The world lost an incredible mother, wife, daughter, friend, attorney, underprivileged advocate, and community member suddenly and unexpectedly on October 16, 2013. In honor of my late wife, Holli Wallace, I am training for the Hallucination 100 mile trail run and raising money for the Children's Grief Center of the Great Lakes Bay Region.

My training progress

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

The ultrarunning culture

I will be glad when this semester is over. Only about one more month.

First of all, good luck to Dave and Lauren, who will be running in Boston. That's a great accomplishment.

Also, good luck to Toni who will be running the London Marathon soon. She's done a great job raising money for assistance dogs. You can check out her blog and donate money to this excellent cause here.

So, I use "running culture" as an example in classes sometimes and it makes me wonder about running identities. I read the other day in Ultrarunning magazine that just over 1,800 people completed 100 mile runs last year. That is approximately 0.000006 of the US population. I find this fascinating because the sense I have is that the ultrarunning community really likes to exist as a fringe activity (i.e. something that not many people do). This isn't to say that running 100 miles requires more or less dedication or training then fast marathoners or even those preparing for their first marathon. In fact, someone on the ultrarunning listserve noted that many 100 mile runners don't run much more than 40 miles per week so I'm not sure it is fair to say that the training is more rigorous or difficult (note that people who run 40 miles/week aren't the ones who win ultramarathons--just complete). So, while some argue that people are driven to the "challenge," I think this overlooks the very subjective nature of challenges.

I certainly enjoy the exotic nature of the sub-sport and like the fringe identity. Importantly, I think this fringe character and small number of participants has created a different culture. There is an emphasis on challenging oneself, rather than challenging other people--you see this in race reports that emphasize completion rates, rather than first, second, and third places. Everyone who finishes the race (or in some cases finishes under 24 hours) gets a medal (or belt buckle). There are fascinating variations, such as the Plain 100, whose rules are simple: You receive nothing from anyone. Water comes from streams or lakes. Despite my fascination with gadgets, there is an elegant simplicity to that which I appreciate. Consider also that everyone who runs an ultramarathon has their name appear in the same magazine. Sure, winners are noted and such athletes are and should be admired. Still, everyone is in there.

The number of people who completed 100 mile run increased in 2007 and I expect will increase in 2008. While I look forward to helping those numbers increase, I do wonder as to how this will change the character of the sport.


dirtdawg50k said...

I think that there is an ebb and flow to the sport. Those that gravitate to it after trying marathons and think that they are too short will be the ones that will stick around. Others will do it once merely to have a notch on their belt, another story to tell. Whatever the case, I know in my short ultra career that I have had more fun @ ultras than at marathons!

dht said...

Thanks for the good wishes.

It's interesting to reflect on the ultra and road running cultures. I think the increasingly populist nature of road and trail running is a huge benefit to the sport. As the running press and charity fund raisers like Team in Training make distance events available to more people, running's current explosion will be its biggest. The marathon (and soon the ultramarathon) are transforming from freakish athletic events into democratic fitness celebrations. Although we all like to feel a part of an exclusive group, it's hard not to be excited about so many people committing to health and exercise.

Ultra'thoner said...

This is a great summary of the "fringe" culture of ultrarunning. I gravitated to the sport specifically because it was not like the more competitive traditional road races.

I, too, wonder what will happen as ultrarunning becomes more popular.

Best of luck on your running and your blogging.