Trail Runner magazine, announced a blog symposium with a monthly topic to gather opinions from the US trail running community and share the one they like best on their own site. The symposium kicks off with what the editors think is a hot potato, why else would it be the maiden topic?
Is the introduction of bigger prize purses at trail races a positive or negative thing overall?
But is it a hot potato really? I’m your prototypical outside observer, not US-based, not a competitive runner, navigating cyberspace to read about the trail scene, subscribing to a couple of blog and web sites to stay in touch with what goes on. From my perspective the discussion is old news. E.g. I have come across it quite a few times on iRunFar.com. And obviously the competitive crowd is by and large in favor of prize money. How could they not be? If running and winning races against the best is your thing, the impact of bigger prize purses is going to outweigh any negative impact. To name but a limited selection of impacts: more and better competitors from all over the world, more media exposure, thus more and more varied opportunities to make a living from trail running.
Sure, it adds a trail-running-as-just-another-“normal”-sport dimension, with all the negatives that come with commercialization. But why moan about that? It was unavoidable from the moment gear producers started sponsoring individual trail athletes, and creating “teams”. Bigger prize purses are a totally predictable development of corporate interest in picking up trail running for their branding. It doesn’t make much sense to moan about the inevitable.
I know, for your average Tom, Dick and Mary, which very much includes myself, a bit meager and defeatist by way of an answer: good for the professionals and life sucks. Isn’t there anything positive in it for us?
I actually think there is. At least two positives. More money results in more, more diverse, and better produced reads, visuals and other inspirational goodies, plus a whole load of trash. Yes, the trash bugs me, but I have to wade through garbage in the other parts of my life too. And learn to fish out the nuggets. To give but one small example, without money, no slick motivational videos like the one above. Again, no use bemoaning the way of the world, better to focus on the increased availability of nuggets. The other positive is the emergence of events that only become possible with big money. The trail equivalents of the big city road marathons. They make for experiences that are qualitatively very different from those offered by smaller, more local events. Obviously the trail incarnations are different from mega spectacles like the New York, the London or the Berlin marathon (e.g. restrictions posed by the carrying capacity of trails, and by the accessibility of large sections of the course to spectators). But the point is that commercialization adds, and it adds experiences that many like.
I use my own time on trails with others to bore them with rants about lots of irritants, including the marketing machine surrounding sports. I enjoy the release that offers, but it would be taking myself way too serious if release would be confused with discovering truth. Anyway, given this tendency I do understand what bothers people with money entering the competitive events of their favorite activity, but I strongly feel that the core questions to ask oneself when that negativity wells up are the following:
- Is what I like best about this sport disappearing because of the money?
- Is it any of my business that others seem to enjoy things that I wouldn’t want to associated with?
I don’t see the first happening. Even if one feels that the mega spectacles lack the community feel that one loves, the intimacy, whatever, there is always going to be plenty of events around that offer just that. As I understand, some even create new, extremely low key events that are explicitly intended to be the opposite of larger commercial events. And the second is a rhetorical question really. Although, as my running partners know, that won’t stop me from ranting about it.