In the Long Run

Ultrarunning on the Internet--
Part 1: The Ultra List

BY MIKE STRZELECKI

This is the first of a two-part series about ultrarunning on the Internet. This article will discuss the Ultra mailing list, an e-mail list that allows ultrarunners to communicate interactively. Next month, I will provide and discuss the most popular Web sites dedicated to ultramarathoning.

Way back in a time long forgotten--circa 1992, I believe--runners had to patiently wait until the next issue of Runner's Gazette or Ultrarunning magazine to get race results. Now, runners have access to results just days following the event, or sometimes hours. The best venue to get timely race results is through the Ultra mailing list.

The Ultra mailing list is an interactive mailing list dedicated to the sport of ultrarunning. Currently, 1250 individuals from about 30 countries comprise the list community. An e-mail mailing list works this way: All participants are connected to a common server. When an individual posts a comment or question to the list, it goes to that server which distributes it to everyone on the list. On an average day, about 50 e-mail messages will be posted.

The primary benefit of the Ultra list is obvious: You have access to the collective knowledge and wisdom of over one thousand ultrarunners. Ask a question and get dozens of responses. Where else can a novice to a sport communicate so directly and freely with the sport's elite? Common discussion threads include training methods, nutrition, injuries, information about specific races, sports physiology, race-course conditions, and opinions on the merits of particular races. You'll also be privy to more far-reaching discussion topics--for example, rating running books and movies, determining which is the best running camera, comparing the difficulty of races, determining what jogbra minimizes chafing, and analyzing the need for a coach.

Perhaps the most anticipated postings are the race reports. Runners often provide lengthy and detailed accounts of their race experiences, sometimes stepping the reader through the race with explicit course description, and sharing the physical and emotional tribulations they encountered. These recollections range from merely fascinating to genuinely moving. They are especially valuable to novice runners still deciding whether to test the waters of life beyond 26.2 miles.

An ancillary benefit of the Ultra mailing list is that you'll geographically expand your circle of running friends. This will enable you to more easily network for out-of-town lodging and ride-sharing, and provide you more access to handlers and pacers.

Sometimes out of the usual slurry of race results and training tips arise more heated discussions. Recent contentious topics include whether runners should wear headphones during races, the merits of some race directors' policy to require participants to perform trail maintenance before they can participate, whether race directors should strive to post race results the morning following the race, and what constitutes a finish in timed events, such as 24-hour runs. As with any healthy community, opinions sometimes vary and tempers have been known to flare. Such dissension keeps discussions crisp and provoking.

The history of the Ultra list can be traced to December 1993, when two accomplished (and I would imagine somewhat geekish) ultrarunners named Joe Jurczyk and Joel Zucker discussed the possibility of starting an Internet mailing list dedicated solely to ultras. To determine the level of interest, they queried existing running mailing lists such as the Dead Runners Society and the rec.running newsgroup. The response was overwhelmingly favorable to having a list dedicated to ultras. Jurczyk and Zucker implemented the list and served as list administrators.

The two list administrators imposed guidelines on what could be posted: Subject matter had to stay on the topic of ultramarathons. Discussions, however, often strayed, and the list administrators frequently had to reel the discussion back to proper subject matter. Sensing a need for a second ultrarunning e-mail list that allowed discussions on a more diverse range of topics, Dave Combs in 1995 developed what was called the IUS-L (Internet Ultra Society) mailing list. On IUS-L, runners could discuss any topics they wished, whether it be training, politics, or their favorite movies.

List evolution was such that most participants subscribed to both lists, and most e-mails were posted simultaneously to both lists. As a result, list members received duplicates of most posts. To reduce the redundancy, the decision was made to merge both lists. The task was accomplished in January 1999 to the cheers and ballyhoo of list members who were tired of crammed-full in-boxes. The current charter of the Ultra mailing list states that its purpose is to "talk about ultra-related stuff, but that isn't limited to training/racing and other technical issues." The list administrators are Dave Combs and Joe Jurczyk.

To subscribe to the Ultra list, do the following: Send a one line message that says SUBSCRIBE ULTRA First name Last name (naturally, substitute your names there) to listserv@listserv.dartmouth.edu. You will be quickly notified that you are connected to the list, and provided with instructions and guidelines. An archive of past postings to the list can be interfaced through Kevin Sayers Web site at http://www.fred.net/ultrunr/.