Western States 100, Coverage and Social Media
Sacred Cow Tipping
Last weekend we had the Western States 100 race, once again. A race that many runners dream of running one day and allow to dictate their running schedule and life. A race that many people go all in fanboy (or girl) in on. But also a race that plenty of everyday runners have given up on ever running and also stopped caring about. Opinions abound. Nonetheless, it is undeniable that it is an important event to the sport of and many athletes and fans of ultra and trail running. Including me. (sidenote, a few good friends, elite, middle of the pack and back of the pack were all running this year).
My interest level in the race generally is “medium.” I follow my friends and tune in off and on throughout the weekend (via the webpage or live coverage) as time permits.
Prior to the race I made a mistake of commenting on the seemingly unending number of preview podcasts. My tweet was “JFC how many WS preview podcasts do we need? It’s like 50% of my feed.” I’m not positive of the accuracy of this comment, but it did feel like all the shows I was listening to were WS100 related. Which is fine if you like that. But if you are only a casual fan like me, it’s just not very interesting and it results in a lot of deletes. You see, I care about who people are more than what they did. I’m not particularly interested in who might finish in which place, how so and so is trining to win, etc. Unfortunately much of the content is based on who is going to win or place. Not who they are. Not the middle of the pack. Not the stories of the others. These are the things I’m most interested in. Its ok if you aren’t. People must be wanting all this content because it’s being made. But in the same way that I will share or talk about your show when I relate or love it, I’ll comment if I think the content is redundant or out of touch.
I watched many hours of the coverage all day. I’m a fan of Dbo, Billy Yang, Corrine Malcom (who I don’t know at all but find very interesting) and Scott Rokis. They have a seemingly impossible job with limited resources and they do a fine job (for 30 hours!!!). I watched for hours. I appreciate them. I’m a fan. They’re great. (did I mention they’re great?)
Once the race started I made the mistake of commenting that I had watched it for several hours and I wished there was content about the “rest of the pack.” Meaning non-elite or top ten. I know there are stories back there in the back of the pack. I know people are struggling to make cutoffs. I know people’s dreams are ending early. I also know there are stories of resilience and achievement back there. Miracles are happening. There is no mention of it.
I was told (via the twitterverse and Facebook black hole) things like:
“sports don’t cover bench players” (though these folks aren’t on the bench….they’re in the game….trying to achieve a dream)
“the back of the pack will be covered in the second half” (though these people and their stories matter all day - not just the the stars are finishes)
“if we cover the back of the pack people will complain we aren’t covering the elites” (though I wasn’t asking why they weren’t exclusively covering the back…..just maybe cut to them once in a while to remind us that people are ack there barely making it to the cutoffs….getting their bracelets cut off…or having the race of their life).
Sidenote: I know that thousands of people listen to each my podcasts. About 50 or so every week in some way complain, criticize, offer suggestions or simply tell me to eat a dick. Those are fans. (even the ones taking time to tell me to eat a dick). Not only did they listen, but they took time to comment. Sometimes their comments help. Sometimes I even change because of it. I’m grateful for them all.
But here’s the thing. Western States and its coverage can’t be a sacred cow. (Sidenote: I’ve criticized things about this race to both Tropical John and Lord Balls…and each time the exchange was 100% positive, not in any way defensive and receptive). We can’t just take what we’re given and talk about how awesome it is no matter what. And I don’t think anyone wants that. The race and production team should listen, pay attention and try to take the advice they find helpful. I would love for the sport and attention to it to grow. That’s why I give so much of my life and time to it. Telling the stories of its people. Famous and non famous. Fast and slow. Young and old. Sometimes I even bring on the people that tell me to eat a dick. But my motivation isn’t to hurt anyone or anything. It’s an observation of something that’s lacking that I think would add value.
It can’t just be about the elites. And it can’t only be about the rest of us once the elites are done. There’s a reason why so many people watch the golden hour. Most of us can relate to the feeling of not knowing if we can make it. Of barely finishing. Of coming up short. Of needing everything we have to get to the finish. To me, each and every one of their stories is more interesting than who podiumed. (did I mention I’m a fan and they’re great?). Here’s the dirty little secret. There’s a golden hour at every single aid station. There’s agony, defeat, suffering and failure at every single aid station. And a couple of minutes of that every hour would not only invest the audience in the rest of the crowd, but also provide an amazing production contrast with the rest of the field. One need only remember the promotion to Wild World of Sports about the “Joy of Victory and the Agony of Defeat” (insert skier falling off the jump in a massive wipeout) to see what I mean. Would that ad be the same if it stopped at '“the joy of victory”? I think not.
Take for example the final unofficial finisher Jennifer Shultis. Cancer and all, finally finishing just past the cutoff in all her glory (full story on Ten Junk Miles Friday - Shameless plug). She brought the announcers to tears and reminded us all what this sport is really about. Wouldn’t that story have been interesting to follow all day? Would watching the other Golden Hour finishers haver been more interesting had we learned about the and heard their stories earlier and followed along? I think the answer to this is categorically yes.
Maybe it’s not possible.
Maybe I’m wrong. (that’s usually 50% of the time).
Maybe I’m just a jealous “hater” throwing shade. (I really don’t think so).
Or maybe, just maybe, I have a valid point that should be noted and aspired to, if possible, someday.
Did I mention I’m a fan and they’re great? They really are. Just trying to think of ways to make it better. And if it wouldn’t, just ignore me.
But know this. All I really want is to relate. For the efforts of these strangers who got their ticket pulled to be recognized and for us to know their stories, and about their day, just a little bit more. That’s not so bad, is it?
Your point is valid Scott, but not the majority. The casual runner and the hardcore runner want to see the stars. Like Boston. This requires a separate production like ManningCast for Monday Night Football or tuning in to a specific NASCAR driver's radio. Your vision COULD be achieved through a joint effort of platforms that ALREADY recognize and celebrate the back of the pack. How about a livestream of the race from the combined viewpoints of Ten Junk Miles, The Adventure Jogger and Zoe Rohm of DNF? Those establishes fanbases are the audience of which you speak. Imagine Ryan Ploeckelman interviewing DNFs at aid station cutoffs. Imagine you tagging along with the cutoff guy. (I don't remember his name - see I'm one of you). Imagine Zoe Rohm waxing poetic during the golden hour. Like you, this is what I would watch.
As a frequent DNFer and ultra-runner-wanna-be I find myself skipping past WS coverage. The elites are just that - elite and I can't even relate. I tried to watch some of it, but it's just so not the everyman type of event I like to think ultrarunning is. Kudos to all who toed the line which in and of itself is a huge accomplishment. I like hearing about the non-pros/elites as they are way more inspiring to me.