The sport of ultra running continues to grow at a break neck pace. It seems like only a few years ago that many of the veterans in our sport were exchanging e-mails on the ultra-list, about how they expected this growth in our sport was merely a fad. A fad created by the popularity of Dean Karnazes' Book and Born to Run. "Give it a few years and it'll die down," they said. It's been a few years, and what was once a niche sport, is now as accepted and common place as your neighborhood half marathon.
This time of year, those of us who have been around awhile tend to struggle with the growth of our sport. At one time, we weren't too worried. It was that "fad" spoken about. Well, years later.. fad was the wrong word. At one time, we were crazy runners. Now.. we're accepted. We were once conversation pieces at parties. Now, everyone knows someone who's run one of those "long runs." The veterans out there, who have been here a long time.. have mixed feelings about the growth of our sport. We used to show up at races and know everyone there, and everyone knew us. Now.. we're lost in a sea of new faces in the crowd. In one hand, that's really cool.. in a sense, we were pioneers.. in the other.. "who the hell are these people?"
Over the last week, I've had a few good conversations with a few folks who have been in this sport as long as or even longer than I. We agree that we wish our sport could hold on to the community feeling for a little while longer. But we fear it's all ready been lost. Now we focus on who can run the most miles, or run the miles the fastest. "Did you hear about Joe Fejes at ATY?!" "Man, did you see how fast Anton ran the R2R2R." Once upon a time in Ultra Running.. we were all equals. It didn't matter how fast you were, or how many miles you ran. When you told someone you ran Leadville, the next question was "Did you finish?" but now, it's "What was your time?" This sport continues to change, continues to evolve. There is plenty of good and bad that comes with that.
This week, the Leadville Trail 100 put a cap on the race at 800 runners. It was full in under 36 hours. A new record.
Today, the Vermont 100 opened it's registration and it was full in under an hour and a half. Shocking considering just a few years ago (try 3), it would take until March or April for the race to fill if it filled at all.
The Western States 100 used to accept any 50 Mile finish of under 11 Hours, or 100K in under 15, or any 100 Mile Finish straight up, to be able to enter yourself into its lottery. For 2014's race, they created a list of races accepted for qualifying which including 50 milers, 100K and 100 milers approved by the race. In 2015, the race will accept barely half of the list of qualifying races for 2014; and none of them are shorter than a 100K. All because of the sheer number of runners attempting to get in every year. This year, 2704 people entreated their names into the WS100 lottery with over 4,300 raffle tickets. Insane...
The Hardrock 100 became so popular that it took well known runners like Boulder's Eric Lee some 6 years to finally get in. That's 6 years of Hardrock 100 lotteries. The guy had 18 lottery tickets or something crazy and he finally got picked. Hardrock has changed the lottery process to now include three separate lotteries. Never started, Veterans, Everyone else. Just to try and give everyone some greater chance of getting in. Now that Western States, Massanutten and Leadville are no longer qualifying races.. it might be easier to get in again.
This post isn't a complaint, it's a conversation. The best I can do for our ultra-community is to continue to bring it together. By creating the Human Potential Fat Ass Series, I have been able to bring over 200 runners together this year for Free Fat Ass runs in Colorado's Front Range. They bring food to share, volunteer to car pool, mingle and talk at the start and finish areas.. community. This is the ultra running I was introduced to first. It was the ultra running I fell in love with. That community, where you knew everyone, supported each other, and every event seemed like a family reunion. The only way we're going to continue that tradition at our ever more popular races... is to do our part in fostering it.
If we haven't met.. say hi out there. Let's talk, let's party, let's run. Stop focusing on the how fast or how far.. focus on the "how's it goin?" Remember those who ran in this sport before us and what they built. Think of Western States and Leadville before the masses. What do you think it was like out there? Let's continue to celebrate and encourage that.. together.