The world of ultras has developed hugely in the last few years, not just globally, but more specifically here in Australia and New Zealand with the setting up not only of the Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT) races, but also a Skyrunning series too.
On the one side you have UTWT with the TNF100 and the Tarawera 100, then on the other you have Skyrunning with the Buffalo Stampede, The Hillary, Ultra Easy, Mount Difficulty, The Hounslow Classic, Mount Buller and the Sky Rock and Run.
Runners in Australia and New Zealand have a huge amount of choice and variety of races to run. It’s certainly a buyers’ market so to speak. But ultimately, do we really care about the ‘brand’ or ‘association’ with each of the main bodies?
In this world of associations staking claim to certain events, making rules and regulations around what you can and can’t do, the fact is that your average runner quite frankly doesn’t give a toss if I’m honest.
It might help give runners confidence in a certain race that it has the backing of either organisation, that it’s well organised etc… as one of our reader comments from Matt McCarron suggested, “I don’t care whether the race belongs to one or the other, however if running the event for the first time knowing that a race belongs to one of these bodies gives me the impression it will be well organised and any merchandise will be quality. On the other hand it also suggests that it will be expensive and ‘busy.”
For sure, the branding will help certain races and this is by no means any attempt to disparage their involvement in either associations’ series – there is definitely a great upside here too. It’s certainly a good thing if we see really high calibre runners headed over to our shores to mix with some of the best local talent. Our local boys and girls have improved massively since we saw the little Spanish maestro appear on our shores about four years ago.
What these associations also bring to our shores is a certain level of brand awareness for ‘Team Australia’ as our eloquently spoken Prime Minister seems intent on classifying our nation as such. However we won’t get political for now… the organisations do enough of that themselves.
On a personal level, I’ve thought long and hard about this article and whether there was any merit in actually writing it. But it was a comment from Jono O’Loughlin over a few beers on Sunday night that pushed me to actually write it. He said it plainly and simply, “As a runner, I don’t care what brand is associated to the race, the TNF100 is just a 100km run in the Blue Mountains for me in my own backyard.” And that I think captures a great sentiment.
Sometimes we can get caught up in stupid detail, and these two organisations are no different to any major global company you might come across. UTWT runs under the guise of the International Trail Running Association and its introduction last year was met with a somewhat ‘luke warm’ reception. Suddenly a whole series of rules and regulations were starting to be introduced, along with a points series (UTWT) and you could argue a glorification of the sport. They even tried to define what trail running was and wasn’t. I think we can decide that for ourselves.
Trail and ultra running has long been seen or rather viewed as this rather pure sport that is free from the perils of associations aiming to ‘brand’ it. Hence why we saw a lot of cross over from sports such as iron man, particularly in Europe. But as with anything in life, once it becomes popular, then there will be someone, somewhere trying to make money from it.
In many respects, you could argue that our website glorifies the sport. And I accept that wholeheartedly to be honest. No denials from me here, but what I do aim to do is retain the passion and shall we say amateur ethics and standards of where our sport originated from. It’s part of the reason I do not make this website my full-time job – it’s run part-time and just because I love doing it. I simply enjoy writing and helping people out if I can. That is it. I’m firmly in the old school approach of hard work, honesty and dedication, looking up to those athletes like Stu Gibson, Andrew Tuckey and Jono O’Loughlin who train their nuts off, do well at their chosen vocation, but have a life outside of running. This is where Ultra168 sits and will sit.
But enough rubbish about us and back on topic. Similarly, if you look at Skyrunning, which has been in existence for over twenty years. Here we have a discipline with rules, regulations, races and a points scoring system, much the same on the face of it to UTWT. What started off as a pure sport with the sole goal of running up and down a mountain has turned into a huge commercial organisation that accredits hundreds of races around the world, stamping their brand all over the place. Of course there will be the finer detail that exists that really does differentiate the two, like for example I think Skyrunning is run as a non-for-profit, but once again, we ask ourselves, does the average runner really bother to find out and do they really care? We still have two brands that are essentially trying to wrap their influence over the sport.
One of the great things I think we have in both Australia and New Zealand, and something I’ve come to learn having reported upon the sport for the last four years or so is the passion that locals have for their own races. I try to race as much as I can outside of my own State and in Queensland, it’s all about Glasshouse and now the newly formed Blackhall 100. In Victoria, the Surf Coast Century is full of Surf Coast Runners, while here in New South Wales we have that rather wonderful race in the Blue Mountains taking place in a few weeks. Over in WA you have the WFT100s and Six Inch Track, while in South Australia it’s the Heysen 105 and the Yurrebilla trail ultra too.
Runners don’t view races with the brand associations attached to them. To 99% of the field racing, it doesn’t matter in the slightest.
It might matter to the 1% of elites racing for points, and even then I’m sure the vast majority of them don’t care either. It only matters to the brands and organisers, promoting their races to pump more money into the machine to get us, Joe Public to open our wallets and buy more gear.
That’s not a bad thing you could argue. They’re simply catering to demand from consumers i.e. us the runner. After all, we buy the stuff. It’s a two-way street and no arguments from me on that one.
We all accept that things develop and go through cycles and it brings with it both positives and negatives. But ultimately if we remember our core values as to why we started running in the first place, and we let all of the little shit fly by us without getting too stressed about it, then we’ll be alright.
I started running because I enjoy spending time with some mates on the trail. I also enjoy spending time alone, just me and my thoughts for hours on end. That’s ultimately why I run.