All good things will come to an end with time and some of the most cherished moments will be forever found in the fading glimpses of memory. There is beginning to be a large discussion regarding the growing population of professional and amateur media people over populating the larger trail running races in what so far is still considered a niche sport, that is the sport of ultra marathon trail running. Many videos are available online from professional production sites as well their YouTube channels which is of extremely high quality to the amateur posting a cell phone video on their YouTube channel or social network site. These videos as well as the over all growing media exposure of the sport is introducing more people to the sport, which can be a good thing and sometimes maybe not.
There are many reasons for trail runners to escape to the shadows of the “fringe” sport of ultra distance trail running, the main thing being a lack of crowds, races typically have far fewer participants, less expensive entry fees and still have a grass roots feel about them that many find very appealing. As the sport slowly grows and with the increasing awareness of the sport things are happening that are beginning to impact the sport directly and media presence at race events is beginning to become a concern that is being addressed by professional (elite) and amateur competitors. Crowds of videographers can be found at races crowding around waiting to get footage of an elite running superstar, running along with them and in the process possibly becoming a hazard to the competitor and bystanders as well.
But this issue of the running media is more of a separate issue all together and the conversation of reducing or limiting the impact of all media formats during a race along the trail is definitely already in the mix of proactive discussion. My greater concern is the affect all this attention will have on the sport as a whole, will it be good for the sport or will it like many things with to much attention be absorbed into the mainstream and left to be pounced upon by commercialization like sharks at a feeding frenzy. Running, road bicycling and to an extent sport rock climbing were all considered a fringe sport at one time, not so much anymore. Sport climbing is still on the boarder of full blown commercialization with climbing gyms popping up in nearly every town with a larger active lifestyle population and the local climbing crags are slowly becoming over populated like surfers at the beach sitting on their boards out in the line up waiting for a wave.
A while back in the early 80’s there were a group of guys in Marin County who decided it would be fun to take their heavy junk beach cruisers and run ride them on the trails of their local hills. This caught fire so fast that many suffered from major whiplash from the seemingly instantaneous commercialization of the sport. I myself am a product of that commercialization and media onslaught that brought awareness to many of us looking for a new outlet from which to get out there and try something different to meet our active lifestyle needs. I bought in instantly, it was the late 80’s and there were only a handful of companies producing mountain bikes at the time and even fewer small craft companies who were producing handmade bikes to meet the needs of a small market that was growing very quickly.
In no time at all, by 1991 the scene had exploded with multiple MTB magazines, an insane amount of aftermarket equipment companies came out of the woodwork, bike manufacturers were everywhere, clothing lines focused on the MTB rider, you name it the sport had exploded they even had their own governing body for mountain bike racing N.O.R.B.A. the National Off Road Bicycle Association. Within ten years from the time those guys were taking their junkers up to the hills of Marin the sport had blossomed into a mainstream sport. Now what of Ultra trail running?
What fate of this much beloved sport will befall it to the hands of the ever increasing media awareness, some good and some negative I am sure. Surprisingly this sport has lived in obscurity for over 40 years before this wave of awareness has swelled unlike the fledgling world of mountain biking but still, can ultra trail running handle such a mass market increase in popularity? Will it sour what many believe the essence of the sport is, that being many things to each person but for me it’s a blend of oneness with the world around me in nature, being able to run for crazy distances alone or with a couple of others along a trail, of being a part of a unique sport with a unique family of people who share a love for a world that is still as of yet left uncluttered.
I don’t have the answers, but I do have questions and questions bring awareness to the issues as they grow before the problem can’t be addressed with success any longer. Growth of a sport is usually a good thing, but how the sport grows is what I believe is important and insuring the standard of quality of the sport remains even as companies begin chasing the almighty dollar and try cashing in on the sport while dragging the masses along with them into the sport. Only time will tell what direction this sport I love will take and having seen many “fringe” sports lose everything that made them special to begin with as their popularity grew. I shiver with the thought of this quiet, beautiful eloquent sport becoming just another sport that is taken for granted by people who only look at the bigger things in the world and don’t know what it means to be 5 or 6 hours into a training run and come to a stop because the sun just crept through the trees lighting the most amazing light on the most beautiful purple flowers along the trail. That’s my world.