Reflections on the Women’s Ultra Performance of the Year

AJWs TaproomThe publication last week of Ultrarunning magazine’s 2011 Ultrarunners of the Year awards was exciting and thought provoking. From the overwhelming victory of Ellie Greenwood in the Women’s Ultrarunner of the Year category to the closest vote ever in the Men’s Ultrarunner of the Year category the results spurred conversations across the country about what an amazing year in ultrarunning 2011 truly was.

From my perspective, I found one category this year to be particularly intriguing, the women’s Performance of the Year. To me, it was fascinating to see that three very different runners, in three very different events, with three different styles took home the top-3 honors. In that context, this category deserves a deeper dive:

In third place was Meghan Arbogast’s IAU 100K World Championships run. In that race Meghan powered to a 5th place finish in a time of 7:46 and in the process broke the women’s 50 and over World Record for the 100K. You read that right, world record! Additionally, in that race she was the top-American women’s runner of any age. The fact that the voters selected Meghan’s World 100K race for this honor, suggests that not all of the panel are “trail-centric” as some have suggested. In fact, one could have easily selected Meghan’s Western States run, for example, where she came just six minutes shy of breaking the storied men’s 50 and over record set by Doug Latimer way back in 1989. Instead, the panel looked to a highly competitive road race on the international stage and thought Meghan’s run there deserved the nod.

Meghan Arbogast 2011 IAU 100k World Championships

Meghan Arbogast (sunglasses) running the 2011 IAU 100k World Championships.

Ellie Greenwood WS100 2011Speaking of Western States, Ellie Greenwood’s win at that event took second in the Performance of the Year category. Only the second woman ever to run under 18 hours, Ellie distinguished herself this year as on of the fastest women ever to tackle the storied course from Squaw Valley to Auburn. In addition, it is interesting to note, that the voters chose Ellie’s Western States run over her 4th place finish at Comrades which would seem to suggest a contrary tendency than was seen in the Arbogast vote. Perhaps the Western States competition tipped the balance in Greenwood’s favor or perhaps this is just a coincidence. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to know what Ellie and Meghan think their best runs of the year were. :)

Perhaps most interestingly, the #1 performance was not in a formal competitive event at all. Rather, the Ultrarunning magazine panel was obviously impressed with a very long, very fast hike and gave the #1 spot to Jennifer Pharr-Davis who set a new standard on the 2,100 mile long Appalachian Trail hiking it in an astounding 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. This transcendent performance, which knocked about 20 hours off Andrew Thompson’s previous record – JPD not only became the fastest woman to hike the AT she became the fastest person ever, male or female! – took the ultrarunning world by storm in June and July as thousands sat by their computers riveted by the story as it was unfolding and was documented by Brew Davis, Jenn’s husband and crew who also happens to be an outstanding writer. The consistency and persistence that Pharr-Davis showed during this extraordinary hike was, to me, the most compelling and inspirational aspect of it.

Jennifer Pharr-Davis Appalachian Trail

JPD on the AT. Photo: Melissa Dobbins

There is no doubt about the fact that these three performance were deserving of their places at the top of the sport. In addition, these three runs show both the breadth and depth of women’s ultrarunning at the moment. Furthermore, while there has been some concern raised in the ultrarunning community that perhaps the Ultrarunner of the Year voting is biased toward certain events and certain surfaces, these rankings seem to suggest otherwise. It’s also interesting to note that the 4th place performance was Connie Gardner’s 24 hour run and 5th place was Kami Semick’s third place finish at the Comrades Marathon, the largest ultramarathon in the world, and a road race.

One can only imagine what these five extraordinary women have in store for all of us in 2012.

Bottoms up!

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Boneyard Beer Girl Beer - BeermosaThis week’s Beer of the Week is my wife Shelly’s favorite. This is the second beer I’ve selected for the Taproom from Boneyard Beer in Bend, OR but it is certainly appropriate for this week’s column. So, next time you’re in Bend, stop by Boneyard and fill up your growler with their Girl Beer (aka “Beermosa”) you won’t be sorry!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Which women’s ultrarunning performances from 2011 stand out in your mind?
  • What do you think of the mix of performances the Ultrarunning panel chose?

* Note: As a North American publication, the Ultrarunning mag panel considers only North American-based athletes for its year-end awards.

There are 59 comments

  1. Jeff

    I just finished reading JPD's book about her first thru-hike of the AT – before she ever went for any kind of record. It really puts in to perspective just how difficult an Appalachian Trail thru-hike is and makes her record all the more impressive.

    I also wonder if Karl will be coming back east sometime soon to take another shot ath the trail!

      1. Stack

        i would imagine there are always multiple but I know of another ultra runner giving the AT a shot as well… would be cool if they could coordinate to start at the same time and make a race of it. maybe even have one go NoBo and one SoBo and pass halfway.

        1. Andrew Reiff

          I consider myself a thru-hiker first and an ultrarunner second. I've been lucky enough to complete successful thru-hikes of the AT, LT, PCT, and CT over the years. And I've been fortunate enough to have met Scott Williamson and JPD briefly during some of my hikes. They struck me as incredibly friendly, down-to-earth folks. I have nothing but respect for their amazing feats of endurance– especially given my familiarity with the trails involved. However, I find myself having some reservations about formally awarding these kinds of non-races. It's a slippery slope and I'm not sure where you draw the line… Certainly the focus on the AT record without a single vote being cast for other impressive FKTs seems odd to me. Sure, I think you can make the argument that JPD's accomplishment is the most impressive this year, but where are the votes for the other FKTs listed above? Surely they deserve a few votes even if they come up short? Yes, of course, the panel can decide to do whatever they'd like, but I'd maybe suggest having a separate category of awards for FKTs to draw attention to all the possible candidates. If Ultrarunning is going to start recognizing FKTs then go all in. JPD's record is incredibly impressive, but I'd like to see other athletes in the category in the mix as well.

          1. olga

            Andrew, I asked the same question. I, too, followed JPD religiously every day on the blog by her hubby and wished her kick-ass finish, which she delivered, but I thought that UROY and other UR awards are for a runner/performance at the official race amongst a present-time competition. Perhaps, the FKT's need to be assumed into a different category as there are more and more people going after them, or at least taking onto a task of doing the route.

            BTW, your resume of Long Trails is mighty impressive.

            On girls' performance, I'd give my vote to Meghan. Ellie's time was impressive, but there will be "but" due to re-routing, and not as much as Meghan's runs at WR for over 50 at 100k (or almost catching guy's WS record for AG). And that was not just "some" guy either!

    1. Jeff

      Bear in mind that this is a woman beating the men's record.

      Also I think there is something special about the AT when it comes to long-trail hiking in the US. Kind of like Western States among 100-mile races.

      1. speedgoatkarl

        the mens record was soft. Although Andrew's time is decent, he didn't go the stealth route, so it can easily be beaten (JPD"s record) by A few days, as long as no issues arise. I do see the AT record going to 43 days soon enough. Maybe not by me, but someone will take her itinerary and learn from it. Her last day was short, and she stopped the night before, thus meaning the record is already beatable.I ran-hiked 81 miles my last day, why didn't Jenn?

        1. Warren Doyle

          The AT record soft? The AT record going to 43 days soon? Why didn't Jen do 81 miles her last day?

          The first two statements show me the difference between Jen and Karl. Jen learned from each of her previous two AT-thru-hikes while Karl didn't. Perhaps, the main reason Jen didn't do 81 miles a day her last day, is because she didn't have to; and, she wasn't motivated to be "chicked out" (your words not mine).

          The scorecard for Jen's AT record attempts stands at 2-0

          Karl's record for his AT record attempts stands at 0-1 and will continue in the loss column if he continues his unhealthy relationship with, and approach to, the AT endurance record.

          And what, pray tell, is the stealth route? Seems like a misuse of the word to me, as well as others. Continued use of such vocabulary will not enhance your already shaken credibility in the subculture of AT endurance record hiking.

          1. speedgoatkarl

            Jenns record stands at 1-2. I believe she's done it 3 times. Not sure where you get 2-0. Breaking the "old" womens record was very soft indeed,but only the women's record,not overall. 1-2.

            Warren, I learned alot more from my "own" approach then getting advice from someone I don't know, "(that would be you who is simply offended that I did not contact you before my run at itin 2008). and someone who believes he's the "master of the AT" you've done it a bunch, big deal, I"m sure it was great, but it doesn't make you an authority.

            Jenn not doing more miles her last day only means the record can be broken by say 8 hour-ish. (the time she roughly slept) She didn't have to go big to break the record, but she could have so…..it's breakable already. It's like saying I could have run Hardrock faster if I hadn't taken a nap, but I was so far ahead it didn't matter.

            Shaken credibility?…I have nothing to prove Warren, I do this stuff for fun, breaking records or not. I personally don't care much about my credibility as far as hiking goes.

            Stealth means with a smaller crew, camping overnight in the woods, that kind of stuff. I would take that approach next time for sure.

            "pray tell"? what does that mean, save the lord?

            Bryon, sorry, but I had to reply to Warren, he's the guy who did all he could to discredit my AT run in 2008, simply because I denied his "knowledge and help".

  2. Trail Clown

    No mention of female performances in sanctioned "Beer Mile" events. Those are some of the most impressive performances out there. Several beers + 1 fast mile is WAY more difficult than 100K without beer. :)

  3. Tony Mollica

    Great article Andy! I too would be interested in finding out what Ellie and Meghan felt was their best performance of the year. Any chance you could inquire and let us know what they said?

  4. Warren Doyle

    As sort of a mentor/coach for JPD over the last 7 years, and part of her 'pit crew' in ME/NH and part of VT this summer, she is deserving of this award. What she accomplished this past summer is extraordinary in the long-distance endurance hiking subculture. She is the first 'walker/hiker' to hold the AT endurance record since 1973.

    I appreciate Ultrarunning Magazine having an open mind on this. It will be intriguing to see if, and when, an ultrarunner will shorten the FKT (w/support) on the AT. There are several variables, besides the main subject, to consider such as the support crew (knowledge, wisdom, logistics, strategy)and the weather encountered in New England and the temperature in the mid-Atlantic states.

  5. Jill Homer (@AlaskaJ

    I thought the fact that a time-trial was recognized as an Ultrarunning performance of the year wasn't as interesting as the fact that a non-running effort received the title. As Warren Doyle pointed out, Jenn approached her FKT effort as a walker/hiker, logging longer days on the trail at a slower pace. Personally, I fully support this recognition. In my opinion, speed hiking is a smart approach to FKT's on ultra-distance trails, and it's great to see someone who perfected this approach come out successful — especially a woman. But I do think it's an interesting choice for a magazine called "Ultrarunning."

    From this mindset, I personally would have nominated Tim Hewitt for a POY recognition, or at least a couple of points. Tim Hewitt is an accomplished ultrarunner who walked the ~1,100 miles from Knik, Alaska, to Nome in 20 days, 7 hours, and 17 minutes during the 2011 Iditarod Trail Invitational. That's 50+ miles a day — nearly a record AT pace — almost completely self-supported, dragging a sled on snow. But of course performances such as this are extremely unlikely to be recognized because, frankly, too few people would ever want to attempt something like this. It's too "out there" to ever be recognized as the impressive accomplishment that a few of us think it is.

  6. Jay

    HAHA. This year's UROY discussion reminds me of last year's in many ways. And if I had been following it in previous years, I bet I'd say the same of those years.

    I feel the crux of the issue is simple: there are no (or very few) clear definitions or standards for UROY awards. I'm not saying that there should be or need to be such standards. But as long as it's undefined, there will be questions about what should or shouldn't qualify. And there will be controversy about what or who is chosen.

  7. maggie

    sorry Ultrarunning you blew it on this one, A FKT hike on a trail , should in know way be The Ultrarunning performance of the year, not to take away from the accomplishment , But hiking a trail in a NON-Race situation ,should be in a whole differnt conversation that UROY, just my 2 cents

  8. Art

    well, I was gonna keep my mouth shut, since these are, after all, simply the opinions of a magazine.

    but Maggie, maybe you are the one who got it wrong.

    the category was "Performance of the Year" not "Race of the Year".

    Maybe Ultrarunning Mag is just trying to broaden the general view of what an ultra is. Believe it or not, some of us "racers" actually started from a nonracing ultra background.

    Whether the categories need to be expanded or redefined may be a discussion worth having, but I'm fine with the Jen Davis pick.

  9. AJW

    I feel the need to clarify the POY procedures on behalf of Ultrarunning Magazine. I am not associated with the magazine nor have I talked about this with John, Tia or Lisa but I have been a UROY voter for the past few years and I know the folks who own the magazine quite well.

    When we receive our ballots in early January it is made absolutely clear to us that the magazine acknowledges that comparing FKT's to Trail races, to road races, to 50k's to 100 milers, to 6 days, to Grand Slams is really, really difficult. In fact, each year Tropical John reminds us that this is not about comparing apples to oranges but rather comparing apples, to oranges, to grapefruits, to kiwis, to papayas, to bananas, apples again, to another type of grapefruit, to…you get my drift. Then, seeing as how we represent a wide range of ultra experiences ourselves (I don't know everyone on the panel but I assume they represent a vast cross-section of the sport) we obviously insert our individual biases into the discussion. For now, that's just the way it is.

    Look, nobody in this community wants to place more stringent regulations and rules on anything. It goes against the ethos of the sport and it's one of the reasons we're all here in the first place.

    And, I must admit, that was the original point of my column. The fact that an FKT, a Trail 100 and a road 100K were the top-3 performances says something truly admirable, and egalitarian, about our sport. In an age of specialization and hyper-focus, this poll, at least, celebrates breadth and depth. I, for one, think that's a good thing.

    1. Matt

      I think the main complaint is the confusion brought-on by the FKT. Fine if it's egalitarian and/or trend-bucking, but it's odd and seems to open a can of worms, if you ask me. I think a lot of mountain trail ultra has a genuine connection to the whole FKT concept. It's a race sure, but these days there's a lot of attention paid to CRs, which are more or less FKTs. In other words, FKTs are actually, one could argue, part of the ethos of the sport.

      Either way, it's the magazine's call, like you say.

  10. Ben Nephew

    Several people have already commented on the inconsistencies in the POTY rankings, but there are several more that could be mentioned. I think the inclusion of FKT's is odd. I race ultras and attempt FKT's, and my perspective on FKT's is that the recognition is the time. In road marathons, there is sometimes discussion about runs that are argued to be superior to the world record due to the difficult conditions they were run in, but at the end of the day the holder of the world record is the holder of the world record (well, unless IAAF wants to decide what a legal pacer is). I'm not sure that any sort of additional recognition for a FKT is needed.

    The fact that the AT record was hiked is ironic considering that lack of recognition for the event at the other end of the spectrum, the 50k. I am actually shocked that Cox's record got as much credit as it did, although one could easily argue that it could be ranked higher. I wonder if Wardian would rather have an American record that is 7 seconds off the World Best, or his 2nd at the IAU 100k? It's a tough comparison, but Josh's run puts him well ahead of the PR's of Chuck Smead, Don Paul, Barney Klecker, and Andy Jones. Call me crazy, but I think Mike would be running faster than 6:42 if he dropped his 50k PR by 12 minutes. While Ian's run was very fast, he was 12 minutes off the the World Best.

    With the women's POTY, imagine if a woman had run sub 7 hours for 100k, or 13:46 for 100 miles and wasn't even mentioned in the voting. Jodie Schoppman ran faster over 50k in 2011 than Ann Trason ever did. The only current runners that can say they have faster PR's than Ann are Connie Gardner (24hrs in 2007)and Jodie.

    1. Ian Sharman

      Josh Cox's record was a great run and time, but the world best is actually within the 56k Two Oceans Ultra, and the 50k point of that course finishes at the top of the 2nd big climb. Josh had a flat course followed by 5 miles of track, so he was realistically much doing a much easier race. Trail races are even less comparable for times.

      1. Ben Nephew

        I'm aware that the world best was set at Two Oceans, but plenty of other talented ultrarunners have run slower 50k's on flat courses over the past 40 years. One reason for getting road courses certified is so that times can be compared. Ultrarunning has ranked lists of times on the website, and the ranking is by finish time without any correction for course difficulty. That seems to suggest that Ultrarunning thinks you can compare races. You don't get extra credit for running fast times on hard courses.

  11. Dave

    Jen's AT record is astounding and deserves immense recognition. That said, the magazine and associated award is called ultra-"running", and the heart and soul of the magazine has always been about races.. not walking or FKT's. One could argue that most people "walk" in mountain ultras, but the difference is that these walkers are endeavoring to run every chance they get and the event is a formalized event.

    I think the National Geographic adventurer award is more appropriate recognition for AT or FKT. The same distinction goes for Dakota's R2R2R. R2R2R is a fast adventure, not a race. In addition, no more than one individual lined up on the Rim or at Baxter St Park in maine; he/she was only racing him/herself and the clock.

    (BTW.. the men's voting was not the closest in UR history: Jurek only won by three votes in 2005.)

      1. speedgoatkarl

        Jenn's National Geographic award, (if she won it) is primarily a popularity vote. I saw a message on FB daily. "vote for me", you can all vote every day till the voting is over. Isn't that a popularity vote?

        I also feel that in 2005, the UROY was a popularity vote. I think I recall Jurek winning the previous two years. He won WS and Badwater. WS was impressive,but BW was just a win with NO competition and the record is way faster. He beat me by 3 votes, I won 5 100s that year, all fast, and with comp.

        I"m a voter too,for those that don't know. I voted JPD's AT hike as 5th best.

        It's ultrarunning, that's how it works.

  12. OOJ

    AJW, your beer description was, like this beer, a bit light. I've had Girl Beer off the tap- Excellent brew. Many fruit beers are sweet (and off-putting). Girl Beer is a refreshing light ale with a tart flavor! I recommend it as a great "change-of-pace beer" even for serious hop-heads!

  13. AZLobo

    Perhaps a dedicated FKT and/or non traditional event award would be the answer for the future. Jen did an awesome job. It was also heavily reported on. No problem with that, but I think it reflects a growing issue. Is media attention, whether event or athlete centric affecting the awards. Scott's PCT has to be an equal accomplishment, but with zero crew, support, and his nature most will never know it happened. Either way, part of the ultra allure is mind blowing feats on feet. Jen is a worthy recipient.

  14. tim

    It seems there are lots of people confused or just too sensitive about this issue. Confused because Jen won a category that has historically always been awarded to an individual performance in a race (and should remain so)! Too sensitive because no one is trying to diminish what she accomplished on the AT. Everyone who has suggested there be a separate category has pretty much nailed it. This would clarify the whole issue…. most impressive FKT for 2011 goes to Jen Davis…. lets move on!

  15. matt

    The thing that really confuses me is the inclusion criteria. Ian Sharman is British but he lives in the US so i kind of get it but Ellie Greenwood is British and lives in Canada isn't she? I don't understand why she's included at all – is it because the performance is I. such an important US race?

    I'm a Brit in Britain and from my vantage point the whole UROY thing seems kind of flawed. It seems a bit introspective to the point of being ignorant of the rest of the world but this seems to be a trend in a

    the US scene in general.

    I would suggest that the UROY ought to get more strict about being US only ie: be open to US runners running on US soil only, or really open up and get international.

    1. Geoff

      matt, The award is specifically: "North American Ultra Runner of the Year"… and has consistently recognized runners living in North America, regardless of where they are from originally. At last check Canada was still part of North America.

      ultrarunning magazine is a North American based publication that almost exclusively covers the sport as it pertains to North America. Yeah, it would be cool if there was some publication that had more focus on ultrarunning as a worldwide sport, but that's not what Ultrarunning Magazine is. It's not being ignorant of the rest of the world, it's simply sticking with the focus and the market that it has always had.

  16. fbk

    Why is it astounding that JPD trumped the guys on the AT? If any of y'all thru-hiked the AT (or any other very long distance trail), you would see for yourselves how much better the women hold up over the long haul, generally speaking.

    I, for one, was not surprised that she did it. My reaction was more like "Finally!" This is not to take anything away from her. Male or female, to go under 50 days (or 60 or 70) is pretty impressive. And I was very happy for her (and the female gender!) that she did it. Having done the Trail twice before, she'd obviously done her homework.

    As for the UROY awards, they have always been controversial. In the end, the voting HAS to be subjective. And the secrecy of the panel has always been annoying… Why not publish the names of the voters? Beating a dead horse here…

  17. Mark

    So, if Karl Meltzer attempts an AT record in 2013 and is successful,is POY a shoe-in? All other things being equal of course and no other long trail attempts made and successful? I bet not! Precedent??

    Question is, would he accept it? I bet not!

    FKT for 2011 goes to Jen Davis. I agree

    POY: RR-100- Hands down……… MHO

    2012 will be exciting!!!

    1. speedgoatkarl

      If I were to do it in 2013, I would have to do it in 43 days or lower to really think it would be worthy. I really feel if I do it stealth, the way Jenn did it, I could do it in 43 days. She walked, I will jog a little and make more miles daily. 3 miles daily would make 43 days, not really that much…..but it all has to click. And it would certainly be in the FKT category. I think will talk to Tropical John and create a new category, that would only be fair. My two cents.

  18. chris scott

    The question of ultrarunning performances will find its answers when the egocentric community that calls itself “ultrarunners” chooses to distinguish running from other forms of movement. First, we seem loathe to admit to the non-running pedestrian world that the sport of going beyond 26.2 miles usually constitutes a noticeable percentage of walking/hiking. “Yeah, I did a 50 miler last weekend” coming from the “runner” as communicated to the non-ultra pedestrian elicits oooh’s and aaaah’s of admiration and disbelief, further inflating the ego of the ultra dude/ette.

    Yet, second, as we in the ultra community all recognize but don’t overly clarify to the pedestrian world, most ultras involve a great deal of walking/hiking, certainly a higher percentage the deeper one looks in the field of results. Yet we all relate to each other as ultrarunners. Championship road ultras prove the exception, as the terrain rarely strains the body enough to force the walk; and how embarrassing is THAT for a "champion" to walk. But how many miles are hiked/walked among the top ten in HardRock; then add the fact that for those in the back, close to the full distance is an aggravated walk?

    So that, as an example, when Horton set a new PCT record, and his performance was nominated for recognition by UR, the community too easily assumed (nor did Horton profess differently) that Horton “ran” enough of the distance to call it a “running” record. Not long afterward, two hikers, with full packs, wiped Horton’s record from the books, and they never set foot in a car (for resupply purposes). Yet their performance didn’t invite a peep of recognition from UR because they expressly termed themselves hikers. Similarly, the time it takes to complete one loop of Barkley would suggest a pace that defies definition as “running” and more closely aligns with orienteering. The variations from our assumed norm are almost endless.

    For ultrarunning, if UR and its panel of “secret voters” serve as the definers of what ultrarunning is, then have that group establish criteria that, for example, define a running experience as containing X% of obvious running (sidebar: does a quick shuffle qualify?), and leave all other categories of movement to other forms of recognition. “Ultra” won’t lose its distinction, but perhaps “running” may secure its rightful position in the lexicon. Refusing that distinction, every year’s selection of “stars” will only self-perpetuate the intrigue and useless debate.

    1. speedgoatkarl

      Not elevation profiles. And I don't know the Iditarod trail, but if you've ever been from Mt. Kathadin to about the Vermont Border, about 450 mile of the AT, you might understand where my comments come from. It's the technicality of it, and even the elevation profiles don't do it justice on the AT. However, I really don't know the Iditarod at all, so I guess I'm jumping the gun a bit. I would imagine they are both extremely different and both very difficult. It's all mumbo jumbo really. :-)

      1. Geoff

        I don't have a lot of experience on either trail – i've seen about 100 miles of the AT and about 160 of the Iditarod – maybe just enough to throw in my two cents. I think it depends on what aspect of "harder" you are talking about. Physically it seems like the AT is much more of a beast than just about any long distance trail, and certainly much harder than the Iditarod. However, if you're talking about mental, logistical, psychological, and mother nature "toughness," then travelling the entire Iditarod trail on foot (keep in mind the trail only exists in the Winter, so you have no choice but to face interior Alaska Winter weather) makes doing the same on the AT feel like spring break on the beach in Cancun (or at least that's how I'd imagine it from the bit of exposure I've had to each).

      2. Jill Homer (@AlaskaJ

        Indeed. They are so different that they're hardly comparable. I guess that's the main issue of this entire debate here. I wasn't trying to claim that Tim's Iditarod record was a more impressive effort than Jenn's AT record. I was only pointing out that there are at least a few rather amazing on-foot accomplishments that were overlooked completely — possibly because foot accomplishments cover such a vast spectrum, from a record-setting 50K to six weeks of hiking on the steep and technical Appalachian Trail. Trying to designate any one as "performance of the year" over another is ultimately impossible.

  19. Geoff

    Jill, i think you're dead on. Some endeavors are so out of the realm of what people are comfortable with that they seem to just try not to think about it or recognize it. In my opinion the greatest ultrarunning performance in the past decade (and likely longer) was Steve R's 4 day 15 hour "run" to McGrath in the 2005 ITI. No one else has ever come within 24 hours of his time. I'd be shocked if anyone ever breaks this record. And yet when I talk to people about this performance they almost universally respond along the lines of: "yeah, I think I've heard about that before," and then they change the subject. Almost as though they aren't even comfortable thinking about it. I have no idea if it even got a single vote for POY in 2005, but I highly doubt it.

    1. Jill Homer (@AlaskaJ

      Yes, I remain a hopeless Iditarod fan. I sometimes go back and read Steve Reifenstuhl's race report about his 2005 run to remind myself what it can really be like out there. There's a certain brutality to his determination that is at once inspiring and horrifying. But it was, without a doubt, an impressive accomplishment, one that can only be reached with a certain level of talent (which Steve has), along with the mental, physical, and logistical toughness. http://reifenstuhl.blogspot.com/2008/02/alaska-ul

      I anxiously await this year's Iditarod. I'm excited that you are going back even if it probably baffles most everyone else in these circles. I'm sure you'll be great. :)

  20. Ian Sharman

    But would you argue that the CR at, say, Javelina is better than at Western States, just because it's quicker or much better than the UTMB course record because that's even slower? Trail races aren't comparable and only certified road courses can start to be compared directly – look at the issues with even comparing the Boston marathon record to the world record. Really, the only exact comparisons can be made between track records and only then if the conditions are the same. So I can appreciate how difficult it is to compare any of these races for UROY – surely only the quality of the field and that of the past fields (ie the CR) can help to do this, but even then, some races are run as training and some are a big focus with the fast guys putting in better preparation.

    1. Ben Nephew

      I think it is much easier to compare road courses than most trail races, but I don't think it is crazy to compare flat non-technical trail races to each other. You are right, unless you can certify trail races, you are stuck with just looking at the CR and past fields, which for something like JFK can be substantial. It seems like you could get some trail races certified based on what I know of the process. While this seems strange, I wouldn't be surprised to see someone run near world best times on a nice dirt path. For all I know, you could have run 103 miles at RR where Jonas ran 98. Boston is not record certified, and that wasn't in response to the 2:03. Because of the difficulties of comparing trail races to each other and the relative lack of history with most distances and trail races, it is easier to make an argument for the strength of a road performance. Sure, there is variation between courses and other factors road races, but these variations are relatively minor compared to trail races.

      1. Stack

        as far as RR100 is concerned I believe I've read somewhere that the RD has basically had the course measured and re-measured (yearly?) by someone who certifies road courses and the length is correct… they just cant officially certify it since its not on roads.

  21. Warren Doyle

    Jen was not going after any records on her first AT thru-hike, which she did as a 'normal' backpack. Please reread what I wrote above "The scorecard for Jen's AT record attempts stands at 2-0." I will stand by the accuracy of that statement.

    I don't consider myself the "master of the AT". I am very interested in what makes a succesful AT endurance record attempt. Previous record holders of the AT from Steve Avery, David Horton, Pete Palmer and Andrew Thompson did not seek my advice which was fine with me (I didn't hold it against them). My 'criticism' of your attempt Karl was based on the wording on your website of how you were going the 'conquer'the AT by being the fastest. Whether or not you felt this way yourself is one matter; but certainly you had some control of the perception these words were portraying on your official AT record attempt website, even after it became apparent less than 2/3's of the way through that you would not be able to set the record, rubbed some eastern 'endurance hikers' the wrong way. My objective posts were to give a factual counterpoint to these ungrounded claims (boasts).

    Even in the competitive world of professional sports, if a competitor is making boastful claims on something that they are unproven on it becomes ripe for 'locker room bulletin board' material.

    Your words (especially not wanting to be 'chicked out'), and your continued interest, in setting a new AT endurance record belies your statement that you have 'nothing to prove'.

    Once again, I would not use the word 'stealth'. A more appropriate word would be 'smart'.

  22. speedgoatkarl

    Warren, one or two more things: Not sure if you know or not, but I did not put that wording on whereskarl site. BC.com did. After I saw it, along with the photo they chose, I didn't like it. After I did see it, I just said, "whatever, thanks for letting me approve that" Made me sound like an arrogant ass, but like most things I do in life, I forget about it and move on,which is exactly what I did, then we heard comments and criticism from yourself and many others. Pretty typical of how the pathetic american culture can be sometimes.

    being "chicked" is just a silly term we use in ultrarunning , it's nothing but a silly joke. Some guys even get "wifed". It's fine to be beaten by a women. I have 0% prejudice there. I think you are mis-interpreting that a bit, it means nothing. :-)

  23. Stack

    what is 'stealth'? i didn't think anything was secretive or anything with her attempt. I didn't follow closely but the few blog entries I read seemed like she put all of her info/thoughts/logistics out there for everyone.

  24. Stack

    some thoughts I posted in a comment about this on Geoff's blog but thought I'd share here.

    I think everyone is looking at 'performance' of the year as 'race' of the year. If you want it to solely be 'race' then they need to change it to that. Its possible to see someone get votes or win this category sometime down the road and not even be an elite or win a race (beyond even the FKT concept).

    I'm thinking something like an extreme/unlikely circumstance where a runner does something heroic and goes way beyond the call of duty during a race and it gets the spotlight. ie. Runner in the middle of a 100 sees a runner badly injured and carries them and back tracks on the course for X miles to an aid station then goes on to finish the race. To me, that 'performance' would trump some elite guy beating other elite guys or breaking a CR.

    Wolfe's story of stopping (along w/ Dakota) to help an injured runner along the way to his win @ NF50 made me think of this scenario (although not nearly as dramatic but still impressive and adds to his performance)… Wolfe would have gotten my vote for his race and this would be part of it (along w/ the bloody head and everything else).

    a real world example of someone deserving POY outside what one would normally think of would be Amy Palmiero-Winters. I haven't followed voting so maybe one of her accomplishments over the last few years got some credit (i would hope so). First amputee to ever win an ultra (100mi and 130mi during a 24 I believe), she finished WS100 10', badwater 11'

    For the AT record I think the key is that she did it faster than ANYONE has ever done it before. Man or woman. The only gripe I can understand is how there really wasn't any running involved yet she won an ultra'running' award but I think Chris Scott addressed that well above.

    The 'hiking' vs running part aside and addressing the FKT concerns… how is what she did different than giving someone else the POY for beating a long standing and tough CR where there wasn't much competition in the actual race? Wouldn't it be harder not having the competition pushing you to go faster anyway? One of the only reasons I can think of to discredit FKT is if you are calling into question the validity of it. I totally understand that much and think there has to be good documentation/witnessing/something but as long as thats there then why not hold it in the same light?

    Think in these terms… imagine some elite woman doesn't make the WS100 lottery or something so she runs the course (and has it very well documented/verified) and somehow finishes in 14:59 beating Geoff's record… faster than any man or woman had ever finished that course? that would be some amazing 'performance' wouldn't it? Those against the thought of FKT… would you deny this woman of the POY?

  25. Koz

    Chris Scott's comment should be relocated to the top of this thread because he nailed it.

    In my opinion, and most importantly, the common denominator in all of this is getting from point A to point B as fast as possible under our own power. The rest is just circular semantics. Anyone who has ever been "running" up a steep incline and gotten passed by someone "hiking" already understands this, whether they'll admit it or not.

  26. Dan Brannen

    Jumping in a bit late here (apologies for the discontinuity) on the discussion among Ben, Ian, and Stack on the interconnected topics of course certification, trail/road course comparisons, Cox's 50k, Ian's RR 100 Mile, FKTs, and Ultrarunning Mag's Performance of the Year rankings.

    As a general rule, trail courses are uncertifiable (just as are cross-country courses), but the final decision is a judgment call on the part of the USATF RRTC (Road Running Technical Council). The big issue is not so much the unevenness of the running path, but whether the edges of the running path can be clearly defined throughout the course. The Umstead 100 Mile in NC, for example, is certified, even though the course is not paved. I saw a detailed report on how the RR 100 course has been re-measured (since its earlier, infamous 97-mile days) and I'm satisfied that, although it cannot be certified, it is a legit. 100 miles as measured the most accurate way possible (I'm an IAAF Grade A course certifier). But I'm not at all familiar with the RR surface, hilliness, etc. I would be interested to hear, directly from Ian (and from others who have run it), how it compares to a theoretical flat course with no obstacles of any significance (rocks, stones, roots, holes, etc.).

    Ben: you say that "Ian's run was only 12 minutes off the world best." Assuming you meant Ian's 12:44 RR 100? It was 39 minutes shy of Andy Jones' World Road Record (12:05:43), and 76 min. shy of Oleg Kharitonov's World Track Record (11:28:03). There are about another dozen guys (combining road & track) between Kharitonov & Jones (including at least two under 12:00:00 by Kouros en route to 170+ mile 24-hour performances). None of the road 100's faster than Jones' 12:05 could ever be ratified as an official record due to minor technical issues, but there isn't much doubt that they were legit. You also say elsewhere, "For all I know, [Ian] could have run 103 miles at RR where Jonas ran 98. From the report I saw on the RR measurement, it's not likely that Ian ran much more than 100.00 miles. By "Jonas" do mean Andy Jones and his World Road Record? It was set at the certified 100 mile split of the old Olander Park 24-hour course (Jones stopped right at 100), and it subsequently passed a validation remeasurement.

    Comparing trail to road: Actually, there is one event for which we have good data for a fair and realistic comparison. That is the JFK 50-miler. That's because JFK is so old, it was run by a number of national-class ultrarunners (mid-1970's to early 1980's) who, aside from JFK, pretty much ran only road 50-milers. Those were the days when the road 50-miler was far and away the most common ultra held in the U.S. By comparing their road 50's to their JFK times, a general consensus emerged that the conversion factor at 6 hours (JFK time) was about 20-25 minutes. At the pace of Riddle's course record 5:40, it would be more like 20 minutes, possibly less. But, give him the most generous benefit of any doubt, and subtract 25 min. from his JFK time to get his 50 mile road-equivalent time. Riddle's JFK was certainly no better than a flat, certified road 5:15. It's rare that anyone runs 5:15 these days, but that's only because it's rare that any fast runners actually race a flat, certified road 50 miler these days. A 5:15 barely gets you into the all-time U.S. top 2 dozen. And it's 84% of the absolute 50 Mile World Record. Wardian's 6:42 in the World 100k is 92% of the absolute 100k World Record. And Ian's 12:44 RR 100 is 90% of the absolute 100 Mile World Record. Now, one can argue whether it is fair to assume that the existing absolute WR's for 50 miles, 100k, and 100 miles are all intrinsically equivalent. Still, they are probably at least close, and those statistics provide valuable perspective on those 3 performances. If anything, I would be inclined to add some weight to Ian's performance, making the fair assumption that the RR terrain probably slowed him a bit compared to a road or track 100. On the other hand, I'd add some weight to Riddle's JFK because he did it with Wardian on his back. But my analysis tells me that Riddle's JFK is still clearly inferior to the other two. For POY, I would probably lean toward Wardian's World 100k because of the depth of competition that he faced in order to do it.

    Cox's 50k: First, I will go on record as saying it should be considered in the same category as Pharr Davis' Appalachian Trail hike. It was a solo performance, not done in bona-fide competition. The Ultra Performance of the Year should mean what it has always meant: the best performance achieved in an ultramarathon, which is a "bona fide" competitive footrace longer than 26.2 miles. Unfortunately, USATF did ratify Cox's 50k as the official U.S. road record, which is a travesty. They did it because the "event" was set up to adhere just to the minimum "letter of the law." Well, sometimes by barely adhering to the letter of the law, you wind up flaunting the spirit of the law. At least they should have convinced the other two nominal "entrants" in the event to walk across the Finish Line before sundown, instead of dropping out. The Association of Road Racing Statisticians (ARRS; which I believe has more integrity and credibility than the IAAF when it comes to road performances) will not carry Cox's mark. They consider it to be what it is: a solo performance, a great training run.

    As for Women's POY, I'm really surprised Kami Semick's Comrades win appears to have gotten only a single vote for #1. I believe it was clearly, hands down, the best North American female ultra performance of the year. It was an "Up" course year, her 50-mile split would have been under 6 hours, she handily beat the woman who got the Ultrarunner of the Year award, and, most important, at the finish she was nipping at the heels of the Nurgalieva twins, the globally dominant female ultrarunners of the past decade. She was closing fast on them; if the race had been 100k she probably would have caught and passed them. For perspective, the Russian twins, between them, have broken 2:30 for the marathon 5 times in the past 7 years. They "own" Comrades (the world's most competitive ultra) like Bruce Fordyce used to own it. Semick's Comrades translates to the equivalent of a low 7:30's 100k. She ran high 7:30's when she won the World 100k 2 years ago.

    Which brings me to…. The Appalachian Trail "record" and FKTs ("Fastest Known Times"). OK, here goes: The term "FKT" is a misnomer, at worst a canard. It's inherently misleading. The only "known" ultradistance times are those done in competition and documented to recordkeeping standards. The best an "FKT" can ever hope to be is an "FCT," ("Fastest Claimed Time"). Whether anyone believes any given FCT is entirely dependent on the credibility of the claimant. I'm not suggesting that Jennifer Pharr Davis' claim is suspect. In fact, it's quite believable. But it's not an ultramarathon, and it should not have been considered for POY in a ranking of ultramarathon performances. I recall many years ago reading that my friend and colleague (and fellow former JFK champion) David Horton defended the keeping and promotion of solo FKT's, arguing that he knew most of the people involved in the pursuit and could separate the legit claimants from the charlatans. Well…. I disagree with David that that is an acceptable practice for any kind of "recordkeeping." It puts me in mind of the principle in political philosophy that the "rule of law" is preferable to the "rule of man." Pharr Davis was quite well known in the world of expedition speed hiking. If a woman utterly unknown to anyone in the world of ultrarunning or expedition speed hiking or even the broader world of outdoor adventures had claimed that 47-day "record," would she have been voted POY? How about 45 days? 42? 37? Where (and how) do you draw the line, and who draws it, and on what basis? How many people remember the names Stan Cottrell and Robert Garside? Or, how about Reza Baluchi (whose alleged "Trans America Record" is still only less than 3 years old)? Pharr Davis is no Cottrell or Garside or Baluchi, but because of the publicity her AT thru-hike got (including Ultrarunning's POY) her "record" is now more likely be "broken" (to much media fanfare) by someone of their ilk. By raising her performance to POY of our flagship national publication, we're issuing a siren call to the Cottrells and Garsides of the world to crawl back out of the woodwork. Do a major, feature story/interview on her (with multi-page photo spreads–she deserves it), but don't put a solo venture into a category traditionally reserved for competitive performances.

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