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Last updated: 20-Feb-20

By Mike Seaman, CEO at The National Running Show

One of the many things that struck me at The National Running Show in January was the diversity of the people in attendance and it got me to thinking about just how inclusive the world of ultra-running actually is. This year’s show saw the inclusion of the first ever ‘Ultra Zone’. We teamed up with our friends at Bad Boy Running to build a theatre dedicated to people who want to find out more about what lies beyond 26.2. Was it a stroke of genius or a ridiculous exercise in self-indulgence? Who knows!

The team at Bad Boy Running pulled in an awesome line-up of speakers including Lazarus
Lake, Dean Karnazes, Camille Heron, John Kelly and loads more. It was basically the best line-up of ultra-runners ever assembled! Even though we thought that the line-up was cool, we knew that the whole Ultra scene is still a bit niche in comparison to other types of running and we wondered if anyone would show up.

How embarrassing to have these mega-stars in attendance and only 20 people in the audience?! I was very nervous, just because I love ultra-running and I think these people are awesome doesn’t mean that anyone else does! None of my non-running friends have a clue who these guys are (to be honest I’m currently re-evaluating them as friends if they don’t know who Laz and Dean are but that’s an aside!).

When the doors opened, it was made immediately clear that I should have been nervous, but for a completely different reason – we were mobbed! Every session was overflowing, we could have filled another 300 seats! Our ultra-speakers were like rock stars, being asked for autographs and selfies wherever they went. We had as many people watching John Kelly and Camille Heron as we did listening to Sally Gunnel and Linford Christie – it was incredible!

The really interesting point for me was the make-up of the audience – it wasn’t full of super-fit, middle aged white men in tight lycra – it was a diverse group of people of all shapes and sizes united by a shared passion for running long - I was blown away! These people were avid ultra-runners, multi-event veterans and they were geeking out over the speakers just as much as we were!

The sense of community and comradery was palpable – not a jot of elitism anywhere and such an inclusive group. I met one lady who said that she ran ultras because it was easier – she felt that run-walking a 50k ultra was more accessible than running a 4-hour marathon and I think she might have a point!

I have spoken  to so many people over the last few years about struggles with finding the right gear for running ultras if you don’t fit the mould.  One lady, Jennifer Crocker, is a great case in point. She said:

“I am about 15 stone, a size 16 and I am 5’11. I am aware that when at events I do not look like a runner, let alone a long-distance runner, and I have real issues getting kit to fit. Leggings are generally too short. In winter I either find longer socks or get cold ankles, but it's not great for trail running when there's a good half inch gap between your gaiter and leggings.

The last time I dropped into to a shop to browse, the largest size they had in women’s clothes was a 12, and that was labelled XL! Once it is warm I wear shorts if I can find some that aren't essentially hot pants. Firstly, thigh rub is a real issue, and secondly, I just don't want that much leg out! That can't just be me?"

“I can't get waterproof trousers long enough. It's just as well it's not a fashion show, they look ridiculous, I've got the largest size and they are tight across the belly. Jackets rarely go over my boobs. In fact, until I'd lost 2 stone the only waterproofs I had was a hiking jacket and a pac-a-mac which was so uncomfortable I usually just opted to get wet. I’m yet to find a bra I am actually happy with.

But that seems the case for most larger chested women I've spoken to. The best one I have found still isn’t great, the back chafes so badly after 4 miles that I have to put tape underneath it. Size wise bras have definitely come a long way but in terms of comfort for larger chested women there is still a long way to go."

“I am happy with the kit I have but it was mostly chosen out of necessity i.e. that is what ‘kind of’ fits. I would love to be a be able to choose between things and pick things I like rather that just buying it because it’s the only option.”

It made me think that perhaps there is a lesson / opportunity here for brands to target this growing group of ultra-enthusiasts. I am 6’4 and a little tubby and I struggle to find kit to fit me so what about the other people who also don’t fit the mould of your average runner?

What was definitely clear to me from what I saw at the show is that ultra-runners come in all shapes and sizes and the ultra-running market is set to grow… along with our Ultra stage next year!

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