Quality, Safety, and Price or Adventure & Muli-sport races


Another year over and if we are to judge it by the size of the attached calendar, one in which all forms of endurance sport continue to show unprecedented growth. Yes, there's always the odd high profile casualty but this is normally the result of costs getting out of line with income rather than anything to do with lack of support from competitors. All round the world the trend seems to be for races to fill up earlier and for race directors to ask for, and get, earlier deadlines for race entry.


A few years ago it was possible to review the calendar and easily avoid potential conflicts: in virtually every place in the world that is now impossible. But has quantity come at a cost of quality?


My view, for what's it worth, is that we're all a bit too blame. We are at the centre of a multimillion dollar industry and yet so often we see races plagued by a less than professional approach. Over the last year I've seen governments happy to get the publicity a big race brings but not wanting to make the effort to ensure that the race subsequently becomes a happy experience for all concerned.


I've seen local authorities desperate to host events but unwilling to understand that this also means simplifying procedures for things like permits.


I've seen race directors and organizations stretch themselves beyond their capability to deliver a quality experience and I've also seen (and heard) athletes bitch like mad every time someone puts on a quality race and they realize that this actually costs money in the form of increased entry fees.


Taking a detached view for a minute it seems that the Ironman organization have got it right. There's no doubt the races are expensive but they fill up immediately, the organization on race day always works and everyone seems happy after the race (unless of course you've had six punctures and fell over on the run). When there are problems they are sorted out quickly and if they can't be then Ironman simply packs up their race and leaves for somewhere else. Not every race director can do this of course but as a business decision it's the best way to protect your brand.


The last year has seen the growth of "branded" events and this clearly has some potential leverage for dealing with sponsors. The Xterra Series is growing apace (and it will be interesting to see if they can maintain quality over such a large number of qualifying races) whilst these newsletters have drawn attention to a number of world championship series in adventure racing. Hyperbole aside, the benefit of a series of races is to build up the events into something that can be marketed professionally and with it, attract even more money to the sport.


Although this has some obvious business sense it does clash with the laid back culture of many ultra runners and ultrarunning events. There have been several examples of where a new race director has introduced much needed professionalism only to find that such an approach is resented by athletes who fail to understand that things do not stay the same over time. Not all of this professionalism is for marketing reasons: quite often it is simply because more and more demands are being placed on race directors to meet ever changing standards.


My dad for example find himself subject to all sorts of new risk management rules in 2004 simply in order to run a series of cycling time trials. A great staple of British cycling, time trials normally mean the same set of mates racing against the clock on the same course every week as they have done for years. As of next week my dad has to provide marshals every time.


Personally I love nothing more than to get into the hills and run a low key event but I also know that whether it's running through Death Valley or hanging off a rope somewhere in Thailand that safety comes at the very top of my self preservation list and if it costs a bit to put in the organization to make that happen then I'll pay up.


Recent Races:

Most of my argument above goes out the window if a race really messes up and last month's Land Rover Challenge in Hong Kong probably achieved more cock ups in a single day than most races of its' type. Most people know the full catalogue of errors but what was completely unforgivable was the rope set up. It was potentially lethal and we should all be grateful that I'm still using the word "potential" here.


Perhaps even more baffling was the organizers determination to give away all the prizes and teams who had not finished the race ended up with air tickets and overseas trips. Absolutely bizarre.


The solution in my view is for race organizers to cut their teeth on multisport events before progressing to adventure races: anything that involves sending people down ropes or out onto water brings with it much more complicated logistics.


The week prior had seen the world 100km championships take place in Taiwan. The outcome was little short of pure carnage as the majority of favoured runners simply blew up in a combination of heat and humidity that the average Asian-based runner would take as a good day!


Given the impressive performances of local teams in Trailwalker this year it does suggest that local ultraunners may be rather better than they think they are and that a much more serious attempt should be made next year to enter a team in the world championships.


Those of us who run long distances in Asia are nearly always training and racing in conditions that would send most runners back to bed. As one friend pointed out to me "when has Khalid Khannouchi ever raced in temperatures higher than 15 degrees C?".


Conditions next year in Holland will be more conducive to fast running but there's no reason why Asia can't be better represented.