Our guest blogger, Ray Charbonneau, is a regular contributor to Marathon & Beyond magazine. In our current issue (July/August 2015), you can read his latest article, “Something to Run For: A Not-so-Short Story.”
In a world where running a Boston qualifier doesn’t ensure that you’ll get in the race, sometimes it seems like everyone is a runner. We may be closer than you think to the day when that’s a reality.
When we look back on the history of running in the US, we like to talk about ‘running booms.’ The period in the 70’s when Frank Shorter won the Olympic Marathon, road races began accepting women, and Jim Fixx had a bestseller is usually called the ‘First Running Boom.’ Then, in the 90’s, when everyone and their Oprah discovered that even penguins could run the marathon, there was the ‘Second Running Boom.’ And somewhere in the mid-2000’s, when ultramarathoning took off and the women entering races outnumbered the men for the first time, the ‘Third Running Boom’ started – a boom that appears to continue to this day.
But that’s a parochial view of the history of running. If we take a broader look, one that recognizes the long and storied history embodied by the idea of ‘the loneliness of the long-distance runner,’ those ‘booms’ are just noise in the data. What’s actually going on is no mere boom. It’s more like an explosion, a nuclear chain-reaction in the process of going critical.
Let’s look at that data.
This first chart shows the change in the number of race finishers over time, both overall and at a variety of distances, using data from RunningUSA.org and Ultrarunning Magazine. You can see that there are no real ‘boom’ or ‘bust’ cycles. With only one exception, the curves are always going up. And that one exception, a single-year dip in marathon finishers, was not caused by any loss of interest, but when Hurricane Sandy forced New York to be cancelled, wiping out 40,000+ potential finishers.
I included a line in the chart for the US population over the same period. The population is rising, but it’s obvious that the increase in race finishers is not due solely to an increase in the overall number of people.
Now picture the long, relatively flat part to left of the curves shown here, the part that represents running prior to the 70’s, a time when there were so few organized races that a single publication, pasted together manually by a single person, could track all the results. And take note of the significant increase in the rate of increase in the 2000’s, especially at the shorter distances.
When you take the entire history of running into account, it’s apparent that the overall trend of participation in running events closely resembles an exponential growth curve.
It’s not a little boom, or a series of booms (and busts). It’s a running explosion!
What does this explosion mean for running in the coming years? Let’s look at that population curve and at the curve for the total number of event finishers in more detail.
I generated best-fit trendlines for those curves, which you can see on the first chart. They confirm that the US population is increasing steadily, in a relatively linear fashion, while an exponential formula is the best fit for the finishers’ trendline. Both formulas fit the data extremely well, as shown by the fact that the correlation coefficient (R2) is very close to 1.
Now let’s extend the current trends forward into the future. Here’s a final chart:
If things go on as they have been, by 2080 there will be a race finish for every man, woman, and child in the US. It’s science!
Ray Charbonneau is the author of a number of books on running. That number is currently four. Ray’s work has appeared previously in Marathon & Beyond and many other publications. His current project is the “Runner’s Book Bundle,” a specially-priced collection of 15 indie-publishing ebooks by runners for runners. All proceeds from sales of the “Runner’s Book Bundle” go to the Vermont Foodbank and the 100 Mile Club. Find out more at www.y42k.com.
Kenneth A. Posner
© 2014 42K(+) Press, Inc.
In 1977, Al Arnold became the first person to run the 146 miles from the Badwater Basin in Death Valley (which, at 282 feet below sea level, is the lowest point in the Western Hemisphere) to the summit of Mount Whitney (which, at 14,505 feet, is the highest point in the continental USA). In 1989, Tom Crawford and Rich Benyo conceived the idea of doubling this feat and became the first people to complete the 292-mile round trip, which is referred to as a “double” (Benyo 1991). In 2001, Marshall Ulrich set a record for the double of 96:07 as part of his celebrated “quad” crossing (Ulrich 2004). I set out on July 1, 2014, with the goal of completing the double and—if all went perfectly according to plan—of improving on the record. If successful, I would contribute in a small way to the tradition that Tom, Rich, and Marshall established of seeking out extreme challenge in the beautiful but unforgiving environment of Death Valley and the High Sierra—and then raising the bar.
After the experience was over, my crew and I identified several lessons learned that we thought might aid other Badwater runners in such areas as planning, crew leadership, pacing, nutrition, and footgear. We offer these ideas with the goal of inspiring others to take on the Badwater course and to further improve the times for single, double, and other crossings. But first, here’s what happened.
Each issue, we select an “Editor’s Choice”—an entire article we share with you online. Click here to read the entire article…
With the permission of Zach Adams, we are reprinting this post about how an ultrarunner (usually the one running) takes on the role of aid station captain. For those of you who have manned aid stations, you will be able to identify with Zach. For those of you who are used to aid station workers taking care of you, well … just say “thanks” to your aid station folks next time you’re in a race. Thanks to Zach Adams and Eric Steele of Epic Ultras for letting us post this piece.
At the inaugural Flint Hills Marathon and 40 Miler I got my first taste of running an aid station for the full duration of a race, and HOLY SHIT was it a real eye-opener! Since I started running ultras about 5 years ago, I have been amazingly taken care of at almost every race I have started. I have had workers fill my bottles, give me food, and offer me everything from a sandwich from their own cooler to Tums out of the glove box of their car. I have stumbled, shuffled, and flown through innumerable aid stations, but I have never worked one. I now realize after working at one, that while I was grateful, I was still taking them for granted. Not anymore. Never again. I realize that I am not unique in that I usually run ultras so I am really excited to share some observations from my first experience from behind the aid station table.
1. It is HARD. You have to show up early and stay late. You have to rush around and get stuff ready before runners get there. You have to load and unload everything. You have to clean as you go. You have to clean, inventory, and repack everything once the last runner comes through. It isn’t running, but it is a LOT of work.
2. It is STRESSFUL. The pressure of being able to quickly and efficiently provide for all the needs of the runners while still cheering them on and infusing them with confidence takes a real toll on you. Waiting for a group of runners to come through and making sure you got them all checked in can leave you worried that you missed someone. You will question yourself. Did I do everything I could for them? Did I find the right drop bag? Did I give them the right bottle back?
Continue reading » From runner to Aid Station Captain
Jeff and Dondi Black are ultrarunners in Boise, Idaho. A couple of weeks ago, Jeff ran the River of No Return 100K, and Dondi ran the 50K. This was the inaugural year for the RONR and its first year in the Idaho Trail Ultra Series. If you’re considering an ultra in Idaho, check out the ITUS website for other races. RONR was the 3rd in a series of 8 ultras in 2014. Here is Jeff’s race report entitled “Running the River.”
“This was an inaugural race with a potent name: The River of No Return, or RONR for short. Given its close proximity to the Frank Church Wilderness to north, the main Salmon River to the south, and the towering Lost River Range to the east, the location was promisingly iconic even before arriving in Challis, Idaho where it all began. I strapped in for the long 100k course while Dondi rode the rapids on the 50k.” To read the whole article, go to Jeff’s website: http://jeffattheraces.wordpress.com/.
The Dig Deep weekend has earned its place as one of the most highly anticipated race weekends in the UK trail and ultra-running community, with its comprehensive set of races and activities to suit all abilities. With four main races over the weekend, including the Ultra Tour of the Peak District – a brutal but stunning 60 mile course showcasing the best of Peak District trails – to the Whirlow 10k Trail Challenge.
Sponsorship for 2014 has already been finalised and race organiser Ian loombe announced, “We’re delighted to have Mammut as our principal sponsor, with Injinji and Ultimate Direction heavily involved as well. Clif will once again provide the nutrition for the race and Outside will be providing some great retail opportunities giving us a very respectable sponsor package.”
The 2013 event received great feedback, with the goody bags in particular proving to being very popular! Campers were given an overnight bag, which included earplugs, travel pillows and a Mammut cuddly toy. Over the weekend over £1,000 worth of Clif and Injiji freebies and goodies were given out as spot prizes!
Continue reading » Dig Deep Races – Date set for 2014