk. Americans, not so much.

Only way I think it could happen in the U.S. is if you could get Google to sponsor it.

Bipedy said...

As a french ultra-runner, I agree with most of what was written on UTMB. From my own point of view, it is not so much a cultural thing, we also are viewed by non runner as crazy people. But in France we have good story teller. And the best story ever made in sport is the Tour de France, the biggest bike event in the world. Even with the biggest stadium in the world you will not be able to gather so many people on a race. It is so strong in France and Europe now, that for most people it is fun to go to see people on a race. UTMB tells the same story. It is also important to know that every village crossed by UTMB is implicated in the race organisation, so they are able to find a lot of volunteers in exchange of what they can communicate on the race to attract more tourists. Another thing, Volunteers are not paid, but organisation (via North Face sponsorship) pays the train ticket if needed, hotel, foods and reward them with some north face gears. It makes it easier to find all necessary people to organise this big event.

I think all those element can be found in US too, but first somebody needs to tell a story about Ulra-running that non runner will be ready to believe in.

One more thing on UTMB. A new rule has been edited for the 2011 races : the minimum equipment list is going to be heavier (they add, waterproof pants, warming long shirt,and the jacket should be 165g minimum). When I see you, guys, running in US with only one short and a bottle of water in your hand. I am asking myself what do you think to start a 100miles with at least 2kg of thing on your back not including water ????
This is a real difference between Ultra in Europe (lot of equipment and no pacer) and US (Pacer but no equipments).

Agiofws said...

I Don't know if the US could have a race that resembles the UTMB or not, i guess you have the trails, but if you think about it Chamonix is the heart of the mountaineering and has a history aswell, its location is in central europe so its not such a burdon for Europeans to Travel to Chamonix and compete. As for the ultra culture I do think that trail running in France is quite popular but in the US there are alot o of 100milers so there is quite a respectable amount of ultra runners in the states with good performances...

Anonymous said...

UTMB is business, not only the race but is also cool event...this is good job for organizers.

Check this, beautiful place & race:

Happy NY from Croatia!

Speedgoat Karl said...

Glenn: I'll take back the "stuck up" comment, that was a little harsh. :-) No bad intentions there. At the Speedgoat 50k, there were just as many folks watching as HR. It's a small race, and like many others, limited in entrants because of restrictions. If I had the resources to promote it like UTMB, I would be all for it. I've tried with Snowbird and local television, but for some reason they are more interested in high school football season. :-) Competing with that is pathetic.

Would it be bad in Telluride if their were barriers with 1000 people lining the streets cheering runners? No, in my opinion, it would be cool. It would bring in business and $$$ to the town. Although Telluride doesn't really need the $$ that much, it's still a reason to hold the event. If Telluride can handle the Bluegrass Festival.......c'mon. We love the music, why can't we love the athletes too?

Hone: Yah, they do smoke alot, I've noticed that too...but....they are outside doing stuff, not sitting on their asses. Big difference I think.

Bipedy! In Europe what I like most is the fact that there are NO PACERS. I love that. I don't run with pacers, I think it's muling, even if the "mule" doesn't carry anything. I have no problem carrying extra stuff, in reality, the extra weight can be distributed very easily and is not a big deal if it's done right. In the US, the question always is: Who's pacing you? I pace myself. Can you pick up that wrapper for me? do you have an extra gel? Runners should take care of themselves. I agree 100% on that. We don't carry much stuff in the US because we don't have to. UTMB does require a little much, but that's the deal.

Last year at UTMB many fans looked at my pack thinking I did not carry all the requirements. It was all there, just not in a single pack, it was at my disposal if I needed it. It was no big deal to carry that. The phone, however, is ridiculous. They should leave that one at home.

UTMB certainly has a bigger budget to promote their race. If we do the least 600,000 or more bucks get the race going. That's alot, it shouldn't be hard to promote a race with that much cash in hand. I won't ask why there is no prize money....that's another story.

Vail is the only place in the US that could handle a good event like UTMB. No it's not central Europe, like Chamonix, but it's the best we have. Funny thing is, too many people would complain about it being too high of an altitude. Another story again.

I'm done here...:-)

Kieran McCarthy said...

I've lived in Catalunya, Colorado, and Ireland. I'm not sure the demographics of Olot or Girona are all that different from Leadville and Vail. As such, I think such an event would be possible in the United States, but it's all about extensive promotion to non-ultrarunners, something ultramarathoners not named Karnazes aren't doing particularly well just yet.

I think if you promoted something like this in Boulder and Nederland, told the people of Boulder and Nederland that the world's biggest ultra was coming to their hometown and properly promoted it, you could get people to support it. The Boulder Bolder gets tens of thousands of non-runners to line the streets every Memorial Day, a similar ultra event could do the same. It would take time and lots of hard work, but a proper team of motivated individuals could get it done, I'm certain of it.

Unknown said...

Great idea-
I think you use the Ironman as the template. Nobody did that years ago, you were "crazy" too just like the marathon before that.
TV and great storytelling really made that event explode. As much as I hate all the backstory on the telecast, it humanized the event to the masses.
Now everyone puts on an ironman or 1/2. I watched the 1st Wisconsin Ironman in Madison and people were there until the cut off cheering and crying, yes crying, watching people they didn't know finish.

The Lake Tahoe area might be a good location. Close to a couple of big cities(airports), you could cross to Nevada and back, and maybe the ski areas could help with the national forest thing.
Finally, you need the magazines and TV(Versus?) to cover it.

Lastly, some ultra people have to get off their high horses about everyone just wants to watch tv. Have you seen the numbers for marathon participation? There is an audience, you just have to reach out to them.

I'd love to work on this too Geoff. Shoot me an email.

Patrick Thurber said...

as long as the economy stays bad, a race of the sort you're describing will develop. It needs to start soon though, because Americans are wary of supporting new things when it comes to "home"...they like stuff with "history" i.e. "Serving you fried wings and football since 1973" ...see? that's "home."

So, pick a race or spot this year. Assuming we stay depressed (economically) for at least 5 years, you'll have exactly what you want. It fits perfectly into the newly forming ethos in America of returning to simpler things, saving money and spending time in something that resembles an Ansel Adams painting and is thus "home." Plus most of your guys all have those crazy beards. What could be more of return to our "roots" than a bunch of bearded guys foraging through the bosom of our motherland? We're talking cocaine levels of nostalgia here.

I'm telling you, maaaan, 5 years maximum. Hopefully, people don't get tired of the finger shoes...otherwise all bets are off.


mayayo said...

Very good point, Geoff.
I am a spaniard ultrarunner, living in the Guadarrama mountains by Madrid. Have run the ultras at Leadville, UTMB, Pyrenees, Canary Islands and Guadarrama mountains among others.

Yes, UTMB is unique.:-)
Yes, it will be good for the USA to have its own version.
The way I see it, looking into the future, Leadville will step up to that role soon. (Somebody above did mention how exciting it already feels to get across Twin Lakes or Leadville)
Look at the Leadville bike race these days, and just give LT100 some more time to build up the trail run to UTMB runners got it.
Just let old style races like WS for the "lucky few", go on their way as you mention.
We do have plenty of those 200-300 bibs races in Europe as well (Look up "Zegama-Aizkorri" or Maraton Alpino MadrileƱo") and it sure is good to have both sides.
But...will you support LT100 and its open field in 2011 or will you only run at WS with the lucky few? :-D

Erik F. said...

I think that I have to come down mostly on the cultural difference side of the fence. As one who has been in and out of competitive cycling for the past 30+ years, I can see parallels. There have been many attempts over the years to create an American version of the Tour de France. While some high quality races have resulted (and usually disappeared after 5-7 years), there is nothing that comes close to the cultural commitment that Europeans show for their national tours. And this is despite the fact that competitive cycling has a much larger participatory base than ultra-running in the U.S.. Perhaps the models worth following are those of non-competitive events such as the RAGBRAI (over 10,000 participants per year and they still need a lottery), or a competitive event that caters to the recreational side of the race, such as the American Birkebeiner ski marathon (around 9000 participants).

Eric@URP said...

How do the bike races do it? I'm not a cyclist, but I get jazzed when the Tour of California comes anywhere near where I live. I drive there, have lunch, watch the guys whiz by, have a few beers, and enjoy myself. Each time I've done that there are thousands other non cyclists there.
So how'd they get the promotion? I understand they're riding through streets, but a large portion of that Tour is virtually inaccessible...just like an ultra.

Wyatt Hornsby said...

Geoff at al: The Burning River 100 in Cleveland passes through several towns. It hosted the USATF 100-mile national championship in 2010 and will again in 2011. It is very accessible to the spectator and passes through several municipalities, ending in downtown Cuyahogoa Falls. Very well directed with excellent volunteers and a strong local ultrarunning community to back it up. Unfortunately, there's not a lot of crowd support though huge potential is there due to the accessibility of the race. I think creating a UTMB-type race in America would require peripheral events such as festivals with, unfortunately, lots of food and alcohol to entice people who would watch the runners come through. I think it has to come from gassroots versus a huge sponsor swooping in and making the race all about their own company. That would turn people off. Success would come from grassroots.

I see potential UTMB-type possibilities in Vermont. I'm still too new to Colorado to really have a feel for how a UTMB-type race would fare here. What's it like at Trans Rockies--lots of people come to watch or not? Probably not.

Geoff: I hope to meet you eventually. I live in Denver and get to Boulder every so often for runs up Green, SoBo and Bear.


Anonymous said...

Slightly different sport, ski mountaineering's equivalent of the UTMB, the Pierra Menta( which Killian won last year) is in the backcountry and remote locations, and there are still thousands of people on the course. In fact, the biggest peak in the four day course takes several hours to climb in the winer and there are almost 2,000 spectators there. Image 2,000 people on Hopes Pass as an equivalent. As others have said, it's just a different culture.

Scott said...

You might want to find a way to chat with Michael Aisner. He's the guy who headed up the launch and tremendous growth of the Coors Classic bike stage race in Colorado in the 80s. He got this thing huge, got good TV coverage, big name sponsors, and a ton of spectators out on the course...all at a time when bike racing in the US was about as popular as ultra running is today. He's an interesting guy, has good connections, and may have some ideas. He lives in Boulder. Let me know if you want more detailed contact info.
Seems to me like a Boulder/Denver/C Springs area race would have some potential to achieve what you are looking for...

Unknown said...

Great idea Geoff and I think it is definately a possibility. Colorado, Vermont, California, Washington/Vancouver area. Plenty of other areas it could work.

I'm an optimist at heart so I'm hesitant to believe just because our base culture and population is "lazy" and "fat" (because it is) that something like this can't take off. It can happen. Not everyone is fat and lazy in America or there wouldn't be such an explosion in the number of ultra races in the US the last then years. People will come if it's done with a passion that I'm sure you all other ultra guys and girls will put in. 296,000,000 people. You only really need a few thousand of those.

Go for it.


Ben Nephew said...

I think the permit issue will be the most limiting factor. In terms of course geography, there is tremendous potential for ultras in the Adirondacks and White Mountains in the Northeast. There are very few trail races in either region. The one trail race in the Adirondacks has 150 or so spots, and fills up in a few hours. Lake Placid would be great base for a large U.S. ultra, but the governing agencies do not support large events on the trails. It's possible that a large financial incentive might change this, but even if the governing agencies were interested, the locals might not be interested in a large event on trails.

At least in the Northeast, the people that put the most effort into protecting good trails seem to value solitude and wilderness preservation much more than large sporting events.

For a U.S. race, the quickest way to start the development of something similar to UTMB would seem to be through North Face. Why doesn't the San Fran race finish and start in downtown Sausalito?

JEA said...

I'm going to be honest here and most of you won't like it. A UTMB type race is never ever going to work here in the states. Running may be the center of our universe but most people outside the running community could care less about the sport, especially ultras or trail running. The recognition that marathons are now popular is really irrelevant. They are popular because you and your office mates can walk it with your grandmother while drinking your big gulp and listening to loud local cover bands every mile for 6 hours and feel like you actually accomplished something. That crowd isn't interested in how Ryan or Meb did in the very same race and they certainly won't be interested in watching dirtbag trail runners come through some rinky dink town. Just because we think what we do is important doesn't mean everyone else does.

Martin said...

I think that a lot of the comments concerning differences in culture between Europe and the States are very valid but the one most important thing that is missing in the States in order for there to be a UTMB equivalent is the place itself.
You can only really understand what the Mont Blanc region is if you spend a fair amount of time there - I don't even think Geoff has spent enough time to understand it completely.
Try to imagine having a mountain range - something almost as big as Mt. Mckinley in extent but just a little bit lower 4810m instead of just over 6000m where some of the greatest European mountaineering successes have taken place. On one side you have Aspen (Chamonix), on the other Jacksons Hole(Courmayeur). Add to this the tourist pulling capacity of Yosemite national park, Moab (I put that for MTB fans), and the Grand Canyon with all of the beautiful scenery and breath taking panoramas - something like a huge Disneyland for outdoor adventure but with much better food.
The Mont Blanc range is then surrounded by tens of other beautiful little villages between the three countries of France, Italy and Switzerland which the UTMB course crosses and these villages are all linked across the various mountain passes by century old footpaths which were not only used in the past but are still used by mountain trekkers, ski tourers etc. The UTMB track (Haute Route Mont Blanc) existed before the race did - it was and is utilised by thousands of people who walk all or part of the route every year, stopping to sleep and eat in the various mountain huts or villages along the route.
The majority of peple who live in these larger or smaller villages live partly or completely off tourism - they embrace the opportunity to welcome 5,000 competitors (2,200 UTMB, 1,800 CCC, 1,200 TDS) plus their families, friends to their region. The UTMB utilises 1,650 volunteers who give their time and efforts in exchange for meals, transport and some North Face gear. On top of this you have just normal people in the villages cheering you as you go through or who provide improvised water stops - small children who offer you cups of water and how can you refuse to take a cup of water from a small six year old.
When you walk through the streets of Chamonicx for a week before the race the excitement and expectancy is palpable in the air. You can't ignore it even if you wish to - every shop, restaurant or bar displays advertising or shop windows connected to the event - huge banners and flags stretch across the streets.
Anyone who has run down the last kilometer into the church square of Chamonix with hundreds and hundreds of people applauding and cheering as if you are a genuine champion, music blasting from the loud speakers (usually Vangelis) will never forget the experience.

And as someone mentioned earlier all of this is just a few hours away from a large part of the European population - Paris is 5 hours by train or one hour by plane. London is 7 hours by train or two hours by plane. Milan and Turin are just two hours by car. Geneva is an hour by car.

I don't know the States that well but I really don't think that it could be possible to organise a UTMB like event.
Good luck anyway Geoff.

Dave Mackey said...

To echo a few Telluride woudl be the premier place for a US UTMB. if mart of the goal of the event is numbers and hype, then all it takes is companies to throw down and make it happen, and the people and popular support will follow.
Just up the road in Silverton, the Red Bull Divide and Conquer used to occur. This was a team event combining 4 extreme sports, and the hype was pretty high I thought.
Adventure racing is a good comparison here. Mark Burnett created reality TV from the Eco Challenge adventure races, which he bailed on to make millions from Survivor. All is takes is saavy marketing.
As far as permitting, the Primal Quest adventure race occured in telluride for several years, which was far more impactful and with complicated permitting than any 100 mile run woudl ever be.
Geoff, put on this race!

Anonymous said...

The only 'mountain town' that I have visited with the passion, toughness an populace(300,000 people) to cheer on a race like y'all are describing is Anchorage, AK. The two ultras in Alaska, Ressurection and Crow pass are very remote. More accessible trail events such as the tour of Anchorage ski race, Iditarod, and mt. marathon draw big crowds. My vote would be for a more accesible trail race in anchorage. Best part, in the summer, no headlamps required...

Morgan Williams said...


I agree with much of what Martin said. I have visited Chamonix for most of the last 20 years to walk, run, climb and bike. I know the place well.

Your own posts about UTMB pinpointed that the real excitement was generated by the people.

Mark Twight said some things about Cham that seem relevant in this context:

"In Chamonix men achieve great things and the Nietzschean ethic of surpassing one's previous best efforts plays out every day. As with all sites of geographic power, people make the pilgrimage to measure themselves against this place and its people. Some commune with the mountain god and find their true selves among the ice and stone."

"While athletes from other regions are content to progress soberly, Chamonix's climbers and skiers redefine human limitations almost daily....The topography and social structure of Chamonix virtually ensure that any visiting climber comes away with greater skills. being surrounded by great talent inspires you to surpass yourself."

Having experienced the atmosphere of these races for myself as watcher and participant, I have little doubt that the local population "gets" the event better than anyone else on the planet.

I can think of 5 local people I know who are not ultra runners who have taken on the challenge of one of the races and completed them. So it is clear that as well as the resident athletes, the locals take up the challenge of the events themselves. And that must cause a drip-down effect where a decent proportion of the local community understands what the runners are doing, why they are dong it and what they are going through on race day.

That's the key to it for me; the locals understanding what is going and on and, feeling such a part of the event, they turn out in numbers to give their support to people they have never met who they know are trying something special.

If you can replicate that atmosphere in the US, more power to you. I'll certainly make the trip from England.