Monday, 24 March 2014

Are you a 'true' trail runner?

I got into a conversation over the weekend about the cost of events, no-frill events vs those with 'bells-and-whistles' and marked vs unmarked routes (very different topics all mish-mashed into the same discussion!). Something stood out in a comment by one of the discussion participants.

He wrote:
As a sponsor I ask very little in terms of "bells and whistles"... who are these people who want are confused between wannabe road off-road runners and true trail runners. 
Here's the thing... just what makes a person a 'true' trail runner?

I've jotted down a couple of questions that could be asked of a person to gauge their 'trueness':
  • Do you run on your own, or with other people? 
  • Do you run 5km or 30km routes? How about ultras? 
  • Do you participate regularly in events?
  • How many times a week do you run on trails?  
  • Have you done any 'prestigious' trail events? 
  • Do you only enter low-key events with small participant numbers?
  • Are you in the top 10% of finishers, or do you aim to finish and enjoy the event? 
  • Do you skimp on mandatory gear at races (and training) - running with just a hipbelt and bottle - because you know you can nail the route in four hours? 
  • Do you run with a pack and all the mandatory gear plus a few extras should conditions turn?
  • Do you wear sleeveless tops, lathering your shoulders in sunblock? 
  • Do you no longer train on tar? Road races? Totally out of the question! 
  • Do your trail shoes match your tees? 
  • Cushioned vs minimalist trail shoes? How about Vibrams or sandals or 100% barefoot! 
  • Can you take care of yourself in the great outdoors? 
  • When you go on holiday do you just head off for a couple of hours on your own? 
  • How long have you been running on trails for? Weeks? Months? Years? Born on trail, baby. 
In the realm of events there is place for comfy beds, music, vibe, MCs as well as tents, the sounds of nature and a voiced, "Ready, steady, go!". We have such variety available that you can go for a bit of this and a bit of that as the mood suits.

Reading the comment I was incensed.

When people ask me how fit they have to be for adventure racing / orienteering / running I always reply that there are people who run Comrades in 5h30 and there are people who only just finish in the official 12hr time. While the runners upfront are faster, people at the back are not lesser runners because they are slower. And it is the bulk of the field that makes events feasible. If Comrades was only hosted for the Top 200 runners, it wouldn't be a viable event AND all those slower people, who are passionate about running and who put in months and months of hard work would be excluded.

This made me think about Ed February's talk at FEAT in October 2012 where he asks (and answers) whether it is still mountaineering if one pays R500,000 to a guide to get you up Mt Everest. Ed's talk is really superb and well worth watching.

Road, trail and a bit of both - to me it matters not how fast you are, how far you run, how often you run and with whom you run. Nor what events you prefer. What matters is that you're doing what gives you pleasure. There's no need for titles or boxes.

Is a "wanna-be road off-road runner" not just a less experienced trail runner?

1 comment:

Robert Green said...

I am just happy enjoying all forms of running. The concept "Variety is the spice of life" is very true in my case and a few of my running friends. In the last few years I have enjoyed everything from multi-day trail races, Comrades, weekend road races, Park runs and even track sessions. Had great fun in January with the summer series Rogaine so that is another one. I would hate to be limited to any one form of running. My biggest problem is fitting all the things I want to do in.