I clarified my full appreciation of the display put on by Mr. Krar at WS100 last weekend, of the state of elite 21st century 100 mile mountain racing. Wow. Hence, my subtle comparison of that experience to some classy beers. I charted my thought process and came to, what I believe, is a much more mature and fully developed reaction to that 14:48 and change. I think Krar has within his grasp the wherewithal to take that CR, but perhaps he knows too well how that fine-line, what it would have meant to dig that much deeper for the CR, has potentially devastating consequences.
As Running On Empty makes the rounds, people have to be more concerned. My concern for this trend in 100 mile racing goes way back. Tim and I (Tim of 100 mile distance fame) talked about the unsustainability of the distance almost five years ago. I’m repeating myself here, I know. One can’t ignore the evidence. That article comes clean on Kyle Skaggs, among others. These athletes didn’t simply tire of the ultra life and decide to farm organics in the mountains, ala Skaggs. The Krupicka/Skaggs/Roes/Wolfe/Olson narratives chart like the elevation profiles of some of the mountainous courses they dominated, with a mammoth decent towards “the finish.” This is sad. What a waste of mountainous athletic talent. The culprit has two faces: we’ve argued that the distance kills, but what clarifies this argument is the speed at the front of the race. These elites are stronger, faster, commit to the sport more fully. And RACING 100 miles at that kind of speed, in those kinds of conditions (heat, elevation, etc.), simply doesn’t work for long. The development of the sport is not the issue. Sponsorships and advanced training and gear and trail access are fantastic examples of the evolution we know and love.
What motivates my clarion call has been the uninhibited ignorance of this reality. Those championing this pathology are relentless and unashamed. Folks, this is a problem.
Tim and I started Elevation Trail, following our work at the notorious Inside Trail, with a few podcasts that focused on the lack of structure in the “sport.” Following a series of odd-ball casts, we humorously threw our hands in the air like we just don’t care and announced, it’s not even a sport: it’s a picnic. This lack of competitive structure (lack of leadership) is the broken home in which the culprit (distance and speed) lives. Leadership and structure would help athletes negotiate these issues. Instead, athletes wearing cool new gear and, ironically, pitching their healthy oils and recovery drinks are running amok, seemingly only finding genuine ultra credibility in the much longer versions of the sport. In other words, the 50s (kilometers and miles) and 100 kilometer races should be enough to float your boat. A bucket list kind of adventure could define a 100 miler. But as the nuts and bolts, the mainstream of a competitive racing season? Get outta here.
This all brings us back to the 100 as a personal poem. That’s one way of looking at it. Krar wrote a beauty last weekend. A masterpiece. I needed a couple of beers and a jog to reach that conclusion. He nailed it.
Poetry, indeed, has structure, but we’re using here the connotation that prevails in much of our understanding of the genre. It’s romantic, whimsical, can move us to reminisce, fall in love, become motivated to act, sing, take off fall of our clothes and jump into the pounding surf.
These athletes that take to the 100 with daunting CRs in sight and fans cheering them from the rafters are walking a very tight rope that straddles a very deep drop.
Rob Krar is riding a brilliant wave of ultra running success. As I’ve said, I think his pre-100 racing was even more brilliant than his latest chapter that develops a focus on the 100 miler; it’s at least more sustainable and in many cases includes more competitive fields. He’s got UTMB on the 2015 calendar and perhaps even UTMF. He might have the aesthetics to write a brilliant and powerful closing stanza to his incredible ultra career, which hopefully lasts for years. His 2015 WS100 might be a fine template with which to compose this poetic journey. We’ll have to wait and see.