I’m putting together a ruck for a trail run along the Front Range this evening. In goes a little dried mango. Two bottles of water: one of which I’ll probably drink, the other is there just in case. A light sweater. My phone. And where are my truck keys? Check my head lamp, are the batteries good?
I’m thinking about each of these things as I put them in my bag. Thinking about them as if I were going to be running up and over a pass or beyond the horizon, even though I know that this is just a recreational run and most likely it wont exceed six or seven miles. I’ll be in full view of the lights of down-town Denver the whole time. I’ll probably start counting cars as they make their way along Highway 36. This run will be about as far apart from an running an ultra as one can get. But its still going to happen on a trail.
For me, there isn’t a lot that separates a “trail run” from an “ultra”. Very little other than distance or time, take your pick. If I had more time, I’d run more distance. When I read about someone else’s epic journey, in a race or just along some trail the mile markers just serve as a reference points to anchor some segment of the story.
If there are pictures included I’d rather know what I’m looking at than the distance from the trail head or the start. Is that a view of the mountain pass you’ll be running up today? Yep, well that’s cool, I want to run it too.
Distance is a function of time regardless of event; if you’re racing an ultra, fast packing a trail, or just going out for a jog a story can happen. Yes, there are people who can pack more distance in less time than I, and I say good for them. Speed is important, but never as important as the story. Distance can happen anywhere, but its not that impressive if its nothing much more than an odometer ticking away miles. Don’t believe me, then ask yourself where are the epic ultra accounts from Kansas.
That’s why I run. For the story. Each footstep forward is another sentence in the story of that run. Maybe it will never be told, but it unfolds nevertheless, inside my head as I make my way along any trail or path. And just like any story, if the author places too much emphasis on one element over the others, the story itself will become unbalanced and much less compelling.
Do I think there is too much emphasis being placed on ultrarunning in the trail running media? I don’t know, does it sell? If by “ultrarunning” one means racing on trails over long distances from the sole perspective of the sport’s minority elite, well then my answer might be “yes”. There are a few good story tellers in that bunch, but most of them are just good runners.
Trip reports, race reports, gear reviews from the hopelessly normal, even the perspective of mindful trail walkers — these are things I wouldn’t mind reading. Share your story, share your joy in running. You can write about that ultra race you just completed, but if it isn’t a good story than forgive me while if I glance over the first couple of lines and move onto something enjoyable. Adding the word “ultra” to a piece of writing and expecting it to shine only works for cleaning detergents.