The Long View
What a year it has been. I want to thank everyone who has supported UltraRunning magazine through our transition, which has been an ongoing process since June. Tia and the rest of our team have pulled together to overcome challenges while also developing and implementing improvements to the magazine and our infrastructure. We have a roster of eight strong columnists, there is a new digital version of the magazine, we have launched a new website and we have improved our subscription renewal process. We appreciate your patience and support, and our entire team looks forward to bringing you increasingly relevant, helpful, and entertaining coverage, in print and online. We hope you enjoy this Ultrarunner of the Year issue, and make sure to check out our shoe review to help get you in the right kicks for 2014.
Year-end 2013 also marks the end of another huge year of change and growth in our sport. More ultra races than ever, more finishers than ever, course records broken and amazing performances in all portions of the age spectrum. Be sure to check out all of the stats beginning on page 28. In a frankly stunning sign of the times, both Ultrarunners of the Year for 2013 ran their first ultra in, get this, 2012. That was last year.
This leaves me wondering, how can we get our head around this growth and change in the sport we love? Adam Chase, President of the American Trail Running Association and Salomon’s Trail Team Captain, framed the history and evolution of the sport recently at a presentation at The Running Event in Austin, Texas. He identified four generations of ultrarunning, roughly as follows: the first generation were the pioneers – these folks were tough, independent individuals, who were “out there” literally – hello, Gordy. They ran with maple syrup bottles and canteens for hydration on courses that had never been run, weren’t always marked and had no aid stations.
The second generation brought more organized races and structure to the sport, symbolized by David Horton, who did everything from the Appalachian Trail, and Race Across America (that’s a 3,000 miler…), to Barkley, in addition to smoking ultra races like the JFK 50. In his spare time, Horton conceived and organized new races and mentored younger faster ultrarunners. This generation saw the emergence of new products, like GU and S!Caps. Ann Trason and Tim Twietmeyer led us through that generation into the third, with fast younger runners at the front, more women, new customized products, “sponsored” runners who got free shoes, and the emergence of race series like Montrail Ultra Cup – hello, AJW. And UltraRunning magazine, which started in 1981 as a journal of the sport and the only place to find race results, went from blackand- white photos to color in 2007.
Which brings us to our current, fourth generation. A booming sport, races selling out, new races emerging everywhere and several new race series for 2014. With new products, brands and innovations just for ultrarunners. The elites are seeing more prize money and real sponsorships and they globe-hop to compete on all continents and epic terrain. At the same time, every ultra race seems to have more and more first time finishers, who get a taste of ultrarunning and usually want to come back for more. And we all know there are few places on earth better than the finish line and post-race party at an ultra, where we celebrate, happy that it’s over but also with the lingering thought, “Hey, maybe I could do that again, only faster…”
Ironically, this fourth generation of ultrarunning is fueled in all respects by technology, whether it is race websites, on-line results databases, GPS data, blogs and more than anything, social media. The emergence of iRunFar brings us real-time coverage of major ultras, in-depth video interviews of the elites and more. It is inevitable that the fifth generation will include professional ultrarunners and increased commercialization of the sport. Maybe a dedicated TV network? Naturally the growth and change makes us wonder and worry about the future of our sport. Look no farther than marathons and the “marathon majors” to get a sense of where we may be heading.
But it’s at times like these that it is more important than ever that the underlying values of our sport remain in place and guide us on the path forward. All of you know what it means to share, support and contribute to create our community. This means the little things like encouraging other runners during a race, picking up a piece of garbage we see on a trail, detouring from an A-race to help another runner in need, sharing with new ultrarunners at the postrace event and embracing the spirit that the last runner is just as important as the first. These are the values that create our community and make ultrarunning so special and worthwhile for all of us. Our culture is the combined values of every ultrarunning participant. What you do matters, a lot, and together our values and positive attitudes can insure that growth is indeed good for our sport.
Having met and interviewed our two ultrarunners of the year, “newbies” each, I can assure you that our sport is in good hands. Rob Krar and Michele Yates are both very humble, friendly and thoughtful individuals who respect and embody the traditions of ultrarunning and its community. As Tropical John Medinger recently said in this magazine, these are indeed the good old days, enjoy them and do your part to lead the sport forward. Here’s to a great 2014! Karl
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