USATF MUT Nominations (the-not-so soft pour)

USATF MUT Award

Thursday, we at Inside Trail tossed up one of those big neon softballs in the form of “Here’s the USATF MUT nominations. What do you think about it?” It was an intentional trial attempt at not laying out thick commentary of our observations in the hopes of drawing comments and thoughts from readers.

Regurgitating existing conversations or reposting current thoughts found elsewhere isn’t Inside Trail’s style, so we want to augment our last post with some IT-type questions and offer a bit of “substance of competition”. To begin, though, we need to understand what the criteria for the award is and how to interpret it. It seems that the qualifications have evolved over the last ten years. For instance, international competition was merely “encouraged” whereas it’s now a specific requirement.  As we’ll see, that turns out to be the doorman bouncer that keeps otherwise qualified candidates out of the party.

We’re not ones to sugarcoat things, so when I say that the USATF website is as jumbled as their year-long search for a new CEO, I’m simply pointing out facts. For example, the “History” section covers 133 years of history in approximately 100 words and thats for the overall history. There’s nothing other than an overview of the “joint subcommittee” of MUT being established in 1998 and annual meeting minutes from which to glean historical information regarding the MUT and, frankly, I’m not that interested to where I’ll spend a couple hours reading through meeting minutes. So, we’ll just start the discussion…

Tim: As I’ve pointed out above, there’s yet another weakness in the establishments attempting to manage our great sport. I don’t covet their task and assume it’s like trying to manage a wet bar of soap on tile. I did receive a response from Nancy Hobbs regarding the USATF MUT annual awards. The most important clarification I needed was whether “international competition” means competition off American soil or any race that has an international field, e.g. Western States. She confirmed that it means off US soil. That alone excludes Dave Mackey from contention for the USATF MUT Ultra Runner of the Year award. So, who does that leave? Obviously, the Mountain Runners of the Year have to be Max King and Kasie Enman. I’d like to focus on the ultra classification. Wardian is everyone’s obvious choice but let’s introduce Nick Pedatella into the mix. Heck, let’s talk about Pedatella for both USATF MUT Ultra Runner of the Year and UltraRunning Magazine’s UROY award. He flies low, under the radar with no blog, no sponsors, and a self effacing nature that screams “ah, shucks, I just run and that’s it.”  Matt, you actually pointed out Nick Pedatella’s stout season and obvious qualifications for consideration for BOTH of these awards. What’s your take on all this?

Matt: We quasi-academics like to complicate things. Before we get to an epic 10%ABV bottle of irony, let’s shore-up our superficial understanding of USATF, adding to what you said very well above. First of all, Matt Carpenter’s critical view of the USATF back in ’07 in an interview in Running Times seems to have a lot of traction (among the abundance of criticism out there). You allude to the lack of leadership, the organization still looking for a CEO for over a year, and just the simple lack of information that exists seems pretty indicative of how important these sports are to USATF discourse.

We might add that the MUT moniker was coined by Nancy Hobbs at a USATF convention in Florida in 1998 and two years later at a conference in Albuquerque the new MUT subcommittee was “elevated to the status of a Running Council.” Prior to that, USATF did have an Ultra Subcommittee, but no representation of mountain running. So, going on 11 years now, USATF has “supported” the mountain, ultra and trail running sports. The argument that the organization has a stake in American off-road racing does not possess much of a statistical argument (beyond some race results). In other words, if we’re going to be really honest here, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that one might consider enough to engage the audience with a clear, articulate national (and even international) argument for trail and mountain running. And based on our requests for information from current USATF leadership being unequivocally denied, the organization does not appear too concerned either about its MUT ethical argument (“don’t you want us to like you?”). Nonetheless, the organization has had a huge presence in road and track, as you point-out, Tim, for over one hundred years. And even if the folks at USATF embrace MUT with their fingers, it’s, I guess, better than nothing.

On their website, under MUT Records & Lists, they provide some records of past USA Champions for the various ultra and trail distances. Please excuse the attention here on the men’s side. I will list here the men’s champs. Each distance category provides past winners. The road categories go back to the 60s whereas the trail races go back to the mid-to-late 90s.
· Michael Wardian is the 2011 50k road champ
· Todd Braje is the defending 50 mile road champ
o The 2011 50mile championship is next weekend – October 23, 2011
Tussey Mt. Ski Area – Boalsburg, PA
· Andy Henshaw is the 2011 100k road champ
· A 100 mile road championship hasn’t been run since 2003
· Max King is the current 50k trail champ (although this result is not listed)
· Jason Schlarb is the current 50mile trail champ
· The trail 100k category doesn’t exist, but Dave Mackey won that event back in January at Bandera
· The trail 100 mile link is dead (no records), yet Dave James won the 2011 100 Trail Championship at Burning River 100. The Mohican 100 appears to have been a venue used in the past, as well..
· Max King is the 2011 USA Mountain Champion (Cranmore Hill Climb)
· Max King is the defending Trail Marathon Champ
o The 2011 championship is Nov. 5th at the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon
· The 2011 10km Trail Champion is Joe Moore

Why did I list all of those? It’s informative, so go ahead and start nominating though you’ll have to wait on the trail marathon results and the 50mile road ultra results, as they have yet to run.

One thing seems pretty clear about the USATF: the 100mile distance doesn’t get the press that other trail and ultra distances do. Maybe that’s just me. Now, for your 2011 USATF Runners of the Year nominations, go back to the criteria in our previous post and start making your case for a mountain, ultra and trail runner.

Since the USATF winner of any MUT category must have raced abroad, Max King is clearly the 2011 USATF Mountain Runner of the Year (and indeed Kasie Enman is the women’s winner). As for the USATF Trail Runner of the Year, King looks suited for that too having added the ½ Marathon Trail Championship, the 50k Trail, and most likely the Trail Marathon in Nov. Joe Grey won the 15k trail. So, maybe Max doubles.

And then we have the 2011 USATF Ultra Runner of the Year award.
Front runners:

Michael Wardian: Look at his results. He’s raced abroad, nabbing 2nd at the 100k Worlds and he won the USATF 50k road championships. He also won the NFEC Kansas City 50miler, 3rd at Badwater, 3rd at NFEC Washington, and 2nd at UROC.

Andy Henshaw: 3rd at 100k Worlds, 4th at White River and a 1st at Lost Lake 50k and a stellar win at the 100k road championship.

Beyond that, you’re pretty stuck (though do complicate, please).

Dave Mackey is not eligible because he did not race abroad. Nick Clark’s Sierre-Zinal isn’t an ultra and his 100 miler podiums don’t seem like USATF material although his Jemez and Speedgoat wins seem admissible. But the international race criterion I think nips him in the bud.

Footfeathers and Nick Pedatella

We like a runner named Nick Pedatella for USATF Ultra Runner of the Year, too. He was 2nd American at UTMB (I believe 13th overall). He won Oil Creek 100, The Bear 100, was 2nd at Big Horn 100, 2nd at Speedgoat 50k, and 4th at Jemez. His international entry is HUGE. And he faired extremely well at 3 other 100s to go along with shorter ultra results in big races. The guy raced a lot. And podiumed a lot. We like him. A lot.

But the USATF may look elsewhere. Michael Wardian has won three straight Ted Corbitt Memorial USATF Ultra Runner of the Year Awards. Although last year he had a win at The Comrades 98k and a 3rd at Marathon de Sables, his 2011 looks pretty impressive again. I would only say look at Henshaw as well; though Wardian did beat him head-to-head in The Netherlands. Wardian seems a natural pick for USATF ultra award, again.

That’s the men’s USATF UROY.

I hope you’ve been doing the math because although Pedatella’s phenomenal year doesn’t seem to measure-up to the spirit of the USATF Ultra Runner of the Year award, we would like to take this opportunity to suggest that he might be the perfect dark horse for the other big ultra award, UROY.

This award, it is widely known, loves it some mountain 100 milers! The fact that Nick Clark is clearly one of the favorites based on two third places at two very prominent 100 milers is another indication of this trend. If you just look at the results, the comparison between Mackey and Clark isn’t quite that compelling. Mackey has had a HUGE year (And had he made it to the UTMB, even to run the CCC, that would have been his international entry and the USATF ultra runner of the year would be his). It’s tough to compare Mackey and Clark only because Mackey has more wins in some very prominent American ultras. The ONLY reason there is still a conversation is that Mackey doesn’t stack-up on the 100 scale. He only ran one. And he finished 6th. And Clark finished 3rd in the same race, the one between Squaw Valley and Auburn, California. Otherwise, Mackey won just about every race he entered (American River, Miwok, Waldo, Firetrails, etc.). There is nothing soft about Mackey’s race schedule. He had a mammoth year. Please, don’t get me wrong: Clark’s WS/HR double podium is epic, as well. His Jemez CR, fantastic. But I would give the nod to Mackey just on the statistical argument.

However, the other Nick (Pedatella) submits a resume for UROY that is unmistakably UROY-like (other than the fact that he did not race WS100). Try this: compare the Geoff Roes 2009 year with the Pedatella 2011 year. Although Roes was bagging course records at 100s (HURT, Wasatch and The Bear) and winning some smaller ultras, Pedatella ran 4 100s this year, won 2, finished 2nd American at a BRUTAL UTMB (juxtaposed with the slew of DNFs we all witnessed), 2nd to Clark at Speedgoat and 4th at Jemez.

So you say the Roes ’09 and Pedatella ’11 don’t quite compare? There isn’t the same level of dominance that Geoff displayed back in the day? I beg to differ, especially given who Pedatella is up against this year. For UROY, the 100 is the golden egg. It’s what’s holding-back the brilliant year of Dave Mackey. How is Pedatella not in the conversation? Talk about mind-boggling.

Here’s your exercise to narrow-down the running for UROY:

1. Look at the UROY past winners. Look at those winners’ race results.
2. Compare the 2011 Nick Clark to the 2011 Nick Pedatella. Look at their race results, especially in the 100.
3. Once you’ve decided between those two;
4. Compare Nick to Dave. Look at their race results, especially in the 100.

In the end, we have a problem here. I (along with others) assume the 100 is the main currency for the UROY judges. That’s what they like. It’s indisputable. However, we don’t really know. You know what happens when we assume things.

Another observation that I may as well mention, which ultimately hurts Nick Pedatella, is the sense that the UROY award seems to also value an athlete’s visibility, or even popularity. I sure hope that’s not the case; granted, I know visibility comes from an active racing schedule, racing big buzz events, and getting results. But it’s just something we’ve noticed and that seems to be a factor negatively affecting Pedatella. Based on the numbers, there’s no way he should not be in the UROY conversation (or even the USATF UROY conversation).

And what about this bottle of irony I’ve opened. It’s the fact that based on all the factors and flawed ultra awards processes, Dave Mackey could be empty-handed when it’s all said and done. Most likely he wins UROY, but if that’s the case, then what happens to the “criteria” UROY has subtly conveyed to its audience over the years? Sure it’s that magazine’s award and they can do whatever they want. But not really.

Luckily, we won’t be thinking about this later this month when the 50mile Road Championships goes off, nor in November when Max King tries to defend his trail marathon championship. We certainly won’t give a rat’s ass when the boys line-up in the Marin Headlands in December among all the rest of the great trail racing taking place in the next few months.

I’m not sure what Dave Mackey will be thinking, but maybe even the prospect of such a turn of events with these hokey awards will light a little fire for this little race in December. Awards or not, he and the rest of these elite runners are having incredible years, enjoying the ups and downs of the literal and proverbial trail.

Nick Pedatella in his iconic striped green racing shirt. Photo: Jeff Montgomery

In closing, keep your eye on Nick Pedatella. His numbers have a lot of class. He can not be discounted. Do the math. As for Inside Trail’s “little darling,” [DM] I think 2011 is a win-win. He most likely wins the coveted UROY. Or he gets [N]icked in the final vote count. And comes back pissed and hungry for an even “insaner” 2012.

That’s what I think, Tim.

Weekend Wrap at Inside Trail (Sept 23-25)

Lizzy Hawker breaking the 24 hour world record. Photo: CMUDC

Though Inside Trail’s passion lies with off-road competition and adventure, we cannot overlook outstanding performances in our cousin sport, road racing.  First, congratulations to Lizzy Hawker in her jaw-dropping run at the 2011 Commonwealth Mountain and Ultra Distance Running Championships 24 hour race in Llandudno (North Wales).  Just four weeks after winning the grueling UTMB, Lizzy covered 246.4 km (just over 153 miles) in the 24 hours, breaking the 18 year old world record held by Germany’s Sigrid Lomsky by three kilometers.  Of course, we must also tip our trail hats to Patrick Makau (Kenya) for setting the new marathon world record with his 2:03:38 run in Berlin, beating Haile Gebrselassie’s record by 21 seconds.  Also racing in Berlin, Haile must have instinctively sensed that Makau was having a special day because after Makau made his move, Haile backed off, bent over, then resumed running and finished.

Photo: Davy Crockett

Here in the US, the Bear 100 trail race continues to evolve into one of the classic hard-nose races on the 100 mile calendar.  An exciting race from the start saw a group of eight pull away on the initial 4,000+ ft climb to the first aid station in just over two hours.  As contenders dropped away from the steady Nick Pedatella, Ben Lewis and Gary Gellin, who seemed to focus more on tactical racing than pure speed with each of them also getting lost at times.  In fact, near the end of the race, Pedatella ran off course, allowing Ben Lewis to take the lead.  Pedatella recovered the correct course and the lead, winning in 20:55.  Lewis came in shortly thereafter in 21:18, and Kelly Lance put in a breakout performance and a study of perfect pacing to take third in 21:29.  Remarkably, both Lewis and Lance had never run a 100 miler previous to Bear.

For the women’s race, Nikki Kimball dominated from the start en route to a substantial new course record in 22:19.  Jane Larkindale, in her first 100 miler since her 2010 San Diego 100 win, came in fresh and obviously well-trained to take 2nd in 23:25 and Ellen Parker rounded out the top three with a solid 23:53, also earning the Wolverine Club sub 24 hour buckle.  Full results here.

A happy and triumphant Geoff Roes. Photo: Justin Radley

The UROC (Ultra Race Of Champions) took place this weekend and though many elites were not in attendance, it didn’t stop the ones there from having an exciting race.  Huge congratulations to Geoff Roes and Ragan Petrie on their wins.

Men:

  1. Geoff Roes – 8:58:04
  2. Michael Wardian – 9:20:01
  3. Matt Flaherty – 9:22:42
Women:
  1. Ragan Petrie – 10:11:05
  2. Devon Crosby-Helms – 10:25:50
  3. Anne Riddle Lundblad – 11:01:44

The noticeably low-key, at least in terms of exposure, USATF 50k National Trail Championships took place Saturday in Bend, Oregon with recently crowned World Trail Champion Max King taking the men’s title by a comfortable margin in 3:27.  In a more tightly contested race, Stephanie Howe took the women’s national title in 4:19.  Both King and Howe live in Bend, OR.

Mike Morton tearing through the miles at Hinson Lake 24

On the East Coast Mike Morton braved the 90 degree heat index in North Carolina to win at the Hinson Lake 24 hour event.  The final mileage and results are not posted yet but another competitor, Brett Welborn, had this to say,

“Mike was at 156+ miles but was still moving well with 1 hour left…I would estimate he had sped back up and was doing 8 minute miles. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him at 163-164 miles when the final results are posted…within just a few miles of the American Record (which are typically chased on flat pavement with much fewer runners in the way, and in better temperatures).

His first 25 miles was ~2h58m. He hit 50 miles ~6h15m. He went through 100 miles ~13h10m.”

Welborn goes on in reference to Ultra Performance of the Year,

“A lot of people have been talking about Ian Sharman’s 12h44m Rocky Raccoon 100 as Ultrarunning’s performance of the year. But I think after this weekend some folks should take a look at Mike. It was 40F warmer at Hinson Lake. So yea, his 100 was ~20-25 minutes slower, but then he ran ANOTHER 63-64 miles in < 11 hours ON TOP OF THAT. AND it was on a 1.5 mile loop trail, so he had to contend with constantly passing 250+ other runners.”

And finally, check out Go Trail Magazine’s October issue, released today.  Inside Trail has a monthly column beginning this month.  The magazine is top notch with terrific articles and stunning photos.  Hope you enjoy it!

Bear 100 Preview: The Utilitarian Playground

Bear 100 Elevation Profile. That first climb is a grunt and that last descent, well, hope your health insurance is up to date.

If one yearns for the grassroots, rustic 100 miler of yore, then look no further than the Bear 100.  The bare nature of Bear is by design.  Race Director, Leland Barker, is old school and likes his race that way too.  Leadville, especially under new management, seems to cradle the runners, providing everything, short of carry them to the finish, for a fairly easy out-n-back jog.  Bear is a stark contrast and I, for one, love it.  The Bear 100 began in 1999 with 17 starters and zero sub 24 hour finishers.  Last year there were 157 starters and a record 17 sub 24 hour finishers.  You may get the idea that it’s a tough course and you’d be correct.  The course begins in Logan, Utah and, after an obscene amount of climbs and descents, it finishes at Bear Lake in Idaho.  It’s both stark and harsh.  Did I mention I love it?

The whole production starts with the no nonsense website that provides the essentials (schedule, location, important updates), then moves on to the race briefing, with the emphasis on “brief” where participants have the pleasure of characters like Errol “Rocket” Jones, Phil Lowry, and Leland Barker casually mentioning things like, “The course should be marked well enough to follow” and “watch out for herding cattle”.  I literally had just found a spot on top of a picnic table to plop down and the briefing ended with, “We’ll see you folks at 6am.  Thanks for coming!”  A short, funny story of how laid back this whole thing is:  Last year’s Bear was my first 100.  I was nervous (scared) but confident enough that I bought a belt, ready to attach my new finisher’s buckle.  I was so excited the day before the start and could barely relax long enough to think straight.  At the end of the pre-race briefing Leland wraps up then says, “Oh yeah, I forgot to order the buckles.  I hope you all understand.”  I received my buckle on the verge of Thanksgiving, six weeks after the event, fat and lazy from taking a month off of running.  My custom belt barely fit but I wore the buckle proudly for a week, then realized it was fairly uncomfortable wearing a heavy, brass buckle and stiff, leather belt.  That’s an indication of the relaxed nature of the event.  The whole experience is such a bright image in my memory that I was one of the first to register again this year.

Me coming into Tony Grove aid station, mile 52, at last year's Bear 100. Photo: Aric Manning

The course is marked well enough, save for the errant and angry ATVer who may re-route or otherwise vandalize sections (extra adventure at no cost).  Frankly, the difficulty and beauty of the course overshadows any worries about race organization.  The race begins with a hands-on-knees, 4,000 ft climb at which point you top out close to or just after sunrise and are rewarded with an amazing view of Logan, UT way down where you began the day.  The first 50 miles take up roughly 15,000 ft of the 22,000 ft total climb.  It’s a nice thought when you’ve reached Tony Grove aid station at 52 miles, knowing you’ve completed so much climb and ‘only’ have 50 miles and about 7,000 ft climb left.  I won’t go into the hideousness of the final 9 miles of the race.  Let’s just say, aspirin and ice will be your ankles’ friends for a while.

On to our predictions we go:

Women:

Nikki Kimbal – From Bozeman, MT.  The women’s record at bear is 23:37, set by Rhonda Claridge, who is the only woman to run under 24 on the new course (since 2009).  Only two women in the history of the race have run under 24.  Look for Nikki to run two hours faster than that.

Jane Larkindale – From Tucson, AZ.  If Nikki takes too long to sneeze on the course, Jane will pounce.  After running undefeated in 2010 with impressive times at such races like San Diego 100 and Zane Grey 50, she hasn’t laced up the trail racing shoes this year.  She’s either going to be incredibly fresh or stale, no middle ground.

Ellen Parker – From Seattle, WA.  Ellen should round out the top three.  She ran to a 4th place in 26:18 at the tough Pine to Palm 100 last year and has had a light year of racing in 2011 with a 3rd place at White River 50 in July.

Men: (Note that part of tradition for the race is that the Race Directors, Leland Barker and Phil Lowry run the course to drop markers but start an hour earlier than the rest.  Leland is damn fast and is regularly in the top 5.  I don’t count him in the results due to the different start times)

Nick Pedatella – From Boulder, CO.  After a two year hiatus from the top step of the podium, this is Nick’s race to stand tallest at the awards ceremony.  His true potential competition would’ve been Karl Meltzer but after a bold run at Wasatch earlier this month, Karl is resting his back injury and will be at the Bear in the capacity of crew for Mrs. Speedgoat.  At just 26 years old, Nick has built solid experience, including eight 100 mile finishes; not just finishes but solid performances: 5th at Hardrock, 14th at UTMB, 6th at Leadville, 6th at Wasatch, and 2nd here at Bear 100 where only Geoff Roes crossed the finish before him.  Even when he has a bad day, he seems to hold it together for finishes most runners would kill for.

Todd Gangelhoff – From Morrison, CO.  I’m going out on a fairly sturdy limb here in this pick.  Karl and others will likely disagree and place some of the untested speedier guys in front of Todd but, as I mentioned to Karl, Todd reminds me a lot of Erik Storheim in terms of running style, speed, and toughness.  Those are the ingredients for success at Bear.  I did a big 6.5 hour run at 12-13,000 ft with him two months ago and he lead the way with an impressive base of fitness.

David La Duc – From Oakland, CA.  David’s put together a big season, capped with an 18:01 run at Western States.  He’s a quick guy and prolific racer.  It’ll be interesting to see how he runs in real mountains.  I’m obviously guessing he’ll do well.

Mick Jurynec – From Salt Lake City, UT.  At some point in the picks, I have to go with someone familiar with the area and Mick is the hometown guy.  A couple of key indicators are his runs at Wasatch 100 last year (5th in 22:21) and Squaw Peak 50 this year (3rd in 9:25).

Gary Gellin – From Menlo Park, CA.  Gary is full of speed.  Way Too Cool in 3:35, Firetrails 50 in 6:43, Quicksilver 50 in 6:29, White River in 7:11… the list continues.  One thing that stands out as a 22,000 ft speed bump in his way is the lack of any race beyond 50 miles.  100 miles isn’t just double 50 miles.  It’s a different world and it’s impossible to extrapolate, for both the spectator and the runner, what will happen.  Giving him 5th here on this course, with these experienced guys is giving him the benefit of the doubt.

Tim Long – Boulder.  It seems odd giving myself odds but, looking at the entrants objectively, I have to give myself a place in the mix somewhere.  This will be my 5th 100 miler since June (San Diego, Hardrock, Grand Mesa, Leadville so far).  This has also been the longest break between 100s (five weeks), so I’ve been able to get into a real training block following a two day rest after Leadville.  I ran 23:05 for 9th overall here at Bear last year.  It was my first 100, so I was cautious, made mistakes, ran off course, and enjoyed the day like nothing I’ve ever experienced.  So, my enthusiasm, fitness, and focus on this particular race has to count for something, right?

Me, JT, Rick Hessek, Scott Jaime, Don

Links and Thoughts on UTMB

Krissy Moehl and gang pre-UTMB. (photo: krissymoehl.com)

As race reports and articles come across the wires, a clearer picture is coming into view; but that doesn’t mean that additional questions aren’t raised.  The difficulty of the scheduling changes, the course reroutes, the way in which organizers communicate to participants can cause frustration at varying levels.  Some handled it well (exceptionally well), like Lizzy Hawker, Darcy Africa, Mike Foote, and Nick Pedatella.  Some, like Scott Jaime, handled it the best they could and grinded through the course, teeth gnashing, legs burning.  Others, like Hal Koerner and Roch Horton, had the shell of their pride torn away and made it to the finish in nearly twice the time of the winner, thus revealing a brighter and bigger sense of pride and due respect.

Here are some of the writings that have emerged in the few days following last weekend’s epic race.

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Geoff Roes, UTMB DNF Team Montrail

Geoff Roes’ year has been a stark contrast to last season.  Not finishing the two biggest ultras this year leaves one wondering whether it’s a matter of being tired, physically run-down, or something more mentally derived.  He’s raced and run harder and more in past seasons and dominated.  It’s difficult to speculate from what he’s written in his report but we certainly hope the best for him.

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Nick Clark, UTMB DNF Team Pearl Izumi

When I heard Nick Clark had dropped from UTMB, I assumed one (or both) of his legs had simply detached and fallen off. Aside from Dave Mackey, I consider Nick the toughest guy out there.  This is one person I’m certain will rebound quickly and, frankly, I feel sorry for the competitors at the next event in which he chooses to race.  What made UTMB different for him?

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CCC 2nd place, Adam Campbell, Canadian  Team Salomon

Adam Campbell might not be a name recognized by many in the ultra world, but he is the Canadian 50 mile national champion, running 5:44 for the distance.  The CCC (98k) was the first run he’s done longer than six hours.  He captures the culture and energy of this particular European event well in his report.

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A piece on the comparison between elite US and European ultrarunners written by a Greek fan

There are some good points in this article.  It’s nice to see that Americans aren’t the only ones who sometimes have narrow or limited views of other cultures’ approaches, athletes, and venues.  Matt and I both have trouble with a couple of this article’s major points.  We’re interested in what others have to say about it.

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Dave Mackey, Waldo 100k Win and CR Team Hoka

Even though it took place last week, we want to reference Dave’s run at Waldo as an example of an American ultrarunner with both race day laser focus and season race scheduling focus.  Dave chooses his races carefully, and rarely, if ever, “jumps into” any event longer than a half marathon.  With course record splits written on his arm, he surgically picked the course and the competition apart to break Erik Skaggs’ CR from 2009.  It’s also worth mentioning that Dave is 15 years older than Skaggs was when he set the record.  Speaking of Mackey, SF Bay area resident and impressive adventurist Leor Pantilat ran and dominated another trail 50k at the Tamalpa Headlands though he came-up short of one of DM’s many CRs.  Reference to the question we posed last week, will we see another runner like Mackey dominate the way he has (variety and longevity)?  By the way, we see Mackey’s stock going up here at the end of 2011 and surging through 2012.

The runners who dropped at UTMB knew early in the season they’d be competing there.  Did they take it too lightly?  Did they assume that fitness from the first part of the season would carry them across the finish in Chamonix?  What is the key to performing well there for Americans?

We’ve been thinking about the attrition at UTMB and have come to a couple of distinct conclusions, which we’re happy to share, but we’d like to hear some other opinions from fans.

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Tomorrow we’ll share an interesting write-up and interview we did with a trail industry insider.  Stay-tuned!

2011 Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc Aftermath

Like a cog train steadily grinding up one of many summits, the Salomon team gets the job done. (photo: The North Face)

Tim:  First, believe it or not, there were other events taking place this weekend, besides UTMB.  I have to mention Cascade Crest 100, where Rod Bien broke the course record set last year by fellow Oregonian, Jeff Browning.  Rod finished in 18:27.  Top woman finisher was Shawna Thompkins in 21:15.  Big props to those solid runners.

Nick Pedatella fueling up en route to 14th place overall (photo: Meghan Hicks)

However, if you listened carefully anytime on Saturday, you could hear a rumbling, like an approaching double, sometimes triple, engine train.  That would be the Salomon Express at the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, roaring over single track trails, leading some 2,300 runners over France, Italy, and Switzerland.  The difficulty of the race is evident in part of an email I received from my friend, Nick Pedatella, 14th place finisher, “The course is brutal, unbelievably steep climbs and downhills. The rerouted course had 34-35k of climb so definitely was pretty beat by the end.”  The rerouted course was necessary due to storms that also delayed the start until 11:30pm local race time.  For those with short attention spans, the two big stories that lie before us post race are Salomon’s dominance and the startling number of Americans who dropped from the race (DNF).

Lizzy Hawker finishing her dominating run (photo: The North Face)

It wasn’t all Salomon.  In fact, arguably the most impressive run of the day came from The North Face’s Lizzy Hawker, who took the lead early and continually built on it, finishing in 25:02 (13th overall).  The 2nd place woman, Nerea Martinez (Salomon), wouldn’t cross the finish line for nearly three hours afterward (27:55).  Pearl Izumi’s and top female American, Darcy Africa took the third step on the podium in 28:30.  For the men it was the Salomon two engine train of “King” Kilian Jornet covering the lengthened course in 20:36, Salomon teammate, Iker Karrera 2nd, and Sebastien Chaigneau rounding out the podium in 20:55.

Matt: There were other “events”?  Definitely, congrats to Mr. Bien.  Nice to see him continue his very productive season.  He seemed like a pretty cool customer at this year’s hot SD100 where he finished tied for second.  A nod to team Patagonia.  And, of course, we haven’t forgotten about the Trans Rockies.  Last year Max King (and Andy Martin) of Team Bend outlasted Jason Wolfe (and Eric Bohn) of Goretex/Salomon/Run Flagstaff.  This year Wolfe equalized with a solid win in the men’s open division with new partner Mike Smith, the pair representing Run Flagstaff.  They beat King and his new partner Ryan Bak, still of Team Bend.  Someone might want to tell Jason Wolfe to try his craft on the ultra circuit, the one that has a kind of consensus world championship starting and finishing in Chamonix, France.  Tracy Garneau and Nikki Kimball of The North Face won the women’s open at Trans Rockies and Rickey Gates and Anna Frost of Salomon won the mixed division.  So, some solid runners certainly had fun out there in what one competitor called a “great time.”  Mr. Teisher went on to say that the race actually, “felt more like a hash weekend with a few epic ballbuster trails than an actual race.”

On that note, let’s turn to the business at hand.  There’s so much that still needs to be flushed-out on blogs and internet rags, etc.  But the superficial “results” are in, and their pretty consistent with what we started talking about last week.  Only the news is worse than expected.  Last week, we simply remarked that a few trends are developing on the mountain/ultra running circuit.  I pointed-out Salomon Running’s dominance here in the states.  I also wondered what American runners might be ready to competitively meet this considerable collection of (primarily) European elite mountain runners over the next several years.

Going-in to TNFUTMB 2011, I picked Geoff Roes to win.  Indeed, I need to accentuate that.  I picked Roes.  I absolutely wanted the excitement of an American bucking this international trend, of that low-key Alaskan ultra spirit rising up and unleashing serious carnage on the world’s best around Mont Blanc.  Definitely this was a wild card and nothing of the sort transpired.  I’ll just get it out of the way here: the perception of American ultra running continues to take a digger.  Denying this is silly.  Granted, the world is not ending, nor does one even have to invest in the very competitive vibe that surrounds the sport (focusing instead on the love of mountainous exhaustion in the heart of nature’s fierce beauty); but for those paying attention, the trend is undeniable.

The blogs are on fire with this competitive banter, and some of it’s become down-right nasty.  So, let’s do the right thing, here and now, and remind ourselves that there’s more racing on the horizon.  Our elite’s just need to get back to work, shake it off, have a beer, and onward and upward.  TNF50 San Francisco in December is a great place to start (or end, however you want to look at it since that’s where it all started).  That’s where the Salomon reign began; let’s stop the bleeding there, regardless of whom shows-up.  Yes, this is only getting started, readers, and we’re not just talking about Inside Trail.

Tim:  I hear you on the hopeful pick in your preview.  We’ve seen a range of emotions and shoot from the hip comments either bashing Americans for burying their heads in the ground or looking for reasons (excuses) for dropping out of a race most knew would be brutally competitive.  The blaming of race organization is not the way to go.  The winners and the ones who finished ran the same course under the same rules.  The complaining and sandbagging (as you know) is a sour spot with me.  I’m tired of reading that “I have jet lag.”  “I’m a little tired.”  “My training hasn’t been perfect.”  I have noticed that many of the international runners (specifically, Miguel, Kilian, Julien and Ryan) we’re talking about seem to be pretty upbeat, admit they are ready and excited, never complain.  It’s like it’s become a chore to race for some of the American runners we follow.  If you’re not into it, then don’t bother showing up.  It’s harsh, but as a runner and fan it’s aggravating when you want to get behind these guys and support them and they drop from the most competitive race they’ve been pining for all year.  Sure there are legitimate reasons in some cases to drop, but the list of “elite” American DNFs at UTMB is pretty incredible.

On a bright note, I want to call out to my buddy, Nick Pedatella who moved up throughout the race, starting in about 100th position and finishing in 14th overall.  Same goes for Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe who grinded it out with the top 20 and flirted with top ten finishes.  And, what about Hal Koerner?  39 hours to finish.  Got it done and deserves respect.  Jack Pilla, 52 years old and finishes in 27:35, dominating the V2 (over 50 category) by three hours.

Matt:  That’s right; there are some great results from some runners that unfortunately weren’t in the spot-light, per se.  Nick Pedatella and Mike Foote are fantastic outcomes for the Americans.  Jack Pilla finished 22nd!  Darcy Africa podiumed and finished 31st overall.  Congrats to perennial stud Scott Jaime (40th), Helen Cospolich (51st), Jason Poole (81st), Hal and Rock, Todd Hoover and Rob Stafford, Colleen Ihnken, Mark Christopherson, Chad Piala.  Of course much respect to all who participated, who got themselves into position to face the music under some pretty severe conditions.  It appears that these conditions had something to do with the DNF bug that took a bite out of the American squad; that’s what has the blogosphere a buzz, for sure.  Geoff Roes, Scott Jurek, Joe Grant, Nick Clark, Dakota Jones, and Krissy Moehl come to mind.  On the surface it’s very disappointing because the American contingent seemed very well represented.  These runners make headlines all over the 50 states in ultra results that garner tons of praise and accolades.  Fierce competitors, all of them.  And now the fall-out of a different kind of trend.

This is huge debate, the DNF, whether or not finishing a race like this hurts a runner’s trail cred.  We talked about this when I brought-up the idea of mountain ethos on another blog and how maybe if conditions get too risky like in HR100 2011, a DNF might be absolutely acceptable (to even the hardcore enthusiast) because continuing on is a literal health hazard (breathing problems, stage 5 rapids, lightning storms, etc.).  I finally reconciled that by saying that dying on the mountain is probably what the true hardcore mountaineers include in their approach to adventure objectives.  The real mountain genre, so to speak.  There’s a bit of humor in that, but also a genuine read on much of the “logic” that develops in the wild.

The answer to the question of what’s right or wrong about DNFs can be answered and debated all day and night.  There are great anecdotes and race reports that probably best put this thing in perspective.  The Matt Carpenter 2004 Leadville report is one way of looking at it.  Here’s a runner with tons of pride, much success in his running career to that point (2004).  He decides to take a break from Pikes and take a shot a 100.  At his first attempt, he fails.  He suffers and feels a lot of embarrassment crossing the finish line, wrecked, humiliated.  He could have quit.  He had every reason to DNF; this isn’t for me, fuck it, back to Pikes and some 50 milers.  But he endured and I have read him say that finishing 2004 (no DNF) fueled his epic CR in 2005.  At the same time, you’ve heard stories about DNFs fueling redemptive comebacks, as well.  To each his own.

Be that as it may, the number of DNFs on the American side is just going to linger for a few fans and athletes who follow this sport.  There is the amateur comic that someone linked in the comments on this very site, yesterday (it seems to be surfacing in several places).  I call that a drive-by, meaning it’s only meant to hurt, is pretty cheap, and who knows who orchestrated that cheap-shot.

No way does Inside Trail condone those kinds of views.  However, we do support the open and honest discourse about this sport we love.  And it’s those kinds of views that can fuel the competitive juices we’re all looking for in some future epic trail races.

Tim: I like the focus on the future.  But to do that you have to understand the past.  Ezra Pound wrote, “Make strong old dreams; lest this, our own world, lose heart.”  DNFs are a separate issue than the dominance of non-American runners this year (beginning late last year).  I’ve personally DNF’d and felt disgusting afterward for quite a while.  I feel that ego has a lot to do with it.  For some reason, both voting in the Ultra Runner of the Year and sites like ultrasignup.com don’t seem to value DNFs in gaging performance.  Say a runner wins 4 races and drops out of 2 others; ultrasignup has his “score” or ranking as 100%.  It’s like DNFs don’t exist.  Of course, a valid reason to drop, like a serious health issue is understandable for most.  Simply because you’re getting manhandled in a race is not a valid reason to drop, in my opinion.  Moving on…

Kilian’s new name needs to be King Kilian.  Those who don’t like it can try to take him down from his throne (good luck with that task).  Really, the performances of him, Iker, and Sebastien are special.  Business-like, with heart, twisting the valve of training depth to full-on.  Regardless what backwoods view some may have that “them damn foreigners are takin’ over the sport,” these guys and gals are tremendous athletes who have the focus and training to perform when it counts.  There are no excuses for those who want to compete but don’t for some reason or another.  They need to shut up, look at what works, and emulate the process.  Jogging around in the woods when you feel like it isn’t going to get it done against these guys who are showing us how to do it at every race.  Give credit where and when it’s due.  And it is due, now.

Matt: I agree with you on the credit that is due.  But let’s reiterate: these results and even the subsequent trash talking should only spur the competitive fire in our elites.  At the same time, since there really isn’t a solid, organized race circuit, or even an official championship, you’ll have runners focusing on their own goals.  That’s where this is definitely different from much more organized sports where defined rivalries can develop through scheduled competitions.  Who knows who gets in to many of the lottery-based races.  And something tells me that UROC won’t quite have the feel of a championship race.

To finish with some thoughts on the UTMB (what many are calling a kind of mountain ultra world championship), big props to Mr. Jornet.  His desire to run seems only matched by his natural talent.  One of the comments from yesterday mentioned Kilian’s seeming denial of a taper, of a willingness to “rest;” he just loves to run, literally “training” or running right through organized races.  Granted, it does appear that the young king of the sport is running amok all over everyone’s previous perceptions of what is typical of a competitive mountain short and long course athlete, but we should assure ourselves that his program is organized and being executed to perfection.  I don’t think Salomon would have it any other way.

His win this weekend along with his WS100 win has to raise questions about the UROY award as it’s now defined.  The sport is clearly international (there is no need to have to explain that).  So, why have an award that only recognizes a North American man and woman?  But I digress.

Iker Karrera Aranbaru’s incredible 2nd has to be keeping the Salomon grin shiny, as well, especially given the quite tumultuous Mont Blanc race that saw so many runners fall off the front for good or DNF.  Karrera’s 2011 results at the Transvulcania, Citadelles and Zugspitz ultras had many believing in this guy.  Salomon’s Miguel Heras succumbed to knee issues, but Karrera was able to stay with Jornet for the entire race.  The pictures blasted across the interwebs often showed 2-4 runners in Salomon white galloping off the front.  Karrera only adds to that team’s international supremacy.  And kudos to Tony Krupicka who really sold Karrera’s stock going into the weekend’s festivities.  Of course, the Frenchman Sebastien Chaigneau’s 3rd just enhances his UTMB portfolio and certainly makes The North Face team proud.  This year’s brilliance adds to his 2nd to Kilian in 2009.  Hungarian Nemeth Csaba did well for himself, too, by improving upon his UTMB 7th in ’09 to finish 4th.  Again, congrats to all of the runners and fans who certainly witnessed quite a mountain running scene full of volatile weather, massive culture and the unbelievable beauty of the 2011 Chamonix Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc.

Where do we go from here?

Left to right: Sebastien, Kilian, Iker. (photo: The North Face)