The sport is booming. But are skyrocketing demand, escalating race fees and other issues threatening the core of trail ultrarunning?
Recently bursting onto the ultrarunning scene with impressive wins and course records, young guns Tony Krupicka and Kyle Skaggs join for an early September training run near Independence Pass, Colorado. Photo by David Clifford.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published in our December 2008 issue.
Most trail ultrarunners find beauty in the sport’s simplicity. Count Joe Prusaitis as one of them. The 53-year-old from Austin, Texas, fell in love with trail ultrarunning nearly 15 years ago. It was the sport’s low-key, just-run nature that drew him in.
“I went to races that had 20 to 50 runners,” he says. “Nowadays, it’s 300 to 400 runners.”
Prusaitis fondly recalls the Tumblebug 100K in Bandera, Texas. The RD would get Hanes plain cotton tees, and hand-draw a tumblebug on each one. “And he was not an artist,” says Prusaitis. “We didn’t care. We just wanted to pay our money, run the course and have water put out for us.”
At many races, Prusaitis says wistfully, “Aid stations were just water jugs under a tree. Sometimes they still stunk of Dr. Pepper.”
Today Prusaitis directs the Rocky Raccoon trail ultras in Huntsville, near Houston. This year, the Raccoon drew 411 runners to its 50- and 100-mile courses and those diehards were greeted with aid stations more akin to smorgasbords. What’s more, they went home with more than a tumblebug drawing. “Runners expect a lot more now,” says Prusaitis.
But the sport’s changes go far beyond aid stations and schwag.