The Future of Ultra Trail Running Races

Ultra trail running is firmly established. There are hundreds of races across the globe in some of the most scenic places to be found on earth.

Ultra runners compete in a variety of shoes, and some even insist on showing us they don’t need any shoes at all.

The Future of Shoes in Ultra Running

The future of shoes probably doesn’t even matter. I mean, there is no consensus at all about what makes the perfect ultra-running shoe. Athletes are using all sorts of shoes from New Balance, Salomon, Brooks, Nike, Adidas, Altra, and a number of other manufacturers. Everyone claims to have the better shoe. Nobody does.

Shoes, Socks, Shorts, Shirts, Hats

Same thing as shoes. What we wear to run long distances, is no big deal. Runners wear a wide-variety of styles, colors, materials, and none of it seems to make a big difference. If an ultra runner is comfortable running in what they’ve got – that’s all that seems to matter. It doesn’t seem that one brand has a monopoly on the ‘good stuff.’ It doesn’t appear that anything amazing is going to come to the sport and revolutionize it. We’re still running in coolmax fiber shirts and cotton toe-socks, regular socks, running skirts, and the rest of it.

Sports Watches

This is one area where some significant improvements can be made. I’ve already theorized a bit what could be done to enhance the next generation of Suunto Ambit smart-watches, and every couple days another function comes to mind. There will be great strides in the coming years in what watches (mini-computers really) can do for ultra runners. A handful of companies will all be copying the same ideas, so as far as brand, runners will just go with whatever menu system they like better. Whether Suunto or Garmin is a better watch seems to be a moot question. They’re both pretty damn good, so just choose one with the features you require.

Some Future Sports Watch Features:

1. Readable Display. Let’s call a spade a spade. The current watches have horrible displays. Though features are getting better all the time, the current Suunto Ambit 3 display is a joke. Far too much time is taken during dozens or hundreds of glances during a race, to figure out what the hell the watch is displaying. It’s too hard to see it in an instant. A commenter the other day on this site mentioned that he’d like to see e-ink used. Those displays are ultra bright because they’re paper white with black text on it. What could be better for contrast? Nothing. So, hopefully Suunto and Garmin get up to speed with this technology and offer it as an option for all their watches.

2. Custom Band Length. Is there any reason in the world why my watch band has to have 15 options for my wrist size? I need one, and it needs to fit me. That’s it, just one. I’d love to see custom size wrist bands for my Suunto that does away with the current belt-buckle system that pinches my hair and annoys me. Some sort of pressure snap would be perfect. Figure that out guys!

3. Ditch the Heart Rate Monitor Strap. Soon the heart rate monitor strap will be a thing of the past because all watches will have it built into the watch itself. Good riddance!

4. Batteries for Weeks. The Suunto Ambit I wear has a GPS pod built right into the watch on one side, and it’s perfect. Now, if they added a battery pod on the other side – that’d be just amazing and give us battery life for any distance ultra-race we wanted to torture ourselves with. We need something that records heart rate and GPS data once per second for at least 48 hours. At least! I’d love to just collect data for my heart rate over the course of a week and then compare it week to week during certain times of day, while sleeping, etc. Seems every area of technology needs to significantly up their battery game. It would very easy to add a battery pod to the Suunto and Garmin watches without adding thickness to the height of the watch-face itself. COME ON MAN!

5. Drones, Not Vests or Food and Water Stations. One of the major problems and expenses with planning and executing an awesome ultra running race is getting the food / hydration stations set up and manned. Races are sometimes planned around where these stations can be setup. If there’s no way to get water and food to athletes, the race is redirected to another route that makes more sense.

In the future I foresee drones carrying water or whatever a runner needs – even feminine napkins. There will no longer be a need to carry enough nutrition and hydration, blankets and fire-starters in a vest. Drones bring it to you when you beep them with what you want. Each runner has a pre-programmed clicker with 20 choices she can choose from to have supplies delivered drone-style – to wherever they are on the path. Five geeks with drone remotes send them out based on a runner’s GPS coordinates as needed.

Imagine that. Runners could drink and eat whatever they wanted, when they wanted. I think this will really change races in the future. Carrying a bottle of water will be the only thing an athlete carries at all!

6. Pacer Drones. Pacers, when they are human beings, are prone to faults. Some pacers aren’t up to the task, some get sick, some get injured, some are annoying. Flying drones can take the place of human pacers by hovering just a few paces in front and flashing competitor’s crucial race data, heart rate, respiration rate, pace, speed, upcoming terrain, etc. Even better, drones could carry a life-sized replica of Rob Krar’s beard – just the hair, as a sort of tempting carrot to reach out and grab for luck.

7. GoPro Wired. All racers will be fitted with super-lightweight GoPro cameras on their hats, even a special one to fit Tony Krupicka’s massive BUFF head-wrap. At any time fans can pull up a POV of what the runner is seeing and doing. Drones hovering high above will give instant top-down perspective on-demand to race fans.

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