The Trail Running Film Festival - Online Watch Party Get your tickets.

The Trail Running Film Festival - Online Watch Party Get your tickets.

In an excellent interview on the Ultrarunning Sam podcast host Sam Hill sits down with Paul Huddle – Senior director of global trail running and Keats McGonigal – Vice president of North American operations for Ironman/UTMB to ask some hard questions and gives them the chance to share their side of the story. I will even link to the Youtube version of this podcast, I think it’s that important of a conversation for our trail running community.

Here are some of my takeaways:

  • UTMB reiterated that they didn’t engage with Whistler/Vail until after CMTR announcement they were definitively leaving Whistler for good.

IF you believe this version of the story things end up looking very different. UTMB is a business, saw an opportunity and took it. That’s it, that’s the story. No nefarious backdoor deals, no collusion, no “big trail” bullying the little guy. CMTR closed the door on Whistler with their public post in February, UTMB jumped on the opportunity to bring a trail race to Whistler.

Could’ve, or should’ve UTMB reach out to CMTR and asked them about Whistler? Maybe. It’s not a common business practice though. It might’ve been nice, but not sure what results we expected to come from this.

  • UTMB via Ironman does have history in Whistler that predates WAM.

So for them to be able to move reasonably quick in selecting a site/course and be willing to do what it takes (pay permits and perhaps higher fees) seems entirely feasible. Even I saw the excellent potential of a trail race in Whistler many years ago. Their timeline from initial contact to race announcement to actual race is longer than what Gary proposes for his yet-to-be announced competing race on the same weekend next year.

  • Whistler as a feeder event for UTMB World Series Final in Chamonix.

Whistler clearly is a beautiful location in itself, and creating events just to give people the opportunity to obtains stones to get to Chamonix is a limiting marketing message. But, that’s how some of us travel and experience cool places. I had never been or even heard of Big Bear Lake before the Kodiak announcement. Is it bad for the community that I arrived, spend money and ran the race. I loved it (even though I DNF’ed and didn’t get any stones). In fact I am pondering of going back.

  • UTMB was clearly shocked by the vitriol they received from ‘the community’. They don’t see themselves as a big bully, the outsider, or even the only big player in the sport.

Not sure, this was our finest moment. I even posted a comment on the official Instagram announcement of the new Whistler race saying ‘good luck finding volunteers’. I have since taken this post down. It doesn’t serve anything, other than help create division. I do still agree that volunteers are the achilles heel of any organization in our sport positioning themselves as a business, but this, UTMB knows.

How fast the community turned on UTMB and made it a us vs. them story is still quite upsetting to me. I do think people were lead down a path making them believe lots of untrue things, but what worries me is that ‘our community’ won’t take the time to clean this up. Everyone will move one. Everyone will feel ‘there was smoke, therefore there was fire’, without anyone asking who started the fire. It’s not a good look for ‘our community’ which claims to be different and better. This is also entirely not surprising, as every community who sees themselves as ‘precious and special’ deals with the same issues at some point. So, in a way this was an important moment for trail running to grow up. We’re not the one unique flower that is innocent and pure. We’re just like everyone else. We just like to run for a really long time, and some of us want to run around Mont-Blanc once in their life.

What will be interesting to see in the coming weeks and months is what the ‘elites’ make of all of this. They in many ways are the show horses for our sport. The media follows them around and shares their stories and in turn the story of the races and places they happen. They introduce folks to new events and their efforts inspire others to follow.