When people ask me what I want to do with my life, I've noticed I get defensive because I really don't know what I want to do with my life. When I'm feeling particularly apathetic, I daydream about what it would be like to be a run bum. I'm sure you've heard of these types. They live in their van and spend all day running in exotic locales. They slackline in their freetime and make short-term friendships wherever they go. They spend most of their money on food - foody foods. They let their hair/facial hair grow wild mostly because they would rather spend money on new shoes over a hair cut. They lead their lives wherever they feel like going and they look darn happy doing it.
I wonder if we will see more of these types in the future. With the increase in prize money coming into the sport of trail-running, this lifestyle will become more of a possibility for a lot of top runners. For example, the 100 mile event of Run Rabbit Run is in it's second year and if you go to the race website you will find a big link that says "Prize Money." If you click that link you will see tantalizing numbers including a big 5G to 1st place. If my husband didn't eat so much, that amount would sustain a run bum lifestyle for us for three to six months.
There are a lot of great things that come from the increase in prize money offered at trail races. It draws a lot more competition to the field and gives an incentive to push hard, but I see it causing more harm than good. Runners who push hard for the prize money only to fall out of contention towards the end of the race are more likely to drop out all together so that they can save their bodies for other races. At the end of the day the person who won the prize money might feel that they deserved it as payment for all of the work they invested in training, but by that logic every person should be getting paid for their hard work.
Prize winnings aren't a need or a right. They are a luxury. If I had the chance to become a run bum, I would sure as hell take it. It's alluring. We all want to be our own master, punishing our bodies as we choose, rewarding ourselves as we see fit, and answering to no one. But I don't necessarily think that is a healthy way to live. We humans function best within communities, relying on each other's strengths and abilities.
In the end the people who inspire me most aren't the run bums. I'm inspired by women, like Liza Howard, breastfeeding their babies at aid stations during races. I'm inspired by braniacs like David Riddle who somehow manage to work in aerospace engineering in addition to competing at an elite level. I think the best runners are people who live a full and well-rounded life. When things aren't going well at work, these people can turn to running. When things aren't going well at home, they can turn to running. But when things aren't going well with their running, they actually have other things to turn to.
Prize money doesn't do anything to enhance the quality of your life, I would argue that it feeds an ego and promotes an unattached lifestyle. If someone handed me $10,000 tomorrow and said, "Go run," it would take everything in my will power to not quit my job. I would love to just run, eat, and slackline! But that money would just take away the joy that running gives me. You don't receive money without an expectation to keep performing.
Last weekend I ran a marathon in a little town called Salida. At $50 it was a bargain to run and the winners received local art as a prize. For that price we got a shirt, a beautiful and challenging course, good aid stations with enthusiastic volunteers, and a hot meal afterwards. The race still brought out a competitive field and though Nick Clark ran his best time ever, someone was actually faster. It goes to show that when races are affordable and actually use the money towards things that are important, top competition will show up.
I want races to stay like the Run Through Time Marathon. I'm not some old person reminiscing about the past and not wanting things to evolve. I'm only 23. I'm just entering the sport. And there is a reason I'm not doing road races. The trail running community has created a good thing. Let's keep it that way.