(Current Topic: "What constitutes an “unfair advantage” in a trail race, and what—if anything—should be done to even the playing field?"), but as I read absolutely awesome interviews of Western States 100 front runners conducted by iRunfar.com, and commented, one comment spurred up a lot of thought. It was an interview with Dave Mackey, Nick Clark and Ian Sharman, all three return top-10 placing dudes, and I mentioned how I'd love Calrkie and Mackey to go for broke and make it happen (more Nick with a realistic chance, no offense, but Dave just put a 100k at San Diego 100). Why? Because they are guys with real jobs and families (spouses and kids). I was counter-commented with "Running coaching is a real job too, just not with a steady paycheck". Yes, it is. I should know, I have that one...as well as a the real job, one that makes you be at the office (NOT a home office, but elsewhere, what at the minimum involves getting there) at certain hours, which in this country means at least 40 hrs a week (if you're lucky), plus that commute, makes it 10 hrs a day out of your "personal" life. There are different jobs out there, some more back-breaking, some more computer-starring, some easy physically and mentally...but when you have a boss and have to be in the office, even if you do close to nothing at all, those ar 10 hrs you can NOT commit to running! And with regular jobs taking place in time of somewhere between 8 to 5, those are day-light hours no matter where you live.
What is the advantage of either not working (and having a significant other or parent to support you financially) or working from home? You can get however many hours of sleep you need and get out the door for a run whenever you feel fit - and for however many hours/miles your training calls for. For the rest of the world - it is either 4-5 am wake up calls and stumbling in the dark, late night runs after dinner settles in, or a quickie at lunch hour. Is it an unfair advantage? Absolutely NOT. It is each of our individual choice what to do in life, work full time regular hours, have a business (that may have flexible few hours, but may have INSANE many more than 10 a day, like Devon and Nathan Yanko's new bakery!), or live off spousal salary (aren't those nice?:)) or scraps that may be a sponsor provides while you're in peak (a fewer lucky) and a loan you hope to re-pay in the future.
That thinking (and that aforementioned comment) also involved families, and in particular families with kids - not that spouses alone are not families, but you know, those snot- and tears munchkins demand by far more presence! I should know that too, as I began my running journey when my kids were 5 and 10. These are quite old ages as far as I am concerned - I had no sleepless nights by then, and was bound to their school activities and sport practices, but was able to get runs around baseball and soccer fields or other things while watching and being "present". But even then, quality was often missed, as well as trails, and long runs were done, yet again, beginning at 4 am on Saturdays and Sundays, to ensure coming home by at least 11 am - if you want to be a participating parent, of course.
Unfair to be single or married without kids (for whatever reason, early, don't want to, can't)? Absolutely NOT. Again, these are choices we make, and then make the best of it...but surely those who can romp around at any time and in any place have somewhat of an advantage in training...
Someone mentioned living at altitude versus low-landers. Someone talks about flat Florida and mountains of Pacific North West. Then we have perfect weather of Coastal California year-round, and deep winter for 8 months somewhere in Montana, or 100F for 7 months in Texas...all that makes and breaks those training runs. And we haven't even come close to the advantages in racing itself...
Enter Karl Meltzer. The King of 100 M races - who prefers to run alone and advocates for it. Are pacers in the later stages an advantage? For a moment, don't think about safety in terms of breaking a leg and having someone carry you...and I am not only talking about front runners fighting for placing. A runner with a pacer has an extra pair of eyes to navigate the course, some set the pace (literally), some remind to drink/eat, some even spare their flashlights (happened at SD100 to a runner...would that runner finish same time/place?) and food. Sometimes, though, a pacer can be disadvantage, at least to some. It is an extra worry "Am I doing well, is the pacer having fun?". What if a pacer went off course and you trusted him? What if the pacer is not fit for that amount of miles/time/terrain and you feel guilty to leave them behind? Whatever it is, advantage or not, if it's allowed - it is fair. Lets live with it.
Same goes for crew. While I prefer to run by myself, and had become extremely efficient utilizing aid stations and my drop bags, a crew is totally beneficial and I love to have someone when life lets me. It is an advantage, as something legally allowed by race organizers, it is a fair one, indeed.
What else? GPS that allow you to make correct turns. Iron stomach is an awesome thing. High VO2max as well. Feet that don't respond with blisters every time you hit the rock. Kidneys that don't fail. And, of course, a clear mind to make right choices while you run - and a lot of experience:)
Funny remarks aside, what is unfair after all? Anything that is forbidden by race management! Drugs, first and foremost. I don't care where you stand in "normal" life on use of some of them, but if a race follows USATF or RRCA rules, get a list, and I believe, regardless of what recent article in one of the magazines vaguely tried to say, marijuana is still illegal in sport performance. All those blood doping drugs are as well. When your pacer carries stuff FOR you and gives it to you (and without which you would have slowed down/stopped), including but not limited to fuel, water, salt, clothes, lights...Cutting the course!!! - Big No-No! Using personal crew away from aid stations - or using something stashed ahead of time at certain points. I am also aware of certain twin brothers who switch over during a long race - that is pure cheating.
Frankly I am not sure if much can be done besides what is being done. Nor do I want to think about it. I pride myself to be "old school", and just wish quietly we stay old school forever:)