This morning, the Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT) was announced in Chamonix, France amidst the festivities of The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. To launch in 2014, the Ultra-Trail Series (as the UTWT’s circuit will be called) will consist of eight to 10 events, each 100 kilometers or longer, distributed around the world (four or more continents). Of these, five or six races will be designated as “Majors” in the UTWT.
Races will be designated a certain number of points based on their size and the race’s designation. These points will be used to formulate a championship ranking similar to those used in skiing, cycling, and tennis. Three races will count toward the ranking with two races from the Majors and one from an additional race. Some elite racers will receive support to attend series races. In choosing races, the organizers want these runners to ask “Not what can I do because I can afford it, but what can I do because I want to.”
Tentative 2014 Ultra-Trail Series Schedule
- January 19 – Vibram Hong Kong 100
- March 1 – The North Face Transgrancaria (Spain)
- March 15 – Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon (New Zealand)
- April 5 – Marathon des Sables (Morocco)
- April 26 – Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (Japan)
- June 28 – Western States 100 (USA)
- June 28 – The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail (Italy)
- August 29 – The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (France/Italy/Switzerland)
Additional race organizations have been contacted with more races likely to be added to the tour in the coming months.
Here’s some of what the organizers have laid out (slightly de-Franglished):
The Ultra-Trail World Tour is an invitation to travel through the world, and to take part in the most mythical races.
What are its objectives?
- Give the opportunity to anyone to take part, throughout the year, in the most beautiful long-distance trail races of the world (at least 100k in length).
- Allow all trail runners to take part in popular events in which top runners are systematically associated with.
- Allow the top trail runners to meet regularly and to be confronted to each other in an annual circuit.
- Carry trail running’s values by giving the opportunity to everyone to improve himself through traveling, discovering new cultures, and sharing with other athletes from all around the world.
- Use the experience, the history and the traditions of each events, to offer to the athletes a renewed vision of their sport and new experiences.
- Associate races suitable for every athlete, in spectacular and diversified environments and with various difficulties and technical elements.
Benefits to the Rest of Us Ultrarunners
Those runners who join the UTWT may benefit from insurance, travel assistance, and discounts on running equipment. Runners who complete at least one race can request a UTWT passport and receive visa for each race they complete.
Quick Editorial Thoughts on the Championship Circuit
As I’ve covered the pointy end of the field at many highly competitive races in recent years, I’ll offer few personal thoughts limited strictly to that area.
- I like the idea of a high-level international circuit for ultrarunning. I’m inspired by seeing the best ultrarunners from around the world race one another. That’s great.
- I like that the series includes races as vastly different as the Tarawera Ultramarathon (flat 100k at sea level) and the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (167km mountain race. It allows differently suited trail runners to rank against one another in the same series.
- I was worried that the ranking might encourage runners to run too many races in one year, but basing the ranking on the total of three races (including one non-major) might limit that issue. I would be interested in seeing the organizers limit maximum participation of each athlete. Otherwise, this might remain an issue, although most runners in contention will realize that it might be a fools errand to try to improve their ranking in highly competitive 100-kilometer-or-longer events by racing many more than the number of races that count toward the ranking.
- On the other hand, keeping the races at 100 kilometers or longer means less overlap with the Skyrunning Ultra Series, which only had one 100k race and one race over 100k in 2013. As suggested by my thoughts above, I’d prefer one unified ultramarathon series with a very wide mix of distances (26.3 miles to whatever…); big mountains and faster, flatter courses; and maybe even a road race (Comrades or the IAU 100k World Championship) in a world ultra series.
- I wish the series wasn’t limited only to races 100k and more in length. While I love ultras, more isn’t always better and I wish the same admirable diversity of terrain was reflected with a greater diversity of race lengths. I also worry about the potential harm to athletes who may race long and hard so often, as a result of the series. Perhaps, the 100k or more requirement is an attempt at branding through differentiation or perhaps it is a different conception of the sport that varies from the “an ultra is anything over 26.2 miles” concept with which I was indoctrinated into the sport.
- Although many of the races are iconic, I wonder if travel support for a limited number of athletes will be sufficient to draw some in. Aren’t those most likely to receive travel support from the UTWT the same as those who are most likely to get material travel support from their sponsors? How to get the travel support to the excellent runners with lesser sponsor support?
Call for Comments
I’m sure this concept will draw plenty of comments both on the elite and regular runner prospective with out me prompting questions. :-) All viewpoints are welcome, we just ask that you keep the conversation civil. (A good test before posting a comment, is whether you would say the same thing to the person who is the subject of the comment if you were out on a trail run with him or her.)
[Editor’s Note: As it has come up elsewhere, we’ll note that iRunFar has no affiliation with the Ultra-Trail World Tour.]