Cotton, Move Over—Money is the Fabric of Our Lives

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Editor’s Choice: March Blog Symposium on prize purses at trail races


Editor’s Note: This piece originally appeared at Uphill Running, and was our top pick among entries into the March Trail Runner Blog Symposium: Is the introduction of bigger prize purses at trail races a positive or negative thing overall? To browse other entries, check out our March Symposium Highlights.

Bob Anderson’s Ujena Fit Club constructs a list of the “Best Road Races” ranked according to prize money. The top-three races total a staggering, $2,914,000 in prize money awarded. This doesn’t include incentive bonus money for breaking records.

The biggest prize purses in U.S. trail running pale in comparison: The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-mile, $20,000; UROC 100k, $21,000; Run Rabbit Run, $40,000; Speedgoat 50k, $11,000. Interestingly, the shortest trail race distance with any significant prize money is five miles farther than any of the top-three road races; all of which are marathons, by the way. In fact, if you’re first overall, and set a course and a world record at the Virgin London Marathon you could win $206,000. That’s $7,862.60 per mile.

Trail races are new in the business world. It’s more evident in the type of runner than in the prize purse. Road racing can seem overwhelming cut-throat. From the moment you step out of your vehicle you better have your game-face primed and ready. You’re being judged by your outfit, by your shoes, and by the definition of your quads. It’s silly, but it’s true. This isn’t to say that trail runners don’t judge, but the start-line of a trail race is usually accompanied by a dull conversation about beer, mustaches, and the last time you rolled…an ankle.

Will bigger prize purses change these aspects of trail races? Yes, of course. Money is greener than trees, and softer than cheap toilet paper. Money kept Jerry Maquire and Rod Tidwill together. For a race director money brings elites. The elites bring sponsors. Sponsors bring swag. Free swag (finisher medals) brings people. The more registered runners the more money the race director earns. Businesses can’t ignore their bottom-lines.

Trail runners spend hard-earned money on trail running shoes, moisture-wicking socks, sub-three ounce jackets, compression socks, and environmentally conscious food. And with careful concern for sensitive habitats trail runners spend hours, upon hours traveling by foot through backyard mountains, deserts, and soft-surfaced sidewalks. Trail runners do this because they love it. Trail runners love the fresh-air, the escape, the solitude, the wild and free.

Racing isn’t for the soul-searcher. Trail races satisfy the need for trail runners to test their ego. Bigger prize purses in trail racing will bring better competition, race support, and will hopefully bring shorter races some deserved cash-flow. In these regards, bigger prize purses have the ability to positively impact the sport of trail racing.

Money’s greatest strength, is money’s greatest weakness. For every racer there are infinitely more runners. The word “race” is pejorative among the pure. Racing and purity is too strange of a juxtaposition for the free minded souls that ramble consciously along the trails for pleasure. If the popularity of an event increases, the individuals searching for a secluded escape from the popular are displaced. For the pure runner bigger prize purses can look akin to the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

It’s important for trail racers and trail runners to take into account both positive and negative. It’s important to acknowledge that popularity and population can be detrimental to the medium: The mountains, the forest. The escape, the fulfillment. To be positive and successful bigger prize purses need to raise the awareness of environmental preservation and sport. It’ll be important for trail racers and trail runners to work together to improve and compromise. The bigger the prize purse the more good the race director, sponsors, and athletes should be required to do for the use of the land, the sport, and the preservation of the wild.


Trey Bailey, 28, of Issaquah, Washington, runs, writes, coaches online and works at a running shop. He grew up with “Georgia Red Clay” stains on his jeans, and now, lives in long sleeve T-shirts with coffee stains on his jeans.

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