Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011: The Important Stuff

Well, I did this last year and found it to be a particularly therapeutic exercise.  So I figured, why the hell not?  Let's dive into what I really learned from the major races, training runs, trips and pacing experiences that standout in my mind from 2011.  No waxing poetic.  No conundrums.  Just a concise summary statement of what it really meant.  

Given that I tend to associate the various parts of my year not only with the big events, but two of my other loves as well - I've decided to document the jams and the beers I was into at the time.  I know, I know - an ultrarunner who likes indie music and beer?  Real original.  But whatever, man.  Running, music and beer is how I order my life.

So, without further adieu, here's what stuck:

I put my head down in January and didn't let up for a single day.  I don't know that I've ever run that many days in a row ever, so I must be SERIOUS.  I prove I'm not obsessive by picking a random Monday in April to take completely off.

Typical pre-season training day.  Including the look of bitter exhaustion.
(photo: Dom)

Blue Moon Winter Abbey Ale (formerly Full Moon) - I stocked up on this over the winter and rationed into the spring.  Like candy.

Bandida - Audra Mae  "I'll veil myself in black and steel, and battle at your side."  i.e. I'm gonna do it too!

Legit gear and a positive attitude can get you through a rainy, icy, slippery, flooding, muddy, whiteout, blizzard, freezing mess of a run.  However, when the aid stations are blowing off the ridge, volunteers are trapped in Rose Valley, people are missing and our pets' heads are falling off, they're uh.. gonna call off the little "race."

Game called due to inclement weather.
(photo: Dom)
St. Bernardus ABT 12 - Around this time, I got really into trappist ales and tripels. This one was the clear winner.

Hard to Please - The Weepies  The miles are getting harder, but this jam soothes my soul.

Surprising myself with a PR (wicked puking/pants peeing and all), despite having trained right through for a mountain 100, I decide that if it were ever my goal to actually train specifically for a road marathon, I could actually do quite well.  This will probably never happen.

El Pukador.
(photo:  shamelessly stolen)
Post-race IPA at the finish line, courtesy of New Balance.  They really do know 
how to make excellent happen.
(photo:  Andy Kumeda)

Harpoon IPA (pictured above) - How did I not say Sam Adams?  I'll tell you how -  the only SA I really like is their Winter Lager & that wasn't available on the tour. Which of course, was a real pissah.

Bizness - tUnE-yArDs  It is fun to scream weird sounds in the middle of the forest.  Yay tUnE-yArDs.

Following Dom around all this time has actually been worth it!  The snow, the elevation and the loooong climb are no match for my mountain legs built by Baldy.  (Unfortunately I followed his "stomach habits" as well, and commenced in the puking.)

Two blondes and a simply splendid day in the Sierras.
(photo: guy who used my iPhone)
The one, the only, Pabst Blue Ribbon - yep.

Swimming - Florence and the Machine  Flo and co. were great company for 10 hours in the Sierras.  I listened to this particular jam on repeat as I reeled in the woman in front of me... before everything went to shit:)

Training hard works.  Period.  Enter beast mode.

At one with the high country.
(photo: Dom)
Simpler Times - they were, weren't they? $2.99 a 6, bitches.

Shape Shifter - Local Natives  "Why does the soul hallucinate?  I've got control.  I shift my shape."  Around this time, I was all Local Natives, all the time.  So freaking excellent.

To this day, I still can't believe that what took me out was not an overuse injury but a freak accident, with the emphasis on freak.  I guess sometimes even when you're doing everything most things right, shit still goes down and that's just the way it is. Freaking yuccas, man.

My parents' way of commemorating the big event of 2012.
Hilarious. Really.
(photo: the pain in my heart)
During this period, I was so sad that I no longer even enjoyed the taste of beer.

Caffeinated Consciousness - TV on the Radio  When I first listened to 9 Types of Light, I was like, whatever.  And then I was like, why is my mouse mysteriously tapping to the beat? And THEN I was like, why am I screaming things such as 'Now Drop Yourself!' to random passerby?  Mmmm yes... good album.

I vividly remember breaking the news to June as we made our way down Cal Street:  if we don't pick up the pace right now, we're not going to make it.  Watching her nod, put her head down and gut out a performance that had her back 40 minutes ahead of the cutoff at the river was infinitely inspiring, and I knew I'd call on that pride in her when starting my own mountain 100 with an injury a few weeks later.

Coyote Crew commencing in the sexy.
(photo: dude who wiped the fuck out down Escarpment.  I saw you, bro.)

Rucky Chucky crossing - heading into mile 80 with June the Destroyer.
Hard to believe after three years of crewing and pacing - Ill be the one with the
white bib this year.
(photo: someone's pacer)

Andersen Valley Boont Amber Ale - one of my all time faves and fortunately sold at that grocery store where everyone get sandwiches before heading to Michigan Bluff. (Dad, take note.)

Got it All (This Can't be Living Now) - Portugal. The Man  It was extremely hard for me to choose which one of their songs I'd throw up here.  I went with this one, as it serves as a great reminder to "shake, shake, shake the night away." Always time well spent.

The people, the mountains, the challenge, the spirit, the beer, the sheer joy, the danger, the beauty in it all.  Yes folks, this is a life worth living.  Impossibly stoked to be heading back to Silverton in 2012 to help Dom take on the race.

Scrambling up the scree on Grant Swamp pass - soon to be repeated
in the race by the gentleman ahead of me, unbeknownst at the time.
(photo:  Justin Lutick)

There is simply no other caption for this other than, "WHEEEEEEE!!!!"
(photo: Justin Lutick)

Silverton Brewing Co. Ice Pick Ale (IPA) - does it taste better because we're over 10,000 feet?  Why yes.  Yes it does.

New Orleans - Trampled by Turtles  "She followed the man she loves, all the way to Altadena"  Creative licensing there with the lyrics:)


I'd follow this guy anywhere - even to Altadena.
(photo: Monica Morant)
No seriously, I guess what I'm left with is a more acute understanding of just how much the body is able to accomplish when the mind and heart want something bad enough.  No race has ever meant more to me, and I simply did what had to be done. Also, I'll never be able truly complain of pain after mile 80 again - which is nothing but a huge advantage.

Sierra Nevada Torpedo IPA - I was rocking the shit out of this all summer. $6.99 a 6 at Fresh&Easy for the win.

Houdini - Foster the People  As pumped on Williamson.

I basically threw myself into this race at the last minute as a desperate attempt to prove I hadn't lost "it" in the aftermath of completing AC on a jacked up knee.  Success, first win and a fun day crewing the monster that is Lukas Temer enroute to finishing his first 100 (in first place).  Also, my nutrition and hydration was freaking impeccable in the heat - yay for that.

The lesson to be learned here is that you cannot lose when properly
equipped with the Olson/Tarneja combo.
(photo: Tyler Olson)
Michelob AmberBock - free hotel beer that is actually delicious.  I heart Embassy Suites.

Summertearz - Little Dragon  Became obsessed with Little Dragon for all parts of life - at work, in the car, on the trail, and solo dance parties in my living room.

So, there is this dude who loves me a lot, puts up with all my little idiosyncrasies and challenges me daily to do some really hard and incredible shit.  I am so very grateful for you, Dominic.  Bring it on!

Romantic weekend getaway in Palm Springs
(self-portrait: Dom)

Start at 600 feet & you can climb up to 10,842 in one shot. Yum.
(photo: Dom)
Shafly Pumpkin Ale - it's just about fall beer season. I spent this period of time trying various Octoberfests and pumpkin ales and finished every single one wishing it was a Shafly.

O, Evelyn - Owen  i.e. O, Panda Bear  (seeing him live next week!!)

I've said this before, but patience isn't my thing.  However, there's some definite weight in the whole "do what you can, when you can" thing and as a result of following that mantra, I'm proving to myself just how much my running and my goals mean to me.  Also, did you hear?  THEY PULLED YUCCA SPIKES OUT OF MY KNEE!

Crewing at Javelina, 2 days post-op
(photo: stolen from Jessica Fugulsby)
Maker's and Ginger Ale - I switched to the hard stuff. Obviously.

Don't Move - Phantogram   Have been loving them for months - but this new jam really takes the cake.

Holy shit.  There are a lot of really fast and really talented people out there and accordingly, I better get to work.  Did you SEE Anna & Ellie out there?  These guys did when they passed them…. yep.  That happened. 

Local heartthrobs
Newcastle Winter IPA - We found this at Ralph's for only $10.99 a 12. I have no idea how it was so cheap, because it's freaking delicious.

Walking on a Dream - Empire of the Sun  Step 1: listen. Step 2: Try to get it out of your head.  Go ahead, try. 

I honestly never thought I'd see the day when I was out running in the double digits with my dad.  I am so proud of him for how dedicated he's become to his daily runs and excited as hell that he's decided to run the LA Marathon next March.  Chatting away as we looped around Forest Park was really special and I can't wait to run 26.2 with him in 2012.

O'Fallon 5 Day IPA - little microbrew back home never disappoints. Dad's suggestion this year was freaking on point.

Dance Yrself Clean - LCD Soundsystem  The tympanic explosion circa 3:10 has been responsible for what many a coworker and passerby have likely deemed as tourettes.

Looking back with a pragmatic eye, it would be easy to say that 2011 was largely a wash.  I worked really hard and then was badly injured before I ever had a chance to prove myself and what I'd created.  But if you ask me if I feel that I achieved my goals for 2011, I'd have to say yes.  You see, I looked at them (you can look too!) and no matter how much I want to say that I failed, quite simply - I didn't.  Here's why:  I've realized that my goals are always subjective.  I rarely set benchmarks related to time or placement, yet most of the time I get extremely caught up in all that business.  In short, I lose sight of my goals.  But if my true goal was to train harder than I ever have before and give my honest best effort at a beast of a race, well then, I'd say goal achieved.  Yucca and all.

That said, I think the thing I'll take away most from 2011 is how happy I am that my family has become more of a part of my running.  Make no mistake, my parents have always been very supportive of everything* just about everything that I've ever done - but this whole ultrarunning thing was just a bit difficult to grasp.  I remember speaking to my dad after my first 50 miler (Headlands, 2009) and hearing the shock in his voice that, 1) I was calling him so soon after starting; and b) I was perfectly fine.  And as I prepared for my first 100, they were a bit mystified by the concept of this actually being possible and not detrimental.
*Joan still brings up the time I dyed my hair dark brown.

After my dad came out to crew me at Ozark Trail 100 last year, he said that he then understood why I do these things.  He saw first hand that it is less about suffering and more about ambition and persistence.  But to his and any outsider's credit, how could you imagine it as anything but horrifically painful until you are part of it?  I'm happy to say that since then, my dad has run a few half marathons and now even some trail races and we talk often about our respective training and adventures.  My mom now even takes a less scornful eye when going through my pictures and reading about my weekend journeys… that is, as long as I call her each Monday to let her know I'm alive.  They both made the trip out to California last summer for Angeles Crest and were joined by my brother, sister-in-law and niece for a full family experience.  It meant the world to me for them to be there and experience the forest that I'd grown to love over the past few years.  And to see how involved and interested they became in the race and the people was just plain awesome.  There was a reason why the world of ultrarunning had become my greatest passion, and it was of the utmost importance to me that they not only understood, but had a desire to share it with me.

Clutch crew at AC100
(photo: Natalie Kintz)
However, even greater than having my family's support is hearing that they've set like-minded goals for themselves in 2012.  Like I said, my dad is going to run his first marathon - this from a man who when I ran my first preached that the human body wasn't made to go over 20 miles.  I went to some great extremes to prove him wrong and I'm glad he's wisened up.  My brother, Sgt. Eric DeSplinter, is currently serving his second duty in Afghanistan and plans to run the Marine Corps Marathon (also his first) next fall - never to be shown up by both his sister AND his old man.  His five-year-old daughter, the incomparable Chyler Star, is taking note of all of it and is turning into quite the little runner chick herself.  Accordingly, I've equipped her with a pair of New Balance trail kicks and taught her the ways of the run bun.  And probably most special of all is a goal my mom shared with me over Christmas.  She's had quite the rough go of it over the past year, and the beginning of 2012 isn't going to be any easier.  You see, she's having her second knee replaced and that shit is about one million times more serious than a yucca stabbing.  However, she's making it her big goal to be able to run the Run With Santa 5k by the end of the year.  I'm really proud of her for not just setting the goal of getting better from the surgery - but setting the goal to get better than she was before.  'Cause that's what it's all about.  Go, Mom.

Chyler Star - properly equipped for the trails.  On Christmas,
she told me she had run 2,066 miles; which seems like a good start.

Similarly, I'm setting a similar goal for myself in 2012.  I don't just want to get back to where I was in my training before the stabbing.  I want to go beyond.  I want to build upon yet another year of experience and hard work and become stronger, faster and generally more awesome.  Specifically, I want to go sub-11 at Miwok and sub-24 at Western States - to set a finite, non-subjective goal to it.  Also a legitimate goal is to not get stabbed.  Weekdays in the Santa Monicas and weekends in the San Gabriels should do the trick, and right now I'm just focusing on building back up to high mileage gradually.  Well... kind of gradually...

"Holy shit.  That's my name!"  - me upon finding out I had gotten in
to Western States.  (photo: Dom)
On the second day of the year, I finally just said, "fuck it." I was sick of my knee holding me back and I wanted to do something hard and long.  There are way too many innuendoes there for me to even comment.  Anyway, I threw all caution to the wind and headed out to run the last 26 miles of the AC course - the same miles that tried to kill me back in July - and prove to myself that I can work through the pain.  I honestly thought I would have to bail and hike down to the city earlier, but I'm happy to say that I made it.  The rest of the group was surprised at this due to the fact that I did it on 32 oz of water and 330 calories (and it was hot), but I was mainly shocked that my knee held up and I was running down all the hills. Even down Wilson Toll Road - although I have a feeling that was largely due to the fact that Elissa saw a big ass mountain lion there the day before and as such, I didn't want to be the slow one. The other awesome thing was that I proved that even after a month and a half of what could best be described as a "reintroduction to running" rather than actual "training," I'm proud to report that I'm not back where I was on Jan 1 of 2011.  You see, on Jan 1, 2011 I could still not run all the way up Upper Winter Creek out of Chantry without having to hike at some point.  On Jan 2, 2012 - I could.  That is saying something.

Of course, I'm still admittedly out of shape and have a lot of work to do - but hey, that's the fun part.  I've got an ice pack and a pocket full of dreams, so nothing can stop me.  Bring it on 2012.  



Monday, December 5, 2011


Well, it's been a month since the surgery, so I figured it high time for an update.  The long and short of it is that I'm healing quicker than the doc's already quicker than average healing prognosis, which is good.  But I'm not back to perfect and it's making me certifiably nutso, which is bad.  If that suffices, you may want to skim ahead for some gory photos, if you're into that sort of thing, otherwise I'll give you the play-by-play.  It went down like this:
WED 11/9:  I have surgery.
Surgery is not like I remember it.  Back in the day, I remember surgery as being kind of a big deal.  Today I go run, go to work for half a day and my co-worker drops me off at the hospital.  Next thing I know, I'm waking up behind a sheet and the worst thing that's going on is I'm remarkably thirsty.  Dom's stuck in traffic and Gabi's lost without an American number, so I just kind of chill for a bit.  Gabi eventually picks me up and gives me Swiss chocolate, which I devour in less than 30 seconds.  Surgery is not a big deal.

The best part is that the doc, who has long since left the hospital, makes a call to talk to me about what he found.  It wasn't just scar tissue.  It was straight up yucca tips and even he was in shock over the whole thing.  Boom.  I'm an episode of HOUSE.  Check it out:

1/3 of an inch yucca splinter hiding in my knee joint for 6 months.
Apparently the scar tissue (the stuff that looks like cherries here) was
growing around it and obscured it from detection via MRI.

There were not one, but two of these assholes.
And just in case you were confused as to what you were looking at there...
Yeppers. Two of those suckers hitched a ride along the AC100 in my knee joint.

So anyway, the worst part of the whole ordeal is coming down off the anesthesia. Holy shit.  Back home to my apartment, I am restless, my legs are spasming and my life is possibly ending in a blaze of anxiety.  I'm quite certain that is the closest I will ever be to understanding what it's like to OD on Meth.

FRI 11/11:  This is what my knee looks like:

The top left is where the camera went in; the far right is where they pulled out
the scar tissue and the spawn of yucca; the two bottom are drainage holes

MON 11/14:  I abandon the use of crutches, mainly because they are annoying.
JJ100, 3 days post-op:  Most pathetic crew chief ever.

THURS 11/17:  My knee looks remarkably better, though quite swollen.  However, I am shocked at the loss of muscle mass in only 7 days and how weak my left leg now is.  Like, as weak as Hootie and the Blowfish's sophomore album.  Seriously weak.  It hurts like a bitch to bend my knee, but I force it via PT's "knee slides," i.e. the worst thing ever.  I begin doing wall sits during all meetings at work and have become quite the overachiever with all my exercises.  However, my resolve is strong that if freaking Darius Rucker can make a comeback, so can I.  Accordingly, I've started listening to a lot more country.

Looking good... but doc says 3 weeks to hike and a month to run is likely.
SAT  11/19 - 9 DAYS POST-OP:

Top 'o Temescal
Oh, that's weird because I went for a hike today.  4 miles and 1,000 feet on a perfectly beautiful day.  And I was passing people the whole way up.

TUES  11/22:  I return to hot ballet class.
I pliĆ©.  I lengthen.  I can't quite make it into child's pose, but I give it a good effort.  I'm happy I didn't put my membership on hold for a month like they told me to.  "If you're having surgery, you won't be back for at least a month. AT LEAST."  

WED  11/23 - EXACTLY 2 WEEKS POST-OP:   I run.
It's not much, and it's not pretty.  But I do it.  Run a mile to CVS.  Walk a half mile.  Run another half mile.  Walk another half mile home.  Throw a heel click in for good measure.  I begin to believe I am invincible.

THURS 11/24 - THANKSGIVING:  Turkey Trot
I go to Torrance to watch Dom and Vinny run the Turkey Trot.  I decide I will run the first mile with them and then walk back.  Next thing I know, I am crossing the finish line.  The case for invincibility becomes infinitely stronger.

FRI 11/25:  Return to the trails.
Now that my recovery phase is already over, I decide to head to Sullivan with Dom and run/hike up the ridge.  There is no hiking involved.  I run the singletrack back, and by the end, my knee is sufficiently tired and my opposite hip is definitely aching.  I am tired and sore the rest of the day, but I attribute this to being out of shape.  I am definitely invincible. 

SAT  11/26:  More.
I run up Will Rogers and run/hike back down.  There is no stopping me now.  Someone should make a movie about how awesome I am.

SUN 11/27:  Hmmmm....
OK, maybe they shouldn't make that movie just yet, 'cause I am kind of hurting a lot. But I can't resist the urge to run and hike Mt. Wilson.  In my defense, I just got the new iphone and am really excited to test out the camera.  

MON  11/28:  I enter the hurt locker.
Today, I realize that I went from not running at all to running four days in a row on a surgically repaired knee. Today, I realize I am actually the opposite of invincible, and this really pisses me off.

Reality check over.  The real healing process now ensues....

In the days since I realized I'm actually a human, I've been building up a little more gradually.  I've run up to 7 miles on the trails, but to be honest, it hurts pretty badly.  I'm good on the way up, but the down is quite painful.  That said, I've checked with the doc and apparently that is to be expected.  I've just got to get my mobility back, so for now, I just have to be in pain for a little longer.  Whatever.  I can handle it.

Hiking with Maruoka: returning to the trails 2 weeks early
from FAI/Labral tear hip surgery

Favorite activity when I can't run an ultra:  Crewing an ultra!
Dom, me, Mari & Jorge @ TNF50
While I'm mostly positive about this whole thing and focused on being thankful for finally having an answer, there is one thing that kind of sucks.  Getting back into the kind of training I was rocking before AC is going to be really hard. The problem being, I don't want to just get back to what I was doing.  I want to do more.  But I feel so out of shape in the mountains right now and I can't imagine being able to give an honest effort to a 100 (likely AC again) this summer.  Dammit, I'm going to try, but will my knee be able to handle the volume of training I'd like to throw down?  Last year was 80 mile weeks with an occasional 100+ in there.  This year, my goal by spring is to be doing 100 mile weeks regularly, with upwards of 120-30s when I'm seriously rocking it.  It's what I feel I need to do to get where I want to be, and the only thing holding me back is this goshdurn freak accident.  

But I digress.  A month ago, I had knee surgery where they pulled freaking imbedded spikes out of my tendons.  And I'm already running again.

That is pretty cool.


Thursday, December 1, 2011

Prize Money and Ultras: The Epic Debate

Here’s why I don’t think adding prize money to Ultras will every be a problem:

Running 100 miles is too fucking hard.

In other words, you could make the same amount of money working your ass off to do something way less difficult.  I believe there are only 2 ways people who are not motivated by the intrinsic nature of trail running could actually be motivated to do something so challenging.  And I don’t mean just the race – I mean the training that goes into making yourself capable of actually winning one of these races. 

I’ve trained to win once.  I spent all my free time (i.e. not working in corporate America,) running – morning, night, even lunch breaks.  And if there were any leftover seconds, I was cross-training.  I spent every weekend camping in the mountains, running at altitude with 0 contact to the world below.  I lived the majority of my life out of my comfort zone.  And the only, the ONLY reason I didn’t give up is because at the end of the day, if you asked me to pick my favorite activity in the whole world, I would pick running in the mountains.  And let’s be clear, I really enjoy the beach, snowboarding, drinking beer, ballet, writing and snuggling – but on my list, running in the mountains is at the top.  Yes folks, even over that three letter word.  The “drive to win” was never enough to push me out of the car on a cold Sunday morning with 90+ miles already on my legs. It was the confidence that at some point, if only for a fleeting moment, there would be absolutely NOTHING that I’d rather be doing.

And it’s a good thing, too.  As many people know, I was seriously injured with a little less than 2 months to go to my big race, and let’s just say things didn’t go as planned.  The mental warfare this waged not only during the race but in the many months in the aftermath has been seriously hard to deal with.  So much so that at times I considered quitting this shit forever.  (I’ve tried to do this once before.)  I’m sorry, but there’s no amount of money that could capture my disappointment in this situation.  My disappointment was entirely in feeling that all the training and intensely hard work had been for not in running the race to my best potential. 

Tangent now averted, I believe that the only ways you’re getting the “non-pure” runners over to the competitive ultrarunning scene are these:

1.  The amount of money is seriously high.  Like NBA salary high.  If you can make the same amount of cash getting your master’s degree and working a high-profile job, that’s going to be a whole lot easier than puking your guts out at mile 19, suffering through a 40 degree weather change in the period of about an hour, experiencing a degree of muscle fatigue you never knew was possible and/or fighting the depressive demons in your head that consider death a more favorable option than running the last 4 miles.  Jesus, you can actually make quite a substantial bit of money becoming really good at video games.  Video games.  The highest prize I know of is coming up this weekend at the big showdown in Marin (a la The North Face 50) and that’s only $10k.  I say only, because in this day and age, that’s enough to pay your bills and support your training only if you’re single, living out of your car and growing your own food.  And you better hope nothing breaks. 

Sure, you could argue that winning a few of these prizes could help you out, but aha!  There’s another hole in the master plan to great riches.  You see, ultrarunning is demanding – both on the body and the mind.  Repeatedly running at the level it takes to win these things is pretty much impossible.  Sure, there have been some pretty incredible examples of some impressive back-to-back performances as of late.  Example being Nick Clark’s legit 3rd place at States, followed by another 3rd at Hardrock 2 weeks later.  But even Nick will tell you that’s not sustainable.  He recently bowed out of TNF50, citing that his body and mind are tired from over-racing.  Not to mention I said THIRD place at these events, not winning. (Of course, I only say this to make a point and never to discredit Nick’s amazing performances.  I, for one, am super inspired by his tenacity and talent.)  In this case, the prize purses would have to be pretty goshdurn deep to allow anyone to make a living, and even then I’m not so sure.

Let’s bust out the sabermetrics here.  If Nick’s performance is any indication, your best bet would be to consistently run in the third to fifth place spot (assuming the purses are that deep,) allowing you to run just hard enough to make a nominal amount, but not so hard that you destroy yourself for future races.    But guess what?  Even that will be hard, given the increased competition resulting from this supposed greed for the money. Just it shall likely unfold on Saturday, these guys will be running the race of their lives just to get fifth.

Sure, there are people who do seemingly run a 100 miler every week, and by all means, that is incredible in it’s own respect.  But time has shown that this crowd is not WINNING.  And guess what?  They could care less, because DING! DING! DING!, that’s not why they do it.  In short, the money hungry would run themselves retarded chasing those prizes and destroy themselves in the process. 

That’s why the money in each race has to be very, very large.  And to get that cash, RDs have got to find that money to give.  One option is to get the money from registration, but there are huge problems there too.  They’re called Trail Permits, and I highly doubt any Forest Service is ever going to allow the magnitude of the Chicago Marathon to trample on their trails.  No way could you jack up registration prices high enough on 200-600 people fields to both create a big cash prize and actually keep people entering.  The other option is money from sponsors, and here’s where you enter a giant conundrum.  To sink huge money into events and athletes, that shit has got to be mega popular and profitable.   Well, how’s it going to be way popular until you’ve got big household names endorsing your product, media out the wazoo and all the other spoils of a Super Bowl-esque event? Hell, these companies we all know and love are just dying for that opportunity to sell more of whatever they sell, but very few are going to take the risk to sink all their dollars into a gamble.   Granted, it only takes one, but it’s got to be a big one, and those guys are kind of all set.  You could argue that Salomon is starting to do this.  But Salomon ain’t Nike.

People, I work in advertising, so understanding consumer trends and selling shit is basically my job.  I know for a fact Nike makes way more money on people who buy shoes that look awesome than for their technical prowess in competition.  Fortunately, they’ve built an empire big enough to allow them to do both, but guess what? They’re still going to sink their marketing budgets into events that attract millions of competitors and spectators (i.e. road marathons), not a small, niche event.  After all, if you think they’re in the business of making shoes, you’re dead wrong.  They’re in the business of making money and before you go all bleeding heart on me, you should realize that every business is. If they’re not, they no longer exist.  Hell – that’s the whole thing we’re talking about here.  The sponsors want just as badly to make money as the “un-pure” runners would.  It’s called greed, people and it’s not going anywhere.  So until either trail races become huge (see above paragraph for why they won’t) or companies like Hammer, Montrail and DirtyGirl Gaiters* find a way to sell salt pills, trail shoes, coats and well, gaiters to the general public in the masses, where is this BIG money to sink into the sport going to come from? Chicken or the egg, bitches?
*SIDENOTE:  Again, Salomon is an anomaly here, as they are sinking big bucks into supporting their athletes across the globe and recently put an ad featuring The Kilian in Times Square.  However, my dad has no clue who Kilian is and my dad will probably never purchase a pair of Salomon shoes.  See related argument in item #2.  The North Face is also an anomaly, as back in 1998 they figured out how to sell mad jackets to frat guys across the country.  Maybe that’s what’s funding this weekend’s prize purse?


2.  Ultrarunners become famous.  I’m not talking Dean Karnazas.  I’m talking Michael Fucking Jordan. 

The only other reason a “non-pure” runner would put themselves through the rigors of training and competing in ultramarathons is if it put them on the front of a Wheaties Box.  Of course, this brings up the point that they’d eventually get rich off the sponsors even if there wasn’t much prize money to be won, but my point is another area of human nature:  we all want to be universally loved and admired.  We can’t help it.

Of course, the problem is that running just isn’t traditionally a “sexy” sport.  I mean, look at us.  The way we form our bodies isn’t exactly the mainstream Hollywood ideal.  Our hero dudes are spindly, bearded and show way too much thigh.  Our leading ladies are older, built like boys and have aged skin from too much time in the glorious sun.  And we all have way too many scars.  Plus we all spend an inordinate amount of time to ourselves, so we’re fucking weird.

Think about it.  Do you know the names of all the fastest marathoners or world class sprinters?  Well I do, because I’m a running nerd.  But guess what?  My dad loves running.  My dad got me into running.  My dad has flown out for my races.  And my dad has no freaking clue who any of these people are.  On the contrary, my dad has absolutely zero interest in ever playing basketball, yet you better be damn sure he knows who Kobe is.

So here’s the only solution I can see so far:  we get sexier.  Moeben is really working to trail blaze the path for this, and personally I think my boyfriend is pretty damn good looking – so I guess we’re on the right track.  Didn’t Jenn Shelton run some race in a bikini or something?  I believe that went over quite well.  I, for one, am definitely considering a boob job, spray tan and keratin treatment before my next 100.  I’m sure New Balance would be behind me 100% on this.

Standing in line for the release of “Unbreakable” this holiday season?
Unless Geoff and co. stop working so freaking hard, I doubt it.
Now, before I wrap this thing up (finally) and open the floodgates to the backlash, I’ve got one more theory here on why you’re never going to see a poster of Kami Semick taking over the walls of 13-year-olds around the country.  And this one may catch me some flack.  You see, I think people like Kami make “normal” people generally uncomfortable.  We want so badly to believe that the Tony K’s of the world were handed a supernatural talent by God himself, and that is why they are able to do such an incredibly hard an amazing thing.  But the simple fact is that it’s not that simple.  And these guys and gals make no effort to conceal the insane amount of work and training they do to prepare themselves and the hardships they go through.  What’s more, most claim that anyone could do it if they really sunk their teeth into what it takes.  If you don’t want to believe, sit at the finish line of any ultramarathon and watch what comes through.  Or look up the name Amy Palmiero-Winters.  For some, it’s incredibly inspiring.  For the masses, they proclaim “freak of nature.”  Just as greed is often instinctual, so is the nature to shun things that make us truly and wholly uncomfortable.

So, in conclusion: do I think the money at TNF50 is responsible for the incredible and unmatched depth of field at the race?  Absolutely.  And do I think any less of any of these runners for going after it?  Hell no.  In fact, I’m going up to crew and support two of my favorite SoCal runners:  Dominic “Unicorn” Grossman (surprise, surprise) and Jorge “El Chivo Loco” Pacheco.  (Agitar y hornaer boys!)  If they and their fellow competitors have the chance to make a little cash doing something they love, I’m happy for them and say go for it. Remember, the whole point of this post was that I don't see a threat from PRIZE MONEY ALONE to cause the apocalypse of ultra running as we know it.  The wealth of other factors that could cause the scene to blow up (not to mention eventually effect the prize money in a way I previously stated was not likely) is numerous - and it all relates to the issue of accessibility.  Bryon is really paving the way with, as well as all the technology we are now afforded as ways to communicate to the masses.  But alas, I will save this for a later conversation because it is time to pack for San Fran.

In the future, if there are more races that start adding cash prizes, great.  It’ll spread the money around.  But I’ll be shocked at the day when career ultrarunners are millionaires.

END NOTE:  I’m likely wrong about everything and I fully realize there are huge what-ifs in basically every single point I’ve made.  A lot of things in this world have happened on what-ifs and unexpected risks and that’s what makes life so gosh darn interesting.  This article merely represents my thoughts and opinions on “the great debate.”  I hope you’ll have fun continuing the argument.