By Mathias Eichler
Winter, trails, darkness, and all the weather.
One last hurrah before the end of the year. Runners, get ready for a fun and festive holiday treat along the trails of Squaxin Park.
Matt Walsh with another great article on his Substack summarizing the last few days in our little world:
Trail running as a sport won’t grow sustainably if we leave the future of the sport to Race Directors alone.
Matt’s responding here to a comment made by David Callaghan of UltraSignUp on the future of our sport. Matt suggests that race directors aren’t in a position, or shouldn’t carry the burden in “saving trail running”. He continues:
Maybe I’ve just been living under a Tory government for over 10 years and know all too well about the effects of leaving it up to the market to right itself, but as this UTMB debate has shown, the playing field is not currently even so we can’t put all the pressure on RDs to be the determinants of the future of trail running.
I can’t argue with that point of view, but looking for an overarching organization to lead us through this might be waiting in vain. Have you heard of FIFA, or the Olympic Committee?
The monopolisation of trail running is occurring because ITRA/WMRA/IAU don’t have any power.
And again, UTMB isn’t even close to monopolization our sport. They might be monopolization our sports’ media, but that is sort of our own fault.
My take, which I’ve made before, is that local race directors do have actually a lot of power, because they aren’t just offering a product/service to purchase (a race entry) but are creating community through their local partnerships and how the manage, attract and engage with volunteers. Yes, I am talking about volunteers again. No race works without them. And UTMB’s current strategy to attract and retain volunteers is currently not even in the same universe compared to the way local race directors treat their volunteers. People might sign up to run a UMTB event to get stones, but if these races don’t have enough/good/the right volunteers, the negative experience can’t be obscured with enough HOKA banners at the finish line. So, race directors might just have the power to control, and keep controlling the narrative. Even if they lose out on the best locations, don’t offer livestreams and stones, and don’t have the media constantly reporting their every move.
One caveat here: What do we think, how starstruck are volunteers? If pro athletes only run UTMB races because their sponsor contracts requires them to dance on the biggest stages, will these elite runners attract volunteers to the big races, despite the lack of recognition and care by the race organization? Will volunteers sign up to sit at an aid station for hours in the hope that Courtney or Jim zoom by? How big is that draw?