Recently in a popular online running forum a member posed a question which garnered a lot of response. The question was posed on the day that The Kepler Challenge and The Goat opened. These two events are amongst the best trail races that New Zealand has to offer, both offering a degree of challenge, both run in beautiful parts of the country and both traditionally selling out within the day that they open. The gentleman in question enquired why people preferred to run in such isolated places with a crowd and with an entry fee (not inconsiderable) when essentially you could run in these places for free either by yourself or with an organised group? The many responses were interesting and warrant further investigation.
We are social beings, we seek connection with others and competition is a valuable and useful evolutionary drive. I know that for myself, if I am to run with others, there is usually a motivation to move faster than I perhaps would if I was running by myself. Pushing one’s self against others is integral to adaptive progression. We gain not only the experience of the physiological act of running, but gain the experience of racing itself; nutrition, strategy, and the ritual of pre race affairs.
I spoke with Joe Grant (who took third at this year’s Hardrock 100 mile) a while back for Kiwi Trail Runner, he discussed that he preferred to compete within the structure of an organised event “There's a level of reassurance and accountability with people knowing exactly where you are and how you are doing. That allows me to push my physical limits to a higher degree than when I'm alone in the mountains or farther away from rescue”. Grant makes a salient point here, if I was to say, run the Hillary Trail tomorrow, I would need to organise support, or enough supplies to complete the run individually, I would need to have contingency plans, tell people where I was and when I would be back, I would also be looking at 13 hours or more of solitude, and I would be mindful that if something went awry, I may be hours away from rescue. This is not to say that this approach is not without merit. I would suggest that there is significant reward undertaking a significant challenge outside of the context of an organised event. For some of us, this may be preferable to completing in an organised event, and the reasons for this are varied. Certainly the cost involved in many races these days may be a factor, however undertaking a challenge like the Hillary Trail outside of the organised event certainly places a greater onus on the individual for planning and self responsibility.
As to the extrinsic reward at the end of the race, that being the medal, I stand firmly that one should not complete a race that you have paid for simply to obtain a medal. The medal is a great reward for some, and meaningless for others. However, whatever your stance on a medal, I would say that it should be treated as the proverbial icing on the cake. The careful preparation and satisfaction at executing a well run event in a special place and with like minded people should be 99.9% of the reward. Taking this further, I would like to see events with different pricing streams introduced, whereby one could indicate if one wished to have a medal and race shirt, the cost of these items are invariably passed to the consumer by the race organisers. This innovative approach may serve those who like completing events however perhaps struggle with the entry fee as well as for those who compete events and may not place importance on a medal at the completion.