Has Ultrarunning Evolved Past Western States?

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On April 1st, the eyes of ultrarunners across the country lit up when they read about the drastic changes to the Western States 100 course. You can read the article on irunfar here: Western States Announces Changes.

Minutes (hours?) later, hopes were shattered when runners learned the article was actually an April Fool’s joke and Western States was still same old, same old.

But the real joke, it seems, was on Western States.

Tracking the excitement around the changes, followed by the let-down of the prank, I wonder whether ultrarunners are begging for a real change.

The article proposed changes that would make the course harder, the most popular change being a hard 24-hour cutoff.

Western States’ own godfather Gordon Ainsleigh famously ran the course for the first time in under 24 hours, and was thrilled with the new “changes”. His Facebook post:

“It’s great to be a part of this epic improvement in the race I started… It’s finally getting back to the way it was when I did it in 1974: Just 3 aid-station/crew-access points… About time!”

His comment when he found out it was a joke?

“Oh, shift! Was it all a tragicomic dream?”

Jokes aside, Ainsleigh actually has some realistic and innovative ideas to make the race:

a) harder

b) guaranteed entry for everyone

c) more accessible to 55+ seniors

If even a stubborn old man like Gordy knows it’s time to evolve the race, perhaps it’s time we listened.

Yes, Western States has the historic appeal. Yes, it has the hype and the hoopla. But are runners starting to say this is no longer enough?

Sherpa John wrote a great post on his Western States experience that actually made me think that I never want to run it. You can read it here: Western States Thoughts

I entered the WS lottery for the first time last year, secretly hoping that I wouldn’t get in. We had plans to spend the summer in Alaska, and Western States would have conflicted.

Still, it seemed that entering the lottery was the thing to do and I couldn’t be a “real” ultrarunner unless I threw my name in like everyone else, never mind that I have five buckles sitting in the RV.

I realize now how lame this was and I’m relieved I didn’t get in. I doubt I’ll qualify or enter the next lottery. What bothers me the most is that the races I want to run aren’t qualifying races, yet they’re much harder than the qualifiers.

I have my eye on a 100-miler in Alaska this summer and I’ll be running Zion 100 in three weeks (neither are qualifiers). I ran the last Chimera 100, and was shocked to learn that although it was not a qualifier, the Old Goat 50 (exactly half of the Chimera course), was. It makes no sense.

The races I seek out are newer, grassroot events. So my chances of qualifying are pretty low, even though I’ll end up with some rock hard mountain miles under my belt.

I haven’t been around this sport long enough to have an expert, informed opinion. But I do know what ultrarunning means to me. It’s not about the politics, hype, and drama of Western States.

It’s certainly NOT about entering a race because you’re “supposed” to.

It’s about community. It’s about mountain solitude. It’s about accessibility for all who are crazy enough to attempt a race. And if a race can’t be accessible to everyone, it better be extremely hard.

I’m curious about where others weigh in on this. What are your thoughts?

Check out the Facebook discussion HERE.

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Are Ultrarunners Narcissistic and Self-Centered?

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My friend Jason recently posted a heartfelt and honest article about his journey with ultrarunning. Jason has just started working for UPS, a physically demanding job that has left him embarrassed about the self-centered aspects of his running.

His post brought to light several points that I have tried to make on my own blog over the past few months, so I thought it was worth a reply.

Read Jason’s post about The Narcissism of Running.

Here are my five thoughts on the subject:

1. You can tell who the narcissists are.

People come in all shapes, sizes, and intentions. Yes, there are people who run with a “Look at me!” attitude. But there are others who do it humbly, graciously, and with a giving spirit. It’s easy to pick out the narcissists:

  • A narcissist will tout his own accomplishments. A humble runner will call out the accomplishments of others.
  • A narcissist is all about bragging on social media, and will hijack the posts of others to report their own (irrelevant) mileage. A humble runner will use social media to inspire and encourage others toward their goals.
  • A narcissist will speed by his competitors whenever possible. A humble runner will encourage the people he passes, and motivate them to follow.
  • A narcissist will be eager to offer you advice you didn’t ask for, and assume you are much less accomplished than they are. A humble runner will relate to you on your level.
  • A narcissist will make excuses for their failures. They will blame the course, the volunteers, the RD, or just say they weren’t trying very hard. A humble runner learns from his mistakes.
  • A narcissist says “Look what I did!” A humble runner says, “If I can do it, so can you.”

A few examples:

a) At Ridgecrest 50K this year, my friend Shawna was having a low point when Raul passed her. Raul kept waving her along, gesturing her to follow him, and that’s how they got to the finish line together. Shawna PR’d her 50K that day.

b) Ed Ettinghausen runs countless 100s and is always on hand to wait for and cheer the last runner on the course. Those who have run 100s know how gross and tired you feel after you cross the finish line. All you want to do is change your clothes, take a shower, and pass out. You’re suddenly cold and miserable. Everything hurts. Now imagine sitting around for hours after that, in your own filth and fatigue, waiting for the very last runner to come in. Imagine cheering for them loudly and genuinely, a person you don’t even know. That’s Ed.

c) At the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100 this year, the winner of the race, Jamil Coury, was trotting along when he came across an elderly couple on the side of the road with a flat tire. He stopped running to make sure they were OK, and ended up taking several minutes to change their tire in the middle of the course. The couple was later shocked to learn that he was racing, since he took his time to make sure they were cared for and never complained about the delay.

d) Jesse Haynes was in first place (and went on to win) the San Juan 50K this year when he passed Shelly and me. We were lost and obviously in the wrong place ahead of him. He stopped dead in his tracks to help us and offer directions, not hesitating to break his stride for a couple of clueless runners.

e) At last year’s Ridgecrest 50K, I was crashing in the final miles. I was walking and feeling sorry for myself when Catra Corbett powered past me and yelled, “Let’s go, girl! We got this!” I ran after her. I crossed the finish line right behind her with a new PR, a sub-6 finish. And I got an award for first in my age group.

2. Ultrarunning is a community.

As cheesy as it sounds, we are a family. That’s why for Shacky and I, it’s important to attend races even when we’re not running. This is where volunteering, trail work, and cheering/crewing/pacing play an important role. There’s always work to be done at an ultra, and there are always runners who could use some motivation.

It doesn’t matter if it’s not your race. It’s somebody’s race. So you show up for them. You show up for the race directors who have too much to do. You show up for the volunteers who are tired, cold, and sleep-deprived. You show up for your friends who are running. For the runner whose pacer didn’t show. For the newbie without a crew. You just show up.

Although Shacky and I love to joke about sitting around drinking beer at ultras (and there’s a lot of that too), it’s equally important to me that we jump when there’s work to be done. I was proud at one race when Shacky had to drop out at an aid station, and ended up hanging out there to volunteer, pack up the aid station, and lift all the heavy objects because he noticed the volunteers were older than he was.

When I think about this sport, I imagine the passing of a baton. So many of these older guys have put in their time. They have forged the trails for us (sometimes literally). They have put in the hours of trail work, the volunteer time, and have set a humble example for us. Now we are the ones who are young, able, and on fresh legs. It’s time to get off our asses and make these events happen.

3. It’s not really about the running.

I totally agree with Jason that the running itself is pretty unimpressive and pointless. But it was never really about the running. It’s about the way a runner feels when they finish their first ultra. It’s about that realization when you cross the finish line at a 100-miler, that you actually are capable of anything you set your mind to.

It’s that sense of accomplishment, self-worth, and empowerment that spills over into every other aspect of your life. It makes you hold your head up higher, gives you courage to shed those toxic relationships, inspires you in your career, helps you raise your family better, and motivates you to live healthfully and happily. That’s why I run ultras, and why I encourage others to do so.

The physical act of covering random mileage is indeed senseless. But knowing for a fact that your body and mind are capable of far more than you thought—that is life changing.

4. You’re not as awesome as you think you are.

The runners with the most experience tend to be the most humble. That’s because they know that no matter what, there’s always someone who is faster. Someone who has run further, or who is injured less.

With ultrarunning, you never know who you’re talking to, so never brag about yourself. For all you know, the person you’re talking to runs your weekly mileage in one day. Or they’re a world record-holder. You can never tell by looking at them. So avoid looking like an idiot, and shut your mouth.

5. “I chose this.”

At Javelina Jundred, I came up with the mantra “I chose this,” to express a lot of what Jason is talking about. So many people in this world suffer to support their families. To put food on the table. Just to survive.

Some people suffer aches and pains to give their children a good life. If I suffer aches and pains, it’s because I’m running in the mountains. If I’m sore, it’s because I spent all day doing something I love. I am fortunate beyond belief, and appreciating that is so important. I chose this.

3 RDs to Give Back To

If you want to give back but don’t know where to start, here are three Race Directors who have embraced the humble spirit of ultrarunning, and could use a few extra hands.

1. Steve Harvey: California

Steve is a well-loved and important part of the ultra community in Southern California. He directs Chimera 100, Old Goat 50, and Nanny Goat 100/24Hr/12Hr. If you want to hang out with the best runners and the best volunteers, these are the races to hit up. Don’t worry if you’re a new volunteer. You will learn far more than what you can possibly contribute, and the experience will be rewarding.

Here is my race report from this year’s Chimera 100.

Race website:

2. Matt Gunn: Utah

Matt is the Race Director for Zion 100 and Bryce 100. He is a talented runner, down to earth, and eager to share his love for Utah’s spectacular trails. For jaw-dropping beauty, it’s hard to beat the trails that Matt plays on.

Last year was the inaugural Zion 100 run for Matt, and this year (April 2013) the course is even better. Shacky and I are both registered.

Newer races are always in need of help, so there are countless ways to volunteer for these. One thing Zion 100 was short on last year was pacers. Because so many people were coming from out of town, there was a huge need.

Pacing is single-handedly the most rewarding way to “volunteer”. Truthfully, you get far more out of the experience than you can give back. Zion 100 allows pacers as early as 30 miles, and I’d strongly recommend the pacing experience.

Here is a great article on how to be a good pacer: Part I, Part II

Race websites:

3. Jeremy Dougherty: Arizona

This year, Jeremy launched the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100. We had the privilege of helping out at the race and saw first-hand Jeremy’s passion and work ethic. Jeremy is a younger race director, eager to give of himself to put on an unforgettable event.

Like many new RDs, Jeremy took a financial loss to put on this event. It was a true labor of love. He describes the logistics of Mogollon here—a recommended read.

The Mogollon is a beautiful but brutal course in need of some helping hands. It’s worth getting involved with this one.

Race website:

So What’s the Verdict?

Are we really all just a bunch of attention whores?

Perhaps some of us are.

But in this sport, there is just as much opportunity to be giving, humble, and truly make a difference in someone else’s life.

RELATED ARTICLES:

7 Reasons You Think You Can’t Run an Ultra (When You Can)

3 Things That Rocked the Mogollon Monster 100

Why You Should Stop Rationalizing Running

Win a 100-Mile Race Entry

I am excited to announce a free giveaway for the inaugural Mogollon Monster 100 this year in Northern Arizona on September 28rd!

I have never seen a 100-miler giveaway before, and I’m stoked because:

1. It can be expensive to race 100s.

2. It’s intimidating to sign up for a 100-miler.

Why You Should Enter

I jumped straight from a 50K to finish a 100-miler, so don’t be intimidated if you haven’t run 100k or 50 miles. This distance is very much a mental challenge.

Many don’t sign up because they don’t believe the can finish. And many would be surprised. You still have time to train for this event.

I’m a passionate advocate for running ultra marathons because we are always stronger than we think we are. The ultra can bring about such a life-changing transformation, and you cannot attempt 100 miles without being changed.

No matter what you have done or will do in the future – this is a victory that nobody can undermine or take away from you. And it’s free! So go ahead and throw your name in. Maybe this is your time.

Read this post about 7 Lies You Believe About Ultra Running to ease some of your fears. You CAN do this!

If you’re still having doubts, read my race report for my first 100-miler. And my thoughts before the race.

If you’ve finished 100 before, here is a worthy buckle to add to your collection!

The Course

  • Arizona’s 2nd 100-miler and 1st mountain 100-miler
  • 4 Mont De Blanc points
  • Start at 5,500 feet, max at 7,400
  • Each climb and descent is anywhere from 1,000 to 2,000 feet, usually done in under 2 miles
  • Climb through multiple ecosystems
  • Scale the first climb to the top of the Mogollon Rim in the first 9 miles of the race
  • Series of ascents and descents of the Mogollon Rim
  • Run from red rock high desert terrain to the largest contiguous Ponderosa Pine forest in the world (soldiers used to mark the Ponderosas high on the trees so they could still see them in high snow in the winter and today you can still see some of the markers)
  • Minimal dirt roads, and nearly all have a view
  • Dirt road sections are under 6 miles
  • 1 mile at the finish is pavement into town
  • Steep, rugged and extremely technical

Read more here.

The Race Director, Jeremy Dougherty, has spent years shadowing many RDs at ultra events, and can avoid the normal hang-ups of an inaugural race.

Here is a video of the upper region of the course called the Cabin Loop. This is right after the first snow break so the greenery hasn’t sprung up yet.

Visit the website www.mogollonmonster100.com for more course photos and videos.

If you really can’t make it…

Strongly consider being a volunteer or a pacer for this race. Both are tremendous learning experiences and will give you a chance to see what a 100-miler is all about. Shacky and I will be there with Ginger, volunteering.

If you’d like to get set up with a pacing gig but don’t know anyone who is running, email the Race Director at at azadventures@getoutgetlost.com.

How to Enter

You must complete the following three things for one entry:

  1. “Like” the Mogollon Monster 100 Facebook fan page.
  2. Share a link to this giveaway via social media or your blog and mention that you’ve entered.
  3. Leave a comment and tell me why you want to win.

The winner will be chosen next Wednesday July 18th through a random draw and I will announced it here on the blog. You have five days to claim your entry before I pick another winner.

Good luck!

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