Dylan Bowman is an ultrarunner, but did not start out as one. He was a college lacrosse player and only got into running because he missed competition. But he found the sport fascinating and kept with it, placing in the top three in his first Leadville 100 and eventually winning the San Diego 100. With goals of winning this year’s Western States and competing at the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, Bowman has been training hard in Marin County, California. But the 27-year-old took a breather, removed his Dusts (briefly) and guest blogged for us on ultrarunning’s sudden surge in popularity and what that means for runners everywhere.
Running is a small industry, made smaller by the polarizing ultrarunning sect, but it is growing at an unprecedented rate. When asked how the sport should grow more and gain popularity, I’m not sure that is the important question. The real question should be: How can ultrarunning grow in a clean and sustainable way?
In my mind, the inclusive environment inherent in the ultrarunning community is what makes the sport so compelling. That environment is what has drawn so many lifelong non-runners, like me, and even non-athletes into the sport. The beautiful landscapes and the feeling of accomplishment and belonging have made the sport incredibly attractive to a wide audience in just a few years.
At the competitive end of the field, the discussion is already shifting towards implementing drug testing, which speaks to the idea of clean growth. We're still probably a few years away from seeing anything significant on this front, but it will happen at some point. The temptation to cheat always grows on the same trajectory as the reward. This has been seen in all endurance sports throughout history, and the reward in ultrarunning has grown tremendously in recent years. We'd be misguided to believe it won’t happen in our sport at some point.
I've always been of the mindset that ultra/trail/mountain running should be featured in the Summer X Games. In that way, the sport would begin to mirror other action sports’ development, like mountain biking. I think it would fit in well and would be compelling to an audience on ESPN with the right coverage and strategy. When I was preparing for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc last summer, I realized how popular the sport was in Europe. Anton Krupicka was like a rock star, an international celebrity; people stopped him on the street to take pictures with him. I would love to see that start to happen in the U.S.
However, with the sports present size and impending growth, sustainability is going to be an issue, as well. Not only from the environmental perspective, as the races become more and more populated, but also sustaining the prestigious nature of the sport. We all want to be inclusive, as that is a hallmark of ultrarunning, but it’s difficult for race directors to put on events that are inclusive, yet competitive. It’s already hard to get into some of the top races and I wonder how that will unfold in the future.
With whatever way the future unfolds, I'm really happy to be involved in this exciting era and I'll keep running through it. Maybe that's all that matters.