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I remember very clearly, back a few years ago (2008), the fiasco that had become the Ultracentric races in McKinney Texas. A race that was offering up cash prizes to places first through third, and a bonus $7,000 to anyone who set a new American Record in their 24-Hour event. If you were a first time Ultracentric participant, you could add another $1000 to the prize money should you win any. And $4000 to anyone who sets an American record in the 48 hour. The race itself, was advertised as a certified USTF 1 Mile Loop. The loop had a slight uphill on the west side, and a slight down hill on the east side, for a net change of nine and one half feet per loop.
At the conclusion of the event, I remembered writing on my personal blog about the disappointing weekend. I offered my thoughts, “With all of this prize money, you would expect that the race had its act together. Unfortunately, the reports from McKinney, TX this past weekend are not great. In fact, they are highly disappointing where many of our countries top ultra-runners are calling the RD out and demanding explanations.” What was the disappointment? A few short hours into the race, Scott Jurek had reported 3,500′ of elevation gain on his GPS watch, which left runners wondering how a 9.5′ hill could add up to 3,500′ in such a short time. How about these names; Scott Jurek, Nikki Kimball and Tony Mangan? They all dropped from the race based on this discrepancy alone, citing that they had been lied to.
To top it all off, none of the front runners received any prize monies that weekend in Texas. Not for first, second or third place performances in any distance category. Another runner bought various items from the race website, souvenirs to bring home to family and friends. When they ordered the items they checked that they would pick them up at the races sponsor expo. Upon arriving at the race, their purchased items were nowhere to be found. No refund would be given they never saw neither the product or reimbursement.
Why do I bring this up now, some 4 years after the event? Because I am surprised that 4 years later, a similar history has repeated itself in our ultra-world. The comments that are to follow may seem controversial to some, I’m fine with that. As a veteran runner in our sport, I feel the need to share my thoughts on this subject, much like the many that did post Ultracentric in 2008. Back then, many runners called for the head, of the RD, for Ultracentric. They called him a crook, a phony, a fake.. and a liar.
This past weekend was the first running of the Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, CO. This year marked the 6th running of the 50-mile event, but the first year for the organizers 100 miler. I was there a year ago, toeing the line for the 50 miler where the RD for the race got the ball rolling for his idea of a Steamboat 100 Miler, furnished with a huge cash prize for the front runners. I remembered writing post race, “A runners race for sure. Put on by runners for runners. … From start to finish, this race has a grass roots feel to it right down to the very runners who par-take in it. It is unfortunate that they’re talking about adding a 100 next year and making it a trail running “championship” complete with prize money. They have a beautiful thing going on up in Steamboat that is surely going to suffer with the change. For now.. it’s one hell of a great race and a great time.”
Last year, it took 90 volunteers to put on the 50 mile race in Steamboat Springs. With the weather we had that weekend, I vocally wondered how the heck they could possibly put on as quality a 100 miler as the 50. I wondered how, in a risk-management world, they could pull it off if the weather was bad, or how they could even evacuate runners in the event of medical emergencies (It’s not easy). And I wondered why they needed prize money to do it. It seemed as though they scrounged up the 90 volunteers they had last year, how would they scrounge up enough for a 100 mile race as well?
Over the last few months, The Run Rabbit Run 100 became a topic of much contention in our ultra-society. Folks argued back and forth if the prize money was needed, or fair. Many for, many against. After all, when I joined this sport in the Northeast back in 2005, the person who came in last got the same award as the person who came in first. And this was the tradition because “folks who finished last, trained and worked just as hard as those who came in first.” Now we’ve managed to make it our time and place to determine that the front runners have trained $100,000 harder than the back of the packers and they should be awarded for it. But here’s the thing…
This race was promoted with a chest thumping that needed to be followed-through. A $100,000 cash prize that they didn’t even have from the beginning. Over the last 9 months, only $40,000 in prize money was raised, and $10,000 of that came from the Race Directors pocket. A lot of people were “hoping” that our cultures big name sponsors were going to step forward and offer up a large portion of the money, but that never happened. Much, if not all, of each participants entry fees were put into the prize money pot. Which brings up a big question to ultra-running, is the idea of Prize Money for Front Runners (and for big name sponsors in our sport), still ahead of it’s time?
The fact of the matter is that once again, as with Ultracentric in 2008, runners (of all speeds), based their summers racing and training plans around a big race that promised big returns. And the race…. disappointed them. There was no $100,000 cash prize in Steamboat this weekend. Parts of the course were not-marked, other parts mis-marked. Aid stations were in the wrong places, and others torn down before established cut-off times. Cut-offs were then eliminated during the race, and many runners were never even notified. The 100 mile course, was nearly 112 miles all told… So I go back to a question I asked at the end of last year’s 50 Miler… “I wondered how, in a risk-management world, they could pull it off..” They didn’t. Or another question I asked after the 2008 Ultracentric, “With all of this prize money, you would expect that the race had its act together. Unfortunately, the reports from McKinney, TX this past weekend are not great.” This weekend’s reports from Steamboat were not great either.
So this year the question is… is this idea of prize money and mega sponsors… ahead of it’s time?
Now.. can we please get back to running, being a community, and celebrating the back of the pack the same way that we celebrate the front? Let’s focus on the quality race… from top to bottom.. instead of the big payout. Because now-a-days.. it seems the time for a quality race.. has passed.
Sherpa John is the founder and former Race Director of the New England Ultras 200, 100, and 50 miler (Now Pittsfield Peaks). He has run over 40 ultra marathons since 2005 and never won any prize money.