Golf and ultras

July 18, 2009

What do golf and ultramarathons have in common?

Well, a single-day competition in either sport lasts many hours. And, perhaps not coincidentally, both are considered tremendously boring by most people. But general interest in golf is on the rise this week as 59-year-old Tom Watson continues to outplay the field at the British Open. He’s got a one-stroke lead heading into the final round. And that reminds me of a third similarity between the two sports: both are relatively well-suited to older athletes, some of whom occasionally defy the odds and beat everyone, youngsters included.

If Watson is able to hang on and win the Open, it will be a shocking and inspiring achievement. But golf, with its emphasis on patience and precision rather than power and speed, is one of the only sports in which a 59-year-old can even dream of such success. In fact, the only comparable example that comes to mind is Marco Olmo’s wins in 2006 and 2007 at the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, a prestigious 100-mile trail race in France. Olmo was 57 and 58 when he notched these victories.

Ultras may never receive regular television coverage or offer huge prize purses, as golf tournaments do. But if a marketing person wanted to increase the general public’s interest in elite ultramarathon racing, my advice to him or her would be to identify and publicize the captivating old-versus-young duels that occur on a somewhat regular basis.

In the meantime, I’ll be cheering for Tom Watson.


  1. Sorry your old guy choked. Not a good weekend for the old guys – not sure if you watch the Tour de France or not but today they couldn't stop mentioning how incredibly old Lance is and how his age is starting to catch up with him (at 37!).

  2. Dear Mr. Crowther,Well, I am too old to be any sort of fan boy, but I just want to say how impressed I have been by your running career and your extremely logical writings on life and science. Can't remember when I first read about you (maybe in Trail Runner?). I just recall that you avoided taking the easy road in answering the interview questions. You didn't respond in the squishy way that might have been expected.I am a fellow ultra runner (mainly races in my home of Japan) and sort of a regular on various skeptical websites on the net. Glad to find your blog, which I will henceforth read!If you do frequent facebook (I know, I know, I know…) please do link to my facebook page of Robert.Self.UltraJapanRobert

  3. … and it could be a very good workout to… ultramarathons. I´ve made this year the 101km de La Legion (Ronda-Spain) and my "special workout 10 days before, was to play 18 holes on foot with the my setbag on my back in one of the most irregular golf courses of Portugal (4hours trail walk + 20´run after)… Nice and cool!!!Congratulatios and regards from Portugal.

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