Big Fancy Running Purses

Hey!  Look at me!  I'm joining the Trail Runner Magazine Blog Symposium!  And so can you! They're starting up a new attempt to build community among trail runners and ultrablogathoners by tossing out a question for midpack-class heroes to ruminate on publicly, and then promoting some of their favorite entries.  Personally, I like this kind of thing, because there's a lot of information to curate on the internet, and while it's easy to find the blogs of the fast or remarkable athletes, it's basically impossible to sort through Google and find good blogs by other, more pedestrian runners like myself.  Also, it's clear that many, many people need to hear what I have to say, and there's a remote possibility that Trail Runner might link to my blog on their page, making me famous.  Somehow this is all going to end with me swimming through a gold-filled money bin.

Their first writing prompt: Is the introduction of bigger prize purses at trail races a positive or negative thing over all?

Personally, I have to admit that I'm ambivalent about these big prize purses, like at the Ultra Race of Champions, where they're giving out $20,000 to various fast people this year.  I used to think that the word "ambivalent" meant something like "I don't really care" or "meh", but it actually means something more like "I have multiple strong feelings that conflict with each other".  That's the way that I'm using the term here.  Basically, I really do want the top trail and ultra runners to be recognized for what they are - some of the most amazing athletes on the planet - and compensated appropriately for the hours of hard work they put in training.  But I don't want them to become rich, famous a-holes.

I, and I would imagine many people, love trail running in part because of the small, close-knit community that allows the slowest of DFLers to hang out with elites at pretty much every event, and fosters a sense of camaraderie and shared struggle between the front and back of the pack.  I have to think that exists, at least in part, because we're all pretty much amateurs with day jobs.  In the current set up, when they're promoting their sponsors, people like Hal Koerner go to local shoe stores and go on runs with like 10 people and are super nice to everyone.  I don't want to see a day where Hal's promotional runs amount to hopping off of a private jet in a North Face cape and running through a crowd of adoring groupies en route to Hard Rock.  And as it is, Ellie Greenwood eats at the same $8 spaghetti feeds as the rest of us the night before races.  I don't want to hear stories about her going to  private clubs with Dennis Rodman and dropping $10k on Cristal in Vegas the night before Western States.  Right now, trail runners don't tend to worry about things like performance enhancement and contract disputes, because there's generally not enough money in the sport to warrant blood doping or, well, contracts.  And plus, when people get rich and famous, everything changes.  They start to wear clothes that the rest of us can't afford or understand, and we all start to act weird around them.  I read some of the comments on uber-climber Alex Honnold's Facebook page the other day, and it's creepy - nothing but jealous haters, strangers asking him to come to their house when he's in town, and women  making thinly veiled sexual propositions.  The rich and famous end up sectioned off from the rest of us - for their own protection and sanity, and I'd guess because that's what always happens when social classes form.  That's not trail running! 

But let's be honest - I should stop being such a crazy jerk about this stuff.  People who are awesome at this sport deserve to make money from it - a lot of money even!  It would be ridiculous to be thinking in terms of the numbers involved in the major team sports in the US - trail running's not getting there in this life - but currently, we have the equivalent of Olympic level talent scrapping for $500 purses and free Udo's Oil.  Wouldn't it be better for our sport (and hence all of us) if these folks could make at least middle class wages from racing, and focus on training and competition rather than opening running stores to pay the bills? They motivate the rest of us, function as ambassadors for the trails we all love, and help draw other runners to great events.  And because of the nature of the races on single-track, we're likely always going to have a good number of small events that allow for some level of mingling with fast runners.  If we're nice to them, maybe they'll share their Cristal. 


Anonymous said…
Hi Tim,
I generally agree with your sentiments. I really doubt we will get to the point where Ultrarunners get rich and hang out with Dennis Rodman (didn't he befriend the new North Korean leader recently?)
The recent introduction of some legit prize money has drawn a lot of new athletes into the sport. Athletes who would otherwise have most likely stuck to the Marathon. People like Max King and Sage Canaday.
I do not think that performance enhancing drugs are as big an issue in ultra running as they are in marathoning, but I doubt that we have a 100% clean sport, especially when you include the European scene and Comrades in South Africa.
Had to laugh when I saw your comments on Alex Honnold... I've had my share jealous haters, and while not receiving in-home invitations from strangers, I do get quite a number of FB friend requests from strangers. Have not gotten any "thinly veiled sexual propositions", though!!!

Unknown said…
Hey Uli - you can stay at our house if you need to, and re: the sexual propositions, your wife must be more intimidating than Honnold's girlfriend.
Angel said…
Is $20,000 really going to make an ultrarunner rich and famous anyway? That would just marginally cover their juicing bills.

Uli-you're welcome at our place any time you visit Capitol Hill. Let's leave it at that.

Anonymous said…
"...having a day job" is a key point. I think there should be a different class of prize money for the "amateurs" who hold down real jobs and run too. No doubt I could cut a couple minutes off my mile time if I had more time to train. Or maybe it isnt even money, but cool swag that is awarded to that category since the pro runners need the money more and get plenty of swag?
Unknown said…
That's a good thought - especially once Western States gets its NBC deal and the purses really start to pick up. (Ironman ended up being high stakes in a relatively short amount of time - it does seem like it would be possible for some of these big events to be giving out real money sometime within the next 20 years.)

Similar to your thought, I like the idea of amateur/unsponsored runners racing for sponsorships (even if it's just a supply of gear, gels, or whatever) at races.