Being new to the sport of trail running and ultras (The latter of the two I’m typically spectating) I have come to discover a phenomenon I call the ‘Ultra Copout’. What is it? Well, this quote I’ve heard quite frequently sums it up “I just love running in the mountains.” To put it into context, it’s a phrase I’ve encountered numerous times while chatting to athletes pre or post race. It’s generally the reply to my questioning what their goal is or was in the event. Yes, for those at the back of the field this might well be the case. But for the front end and those dedicating all their free time to training, you’re just full of shit.
Why I see this as a copout stems from years of competitive track running. There’s no hiding. No blaming illness or poor race preparation for your performance. You toe the line, you’re there to race and your performance will be judged by you and your peers on the merits of your time or place in the field….and you’re only as good as your last performance. But when it comes to the ultra scene there’s a whole lot of people going round saying “I’m just here for some fun in the mountains”. But the reality is, if you’re one of these so called purists (Such a wanker term) who say they just love to run on the trails, then why enter competitive races? Save the entry fee and use it for a night’s accommodation so you can “Play in the mountains” some more.
What’s really annoying are the aspirations of mediocrity that seem to permeate the ultra scene. There are a few hard men and women that put it out there and openly say they’re here to race for the win. Winning can be defined as the obvious – placing first – or in more general terms such as running a PB for a course. But there are many of the so-called ‘elite’ that hide behind a thinly veiled facade of being there for the love of it. If that were the case you wouldn’t train your ass off and suffer rain, hail or shine. That attitude will rarely get you a win. But then again, wait a minute, in ultra running just finishing is celebrated and if you’re top ten, then you’re a rock star. Yep, crossing the finish line is an achievement, especially if you’re a first timer. But if you’re an experienced campaigner then your training is geared towards the effort you’re about to partake in, so getting to the end should be expected, not respected. What’s more, the whole recognition of the top five to 10 in a race is a lovely gesture, but that doesn’t breed champions and it’s champions that inspire and raise the standard of competition.
Sometimes a performance can be put into context. Yes, some runners do use the occasional event as a stepping-stone. But when you lose, don’t say you’re building up for something bigger. Because I know if you won you’d probably not mention it. Similarly, some races you do for fun, because you feel obliged to or you planned on doing it properly but something meant you couldn’t prepare accordingly. When either of these are the case, stand in the middle of the pack at the start line, then smile and laugh your way through it.
While this article is being highly critical of people and the sport, the above is a judgement of the serious runners out there. Not the battlers that are in it to tackle a huge physical challenge. Nor those that simply want to keep the weight off or share a special experience with their friends. This article is aimed at those out there that are genuinely in it to win it. Those that celebrate their victories and hide behind hippie bullshit when they don’t perform. It’s the runners that stand at the front of the start line, don’t win and then say how much they loved playing on the trails that need to take a long hard look at themselves – and it seems as though there’s many of you out there.