Trail/Ultra Runner vs Road Runner?

When I'm asked by a road runner after a race: "So what was your time?" my response is always: "My time? Oh I had a GREAT time!!!!"  They usually look at me incredulously, not sure of how to respond.

The post below is so hilarious and true I just had to put a link to it here. It is about road running from the point of view of a trail runner. Barry is a friend of Haliku's whom I've not yet met in person but whom I feel as if I already  know.   I felt exactly the same at all of the few road events I've ran.

We trail and ultra runners are a small close-knit family. Enduring great pain and overcoming impossible obstacles brings people together. We run WITH others, NOT AGAINST them. Elitism, arrogance and bravado are frowned upon.  Show us what you can do, don't tell us. Actions mean more than words. That includes not only how fast you run but also your attitude and how you treat others. Ultramarathoning is as much a philosophy as it is a distance.

That is why some of  those more well-known "ultramarathoners" who write books and always seem to be on TV are viewed suspiciously by many in the ultrarunning community. All of the elite ultramarathoners I know are among the most humble, supportive and generous people I've ever met. These are the true heroes of the sport, not those with book deals running high profile events scrambling for media attention.

There are so few of us trail/ultra runners that after a while, we all begin to know each other. If we don't, then odds are we have a mutual friend in common. When one of us does something great, we share their joy; when one of us is lost, we mourn.

Many of us run for similar reasons. For us it's all about the journey and what we learn from the experience. Having a great story to tell is an added bonus. Trail running and ultrarunning IS NOT and HAS NEVER been about the goody bag, being trendy, how you look or trying to show off to others.

As trail running becomes more popular and commercialized- I worry- will it lose it's soul and become trendy like road racing?  That's doubtful, its simply too challenging for the faint of heart and those following the crowd. Going mainstream is even more unlikely to happen with ultramarathoning.

As the saying goes: "Any fool can run a marathon, but it takes a special kind of fool to run an ultra."

What is most ironic is that for many of us, trail/ultra running not even all that much about the "running." Don't get me wrong: we wouldn't do it if we didn't love it. However, for us running is a tool to reach that which we seek- not an end unto itself. 

Whether in first or last place, every ultra finisher is a winner.

Check out Barry's blog, I'm still chuckling about it:

Dirt Bag versus Goody Bag, A Trail Runner’s Dilemma 

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7 responses

  1. Hysterical. Even as a road runner, I recognize the people he talks about. And I have been known to get excited when a goody bag actually has goodies in it, rather than papers advertising things.His post reflects my experiences at road races recently. Sadly the coordinated outfits and fancy shoes tend to also serve to intimidate those who are just starting out in the sport. I remember finishing a training run of 6 mile in a completely sweat soaked cotton tee, and having a gal in the parking lot tell me me, "Well, I only use technical shirts anymore…." Whatever. I had a good run. It's as if somehow the more expensive and spandex-y the clothing is the faster you will run, which of course is generally just the opposite.

    June 10, 2010 at 11:06 am

  2. Hi Tom really enjoyed this post, your input, Barry"s piece and Katiebells response.
    I just did a road race I ran the Stillwater Marathon in Minnesota. It was a beautiful course and I experienced many of the same things Barry did in his half. Just before the race I had a woman come up to us (my daughters first half and her friends as well) and tell us that it appeared the whole route was up hill and there were some very steep hills she had run it the year before.
    . It kind of upset my daughter and her friend who are from San Francisco and have been training on hills out there. I informed them that this woman from Wisconsin has a whole different concept of what a real hill is. There was one spot that I would consider a steep grade for about 100 yards
    I just took my time and thouroughly enjoyed the run and the scenery I was last in my age group and about 12 people came in after me. I dont care as long as I make the cutofftimes thats all that counts.
    I definatly love trail running more, I am not as extreme in my selection of races as Barry but being out on the trail for hours is what I love. As you can see by profile photo I am into color coordination but it is more of a theme than anything else as you well know.
    Well I am hoping to have some time to do some posting of my own on my blog site. I have been extremely busy. I just recieved an e-mail offering me a free spot in the Javalina Jundred because I won the costume contest last year. So I am giving some thought to that and I am hoping to attempt a Badwater solo out at Death Valley next year.
    thanks for some great reading I really enjoyed it.
    Steve O

    June 19, 2010 at 9:12 am

  3. It's unfortunate when some look down on others because they don't have coordinated colors or what not. It should never intimidate new comers to running but too often it does. Sometimes, it is not only new comers feel out of place by such attitudes.
    Of course, road runners certainly do not have a monopoly on such attitudes- I've seen it at the start of some of the shorter trail races I've ran. There are definitely humble and generous people in the road racing world and there are also self-important, egotistical ultramarathoners.
    I think what it boils down to is what is the reason you run in the first place?
    If you run to learn more about yourself, get physically fit, lose weight, connect with nature, enjoy the freedom of the trails or the road, learn how to overcome adversity, and/or spend time with others who enjoy running as much a you do- then you will more than likely be kind, open-minded and supportive of others no matter how fast or experienced of a runner you or they are and no matter what is your chosen event.
    On the other hand, there are those who run so that they can be part of the "in" crowd, to look good not for themselves but so they can more easily look down on others, to dress in color coordinated clothing, and to feel as if they are better than others who do not run or who do not run as fast or as far as they do. These are the ones who are more likely to be judgemental and critical of others who do not meet up to their standards.
    Such people (this certainly does not apply only to runners) rarely are happy or satisified with themselves. Perhaps they are deflecting their own unhappiness outwards by finding fault in others?
    As frustrating as it can be to relate to such people, when it comes down to it, I feel sorry for them. They will never experience running for the sheer joy of it or the ecstasy of a life lived simply and well.
    This is why I one of my favorite things to do is introduce new people to running and ultrarunning. My hope is to share some of the joy I experience routinely while out on the trails. And you definitely do not have to run 50 miles to find that feeling.
    Even if someone never runs a race or crazy long distances- anyone can be an ultrmarathoner in spirit and attitude. It's all about the journey and how far you've come. And I'm not talking about how many miles run.

    June 20, 2010 at 1:42 pm

  4. Thanks for reading and sharing your thoughts. You are right- last is still finished. I had a great race at Laurel Highlands last week. Once I get a spare moment, I'll post my report.
    So you might do Javelina again? I enjoyed my time there but there are so many ultras and so little time- it hard to do the same race over again. I'm pretty sure I'd come back to Arizona to run again but perhaps another ultra instead? If you know of any other ultras that would be good to do in AZ besides Javelina that you might want to do, let me know. I'm pretty sure I could talk Haliku into running down there.
    If your interested in trying an "easy" hundred, there is Lean Horse Hundred here in late August. I just sent in my registration. We live about an hour from the start in Hot Springs. You'd be welcome to stay with us.
    So you're thinking of doing Badwater? Are you going to do this as part of the race or do it solo just on your own? Do you need any crew? With enough time and notice, I enjoy coming out to help out.
    I'm so darn slow that I'm finally realizing that some of the tougher more competitive events I might not realistically ever be able to finish under cut-off even if I could do the actual distance.
    That's what happened at Laurel. I was doing great but didn't have enough time to make up for the time lost after struggling through the heat of the afternoon. Still, I take pride in knowing that I made it to the 53.2 mile checkpoint whcih is much farther than many others got. I was pulled from the race due to missing a cut-off by 5 minutes instead of voluntarily dropping (there is a big difference).
    I was one of the very last runners to drop. By the time I was cut, about 50% of the other runners had already dropped out of the race in the miles behind me.
    I only had 24 miles to go and know I would have finished. Although I would have preferred being allowed to run the full 77 miles, I understand the reason for having cut-off times. Making it as far as 53.2 miles on a hot and humid day is certainly nothing to be ashamed of. There is no dishonor in literally doing two marathons back-to-back on single track hiking trails duirng a difficult day. At least I didn't quit. I stopped because they told me I had to. There is a difference.
    I'm thinking that in races I'd really like to do but which I'd be unlikely to finish because of the cut offs, I might just run the course on my own or with a couple of friends.
    Running outside of the official race means I would not get a finisher's medal, tech shirt or name printed in Ultramarathon magazine but really who cares about that?
    In a personal race consisting of just one person, I'd be in both first and last place. I'd win my age group. Best of all, I would never have to worry about making any cut-off times. I'd have all the time I needed. My reward would be the sheer joy of having done it.
    Heck, if getting a shirt was so important to me (it isn't), I could order some custom tech shirts to commemorate the occasion.

    June 20, 2010 at 2:13 pm

  5. If you are looking into races in Arizona, there is Across the Years 24-48-72 hours. This race has the great advantage that you can never be pulled for missing a cutoff, it's strictly you against the clock.Last time there, I did see a stuck-up runner, who was making fun of another runner and who quit when he figured he wasn't going to win the race. But I also saw an injured John Geesler, who refused to give up and continued to hobble around the track at 2MPH. Furthermore, he spent a lot of time going around with a 7 year old, and talking up a storm. That's not what you expect from a past winner of the 72 hour race. Guess who I admire more, Geesler or the stuck-up runner? No contest.

    June 21, 2010 at 3:33 pm

  6. Across the Years is a great race but difficult to get into from what I understand. It is very popular.
    For myself I get too bored with going around and around the same track for hours. Nothing against those that do, much of the appeal of trail running is being out on the trail experiencing the solitude and the natural environment.
    I sent my Javalina application in today. I agree with you Tom that there are so many races I rarely find myself running the same on twice unless I am coming back to finish one I didnt complete before. It is difficult for me to turn down a free entry fee to a race that in my home town. It doesn't get much better than that, the entry fee is now $250 if you don't register early. I am not 100% sure of actually running the whole thing but at least I have the option depends on how much time I have to train. If I do, it will be run against the cutoff demon again I am sure.
    Also I appreciate the offer to stay at your place and I may take you up on it next year if the offer still stands. Of course the offer to stay at my place is extended to you should you decide to come and do anything here in the Phoenix or AZ area. Haliku too.
    As far as doing your own personal race, that is what I may being doing at Badwater next year. I am sure with all the crewing I have done at the official BW race that I could get into the lineup now, but I think I am going to opt for the Solo in the spirit of Al Arnold the first person to do the distance. The official race has a 60 hour cut off which I am confident I could make it but I think I am going to try a solo. If I do I would love to have you on the crew, not only to have you as part of the team but my wife would feel so much better with someone with medical experience who also has substantial ultra running experience on the team as well. Right now I have two people who have committed if I attempt it I would love to have you on the team as well just think about it. I have not made a final commitment myself at this point I am kind of just tossing it out there and thinking about it.You could do some pacing or not. Pacing is left up to the crew members, one does as much as one wants to or doesnt want to. So think about.
    As usual enjoyed your posts and I will be in touch.

    June 21, 2010 at 4:35 pm

  7. Yes, I've wondered about Across the Years. I am certainly more of a trail runner. However, the few timed events I did, I enjoyed because there were no cut-offs, only a race against the clock.

    June 21, 2010 at 7:47 pm

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