My recent review of trailrunning in Nepal mentioned some general trends in (ultra) trailrunning. Being an armchair enthusiast, not a competitive runner, nor otherwise actively involved in the scene, this kinda analysis has to be seen for what it is. I follow a couple of sites, and click-through to blogs, reports and video’s that are mentioned, and my impression of what’s happening that emerges from that smorgasbord is what I share. Obviously says as much about me as about what’s happening. Mind you, that is true for most of what is out there. So don’t blame me.
Anyways, end of year is the traditional time for reviews, so several of my info sources publish something of the memorable-about-the-year-gone-by kind. Today Trailrunner magazine’s compilation of the 10 best stories of their weekly enewsletter appeared in my inbox. A couple of those resonated with what I had written, and added to them.
One was about the intriguing guy and his wife in the above video. Ticked the boxes of Fastest Known Times trend, but added the Only Known Time concept, and in general has a lot of very sensible things to say about running. He’s also at the forefront of pushing trailrunning distance limits (read his report on the first ever sixtuple Grand Canyon crossing). And he’s calling himself an ultrapedestrian because it’s all encompassing as far as forms and methods of motion go, and it’s a lot easier to say than run-walk-hike-jog-trek-and-occasionally-sit-for-a-few-minutes as a description of what Kathy and I do. And that blend is what I enjoy and what fascinates me. His argument for the need to balance competitive sport’s worship of speed with other aspects of the running experience, has been my own since many years – as is to be expected as I’m an even slower runner than he is.
What is telling is that he can be a sponsored athlete with this approach. What is also telling is that an elite runner like Lizzy Hawker, who has set an incredible FKT on a very long distance in 2013, is considering her own OKT for the first ever double of that route (Everest Base Camp to Kathmandu).
Now, as you should expect from me, next to participating in it, I also have reservations about this whole trend business. Trends is a tricky concept, because it depends so much on whose perspective one takes. Ultrarunning has got a long history and various forms of it have been rediscovered as a more or less popular sport several times over. Fastest Known Times have been around for a long time too. With the Bob Graham Round as maybe the best known example, but what does best known mean when FTK is now flaunted as a new trend…
Same is true for trailrunning in general. It may be relatively new in some places but in others it has a long and venerated history, but under a different name. The UK comes to mind again with its Fell running (which includes the Bob Graham Round):
There is not much trend that doesn’t have its predecessors, often under a different label, or not labelled at all. Another of the best pieces of 2013 was about the joy of the non-race, which is basically a description of people going out in groups running a nice trail. It’s about people valuing running with others – and actually talking with them – more, than beating them. Although it may be very true that these kinds of opportunities are now being organized as explicit alternatives, and they may involve larger, maybe even much larger numbers, the concept has been around for much longer.
I’ve written recently about what bothers me in how some trailrunning authorities talk about what it takes to be a successful ultratrail runner. That was a rant about a very limited list of specific personal qualities that one supposedly needs. Beyond that, even if the list would be much broader, the analytic lens applied would still be one of trailrunning as self-discovery (improvement even, but let’s not get into that). This totally obscures the social aspect. Yes, many run reports do mention the camaraderie, the shared exhilaration at the start and finish lines, the help and support received from fellow runners and volunteers when in trouble. But what I mean, and what the non-race “trend” highlights, is not that kinda social, but the social of talking, sharing, exploring your mind scape together on a run.
Running, but basically any physical activity, makes people open up, makes people accepting of those they share the experience with (having common ground – and in this particular case you know you’re with someone who loves doing what you love doing – is the first requirement for real discussion; and the physical exertion is a good antidote against destructive mind games), so it’s one of the few arena’s wherein it is fun to be around others who are not-of-your-kind in terms of opinions, and other normal day-to-day categories.
By way of concluding: a short video that is a nice illustration of the way running makes people open up (read this piece in the Guardian to find out about its making):