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.