Trail Runner magazine Blog Symposium asked this month: Is trail running becoming too commercialized?
Today, as trail runners, we are bombarded daily, actually hourly, by ads. The latest shoes, gear, bars, gels, gadgets are coming out on a quarterly basis. It is overwhelming. There is always something newer, something better then what you already have. Not long ago, trail shoes were just plain old road shoes with a different sole. Now we have a shoe for every type of terrain imaginable. Welcome to the age of commercialization. Commercialization is defined as:
… the process or cycle of introducing a new product or production method into the market. The actual launch of a new product is the final stage of new product development and the one where the most money will have to be spent for advertising, sales promotion, and other marketing efforts.
Companies today are spending more than ever on sponsorships, marketing and advertisement of products aimed at you, the trail runner. Trail running has been going through a tremendous growth spurt in the last several years. Just look at the number of races on the calendar for any given weekend and you will see the growth. There are thousands of new runners every year, and that growth means opportunity for big and small companies. Some are there because they really care about the sport and want to see it grow in a positive manner, but some are there for that quick buck. This is true here in the US, as well as in Europe and other parts of the world. There are opportunities for everything.
There are few schools of thought right now that exist in the ultra/trail running world. The first one is that the sport is getting too big. There are too many people on the trails. There is no respect for the trails. Ultimately, at the end of the day, this new fad will be over, trails will be ruined, and “we” will be stuck fixing everything. The second one is that the growth is good. It is bringing new talent to the sport. People are getting out and moving and all is good. It is not hard to realize that most of the gear companies fall into the second category. And that is good. It gives us as consumers a choice.
We as consumers like to have options, and as such there will never be a shortage of goods offered to us. When there is a want, there is a need and many companies will deliver. This is not necessarily a bad thing, as long as we do not let ourselves get exploited. We must not stand, nor promote subpar products, or any one that wants to sell us something. We must demand quality, and above all exceptional customer service.
While choices and options are good, we as consumers and stewards of trails and nature, must not allow this sport of ours to become just one big money making machine. Thankfully, like it or not, we do have the US government to keep the number of people on trails limited with the permit process. We do have people boycotting and standing up against races that are getting too big and ruining the environment. We must know when enough is enough, and we have to act with our words, but with our wallets as well.
And so the commercialization of trail running will go on. We will see many companies come and go. We will go though many shoes until we find the one that fits. We will try, test, succeed and fail trying many different products out there. We will continue to spend on products that we need, but also on products that we don’t. In the end, what remains is us, the runners. Healthier, well rounded human beings, geared up well of course, running those same trails that we have run before. Going on new adventures and exploring new boundaries. Going after that next peak and after that segment on Strava.