By Mathias Eichler
The Trail Running Film Festival - Back on Tour for 2024.
Back in January of this year, in response to High Lonesome 100’s ‘anti UTMB policy’ I wrote:
But clearly, it would do UTMB a ton of good if they wouldn’t just drip out faceless press releases week after week announcing their endless expansion, but instead put some faces to their ever-growing organization and make their moves a bit more transparent, and… well, friendly and personal to us as runners.
We’re now almost a year later and UTMB is slowly expanding its empire, albeit slower than I anticipated (there’s still no announcement of an American Major). But this past week has clearly given the ‘naysayers’ and ‘slipper slope predictors’ a ton of cannon fodder. The Whistler by UTMB race announcement couldn’t have gone any worse. Overnight the trail world seems to have split into two fractions, the UTMB and anti-UTMB crowd. How many people who previously wanted to race UTMB and since have abandoned their plans waits to be seen but overall this is not a great trend. We don’t need to build walls and trenches. And before you yell at me, telling I’m taking the side of “the aggressor” here, breathe for a second.
UTMB is going to be part of our sport. The race in Chamonix won’t go away. How we qualify might change over time and even Ironman might change their expansion plans in the coming years, but for now, UTMB is part of our trail landscape and our trail running media landscape. Currently their expansion might be successful on a spreadsheet (I would assume it’s too early to tell, even for them) but where they are clearly failing is in positioning themselves on the North American market as a trusted player and welcome neighbor in our community. Being “an elephant in a china shop” isn’t working and their team needs to make adjustments.
I said it before and I’m bringing it back up because it feels more pertinent than before: UTMB needs proper representation here in North America. I highly suggest that Ironman doesn’t try to run its operation over here via fiat. Hire a well-know spokesperson, someone the community knows and trust. Let that person play community liaison and explainer of their moves. Someone who stands up and says: This is what we’re doing and why we’re doing it. Rather than present everything via email press release (that’s how I found out about the Whistler race), have someone go on a media offense and present their plans. These new events are a big enough deal that it requires it. It can’t be that hard to find a “director of race directors”. Someone who represents all their local races on the ground. Someone who can go on record when a new race is announced. And someone who truly understands the North American trail running community. UTMB’s moves are under way too much scrutiny to let the local race director take that on. They are busy trying to build a successful event. I actually feel bad for the new Whistler RD trying to manage this situation that has evolved up there in BC. And in extend, I feel bad for every RD that’s currently hired to organize an UTMB event. They have a lot of explaining to do at their next group run.
But the larger community is watching, and it would behoof the Ironman organization to acknowledge this and be better prepared.