Inside Trail Post Therapy

We can find common ground only by moving to higher ground.  –Jim Wallis

Inside Trail is a gateway to trail competition. –Me to someone in a bar

Tim and I have enjoyed the last week or so of blog wars.  I guess.  The now infamous Inside Trail Commentary, posted on Sept. 15, was too much; we pulled it to give everyone (including us) a breather.  We were not hiding it.  We were definitely re-posting that mess because that’s the way it is.  I’m afraid it made me look like a punk.  Yuckity do da day.  Oh, and the subsequent gossip was pretty fresh; it would have fit right-in at my mom’s wine parties back in the 70s.  I am in Lord Balls’ head.  Enough said.  IT, but certainly more specifically, I, have been among blogspot’s or wordpress’s most wanted.  That was not my intention at all.  Readers have said from the beginning that they’ve enjoyed the “edge” in some of our work.  But I went over the edge with the way I worded some of my reflection upon reading Roes and AJW that week.

Our work really hasn’t tried to get everyone’s approval.  That’s a fool’s errand unless your goal is to write to just a tiny niche enclave of like-minded yes-(wo)men.  We love what we do.  That’s it.  Our commentary will continue to be ambitious, but more thoughtful; it will never be considered mean, or cheap.  Trust me on that.

As for my part in this: I have an obsessed focus on the substance of trail competition.  That’s our project’s tagline.  We cover as much killer trail competition as we can.  The fact that we came out of the box Sierre-Zinal, Pikes, Leadville, UTMB, WMRC, etc. might be some indication of that (but look for me to focus even more on international stuff or shorter American trial clashes).  So, in such a competitive trance (daily), I reacted to Geoff Roes’ resignation (that’s how I read it).  I’ve read other comments that have echoed this reading.  From a competitive stand-point, it’s been less than ideal and the “enjoyable” seemed awkward to me.  However, I should have explored my respect for him instead, and expressed my hope for his return to the front of the race.  He’s free to do whatever he wants to do and I don’t think anyone, including me, wants him to change what he’s doing.  Of course there’s more to enjoy than winning.  Of course “results” make-up, in the end, just a few very memorable events in a year/life of running.  But in one tiny little nutty neck of the woods (IT), we want to grow a place that brews discourse about the competitive aspect of the sport.  That part of the sport is very interesting to us.  Tim and I really want to jive on that funk and at the front of the pack.  But I crossed the line on Sept. 15th.

And then there’s AJW.  He represents the heart of the sport.  Here’s why: he’s so positive and down to earth and accessible; and he’s competitive.  The sport realizes these two worlds, which is why you have some people say things like ultra-marathoning will never be mainstream, yet you have other entities like iRunFar, or UROC or UTMB and even WS100 or LT100 that suggest otherwise.  It’s a little schizophrenic.  The sport is low-profile by nature, but getting more exposure, becoming more mainstream from corporate sponsorship and media getting onboard to more everyday folk buying their Glycerins or FiveFingers.  Andy Jones-Wilkins represents these two worlds perfectly and what I said about him was pretty thoughtless.  In the end, I was asking for his help in the UROY discussion, which despite many people’s suggestions that we all forget the confusion, still manifests in various points-of-view.  That means it matters.  I was tapping his proverbial shoulder and I think ended-up shooting myself in the proverbial . . . metatarsus.  No way did Mr. JW deserve that.

For me, this fine-line between competition in ultra (especially the big American ultra) and that grassroots casual gathering, fun-loving nature of the sport is becoming pretty intriguing.  Look at my comment about Geoff Roes and the aftermath.  I was talking purely from a competitive standpoint.  Yet I got absolutely bulldozed because the sport is not all about racing and winning.  Who in the hell am I to question how Roes feels about his year of running?  From a competitive standpoint, however, it was a bit sub-standard by Geoff Roes’ measurements.  That’s objective.  But people defend that non-competitive nature of the sport so well.  On that point, I was way out of line.  And I sounded drunk.

Cut to UROC.  What is the intent of this race?  This is a rhetorical question.  The race is about the competitive nature of the sport.  Period.  Even more interesting: Geoff Roes is at the front of this campaign to create a race where elites are treated like elites and the race is centered around highlighting that competition at the front.  Again, this sport is suggestive of two worlds: the down-to-earth just run and have fun and finish vibe, and the world-class Micahael Wardian v Geoff Roes vibe, or Jornet v Wolfe and Clark or Heras v Roes and Mackey, etc.  It’s tough to deny this split personality in the sport.

photo: iRunFar.com

All this to say, I (and IT) hale from the more competitive angle.  That’s what IT is exploring more.  It certainly does not excuse what I said back on Sept. 15.  Competitive or non-competitive, it doesn’t give me the right to carelessly criticize people like Geoff or Andy.  For that, again, I am sorry.

And in a word, UROC was great.  I think it does represent a significant move in the American ultra race scene, for lack of a better term.  That Roes won is simply genius.  We feel bad that Wardian may have gone off course, but no one should think twice about the result evoking a sense of je ne sais quoi.  Roes is part of the race organization and the win is a great sign that Geoff is feeling better about racing.  Naturally, we’re bummed about Dave Mackey’s day.  Indeed, things got interesting after that.  Congrats, UROC race organizers, racers, supporters and fans, some of whom even mobbed racers at the finish for autographs – who said the sport couldn’t go mainstream?

UROC has definitely added a compelling piece to this American ultra puzzle.  As this post has touched briefly on the intrigue of the two worlds of American ultra (laid-back vs. highly competitive), one might note too the intriguing relationship between American and international ultra.  Is there anyway one can suggest that the sport not more international than it’s ever been?  One blogger suggested that today is no more international than it was when Yannis Kouros was setting myriad ultra standards.  I would just suggest carefully considering the two eras, the actual races that took place.  We, like many (!), have made this very simple observation of recent ultra competition: more so than ever, the sport today is very much made-up of an international field, which begs the questions about end-of-year awards, etc.  Doesn’t one have considerable evidence to make this observation?  And why would one claim that Kouros represents an era that makes such an observation short-sided?

27 comments

  1. This is a cool article and one of the reasons I like the site is because you speak your voice, yeah it may rile a few people and open the debate but at least its objective and driven by passion. You are also able to print a view that you may jhave gotten it wrong. There are other blogs and sites and they do a lot of coverage but lets face it, it’s arse kissing and elitist pandering. I won’t say names but some of the stuff online is all about this buddy buddy communtiy and frankly its slightly misleading in my opinion becuase the sport is changing, period. These guys are elits, they are not like me and I will never be like them as I don’t have the talent. Runners are becoming bigger stars. Jurek is selling cars in adverts for gods sakes 😉

    1. I appreciate that, Malcolm. We definitely want to speak our minds, but as I try to make clear here today, we have to do that with class and respect.

      The stardom of the sport is awesome. Bring it on. Some sports, like hockey for instance, have generally high quality athletes. No doubt the trail produces such characters.

  2. Nicely written article. I think that introspection and humility are rarely seen in professional media today. I don’t know if you are getting paid yet for your work here, but I assume that is the ultimate goal. I didn’t really have as much of a problem with your previous article, but the fact that you took a second look at your actions and took responsibility shows character and that will keep me coming back to read. Keep up the great work!

  3. I am happy that finally someone is not afraid to nail down the schizophrenic nature of the contemporary ultra scene. Over and over can we read that one of the best things about ultra is that the back of the packers can run the same races as the elites, who are, more often than not, hailed as the ambassadors of the sport and its true spirit. Yet it is these very same elites who wanted so much to separate themselves above the crowd that they even created their own event. I am sure it is good for the competition and visibility of the sport, and I am sure there still will be plenty of low key races where the sport’s best will toe the same line with guys like me, and at times I will enjoy both. But I also have troubles taking seriously people who are denying the reality, or refuse to see this apparent conflict.

  4. If you don’t make a few people mad then you’re not doing your job. Keep it up, it is great reading and forces the reader to look at situations in a new light. That is the goal, right?

  5. For what it is worth …

    … I see way too many places where people screw up, and for a variety of reasons, won’t admit they screwed up.

    Because of that, when somebody says they screwed up, or shot themselves in the metatarsals, and that they will look to rectify that, I give them a lot of credit.

    I certainly don’t agree with everything you say (or said in that post), and I certainly did not agree with some of the reaction to that post, but I certainly do appreciate you looking to move forward with it in your thinking (even though my opinion on that matters not).

  6. The opinion that the sport ultra running is more international this year seems to be American-centric. Is the participation of Americans in a few races and a few international athletes coming over for a few American races a significant change in the sport as whole? If this opinion is evidence based, provide evidence. The European trail and road races have been international for quite some time, and the US has been sending 100k and 24 hour teams to the world championships for many years. While a big deal was made of the international field at Western States this year, it was not unprecedented:

    http://www.coolrunning.com/results/99/ma/Oct9_Chance_set1.shtml

    http://www.coolrunning.com/results/00/ma/Oct8_Chance_set1.html

    Like Kilian coming over, Kouros came over for Sunmart a few times:

    http://results.active.com/pages/displayNonGru.jsp?pubID=3&rsID=12777

    10 years ago, Rich Hanna won a sliver medal at the World 100k, just like Wardian this year.

    Maybe the perception of a substantial increase in international competition is a product of a few high profile wins by international athletes, and all the blog activity. Maybe this makes it harder to assume that someone who doesn’t compete internationally is the best ultra runner in the world. For ultra trail running specifically, there needs to be far more competitive structure and/or international competition to create an international ranking.

  7. Ben, there is currently no official recognition for world champion of ultra running (whatever the hell “ultra” means). We agree that this is a problem (or better yet an oddity given all of the interest and history). Wardian, though another stellar performance at the IAU “world championship,” is not really considered 2nd in the world is he? There is very little “competitive structure” to help create “an international ranking.” We agree.

    Who is the best in the world? No one because we have no system or structure? Most will say Kilian. Why? Because he’s been dominant in races around the world (we know/sorta know/assume/have heard) and in a big brand’s marketing campaign, so he’s the popular choice. Plus he won WS100 and UTMB, two big races on the “calendar.” If this explanation sounds pretty vague, it is. The distinction is up for interpretation.

    And yes “the perception of a substantial increase in international competition is a product of a few high profile wins by international athletes.” Perception is reality. The big wins this year at the big 100s are pretty symbolic. And yes, this is American-centric. The world of ultra running (especially from the American point-of-view) seems to value the American 100 as the ultra standard. Our view of this world’s best recognition has to be affected by the 2011 racing, at the 100.

    The complication has increased because the Americans have been, most would agree, out classed at the big American 100s that matter. Again, perception is reality. The “Big” 100s have been dominated by non-Americans. When has this happened before? Technically, the racing has been international for a long time. No doubt. But no one really new outside the very informed niche group who follow that kind of racing.

    The 100 is like Ironman in that it’s become more and more mainstream. It has a long way to go, and may never get there, but I think there is that trend. Like IM, the 100 seems almost packaged as a great endurance product, with a group of elite athletes who can be marketed effectively. Don’t you think this is relatively new? Marketing has A LOT to do with this. Maybe Ironman is a good model. Have a number of big races that help athletes establish earnings and recognition, sponsors (a living) but more importantly they can qualify for a world championship. The olympic distance tri seems like the ultra 50k, a subordinate event. The 50 miler and 100k have some credence as evidenced in some great races already in place. But the 100 is the king of the ultra distance in America (IMHO), which is what, I think, most people recognize.

    Which, not by coincidence, has corresponded to the UROY winner (for the most part).

    The exposure is the key now. The discussion is underway. 2012 should be very interesting.

    Mackey will win UROY and that’s great. He deserves it. But I think this last year and a half has been very instrumental (yes the big wins this year by Salomon) in one making the argument that things are changing. Traditional advertising, blogging, more racing. There’s more exposure now.

    And, like you, more people will desire structure.

    However, there are still many who will express disdain for structure, which is the split personality I try to address in my post.

    1. Matt: Also, the fact that you floated the possibility that Kilian is probably the best only proves what I’ve been thinking: That you view ultrarunning as a mountain running sport and seem to overlook the fact that Kilian would probably get toasted on the road for 50K, 50 miles, 100K and 100 miles. He would have no chance against Josh Cox in 50K. Leonid Shvetsov would toast him in 50 miles. And he’d get smoked by Wardian for 100K and maybe 100 miles.

      Ultrarunning is more than 100 miles on the trail. A guy who can smoke a 100-mile mountain course like Kilian can is no better than a guy who could smoke 50 miles, 100K or 100 miles on the road. No feat outweighs the other.

      Wyatt

  8. Matt: You are just flat wrong when you say ultrarunning has only recently gone international. Such an assetion lacks perpective and a clear understanding of the sport. But allow the hard facts to prove my point. Also, you spelled Yiannis’ name wrong.

    World Records

    50 miles TRACK – Don Ritchie (Great Brittain) – 4:51 – Set in London in 1983

    50 mile ROAD – Bruce Fordyce (South Africa) – 4:50 – Set in Chicago in 1984

    100K TRACK – Don Ritchie (Great Brittain) – 6:10:20 – Set in London in 1978

    100 miles TRACK – Don Ritchie (Great Brittain) – 11:30 – Set in London in 1977

    1000 miles TRACK – Yiannis Kouros (Greece) – 136:17 – Set in Colac in 1984 (not that this performance also
    established records for 500 miles and 500K)

    12 hours TRACK – Yiannis Kouros (Greece) – 100 miles, 1602 yards – Set in Montauban in 1985

    24 hours TRACK – Yiannis Kouros (Greece) – 188 miles, 1038 yards – Set in Adelaide, Australia in 1997

    48 hours TRACK – Yiannis Kouros (Greece) – 294 miles, 710 yards – Set in Surgeres in 1996

    6 days TRACK – Yiannis Kouros (Greece) – 635 miles, 147 yards – Set in New York City in 1984

    6 days ROAD – Yiannis Kouros (Greece) – 639 miles – Set in Flushing, NY in 1988

    Comrades Info
    First of all, Comrades has been around since 1921!

    Most wins – Bruce Fordyce (South Africa) with 9 (not a single American is on the list)
    Fastest “down” time: Leonid Shvetsov (Russia) with a 5:20:49
    Fastest “up” time: Leonid Shvetsov (Russia) with a 5:24:49

    In my opinion, when you say ultrarunning has only recently gone international, you are, as Ben pointed out, espousing an American-centric view. You may look at races like Western States, Hardrock, Leadville and Mont Blanc and think the sport’s gone international, but the fact of the matter is that ultrarunning has beeen wildly international for decades. The world records above, where they were set, and when they were set demonstrate this point.

    Wyatt

  9. I’m going to ask Dave if he thinks he is a better ultrarunner than Mike.

    The way UROY has been going, it is just becoming more and more irrelevant. If the increasing international aspect of ultrarunning (otherwise known as a slight increase of international recognition by Americans) is something that is important, UROY is out of touch with reality. Mike is pretty well known internationally, and it is not just because he has sexy long hair. It interesting to note how UR seemed to recognize road perfomances more in the past. I think Alex Tilsons 2:51 got performance of the year, but Josh Cox’s 2:43, just off the world best, was not.

    Only Americans would place the IAU races in parentheses. If a 100 mile trail race is run by the IAU and recognized by the IAAF, will that also be a “world championship.” The IAU road 50k is a much younger event than the 100k, but it has become more popular the last two years. The 2010 race was probably the second most competitive 50k in world last year, and there was a 2:10 guy and two of the top 100k finishers at the 50k this year.

    You ask if Mike is the second best ultrarunner in the world. For the 100k, yes he is, and I would bet that anyone actively competing in road ultras would agree. Trying to rank road and trail runners is pointless, and I’m not sure why some fail to recognize this when this is not an issue with any other form of running. The emphasis placed on trail 100’s certainly does nothing to support the notion of the humble ultrarunner. It represents a lack of respect for other distances, and the runners who race them.

    As Wyatt pointed out, the ignorance of the history of sport of many of the ultrarunners today partly explains some of the popular views. You identify those who are aware of the international history of ultrarunning as a “niche group who follow that kind of racing.” If that can be defined as runners who are aware and respect the history of the sport as a whole, but are not as vocal as the some of the blogs, you are correct.

    I hope perception is not reality. There is a very popular perception that vaccinations cause autism. This is mostly due to a hack scientist that fabricated data, who was then supported by a vocal movie star that was ignorant of the reliable data on the topic. If this perception was reality, then many more kids would be suffering from illnesses that are entirely preventable. Sadly, this is true for a few kids, but fortunately not many. I hope that the same thing does not happen with ultrarunning.

    1. Ben, I don’t see why you seem to have such an argument with me.

      Let’s just talk from an American perspective. Isn’t that perspective important to you? That mountain running has been very popular for years in, Italy for example, does not transfer to our American views unless you are a mountain running aficionado. Even then, you still don’t have the scoop because there’s limited coverage. The Comrades Marathon has been a great example of international running. But this sport hasn’t been very relevant in America. The marathon, sure. But not ultra, and not trail ultra until more recently. You and Wyatt (I guess you’re in this together) are arguing the equivalent that there is an ignorance of soccer in this country but that doesn’t mean soccer is not a relevant sport. Thanks.

      Be that as it may, we do have a legitimate history of running in this country and some of that has spilled onto the trail and into road ultra (to your point). But only the trail ultra has gained traction. Wardian is popular, no doubt. Anton, Jurek, Roes, Hal, AJW, just as and maybe more. The trail ultra culture has become more topical in THIS COUNTRY than road ultra.

      The 100 mountain has more traction than the road ultra (in this country).
      The 100 mountain has more traction than the road ultra (in this country).

      Can you disagree with that?

      That’s what’s flirting with mainstream, with popularity. The 100. With relevance. You can say what you want about this kind of running has been around for years, and you’re ignorant for not knowing, and Yiannis and other non-Americans have competed here and there has been international competition, etc. etc. But the most mainstream competitive version of the sport of ultra running is mountain ultra. On trail.

      I am not a cheerleader for mountain 100s. But they have become much more relevant in the ultra lexicon than the IAU 100k in the Netherlands. From Our Perspective. What’s happening in Brussels, or Russia is happening in Brussels or Russia. I don’t live there.

      If Dave wasn’t sick, do you think Wardian would have caught him?

      You should read our GoTrail column.

  10. Wyatt,
    What is your point? You’ve hammered away at Inside Trail (yet it seems you love the business model, right?), said something to the affect that you don’t respect me (only Tim), removed us from your blogroll, and yet here you are engrossed and way off-topic.

    We are NOT saying that running has only now become international. And you talking about Kilian getting smoked by Wardian on the road? Way off topic, guy. And you’re spell-checking? Really?

    Please tone it down. The tone and misread are not adding to the conversation. Arguing that non-Americans have run well and set several records is for another discussion.

    Again,

    We are NOT saying that running has only now become international.

    We are talking about the mountain trail and specifically the more mainstream 100 mountain trail.

    And yes, there is a kind of American-centric perspective here since we are writing from that view of the world. Guilty.

    Sorry you missed that part.

    Have a good day.

  11. sorry to interrupt your argument … but Spartathlon just started … you can follow it online at: http://www.spartathlon.gr/participants.html
    There is several US guys and gals, and especially the notable one is Jamie Donaldson. Let’s root for her together.

    Concerning the argument – the way how I read the commentary is that “american(!!!) ultrarunning scene is becoming more international”. Which makes Wyatt’s truly indisputable facts still somewhat irrelevant. Of course ultrarunning has been all over the world for many decades. Just the trips from one side of the pond to the other were few and far in between until quite recently.
    And one more comment from (so far still happy and interested) reader … please, save your arguments about who is or is not on the other ones blog roll for the sandbox. Maybe I am getting too old, but that just sounds quite immature to me.

    1. Looks like Jamie Donaldson isn’t running (at least she’s not showing up in the live tracking)>?. Oz, Mike Arnstein, and Dan Rose don’t seem to be registering with the chips after checkpoint 22, whereas the leader (Ivan Cudin) has gone through cp 47. Odd.

  12. IT, while I think your back and forth debate and arguments have validity, I think part of the tone (even if provoked) needs to be smoothed around the edges. I read Wyatt and Ben’s comments, and I think they are a valuable addition to this site. It would be a shame to risk running folks like them away.

  13. Thanks, Vlad. I actually don’t care about a blogroll; Tim noticed that, thought it a little strange one would go out of his way to not follow, yet come over and get so involved. We have moved past the negativity of two weeks ago, but I think some people will just hold a grudge.

    Brett,
    Ben and Wyatt’s comments are always welcomed. But like I said above, I want to move past the personal stuff.
    I’m just making a basic observation about American trail ultra running. That’s it.
    Thanks, Brett.

    1. No shit. That is just insane iron will. And folks tell me a 100 on a seven mile loop is stupid. This guy would do multiple days on a 400 meter oval.

      Of course, if he did it with chick pacers it should be removed as a record.

  14. Matt:

    Thanks to the good advice of wisdom of someone whose opinion I trust more than any other, it’s hit me that I was very combative in my comments. For that, I apologize and hope we can move on. You and Footfeathers are doing some mightly fine work on here. I admire your passion–believe me when I say that. While I haven’t agreed with every assessment on here, the fact that a dialogue is even going on is a positive thing. Anyway, I sometimes get so passionate in my beliefs that I can come across as a jerk when really the opposite is true. So, I am sorry for my rude tone.

    For whatever it’s worth, I do respect you. I respect all people, especially fellow bloggers who put themselves out there.

    Also, taking down a link to IT on my blog was petty. I’m on here enough that it’s dumb for me not to have a link to IT on my blog. So I’m going to create that link.

    Wyatt

  15. Wyatt,
    That is great to hear. The feeling is mutual. And I’m working on my tone as well, as you know.
    I look forward to many more conversations.

    Keep it passionate!

    Matt

What say you?