Trail Running Loser - Some Opposing Thoughts 

Posted by Nick Thursday, December 22, 2011 4:38:00 PM

Trail Run Magazine editor Chris Ord published an interesting post this week about his attitude to participating in races - he states "Not once did I get the urge (or perhaps the passion) to win coursing through my veins" .  There is a wide variety of attitudes to folks participating in a trail race - it ranges from those where victory equates to finishing the event, all the way through to those gunning for the win.  I'd suspect that the majority would have an attitude similar to Chris' - enjoying the participation and comradeship of the event but not giving a damn about placing.

My attitude is a lot more focused on the competitive end - not because I have a realistic shot at winning in most races, but because I'm driving myself to move up the field and be in the place for a podium (if not a win) on the right day.  Taken to the extreme, being the "best" overall is a totally unrealistic goal for all  but a hand-full of runners on earth.  Look at an event - say the Fitzroy Falls Fire Trail Marathon - which a great Australian runner might win in something like 2.50.  Taking Alex Matthews as a representative winner at FF, his road time was a stunning 2.23 to take victory by a mile (or, being 17 minutes ahead of second place, Alex took victory be about three miles) at this year's M7 marathon.  Alex is a truly awesome runner, and it would be interesting to see how much quicker he'd be in a race if he had any meaningful competition, but based on his M7 time, Ryan Hall would have beat him by three miles plus (and again, just to labor the point, this isn't any detraction on Alex - his M7 time is simply stunning, and approaching the levels of the truly elite - the point is to appreciate it without being despondent about what Ryan Hall could run).

My Fitzroy Falls best is 3:30 -about 40 minutes behind the winner, and possibly an hour slower than the best possible time that could be run on the course.  Does that mean "competing" is a ridiculous exercise?  To me, the answer is no.  While some would view "relative competition" as a pathetic cop-out, and I remember how derisively the expression "world's fastest white man" was applied to Matt Shirvington, but competing against those of a similar level is a meaningful and worthwhile undertaking, and with enough practice and application, who knows where is can lead?

One of the greatest stories in Australian trail running of "giving it a go" and seeing where it ends up in Andrew Lee – check out his 6ft times over the last decade (from Cool Running)


Year Place Time
2011 1 3.35
2010 3 3.30
2009 2 3.23
2008 6 3.37
2007 7 3.38
2006 13 3.54
2005 10 3.56
2004 20 4.13
2003 34 4.26
2002 75 4.42
2001 65 4.45


From an OK debut on 4.45 in 2001 and an even lower placed finish in 2002, each year Andrew came back with gradual, consistent improvements to finally storm across the line in first place this year – a decade after his 6ft debut.  Crossing the finishing line in 75th place in 2002 and thinking about knocking over an hour off the time for an eventual win would have seemed fanciful, but by having the competitive drive to put in a decade of punishing training, the results came.  Even once Andrew hit the elite sub-3.40 times, it still look four more years to come up with a win - incredible determination! 

Obviously the Andrew Lee story isn’t for everyone.  Just like most folks don’t want to put in 60+ hours week in at work chasing the senior executive roles, most trail runners would hate the thought of putting in brutal 100+km a week training schedules and spending thousands of hours in total to knock an hour of the time for a race – and a race that offers no prize money at that. 

My approach to competing is about 90% competition with my previous performances (and this is why I like going back to races year after year) and about 10% compared to other runners.  After enough races, that are plenty of familiar faces and names to gauge how you went on the day relative to others, and both overall and percentage position are valid indicators of how you went.  Sometimes a super competitive field will show up at a race and drop you down many places even when you’ve clearly improved (Ian Gallagher improved 7 minutes from Fitzroy Falls 2010 to 2011 but dropped from 2nd to 6th - clearly 2011 was a red-hot field), but with enough experience, you’ll know whether you had a good run on the day in comparison to the course and conditions.

The approach Chris takes to trail running is just as valid and reasonable as the competitive approach, and the act of being out there makes all participants winners in a very real sense – keeping fit, enjoying nature and being out of the trails running with great mates is so much more worthwhile that sitting in front of the TV or in a bar.   

Appreciating the different mind-sets to trail racing and running is important - a lot of other runners won’t be interested in your kilometer splits for the full 42.2km of a marathon or how cool it is that you just found a new piece of kit that shaves 150g of your TNF100 mandatory gear list. 

Running nerds that care about these things, and religiously monitor their year-to-year positions in various races, can still run a race where position doesn't matter and its just an enjoyable run with mates, but in A races, the hammer drops and every second counts.

Racing hard at Running Wild's Wentworth Falls

re: Trail Running Loser - Some Opposing Thoughts

Saturday, December 24, 2011 9:10:24 PM Brendan Davies

Awesome article Nick. I really enjoyed reading this.


I tend to be more like you mate, comparing times to previous occasions and the competitors around me. Check the video <span class="scayt-misspell" data-scayt_word="Donges" data-scaytid="5">Donges and I did for next Trail Run mag, I basically said the same thing as you did. Mick answered much more in line with Chris' views....I guess this is what makes us all unique.


Let's  hope Andy Lee's persistence is something we all take inspiration from.


Love your shoes mate, how they working for you?


PS Can't really remember but did Alex break 2:30 at <span class="scayt-misspell" data-scayt_word="M7" data-scaytid="11">M7? 

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