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K20 - Kingston To Ottawa

The K2O is an ultra endurance, 202km marathon paddling race from Kingston to Ottawa

The K2O is an ultra endurance, 202km marathon paddling race from Kingston to Ottawa through a UNESCO world heritage site. Racers have up to 36hrs to paddle the length of the Rideau Canal, portaging 22 times around lock stations as they race non-stop against the clock and each other.

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Age and Mentorship in Ultrarunning

Ultrarunning is still a fairly obscure sport populated predominantly by the endurance world’s outliers. That said, ultrarunning popularity has been and continues to expand phenomenally. It has been historically pursued and dominated by Master athletes. In fact, even a few years ago, one would struggle to find a large number of athletes under the age of 30 in most ultramarathons. Even in 2013, approximately 54% of ultrarunning participants in North America were in the Master (40+ years old) class. Another 33% were 30-39 years old.

In the past few years there has been growth in younger demographics with many more athletes in their 20s and early 30s competing in ultras of all types and distances. There are even teenage runners participating in and placing quite high in competitive fields. Ford Smith, 17, of Austin, TX has been ripping it up from 26 to 100 mile events. Andrew Miller, 18, of Corvallis, OR is another who has been diligently crafting his ultra resume since he first entered his teen years. And then there are the even more surreal adolescent ultra phenoms such as Colby Wentlandt, 13 –the youngest to complete a 100 mile event at age 12, or Tajh, 10, and Teagan, 8, Redden, brother and sister who crush 50K trail runs as part of their everyday family adventuring!

A crop of the young guns are coming to ultrarunning from relatively recently completed collegiate track and cross-country careers. Others transitioned from elite (and successful) road-running into the world of mountain, ultra and trail-running. Then there are the mountain climbing and ski machines that have easily found their running legs. Not only is the expanding magnetism of ultrarunning attracting younger athletes, but this new blood infused into the sport is fast. On both the men’s and women’s fronts, these folk are winning regional, national and even international events with increasingly deeply competitive fields.

While races are won on the day, young runners, as a group, have not yet begun to break down many course records (CR) that stand on iconic and classic routes both domestically and internationally. The bars have been set, sometimes decades ago, by those veteran runners that spent much time in the sport, experimenting with and learning the myriad of nuances that culminate in exceptional ultra performances.

Naturally, the landscape of ultrarunning changes. The demographic shifts and expands and an increasing number of stakeholders result in an expanding universe. New runners bring raw speed and, possibly, great talent into the ultra gene pool. However, the nature of ultrarunning is far more expansive than physicality or some sense of imbued aptitude. Ultrarunning, while situated first and foremost in the individual, is built on community and no small part of that is the process of mentorship. Following in the footsteps of veterans and CR holders, the new generation of ultrarunners has begun to reap the benefits of mighty mentors.

Under Hal Koerner’s tutelage, the Rogue Valley Runners shop in Ashland, Oregon doubles as a training stable for a slew of very fast young ultrarunners. Kilian Jornet, possibly the greatest endurance athlete of his generation, has continually pursued legendary mentors the likes of Bruno Brunod, Stéphane Brosse and Pablo Vigil. Dominic Grossman, of Los Angeles, has drawn from his relationship with local legend Jorge Pacheco in leading to his own ultrarunning prowess in Southern California. Grossman describes: “Jorge taught me the standard of competitive ultrarunning: train hard, believe in yourself, listen to your body, and don’t give up. The details will work out if you’re consistent and keep at it. Four years later, I’m a much better runner for his guidance.”

This inclusion of mentorship and the greater supportive community in young athletes’ experience will help in leading them to greater feats than seen in the sport to date. Furthermore, this care can aid athletes in developing sustainable practices while simultaneously benefiting the sport by ensuring the passing on of the tightknit fellowship in shared suffering from which ultrarunning first emerged.