Is The Introduction of Bigger Prize Purses at Trail Races a Positive or Negative Thing Overall?

“Run Free!”

In today ever changing world of trail running, legendary trail runner Micah True’s motto never rang so… true.

But bigger prize purses shouldn’t be only looked at through the prime lens of good vs. evil. Money is simply the reflection of a new era for trail running. It’s not the sport’s first revolution. And it’s definitely not the last one. Just the current one. Call it the enlightening revolution. No need for headlamps anymore. The trail is lit, paved in green and lined with affluent sponsors.

One thing is certain: larger purses will induce a deep change. And he won’t be all rosy for,  say, the tough guy who wins the local trail race each and every year (at $100 per W). He might start feeling the heat from some out-of-town competitors once the prize money reaches four figures. At the national level, expect the revolution to be even more drastic. The sheer number of people racing for the top spots will rise dramatically. Races will be less predictable, more exciting. More diverse. Competition will come from everywhere.


Ethiopia, anyone? The kids out there are fast. They train on trails. In high altitude. Oh boy. Things are going to change.

Actually, it already started. Locally, the good ol’ deserted trail has been taken over by hordes of flashy looking, fast moving two-legged mountain goats. It’s getting crowded on the single track. It’s called trail gentrification. It happens all the time. (Everywhere.) The timeline for change to settle only depends on the determination of both sides. And I can’t imagine #BigBusiness dropping out of the race for profit and higher margins.

Professionalism (and its heavy baggage) is lurking around the corner. But instead of worrying if we, aficionados, like it or not, let’s just hope the success of our beloved sport lasts beyond the current trend. Sports are not unlike organic compounds. Some spring to life while others become extinct. Look at Greco-Roman wrestling.

Today, trail running is alive. Elite trail runners are its heroes; amazing athletes, and often incredible human beings. They inspires us to lace up and let go. They make us dream of a better pace, a better race. A better place. Elite trail runners train hard and live well. Their carbon footprint is minimalist. Their passion mountain-like. As is their influence. Or else, would Salomon be able to sell one single pair of $200 running shoes if it wasn’t for Kilian or Anna marketing them by winning races all over the world? Don’t the athletes deserve a piece of the Frosty cake too?

Come on. We’re not talking baseball or boxing money. We’re talking enough cash to drop the broken trailer and buy a used RV.

Trail running has been experiencing a boom over the last few years, driven by YouTube and the blogosphere, and relayed by the marketing arm of massive corporations. Success and professionalism go hand in hand. Money in the sport is just another step toward recognizing that trail running is more than a hobby. For us runners, trail running is a way of life, a dynamic meditation across space and time, a silent conversation between the multi-directional EVO outsole, the dirt and the mind.

Trail running is cool, healthy. Sexy. Muddy is the new clean. I’ll order mine barefoot, please. Aren’t we Born to Run?

To the eyes of many, money ruins everything. Sure, money tends to make some of the free stuff a bit too expensive. And it might cost a few additional bucks to register for a race. But you’ll receive a better t-shirt. And you’ll get to mingle with your heroes, as THEY will have nothing to say about larger purses.

Money is here. And it’s here to stay. This is what happens when you start calling the superstars of a sport by their first names.

Run free, said Caballo Blanco. But he never said to run cheap…

About Stephane

Stéphane Rodriguez est né à Genève en 1973. Après des études de science politique à l'université de Genève, et un bref détour par la place financière locale, il s'envole pour New York, où il travaille pendant près de 10 ans dans le domaine de l'Internet. De retour en Europe avec sa femme et ses deux enfants, il a co-fondé une startup dans le domaine de la musique. "Les 7 Sages" est son premier roman.
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