FM Show – May 30: We Give Up, Ultrarunning is a Picnic


“Put down the drumstick. The 100 mile awards are about to start!”

Welcome back to Elevation Trail and the FM Show with Footfeathers and Matt.  Today we recap my big race weekend in Gunnison Colorado, chat about Rob Krar, Western States, Sky Running, and other picnic-like festivities in our sport.  Matt curses, so put the earmuffs on the kids.

19 thoughts on “FM Show – May 30: We Give Up, Ultrarunning is a Picnic

  1. What you are chronicling and commenting on is the transition (or birth) from being an ‘activity’ to being a ‘sport’. Some people might like to think of it as still being an activity, and for them it can remain. But it is going to be impossible to stop ultra running from becoming a sport. Can’t put the toothpaste back into the tube. The question then becomes how to manage that transition, what gets lost and gained, and how is it going to change as a result.

  2. It’s certainly an interesting discussion/debate. The more I/we talk about it, the more it seems relegated to “activity.” There is such a strong historical foundation that makes this “transition” to sport difficult, especially when compared to other sports. Western States is a perfect example. Most ultra runners probably enjoy the spectacle of this historically significant event, but no one really cares that much. Including sponsors. There’s some interest, but not much. And this (WS100) is, we could suggest, the highlight of the ultra season.

  3. Many of the very best men and women in the sport blog (think Nick Clark, Dakota Jones, Sage Canaday, Ellie Greenwood, etc.) and/or are on Facebook and/or Twitter (think Kilian Jornet). I really appreciate it. I gain training and racing tips, find motivation, and some great entertainment. I hope they keep it up. Also, isn’t there some inherent contradiction in your criticisms as both of you follow the blogs and other social media, and also contribute to the social media via blogs, etc.?

    Emilie Forsberg also did Ski-Mo over this winter and is now killing it.

    I think Emilie and Kilian are a couple. They have been spending a ton of time together both in Scandinavia and elsewhere in Europe for months. Also, check out their hugs after their races. Much more to those hugs than a normal after race hug. Good for them. Kilian doesn’t live anywhere. He pops up all over the place (often in his green trailer).

    Finally, love Robert Krar. Krar FTW at Western!

    • Granted the discussion in a PC can get a little disjointed, but the points about the blog/ultra running connection include a kind of parallel growth over the last 8 years or so, suggesting a certain kinship that is only enhanced by some athletes, as you mentioned, connecting with readers, other bloggers, each other, etc. It’s pretty tightly-knit open and accessible to all. Secondly, this social media is a primary way to follow the “news” of the sport. Although this can promote a certain intimacy with this running community, the blog can also be unreliable. In some cases, its more or less a promotional tool. It’s complicated, which means there isn’t just one clear view of how the blog is helpful in promoting and defining the ultra culture.

      I was right about Kilian and Emelie.

      And you’re right about her ski-mo work. That is quality mountain rigor!

  4. I think I might have mentioned to Tim that ultramarathoning is in its adolescence or college years, trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up. Kind of an awkward phase where there is a lot of experimentation, soul (or sole) searching, the (al)lure of peer pressure from its ultra distance friends (I’m looking at you Ironman, stay way from my daughter!), and the need for some external validation for self-gratification. It wants to be loved by others, but also wants to be too cool for the room, aloof and ironic. So while (literally) going to great lengths in its attempt to separate itself, it at the same time shouts “LOOK AT ME!” in the form of blogposts, videos, and (yep) even podcasts of various types. Nothing wrong with any of this by the way. Just part of the maturation process.

    Or it is just a bunch of knuckleheads just running long distances for no particularly good reasons. It’s at least one of these two things.

    • I still come back to the structure or infrastructure or lack there of. On what will the sport be built? American 100 mile obsession hurts much chance of there being a real racing culture (a culture clearly defined by racing). Rather, as some have suggested, ultra running is like golf. One never really knows who is the best (although there is an international golf ranking system) but the sport certainly celebrates the winners of majors ala WS100, HR100, LT100, etc. Could anyone ever win that grand slam? Not a bad analogy. I have used the big wave surfing culture as a comparison, too. It’s more of celebration of the surfing culture; a winner is declared but it’s more about the aesthetics, values, etc.

      So, what sort of structure or infrastructure is needed to evolve this hillbilly cook-out (just kidding;)? Well, what about a more sophisticated media that acts as a kind of watch-dog, or offers commentary on ways to improve, things to celebrate or berate. Sure I’m biased, but something like ET gives ultra-running structure. If our audience grows, our views (which are thoughtful and hilarious!) will affect the culture. Other voices like ET might help move this big lug of community toward sport. Just a thought.

  5. Tennis comes down to Grand Slam wins versus world ranking. Same with golf. How many Masters or Opens did you win? The UCI has tried to institute a world ranking system based on points, and no cycling fan that I know of cares. All the guys who win the series are top notch cyclists. Wanna make your head spin? check out the system: Bradley Wiggins came in second in 2012. Does that mean Joachim Rodriguez is considered beter than Bradley? Heck no bc Bradley won the TdF and the Olympic TT race (as well as other major stage races) Keep in mind that Philippe Gilbert won the world championship race to further muddle things. People used to claim that Lance Armstrong was the greatest cyclist in the world when he won his TdF races, which was utter nonsense bc that’s all he really competed in.

    So cyclists don’t talk about “the best” (unless they are talking about Eddy Merckx). they tend to talk about the best time trialist, the best spring classics rider, the best grand tour specialists, etc. Seems to work for cycling fans not to have a definitive #1, even if the UCI has tried to instigate that through the Pro Tour points system which no one cares about.

    • The cycling – ultrarunning comparison doesn’t work. The organization of teams, the nature of “professional” of each and the role races play in each make the two night and day. Even if the UCI ranking system proves irrelevant, there are enough races to establish a consistent and clear feel for who is champ, etc. Sure Lance only raced TdF, especially at the end of his career, but he was (while most were still in the dark regarding his drug use) considered a pretty competent and decisive champion. Same with Contador. The grand tours require some well-roundedness, so although let’s say Cancellara is the TT world champ, or even he wins Paris-Roubaix, a dominant winner of a grand-tour will likely get the nod in terms of hierarchy. But that’s not even the point.

      Cycling is sport of professionals, competing at a very high level (in a very organized competitive environment that would take an essay to examine). Generally, all players are in attendance for the important races (a series, a schedule, a tour, a season). Ultra-running, rather, is like the wild west. It’s wide-open; often, races are won by runners moonlighting off-road, or widely unknown.

  6. Lots of people enjoy the sport (and it is a sport, one of the oldest in the history of mankind, in fact) without having a system of rankings. If you can’t enjoy it without a ranking system, then be the change you want to see, use your much touted skills of analysis and come up with a ranking system based on current races, distances, difficulties, who-beats-who, etc. It could be like the ultra-signup score but on a yearly basis and with more races.
    Get after it.

    • Through this ongoing discussion, that’s exactly what we’re hopefully doing, Greg. Of course, it’s only our opinions and we realize people have their own thoughts on what they like/don’t like about the sport. Heck, Matt and I disagree half the time (one example is our nearly polar views on the 100 mile distance). Hashing this stuff out in conversation helps us understand various points of view and maybe help drive the evolution of it. I’m slowly beginning to believe that ultrarunning will never be a legitimate sport (big fan base, large money maker, clearly defined ways to follow it, fully funded professional teams with decent salaries, insurance, coaching, development, management, etc). Shorter distance trail and mountain events? Maybe.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s appreciated.

  7. I’d love to see a clear ranking system for the various spreads we might find at post-race picnics. With a precise rubric, there would be no doubt who had the best post-race food. Folks could choose their races accordingly.

    On a less serious note, ultra “rankings” would need to be broken down by distance/terrain, I believe. Best 100 miler (with min. of 20,000 feet climb), best “flat” 100 miler, etc. Best 50k trail….

      • Yeah, sorry, it was during all the beer talk so you had my full rapt attention. I was just through vomiting after I heard Tim drinks that Clamato “beer” and dismayed he couldn’t rattle off half a dozen choice Colorado brews. At least you weren’t drinking squirrel piss Matt, I’m gonna have to chase down this German Beer (Bitburger?) you were mentioning and give it a try.

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