April 20, 2014

Trail Running Becoming Too Commercialized?

Work with me on this. I’m trying to find an angle on the topic for this post, and I’m struggling. So I’m just writing now. It isn’t something I do often, but it seems to be working right now, to just start writing. The Banco de Gaia Pandora station playing on my headphones is helping, but the topic seems to be too big for my current lack of creative perspective. Ok. Whatever. Let’s just see what flows...

Let me start by continuing the conversation of a fellow blogger at nomeatbarefeet.com about commercialism and trail running. Where this is going I haven’t a clue, but it seems to be top of mind for me right now.

The question is real simple. Is trail running becoming too commercialized? If only the answer could be so simple. If the question elicits an increase in your heart rate, you have an opinion. This is good. No, this is great. Keep reading and, please, leave a comment at the end of this post.

First of all, “trail running” is a broad term that includes many types of running. Starting with the sport of cross country which has been around for over 100 years to the more recent and sometimes mass produced mudder, adventure and xterra type events, the sport attracts a broad range of participants. Throw in ultras and the spectrum now includes events of just a few kilometers to more than 100 miles.

Back to the question. Is trail running too commercialized? I don’t think it is possible to answer the question without identifying a specific type of trail running. Cross country, for example is huge high school and college sport. Is cross country too commercialized? I don’t think so. I think the sport has retained its well-deserved tradition of flying under the commercial radar where the big three – football, basketball and baseball –have flown for decades. I don’t think there will be any big money shoe or skivvy contracts for cross country athletes any time soon.

My only comment on the mudder, adventure and xterra type of events is that they are, in large part, nothing more than a commercial endeavor, with a profit motivation driving the proverbial boat. Whether this is good or bad isn’t for me to judge. The fact is we live in a capitalistic society and I have no qualms about people starting a business with the objective to make money. The entrepreneur spirit is, after all folks, how we became the most powerful country in the world. What we leave in our wake can be troubling, however.

This leads me to ultras, and whether “ultra” trail running is too commercialized. I’m on record of supporting the Leadville 100 which has fallen out of favor with ultra “purists” due largely to its bulging size and related challenges race organizers really need to fix. Leadville is probably one of the most “commercialized” ultras in the US. Is it over commercialized? It is getting close. But if race organizers follow through with their commitment to fix the challenges runners and crews have experienced, Leadville could set the standard for “commercial” races.

Here is the real beef. As long as trail running remains a sport you don’t regularly find on ESPN, CBS Sports or even your local news channel, chances are the sport will not become too commercialized. Will companies continue to bring new products to the sport? Will new events continue to sprout up around the country? Will races continue to fill up within hours or even minutes of opening? The answer to all of these questions is – absolutely. Blame it on the book Born to Run, Ultra Marathon Man or the internet, this is what happens in a growing industry.

As long as people are willing to write a check there will always be someone there to cash it. Welcome to the free market, for better or worse.  


Jukka Kukkonen said...

Naturally anything wildly popular gets commercialized. I've seen this happen in triathlon, climbing, your blog...

The solution is simple: you don't like it, don't buy it. My main beef is not coming up with the idea to sell all that stuff for barefoot/naked runners!

BTW nice UTMB pic, can't wait queueing in that f-ing gear check line again, only to see which items I've left in my hotel room :-)

Will Cooper said...

Ha, pretty funny tPlodder. When my blog becomes commercialized is when I start training for 5ks. Hope your training is going well.