***I am posting this too late to be considered for submission to the Trail Runner Blog Symposium, but that doesn’t mean I can’t post it for all of you to read anyways!***
If you type in “becoming too commercialized” into Google you get back a heap of responses dealing with the commercialization of Christmas, Lent, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Yoga, Jewish Holidays, Science, and so on. What these seemingly disparate responses have in common is
lamenting something that is gone or past
wishing for a better time when things were more “wholesome”
longing to be reconnected with one’s “roots” or fundamental ideas
the feeling of being disconnected from “what matters”
All of these thoughts capture what it means for something to be “too commercialized” and trail running is certainly susceptible to each and every one of them. The issue, though, is twofold. On the one hand, as trail running has become more and more prevalent, with a greater prominence in popular culture (thanks, perhaps in part, to Chris McDougall’s Born to Run), there is no doubt that more money and advertising air-space as come with it. Just look at the number of companies who have recently ventured into the running/trail running arena: Timberland, Nike, Adidas, Teva, Under Armour, Merrell, Vibram Five Fingers, GoLite, Patagonia, Puma…and that is just the tip of the iceberg.
On the other hand, the massive money-ship that is the trail running market does not entail that the individuals who are trail running have become disconnected from what matters, lost a connection with their roots, orate wishing for better times. More interest in trail running can mean more races, which means a greater time spent in the company of nature and others. (Of course more exposure and races can mean congested trails and less chance of getting into races.)
So while a greater quantity of races does not equate to greater quality I do believe that there will always be those “old school” races (like the Great Adirondack Trail Run or the Skyline 50k) that tap into our sense of nostalgia and a feeling of being connected to the roots of trail running. Sarah Lavender Smith describes these races perfectly: “Like a favorite old shoe, it feels good and doesn’t wear out. Always friendly, never flashy.
And yet, there will also be new, fresh races; races that are a bit flashy, that are a bit more “clean”……and you know what? Those races help to balance out trail running and keep our sport interesting and constantly evolving. It is the balance between choice, opportunity, familiarity, exposure, diversity, and consistency all help to allow trail running to endure and continually evolve.
Is trail running becoming too commercialized? Not if we, the runners, choose to keep it connected to its roots and to what really matters—the people, the community, and the trails.