Then and Now: What’s Changed in Ultrarunning in the 10 Years Since the First Synchroblog

The year of the first Synchroblog, 2009, was the Golden Age of minimalism.  Even though the publication of Chris McDougall's generation defining book, "Born to Run" was still a year in the future, all the cool kids in the sport were striving to mimic the Tarahumara and running over mountains, through forests, and across deserts with as little as they possibly could.

It was also the era of Anton!  Who can forget the irresistable videos of Krupicka running 200 mile weeks in the Rockies with nothing more than short shorts and pair of sliced up modified La Sportivas.  In a relatively short period of time, the entire ultrarunning world was longing to drop out of conventional life, move to the mountains, and live out of the back of a decrepit pick-up truck.  And then there was new Mexican wonderboy Kyle Skaggs, with his long flowing blond hair and chiseled physique, setting the Hardrock course record carrying nothing more than a handheld bottle and a couple gels tucked into the waistband of his shorts.  Indeed, the simplicity of the time would have made Thoreau proud.

Now, 10 years later, the age of minimalism is long gone.  Sure, there are perhaps a few throwbacks with beards and spray tans trying to emulate those bygone days, but the sport has clearly turned a corner.  Ten years ago at the starting line of a 100 mile race you might have seen a handful of runners, at best, wearing hydration packs, or vests, as they are now called.  Most everybody back then carried their water in handhelds or waistbelts.  Now, it seems that you can't even go to a 50K race without a pack filled with every manner of things; jackets, a variety of food, headlamps, emergency space blanket, map, compass, aeropress....you name it.  It's as if the pack has become essential item #1 just for going out on a recovery run.

Of course, this pack craze has spurned a multi-million dollar segment of the trail running industry that never existed before and I suppose that's a good thing for some people.  And, on top of that, it's given companies an opportunity to emblazon these packs with the names of some of our favorite runners.  Rob Krar, Stephanie Howe, Scott Jurek, and, most ironically of all, Anton Krupicka, all have packs with their names on them.  This is a totally new thing as 10 years ago the only name on any piece of trail running gear was a brand name, if you were lucky.

Call me an old school curmudgeon but I miss the minimalist era.  Sure, we are perhaps a bit safer now as these packs allow us to carry things that can help us, I don't know, fight off a mountain lion attack, but they've also taken away some of the simple purity of the sport.  When I see people heading off to the mountains with the entire contents of their pickup truck loaded into their signature pack something inside me dies a little, something that brings me back to the glory days of 2009, camping out at the end of a quiet dirt road, ruminating over what the next adventure might bring.

Check out what the other synchrobloggers have to say here:

Lord Balls
Scott
Sean

And, the newest member of our little group, longtime blogger Wyatt Hornsby

Wyatt

Comments

  1. I don't miss the dogma of minimalism, but it forced footwear companies to revisit how they were looking at footwear and paved the way for evolution with new brands like Hoka and Altra who have had an impact on our sport in particular. Plus, old favorites like the Pegasus are back to being closer to the light weights they were in the 80's vs. the 13 ounce trainers they were in the mid 2000's.

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  2. I will offer an alternative perspective: With more gear to make people feel safer, we’ve seen more people test themselves in a way that they once thought only those with short shorts and epic beards could do. And we see races that tackle some pretty fun but gnarly terrain, increasing the need for required gear. I for one would hate to have a runner get lost and have nothing on them to eat or keep warm just because they thought “real” runners shouldn’t need a pack. Just a thought from a perpetual mid-packer ;)

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  3. Waistbelt and handheld for me. Nutrition has advanced enough to allow runners to carry less as long as water is easily available.

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