The Montrail Ultra Cup Grows Up

AJWs TaproomI have to admit that a decade or so ago when Montrail launched the Montrail Ultra Cup I was skeptical. To be honest, at the time, I didn’t believe that an ultramarathon series could succeed in large part due to the decentralized nature of our sport and the rugged individualism of many race directors. In short, I thought it would have a short life.

Boy, was I wrong!

As Montrail has evolved through the years as a key player in ultramarathons and, in particular, since Montrail become the presenting sponsor of the Western States 100, interest and participation in the Montrail Ultra Cup has exploded. Today, most of the races on the circuit attract some of the most competitive fields in the country and winning the Cup is now perceived as one of the crowning triumphs of an ultrarunner’s career.

All that said, the most significant impact of the Montrail Ultra Cup, from my perspective, is the fact that it has become a way into the Western States 100 that is at once transparent and accessible. Certainly, to get into the Big Dance via the Cup you need to be fast, but, today, a runner has nine opportunities to do that in a variety of venues scattered across the country and throughout the calendar year. And, the end result has been a tremendous increase in the depth of the field at Western States every year.

It took some time for the results to play out, but last year’s race was a good indication of the Ultra Cup’s impact as half of the men’s top 10 and just about as many of the women’s top 10 got into the event through the Ultra Cup. Furthermore, by showcasing the top ultra talent through a series of run-up races, the Cup has set the stage for the drama and competitive fire that we have all come to associate with the Western States 100.

Craig Thornley, Western States Race Director, has stated that, “The Ultra Cup qualifying races have been significantly energized by the competition. With one race to go we have 20 runners in Western States through the MUC. Several of these are faster runners who have never run 100 miles. From my perspective Montrail was the first to put any money up for the elites in the sport and they continue to be the most influential.”

This weekend the Ice Age 50 in Wisconsin presents runners with one last chance to “race into” the 2013 Western States and, once again, a highly competitive field stands poised to give it a go. It will be fun to watch!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes an old favorite, Smuttynose Brewing Company in Massachusetts. Their Big A IPA packs a serious punch at 9.4% ABV and a whopping 120 IBUs. However, remarkably, it is neither boozy or overly palate-wrecking. If you can find a four-pack, give it a shot!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

What have been your thoughts about the Montrail Ultra Cup through the years?

There are 13 comments

  1. David Walker

    Definitely a huge success and well run. Montrail has done a good job of balancing the commercial sponsorship while keeping the events "soul." Hats off to them and everyone who has raced their way into a WS100 spot!

  2. BGD

    Very thankful for the Montrail Ultra Cup (and being fortunate – and "quick enough" – to get in via the '12 Waldo "106k").

    Like you, AJW, can't wait for WS!!!

    Michigan Bluff Training Camp Pt. 2 one week away!

  3. art

    if the Montrail race series is going to be used for free passes in to Western States, in all fairness, a few 100 milers should be included. Runners like Jeff Browning being kept out of WS simply because they don't win a 50 is a slap in the face.

    1. AJW

      Art, just to clarify, over the past year 2 100 milers have been added as qualifiers, Run Rabbit Run in September and Pinhoti in November. Karl Meltzer qualified this year at Run Rabbit Run. As for Jeff, I spoke with him about Pinhoti and he just couldn't fit it into his schedule. He is toeing the line tomorrow at Ice Age 50 so he could still end up on the line in Squaw:)

  4. jordan

    I think its great to have to Montrail Ultra Cup. I helps the the races involved become more competitive. For guys like me who are somewhat fast, not Sage or Max fast, we train hard and travel to races that may not have otherwise made it on the "to to list". I'm looking at Pinhoti this fall simply because its part of the Ultra Cup. I like that fact that I can train hard and try to earn a spot in Western States and not just rely on a lottery system.

  5. Greg

    I think the "decentralized nature" and "rugged individualism of race directors" is somewhat a thing of the past, perhaps in part due to Montrail. I think what Montrail (and the MUC) has done is great in that it has facilitated the movement of ultrarunning from the fringe into the mainstream (or as mainstream as possible), but this has also taken away from a lot of old school events, albeit unintentionally.

    Notice that WS says non-qualifying races "either are deemed to be too small or not difficult enough to be a WS qualifier." So JFK is in because it has a large field, is deemed tough enough, and has a fancy website and Montrail sponsorship, but a race like Old Dominion is out because it either isn't tough enough, is too small, or doesn't have a good enough website. To be clear, this isn't a sour-grapes post; rather, I'm simply trying to say that there are, to some people anyway, negative aspects of this all.

    1. Craig Thornley

      Greg, you're mixing the MUC races which includes 8 events with 9 races (not including WS) with the 147 qualifying races. Montrail chooses who is in the MUC. WS chooses who is on the qualifying list of races. True, there is a little overlap there and essentially Montrail does get to choose 9 of our qualifying races. But in general, to make the list of the 147 races (that is how many races we have on the 2014 qualifying list), the race needs to be primarly trail, more difficult, and larger. We also are very aware of the geographical distribution of the races so that runners from all over the country and the world can find a race to run to qualify. Is a website important? Well, frankly, yes. We need easy access to the results so we can vet the 2400 applicants who put their name in the hat. As the person who was lucky enough to get to vet those 2400 applicants last November – which got pared down to 2295 after culling the unqualified – I can assure you it is not an easy task when a race does not have results posted on the web.

      As for Montrail making "rugged individualism of race directors" a thing of the past, one needs to look at the RDs for each of those MUC races. Fred A, Tropical John, Keira, myself, … looks like a strong class of rugged individuals to me. Montrail has supported us and our events with very few strings attached, not made us conform or morph into something we aren't.

      Craig Thornley

      RD of Waldo 100K and Western States 100

  6. Dave M

    Montrail cup has gotten me into three WS 100's in the past ten years; thanks MUC and Topher Gaylord for keeping it rolling!

  7. Anonymous

    First and foremost, I appreciate the response, Craig. My point was much less about WS and its qualifying standards as it was about Montrail, the MUC, and the progression of ultra running. The WS aspect was simply intended to be an anecdote to bring about my larger point.

    I do believe that the majority of this is good. My point with the WS qualifying example was not to poke holes in those standards, but I was trying to show that it is highly likely that "old school" races, which used to be the norm, are now being slowly replaced. Or maybe they aren't, but the focus is just on the larger events?

    Anyway, thanks again for the response!

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