Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Trail Runner: Prize Purse... Good or Evil?

I subscribe to Trail Runner Magazine.  It's one of my favorites and I look forward to the hard copy every couple of months, but also the weekly online updates.  This week I got their invitation to participate in a "blog symposium".  Intrigued I read further.  Each month they are going to post a question for people to write about as a way to challenge each other's thinking, share opinions and encourage dialogue among trail runners. 

I'm opinionated.  I love to write.  And I love trail running.  It's perfect!!  So the first question I am going to tackle is:

Is the introduction of bigger prize purses at trail races a positive or negative thing overall?

Wow.  Nothing like jumping right in, I thought.  This ought to spark a revolution with guns a blazin'.  Immediately in my head I started debating back and forth.  I could think of good reasons on both sides of the argument.  But in the end I have to follow my heart.  And my heart says...

Negative.  Negative?  Are you sure?  Wouldn't it be better to have more exposure and publicity and a chance for people to make a living doing something that they love that happens to not be football?  Um, no. 

And here's why:

1.  In 2005 I began doing triathlon in addition to running (road only at that time).  What I have observed in the last 8 years in the sport of triathlon is that despite the sports explosion in popularity, races have only become more expensive and difficult to gain entry into.  On top of which, the professionals are still not able to make a living by racing triathlon.  Professional triathletes make their money from sponsors (having contracts with shoe or bike companies) or by coaching amateur athletes, not race prize purses.  Other than the world championship, the prize purses are still not large enough for most people to live on.  And lets face it, this isn't golf.  How "big" of a prize purse are we talking about here?  Are we going to be able to match that world championship level often enough to allow the few elite runners out there to actually make a living?  My guess is no. 

2.  Unlike road racing, in trail racing we have a bigger participant to worry about.  The trail.  It's fairly simple to clean up after a road race.  You get a couple of people with some wide brooms and you sweep the road.  I'm not saying it's a wonderful job.  And I'm thankful for every volunteer who cleans up after me when I race.  I'm saying that it's easy compared with trying to care for our trails.  Put a couple hundred people on a trail for 5, 10, or 30 hours and you have a lot of wear and tear.  In addition, no matter how much we beg people not to do it... I always see empty gel packets littering the trails after a race.  (Seriously, people.  Not cool.) 

Now imagine we offer a large prize purse.  We attract a lot of big name elite runners to the race.  This increases publicity.  This increases the number of regular joes who show up to run.  And now, there's no way we're stopping to pick up our dropped wrappers, 'cause for god's sake I gotta win that prize purse!!  (And by "we" I mean all the runners in front of me whose wrappers I'm carrying to the next aid station...)  If we're going to have a big prize purse maybe we should also mandate that the top 10% of finishers have to sweep the course.  Or at the very least, they have to recruit their family members to volunteer for that job.  If I had to run around after my husband picking up gel packets he's dropped, you can guarantee he'll get an ear full.  Might make him think twice about dropping them next time.  (In reality, he's more of a road guy... trails are my thing... but when I typed it out in reverse it didn't sound nice with him "giving me an ear full"... he doesn't yell at me so I couldn't pretend that he does.) 

3.  And lastly, I just don't like people all that much.  OK, no I'm kidding.  What I meant to say is that one of the things I value most about trail running is how different it is from road running.  The trails are quiet, and relaxed and there's lots of solitude and time to think and reflect.  Trail runners are a laid back crowd, a little more hippie.  A little more yoga.  A little more granola than the elbow-throwing competitive group of road racers and triathletes that make up my social circle.  When I show up to a trail race, it's a group of friends around the campfire sharing stories and laughs.  Trail runners generally care about the planet, and the trails, and the parks.  They don't mean to drop their gels.  (I honestly believe they probably fall out of someone's pocket 9 times out of 10...)  I'm all for a little friendly competition.  And even in trail racing, I can't check my competitive spirit at the start line.  If I'm there, I'm going to give it my best.  But I believe that by having huge prize purses we might override that spirit of freedom, the camaraderie, that is so wonderful in the trail running community.    

So for no other reasons than selfish ones... I vote negative.

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