WaPo looks at raising the profile--and the purse size--of ultramarathons due to their increased popularity:
According to the American Trail Running Association (ATRA), the number of trail races has more than tripled since 2000 to 2,400 events, and the number of participants has grown from 90,000 to 230,000.UltraRunning Magazine reported the number of runners who finished ultra-length trail races increased from 15,500 in 1998 to 52,000 in 2011. Though participation still does not compare with marathoning -- 518,000 people finished U.S. marathons in 2011 -- ultramarathon trail running has grown as much in the last four years as it did in its first 27.
There is a difficulty beyond elite sponsorships and prize money, though--media coverage:
Mountainous trail races present a challenge for the media, and may require innovation when it comes to coverage and broadcasting. But the event could be recorded and edited, then shown later, like the Ironman Triathlon race in Hawaii. "I think ultra can pack the same visceral punch that triathlon does if covered properly," said Tia Bodington, managing editor of UltraRunning magazine.
Although elite runner Anton Krupicka would probably earn some prize money, he partially agrees with the keep-it-small ethos:
"I totally see their point of view, but I think the sport is big enough to accommodate both kinds of races: those with large fields, media, prize money, and a focus on the sharp end and those that are more low-key and grassroots with no fanfare. I enjoy both types of events and hope that both continue to exist and proliferate."
As long as there are plenty of fatass events for back-of-the-pack endurance athletes, I'll be happy--regardless of what happens at the sports' pinnacles.