Sunday, November 25, 2018

Ultra Running as a team sport? Yes it can!

This is rather counter-intuitive: by essence, except for some crewing and pacing at some ultra races, ultra running is very much an individual sport where each participant battles physical and mental challenges on their own, right? Same could be said about cross-country (XC), but it couldn't be further from the reality: cross-country races surely keep track of individual rankings but most of them put much more emphasis on awarding teams, or clubs. See for instance these pictures, how start lines are organized by team:

By the way, because of the smog last week, our Pacific Association XC Championships were rescheduled to this Sunday but I didn't attend, I didn't run any of the races this season and I have to admit XC is too fast for me nowadays, these guys are real... runners! ;-)

So, what about teams in ultra? In France, for instance at UTMB, sponsored elites would proudly register under their brand and the information will be displayed in the results. Other runners would use their club. To register for most races over there, you have to either prove that you are member of the national Track & Field association, or you have to provide a medical certificate attesting that you are in shape to race competitively. I wish the same would apply here in the US, that would certainly boost USATF membership!
For $30/year (or $25/year for 4 years), you can join our USA Track & Field association and pick a club, or team, when you do so. Then, when you participate to one of our Grand Prix, be it cross-country, road, or MUT (Mountain, Ultra, Trail), your finish can contribute to points to your team, bringing additional meaning to your participation, and a cool emulation within your team and other competing teams. And making your sport get this additional team dimension.

You can see how our Pacific Association (North California & Nevada) teams are faring in 2018 by consulting the current rankings:

On the MUT side, things have evolved a lot the past 10 years (while the Grand Prix has been going on for 26 years now). When I joined the MUT Grand Prix in 2006, it was all about Tamalpa's domination. In the South Bay, Adam Blum, then founder and CEO of Rhomobile, started sponsoring an ultra racing team hosted by Quicksilver, and we took over the top honors for a few years, culminating with winning the 4 team competitions in 2011 and still 3 in 2013 and 2014, before many teammates pursued other ultra interests outside of the Pacific Association circuit afterwards.
Fueled with super fast and talented runners, Excelsior became the new gorilla of the MUT Grand Prix: 3 team wins in 2015, 2 in 2016, 2 in 2017.
The other two, last year? They went to quite an old kid (club) on the block, Pamakids!
While Pamakids may not have the fastest runners, they have the largest number of participants throughout the season, in both men and women divisions, and that had finally paid off in 2018, they finally managed to win both the Men and Women divisions, and come first in the Overall competition (only leaving the Mixed to Excelsior). Quicksilver in 2018? We took 2nd overall in Men and Mixed, 3rd Overall, and not a single score in the Women division (scores can't double count, so the few ladies who scored for our club were counted under the mixed competition).

This is an illustration of the evolution and life cycle of club membership, leadership, as well as how clubs operate. For instance, it is my understanding that Pamakids allocate some profit from the races they organize to provide runners stipends for participating to races (registration and/or travel). Conversely, our club redistribute all the profits from our club races to local charities, so members are on their own, in addition to having to pay the club fees on top of the USATF membership. Different tactics, different results but the same team spirit when we line up at the start.

After chatting with John Trent, I'm hoping that the Silver State Striders will come back into our competition for 2019. Auburn also has a great running community with all the momentum created for instance by Martin Sengo, Paulo Medina and Brian Valle.

Could you imagine if the Impalas were participating in more of our MUT races? In addition to XC and Road, they would shatter the Women competition! Or the Aggies in the Men? Or the Wolfpack taking the Mixed maybe?

I'm also hoping for the revival of MUT participation from foundational clubs such as Buffalo Chips, Golden Valley Harriers, and Tamalpa of course!

To that effect, that's why we are betting on the addition of sub-ultra trail races in our 2019 calendar, to get additional appeal to new and younger runners.

Look at the potential we can tap in, all these clubs have listed Ultra in their Club specialities and focus areas!
You can find the list of all Pacific Association clubs on our PAUSATF website.

To summarize, here are a few benefits from racing as a team:

  1. The fulfillment of contributing to something greater than yourself;
  2. The excitement to plan a season along with teammates, strategize where to put your bets on, add new races, trips and outings to your race schedule;
  3. The pride of building something together;
  4. The personal growth from stronger social connections (than just Facebook!); and maybe more (I've see a few couples forming over team bonding! ;-) );
  5. The sane emulation and inspiration you'll get from pushing your own limits when competing for your team;
  6. An opportunity to mentor, inspire, coach new members and teammates, give them exposure to a new sport and new category of running, guide them though their personal journey.

So, what are you waiting for, will you join us in this fun and team competition if not already?

1 comment:

Stargazer said...

Nice post. Very clear and inspiring. Thanks Steve Jaber