Over the course of the last week, there have been a number of articles doing the rounds on the Interwebs regarding the payment of money to the ITRA (International Trail Running Association), to in effect be registered and rated as a qualifying race for UTMB. I won’t bore you with all of the details surrounding it, but suffice to say that if you want to race UTMB you need to qualify. To qualify you need to run a number of official qualifying races that carry an certain allocation of points. For races to get that certification they must submit a number of criteria and pay a fee in the process.
The issue has come about because Hardrock and the ITRA have their knickers in a twist about Kilian wanting to race UTMB. Now the issue is not Kilian’s. This is more about a few people swinging their dicks, telling each other theirs is bigger.
As leaders in our sport, they should know better.
Given the fallout, and as someone perhaps a little removed from it all and one would say ‘independent’, Ultra168 thought we’d have a crack providing a bit of viewpoint on some of the main issues that have cropped up. After all, we’re just some two bit website from down under and no-one really gives a shit about Australia do they? (Well they do when they see our economy!)
Please note that we’re not taking one side nor the other here, just aiming to provide some insightful balanced commentary from both sides. I will say however that my final word (issue #4) at the bottom of the article is me forming my own opinion, which you are perfectly entitled to agree or disagree with, the only thing we ask for is do so with respect.
Issue #1: It’s all a bit of a ‘racket’
This seems to be the main gripe coming from those who won’t pay the ITRA fee, and to be honest in some respects they might be right. Why the need to set-up a system like this in the first place? I’ll tell you why and that’s because French organisations love a bit of red tape and bureaucracy, it’s ingrained in the national psyche. While UTMB is rightly one of the more prestigious and hardest races in the world, it doesn’t sit on the top of the tree and the amount of races and points you need to accumulate boarders on the ridiculous. Other races get by quite simply by producing a list of qualifying races. You race that event, apply for the next one and submit your evidence. Pretty simple isn’t it?
Not if you’re a French organisation… there are forms to tell you how to fill in forms for forms about forms. It’s a quagmire of rules and regulations so deep that I think at times it’s all done to deliberately confuse the hell out of anyone and everyone. BUT… while we bemoan red tape and ‘rules’… they are there for a reason…
Issue #2: If no-one else sets up an industry body/organisation… who else will and look after the community?
There are rules and red tape for a reason and that’s because in our world they are important. One thing our sport does need is a set of guidelines and regulation, particularly in something that does carry a certain level of risk, as ultra running does. The reality is that as our sport grows and becomes bigger, the risks of things going wrong increases exponentially.
We need industry bodies and organisations like the ITRA and Skyrunning to ensure that codes, rules and regulations are created, agreed upon and followed through. So when people bemoan the paying of a fee, they need to look beyond the notion that they’re simply feeding a system to help a few people get rich.
While I have no doubt that some people are getting rich from all of this (that’s just capitalism), the money generated from this ‘racket’ will (I hope), also be used to help fund the growing nature and oversight of our sport too. That will certainly be the line coming from the ITRA. Now I’ve worked in marketing long enough to know that these are just messages, but I also know that having a central collective, where proper systems are set-up and in place will help our sport in the longer term. The fee is nominal, it’s nothing if I’m honest… which leads us onto the next point.
Issue #3: The payment of money from race directors and the issue of inconsistency
Opinion is a little split here. I’ve heard from race directors who are happy to pay up, and there are those that pay with a grudge behind it. The process is also rather cumbersome so I hear and there are stories of major inconsistencies and then no follow-up/regulation of the criteria once a race has their points. Could the ITRA do a better job of this? Of course they can, but as a global organisation, it’s going to be tough to regulate all of their races and make sure they adhere to the rules outlined.
The flip side of this is that if you’re going to do a job, make sure you do it properly. Lack of resource and geography is an unacceptable excuse and the ITRA must follow through to weed out some of the cowboys that exist right now. Of course as runners, we have our own jobs to do in that regard in helping to police this and reporting any bad races to the ITRA.
As mentioned above, the fee is nominal, but for some race directors, it’s a highly effective marketing tool to attract more runners to their races and in pretty much all instances, a race only needs to attract one runner doing their race to gather points and their fee has paid for itself. I have no qualms about this approach as it’s a model that Ultra168 effectively uses with our Supporters Club. OK, it’s not exactly the same as I think I offer far more value, but in principle, it’s the same.
But if we really asked ourselves what the issue is here, it’s not about the fee, the process or the red tape… it really boils down to one thing…
Issue #4: CONTROL
You won’t hear those involved admitting this, nor will some of them realise it consciously, but this whole issue is about ‘control’. Now, you might fundamentally disagree with me on this and there are many that will I’m sure, but control is inherent in our daily lives. Through the organisations we work for, through to the politicians we elect. People want power and want to gain control of things.
The underlying issue in ultra running is a power grab because of the rapidly increasing growth of our sport.
The ITRA wants a stable of races under its belt. It wants to say, look at us and look at how many races we in effect ‘control’. They want to be able to prove how big they are so that when it comes to the crunch, they are seen as the authority. For the races objecting to the ITRA, it’s about retaining their own sense of control and standing and not being told what to do. It’s about holding onto that notion of importance and not being forced into a direction they disagree with, be it consciously or subconsciously.
Control is driven by any number of things, but in the instance of what’s going on right now, I think there are two main factors: money and ego.
The growth of our sport means more money washing about and some people are naturally driven by cash and their desire to own it. It’s no secret that those in charge of our sport want to see it succeed at the highest level, which means trail/ultra running as an Olympic sport… and well, we all know that the Olympics is hardly the bastion of purity…
Others are not driven by money, but their own ego and a sense of power and ruling. A desire to see themselves as the purveyors of what is good and right for us. They want to keep things as they are and retain the status quo and the standing they currently have.
What is lacking both in this current shit fight and you could argue, globally right now is a severe lack of empathy and awareness.
The very fact that this crap is playing out over the media shows how the ego has taken over and the pigged-headed nature of all concerned by not actually talking to each other behind closed doors and sorting their shit out.
Instead, the egos are out in full force as they seek to score points over one another by publishing articles that communicate their own set of messages and priorities. Those concerned appear to be laying claim to and monopolising the ‘spirit of ultra running’, whereas their actions are doing completely the opposite – they are destroying the spirit in the manner in which they are conducting themselves.
Everyone needs to grow up a little. We need awareness to understand and recognise that there are differing points of view and that each is valid in the eyes of the beholder. Empathy is then about taking action to help one another achieve their specific goals in a way that doesn’t shit over the other person or organisation. It’s called diplomacy and working together.
The message to the leaders of our sport is that as runners, we expect better of you. As a great Central Coast man once said, and founder of this website, “It’s only running”.
Feature image credit: Reddit