Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sportsmanship in Ultrarunning

As the sport of ultrarunning and trail running continues to grow at a rate that some consider alarming, it's time we take a moment to go over sportsmanship.  What does it mean? How can we strengthen the sport we love by practicing better sportsmanship?

First, what is sportsmanship?  I like Wikipedia's definition. (Yes, I used Wikipedia, sue me.)

"Sportsmanship is an aspiration or ethos that a sport or activity will be enjoyed for its own sake, with proper consideration for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship with one's competitors."

Okay, so let's break this down piece by piece.  

"an aspiration or ethos"

Aspiration is defined as "a hope or ambition of achieving something."  I think we all, as participants in this activity and lifestyle, wish for fairness, ethics, respect, and a sense of fellowship.  

Ethos is defined as the characteristic spirit of a culture, era, or community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations. Ultrarunning is definitely a culture and a community.  The sense of community in the world of ultrarunning is so great and so welcoming that I think it's one of the main reasons why the sport continues to grow the way that it is. 

"will be enjoyed for its own sake"
Yes, of course, we are all out here because we enjoy it.  Sometimes we don't enjoy the suffering in the moment, but we usually cherish the memory of pushing through the suffering and feeling proud and strong.  

"with proper consideration for fairness and ethics"
Obviously, we need to play fair.  Playing fair usually just means following the rules. Most races have rules, and even those that don't have rules explicitly explained, I think it's usually safe to assume that we all know the rules and will abide by them.    What are some of the basic rules of ultrarunning?

1.  Be respectful to your opponents.  Don't push or shove.  Just run.  If someone is running faster than you and wants to pass, let them pass.  Pretty basic rules of civility apply here.

2.  Follow the marked course (and on foot!).   Don't jump in a car and skip 30% of a race because you want an award and you want to brag to your friends (if applicable).  What's the point?  Not only will you lose respect of all your fellow runners, but any self respect you have will likely dwindle to zero after that classless act.  

3.  Only accept aid where it's allowed.   Don't stash goodies along the course.  Pretty standard.

4.  Don't bandit a race.  I'm so tired of all the arguments about how running as a bandit is okay.  It is absolutely NOT okay.  There are so many reasons why that I don't even want to waste too much time going over them, but now because I'm so fired up about the subject, I better cover a few.  
  • it's a huge liability.  Race directors are responsible for the safety and whereabouts of the runners.  Running as a bandit creates new concerns that may lead to the race losing its permit or insurance.  
  • you're using resources that others paid for.  "waahhh but I won't take food from the aid stations".  It doesn't matter your intentions.  If you're running as a bandit and you suffer a major injury, do you honestly believe the race medical staff will not treat you? They will.  And you're using resources.  You're also using the trail and the course.  Land management is a serious business, and a large amount of money and resources are used to determine how many people a trail or a plot of land can handle before it has a negative effect on the environment or sustainability of the area.  
  • it's simply not fair.  Why should you be allowed to run a race without paying while others have perhaps not only paid for their race, but also may have entered through a lottery drawing which required a prerequisite race that they also paid for?
  • bandits are losers, plain and simple.  You want to run but you didn't get in the race?  Be a pacer. 
5. Don't use illegal performance enhancing drugs.  I don't want to beat a dead-horse, but as the sport grows and more sponsorship money and prize money becomes available, people WILL cheat.  We all want to be naive and pretend it doesn't happen in our sport, but numerous European ultrarunners have already tested positive.  Using performance enhancing drugs is a lot like finding a dead deer on the side of the road, cutting off its head, and mounting its antlers so you can tell people that you shot it.    If that's something you're into, you really should consider some deep reflection on the meaning of your life and lay out some basic goals so you can determine your true worth.  Unfortunately, regular testing will become a reality for the front runners at the larger events, and this will only drive up the cost of entry.  

Respect is a big one.  Let's first take a look at every aspect involved in ultrarunning, and ask "how can we respect those aspects of the sport?"

1.   Yourself.  You must respect yourself.  This means taking care of yourself.  Train properly, eat properly, sleep properly.  Find a balance in your life where you can maintain everything that is important to you.  Know your limits.  Take a break now and then.  

2.  Friends.  We often think of ultrarunning as an individual sport, but it's far from that for most people.  Our friends support us and encourage us.  They help us prepare for a race, push us in our training, keep us accountable, and help crew and pace.  Respect your friends.  Make time for them, and reciprocate all the good that they do for you.    

3.  Family.  This one is huge.  Too many people are so focused on their training and so absorbed that they often neglect the role of their family and loved ones.  Ultrarunning can be a very healthy and joyous activity, but it can just as easily become an obsession.  I am in no way saying that a runner should not be committed to his or her training.  It is very important to be committed to your training when preparing for a long distance event.  This is not something people can jump off the couch and do.  However, there must be balance.  There must be an appreciation for the role that the family plays in the runners success and ability to train.  We must make time for those we love, and for those who love us.  And finally, respect their hobbies and passions as they respect yours. 

4.  Runners.  Our fellow runners need respect as well.  It's so easy to be self-centered these days. Yes, you may have poured your heart and soul into training for a race, and you deserve to do well, right? Guess what.  A few hundred other runners might have trained just as hard, or maybe even harder. They may have trained through more adversity and more life stresses.  So be aware that you're not the only one out there, and your race is just one of many taking place on that day.  Be proud of yourself and your accomplishments, but appreciate and show gratitude for your fellow runners.  

Another way to respect your fellow runners is to offer your services of crewing and pacing.  Crewing and pacing is a very rewarding and educational experience.  I'm sure many of us have had certain crew members or pacers that have been instrumental in the completion of our race.  Why not be one yourself?  Be the pacer that inspires someone to finish their first 100-miler.  Be the crew member that makes sure the runner is eating enough to keep going when the going is tough.  Partaking in these roles is extremely fun, and a great way to experience a race that you might not otherwise get a chance to experience.  

5.  Volunteers.  Volunteers are the heart of the race.  Sure, that sounds cliche, but it's absolutely true.  Without volunteers, the race would not exist.  They "keep the blood flowing".  Granted there's plenty of self-supported fat-ass events out there where runners might just follow pre-marked trail blazes, but that's the exception.  There is so much involved with organizing and staging a race that many people are unaware of.  Those who have directed or worked as a volunteer of a race or helped planned a race know about the hundreds of hours of preparation that go into planning such an event.  

So how can you respect the volunteers?  A few ways. Firstly, thank them. Appreciate them. Treat them as though they are a blessing, because they truly are. Some aid station volunteers act like personal servants for the runners, but they should never be treated as such.  Thank them again as you're leaving.  Secondly, check yourself.  We all get tired and cranky 80 miles into a race.  If an aid station volunteer can't find your drop bag, don't flip out. No one is perfect. These are not paid individuals. They are doing the best they can, and a little patience will make their day and your own day much more enjoyable. Third, don't pack ridiculous drop bags. You don't need an eighty-pound Rubbermaid tote for your seven different pairs of arm warmers.
And finally, BE A VOLUNTEER!  I can't stress this enough.  Every single runner that races should volunteer for AT LEAST one event every year.  That is definitely not asking for too much.  It's an easy, enjoyable, and very fulfilling way to give back to the sport we love.  Additionally, volunteering is an excellent learning experience and provides a whole new perspective (especially in the later miles of a long ultra!)

6.  Race Director.  Race directors work their asses off to make sure a race goes smoothly.  Thank them. If they set a rule, abide by it.  There's usually a very good reason for it.   Do not send them angry emails about how your favorite race should be a qualifier for theirs, and how even though you finished after the cutoff you still deserve a buckle.  Much of it is common sense, but we just have to remember to be respectful, and to treat everyone as though we ourselves want to be treated.  Imagine if you poured hours and hours into planning a race.  The race was seen by nearly everyone as a huge success, but there's that one guy who's complaining about something ridiculous, like how the Sprite had too much carbonation.  Don't be that guy.  Be the OTHER guy, the one who gives a firm handshake and says "that was a great event, I really enjoyed it. Thanks for organizing it, I'll be sure to recommend it to all my friends."

7.  The Land.  Last, but definitely not least  The land.  Where do I begin?  Okay, let's start with the obvious.  Don't litter.  PERIOD.  This may not be obvious to some.  There has been a huge influx of trail runners that are transitioning from the road.  Some big city marathons allow trash to be left on the road for a cleanup crew. (Not all road races allow this either, so check the rules or with the race director) Even on those road races, I myself still carry the trash with me until I see a trash can.  That way I know for sure it is where it's supposed to be, and not laying in the weeds off the side of the road for the next 800 years.  But on the trails, no matter which trail you are on, littering is STRICTLY A NO-NO.   DO NOT LITTER.  This should be pretty clear to most, but at every race I still see far too much trash on the trail.  If it's occasional, then I think we can give most runners the benefit of the doubt that it was not intentional.  Maybe the trash fell out of someone's pocket when they were retrieving something else.  I get it.  That kind of thing happens.  However, when the trash is consistent, it becomes a serious problem and quite the irritant.  It's pretty simple.  If you carry it in... carry it out.  There's no reason not to.  An empty gel pack weighs far less than a full gel pack.  Oh, it's sticky?  I don't care!  Sticky or not, that garbage is not going to decompose.  Carry it out.  And if you see trash, pick it up.
A extremely irritating trend that I often see at races is for people to set their trash next to course markings.  A course marking or a sign is NOT a trash can!  Even if twenty other people set their trash next to a course marking, you should not set your trash there.  If they all jumped off a bridge, would you jump off the bridge?  Carry it in, carry it out.  Not only is this practicing basic respect for our land and our environment, and an effort to keep nature natural and beautiful, but it's also to maintain the future of our sport.  Many races only happen because of permission from landowners and permits from the state to use the trails.  If the trail starts to become a mess, and we don't leave it cleaner than we found it, then pretty soon the races we all love to run will no longer be an option.
(For more about litter on the run, check out this article from UltraRunning Magazine and WSER.)

An additional concern when it comes to protecting the land is the number of support crew and vehicles along the course.  I believe it's a good idea to limit your crew to one vehicle.  Some races even state it as a rule that there shall be no more than one vehicle per crew per runner along the course.  When you hundreds of runners, and a few people and vehicles for each of those runners, it becomes overwhelming for the land and for everyone involved. 

"and a sense of fellowship with one's competitors"
Sure, it's a competition. But these longer races are also a journey, a journey that we make together with all of our fellow runners.  Run hard, practice sportsmanship, continue to build camaraderie in this wonderful community, and enjoy the journey.  

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Hill Repeats from Hell - 3rd Annual!!!

Often imitated, never duplicated, Hill Repeats from Hell is back again for its third year!

image from
Quick and dirty:
Week One (Nov 23 - Nov 29):  25 hill repeats
Week Two (Nov 30 - Dec 6):  50 hill repeats
Week Three (Dec 7 - Dec 13): 75 hill repeats
Week Four (Dec 14 - Dec 20): 100 hill repeats

IMPORTANT: That is 25, 50, 75, and 100 hills for THE ENTIRE WEEK, not each day!  For example, during Week One, you could do five per day for five days, or twenty in one day and five on another day.  Do whatever works for you!


Pick a hill that's relatively short (but not too short!). Remember, you'll want to be able to do 100 repeats in the fourth week (but obviously it should be VERY challenging).  Going outside your comfort zone is essential for growth!

Be sure to warm up before starting your hills.  Run the hills at 5k effort, or about 90% of maximum effort.  Maintain good form while going up the hill.  Eyes forward, upright posture (maybe a slight forward lean, but you should not be hunched).  Drive your arms forward and back, not side to side.  Try to maintain good form throughout each of the repeats. Dig deep!!

To recover, you can walk or slowly jog back down the hill. 


GET STARTED EARLY in the week.  Each day you put off and say "eh, I'll just do more the next day" makes it much more difficult.  And no, you cannot start on the next week's hills until you reach the start date for the next week.

IT IS ALWAYS BETTER WITH FRIENDS!  Find a hill, grab a few crazy like-minded friends, and get out there and run!  It's especially helpful to do it with friends on the cold blistery winter days that you'll likely encounter.

If you're running on trails, use a stick to keep a tally in the mud (or snow!).  It's sometimes hard to keep track after a few!

Post updates on the Facebook page!  Invite your friends! Let's encourage each other and help one another stay accountable. Additionally, if you'd like to post about other training you're doing, and successes (or failures) with your diet and nutrition, you are more than welcome!  We do this as a group to stay moving and stay strong during a time of the year when it's often too easy to slack off. 

Above all, HAVE FUN!!!