Canadian Running Magazine online recently published an article about the participant limit typical in many ultramarathons. The article had two themes- 1) field limits should be increased if the same protected land is used for something like logging, and 2) more of the available slots should be designated for elite ultrarunners.
I completely agree with the first point. If government agencies are limiting fields to protect the environment, don’t lease the land to companies that will do far more destruction to the same land!!!
My friend Vanessa made a point on Facebook about field size- she enjoys smaller crowds on the trail. I agree. I don’t necessarily want the field limits to be eradicated. I would rather see more protected land… well, protected. Grow some balls, government agencies. Don’t let corporations exploit our few remaining natural habitats!
I completely disagree with the second point. The author used Western States as an example. I regularly hear the same criticisms from other sources. It hit home because I ran WS in 2011. It was an amazing experience. I strongly believe any ultrarunner that has a reasonable chance of finishing the race (by qualifying for WS) should have a chance to run WS.
First, Western States (and many other ultras with lotteries) has methods that allow elites to gain entry. The first and second place male and females in the nine Montrail Cup races get an automatic entry. Also, the top ten male and female finishers of the previous year get automatic entries. That’s up to 56 possibilities for elites to get in. FIFTY-SIX! Think you’re an elite ultrarunner and bitch about the lottery? If you can’t win (or place second) in one of the NINE Montrail Cup races, you’re probably not an elite. Go train more.
Second, I REALLY dislike the idea of races being limited to elites. It just feels like a douchey concept. It’s not elite, it’s elitist. Ultrarunning is one of the few sports where the elites and the people that finish last can hug, talk about their shared suffering, then drink a beer in celebration. Do we really want to draw a definite line between the god-like elites and the “commoners?” Look at sports like road running or triathlons. The animosity between the winners and last place finishers in those sports is toxic. Suggesting that the middle and back-of-the-packers don’t deserve a chance to run an event should disgust anyone that’s been around our sport for awhile.
Part of what makes Western States special is the variety in the field. Yes, it’s great watching those 50+ elites battle it out for the win. However, I disagree that it’s the defacto US championship. It’s a lot like the Indy 500… the winner gets a lot of press, but they’re not crowned the Indy champion. The real beauty, though, is watching the rest of the 400+ runners experience the magic that is Western States. To me, that’s what ultrarunning is all about.
I’d love to see an actual championship race pitting hundreds of the best ultrarunners in the world. An event like this should be specifically designed as a championship, though. The Mont Blanc system described in the CRM article would be an adequate culling system to determine the entrants. Make the course tough (Western States is relatively easy). Use the current USATF 100 mile trail championship rules. Bring in sponsors. Televise it on Spike. Open up betting in Vegas (I’d totally put some money on my favorites). THAT would be a true championship.
What are your thoughts?