The culture and nature of trail running is being bought out and sabotaged
A short piece on the denigration of a pure sport
I’m cheating this week; I wrote this short piece a couple of months back for the magazine ‘Trail Running’ in the UK. A friend emailed me a link to a race that is going to be held in the mountains of Scotland, in which the runners are treated like pompous royalty. Upon reading about the profligate experiences the runners would be paying sixteen-thousand pounds sterling for, I almost spontaneously combusted.
“Cause lately I've been thinking of combustication
As a welcome vacation from
The burdens of
The planet Earth.”
For those residents of the United Kingdom, and those that are keen runners, you can pick up the magazine, with this piece, on the second Thursday in November.
Ultra-trail running has been connected to the wild landscape of the British Isles for centuries and has particularly strong roots amongst the deceptively perilous Munros of Scotland and testing fells of North England. Indeed, the unforgiving nature of the environs is what appeals to daring runners - a taste of the wild and a chance to test one's mettle.
Fell races are renowned for their simplicity and down-to-earth pedigree. A runner can arrive in the early morning – likely after enjoying a beverage or two in the local pub the night before – pay a small entry fee, and engage in an elemental pursuit with their compatriots that is quintessentially egalitarian. Upon completion of the race, if they're lucky, they'll be rewarded with orange squash. One could almost forget that not too long ago in this country, the pleasure of the great outdoors was reserved for a privileged few.
But trail running is changing. The ubiquity of social media and the increasing practice of one-upmanship is a perfect storm to fan the flames of the wannabe adventurer's ego. The sport has experienced exponential growth in popularity and is now attracting a new kind of runner: the Monday-to-Friday city trader who gallivants around the country by the weekend, unwilling to bask in the muddy pain of it all and requiring aristocratic entitlements. This new runner demands a slice of the sport reserved for him and his kin only.
At a time when many of us wish to increase participation of the marginalised and underrepresented, new events, such as Highland Kings "An endurance adventure with a Royal seal of approval" with an entry price of £16,000, are cropping up to cater to this mollycoddled runner. Self-proclaimed "luxury events" like this are resurrecting the outdoors-for-the-privileged mentality.
The event’s race director has even managed to cajole Sir Ranulph Fiennes into providing a testimonial. This is the same Sir Ranulph Fiennes who lost the tips of his fingers to frostbite in Antarctica - a risk unlikely for those "warriors" partaking in the Highland Kings ultramarathon who will dine on food prepared by Michelin-starred chefs and sleep in opulent campsites.
As custodians of ultra-running, we must have a conversation to determine if there's a place for this sort of extravagance in our sport; providing an outlet for the wealthy to live out their fantasies whilst denigrating the true spirit of ultra-marathon running.