Lots of articles, tweets, and blog posts have gone up in the last few weeks with a focus on individuals' 2012 goals as well as the state of competition in the ultra scene. Most of these items are written from elites or those covering elites. One tweet (then post) in particular from Dylan Bowman really got my wheels turning. He brings up the idea of ""just jogging" is no longer an option in competitive ultrarunning." So if the elites are going to take their training up a notch what does that mean for us non-elites? Upper 25%? Middle of the packers? Everyone else? The way I look at tiers of ultrarunners is pretty simple. This graph represents the all up talent pool not specific runners. The point is not to nitpick on details of "runner X would fair better at course Y because he/she possesses Z trait," but to make a generalization in terms of ability. Think about a triangle graph split into 4 pieces horizontally. At the tippy-top, highest point is the elites. This is the 5%. Below that there is another tier of about 25%. Below that is 50% and at the very bottom is the remaining 20%. For the most part everyone fits into one of these sections. Occasionally someone can move up or down but in general, we all fall into this triangle somewhere. A 25% runner who takes 3rd at a 100 miler in Wisconsin is still a 25%er. Sure he or she did well at that event, but in comparison to the pool, that person still sits at 25%. Make sense?
The bottom 20% is not really affected by the competition. The assumption here is that these runners, are either slower and fighting cutoffs or just out enjoying the run with no regards toward finishing time. These types of runners are not in it to compete so higher competition means little to them to begin with. My gut tells me that their training will pretty much stay the same.
The middle 50% is a pretty large band. All type of folks exists here and of course make up the majority of finishers of any race distance. Where the "just jogging won't work" mentality starts to take hold is toward the top of the 50%. See someone that decides to take it up a notch can make that move into the 25% and that steady 25% guy or gals now finds themself fighting to not be middle of the pack.
The 25% again gets fun at the top. That top tier 25% individual can maybe move into that bottom 5% and again the bottom 5% person is fighting to not be 25%.
While most of this current talk is about the tops in the sport, the rest of the field won't just sit back and watch as the fast get faster. The majority of the spectrum will adjust their game to meet the new "expectation." Like to compete and are comfortable with your training? It might be time to start getting uncomfortable if you plan to hold on to your spot in the pack. Everyone's getting faster and the "just finish" mentaility is not what it's all about anymore, for better or for worse.