Pacing and Race Coverage

At Vermont 100, Gary pacing Hai (the tiny speck a mile behind Gary).

At Vermont 100, Gary pacing Hai (the tiny speck a mile behind Gary).

Welcome to Elevation Trail and the Footfeathers Show.  Today Gary David and I talk about pacing and his pacing adventure at the Vermont 100 miler last weekend.  We also discuss the lack of coverage for Vermont’s race, as well as most East Coast events, Grand Slam top contender, Nick Clark (Gary’s new BFF), Leadville 100, and a bunch of other stuff.  Hope you enjoy it and please feel free to comment – we live for comments!

Pacing and Race Coverage

37 thoughts on “Pacing and Race Coverage

  1. Great podcast. As you mentioned, there were a ton of great stories at the Vermont 100 this year, so it’s strange that the race doesn’t get more attention. But (shameless self-promotion alert) there were some stories both before and after the race on, including pre-race interviews with Ian Sharman and Amy Rusiecki, a short post-race interview with Sharman and Nick Clark, and a recap of all three races. We also had a few updates during the race on Saturday on our Facebook page. Everyone we talked to seemed pretty excited by the fact that someone—even just us—cared enough about the race to ask them about it.

    • Hi Amos.
      Good that you guys reported on VT. I would consider that more local regional coverage like if allocal southern California club reported on San Diego 100. We were talking about more of a national outlet covering it.

      • That’s a good point. And obviously Leadville and Western States get a ton of attention everywhere among ultrarunners. But Wasatch seems a little more like Vermont to me. It’s part of the Slam, but it doesn’t seem to get the same attention, at least not in the East, and not even from iRunFar, I’d say. I hear more about Hardrock, UROC, and UTMB, probably. (Although maybe Wasatch will get more attention this year if the race between Clark and Sharman is tight.)

        Also, what would you consider a national source of info for ultra race coverage (other than iRunFar, of course)? Ultrarunner Podcast, maybe, but they tend to link to other sources rather than cover races themselves. Trail Runner magazine is definitely more focused on the West, too. Other than that I don’t think there are a ton of ultra sources with national reach. I think a lot of people go to runners’ blogs for race recaps instead. And fortunately a lot of ultrarunners are pretty good at writing about their races.

      • Yeah, I wasn’t trying to devalue FNE’s coverage at all – it’s just regional, just pointing out that many worthy races oddly don’t get covered. I mean, other than Krar chasing Timmy, WS was a sleeper. I think events and sponsors influence (i.e. pay) the amount of national/international coverage. I wouldn’t say urp is a national outlet – they cut and past colorful “news” items and take photos of backyard races – AR, WTC, WS… I would say that irunfar tries to position itself as a news outlet for ultrarunning and I’d lump Ian Corless in there as well. The problem is that the coverage is manipulated by sponsorship and is fairly elitist and narrow.

  2. No offense taken at all! I just meant that when there are so few national outlets covering ultrarunning, it seems inevitable that they’ll focus on the top athletes. I agree that the coverage is definitely elitist (and I’m sure you’re right that money plays a huge role), but then again, a lot of people want to read about the elites. The problem, as you said, is that great stories go overlooked unless someone else takes the time to cover them—like Gary’s great story on Alex May. But I think that’s in part just because there aren’t many sources covering ultrarunning. There are a lot of people writing personal stories about their own running, but very few outlets that cover ultrarunning in a more journalistic sense.

  3. Hey- thanks for the words for DFL Ultrarunning. Totally agree how surprising it is that a Grand Slam event with the history of VT gets no interest nationally. Our podcast is generally fueled and directed by 1) talking about ourselves 🙂 and 2) focusing on the fact there are some pretty darn good races and racers in New England. Stay tuned- our next episode will feature Larisa Dannis, Adam Wilcox (top 10 in VT 100 and Hardrock 2012) and hopefully one other interview related to the VT 100. (shameless plus but confirming Gary’s comments that we are NE focused). Enjoyed your story Gary about pacing- though not convinced from the pic you ever actually saw your runner. Good news was no talk of mountain biking. Enjoy both your views on Ultrarunning. Thanks!

    • Honestly after we were done recording Tim said he forgot to mention something about mountain biking. And I watched some UCI World Cup coverage on line!

  4. There’s an east coast? Uh, where is that?
    Another fairly invisible segment of the scene: the 51st state. In fact, I don’t think there are even any specifically Canadian ultrarunning podcasts. There are, however, some interesting and, I think, largely unknown (outside of Canada, and maybe also northern Washington) ultras here. Everyone’s probably heard of the Canadian Death Race because it’s so heavily marketed (and also ridiculously expensive to enter). But how many Americans have even heard of some of the other very interesting races like the Fat Dog 120 miler? The Squamish 50? Knee Knacker? The Canadian scene is, I guess, largely its own scene, but it’s interesting that it doesn’t get much if any of what you’ve called “national” coverage (by “national” I wasn’t sure if you meant “American”, or just with a broad, non-regional scope).

    • Yeah! What about the Canadians! Why is that the case do you think of there being no Canadian coverage from Canada?

      • Good question. Probably, the answer parallels the media situation in general: historically wrt radio & television, we’ve been pretty swamped by broadcasting from the much larger American “stations”, so Canadian content has had to be subsidized to survive (CBC for example). Also, I suspect that in many ways, Canadians ultrarunners think of themselves as part of a larger international scene, as opposed to any sort of “national” scene. And unlike the USA, where folks sometimes don’t look beyond their own national boundaries in any context, we’re always looking south & beyond (we’re small in terms of population and without sounding arrogant here, we’re educated to look beyond our own boundaries in a way that, I think, many Americans aren’t). Lots of Canadians travel south for races. How many Americans bother to come north? (Of course, it’s closer for many of us; our population tends to be concentrated along the southern border).

        But in terms of ultrarunning coverage … that’s really a more complicated question. Every Canadian runner, I’m sure, knows that Gary Robbins just killed it at the Knee Knacker, an iconic multiple decades old N. shore Vancouver 50k that might be one of the toughest in N. America. How do they know? Well, if you’re a Canadian ultrarunner, there’s a good chance you were physically there. But also, Gary tweets a LOT… And we do hear about some of the more famous Canadians like Ellie Greenwood or Adam Campbell via irunfar (usually only when they win big American races though).

  5. I think the appeal of ultras, to many, is the pure aesthetic of the mountains. For a “spectator”, there is an element of escapism here. Many ultrarunners/fans are not interested in running per se, so much as long treks in beautiful scenery. I think they identify more with fastpackers and climbers than the local track club, would rather go for an all day hike than a lactate threshold session on the road. There’s no animosity here, merely a disconnect from the rest of the running world, which manifests, I think, in an overt focus on mountain races at the exclusion of those that are merely hilly, or god forbid, flat. Given that the Rockies, San Juans, Sierras, Cascades, etc., are in the West, that’s where the focus is.

    I think that has more to do with it than the field a race attracts. JFK is perhaps the most consistently competitive ultra in the country, after all, and it gets much less coverage than, say, Hardrock. Comrades probably draws the fastest field of any ultra in the world, and has tremendous history and cultural significance; but UTMB is the international race de jour.

    Of course, I’m dealing in generalities, and nothing can be this black and white. Neither am I saying any of this is a bad thing, or that I’m wired any differently. Just noting how powerful a pull even the imagery of mountains has on the imaginations of some people.

    • Great point. Reminds me of our discussion on ET (and the discussion board) on the marketing of ultrarunning and trail running as a certain image, the lone person in the mountains, experiencing freedom, etc etc etc.Even though the VT100 is in the Green MOUNTAINS, I know it’s not the Rockies.

      • I’m not even close to knowing anything about the ultra running world, but it “appears” to me that most of the top ultra runners live in the west, which I would think adds to the coverage hype out this way. Heck, I bet half of them alone live in Boulder or surrounding areas. Those ultra folks love their altitude and steep hills.

      • Seems like there’s another question here about how ultra-running consciously or unconsciously taps into the myth of the American West, characterized by rugged individualism …

      • Or the larger myth of the Great White Man/Conqueror, in any case, we’re telling ourselves the story and looking at the photos of what we want to see.

    • Good point. Funny though … I was listening to Ian Corless interview Nikki Kimball the other day, and the question of why Americans typically underperform at international mountain races like UTMB came up. They agreed that, in general, it’s due to the relatively untechnical nature of the trails in the West. Nikki pointed out that East Coast trails tend to be very technical, however, and that if ultrarunning really took off there, we might see more Americans podium in the Alps. … I imagine there must be places in the “West” (i.e. western USA) where the trails are seriously technical though? Certainly there are isolated areas like the west coast of B.C. – N. Vancouver, Squamish etc.

  6. That was an interesting teaser on trust and the pacer/runner relationship, but did I miss or can Gary fill in what techniques might help establish it effectively, esp in a situation like he was in, where the two parties haven’t run together?

    • Hey Nicole,
      There is a long and short answer to this. In talking with Hai (or what he posted), he said that he could “tell right away” that he could trust me by how I was acting at the aid station. Basically another woman and I were going about things in a determined and directed manner, at least acting like we knew what we were doing (even though this was my second time pacing and I’ve never done a 100 miler). I think that those who “inspire confidence” are those who can act in such a manner, in other words doing things in a way that makes it seem like they know what they’re doing. People who are con men can take advantage of this by using the acting element to create a (false) impression.

      All trust and trusting relationships (and I would say all relationships involve trust at some basic level) involve such impression management achieved through meeting expected behaviors that are contextually based (WARNING: ACADEMIC-Y SOUNDING ALERT). Even sitting on a subway involves a manner of trust in that you are going to sit by strangers that you are trusting not to act in a violent manner. This is where profiling comes in, right? A lack of trust based on some attribute that leads to a presupposition of character of trustworthiness (or stereotype).

      What does this mean? Basically trust can be established in any number of ways, but must be accomplished in some kind demonstration (either through direct action (what you do) or even recitation (here is my experience, ergo you can trust me). But the person has to be able to trust. No small feat necessarily. There are all kinds of people who have a hard time forming relationships because they have a hard time trusting. There is no one way of doing it, but I would say acting with some degree of self-confidence and assuredness (wo being a jerk) is key to getting people to trust that you know what you are doing (whether you fact you do or not!)

      Hope that makes sense. And again YMMV as there are a lot of opinions out there on the topic. This is just the way I approach it from my (sociological) standpoint, with there being sociologists who I’m sure would disagree (but you can’t trust them).

      • Thanks Gary. I guess there also can be an assumed level of trust, dep on the circumstances? Personally, I think this assumed level of trust is a large part of what has drawn me to the running community. Anyway, interesting stuff Gary, I would take your course!

  7. Ultrarunning is a sport defined by self promotion. Runners get sponsors by having high traffic blogs, races get big by having all the bells and whistles and by getting race coverage. VT100 is oldschool and the RD is not a runner. She’s an amazing RD but I’m sure she doesn’t have the slightest clue or even care about the culture of the sport. It was my first 100 and I loved it. I loved that it was mostly on country roads with amazing views. You never felt like you were on a road because it was so beautiful. I loved that you have to break 24 hrs to get a buckle, that you run side by side with horses and after awhile you begin to think of them as comrades in arms. I love that there is no runner tracking. When I’m running a 100 I hate the thought of people sitting at home analyzing my race and speculating why my pace has dropped off or critiquing my choice of staying in an aid station for a few extra minutes. I love that people think VT is an “easy” 100. Read Nick Clark’s report, it’s not easy. It’s not easy to actually run a 100 miles. I was so wrecked after that race that I passed out the next day from the pain of trying to lower my aching and chafed body onto the toilet. Above all, I love that VT hasn’t changed and that people despite evidence to the contrary still think it’s an easy East coast race and so wont sign up for it. That means it’s easier to get into for those of us that know it’s an amazing race.

    • Its interesting because on the bike scene we are all shameless self-promoters. But then again I think almost every bike race promoter (at least in cyclocross) is a participant (or has been) as well. And Julia (the RD) really doesn’t need to promote to fill the field.So I guess it could be described as an old school feel. My first exposure to it and it was definitely an awesome experience

  8. Re the Grand Slam, I was actually surprised to read that Ian and Nick were running it this year, as the Slam hasn’t seemed to attract much media or elite attention in the past, although it’s certainly recognized within the community.

  9. Thanks for covering the VT100!

    I think the lack of coverage of east coast running has to do with a lack of self-promotion.
    Many of our top athletes have fulfilling day jobs and don’t particularly need to promote themselves. I dare you to ask Ben Nephew what he does for a living!

    The races don’t self-promote much either. The bulk of our races here are not run by people who identify as professional race directors. Many of our trail races are run by clubs like TARC or GAC (Stonecat), with volunteer race directors. Others are run as one or two time events by smaller outfits as fund raisers. Taking the Vermont 100 or the Vermont 50 as examples, those races are run as benefits for Vermont Adaptive Ski Sports. These RDs don’t have the ability or even the need to do a lot of self-promotion. You mentioned in the podcast about the importance of clubs to the New England running scene; this is very true. Word of mouth through the clubs is enough to fill the race, so they don’t need to spend any money or time on advertising.

    • I bet they have the ability, but probably not the need. And what would self-promotion look like? A press release? There were fireworks at the start, and that’s a nice touch. It is not as if the race is a secret. It’s been around for a while. And Nick and Ian are definitely adding to its awareness, although the guys and ladies who have won it previously are no slouches. Will be interesting to see whether there will be additional coverage in the future.

      The great thing about social media is that it turns everyone on a computer into a potential correspondent. So we don’t have to rely on the main outlets for news. Just makes the information trickier to find sometimes.

  10. Solid cast guys. You guys seem to have hit a nice stride with this Elevation Road thing.

    Tangent … I realize it is not an ultra, but it is clear how deep the team and club (territorial) scene is there at the Mount Washington Road Race. It looks like a high school cross country race with the number of clubs that are there competing against each other – and that team aspect is taken seriously. I have to assume that this is partly a function of population (although not solely). CT has about the same population as CO and so the density of folks is greater. I recall also seeing this at USATF XC Nats where CO would send three teams that essentially diluted our talent across those teams. Meant there was no way we could really compete against clubs like Fluffy Bunny out of more populated centers.

    • As Tim said during the podcast, the running club scene in New England is pretty big. Remember those pictures of Bill Rodgers running down Boylston in a GBTC singlet? I still belong to the B.A.A. for instance. And at VT100 you saw a lot of TARC singlets and G.A.C. singlets (as well as a crew from CT). I’m not sure how it is in CO at the road races, but here you seen a lot of team singlets (even among the slower runners).

      And it is Elevation Asphalt, George. Know this.

  11. Enjoyed this podcast a lot. Never heard of DFL Ultrarunning and now I’m subscribed in iTunes. After reading Nick’s blog about the race, I wondered why I hadn’t heard much about it…Thanks for giving it some attention, since there seemed to be a dearth of coverage on it.

    Oh, and I’ll be pacing at LV100 and listening for sarcasm in rich stereo sound to know when you two are within spitting distance…

  12. I live in the west and was looking hard for VT100 coverage but couldn’t find it, other than periodic official race updates that were unfortunately incomplete and missing runners. Was there cell phone coverage anywhere on the course? Where were the individual reports on Twitter from casual observers, perhaps with a picture or two? And only one VT100-related tweet (after the race) from the defacto east coast ultrarunning spokesperson himself, AJW? IRF does venture east a few times a year(JFK50, Cayuga 50) but understandably, they have to choose their events carefully. Besides, their founder was occupied with TRT100! It is good to read that there was some coverage, after all, like DFL.

  13. Another great podcast! I liked Gary’s analogy of pacers to puppies waiting in the pound. I also laughed at his angst over his new BFF, Nick Clark. Speaking of media bias, over here in Oregon, college football fans have always felt there is an “East Coast bias” in sports reporting. Such is life. I’m looking forward to your pre/during/post Leadville podcasts!

  14. Pingback: The Kindness of Strangers – My 2013 Vermont 100 Story – nguyenhai's Blog

  15. I don’t know why I commented on Tim’s Facebook page rather than posting here. GREAT podcast. I hated both of you, thought both of you were awesome and then at the end wanted Gary David to be my next pacer. East Coast does not get the attention it deserves, but I think that will change as the sport grows. Good comments on the Midwest too. Ice Age and Kettle obviously don’t compare to Watasch and Hardrock, but they are huge old races. We also have a little race called “Superior ‘Sawtooth’ Trail 100.” which is a little technical. You guys really hit this one out of the park.

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