Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Ultrarunning Hipster

It's odd how sports that are 95% similar attract (or foster) such different personality types. Take the three sports I dabble at: triathlons, long-distance running and ultrarunning.

Triathletes are just complete dorks. Look at this video and try to disagree (mind you, these are elite triathletes):

Some people refer to these videos as bike mounting porn.

Triathletes are generally fitter and better looking than runners, but there is something about the outfits and the emphasis on overly expensive equipment that is so inherently uncool. Both aspects are captured here:

And, mind you, this guy could swim, run and THEN kick my ass in a 10K.

Long-distance runners are pretty normal. It's a sport one can do without being a fanatic. Ambitious long-distance runners become geeky in their pursuit of losing weight and hitting their workouts. I had a few years, where 100 grams or a few seconds off on my 800m intervals would worry me. But all in all, long-distance runners are pretty normal.

One funny thing, though. Long-distance runners often look at marathoners as people, who are too slow or old to do well in the shorter races. In track, the 10,000 is the same; not a very cool distance to race. The cool people race the mile, and moving up in distance is done out of necessity. Compare that to ultras in a bit.

Ultarunners are very different from long-distance runners. I should emphasize that I speak of trail ultrarunning here. Ultrarunners are less competitive, at least on the surface. The clothing does border on the ridiculous, sometimes. From the minimalist:

To the "Ultra Triad", ie. sleeves, gaiters and an elaborate hydration system:

Ultrarunners are also oddly into New Age stuff. Take this VESPA quote:

"For the really long Ultras the 2-4 hour rule is still a good one to go by, however, later in the event as your hemoglobin get utilized and fatigue and other factors kick in to diminish oxygen delivery you will need to increase your intake of sugars/carbs with something like GU etc. as you are simply fatigued and your body cannot oxidize fats because it can’t deliver enough oxygen like it could earlier in the day when hemoglobin levels are fresh and high. You still take the VESPA but you also take in the sugars at a higher rate."

Really? Really. Damn that fatigued hemoglobin in the really long ultras!

But, seriously, people buy into that stuff. Or maybe the top runners pretend to be into it, so they get sponsored. Who knows?

The VESPA phenomenon repeats itself in the way ultrarunners talk about electrolytes. Electrolytes are hard to understand and very unpredictable. I check electrolytes on patients all the time and they are very hard to correct, even with IV access. People all over the internet talk about potassium, sodium and magnesium as though it's common knowledge how they behave in ultras. I admit to not having looked at the research (if there is any) but I bet it's not nearly as simple as ultra hipsters make it out to be.

Another thing is barefoot running. Real ultra hipsters love to talk about running barefoot, like it's this new thing that Chris McDougal discovered from the Tamahura Indians. Of course, it's not new. Abebe Bikila won the Rome Olympic Marathon running barefoot. Roger Bannister ran a four minute mile in what looked like a lightweight bowling shoe. Today, an ultra hipster would call it a "minimalist shoe".

No doubt the shoe companies have tricked us into believing that overly expensive shoes prevent injuries; they have capitalized on this these last three decades. But now these same, or related, shoe companies are selling a hipster fad based around running free and being close to nature. Another way of saying it: the only people who consider running barefoot cool, are people who can easily afford not to. I certainly don't imagine kids in Ethiopia dumping their shoes on the way to school to be cool.

Yes, the Girl, this is aimed at you, you budding hipster, as you sit at home shopping for "minimalist shoes" with good traction, so you can run a trail marathon 9 months pregnant. Wearing nothing but gaiters and sleeves.


sea legs girl said...

Hahaha. Well, you can tell which one you still are at heart.

I think there is a big difference between being wacky and abnormal (if it makes one better at the sport of choice, or if it simply makes one happy) and being a Fred. I totally like the male triathlete in pink. I just have a feeling that if we met after a race, he would be a funny guy.

And FYI, I have never bought gaiters or sleeves (since I don't get it), so it looks like I'll be running that 9 month ultra naked - in my minimalist shoes of choice, of course.

SteveQ said...

That video is priceless (though I expected something else from bike mounting porn - more like my Amy Acuff high jump photo); I have never fallen off a bike seconds after mounting, nor dragged a pair of shoes behind me. I feel so co-ordinated today!

You think distance runners are pretty normal just because they're the most like you. And I wouldn't call myself normal. But I do laugh when I see a trail runner in a road marathon, wearing gaiters and a hydration pack!

Bannister's shoes would be illegal today because the spikes were too long (but then again, he ran on crushed cinder tracks).

SteveQ said...

Even ultrarunners make fun of my friend Al's clothes (you may have noticed him at Voyageur). The only photo I can find is
We all laugh until something like at Leadville, when a freak hailstorm came and Al reached into his pockets and pulled out complete bad weather gear - he finished and those who scoffed didn't.

I've come to believe that men who do triathlons do them simply to have an excuse to shave their bodies, either because they like it or they're married to someone who wants them to look like a young boy. I don't know why women do them.

Fast Bastard said...

Steve, that Amy Acuff picture is so funny. A huge appeal of track and field is how attractive the athletes look in their tiny outfits, but no one ever says that out loud except for you.

SteveQ said...

I'm working on another post, about women high jumpers, and found a pic that tops the Acuff one.
Even I wouldn't post this:

Jamie said...

But it is totally cool if I do a trail ultra in just a speedo and gaitors, right?

Colleen said...

That was so cool.

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