UTWT splits trail running opinion

Posted in Dishing the Dirt by Matt Ward on Mon 02 Sep '13

© www.ultratrailworldtour.com

The UTMB was a significant milestone in the evolution of world trail running. The performances by Xavier Thevenard and Rory Bosio were jaw dropping from a performance point of view…

I watched (along with thousands of trail fans around the world) the event unfold via social media – thanks to some great coverage on iRunFar and Talk Ultra – and was left with the sense that these two runners had taken global trail running to yet another level.

© www.tnfutmb.blogspot.co.uk

Rory Bosio

The two are also indicative of how trail running has evolved in the last few years – they (along with the likes of Kilian Jornet, Tim Olson, Emelie Forsberg, Sage Canaday, Anton Krupicka etc.) are part of the new school of trail runner, with that perfect blend of speed, endurance and technical ability.

The UTMB of 2013 was also significant from a sporting evolution standpoint too, as there followed a press conference on the Sunday, and the proposal of a whole new strand to the sport.

The Ultra-Trail® World Tour was unveiled to the media, with the objective of:

At the launch some the organisers of the following races were present to ally themselves to the Tour and announce their partnerships with the Tour:

Some top athletes were also present in the form of Anton Krupicka, Nuria Picas and Jez Bragg. (Though in this image from Bryon Powell those three don’t seem to be ecstatic at the launch!)

© Bryon Powell / iRunFar

The UTWT crew

So, what does this all mean for trail running events, the competitive element, race entry costs and so on? It is an interesting and emotive idea, and one thing is for sure, the community is split.

There certainly hasn’t been a universal excitement generated by the news, with many commentating that it will push up prices of the events (as each race will need to pay 15,000€ to be part of the series), lead to the ‘over racing’ of some of the top athletes, also excludes some other iconic world events which would inevitably mean that top athletes would have to make some difficult decisions on the races that they can and cant do.

One of the liveliest debates is over at this iRunFar posting. Some really like the idea of running in a event with such prestige e.g, “I look forward to the excitement this series brings to ultra running. Honestly, it is about time.”, and others are less enthusiastic, with observers commenting on:

With the universal growth of trail running, the interest in the sport from the big brands escalating, the elite competition aspect becoming more competitive and also more ‘global’, the UTWT was perhaps inevitable. We should expect ‘progress’. Whether we all want it or not, is almost immaterial – it’s happening. Whether it will be a sticker, or an expensive flash in the pan, remains to be seen.

Reactions so far
  1. James Sep 3, 07:34 AM

    As you mentioned above Matt, this is one of those inevitable moments in our sport. Personally, it always has been a pity that SO much emphasis is put on the racing element of trail running. It’s often almost a complete detraction from why we actually run trails in the first place. That being said though, it is of course the primary element that is bolstering the growth and development of the sport so like it or not, it certainly remains one of the most important factors in driving the sport’s future trends. To be honest, I do think that the idea has merit.

    My only concern comes from the slight (and I use this term loosely) exclusivity of such a tour.

    I quote one of the objectives you mentioned above:

    “Giving the opportunity to anyone to take part, troughout the years, in the most beautiful long distance trails of the world.”

    With the €15,000.00 price tag that an organiser must pay to have their event part of this series I believe renders many events and communities devoid from actually participating in such a series. I get it that the big brands will be able to support such monetary outlays, but €15,000.00 on top of their already potentially high sponsorships to events, may be the “straw that breaks the camels back” for many investors of the sport. Then what? Just because the event cant cough up the money, does this mean that it’s not recognised as a “true” ultra-trail event, fit for people to participate in? And when has it ever been a problem before to just simply enter the race of your choice if you want to run it?

    One last parting question, who actually benefits from the €15,000.00/event?

  2. Colin Wilson Sep 3, 01:20 PM

    Thank goodness for our unique brand of running in the UK (fell running) & in particular Scottish Hill Running. This sort of thing will never happen in our races where it will stay an amateur (in the best sense of the word) sport. Not enough coverage to provide rich pickings for the brands to make it worth their while getting involved & even the top quality athletes still have to work to earn a living. Running/training on trails is great when there are few others there & the solitude can be enjoyed but for racing you can’t beat the Scottish Hills.

  3. Carey Sep 5, 02:43 AM

    Good post and worthy topic of discussion.

    Disappointed in the ending though. This fatalistic cliche, “it’s progress, it doesn’t matter what we think, it doesn’t matter” really makes me sad. Sad that the cliche is so ubiquitous.

    If our opinion is so irrelevant, why motivate ourselves to write articles about it and comment on them?

    Come on, “progress” isn’t one single thing; it’s shaped by people and we are the people to help shape it. Enough of the fatalism please!

  4. Matt MST Sep 5, 06:49 AM

    Hi Carey

    Thanks for the post. Is this quote “it’s progress, it doesn’t matter what we think, it doesn’t matter” referring to something that I have written above? I havent used those words.

    I dont think I am being fatalist in the article I am trying to say that when initiatives like this are conceived they are open to debate, I put ‘progress’ in inverted commas as this concept will be progress for some and not for others. Sure we can help shape it, but many of the major decisions have been made by the UTWT team, and wont be open to debate by the masses.

    I agree though, as a collective the trail and mountain runners of the world can ‘vote with their feet’ as it were, and time will tell if this is to be a successful venture.


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