Disclaimer: my version of trendwatching is largely an effort to detect patterns in the echo chamber of my interests. I’ve written a couple of posts on trends in trailrunning, as well as various pretentious reflections on running in general (my blog is easily searched, so they’re not hard to find). The atrocious performance record of the trendwatching species is well known and doesn’t need further elaboration, but with the hedge that trends perceived are as much created by the searching eye as being ‘pre-existing’ realities, I feel I’ve sufficiently covered my ass to continue making a fool of myself while pretending to be intellectually honest.
Some trends that I have divined earlier in the entrails of the blogo/vlogo/magazine/ newsletter-sphere seem increasingly mainstream. E.g. the number of (former) elite runners going after Fastest Known Times seems so much on the rise that it appears to have become something you ‘naturally’ get involved in when racing is not your one and only (anymore). A corollary seems to be that ‘nobodies’ now get the attention they deserve when setting a remarkable FKT. Another one, that some FKTs start being talked about as achievements comparable to winning some pretty iconic races. Another (and related) trend is that ‘extreme’ is making special headway in the media: the Appalachian Trail (Scott Jurek, then Karl Meltzer), Running across America (Pete Kostelnick).
I appreciate the increased attention. But being the worrying type, I am wary of the copycat influence this mainstreaming may bring about. Extreme feats are mostly not very healthy feats. Through-hiking the AT is bound to be a deeply enriching experience and in principle feasible for many of us, but going for an FKT on such courses is not. Elite/professional sports comes with serious health risks. One needs to prepare in ways that are just not feasible for most with ‘normal’ lives, and one needs to be blessed with a ‘outlier’ body. And even then: keep track of the competitive trailrunning scene and it is difficult to overlook the high proportion of seriously injured athletes it produces.
Another observation would be that for extreme FTKs the devil is really in the detail. Mainstream media do mention that they are ‘supported’ (usually), ‘self-supported’ or ‘unsupported’ (unusually) but don’t dwell at the fundamentally different natures of these efforts. Beating the ‘record’ is what matters, not what the record represents. For discussions about this one still needs to go to niche discussion forums.
Anyways, this moves me to my next topic which is at the interface of my flirts with trendwatching and the philosophy of running. Because with the extreme FKTs, especially the self-supported/unsupported version we move into the conceptual corner of ‘fastpacking’. Such a smooth transition sits well with my musings about the fuzzy category of running, or ‘pedestrianism’. I’m under the distinct impression (but see disclaimer) that mainstream trailrunning media start acknowledging those fuzzy edges more. E.g. trailrunner Magazine recently included articles about the fastpacking of Andrew Skurka (who has also been on the podium of the Leadville100) and the rock climbing of Anton Krupicka (needs no intro). But even more important from my perspective is the visible effect that fast youngsters with a track and/or road running background entering trailrunning competitions are having on the mainstream trailrunning scene.
On running in general actually. Although it would be false to claim that road and track and trail have merged into one happy family, Big Running, e.g. Runnersworld now writes a lot, I mean a lot, about trailrunning races, gear, and technique, and mainstream trailrunning media are increasingly acknowledging the reality of a growing proportion of their reader and viewership not exclusively identifying themselves as ‘trailrunners’. Especially at the ultra part of the spectrum important (110k, 24 hrs, etc. world championships) and iconic (Spartathlon, Comrades) events are now regularly covered.
The last trend I divine is that of an increased appreciation for master records. The attention Ed Whitlock received for breaking the marathon world record for the 85 and older category was quite extraordinary.
All of the above trends are positive in my book. Their only limitation is that none of them question the focus on competition, records, reaching into the deep and often times dark recesses of one’s being. I am still waiting for any sign of pedestrian communion with the landscape as being recognized as an alternative/complementary way of moving about.