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The Price of Representing Team USA: Trail and Ultra Runners Bear the Burden

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Countless athletes dream of being able to represent their country on the international stage.

Few actually make the cut.

Even fewer are able to take on the financial burden to realize their dream.

In 2013, Scott Traer, new to the world of trail and ultra running, was flagged as one of America’s best in the 24-hour discipline and selected to represent his country at the World Championships. 

The 24-hour discipline of trail and ultra running is a niche yet grueling specialty in which athletes have 24 hours to complete as many laps of a track as possible. Although peculiar, the discipline has seen notable names take part in competitions, including the likes of Kilian Jornet, Courtney Dauwalter, and Camille Heron.

Then, 31 years old and working odd jobs in the Boston area, Traer was elated to receive the call from USA Track and Field (USATF) that he had been selected to wear the stars and stripes. 

Here’s the caveat: Traer and all other USATF 24-hour athletes had to cover all their expenses.

Traer’s enthusiasm quickly faded. Limited disposable income, no paid time off work, and the unmanageable cost of international travel meant he had to decline the opportunity.

Fast forward a decade, Traer, now 42, is living in Arizona and works as a full-time coach and assistant race director. Over this time, Traer has only grown in the sport of trail and ultra running, collecting many notable results including a course record at Javelina 100k and a top-10 finish at Western States Endurance Run.

As he did a decade earlier, Traer has once again qualified to represent the USA at the 2023 IAU 24-hour World Championships held on December 2 in Taiwan (recognized as Chinese Taipei in international sport).

What hasn’t changed is the fact that he will once again be responsible for footing the bill.

The amount of funding allocated to the 24-hour team from USATF: $15,000.

Note, the team is comprised of 12 athletes, two managers, and one physician. The managers and physician will have their travel covered, however their work is considered volunteer. After covering those costs, the remainder will be split amongst the athletes.

This amounts to $650 per athlete.

A quick Google search will show that estimated costs for round-trip flights and a five-night stay in a hotel will run an athlete between $3,000 to $4,000.

Many of the best 24-hour runners come from the USA, with both the men’s and women’s teams taking the win at the previous World Championships in 2019 while also earning individual podium spots.

With the inflection in trail running, notably on the professional side, many athletes are still left to use their own money to compete. 

Some races give out prize money to top competitors, and a select few of the sport’s best will receive a liveable salary. Most athletes will only earn between $10,000 and $30,000 as sponsored trail or ultra runners.

Considering the cost of coaching, equipment, travel, and racing, this doesn’t leave much to take home, and most rely on other sources of income to get by.

Chad Lasater, another athlete who qualified to represent Team USA at this years 24-hour World Championships says that these costs preclude some of the best athletes from being able to compete.

“I feel that everyone should have an equal opportunity to be on the U.S. team, and the cost of traveling to the World Championships should not preclude anyone from accepting a spot on the team. We should really be sending our best 24-hour athletes to the World Championships, not the best athletes who can afford to travel.”

Opportunites to represent Team USA on the international stage are few and far between, and for some athletes, they are once in a lifetime opportunities. 

The training, sacrifice, and dedication it takes to earn a spot on one of those teams is immense, and the athletes vying for these spots in the trail and ultra-running world are at a consensus that if you are that good, finances should not be a barrier.

Traer finishes by saying, “No one should have to decide that they made Team USA but can’t afford to pay to wear their country’s flag. If an athlete earns their spot on the team, they should get the support they need to compete. End of story.”

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Jessy has been active her whole life, competing in cross-country, track running, and soccer throughout her undergrad. She pivoted to road cycling after completing her Bachelor of Kinesiology with Nutrition from Acadia University. Jessy is currently a professional road cyclist living and training in Spain.

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