I've posted for the Trail Runner Magazine Blog Symposium before- you can see it here. This month's topic is much different-
August Topic: Is there too much emphasis in the (trail-running) media on ultra distances?
I've been running for over 3 years- I've run road and trail races, varying from 1 mile to ultra distances. Both trail and road have their upsides and I enjoy each race I run for whatever it happens to be. When it comes to trail racing, I love technical trails. I'm terribly slow and time cut-offs make me nervous, but I am at least partly goat.
At some point, I no longer felt like small distances were enough. A half-marathon or 10K trail run paled in comparison to reports of the Ultras being run simultaneously across the nation. I decided to run a 50K so I could be a member of the Elite, despite the fact that I had never done a marathon. "Marathons are for wussies" I reasoned, buying into a lot of the hype that continues to build around Ultra runners. I didn't need to run a marathon- Oprah ran a marathon. I needed a 50K. That's what the real runners were doing.
And......after months of training......I DNF'd. Cut off for being too slow. The report is here, written months later after a very bruised ego and spirit started to mend. I will attempt another 50K, but not this year. Maybe next year.
Back to the question at hand: Is there too much emphasis in the media on ultra distances?
The short answer is yes.
Trail racing is an art form, at any distance. You go against natural elements- movable and immovable forces of nature- Mother Nature herself can laugh in your face at any moment. Road races are much more predictable- it's unlikely you will have to ford a river or dodge a wild animal during a marathon in the city. I can't think of any road races where you start out in warm weather and end up in snow at some point along the route. Trail racing is, in itself, a bad ass sport.
Notice I said trail racing- not just ultras.
But Ultras are where the spotlight is pointed- it is the current (forgive me) running fad. We live in a world of extremes and ultra distance races (road or trail) fall neatly into that category. There is a certain enjoyment in telling people you run 50K or 100K or whatever for fun. Their expressions can be priceless at times. The idea of running further than most of them drive, through the mountains, baffles them. It puts you on a similar plane as Achilles or Odysseus- those demi-gods of old, who couldn't be stopped. Never mind that Pheidippes ran the original marathon in sandals through the country and dropped dead at the end of it. The world is full of Pheidippes. Just look at any Rock 'n Roll Marathon- there are thousands of Pheidippes out there. Your neighbor or coworker may be one.
But at an Ultra, there are fewer Achilles', fewer Odysseus' to watch; to envy.
Local "short" trail races are fine for the mundane- the casual runner. The ambitious runner may take on a trail series, collecting points as the year wanes on, maybe hoping to place among the local leaders.
True Runners seek the Pinnacle of endurance, of strength- the Ultra.
We no longer satisfy ourselves with mediocre. We live for extreme. Extreme Home Makeover, Biggest Loser, the new reality survival show currently on network TV. Vegan diets, Paleo diets, no-carb diets...........We want faster results, faster phones, faster cars, faster finish times. Winning an Ultra is EPIC. Breaking a record at an Ultra- you are an Immortal.
Where does that leave us mere mortals? Lost in the shadow of the Ultra where we plod along on our 10K trail race, meeting up with old and new friends as we progress through our local series. Aspiring to run an Ultra one day, not just to finish it, but to set a personal best and become an Immortal in your own life? Perhaps. To those runners of lightning speed and unceasing endurance, our races are mere stepping stones to greatness- things long conquered and forgotten in the dust of longer races.
Ultras have their place in the runner's universe, and they do demand respect. But I don't think that they deserve the hype. One day they too will pass into the shadow of something newer and better. In the meantime, I would rather run a challenging single track 10K through the woods than a 50K run around and around the same loop.