Last week, nine Race Directors representing some of the largest US ultras published a letter detailing their reasoning for not paying the ITRA to become UTMB qualifiers. Since then, the ITRA has issued a response and numerous people have posted their thoughts online. The original letter can be found here and the ITRA's response can be found here. Both are worth reading, especially before reading further here.
Now, first things first, the High Lonesome 100 is a UTMB qualifier and ITRA member. It cost around $87 and took about 30 minutes to set up. The High Lonesome 100 is not an ATRA member since we didn't deem the benefits justified the membership fee. The High Lonesome 100 is not a Hardrock or Western States qualifier, but we have discussed our status with both organizations. So there is the disclaimer.
Our reasoning for becoming a UTMB qualifier was motivated by three primary factors. First, as a new race, being a UTMB qualifier helps us get people to run the race. Secondly, we signed up because some of our runners are working towards their UTMB points and the cost was low enough that we wanted to help them out. Lastly, we signed up because many of the people on the High Lonesome 100 Committee want to run UTMB themselves. At $87, it's pretty much a no brainier. Now if the cost had been a couple hundred dollars, we probably wouldn't have done it. It's also our internal policy to review our memberships/affiliations and our qualification status each year.
From this point on, we're going to switch to the first person because I (Caleb Efta) don't want to speak for the other members of our committee.
The US letter brings up some very understandable and reasonable points. They also used some words that are fairly inflammatory (racket, scheme, ironmanization, etc). I don't see anything wrong with using those words, or with their points. I don't think I would have phrased things quite as bluntly, but I think the RD's who signed that letter feel pretty strongly about this issue.
The ITRA response was pretty straightforward I think. What I was able to get out of it was, essentially, the ITRA is a Swiss non-profit in good standing (which is something I didn't know prior to reading that), that there is some separation between the ITRA and the UTMB, and that Killian has his UTMB points. All good things to know right?
Now, if the story stopped there, I wouldn't have written past the first three paragraphs. What these two letters have done though, is spark a debate about the spirit of ultrarunning. The exact quote from the US letter is as follows:
"[in reference to the number of entrants in US races] Even if American races could, many would choose not to, considering it contrary to the spirit of ultrarunning."
Queue the controversy.
Since I've been following this, I've seen a lot of responses. Sherpa John wrote a post in response entitled "Why I Paid ITRA/UTMB and You're Wrong." The post lambastes the writers of the US letter, and singles out Hardrock/Dale Garland throughout. The post is angry, resentful, and divisive. Read the whole thing for yourself, but this part stood out to me especially:
"Yet, we still receive a no and no reasonable explanation for why [HR hasn't made Silverheels a qualifier]...even if it’s “You, as the RD, have a big opinionated mouth and we don’t like it.” To which I could now say.. “Takes one to know one.”
In response to SJ's post, Barkley RD Laz wrote a heartfelt post about what he sees as the spirit of ultrarunning. Here are two of my favorite snippets of what Laz said:
"the magic of ultrarunning is not in the sport.
it is in the eyes we see it through.
and if the sport seems to have lost some of its luster,
maybe it is those eyes that have grown jaded."
"but the look on the faces of those who have found something in themselves
that they never knew was there.
that remains the same.
and looking at those faces keeps me young
and the sport alive..."
Read that again (read the whole thing here). Can you hear the difference between the two? One speaks of the magic of running and the eyes of the beholder. The other is aggressive and negative. It's not that I disagree with everything that SJ said, he raises concerns that I believe should rightly be discussed (prize money and doping specifically), but his style distracts and diminishes his perspective.
This, to me, is the bigger problem. It's not whether or not Hardrock and 8 other RDs want to pay for ITRA...it's not whether doing so is consistent or hypocritical...right or wrong. It's every race's right to decide what they want to do, be it good, bad or indifferent.
No, the real problem is the way this conversation is being had. We don't need more division. America continues to grow more and more polarized, our viewpoints evermore diametrically opposed. When this happens, we loose sight of the person behind the opinion. Laz brings us back to what we should be focusing on, each other. It should not be this race vs that race, this RD vs that RD.
SJ frequently espouses that he is an advocate for our community, yet all I have seen is divisiveness. I don't think the 9 RD's meant to cause division. Their letter was worded strongly (one could argue perhaps a little much so), but was written to bring understanding and attention to an issue. The ITRA response was civil and moderately informative. That should be enough. Someone took a stance, explained why, and then received a response...end of story.
It's easy to be angry. It's easy to hate. It's a lot harder to love and to accept. What I love about ultrarunning is that I've seen it accept every type of person imaginable. I've seen 300 pound people running 50K's. I've seen blazing fast runners high five the back of the packers. I've lost count the number of times I've seen the eventual winner sitting by the finish line, hours after they finished, cheering in the other runners. I've seen runners get other runners out of a chair and keep them moving. I've seen the 70 year old's come through the aid stations with a smile on their face. This, to me, is the spirit of ultrarunning.
It's the love we share for seeing each other succeed. It's about seeing people dig deep and push into the unknown. It's about the shared bond we create when we suffer together, the tears and hugs we share at the finish. The friendships forged in dirt, sweat, and beauty.
So who cares if Hardrock, Run Rabbit, Bighorn, and others don't want to pay to be a UTMB qualifier? If you want to run UTMB, find a race that is an ITRA member. If you don't want to support the ITRA, then run races like those who wrote the letter. Don't care one way or another, then just run. This isn't a big deal.
One last thing. When I started working on this race, I emailed a lot of RD's asking for advice. To a person, everyone responded and gave their time, advice, and knowledge freely. That openness, combined with the obvious professionalism of the RD's and their races, has impacted me more than I can communicate in a simple post. Suffice it to say that the bar has been set high, and that as a young RD, I hope to emulate and achieve the level of those RD's who helped me.
These people and races have made me convinced that the future of our sport is in good and capable hands. They're in the hands of people who care, people willing to spend hundreds, if not thousands of hours, creating a theater for us to play in. Our sport has, is, and will continue to change. That isn't a bad thing so long as we remain intentional with our words, actions, and each other.
So, if you're going to pick a side, I humbly suggest the middle. Get on the Laz-train and find the beauty, magic, individuality, and community in our wonderful sport.