Mark Gillett

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The Running World Challenges and Changes

with 5 comments

Over the last 5 or 6 years I have seen huge waves of change in the running world. Just 15 years ago the challenge was a city marathon, New York, London, Dublin or one of the many around the world. The mega challenge was the UTMB or the Marathon des Sables.. Then popped up a few more copies of the MDS format like the four deserts, Jungle Marathon and a few others that came and went or still fumble by. And when you had completed one of these the next challenge seemed to be a 600km non stop or one of the Poles. Or even Everest.

MB5H7331

Yukon Quest – 1000 miles of -40 degrees

But now the landscape has changed so massively that those big challenges have become or are becoming the new norm and the professionalisation of some of the ultra world races in terms of competitors and sponsors is just so great to witness. No longer is the MDS the ultimate or the UTMB the toughest out there. They are certainly tough but with 2300 runners competing this years event and the MDS reaching 1200 and rising to 1500 runners in 2015, these are more catering to the masses on a tour basis.  Everest is about booking your trip and being guided up by an expert. The MDS is 1500 runners shipped by bus to the desert, fed, wined and dined for three days, run and shipped back for some R&R in a hotel. 2300 in the UTMB is certainly a good money spinner! City Marathons at over 30,000 runners. Although its good to see so many people active, these events are not cheap with Everest at 50k average, stage races like the 4 deserts and MDS at around 4k per runner. All very good business for the races but really cater to very few who can afford or jump on the charity wagon.

However, during my cycling hours through the streets of london, I see people running these equivalents in a week or so on their way to work. People cycling 20, 30km or more a day just for commuting.  How things have changed!

MDS from the air

I have watched my FB newsfeed with interest this summer. In particular the events covered by iRunFar and Ian Corless at Talk Ultra. I have seen a new breed of tough race and some of the toughest races out there being run by real competitors. Races that have good sponsorship behind them, tough competitors and professional runners. But the top are truly in a league of their own. Marathons have become their training runs, stage races their warm ups or ignored altogether as not worth it. And now mountain trails, non stop 100 mile races and more extreme races are the new challenge. Some runners are completing these running sub 3 hours marathon times. A truly different level. Races like the lakeland100 in UK are now seen as much harder to run. I cover the Yukon Quest which is truly a man challenge not to be ignored. There are cycling challenges everywhere and the growing number of city dwellers now running or cycling to work is growing so fast that city councils do not know how to manage the change. Or how to make money form them yet!

This does not detract from the toughness of a desert race. Heat is a killer. Or the challenge of the humidity of a jungle race and freezing cold of the arctic. But it does make some of these races more the norm.

Jungle Marathon 08

Jungle Marathon, Amazon

So what does this tell us? For me I see it as all positive. More races means more competition which in turn leads to better and safer races. It leads to more choice, more destinations. It weeds out the poor races or those that maybe unsafe. But more importantly it also means the creative can be more adventurous and dream up something that is so different that we are presented with a new “MDS” for the next 25 years. And I truly believe this will happen. There will be another mysterious, man challenging event that emerges. A race that entices because so few have done it. A race that people can run and really feel they have done something that the masses have not. Something I felt when I first heard about the MDS back in the 80’s…

I really look forward to the next few years to see what arises. What I might be involved in media wise. What I might even find I want to challenge myself with.

Written by markgillett

September 2, 2013 at 10:16 am

5 Responses

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  1. nice article – have a look at the otter run – small race, staggeringly high quality field.
    It will be interesting to see what emerges as the media tires of writing about obstacle races

    kes

    September 2, 2013 at 12:47 pm

    • Hey Kes, ill take a look. And thanks. It’s very interesting now and I fear (or not) that the MDS head to re invent itself somehow. But I don’t think it will be or even should be on people hotlist so much now. There is some real competition out there but more so with the level of runner too.

      markgillett

      September 2, 2013 at 12:51 pm

  2. You might want to think of some thing different again, and come and run the the unique Polar Bear Marathon this coming November in Churchill, Manitoba, Canada. There may be only 10 marathon runners to finish it. Not a big marathon, so very few runners have run this one.

    albertmartens

    September 3, 2013 at 3:46 pm

  3. Hi Mark I have been thinking similarly to yourself. Whilst I agree with humans pushing the boundaries of what is achievable, and maybe weeding out the `lesser` events, it could also end in tragedy for those who get it wrong. The leisure activity boom is not a new phenomena and maybe has something to do with humans and our evolutionary zest for pioneering `new` variations on a theme. Sorry to put a bit of dampener on your optimistic outlook. It`s all in the perspective ?

    stevemon50

    September 8, 2013 at 3:33 pm

    • Thank you Steve… I did not mean lesser events but do mean events that are not well thought through or even dangerous or badly run. There are a few! I do however, like to see people taking care of themselves in terms of fitness and health and not relying on the next wonder pill or doctors appointment to resolve their health issues. So naturally the more people who do will need a greater number of events, competitions, social events and so on…

      markgillett

      September 8, 2013 at 3:47 pm


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