Tuesday, August 18, 2015

YOU have a voice

Yesterday I posted a blog post about the Leadville 100. (It is Leadville week after all.) Only 70 of you managed to find and read the post, which pales in comparison to the typical average of 500. It's not something I broadcast or shared as normal. I just typed and plopped it there. In short.. I posted MY thoughts on the continued issues that plague the Leadville Race Series. So in that post I touched on these points:

1.) There continues to be HUGE amounts of trash left behind on the Leadville Race Courses, and left mostly by the bikers. (PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE)

2.) The lottery this year, was too much a secret for a company that could use more transparency. Not only that, but they've introduced more changes to the lottery which affects those who have supported the race for nearly a decade or longer. (PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE)

3.) The new race insurance policy, and lottery entrance fee, are just more ways that LTF (Life Time Fitness) increases their bottom line. (PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE)

4.) Because of their mission to increase the bottom line, LTF has put runners, some traveling from sea level with little to no ultra experience, in dangerous high altitude situations while ignoring the concerns of more than one volunteer.

5.) The Leadville Race Series has never had to complete a NEPA study in its long history. That changes this year as the USFS is finally looking into doing so. (PUBLIC KNOWLEDGE)

Most of what I shared above, as you'll see, is not a secret. It's public knowledge. I have the privilege and honor of being friends with a number of folks who live, and work, in the towns of Leadville and Twin Lakes. I also put on my own series in Fairplay, which is only about 10 miles as the crow flies over the Mosquito Range from Leadville. Word travels fast in the mountains, and things that happen over the hill I am privy to in Fairplay because it usually comes with, "Don't do....." or "We just heard that this took place in Leadville/is happening in Leadville and we want to be sure it doesn't happen here." Yet, after sharing yesterdays post, I was sad to learn that people who live and work in Leadville were actually being threatened, publicly, at their place of work.. for sharing their concerns and opinions about how things are going up there. This.. is not only one of the more ridiculous things I've heard, but it's really truly very sad. (By threatened I mean.. Someone walked into their place of work and threatened to harm an individual who shared honest, though negative, thoughts on Lifetime in her town).

Over the last few months, a lot has gone on in the endurance world especially here in Colorado. It started with the Revel Rockies run. Where the bus company contracted by Revel, failed to send enough buses to transport half marathon runners from the parking lots to the starting line. They cancelled the race and blamed the bus company. The reality is... Revel should have done their due diligence by researching the bus company they contracted with a little more. If they had done so, they'd have discovered that they are not recognized by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and operating illegally. Yes.. Revel signed a contract for services with an illegally operating bus company and there are ample ways to find this information out before signing on the dotted line. A number of people (hundreds) spoke up about the fiasco.

The Denver Rock N' Roll Marathon changed one of the run courses from a tour of Denver Parks to a more urban course. They announced this change on July 1st, but runners are just speaking out about it now.. and a LOT of them are. Why? Because the changes were made after folks had signed up for the event. They changed runner's expectations, and did so far into training plans for the event. Personally, not a big deal in my world, but there are literally a few hundred pissed off runners on the fence about if they run the race or not.. (Note: RnR Marathon Denver is now offering full refunds to runners upset about the last minute course changes)

These are just two examples of how the runners in the marathon, and under, world ban together to speak up about issues at races. Doesn't matter if the issue is large or small, they have a voice and they let it be heard together. It really is amazing, and I've acquired a whole new respect for "road runners" because of this. They stick together, they speak when something isn't right, in turn.. stuff get's done. These people understand that change only happens when you have a voice and you voice it loud.

Which brings me to ultra running...
I remember back a number of years ago, when the Ultracentric Races in Texas failed to award the promised prize monies to those who won the event and/or set records while there. We're talking thousands of dollars, that the RD spent instead of putting aside for the over-advertised purse. The course which was also advertised as flat with zero elevation change, ended up having over 1000' of gain and loss. Runners were FURIOUS. It spawned an Irunfar.com article, I posted here on my blog, and runners who were there/involved spoke loud and proud about their negative experience. Ultracentric went away for a short time in order to regroup. But the fact remains that the runners spoke up, and it forced change in our sport, and to my knowledge nothing like that has happened since.

Look at Leadville 2013. It was such a fiasco, and so many people (not just me), wrote about it and shared their disgust that the event was a complete turn-around in 2014. Enough voices spoke up and demanded better of race organizers that they had no choice but to deliver and they did. However.. It came at a price to us runners. What has transpired (and continues to transpire) in Leadville has polarized our sport. Either you care or you don't. Some folks who care... really don't because they'll admittedly keep running in the event anyway for sentimental reasons. Either you have issue with how LTF runs things, or you could care less. Either you think trash is an issue on the course, or you acknowledge they'll eventually pick it up. You have an issue with the lottery and choose not to even enter.. or you throw your name in the hat and see what happens. Either way.. those who dared to have a voice in 2013, those who continue to have a voice now.. are consistently drowned out by the die hard supporters.

That's how the world works I guess, but in the process, we're starting to breed a culture of spineless ultra runners. People are starting to fear speaking up, and in turn, they just aren't anymore...

The Ouray 100 experienced a number of issues that, I feel, are detrimental to the sport and to other race directors in the area. Issues that include but are not limited to: No medical staff, aid stations not where they were supposed to be if existent at all (as in, 3-5 miles down the trail from where they were supposed to be), no swag, no shirts, no awards, no one awake at the finish line, or no one even at the finish line, errant course marking, sections with no course marking, course changes mid race, race director showing up at 3:58a for a 4:00a start, an RD making light of how he pissed off 50% of this years crews and next year he's "going for 75%," more water crossings than advertised, crews jumping in to not only set up aid stations but having to share their food, on and on and on..

Of the 47 runners who started the Ouray 100.. only 9 finished. Most runners bailed on the event after realizing it was not only incredibly unorganized, but unsafe. Of those 47 runners, some have professed that "The course was so beautiful!" "Ultra runners don't whine!" The RD seems like a good guy" and "I had a great time.." While a very few others have offered their experiences/concerns publicly. I know of others who have chosen to keep their thoughts and feelings personal, and instead chose to write letters to the appropriate land managers as well as other RDs affected by what went on at these races. (For more information about what went down at the Ouray 100 from runners' perspectives, see The Ultra List archive from August Week 1, and the Ouray 100 Facebook Page/posts to Page).

As one of those other RDs, there is little that I can do about other RDs. I have a voice, and I chose to let it be heard. That's the best you can do, we can do, as a community to make changes in our sport. Speak up! Let people know if a race was a train wreck, or if there is something about a race you don't like or appreciate. It doesn't need to be nasty, but you have a voice, and voting with your wallet doesn't work in our sport because there are always more runners who are willing to take your spot nowadays. There are people speaking out about things they don't like at my races. A lot of these folks, have actually tried my series out, and they voice their concerns in email. I don't have to agree with their points of view (neither do other RDs) and the concerns at my series' events are mostly small beans considering the big picture.. but these people, I know, still talk to others. That's great!

But I fear we've gotten to the point where people in the ultra world are afraid to speak up. Afraid because their concerns won't be heard. They'll be poo-pooed by the louder supporters. They'll be brushed off as whiners. They'll be threatened by locals who want the races to go on as they do. I've heard it time and time again.. "Stop your bitching and vote with your wallet." Last I checked, that's not how this country worked and it's certainly not the vision of 'Freedom of speech' our four-fathers penned on paper for us.

There has been a lot of change in ultra running and it will continue. However, it's up to the runners to hold race organizers to a higher (or even the highest) of standards. I take my job very seriously and when people don't like something I do.. I may cry about it on my end.. but I do my damn best to fix it. But that's me.. I have a series that's still getting started. I can't afford to not make fixes. But it's also not fair that the little guy like me is forced to make changes while the bigger older races seem to get a free pass based on their history alone. People in our sport are afraid to speak up. The road runners have us beat.. they speak loud and proud when somethings not right. But ultra-runners.. we claim to be "more laid back" and.. we just don't care about that stuff as much. I don't believe that. We care, we have thoughts and opinions, we have real concerns... but our community is so small, so niche, that we fear being ostracized for not going with the majority. It's sad..

I guess I'm a good example of why there is fear. I've always been unafraid to post my thoughts and feelings about issues in our sport. Even if they are issues that only I feel are real issues, I speak up. In turn, I'm like a lightning rod. I get hate e-mail, hate comments, and all kinds of other notes from anonymous people. I get it.. we cannot share our honest thoughts and opinions publicly anymore for fear of persecution. That's not right and to some extent, we as ultra runners should be ashamed.

A good race is a good race. A great race is a great race. A race with issues, is a race with issues. No matter how it goes, we should feel free to express our praise and concerns equally without fear of being ostracized, persecuted, or threatened. There is no website that adequately rates races, RDs, or other. It just doesn't exist. The only thing we have is each other and our voices. Let's try and be better about sharing our thoughts with the goal being to make our sport the best it can possibly be. We must hold each other, other RDs, other races to a higher standard. THIS is what will allow our sport to excel and move forward. We owe it to future generations of ultra runners to make each and every event as awesome as it can truly be. We can do that by volunteering/lending a hand.. we can do it by voicing the wrongs to make them right.. we can do it by not trouncing each other for doing our part.

"Your time is limited, so don't waste it living someone else's life. Don't be trapped by dogma - which is living with the results of other people's thinking. Don't let the noise of others' opinions drown out your own inner voice. And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition." ~Steve Jobs