Thursday, May 10, 2012

Is Ultrarunning Dead?

So, there's this article that's been going around Facebook the last couple days and I've been asked about it more than a few times, so I thought I'd just provide my thoughts here in one place.  The article is called "Ultrarunning Is Dead" by Geoff Roes and appeared on IRunFar.com.  First of all let me say that I hardly have the resume to dispute anything Geoff Roes has to say!!  Heck, the course record at Western States is but one of his many course records at ultra distances; I've done 2 ultras total so far, so I definitely don't have the experience to contradict Geoff.  But as a blogger I get to respond pretty much to whatever I want so I'll respond anyway.  I highly recommend you read the article before you read my thoughts on it; I always sucked at book reports!!

My first impression was of the title as a link on Facebook.  I was immediately hooked into reading the article because it seems to me that ultrarunning is as alive and well as ever.  The sport is growing by leaps and bounds and has entered the limelight of mainstream popularity.  How can it be dead AND growing faster than ever?  Well, I guess I better read the article and find out, right?  I clicked on the link and off I went for a nice read.  The article was much different than I expected.  Honestly, I was figuring on being pretty offended.  My thinking (reading the headline) was that I was about to have someone that is a great in his sport tell me how all the newcomers like myself are overrunning his great sport and ruining it with our disrespect and general idiocy.  I have plenty of general idiocy, but I always get mad when someone that's been doing something for a long time tells me I am ruining it just because I'm new to it.  Sadly, in the sports world that's what we've been conditioned to expect.  A bit of a "I've been here longer so I'm better than you so get out" mentality.

I found the article to be the exact opposite.  And really, it spoke to my feelings pretty well.  It really is mostly about how trail running and ultrarunning are intertwined, yet road running and ultrarunning are also (to a lesser extent) intertwined.  So what's the point of the labels?  That's what the article is asking.  Do we need to title of ultrarunner?  How about trail runner; do we need that?  Do we need any of the labels?  He ends the article by posing the following question:

"I’m curious, though: how do you all see yourselves fitting into these genres of running, and am I the only one who thinks that the term ultrarunning is antiquated, and very poorly represents the bulk of the runners who are currently running long-distance races?"

I don't really like labels much.  I don't think we need them.  Does the title Ultrarunner tell you everything about me as a runner simply because I've run a couple ultras and plan to run more?  I don't think so.  Here are some common labels we seem to like to apply that would seem to fit me:

  • Ultrarunner- I've run 2 ultras so far, have at least 3 more planned for this year and I'm sure many more in the future.
  • Marathoner- I've run 6 full marathons with 2 more planned for this year.
  • Half Marathoner- I've run 4 half marathons with a couple more planned this year.
  • Trail Runner- I've only recently discovered the love of trail running, but I currently run more on trails than I do on roads by a wide margin.
  • Road Runner- I started on roads and I've run more both in training and in races on roads than trails so far.  I do really enjoy hitting the roads even though I've come to prefer trails.
  • Run/Walker- As I prepared for all my races up to and including my first marathon I was of the opinion (along with many people) that walking is just not allowed for runners.  As I trained for my first ultras I realized that walking is the best way to success in running. Now I take walk breaks in any race distance except maybe 5k's.  I incorporate regular walking/hiking into my training runs so I can be an efficient run/walker especially in trail ultras.
Doesn't "runner" encompass all of those?  Let's just stick with that.  I'm a runner.  If you'd like to discuss what I like to run then we can talk about ultras, marathons, halfs, trails, roads, etc, etc, etc.; for the overall title let's just say we're all runners.

My final answer is that as a sport Ultarunning is alive and doing quite well (as he states in the article) and the label can stay or go; I really don't care about the label.  I'm a runner.  The author contends that Ultrarunning is too broad a label; I content that it is too limiting.  Dump the labels and just be a runner; no labels are needed based on speed, distances, frequency, etc.  Let's just be runners.  All for one and one for all, as they say.

So I now pose the same question.  Post a comment and let me know how you like to label yourself or if you don't like labels and why.  I'd really like to get a sense of how my readers feel about this.....

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