Many years ago, I was attending the 27th Annual Burton US Open Snowboarding Championships, an event dedicated to bringing together the very best in the sport of snowboarding. As I watched the field of world-class athletes, surprised that it was the 27th year for this event, my mind immediately went to my own sport of ultra-distance running and all of the individual events around the US and abroad.
Over the past decade, with social media changing our culture and giving us tools to more easily follow the extreme aspects of society, ultra running quickly increased in popularity. Now that everyone was watching and as with any human activity that pits competitors against one another, we had to find out who was the best. It was this vision of where the sport was headed and the need for a stage that showcased the competition that prompted me to create the Ultra Race of Champions.
So I had my work cut out for me! As I began the process of creating a true championship event, I knew immediately that this type of race would require a tremendous amount of time and effort. I had to ask myself some tough questions: how would the running community respond? Would ultra runners be excited? Most importantly, is this how I wanted to spend my time?
Even though the sport was changing, at its core, ultra running remains very much the same as it has for decades. We’re a tight community of people who love the outdoors. We cover vast distances via foot and commune with one another regardless of differences. Unlike other sports, the career athlete and weekend warrior are one and the same in ultra running, because the community celebrates the achievement equally and independently of finish time or rank. We all stand side by side at the start; we all chat in the toilet line; we all marvel at the natural beauty behind the bend in the trail. This quality is not lost on the athletes, and it attracts so many to the sport.
Fast forward years later, and it’s the day before the 2018 Ultra Race of Champions. I stand arm-in-arm with the 100-kilometer participants. We crowd in front of the podium for the annual Ultra Race of Champions family photo.
As I look to my left and to my right, I see a large contingency of elite runners from around the world with their arms around many other runners who came to find their own inner champions. At that moment, I fully realized that I had created something very special in the sport.
I could finally answer the lingering question: when passion leads your efforts, it never really feels like work, especially when your job is in the MOUNTAINS!
James Russell Gill III (Gill) is a professional ultra-endurance runner and owner and CEO of Bad to the Bone Sports. Together, Gill and Francesca have turned passion into a lifestyle and can always be found on top of a mountain searching for the next challenge.