Run the iconic Mount Ellinor on Aug 5, 2023 in the Olympic Mountains.

Run the iconic Mount Ellinor on Aug 5, 2023 in the Olympic Mountains.

Not sure if I would’ve made the decision to enter that shoe market given the strong opinions people have of the running shoes, but there’s probably no other store in the US that sells more HOKA and ON shoes, so REI has the numbers to back up this decision. I have not been able to see the shoe in person but from the silhouette posted online it reminds me a bit of AllBirds, a brand REI recently started to carry. Behind-the-scenes collab?

Yeah, this is totally not ‘running’ or ‘mountain’ related by ‘Ted Lasso’ is a pretty great show on Apple TV+ and we occasionally talk here about NIKE, so it’s worth mentioning (I guess) that NIKE just dropped some “official” AFC Richmond gear.

Now, AFC is a fake football club but the shirts are ‘real jerseys’. So far so good, but what’s hilarious is that the makers of this Apple TV show that’s all about empathy and inclusion, decide to green light merch that’s only available in MENS SIZING.

If this would be some flash-in-the-pan promo shit I wouldn’t care to post about it, but there’s a rumor that Apple might be selling the gear in their online store and in the physical stores, which would be a first for them and sort of a big deal. And, the partnership is with NIKE and not some typical merch crap that Warner Brothers’s selling (Ted Lasso bobblehead anyone?).

Good thing it’s Pride month and not Women’s History month anymore… I guess?

Singletrack – Episode 276:

Steve Auch is back on Singletrack and barely recovered from a massive weekend race directing the popular City und Trail event in Bad Reichenhall in the Bavarian Alps in Germany. We talk about the beauty and the challenges of directing races, the inspiration and the difference between races in the US and Europe and how to transition from behind the megaphone to putting the bib back on yourself.

Hardly a week goes by with me not seeing a new, or new to me hydration vest by a gear company not previously in the market of producing and selling them.
What once started out as a niche product made by very specific companies (Ultimate Direction, UltraSpire, CamelBak, Nathan) focusing on hydration is now a product offering peddled by Mammut, The North Face, Patagonia… everyone, even REI is making their own.

With the growth of our sport and the overall media attention it’s no surprise backpack makers (to frame that term loosely) would say ‘hey, we can do that too’. But I would suggest something else is the driving force here: ‘brand and logo placement’. The vest, once an obscure specialty item for ultra runners who weren’t cool enough to just run shirtless with two handhelds is now a hot item every runner has to have. Even if more and more races are requiring runners to carry gear and thus vests becoming a necessary piece of gear to carry said required gear I believe the main driving force here is that the vest is the most prominent and outward facing item a runner wears, even more prominent than their shoes. So, if a gear company is in the pro/influencer sponsorship game they will have to offer a vest just to place their logo prominently on their athletes and in their marketing shots.
Gone are the days when runners had a shoe sponsor and a separate clothing and a gear sponsor.
NNormal has to sell a race vest so Kilian doesn’t have to wear his old Salomon vests in product shots and at races.
Adidas was one of the first gear companies that had their trail team fitted out from head to toe in branded gear. So does The North Face and of course Salomon. But Salomon had been in the game for several years while The North Face and Adidas are still fairly new to the ‘race team circuit’.
Hoka doesn’t have a hydration vest yet, but as a shoe company they have been outfit their sponsored athletes very prominently in head-to-toe HOKA clothing over these last two years but when Jim Walmsley ran UTMB in 2022 he wore a pack with no brand name on it. So I assume one can expect a HOKA pack in the near future, maybe in time for this year’s UTMB. And one can hope it’s a better offering than this piece of weird branded product.

It’s kind of funny to think that new product iterations, (I won’t call it innovations), might be more driven by marketing desire for logo placement than the need to sell good product. Heck, some of the vests might not even need to be sold, just made for their athletes.

A few asides:

  • I wonder if that’s one of the reason why Nike is struggling with entering the trail running market. They make good shoes, but haven’t outfitted the whole runner. (Having placed their logo on every pieces of gear.) IMPORTANT UPDATE: Guess what, Nike sells a vest. And it looks like an absolute piece of garbage, but their logo is on it…
  • It will be interesting to see what the Craft athletes will be wearing at Western States, although the top sponsored athletes might be getting away with just carrying handhelds there, so UTMB or HardRock might be the better stage for this.

What I had already noticed when I was down in Auburn running Canyons is that HOKA was everywhere. Almost so that it felt HOKA was more prominently promoted than UTMB. Much has been said about the UTMB/Partnership, and often I’ve asked about the details of that partnership, but what’s coming into view and question is the partnership HOKA has with UTMB/Ironman, and in extend Western States. Yes, they are sponsoring the respective races but there seems to be a bit more than just a sponsor contract:

Today the US ‘by UTMB’ races which are all unaffiliated with Western States ran promotional Instagram messages announcing that Grindstone, which is also a UTMB race has been selected as a Golden Ticket event for Western States. Yes, Western States is also part of the UTMB World Series, and that relationship is also somewhat murky.

So, to recap:

  • UTMB and Ironman have a partnership to build the UTMB World Series, but the details aren’t fully out in the open.
  • UTMB/Ironman partner/buy/franchise with local race directors to put on their ‘by UMTB’ events.
  • Part of that World Series is Western States, but they are NOT a ‘by UTMB race’ and have a special status, one that’s not fully explained.
  • HOKA is a sponsor of the UMTB World Series – and currently making oodles of cash, so it’s clearly paying off and they won’t be going anywhere or will be unseated anytime by a different sponsors.
  • HOKA is a sponsor of Western States and as part of that contract is sponsoring the elite entry access via the Golden Ticket races.
  • The 2024 races are announced and are almost exclusively UTMB races expect two Aravaipa events, which have also been sponsored in the past by HOKA.
  • The Instagram accounts of the ‘US UTMB events’ are promoting the HOKA Golden Ticket event in the US that’s a ‘by UTMB race’, but not the Aravaipa Golden Ticket events.

This is all so very fascinating, and something that clearly requires more insight, more background info and more scrutiny going forward.

If anyone has any insight they want to share, off or on the record, please do reach out.

From the Daily:

Hoka continued its blistering sales for parent Deckers Brands, helping the company deliver record results as the brand added more than half a billion dollars of top-line revenue for fiscal year 2023.

HOKA will eat us all… so it seems and feels. But, when actually looking at the shoe choices of runners at trail races you can still huge diversity and barely any dominant brand. Maybe that’s just motivating for HOKA to push even harder?

In comparison:

  • Adidas AG annual revenue for 2022 was $23.718B
  • NIKE annual revenue for 2022 was $46.71B
  • On Running annual revenue for 2022 was CHF 1,222.1 million ($1.349B)

Innsbruck, one of the Alps largest cities is no stranger to hosting large sporting events. Innsbruck hosted the Olympic Winter Games in 1976 and has been on the regular winter skiing circuit for decades. This week the attention is on summer trails when Innsbruck and the neighboring Stubaital region welcomes runners from all over the world to compete in the World Mountain and Trail Running Championships (WMTRC) – (damn I wish they would come up with a better name for that event). And while this is all super exciting to follow along as pros race these trails, what makes this event unique in trail running is that for the Championships only pros, selected by their national associations will compete wearing the bib of their country. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is awfully exciting to watch and follow, but of course a departure from our regular trail running events where amateurs (you and me) can run the same events as the pros. To prevent FOMO Innsbruck has partnered with the Innsbruck Alpine Trailrun Festival, an annual event held in the same region on several of the same trails as the WMTRC. This event has been on the calendar for several years and is organized by the Laufwerkstatt, an events team organizing various large scale outdoor sporting events in the region. So, The WMTRC is in great hands organizationally with the partnership of Tourism Tyrol and the Laufwerkstatt. And for folks wanting to get a taste of the trails pros compete on during the WMTRC, they can sign up to run the various distances at the Innsbruck Alpine Trailrun Festival.

And for folks in the area looking for something to do they can come and watch the Trail Running Film Festival on June 9th at the finish line in Neustift-Stubai, which surely will be one of the biggest screenings on our 73+ tour.

One of mountain running and trail running’s biggest events will take place in Aragón, Spain, in September 2025, bringing together 1,700 athletes from 70 countries.

With the 2023 edition kicking off this weekend in Innsbruck, Austria, sights are already set for the next iteration, two years from now in Spain. I’m glad to see this event gaining traction. It’s a great counterbalance to the Golden Trail Series and UTMB events, even though the World Championships are the classic “watch the pros run and don’t get to participate” events we’re familiar with from every other sport. And what makes trail running so great in many ways is the participatory nature of the everyday runner toeing the line with the pros at the biggest events.

MUT, Africa’s only UTMB race along the beautiful Garden Route in South Africa – been there, natch, just happened this weekend for the first time under the UTMB banner. And here are their numbers:

  • MUT Miler (165KM) Starters: 42, DNF: 17, Finishers: 25 – 2 women 8%.
  • MUT 100 (98KM) Starters: 66, DNF: 8, Finishers: 58 – 15 women 26%.
  • MUT 60 (59KM) Starters: 164, DNF: 7, Finishers: 157 – 34 women 22%.
  • MUT Marathon (42KM) Starters: 342, DNF: 14, Finishers: 328 – 103 women 31%.
  • MUT Challenge (25KM) Starters: 404, DNF: 6, Finishers: 398 – 225 women 57%.
  • MUT Lite (10KM) Starters: 218, DNF: 0, Finishers: 218 – 139 women 64%.

1,184 racers finished the six different distances of the MUT races, 518 were women, or 44%. So, I had heard that only two women finished the 100 Miler, and while, in that race doesn’t lead to a great percentage, the overall participation rate for all six events combined is the best we’ve seen so far. Yes, a bit skewed toward the shorter distances, but overall, pretty impressive participation by women, amazing.

As a side note:
With only two women finishers in the 100 Mile race all you had to do was cross the finish line in 48hrs (the race did have 25K of vert!) and you would’ve booked your ticket to Chamonix for this or next year. There were two women who DNFed (so 50% of the women’s field). So I am not suggesting that it was a cake walk, but, I am saying… if you’re an elite, and you want a ticket to race UTMB, this might be interesting to put on your calendar for 2024.

Matt Walsh in his Substack ‘Trailmix’ ponders the same questions I have:

…if anyone has a contact at UTMB that actually knows how the business is run AND responds to emails, do get in touch…

Yes, same here.

Matt thinks the UTMB expansion model might be more of a franchise model, rather than an outright purchase of the races. Which might sense if the races are new, but for the ones UTMB partners/takes over that might not work? Perhaps the franchise part is only a portion of the race. The areas where UTBM feels they can contribute the most… and get the most out financially? Surely, providing staffing for aid stations won’t be one of the areas that will be franchised.

Matt also points to the endless ‘dunking on UTMB’ of the social media verse, so much that editors of Outside compared their announced partnership with UTMB internally akin to:

… a poison chalice and that limiting the damage UTMB’s brand could have on Outside’s reputation would be a ‘big challenge’.

This in itself is kind of funny, given that Outside has NFTs and dealt with Warren Miller Films in a very … odd way and has since created quite a reputation for itself.

And finally, Buzz Burrell, in the comments, points out the misconception in the articles headline, insinuating that the UTMB brand currently doesn’t matter to races or racers:

Yes, joining the bandwagon and becoming “(trail race) by UTMB” has bumped every race that has signed on from hanging in there to selling out, so becoming a UTMB franchise has been a win for every race owner.

The events to race for a chance for Golden Tickets to Western States in 2024 are as followed:

Several notable changes compared to last year. There’s now a race on the East Coast: Grindstone. CCC is now a Golden Ticket race, which is new and I believe for the first time, maybe? The other thing of note is that these events are now all UTBM and Aravaipa events, which in itself is quite interesting.

Back in 2015 (the first time Web Archive has the page listed) the Golden Ticket events were:

  • Bandera 100k, 1/9/16
  • Sean O’Brien 100k, 2/6/16
  • Black Canyon 100k, 2/13/16
  • Georgia Death Race 68m 3/19/16
  • Gorge Waterfalls 100k, 4/2/16
  • Lake Sonoma 50 miler, 4/9/16

A lot has changed since then, hasn’t it?

Announced this week on various social channels:

White Mountain Endurance is excited to announce that they will be officially be joining the Aravaipa Running family of races, marking Aravaipa’s official commitment to the East Coast trail running community.

That brings Aravaipa’s race calendar to 53 races in five different states including the 5 from White Mountain Endurance in New Hampshire.

UTMB has 36 across the globe in their World Series. Five in the US and one special partnership with Western States.

If you believe, or only read the NNormal marketing blog then you might be led to believe that Kilian had:

…a perfect day on the west ridge of Everest…

on his recent trip to the Himalayas.

In Kilian’s own words:

“I didn’t reach the summit I was aiming for, but everything else. It was a perfect day.”

But according to Explorersweb:

He describes the conditions as “horrible, with blue ice underneath and a top layer of deep snow. [it meant taking] two steps up and one down for 1,000m.”

Once on the ridge, he waited three hours for the winds to drop, sheltered by a cornice. He then proceeded over mixed terrain to the base of the Hornbein Couloir. He climbed this for “a few hundred meters.”

Then he broke a wind slab and triggered an avalanche that swept him down some 50 meters. After some consideration, he decided to turn around at that point. He descended in a heavy snowfall, with his previous footprints totally buried, and two to three meters of visibility. It was “interesting,” the athlete admitted.

Yes, sometimes staying alive, learning a lot in difficult conditions, making the right decisions, and being lucky to return to ones family is more than just “interesting” but actually “feels perfect”. I’m confused my the marketing speak, but glad to have him still with us. I bet his family is too.

Singletrack – Episode 275:

This week on Singletrack I am chatting with Nicole Amyx, filmmaker, ultra runner and colleague of mine at the Trail Running Film Festival. Nicole shares how she blends her passions of filmmaking and running, passed down from her parents, into an inspiring life just outside San Francisco. We chat about about the importance of finding a great story when making a documentary film and how running can give us balance and peace for everyday life.

It’s been fascinating following Kilian and Emelie on their “marketing trip” to the Himalayas. Say what you will about using a family vacation with kids for promotional purposes but what I find most intriguing is to see all the bespoke gear NNormal created for them. It’s brilliant product placement for NNormal getting their logo into all these cool shots, but what I want to know is how these items are made. There are backpacks, gaiters, duffel bags, high altitude mountaineering pants, jackets, etc. They can’t just use a third party product and slap their logo on it. All these items were made just for them for this one trip. Yes, there’s R&D experience that can be gained, but for NNormal, a brand co-owned by Camper, a classic fashion shoe brand, this is quite a departure and requires some in-house expertise (or outsourced expertise) to pull all these items of. Especially since the mountaineering equipment is supposed to keep them alive on the mountain, that’s not just a simple gear bag.

I’d love to know what mountaineering boots Kilian used on his summit attempt. “the #1 leading app for Trail & Ultra runners of all kinds” (lolz, what does that even mean?) is now offering the official online coaching for all UTMB races.

The unofficial coach for UTMB is my coach Matt Urbanski at Team RunRun. Better, I promise!

Dylan Bowman defines the mission statement of Freetrail:

… we’ve never explicitly defined what we mean by Trail Culture and what the specific attributes of Trail Culture are.

It’s good to see a media outlet to not just focus on pro athletes chasing sponsor contracts. All their points are super valid. Fluffy, but totally something I can subscribe too.

I am super excited about this brand new “By UTMB” race. It’s in a terrific location, feels very ‘were I grew up” and therefore is totally on my list of races I want to run one of these years (okay maybe next year_… except that my attendance wouldn’t help these sad sad gender split numbers:

  • UTDC (175km) Starters: 518, DNF: 148, Finishers: 370 – 23 women 6%.
  • UTDP (109km) Starters: 849, DNF: 123, Finishers: 726 – 79 women 11%.
  • TDC (50km) Starters: 1,481, DNF: 39, Finishers: 1,442 – 288 women 20%.
  • TDP (34km) Starters: 1,037, DNF: 7, Finishers: 1,030 – 375 women 36%.

Combined there were 3,568 finishers, 765 were women or just 21%. Not great, not great at all.

My buddy Nick Triolo travelled to L.A. to Strava’s annual ‘tech conference’: Camp Strava. He highlights the main announcement for Outside:

In short, lots of tech improvements are in the pipeline that are all about partnerships with other, existing companies and expanding the platform with more integrations.

RD Craig Thornley tweets a photo of the bathrooms at Robinson Flats completely covered in snow, still, with just 35 days until race day. For spectators: this will be a race to remember. For runners: Get your crampons. For the race organization: This will be a shit show to manage, damn.

PCT DAYS celebrates and promotes hiking, camping, backpacking & outdoor stewardship and offers a bit of something for everyone, whether you are an outdoor enthusiast or new to outdoor recreation.  Over 100 exhibiting sponsors will be offering the latest outdoor products at the Gear Expo & Marketplace.  Attendees can participate in activities, games, presentations, gear raffles, listen to live music, and meet with old and new friends in an amazing setting.

I very much love this.

One of the few remaining (did you see what I did there?) things that seem to be alright with the UK:

In Scotland, there is a right to walk through the countryside, leaving no trace, with some exceptions such as not trampling over land that is growing crops. Under a Labour government, people in England would be granted the same rights.

To tag on to the post I wrote a few days ago about public land permitting being handed by public agencies to private entities and they in turn start price gouging as this is the American Way. Here’s a story of a lawsuit being filed against the private contractor managing, a website for the public used to obtain camping permits, wilderness permits and other recreation access.

In some sense it’s great that for this big big country, with lots of National Parks, Forest lands, and BLM areas that a website like exists and someone looking for a campsite or backcountry permit has a one-stop shop to obtain those and plan their vacation. But, due to the size of the operation only mega corps have a chance to respond to the RFPs by the government that solicit help in managing these portals and services.

Here’s the company that got awarded the contract to manage

Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corporation is the parent of Booz Allen Hamilton Inc., an American government and military contractor, specializing in intelligence.

A military intelligence company is managing campsites in National Parks? Yes, this is a somewhat gross simplification, but it shows the challenges of our federally managed public lands. by-and-large is just a time-based shopping cart system like AirBnB or Expedia. It’s not a complicated website, yet the Federal agency awarding the contract to Booz Allen decided that a company with a history of military intelligence gathering is right for the job?

In similar vein, most National Park lodges and visitor centers are managed by ‘concession companies’ that bring their expertise from managing sport venues and conference centers. Yes, people go to our National Parks for the natural wonder and beauty and not for the warm hospitality, but if you’ve ever been disappointed in the mediocre overpriced hotdog offering at a National Park lodge, here’s your answer.

Many of the races in that area are planning with the realities of snow on the course. Canyons had to be rerouted quite a bit but, even races happening in June/July will still be dealing with snow on their trails.

The snow is a valid concern given our record breaking, historical snowfall in Lake Tahoe this winter.

Despite that, we’re extremely confident that the race will go on without any major impacts, as it did after big winters in 2017 and 2019 where we ran 80% or more of the entire course on snow. 

Not brand new, but a first year event for UTMB, Valhöll is South America’s first UTMB event, announced back in October of last year along with Paraty Brazil which will happen later in September. Valhöll offered six distances for runners to chose from and here is how this broke down:

  • EPIC 125K (129km) Starters: 232, DNF: 90, Finishers: 142 – 19 women, 13%
  • ADVANCE 81K (81km) Starters: 295, DNF: 26, Finishers: 269 – 61 women, 23%
  • CHALLENGE 50K (49km) Starters: 564, DNF: 90, Finishers: 474 – 122 women, 26%
  • COURAGE 33K (33km) Starters: 442, DNF: 18, Finishers: 424 – 158 women, 37%
  • POWER 22K (21km) Starters: 481 , DNF: 6, Finishers: 475 – 227 women, 48%
  • EXPLORE 11K (11km) Starters: 208 , DNF: 1, Finishers: 207 – 118 women, 57%

Total finisher for Valhöll Argentina combined: 1,991. Of those 705 women or 35% finished.

Offer shorter distances, increase women participation and change the look and feel of your events.

Like everyone else, UTMB also launches a podcast, because of course they would:

Each month two trail runners will meet to discuss what the sport means to them. They will share their passions, interests, beliefs and get to know each other along the way, taking the listeners on the journey with them.

I do love that they are pairing a pro athlete with an amateur to discuss their love for the sport. Remember this episode of Singletrack? Still one of my favorite episodes, and if it wouldn’t be so hard to put the logistics together I would love to do more of these. This gets as close as it gets to what makes our sport so special.

From a story on a bike race in NY with 30 year history:

Floyd Bennett Field is one of the most longstanding, unique, beloved, accessible and diverse races available to New Yorkers.

In 2019, when the then race promoter went in search of the same permit, he was directed to Aviator Sports, instead of NPS, who quoted a price of $2,000 per race. What had once been a $150 permit, had now become a $34,000 endeavor for the race season, with seemingly no explanation.

This is why we can’t have nice things.

Another global running series launches, and again it’s promoted by a running shoes brand.

PROJECT PEAK is Saucony’s global trail running series culminating with El Cruce, the epic 3-day 100k race that traverses the iconic Andes Mountains.

The six events in the series are:

  • Dolomiti Extreme in Val Di Zoldo, Italy
  • Shuswap Ultra in Shuswap BC, Canada
  • Garmin Epic Trail, Vall de Boi in Barruera, Spain
  • Jupiter Peak 25K in Park City Utah, USA
  • Saucony Bamm in Rikgransen, Sweden
  • Mid Mountain 50K, Park City Utah, USA

With the final being the El Cruce, a multi day event between December 1-6 , San Carlos de Bariloche, Argentina.

Not sure what to say about this other than that it seems that global shoe brands seem to think that promoting, marketing and organizing these running event series seem to be good for business. The North Face did it for awhile, La Sportiva used to have a Mountain Cup that event stopped in Olympia (I ran one of their races in the series and other than a few La Sportiva flags at the start/finish there was no local tie-in) Salomon obviously has the Golden Trail Series and HOKA seems to “own” Western States, its Golden Ticket Qualifiers and of course the UTMB World Series. Some events like Western States, UTMB or the Cirque Series of course existed before and will without their title sponsors (ON is the sponsor for Cirque), but the idea of launching a running series and sort of loosely connecting a few existing races into a series, promoting it together on the brand’s website seems to be the current playbook for marketing efforts for (big global shoe) brands.

I’ve been thinking a lot about Brendan Leonard’s illustration in which he share’s an observation about us outdoor people. Basically, his point is, and you should really check out the entire comic strip on his Instagram, that he suggest that people are either uphill or downhill people:

  • Downhill people: Those who love the ‘flow state’, the whooshing across the earth – skiers, bikers.
  • Uphill people: Those who believe that the struggle against gravity is healthy and meaningful – climbers, mountaineers, trail runners.

Of course I am an uphill person and that’s why I find trail running such a thrill and worthwhile obsession and I find myself in good company.

Blocks, closes for awhile, and probably severely damages State Route 504 to Johnson Ridge Observatory near Coldwater Lake. I know of several events that are happening this summer in the area that will be impacted by this.