Taking the Pulse of the Ultrarunning Community
What gear do runners like? How do they train? How obsessed are they? Surveyers showed up to the Western States Endurance Run and simply asked
Ultramarathons have proliferated in recent years, but there can only be one Western States Endurance Run. Since its inaugural staging in 1977, the 100-mile footrace through the Sierra Nevada has become the benchmark against which all other races are measured. At this year’s event, the team behind ultralive.net, a free service that provides runner tracking for ultras, took it upon themselves to conduct a survey among Western States participants.
“Western States is the granddaddy of them all, so to get a pulse on what the ultra community is doing, it makes sense to have a survey at the premier event,” says Ted Knudsen, the founder at ultralive.net.
Now in its second year, Knudsen told Outside that inspiration for the survey originally came from the “Kona Bike Count,” the annual tally conducted at the bike check-in at the Ironman World Championship to gain insight into the brands that competitors use. Ultrarunning didn’t have a similar barometer to gauge industry standards, and Kundsen felt that it should.
“There was no definitive answer, other than pure observation, about what people were using, so we figured it would be pretty easy, since participants have to line up and go through check in anyway,” Kundsen said.
Ultralive sent a team of three surveyors to the check-in station at Squaw Valley the day before the race last June. Of the 371 official starters, 349 (94 percent) took part in the voluntary survey to respond to ten questions. Below, we explain a few of the survey’s findings.
Note: The graphs below refer only to those who finished the race in the cutoff time of 30 hours. Of the 254 finishers at Western States 2015, 238 took part in the survey.
Finish Hour Stats
The two charts below indicate the number of finishers by hour, from 14-something (i.e. Rob Krar) to 29-something (i.e. those who made it, but didn’t get a silver belt buckle). The red graph in the first chart represents the average number of years finishers have been running ultras.
The second chart shows that the vast majority of runners had both a crew and a pacer (the two graphs coincide after 24 hours), though a few of the top elites opted to forgo the latter.
Big Shoes to Fill
Hoka was the big winner among shoe brands, as they were last year. “They went from this ‘clown shoe’ status to being the top shoe two years in a row,” Knudsen says.
Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
These charts confirm that ultrarunning is usually a solitary enterprise, at least when it comes to training. In both categories of finishers, the majority of runners opted against hiring a coach.
Lighting the Way
Petzl and Black Diamond dominated in the Lighting category, with close to 90 percent of finishers choosing to one of the two brand for illumination purposes.
Nathan, Salomon, and Ultimate direction were the tops in the Pack Brand category, with the latter brand being the most popular in both groups of finishers.