Ultrarunning is growing—no one can deny that. With an increase in online coverage of the sport, major brands sponsoring athletes and events, and more and more races popping up all over the country (and the world), the sport is expanding more quickly than any trail runner in the '90s ever would have imagined.
According to Ultrarunning Magazine, within the last decade there has been an increase in the number of ultramarathons from under 400 races in 2004 to around 1,200 in 2014. With this kind of growth in participation, the culture of the sport is changing rapidly.
The Southeast is a prime example of an area where ultrarunning is seeing dramatic growth. Sean Blanton, owner and head race director of Run Bum Tours, has been contributing to this growth in the South for several years now with his consistently sold-out races that traverse some of the steepest, most mountainous, most beautiful terrain in the Southeast. The races are designed with a vision to create routes that highlight scenery above everything else, creating some of the most difficult routes anywhere in the country in the process. Blanton believes that the Southeast's ultrarunning rivals that of anywhere else in the country, saying, ”We don't have altitude, but we have mountains that rival [the West's] without question."
Using these challenging courses and scenic vistas to motivate registration for his events, Blanton has seen the competition "go through the roof" with more and more fast runners hitting the trail and an exponential increase in newcomers to the ultra scene.
Run Bum Tour's Georgia Sky to Summit 50k, held on Nov. 7th this year, has been sold out every year since its initiation in 2013. Between the 50K and the 8.5-mile race, this year’s Sky to Summit hosted 100 more runners than last year’s run. The course included an upswing in the amount of singletrack, an optional out and back to a scenic waterfall, and as always, incredible views from the summit of Rabun Bald (Georgia's 2nd highest point). Each year Blanton works to keep the course fresh and inspiring, and he says there are some major changes in motion for the next two years. Blanton assures us that the views will be better than ever, giving finishers plenty of conversation material for the food and beer celebration that awaits at the finish line.
The Sky to Summit, along with all other Run Bum events, is expanding the Southeast's ultrarunning community of racers as well as putting some "Run Bum" ideology into the sport. Blanton pulls experience from running over 100 ultras around the world and knows that the atmosphere of a region's ultra scene starts with leadership from race directors and active members in the community.
He operates with the knowledge that a well-directed race can create lifelong passions in new runners and change the lives of long-time athletes. Everyone that starts a Run Bum race will have to overcome the mental and physical challenges of the course, but the elite runners at the front of the pack are treated as equally when they cross the line as those who are bringing up the rear—with immense enthusiasm and a congratulatory high-five from the Run Bum himself.
In Blanton's own words, "As always, do epic shit."
We love the Run Bum's influence on the ultra scene in the Southeast and encourage seasoned athletes and newbies alike to check out some of these upcoming events.
November 28th : Helen Holiday Half Marathon in Unicoi State Park, Helen, GA
December 5th : Battle for Black Rock 36/24/12 mile race in Black Rock State Park, Mountain City, GA
January 9th : Cloudland Canyon 11/50 mile race in Cloudland Canyon State Park, Rising Fawn, GA