Sunday, September 8, 2013

The T Generation

It seems hard to comprehend a time when they were NO short distance or multi-day trail races, but it was really only yesterday. When I moved to Cape Town, we had (not including out of town races) PUFfeR (peninsula ultra fun run) over 80km and the Hout Bay and Fisherman's Challenges. None of these races were really accessible to the majority of shorter distance runners either by virtue of the physical challenge or by the restrictive nature of the small fields. And that was it! No
Trail Series, Southern Cross, vineyard runs, Odyssey, African X. All those races, and a multitude of others were just pipe dreams for trail runners and wouldbe race organisers.

An early Trail Series race, Montrail team sponsorship and all!
We started the trail series in Cape Town in 2008 (Owen Middleton can correct me on the date) to a luke warm response. We had reasonable numbers, but runners complained about the cost (why should I pay R50 to run where I can run every other day). We countered that by putting up as many lucky draw prizes as category prizes, running excellent races on great routes, having results and reports up the next day and putting on a professional show. I still think Owen's races are the best organised trail races in SA. They aren't over worked, and have just the right blend of organisation and informality. Trail race organisers are never in it for the money, and when runners complain, mostly without foundation, about entry fees that generally don't appreciate the time and effort that goes into organisation. I don't see many organisers driving around in Mercs! These races are now almost always sold out, testament to Owen's professionalism.

Having moved from SA to the US late last year, the racing isn't that different. But with a miniscule affluent population in SA, to have so many amazing races is something to cherish. Most weekends there were 2 road races, and often 3 trail races within easy reach of CT. That's such a luxury, whatever the entry cost.

Here in the US there seem no regulation for road or trail races which leads to massive price discrepancies. Ive paid as much as $85 for a mediocre half marathon, and marathons are rarely under $100. Almost all races are chip timed and results available as you finish, which is great, but I'd swop it for being able to run more races at a lower cost.

Way Too Cool 50k trail race attracted almost 1000 runners
That doesn't seem a barrier to entry, with over 200 at the race I did recently at Henry Hagg Lake. Prices ranged from $25 for a discounted entry for the 10k to $85 for an on the day entry for the 22km (inc parking). The astonishing fact (in my eyes) was that in the 10k 75% of the field was made up of women.

BUT the trail races here are as beautiful and well organised as in SA and there are more longer races, where the pro's hang out. At any given race you might line up with legends such as Scott Jurek, Tim Olson, Karl Metscher, Anton Krupicka or Geoff Roes. All approachable and just doing what they love, running, generally in the mountains. 50k to 100 mile races regularly sell out within days or even hours of entries opening, testament to an increasing desire to run off road.

Brands have cottoned onto this trend and although it's pretty hard to make a good living trail running, sponsorship has enabled a number of runners to live the lifestyle they want by competing in races and representing brands.

TNF sponsored trail runners Mike Foote and Timothy Olson. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell
The trail running explosion doesn't look ready to fizzle out yet. Added to that the popularity of Fastest Known Time (FKT) attempts on trails where there generally aren't races, and the trails are alive with runners.

1 comment:

  1. My trip up to Macclear's on Saturday was going well, and I thought I would be under 60min, but when I stopped my watch at 61 I wondered where the time had gone...
    I like the simple races I can arrive and run, no planning for months ahead with pre entries and all. Next week I line up for TMC, and with it being 35+km and about 4hours of running I guess a pre entry is a good thing as I have needed a couple of traning runs to get to the start line knowing I can finish without dieing! But then on Sunday there is a 10km road race, and I will run it if I get off the mountain in one piece, but I only need to make that decition in the morning.