In the 2012 Arizona Trail 300, at least twenty percent of the finishers rode in cars. In the 2011 Colorado Trail Race, at least twenty-five percent of the racers chose to ignore an official National Forest trail closure. In the 2010 Tour Divide, a whole group of racers drafted each other from Banff to Mexico. All of these were clear violations of specific rules--and yet violators often begged for leniency and exceptions. Race organizers were inconsistent with their responses, with the majority refusing to mete out disqualifications or relegations.
Yet those are just a few of the most blatant examples of major rule infractions. There are many other instances of racers dabbling in gray areas. All it takes is a glance through race-report blogs to find examples if riders sharing gear and food. Even “trail magic,” a term once reserved to describe serendipitous moments such as finding an unopened candy bar on a tough climb, is now regularly invoked to justify begging for water and dinner from other trail users. Bystanders have even gotten into the act, handing out goodies to their friends and stashing coolers full of snacks in remote locations.
As the boundaries that define the spirit of ultra-racing are trampled and distorted through ignorance and entitlement, the sport is quickly becoming a free-for-all, where the final results justify the means. One racer even tried to argue that, since ultra-racing isn’t sanctioned, there aren’t really any rules anyway.
But there are rules, and there always have been. When John Stamstad initiated the ultra-racing genre with his pioneering individual time trial of the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route in 1999, he established a simple set of principles, predicated on the concepts of self-sufficiency, self-discipline, and equal-opportunity. Racing utterly alone against the clock, Stamstad rode a defined route exclusively under his own power, and without any sort of support. He ate and resupplied only at commercial establishments, and never bummed goodies from other riders. And in doing so, he brought the essence of other self-supported races such as the Vendee Globe sailboat race to bicycle racing. In other words, he defined, by example, the spirit of ultra-racing. While I don’t personally know Stamstad, this quotation from him says so much: “…angst is quickly replaced with the adrenalin rush of knowing you are facing the trail, the elements, and yourself and nothing else—the world is simplified.”
Those who have followed in Stamstad’s tracks have attempted to recreate his original accomplishments and vision. In so doing, the “first” organized ultra-race, the Divide Race, codified Stamstad’s vision: “The overriding principle is simply do to it yourself. All of the pedaling, pushing, bike wrenching, food buying (and eating…), water filtering, suffering, and all logistical figuring.” Simple enough, it would seem, both in concept and execution.
But the devil is always in the details. While race organizers have tried to keep the rules simple, with the idea that a few basic principles will be properly interpreted to address a myriad of unforeseen situations, more specific directives have often been added for clarification. Indeed, the Tour Divide and Colorado Trail Race have a growing list of rules, and many pages of FAQs, addressing such issues as visitation, cell phone usage, alternative routes, etc.
So, why can more ultra-racers be cutting corners, when the rules are getting more complicated and specific? That's a hard question to answer. My best guess is that, as more people are drawn to the ultra-racing format, incompatible preconceptions are brought with them. For an experienced cross-country racer who’s accustomed to fully-stocked feeding stations, bumming some food from a fellow racer may not seem like a big deal. Further, the competitive landscape changes the picture drastically. While Stamstad always focused on the “adventure,” many racers now focus on winning. It isn’t that Stamstad wasn’t competitive (he was!), but rather that the rules of the event became a huge part of the competition: instead of beating everyone at their game, he made a new game that was stricter and far more committing. The behavior of too many racers today seems to be about bringing the race to their level, rather than pushing themselves to new heights.
Ironically, in order to move ultra-racing forward, we need to look backward. Not to replicate the past, but to recapture the passion that drove the sport to discover new boundaries in the first place. We need to rekindle the adventure of exploration, to put ourselves in uncomfortable positions--to rediscover what it’s like to depend only on our own skill, strength, planning, and independence.
The following is a proposed set of ideas, principles, thoughts, and rules that I believe will re-focus the spirit of ultra-racing so that it can continue to advance. It’s by no means an original work, but rather a fresh compilation of existing ideas. A resurrection perhaps. Nor is complete and comprehensive, but rather something that I’ve been thinking and reading a lot about--and that I intend to keep working on. If nothing else, it will define how I ride and race.
First, some principles:
- Self supported racing is just that—self supported. Do. It. Yourself.
- Organized events are exactly that: organized. If you join a race, accept the rules. If you're an anarchist, then go do your own thing.
- Don't bring the race down to your level. If you find yourself unable to adhere to a rule, then quit honorably (or self-relegate from the race and start touring). Try again later, when you’re smarter, better, etc. After all, who truly deserves more respect: the guy who quit honorably, or the guy who cheated but kept going?
- First, racing is a personal commitment to yourself and to every other rider out there that you will act honorably and with integrity. Secondly, it's to see who can go faster.
- It’s OK to set higher standards for yourself, if you think that the race is too soft. Just don’t expect everyone else to follow your lead—although some will.
- Ride in a way that doesn't jeopardize someone's ability to follow in your track. For example, don't do things give land managers and/or land owners reason to dislike racers.
- A race means that you should try to ride fast and push yourself. If speed is totally unimportant, then tour the route instead.
Move only under your own power
- Don't get in a car or other contraption. Ever. Not even if you return to the same place that you started. It’s a bike race.
- No drafting. Push the wind out of the way yourself.
- No pacers or cooperative tactics. This isn't a team sport.
- No devices devised to specifically capture wind energy.
- Areobars, fairings, and other devices and strategies to reduce wind drag are acceptable.
- No e-bikes, motors, etc. That would be a motorcycle race, because motors...
- No shortcuts. Follow the published route. If you miss part of the trail by accident (even a mile!), go back and ride it--or DQ/relegate yourself.
- No longcuts. If it’s not the route, it’s not the route.
- Missing ten miles, and then adding ten miles elsewhere doesn't count.
- If you're going to take credit for a ride, be prepared to provide proof that you rode it (GPS, Spot). Yes, people trust you. But they trust you more with proof.
- If the route changes mid-race (fire closure, trail crew closure, road construction, washed-out bridge, etc.), take a legal detour that gets you back on track as soon as possible. Let the organizer decide whether it counted or not.
- Nobody can bring you anything, anywhere, any time.
- Don't beg/buy/steal/swap food, gear, water, advice from other riders, or from bystanders. “Do it yourself” applies to bringing the stuff you need, and the knowledge to use it.
- There’s no difference between “inside” and “outside” support. All support is support.
- There’s no difference between “unplanned” and “planned” support. All support is support.
- Trail magic is unnecessary, and there are too many gray areas. Just keep it clean and decline. Trade words and memories, not Kit Kats.
- No caches, drops, etc.
- Traditional trail angels are OK, as long as they are available to all other racers and trail users. No race-specific angels. Don't accept food, showers, supplies, or lodging from strangers.
- Fix your own bike (unless at a bike shop). If you can’t fix it, then push, pull, or drag it to a bike shop.
- No mailing stuff ahead to anything other than an official post office. Once you are racing, nobody can mail you anything--although bike shops can order replacement parts if necessary to repair your bike.
- If someone wants to meet you on the route, fine. You can’t control where other people are allowed to go. But don't encourage them, and remind them that you are supposed to be doing it yourself.
- Bystanders can’t assist you in any way whatsoever, so you must refuse their offers of water, food, parts, and other supplies.
- Pre-planned camera crews for "famous" riders are banned from many races for good reason. For a sport that's all about a solo challenge, having a crew following along will always change the dynamics. If in doubt, contact the organizer. Personally, I'm not a fan of crews--regardless of how careful they are.
- Don't call ahead for services, hotel reservations, etc.
- OK to buy food and supplies.
- Eating in restaurants is fine. No trailside deliveries though, so don't call Dominos.
- Having your bike fixed in town is fine.
- Sleeping in hotels is fine, although camping is better style.
- It’s OK to trade stuff in towns with other riders to avoid waste--but only if exactly the same stuff can be acquired in that same town.
- Before the race starts, it's OK to read trip reports, borrow gear lists, create cue sheets, analyze GPX data, swap strategy secrets, etc.
- Once the race starts, you're on your own.
- If you’re riding an organized race with other riders, it’s OK to casually chat about the route and trade experiences--but mostly because it’s probably impossible to avoid it.
- Following tire tracks is fine--just be aware that they might go off-route, leading to a disqualification.
- No "team" navigation. If you don't know where you’re going, read your own maps, GPS, etc.
- No "team" tactics. While riding with someone who matches your speed is acceptable, it's not OK to form a team (either before or during the race) that cooperatively shares tactics, strategies, etc.
- This isn't the Tour de France--don't call friends or family for race-related information or advice.
- Taking and making phone calls (or e-mail) is fine, as long the purpose is not to arrange for support, locate other racers, or otherwise seek a strategic advantage. In other words, it’s OK to talk to your boss or tell your kid at bedtime that you love him, or even tell your spouse that you saw a moose.
- Don't log into BlueDot.mobi, TrackLeaders.com, or other race-tracking sites. Not in towns or with smartphones. Need to find out who’s in front of you? Ride faster! Worried about someone catching you? Ride faster!
- If racers break the law, races get banned. We are often racing below the radar, and the minute we give land-use agencies reason to stress, they will shut us down. It’s already happened once, and the Kokopelli Trail Race was shut down for good.
- Follow all NFS, BLM and other land-use agency’s regulations, restrictions, rules, laws, etc.
- Obey trail closures, re-routes, etc. If the route changes mid-race (fire closure, trail crew closure, flood, etc.), take a detour that gets you back on track as soon as possible—with missing as little of the original as possible.
- It's not a closed course. This isn’t the 24-Hours of Awesomeness. You are not any better than any other trail user, so respect the trail and other users.
- Yield to uphill riders, horses, hikers, and other non-motorized users.
- If you come across trash that you can easily carry, pick it up and earn style points.
- Don't cut switchbacks, lock up the back wheel, etc. Trails are delicate, and racing doesn’t give you a license to trash them.
- Close gates, if they are closed. Leave them open if they are open.
- Don't hog resources that other trail users need. For example, don't sleep in outhouses unless you're truly in danger of freezing to death (yes, someone may actually need to use it for its intended purpose).
- No littering or abandoning gear. If you don’t need something, throw it in a trash can. If there’s no trash can, ride until you find one.
- Poop in a hole. Racer-crap is nasty, so bury it properly.
- Respect wildlife and livestock. They don’t care that you’re an epic racer; they were there first.
- Race on your own merits, not the merits of a pharmaceutical company’s latest concoction.
- Don't become someone else's liability--plan for adversity, and self-rescue when possible.
- Help anyone who might need it. Golden rule, right?
- Be kind to other racers, hikers, equestrians, etc. If people hate us, we’ll get banned from public trails.
- It won’t disqualify you to give other racers something (food, gear, etc.) But it’ll disqualify them if they accept it.
- Don't intentionally mislead other racers (navigation, resupply, etc.)
If you can't ride it now without breaking the rules, figure out what needs changing and try again
- Be honorable and accept personal responsibility for your actions and decisions.
- If you break the rules, disqualify yourself--don't wait or ask someone to do it for you.
- If you break a rule, it OK to finish the course. Just disqualify yourself first.
- A disqualification or relegation isn't that big of a deal in the grand scope of things, so take it like a grown-up. Just think of how good it’ll feel when you try again and succeed!
- Trails don't build and maintain themselves. Support whatever organization(s) maintains the trail that you're racing by sending them some money, volunteering for some trail work, etc. OK, this isn't really a rule--but it's good karma!
OK, that’s a whole lot of stuff. Based on previous rules discussions, I’ve probably pissed some people off, and inspired others. It is worth noting that MOST people still race with great ethics--but that more and more people aren't. Please feel free to add constructive comments below.
I'm intrigued with your post. You bring up a lot of points that we'll only be discussing more during the next few years. If you're interested, I'd love to have you on http://www.blogtalkradio.com/mountain-bike-radio to discuss the items you wrote about. I think it would be a good episode that would stir up some good conversation. Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested
I'll give you a shout!
That was an interesting and informative read. I think quite a few folk could do with reading it, just to remind themselves what it's all about. I think most know the rules and what the right things to do are...but why do we get the odd ones that seem to do the opposite?!?
Interesting post. I think the situation is not as clear cut as you present it. The issue of rules was never as pure and simple as you seem to think it was. Stamstad's ride didn't follow the precepts you laid out, neither did the original divide race. Things have been evolving as the sport matures.
I say this just to counter the argument that the founders had everything figured out and it's the masses that don't care about the integrity of the sport that are ruining it. It takes people a while to get their heads around self-support and most genuinely want to follow the rules.
One of the AZT riders (totally new to the sport) that was relegated stated that he was bummed, but he cared more about the integrity of the race than personal recognition. He'll be back to go fast and follow the rules.
I don't personally agree with some of your rules. And in some races there are good reasons against them (such as both divide races, where car rides have traditionally been allowed, since the beginning).
I do agree that trail magic and sharing between racers might be getting a bit out of hand. But I personally still do not see a reason to ban it outright. IMO, small things like sharing a bit of food while camping and taking time to help other riders with mechanical issues only add to the experience. And the experience is what it's all about, as you argued.
In the end there is not one set of self supported rules. Each race has its own, and it's up to the organizer to determine the rules, and to enforce them. TD/AZT/CTR/etc may be very similar in rules, but that does not mean they are the same. Nor should they be. When you 'sign up' for a race, you are agreeing to the rules of that race -- not to a universal self supported ethic. Just like someone might not like that car rides aren't allowed, someone might also not like that trail magic *is* allowed. I might also decide to add a rule that at 10:07am every day, everyone must stop and do five pushups!
Anyway, it's a fun topic to discuss, especially for race directors. Thanks for the post.
Thanks for the thoughtful response, Scott. As an organizer of the AZT, you obviously wrestle with these sorts of issues regularly. While we might not agree on everything, you have my absolute respect for having advanced the sport on so many fronts (AZT, Trackleads, Topofusion, etc.). In fact, I'm not sure anyone has done more! Thank you!ReplyDelete
I suppose that some might argue that racing rules (their creation, interpretation, and enforcement) should be left to capable organizers like you. But the sport is bigger than that. I think that it's necessary for individuals to look into their own motivations and convictions, and to take responsibility for advancing the sport on a personal level. BY so doing, the sport will grow collectively as well, as greater goals are defined my tougher limitations. As I stated before, Stamstad isn't admired simply because he rode his bike faster than other people, but rather because he defined a new, and much higher standard.
I don't see why the rules that I've re/defined above wouldn't work well for the TD, AZT, CTR, etc. While some might be harder that what you would allow, I believe that riding with exceptional style is worth the effort. For example, I'd never ride in a car during any race, even if an organizer deemed it acceptable. I simply couldn't imagine comparing myself to someone who hadn't, and calling my effort equal. I'd relegate myself out of respect.
As anyone who has pushed themselves hard knows, the line between success and failure is razor thin. That line is often the difference between how one chooses to play the game. I'd rather fail knowing that I held the line, than succeed knowing that I blinked.
I don't necessarily argue that racing rules should only be up to the organizers. I think we all are open to discussion and adjustment, but in the end the organizer has the final say. It's also not realistic to expect each event to have the same rule set, just like I don't expect every 2 hour XC race to have the same ruleset -- just similar rules.ReplyDelete
Stamstad himself still had some funny understandings of things, and it's hard to blame him -- it has taken years to sort out a few of the more gray issues, and there are still differences of opinion. The fact that he had two camera crews following him and meeting up with him periodically changed the game dramatically. He also slept in a hotel room that one of the crews had procured. That is what I meant by him not following the precepts you have set forth. Mike Curiak had his girlfriend deliver a new wheel on his first (failed) divide ITT attempt, only to think about it as he kept pedaling and realizing that was at least an asterisk. I stayed at friends houses on my first AZT ITT. Mike accepted food from me during the 2004 divide race (I was touring the other direction). The founders may have had high ideals, but they still struggled with some issues that may be easy to see as cut and dry now.
I realize you are trying to be sensational with your post and title "losing its soul." I just disagree. By and large people are going out, having amazing adventures and doing their best to stick to a high ideal of self supported travel. In my view, the soul of bikepack racing is just starting to form, and there were no "good old days" when people were somehow more honest or more in line with the strictest definition of self support.
I love it that people come out to AZT and go for that strictest definition. I refused trail magic and had no contact with the outside world during my 300 ITT this year. I had no idea what Kurt's new record time was, or even if he had finished. But that's just the style I wanted to go for, and luckily that is totally legal by the events rules. There is nothing preventing people from putting ear plugs in their ears and not even hearing what other people or racers have to say during the event -- take self support as ridiculously far as you want -- great. That option is still open, and you have the personal satisfaction of having completed a challenge to your own ideal. But I think there are good reasons to allow small amounts of some of the things you speak against in this post.
Scott, I fully realize that the "good old days" weren't perfect. But Stamstad and others were pushing boundaries by imposing new limitations that substantially raised the stakes. That they "...struggled with the same issues..." is completely understandable, since they were defining a new spirit and style of racing. I don't think that they would claim that they got it perfect. But I believe that they established a powerful precedent: to advance the concept of self-supported racing.ReplyDelete
That precedent is what's under attack. Judging by the behavior of a growing number of racers, the self-support ethic is slipping further away from the ideal--when it should be drawing closer.
I'm not about to allow myself "small amounts of some of the things that [I] speak against." Doing so would be tantamount to complete and unmitigated failure. Tough? Yep, but it's worth it. There are a number of other self-supported sports where people don't need to accept cupcakes to feel good about their experience--and that's the realm that is most satisfying to inhabit. Fewer cupcakes, not more, is what we should be focusing on to remain faithful to the progressive soul of this sport.
Good job on the AZT 300 this year. I am impressed on every level. I think it's somewhat ironic that you raced it in the purest style, but that you seem to be arguing against that very style now. Why do you race one way, while advocating for another?
Because I don't believe that level of "purity" should be expected or enforced in a semi-organized event. The arguments on some of the issues you raised above have been hashed out before, but to take one example, you say "Taking and making cell phone calls is fine, as long as it’s not about the race."ReplyDelete
How can you expect someone to be able to call people and not talk about the single most important thing they are doing at that moment?
I don't think you are seeing my point about the founders and your reverence for them. Besides struggling with some issues, I would argue that they never had such high ideals of pure self-support. Level playing field was a much bigger concern than absolute self-reliance. Curiak in '04 made calls to his coach to get advice on bike setup, injury management, etc. The rules only banned pre-planned support, so sharing between racers was ok, as was trail magic. Stamstad was very much involved in the '04 rules, by the way.
I don't think there is one golden standard of self support, because you can take it to lengths that I think even you would agree are ridiculous. That's why I brought up the ear plug example. Why not wear blinders so you can't even see other racers -- they might show you how to make a tricky turn or give you a pacer. Why should sleeping in motels be allowed, or eating at restaurants? I'm sure with a minute or two I can find even more ways to make it even more 'pure.'
Yeah, the phone rule could be improved. Thanks, I'll think of a better way to address the idea that a phone shouldn't be used acquire support or to provide an unfair advantage over other riders.ReplyDelete
Nothing that I've detailed post comes close to approaching the absurdity of your earplugs and blinders "examples." In fact, everything that I've posted already has clear precedents. I'm thinking of great moments in the sport such as Owen Murphy's self-relegation after discovering a YEAR LATER that he missed 5 miles of trail during the CTR in 2008. Ethan Passant's self-relegation after missing 3 miles in 2009. Stefan's story of refusing to eat a Gu packet that he found during the Kokopelli Trail Race. Your effort this year to set a new record for the AZT 300--when you chose not to accept any trail magic, nor to track Kurt. Moments like these define what it means to race with integrity and self-discipline. Impressive examples that inspire people to think bigger and reach higher.
Compare those examples to some of the behavior that's going on now. Not so good, and it's not going to get better by allowing for more wiggle room.
Tour Divide rules are actually pretty strict, both by definition and enforcement. I'm thinking of Deanna's forced DQ for missing a small stretch of the route. As Matthew Lee wrote, "divide racing (and all self-support racing) must rule on violations with an iron fist if we are to preserve the ethos."
I think that Matthew is right. Further, I think that advancing the depth of the ethos is equally important as we learn what's possible, reasonable, and more adventurous.
Briefly, I didn't mean that your rules are approaching the absurdity of my examples. The point is that you are choosing a point to cut it off as to what self support means -- because you can always go more extreme. Yet, you argue as though it is very clear that your set is the one and only truth, anything less is lacking integrity and self-discipline.ReplyDelete
I do agree, as I said before, that some of the issues you are touching upon are getting a little out of hand, and some reminders/enforcement could help. I just don't sign on to the idea of a) erosion of previous ideals that were never there b) that things are really that bad, even as is. Otherwise, the discussion is helpful, thanks.
I by no means claim "the only truth." After all, nothing that I'm proposing is actually terribly original or without an established history. I do think that I've done a reasonably thorough job of organizing a lot of existing ideas into a coherent set of compatible rules and ethics, which is fully reflective of how many people already race. I cede that you are correct that I am a rather judgmental for thinking that people who order trailside pizzas, ride in cars, beg for food, cut the course, ignore land-use regulations, etc. are guilty of detracting from the inspiration ideals of this sport. For that, I expect to receive a few arrows, although it does bum me out.ReplyDelete
It's been an interesting and respectful exchange, Scott. Thanks for that!
Circling back on this, I have one more comment on this year's AZT. Almost all of the riders who took car rides did it knowing full well it was against the rules and they were not likely to be listed as a finisher. For many of them it was a decision between dropping out and being able to continue. They 'self-relegated' and are fine with it.ReplyDelete
Personally, I applaud them. I would rather see people dig down, break some rules and finish the routes than drop out and go home. But then endurance and the experience are higher ideals to me -- higher than extreme self reliance.
So, the 20% figure does not bother me, and does not represent an erosion of self support ideals.
Likewise, Scott, I think that it's terrific when people finish the route, even after running into issues that take them out of the race. With all of the time put into preparation and all, it's still definitively worthwhile to have a great ride. I imagine that I'd do the same, although I'd disqualify myself immediately.ReplyDelete
I'm surprised that you deem my position "extreme." Really, the rules that I've detailed above are fully attainable by the vast majority of riders out there. Hell, even I can follow them--and I'm certainly not anything special!
I suppose it does come down to a slightly different vision. I have a climbing background, and "solo" means taking on all of the risks and rewards of an experience--alone. It means stepping into the unknown with nothing but your own preparation, abilities, and judgement. It's incredibly liberating, but also extremely committing. Guys like Reinhold Messner defined the concept of self-support LONG before the Tour Divide. And visionaries such as Philippe Jeantot, who established the Vendee Globe, not only smashed boundaries, but they invited others to join them. Begging for handouts, riding in cars, and the like are utterly incompatible with the ethos of self-support. Our little sport, while not as grand as the examples I've given, can play by the same rules, and thereby give people like us a little taste of a rare type of adventure.
Damn good discussion. I think we should get Toby, Scott, and maybe another one or two others on a show to discuss this. I think it would be a great discussion and great radio. Toby, got your email...will respond when we get out of the hospital (just had our new son..)ReplyDelete
Congrats on the kid, Ben!ReplyDelete
Hello, Great discussion, one I think about all the time. Kurt and I talked alot about these rules as we rode side by side in the Tour Divide last year.ReplyDelete
One thing I have found with the advent of the spot is that people will track you down and offer help. I must have been tracked down about a dozen times in the TD by super fans. They wanted pics. and conversation. Perhaps the live tracking function could be turned off until the end. Then your route could be checked. Less temptation. F.Y.I. I did not self regulate myself in the C.T.R. I had no idea. The spot tells all. I might have seen the mistake the next year. Tricky little turn.
I also like the old rule that if you use your cell phone, you are done. Moral support can be huge when you are at the breaking point, toughen up. Self support right?
So far as getting into cars, I do not like it but if your rig is broken I say it is O.K. It would be cool to ride back to that point instead of a car. The T.D. rules state you can only go in reverse. I don't buy that, is it really an advantage to preview a dirt road? Go to the nearest bike shop.
Sorry for mis-attributing your status on the 2009 CTR. You are marked as relegated (course deviation w/o placement), and I confused it with Owen Murphy's self-relegation in 2008, where he made a similar mistake and only noticed it a year later before I assume self-relegating. Thanks for the correction. Aside from the recent AZT instance, I can't think of any examples where people missed sections of the course and weren't relegated. There have sure been some tough and contentious calls though, eh?
I agree with not using cell phones for moral support. But banning phones altogether makes multi-day races (either group starts or ITT) impossible for those who need to stay in touch with their business, ill relatives, etc. I deal with this issue by not making or taking calls when I'm struggling. An imperfect solution for sure, but I'd hate to see people not race because they can't completely escape from the needs of those who depend on them.
Spot tracking is also tough. It's fun for families and friends to follow along, but I agree that having people show up sucks. It's really not fair to DQ a racer because someone shows up uninvited, so I don't know what the answer is. I suppose that a rider can always opt-out of Trackleaders during the race, and release their shared page when the race is complete. Do you think that would work?
Riding in a car during a bike race just seems wrong, and I like it that they are banned in the CTR and AZT. I haven't ridden the TD though, so maybe that's different? I wonder how many people have actually needed to do it, and under what circumstances? I agree that the TD's current forward/reverse clause is problematic, and I'm not sure that it has delivered as intended. Man, just banning cars is so much easier! I'm 99% sure that I'd DQ myself and finish the ride if I needed to ride in a car.
How 'bout deliberate deception?ReplyDelete
Funny Stamstad story. I forget which race, but he talked about it afterward. He took a wrong turn somewhere and was being followed by another competitor, maybe Charlie Hayes. When Stamstad realized that he made the wrong turn -- I'm assuming he didn't make the wrong turn on purpose -- he hid himself and bike in the woods until the other racer went by, then he quietly went back down the trail and got back on the right course as the other rider went off into nowhere. Love that story. Yeah Stamstad was competitive.
That's a funny story, Robert!ReplyDelete
I like your rules and perspective. It really comes down to being truthful with yourself and those around you, but since the dawn of time humanity hasn't really excelled at that, so will always be an issue.ReplyDelete
I'm happy you spent some time on this and posted, as well as Scott and others for engaging you. Great discussion to follow and I hope it continues. For the record I think you have most of this fairly well thought out and I agree with 95% of it, but...ReplyDelete
Like any list of rules, they are imperfect and open to critique, as well as a thousand and one ways they don't work. So here's a few notes to think on...
Take your very first list, principle #4 - You could argue that you getting to that bathroom ahead of me and taking it for yourself is an unfair advantage as it precludes me from potenitally the only safe place to sleep. Don't sleep there. A bit extreme I know but I think worth thinking about in terms of being more specific.
The lists above in general are simply inconsistent.
Ex: "Don't beg/buy/steal food ..." but OK to "trade if exactly the same stuff is available in town." Tough nuts - ride your bike down the street to get it then. SELF support right? It may not give you and your trading buddy an advantage over each other, but it does over the next guy coming into town that needs those Oreos and has to go get them all by himself.
Ex: Gadgets are fine, except if you use them for anything you may actually use them for. Like Scott's comment about phone calls, you can't police what people are talking about so no way to make that rule which you agree with when it comes to people. They are welcome, as long as they don't do anything to help !?! Good luck policing that. And I agree with Ethan re moral support. A phone call is one thing, but seeing your spouse from halfway accross the country cheering you on is powerful and an advantage.
Some smaller items in there but you get the drift.
I'd also add that it seems the majority of riders abide by the most important rules so as a midpack racer you'd feel pretty good about your results being legitimate if the results even matter that much to you. For the top 10% of the racers I get that this becomes much more important but I'd also predict that group specifically is tighter in following the rules so it's less of a concern from the get go?
BTW - the anti-robot code on that post was seriously "URRONG 1" - even your blog says I'm wrong ;)ReplyDelete
Matt, some good ideas there. Thank you!ReplyDelete
#4 could be more specific for sure. I'll try to clarify it.
Yeah, there's really no need to swap gear in towns. I'll change it.
As far as phones go, I think that asking riders to police themselves is OK. After all, there's really no enforcement on any other point either, right?
Very interesting topic, Toby. I admire your set of rules but would argue that unless you've truly spent some time thinking about them as you did, most racers have not and would probably violate some of them without even thinking that what they are doing might not be totally in the spirit of self-supported racing as you describe it.ReplyDelete
Here is a case in point for you:
In 2011, I arrived at the Laughing Horse B&B in Swan Lake around midnight. It was closed, but there was a sign on the porch that said “if you arrive after hours, just help yourself to a room and we’ll settle everything tomorrow.” So I took a room.
Next morning, I get up around 5:30am, get ready and go to check if anything is open. Of course, it’s not. The sign by the kitchen says that breakfast is at 8:30 or something like that. Yet I'm trying to catch this guy in front of me and I can’t really wait for 3 hours. So I leave a note on the door that says “I’m truly sorry about that but I arrived late and must leave early. Here is my credit card number and my phone number. Please charge me and call me if you have any questions. Again, very, very sorry!”
And I start riding. Couple hours later, I hear a car coming up to me. It slows down to my level and the following dialogue ensues:
- Are you Denis?
- I’m the guy from the B&B
- [oh, oh – did my credit card not go through? ]
- I brought you breakfast!
I ate the breakfast right there on the side of the trail. Never thought of it as trail magic or anything even remotely illegal. Didn’t even cross my mind until Paul Howard and Eric Bruntjen brought it up to me last month when I submitted the story for the Cordillera. I was stunned.
Let me be clear, I am very confident that I didn't break any existing TD rule. I paid for the breakfast that was implied in the name Bed and Breakfast, and I didn't request any special treatment. It didn’t happen by chance or accident (serendipity rule), it happened because I had spent and paid for a night in a commercial establishment that purports to sell lodging and breakfast. Finally, the person who brought it to me wasn’t a bystander. He was the B&B owner who brought me breakfast because I had paid for it and he thought it was the right thing to do to give a customer what he paid for.
It does however appear to violate at least 4 of your rules, maybe more:
- Nobody can bring you anything, anywhere, any time.
-There’s no difference between “unplanned” and “planned” support. All support is support.
- Trail magic is unnecessary, and there are too many gray areas. Just keep it clean and decline. Trade words and memories, not Kit Kats.
- Eating in restaurants is fine. No trailside deliveries though.
The other interesting consideration, at least to me, was how utterly unaware I was at the time that there even was something to worry about. And in fact, I'm pretty confident that if any thought of me accepting the breakfast might have been a rule violation or even a gray area, I'm pretty confident I would have turned it down. But I didn't.
What do you think? Did I break your rules?
That's a great story, thanks for sharing it. Real-world situations are the ultimate test of rules and ideas. Personally, I don't think that you broke an existing TD rule, since trail magic was acceptable at that time. But it sounds like you wouldn't take it now?
I have not broken any of my rules--but I've come really close. On the CTR in 2010, I was trying to unclog one of my water-treatment bottles, when a truck pulled up. While we were chatting, they offered me a needle, and I instinctively reached out to take it. But then I remembered that I wasn't going to accept "trail magic," so I politely handed it back and explained why (they understood, and were amused). I spent the next twenty minutes looking for something to use, trying pine needles, rose thorns, etc.--before remembering that I had a needle in my first aid kit (doh!).
On another occasion, I was standing in a lobby of a hotel, and a guy offered me a ride to a restaurant. I almost said yes, before realizing that riding in cars wasn't really in the spirit of the race. So I ate dinner from the vending machine instead!
As the sport evolves, I expect that more people will think about this sort of thing. What they do with those thoughts will determine what these races look like!
Like I said, I don't think it was trail magic in the first place. From the rules: “TD defines trail magic as an inconsequential amount of serendipitous support from a bystander as the Divide racer carries on the normal business of pedaling to Mexico.” Wiki defines serendipity as a "happy accident" or "pleasant surprise". I will accept that it was a pleasant surprise. I don’t think however that it was a “happy accident”. It didn’t happen by chance or accident, it happened because I had spent and paid for a night in a commercial establishment that purports to sell lodging AND breakfast. Finally, the person who brought it to me wasn’t a bystander. He was the B&B owner who brought me breakfast because I had paid for it and he thought it was the right thing to do to give a customer what he paid for.ReplyDelete
Would have I accepted it after it was brought up to me by Paul and Eric? Yes. That's because when I thought about it then, I came to the conclusion, as outlined above, that it wasn't trail magic.
Would I accept it now, after reading your rules and principles? I must admit, you made me think further about it than I ever had. I still don't think it's trail magic, but your rules go further than that (Nobody can bring you anything, anywhere, any time.) At the very least, I would think twice, and maybe turn it down in an excess of caution.
At the same time, maybe being too strict will result on missing out on wonderful stories like this. Like, if the B&B owner is reading this, will he do it again, or will he fear that his goodwill gesture might DQ a racer? And if he no longer does things like that, is that a good outcome?
Your example really illustrates the difficulty of interpreting the existing rule-sets for many of these races. What looks like trail magic to one person, instead looks like paid assistance to someone else. While it's obvious that you weren't dabbling in gray areas to gain any sort of advantage, others certainly have. That's one reason why I think it's simpler to just reject any sort of assistance whatsoever. If riders don't take anything, then there's no question of whether it was trail magic, unfair assistance, whatever. Further, it actually requires less thought. Instead of trying to think through whether it's OK in a specific circumstance to accept something, the answer is an automatic no.
Being "too strict" will certainly change the nature of the stories. But I don't think that it'll be a net loss of stories; rather, different ones will emerge. While innkeepers might not chase down cyclists (which is incredibly generous and thoughtful!), they will probably find other ways to express their admiration and enthusiasm for racers. Maybe a cooler of beer set on the steps for late-night arrivals? Maybe an extra "to go" sandwich for a beat-down rider heading out the door? There are zillions of ways to share kindness and friendship, and 99% of them won't be touched by more stringent rules.
I nuked the old #4 point. As I tried to re-word it, I realized that it was actually redundant. By not accepting ANY support, the issue should never arise to begin with!
Toby - Good stuff here and I'm glad someone is talking about it and asking some good quesitons, for both sides' sake.ReplyDelete
Dennis - That is a tough cookie. I don't see anything wrong with it as a) you didn't ask for it b) it wasn't a handout c) it didn't take away from anyone else's race. BUT I can see how you have to have a hard rule or everything is an exception and therefore no rule. (Part of my job is writing and implementing rules so I think about this stuff A LOT).
Let's put a twist on that scenario though. Let's say instead of bringing you breakfast, he instead saw you left your sleeping bag sitting by the door and he comes out to hand it to you. Bad or good? My gut says Bad - your mistake. But what is another racer grabs it and hands it to you at the next stop? Hard to say but shouldn't really be any different. You didn't ask for either but th eburden is on you to make the right decision. Even then, where do you draw the line? If he notices as you walk out the door it's ok. If he cathces you within earshot? A mile down the road?
I think this is a great thought from Dennis and something that is important to consider. "At the same time, maybe being too strict will result on missing out on wonderful stories like this. Like, if the B&B owner is reading this, will he do it again, or will he fear that his goodwill gesture might DQ a racer? And if he no longer does things like that, is that a good outcome?"
Perhaps fewer/simpler rules IS the right way to go and especially in these longer races where the outcomes rely so little on the minutia the honor system is best?
Matt: // Let's say instead of bringing you breakfast, he instead saw you left your sleeping bag sitting by the door and he comes out to hand it to you. Bad or good? My gut says Bad - your mistake//ReplyDelete
Yes, my mistake, but how do you turn down the guy that just drove 45 minutes one way on muddy dirt roads to bring it to you? "No, thank you, can you just take it back to the B&B, and I'll go get it myself"??? Or do you take it and then DQ yourself for having taken it?
I can see turning down an offer of help from a bystander, but I don't see myself sending the poor guy back with my sleeping bag. It just sounds rude!
I think at some point you have to take into account that human kindness and one's encounters with it are also a big part of why we do those adventures, and just let those things happen when they happen. This particular example with the sleeping bag might have been an advantage, but I'm pretty sure most other racers in the course of 3 weeks will have their turn at human kindness. In other words, human kindness is plentiful enough along such long routes for everybody to benefit in about the same way at some point.
Besides, me taping the supply of human kindness in this instance doesn't diminish how much of it there is. It's not like you take a candy bar from a store and there is one less candy bar there for when others will come by. However, turning it down might mean there will be less of it, at least from this B&B owner. And that would be a shame, no?
PS: Are you Matt Lee?
I agree Denis. Your second point is where I was trying to go with the shelter example I had. Perhaps you're onto something with distilling this all down to a "don't do anything that would jeopardize someone else's race or give you an UNFAIR advantage" principle. Proving "unfairness" is where it gets cloudy so there's probably a better way to verbalize that.ReplyDelete
Ultimately I see this all as an honor system. Like I said before, the leaders didn't get there by being sketchy and for the rest of the mid-pack what you get out of it is likely to be much more important than placing 12th vs 13th.
And no, I live near Matt Lee, but am not him (and actually have not met him yet).
Great and very thought provoking post. Let me give you another real world scenario to mull over.ReplyDelete
Last week, in this year's Tour Divide race, Elena Massarenti broke her seat rail in the Basin before Rawlins. She taped it up and was riding south from Rawlins when she came upon a construction zone with a bunch of guys welding. She asked if they could do a fix on her seat rail and they managed to do it (she has some great photos). When we got to Bush Mountain Lodge that night, Matt and Scott were there and she recounted the story. Matt agreed that this was well within the rules of the TD.
I think that with all rules the key is to keep them to the minimum and to make them practical. We are engaged in an honour sport and we need to be true to those principles.
In this instance, I don't see anything wrong with the surendipitous use of roadside welders. Similarly, if someone is riding and due to conditions is in serious trouble due to a lack of water, then they should take it from either another rider or a passer by. Failure to do so could result in serious injury.
At the same time, we should never draft, rely on others except in extreme circumstances, never accept lifts etc. Those are total no go areas.
I fully agree that Elena did not break a TD rule. Not only is Matt the uncontested arbiter of all things Tour Divider, his rules clearly allow for such things. As such, Elena is clearly entitled to an uncontested finish! I'm not about to pick apart Elena's decision without engaging her directly.
There are many, many, many ways to show kindness, camaraderie, friendship, etc. without swapping gear, food, or bodily fluids. While I agree that refusing assistance might be awkward at times, there are ways of dealing with it that preserve the good vibes. 99% of the time, there's never even a conflict anyway--there are more then enough great moments to remember for a lifetime.
Sheesh, I thought we were all just out there to enjoy the experience and have fun. Less is more - the more specifically prohibitive you get, the more specific you'll have to get, as everyone begins double-guessing everything. Cheaters will cheat anyway, no matter the rules (see the currently-occurring race in France). Most of us understand the spirit of ultra racing. For yet another real-world example, I was one of the "25%" who "ignored" an official National Forest closure in the 2011 CTR. I took the long way around to stay on the trail - and yes, yes, I understand you've specifically addressed "longcuts". As we've gone over before, Toby, things aren't always so black and white. The CT rules say "stay on the CT", as well as "don't break the law". Personally, when I come to a forestry-related trail closure at 7pm, I don't think of going around a sign as breaking the law. I do that sort of thing all the time. Ain't no one gonna be out in the woods with a chainsaw at 7pm, not government workers, anyway. Given that I had no chance of getting hurt due to the kinds of things the FS was worried about - trees being felled - I personally made the on-the-spot call to follow the CT. That, to me, was the more "pure" interpretation of the situation at hand. This was PRE Stefan's CTR-specific signage to follow the detour.ReplyDelete
We can argue the specifics of that incident all day, but the reality on the ground is that everyone sees every situation just a little differently than the next guy. What makes perfect sense to me makes no sense to you and vice versa - and while we can all agree that cutting portions of the course, accepting blatant outside support (pre-arranged drops, etc), and such aren't really in the spirit of the whole idea, the small situations are impossible to regulate. If you try you end up like the UCI, and hell, isn't that the reason we're all doing this stuff instead anyway?
I guess if you're worried about the "soul" of ultra-endurance racing, a great way to kill it is to come up with ever-longer lists of rules and regulations. Maybe I'll stick to touring or ITT's after all to be sure to not run afoul of someone's personal list of ideals. Sure, I have ideals - but part of life is realizing that they generally don't get followed. Just look at Congress. Can't we just say Start Here, Finish There, This Route, Support Thyself, Who's Fastest, GO!? It ain't life or death.
As far as the Forest Service is concerned, riding on a closed trail is against the law. It doesn't matter whether you or I like it or not--if ultra-racers break the law, we will be banned from holding events on public lands. When I came across the closure, I thought about the possible consequences of riding though it, and I decided that I didn't want to risk messing up the CTR for future riders. You obviously had different priorities that day.
A big part of your argument in general seems to be that the rules I race by are too complicated. Truly, the don't seem that way for me. They add to the challenge, the commitment, and the sportsmanship. Nope, they aren't life and death--but, then again neither is stealing, and I don't do that either. Which ones do you find too difficult or obscure to follow (other than the one about not pissing off land-use agencies)?
As far as why I race, it's because I love facing difficult challenges that force me to prepare better, dig deeper, and explore new physical and mental frontiers. Like a mountaineer who chooses to advance higher standards by not using supplemental oxygen or an army of Sherpas, I believe in pushing the concept of self-support by not allowing myself the luxury of depending on other riders for support, etc.
You are more than welcome to ride however you want. As am I. But I thrive when someone raises the standards, because I welcome greater challenges and more demanding expectations. Greater ideals drive greater achievements!
Doubtless riding through that closure was against the letter of the law. No argument there. You completely missed my point - which is, simply, that every single situation will be seen in differing shades of grey by any new person to come across that situation.ReplyDelete
I simply think that given all the shades of grey, if we're to keep what most of us enjoy about ultra-racing alive, we can't worry about all the details. Cheaters will cheat. And the rest of us will try and stick to the very basic tenants that have been traditionally followed (which as Scott points out are somewhat all over the map). I'm not religious, but it appears to me that the religions that try and define the undefinable most are also the least "spiritual", for lack of a better word. Let's not get too legalistic. Nothing you write about is difficult. It's just that it's not always clear, at the deciding moment, which path is the one that will stay on the good side of your legalism.
In any case, I'm sure I'm not changing your mind and not even really trying to... just trying to add a different view to the discussion. Good luck in the CTR this year. Perhaps I'll see you out there in 2013, and offer you a Snickers! ;)
For me, "real life" has many, many shades of grey. But sports are simpler and clearer. I grew up climbing, and I learned that demanding the highest standards of myself resulted in the best experience. Resisting the temptation to pull on a piece of gear was necessary if I truly hoped to advance my skills and complete the climb honestly. Calculating the risks of crossing an avalanche chute forced me to accept the ultimate responsibility for my actions--and all those that lead up to that point. Making sure that my belayer didn't give me a little extra tension on the rope during a difficult move forced me to control my own fears and gave me focus.ReplyDelete
For me, ultra-endurance racing is another mountain sport, where I find great satisfaction in performing to the highest standards. In that, there are very few grey areas. And when I come across them, I attempt to understand and overcome the ambiguity. I don't always get it right, but that's part of the learning process.
If you don't feel that you can stay on the "good side of [my] legalism," then maybe you shouldn't worry about it. Just as there are lots of climbers who don't care whether they pull on gear to complete a climb, there are ultra-racers who feel that it's OK to beg water from hikers. Yes, I'm going to critically judge such behavior as inferior to the highest standards--but I'm not going to slash your tires or eat your children. Rather, I'll seek inspiration from those who are advancing the sport.
Thanks for adding your viewpoint. I'm looking forward to crossing your tracks in 2013 (if I ride the CTR). I'll turn down your Snickers, but I'll buy you a couple of beers in Durango!
Here is a real life scenario: Tracy, currently racing the TD, albeit at a slower pace than most, left an MTBCast message yesterday, recounting an instance in a Cuba restaurant where her and fellow racer Jim discovered that after looking at their bikes and apparently being mightily impressed by them, strangers had actually paid for their meal, and left. Talk about trail magic!ReplyDelete
They of course accepted it, and seemed very happy about it. Would that violate any of your rules? should they have handled it some other way? (making a donation to the restaurant, trying to catch the strangers, etc...)
Note that I think they really shouldn't have done anything at all, except thanking them on the mtbcast phone call, which they did. But you are much stricter than I would be about trail magic, so I'm wondering how you think it should be handled?
First of all, the current TD rules allow for this sort of trail magic. So, in my opinion, Tracy will finish fairly.
Further, she didn't do anything wrong by my rules either--although there is very slight tint of gray. Since she was in town (at a commercial establishment anyway), and she had already ordered and eaten the food while fully expecting to pay for it, she didn't really receive any support that gave her any sort of an advantage. To me, her situation is very different from accepting a sandwich in the middle of nowhere.
I do like your idea of making a donation of some sort, just to eliminate the slightest tinge of gray. Maybe buying lunch for a worthy stranger down the road would be cool. Spreads the joy too, in a "pay it forward" sort of way--which is always a good thing. I'm not sure I would have thought of it, but I'm glad that you did. The next time someone anonymously buys me lunch, I know what I'll do!
Good post and an interesting read.ReplyDelete
One commonly flexed rule is food and trail magic. 'You can accept a sandwich but not a meal'
is one interpretation I've understood from the TDR and I agree with that definition. 'Accept' being a key word. Interested in your take on that?
I've accepted a snack on the TDR. 150 calories maybe. We're not meant to be automotons who can't interact with locals along a route and accepting a small token of goodwill from riders or people you meet along the way is within the ethics of self-supported riding to me. It also offers a chance to explain the ethics if that offer extends to a cooked full meal or a bed in a private house. Proactively asking for food is slightly different, that's where the fine line is for me. I'd not begrudge another racer that if they were in dire need though - the classic image and story of Coppi and Bartali on the Izoard in the TdF for example - we want to win by the strength in our legs, not because another rider's stomach is empty.
I've not raced much but when I do I have my own aims that aren't part of the regular rules that may not make me faster, the opposite perhaps, and I think there should be room for racers to develop their own style so long as there is no feeling among their peers that unfair gain is had.
Some thoughts about your statement that, "we want to win by the strength in our legs, not because another rider's stomach is empty." Not really. If someone (including me!) doesn't plan well and ends up hungry, then that's a great reason to lose! Ultra-racing is more than about legs for me--it's about everything, including the gear that I choose, the planning that I undertake, how much water and food I carry, etc. That's what makes it different from a road race time trial!Delete
As far as taking food from other riders, friends, and strangers, I just don't see any reason to do so. It's very easy to say, "thanks, but I'm on a self-supported race, and I can't accept any outside food. But thanks so much--that was a really kind gesture!" I've said exactly that, and the person didn't take offense in the slightest.
In short, if you're taking stuff from other people, you're not doing it yourself. And if you're not doing it yourself, you're missing out on what it feels like to be fully self-sufficient and accountable for your decisions and independence.
Other racers are already taking great liberties to gain an advantage. Drafting on the TD. Having pizzas delivered to the trailhead on the AZT. Begging for food and water on the CTR. To me, those things are unfair, and destroy the ethos of ultra-racing.
That TDF example doesn't fit so well with self-supported racing, you're right that there's far more to it, as far as interactions with others go though it's become a guideline that fits my attitudes. No reason to do so, also imo no real reason why not so long as it's minor. Grey area though and that's the risk in general, the shades. So we may not quite agree with where the line is but I do respect your views on this. If I wouldn't begrudge something minor done by another rider then it's ok to me and works in reverse for my personal ethics, but the bigger issue is a wider acceptance of what is OK and what is not for the sake of future races and racers. Credit to you for fighting for that cause. And I see an issue if what I do isn't ok with you, then it becomes an issue. Maybe the only answer is stricter regulations but that's a debate in itself.Delete
Stricter enforcement is indeed one solution--but that's tough to do with grassroots racing. And I'm not sure that it's really necessary. When communities establish norms, most people tend to follow them. This can cut both ways though, as the TDF showed--if drugs become the norm, then everyone will use them.Delete
Whatever transpires, I've enjoyed the exchange James. Thanks for jumping in!
..and your 'pulling on gear' point is a good one. Climbing ethics set good examples. I think the perfect race run is done as close to 'on sight' as possible as a rookie but our trail research diminishes that and long routes with no route notes relating to distances between re-supply etc may be impractical. How much research do we do before the start line? Do rookies have a better ethical run than the same racer as a vet? Is truly on-sighting the big routes possible?ReplyDelete
Yeah, onsighting a race is awesome. I pretty much did that on my first CTR. I did have a GPS track, and bought the guidebook. But I found the book very abstract and overwhelming, so I didn't take notes or bring it with me. I had only ridden one short section (in reverse) before the race, so I really had no idea where I was most of the time. That said, there are some races where that's really not possible or reasonable. Take the KTR for example--water is life in the desert, and heading out without knowing where to get a drink would be foolish.Delete
Ethically, I don't think that rookies have any high ground--but they will have a deeper adventure!
Good distinction on ethics vs adventure. For me the adventure aspect trumps the racing but we all need to pull in the right direction re. what rules there are, for the sake of what makes this type of racing appeal to so many.Delete