Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Golden Arches?

What’s your ‘happy meal’ when its comes to a trail race? The parts that make up the whole. Do you run a particular race for the course, the medal, the vibe, the ‘eat your weight’ aid stations or the hullaballoo?

The trail running explosion has ensured that trail races are now as glitzy and varied as their road counterparts. This grates with some runners who prefer the old style, no hype, just pitch up and run variety, where every aid station wasn’t a cacophony of cowbells and a buffet table of edibles. Social media has ensured that you can also follow the exploits of your favorite mountain goat live through twitter, facebook and live feeds. do a stellar job of broadcasting the sport to it's followers as well as previewing every significant race on the calendar (in US and Europe anyway). This brings attention to the sport, the elites and also companies with products that we all use.

If trail running, and your ability at it, gives you the (free) opportunity to travel to far off places, at a sponsor’s expense, should you complain when said sponsor is trying to maximize their exposure at races? Trail runners and organizers are almost all zealously concerned about impact on the environment. Some insist on no cups or plastic sashes, zero impact on the environment, many insist on a number of trail maintenance days BEFORE you can even run the race.

These are all great positives for the sport and its participants. Most of the companies involved in trail running are passionate about the sport and appreciate the relatively small return on investment from the minimal exposure from race coverage. Lets face it, this isn’t prime time, media circus stuff.

Interviewing Jeff from the Animal Athletics cheering station at the Gorge ultras
So have races got too big and does it detract from the sport? Way to Cool, a 50k trail race in California attracts 1000 runners for one distance over one course on one day. There’s a start arch, and a finish village with chill out zones and the like, giving it a festival feel. The Squamish 50 has a 50 miler, 50k, 50/50 (both 50 miler AND 50k), 23km, kids run and a film fest! That’s 1100 runners over two day on technical, beautiful trail in British Columbia, Canada. There are also orientation runs pre-event on the course. That’s a lot of hype.  But it also brings together a whole lot of like-minded people, many of them new to trail running, to celebrate what they love doing; running on trails. For those of us not present we can (at most races) read about and be inspired by those killing it at the front and follow them via twitter and other social media. That keeps us connected (if Mark Zuckerburg is to be believed) and inspires us to our own less lofty goals. The elites in return receive sponsorship, products, trips to overseas races and the chance to live a dream.  The nirvana of melding your passion with your vocation is attainable for those of us who work in the outdoor industry or are sponsored athletes. We are lucky. Personally I’m prepared to pay the price of increased exposure and commercialization to be able to work in an industry that benefits, but also supports the outdoors.

Chill out zone at the Way Too Cool 50k
Race organisers mostly agree that a splattering of hype is good for runners. Todd Janssen of Portland, Oregon based Go Beyond Racing ( says he’s all for providing information and entertainment for runners and supporters; “I wouldn’t dream of putting on a race without doing live updates, if it’s possible at the race. To me it’s the new normal.” Giving value to often hard earned sponsorships is also important, Todd says. "Sponsors definitely appreciate the social updates, but don't think that it's necessary to only do them during the race. I think updates leading upto and after the event are also effective from a sponsor's perspective." 
Jeff Fisher and the 'winner' of the canine race
But it is a sport and a hobby, so you CAN choose, not just to race or not (99% of trail race courses are open to trail runners 365 days a year for free!), but also between those races who’ve kept it simple and those with a healthy dose of razzmatazz.

Hyped up or suffering from hyper tension?

A race’s facebook page is a good indication of the hype meter.; five followers and no update since 2012 is one for the hyper tense.

Did you get offered a t-shirt, mug, VIP pass and lucky draw for your OWN portaloo when entering? One for the hyped up for sure.

Hand written race number the size of a postage stamp? Good to go for the hyper tense.

A menu of aid station nutrition on the website? Another for the hyped up.

Results posted on a tree? Old school vibe.

Prize for the first canine? Head for this hype city.