Dissecting The UTMB

François D’Haene did not win UTMB because American men underachieved. He won because he is one of the best 100-mile trail runners in the world and he went out and ran an aggressive, steady, and dominating race. He was clearly the favorite going into the race, and it was super impressive to see him go out and take care of business. This said, by virtually all accounts, the American men had collectively yet another sub-par performance in Europe’s premiere 100-mile race. For at least the fourth year in a row, much of the post-UTMB discussion (at least on this side of the pond) has centered around the idea that American men seem to struggle inexplicably in this race. I’ve thought a lot about this trend over the past few years, and I still feel like I have more questions than answers, but here is my attempt at explaining what I have been able to make sense of.

Apples to Oranges
First of all, I think it is important to recognize that this trend is not nearly as distinct as it’s been made out out to be. Many folks have pointed to the success that European runners have had in coming over to the U.S. and winning many big races in the past few years. Without question, a handful of top European runners have had more success in the United States since 2010 than Americans have had in Europe. This said, though, I think it’s important to consider more closely some of the comparisons that are being made. Hardrock has been the obvious example of a race that European men have had very impressive recent success at. Three of the past four winners have come from across the pond, and unless you have been hiding under a rock all summer you are aware that Kilian Jornet absolutely obliterated the course record in July. The problem with reading too much into these results, though, is that Hardrock and UTMB are completely different in terms of what kind of effort it takes to do well in the race. Not to take anything away from anyone who has ever won Hardrock, but these races are so immensely different that it’s almost comical to compare winning one to winning the other. Not only does UTMB have more than 16 times as many starters, it is Europe’s most competitive 100 miler year in and year out. Hardrock was famously competitive this year, but even then it was nowhere near as deep of a field as any recent year at UTMB. I think it’s important not to read too much into the fact that no American man has ever won UTMB, despite the recent success European men have had at Hardrock. After all, only one of the three European runners who have recently won Hardrock has also won UTMB.

In this sense, it makes a lot more sense to compare UTMB to Western States. It’s still not an entirely fair comparison as UTMB has about eight times as many racers, but at least with these two races, we are talking about their respective continents’ premiere 100 miler in terms of history, prestige, and typical competitiveness. Kilian of course won Western States in 2011, but this is the only time a European runner has won the race. In fact Jez Bragg is the only European runner to finish in the top five at Western States in the last several years. It’s also worth noting that Kilian didn’t exactly dominate in his two years running Western States (at least as compared to everything else he has done). If I’m not mistaken, the 2010 Western States still stands as the only 100 miler he didn’t win, and his winning time in 2011 was the slowest of any in the past five years at Western States. It’s one thing to travel half way across the world and try to run effectively in a rugged and challenging race, but it’s another thing altogether to try to run effectively in a race that is not only rugged and challenging but is also that continent’s most prestigious and well-known race, such that many of the runners competing have been preparing for it for a year or more. In the same way that nearly everyone who runs Western States has made it their focus race of the season, nearly all European runners who choose to run UTMB are running it in this same fashion.

This said, it is still undeniable that American men have not performed as well as they are capable of at UTMB. The discrepancy might not be as large as many people have made it out to be, but no matter how you look at the numbers, European runners have fared a decent bit better in races in the U.S. than American runners have in Europe.

What About the Women?
One interesting piece in all of this is that American women have actually done quite well at UTMB (as compared to both American men at UTMB and European women racing in the U.S.). This piece to the puzzle is actually pretty straightforward in my mind. Ultrarunning is a male-dominated sport around the world (in terms of numbers of participants), but not nearly as much so in North America as in Europe. The percentage of female racers in many top-level ultras in the U.S. has grown into the range of 20 to 30% of total participants. In most European races, including UTMB, the percentage is below 10%. At UTMB this year there were 12.8 male finishers for every 1 female. In comparison, Western States this year had 4.4 men for every woman. This isn’t meant to take anything away from what Rory Bosio, Krissy Moehl, and other American women have accomplished at UTMB, but there is a simple reality that there is a much larger gender gap (in terms of numbers participating in the sport) in Europe than there is here in the U.S. This is certainly not isolated to ultrarunning. American women outperform their international counterparts in many more sports than American men do. Whatever the reasons, it’s an undeniable reality that the United States is well ahead of the rest of the world in terms of female participation in athletics, especially in niche and relatively new sports like trail running.

This said, it’s hard to ignore that for the second year in a row at UTMB, Rory Bosio not only finished ahead of all the women in the field, but also finished ahead of nearly every American runner, male or female. I have no definitive answer as to why this happened. Only that she has run two really amazing races on a course that she seems to have perfectly figured out. She clearly has a confidence on this course that few, if any, American men have been able to find. This confidence certainly is a result of many factors, but it’s no stretch to assume that the above-mentioned gender gap in European ultrarunning has played a good bit into building this confidence. If you sit down and watch all of the iRunFar pre-race interviews from the last two years, it’s really easy to notice a laid back, relaxed, and seemingly confident energy in Rory that you just don’t find in the American men. Much of this is simply that this is her style, but some of it must also be a function of the reality that there is more focus (from media, the race organization, and race fans) on the men’s division of this event (as compared to top-level events in the U.S.) as a result of the huge gender gap in participation in this event.

Course-Specific Challenges

There has been much talk about the UTMB course itself, and how some of the specific challenges of this course might not suit the American runners. Personally I think many of these points have been over blown and over analyzed. UTMB is a tough, mountainous, challenging course, but it is not any more so than the handful of most challenging 100 milers here in North America. We can discuss all day the various aspects of a course like UTMB and how it compares to a course like Hardrock or even Wasatch, Leadville, the Bear, H.U.R.T., Cascade Crest, and more, but the truth is that if you are capable of running really well on any of these courses, you should be able to run quite well on all of them.

This said, I do think there are a few possible aspects of this course which might pose a bit more of a challenge to American runners who aren’t used to the course than they do to European runners who presumably run the course (or similar terrain) more often. Pretty much every American 100 miler that has more than 20,000 feet of vertical gain is almost entirely on trail and/or dirt road. In addition to this, pretty much all of these races begin with a large climb just as soon as the race starts. UTMB on the other hand has countless stretches of black top, cobblestone, and concrete surface that likely adds up to 30% or more of the course. It also does not start out with a large climb. Much the opposite, it starts out on a paved path that is essentially flat. The first 20 miles of UTMB is almost entirely runnable, such that when you hit Les Contamines you feel more like you just ran a 20-mile race than you do like you just ran the first 20 miles of a 100 miler. You could of course simply choose to go out nice and slow, like we are all used to being forced into doing by the terrain in most mountain hundreds in North America. The problem with this is that you can’t afford to give up that much time, and more importantly that many places. Running through Les Contamines in 5oth place and 30 minutes behind the leaders is a great strategy if you are trying to sneak into the top 10, but if you are running to win, it just isn’t a strategy that is going to work. There are simply too many runners ahead of you at that point. Nearly every year the eventual winner of this race is near the front of the pack 20 miles into the race.

This combination of a much-harder surface than comparable hundreds in the U.S. and the necessity to run (as opposed to powerhike) nearly all of the first 20 miles of the race are the two things which I think are the most challenging for an American runner who might only be used to American races. Neither of these factors pose an insurmountable challenge, but if not taken seriously and prepared for ahead of time, they can and often do lead to very serious muscle attrition way too early in the race.

Home-Field Advantage

Another factor that I think it would be crazy to ignore is the home-field advantage that takes place in UTMB, or any competition that someone travels to another continent to take part in. Whether it’s a result of the travel/jet lag, time difference, different foods, being in an unfamiliar culture, sleep disruption, or differences in course terrain, there is an undeniable disadvantage (in comparison to a local runner) to traveling several thousand miles to run a race. Athletic competition is all about confidence, and confidence is greatly increased by familiarity. If you don’t think these things play a large role in athletic performance then it might be worth considering just how skewed the numbers in winning percentage are for home teams versus away teams in major professional sports. Whether it’s baseball, basketball, football, or hockey, nearly every team performs better at home than they do on the road. It would only stand to reason that the home-field advantage would be even greater in the case of runners traveling abroad to race UTMB. In the above-mentioned team sports, players are traveling to somewhat unfamiliar places around their own continent that they have all been to before for previous competitions, whereas Americans going to race UTMB are traveling across the Atlantic Ocean to a place that many of them have never been. To expect any group of athletes to perform as well in this situation as they do in races at home is just something which is never going to happen on a widespread basis. Sure, there will always be a few outliers (e.g. Rory and Mike Foote who have each likely run their best two hundreds ever at UTMB), just as there are always a few outliers in professional sports who win at a higher rate on the road than at home, but over the course of time it just isn’t realistic to expect any group of athletes to perform as well on the road as they do at home.

The other factor which likely gives the home team a little extra advantage are their fans/spectators cheering. This is certainly not a measurable quantity, but if you’ve ever been to a major sporting event with a large crowd, it’s hard to deny that it is an advantage for the home team who the vast majority of those fans are there to support and root for. In trail running, there generally aren’t large-enough crowds to make a huge difference in this regard, but UTMB is one race in which it is very easy to make the argument that the tens of thousands of fans out on the course throughout the race do make a tangible difference in how well individual athletes perform. The amount of fan support and participation completely dwarfs anything in the U.S., and without question the vast majority of these fans are rooting first and foremost for their European peers.

The Salomon Factor

This all of course brings us back to the original question as to why European men have seemingly performed better in the United States than American men have in Europe? If being the away team is such an undeniable disadvantage, why doesn’t it seem as though the Europeans have been nearly as affected by being on the road?

One answer to this question lies in what I think might be the most overlooked piece to this entire puzzle: the Salomon Factor. If you consider for a moment the international runners who have had a high level of success in the United States in recent years, you quickly discover that it’s not that they are European specifically, but that they are sponsored by Salomon. (Anna Frost and Ryan Sandes are great examples of non-European international runners who have had great success in the U.S. They are of course both sponsored by Salomon.) I mentioned above that familiarity is a huge part of building confidence, and that lack of confidence is why athletes tend to perform worse on the road than they do at home. Salomon is by far the most organized ultrarunning team in the world. It might even be accurate to go as far as to say they are the only ultrarunning ‘team’ in the world. By this I mean that they are the only team that has a consistent entourage that travels with many of their racers to various races around the world. When you travel half way around the world by yourself to take part in a race that is in a country and a culture that you are almost entirely unfamiliar with, it’s going to be a lot harder to feel the confidence of familiarity as compared to a runner who travels to a race in a far-away country as part of an entourage that typically includes several other runners, a team manager, a team physical therapist, a team photographer, and at least two or three other folks who I’m not even sure what their titles would be. Certainly this doesn’t eliminate the home-field advantage, but it sure goes a long way in minimizing it. It’s not too much of a stretch to say that it’s not actually that European runners have dominated American runners in international competition over the past few years, but rather that Salomon runners have dominated all other runners in the sport, and it just so happens that they primarily sponsor European runners, and have very few Americans on their international team. This may sound like a bold concession for a Montrail-sponsored runner to make, and I don’t mean this as a criticism of any sponsor that is not Salomon, but instead maybe as a piece of advice/suggestion. Salomon has made it obvious that getting the most out of your athletes is not just about getting the best runners in the sport to run for you, but instead about doing everything you can to put your runners in position to feel as familiar and as confident as possible when traveling to races. Salomon is the only ‘team’ in the sport that is currently playing the game in this manner and as long as that remains the case they are almost certainly going to continue to dominate big international races as they have over the past five years.

Small Sample

In conclusion, I think it is absolutely worth noting that everything I am talking about in this article is a small-enough sample that there is certainly the chance for a randomness/bad-luck factor to all of it. Several American men have run UTMB in the last five years who could have won that race if things came together just right on race day. Anyone who has raced enough knows that sometimes things just don’t come together on race day. Is it possible that American men have simply had a lot of bad luck in this race? It seems unlikely that these above-mentioned factors have not played at least partially into things, but I do believe that the sample size is still too small to make any certain conclusions. Sooner or later an American man will win this race, but with each passing year it seems less and less random, and more and more a function of the things mentioned in this article. I guess time will tell how real any of this is. Rob Krar might win UTMB in 2015 and this conversation will seem like a moot point. Oh wait, isn’t Rob Krar Canadian?

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What is your reaction to Geoff’s arguments here about some of the possibilities as to why Rory Bosio and François D’Haene won this year’s UTMB?
  • And what are your thoughts on Geoff’s points about why European (or Salomon) runners do so well in whatever races they travel to?

There are 61 comments

  1. Los Pollos Hermanos

    Is Rob Krar planning to run UTMB 2015 ? Luis Alberto Herdando will be seeking revenge i guess.

    By the way, it's too bad Kilian won't be racing UTMB anymore (forever) due to personal problems with organizers (the Polettis)

    1. totops1

      Can you specify more the problems that Kilian has with the Polettis, I didn't know about that and Im really curious to find out more info on it!

      1. Los Pollos Hermanos

        Basically, in his first two consecutive wins on UTMB, Kilian came out of nowhere to win easily.
        After his first victory, there are been doping allegation, suspicions. The Polettis never defended Kilian, or showed him some support. I really young guy without personal assistance, with minimalist equipment came very suspicious. Then he became a superstar and now Kilian "doesn't wanna help them anymore". Kilian in UTMB means more business, more advertising, more attraction. Kilian doesn't want help people who didn't support him when he needed it.

        He declared that on a long interview in catalan language about 2 years ago

        1. totops1

          Thanks for the details.
          I already didn't like the Polettis with their ITRA so IM not surprised of this behavior.
          Do you know where I could find his catalan interview ?

          1. Los Pollos Hermanos

            I found the spanish version of the catalan interview talking about not running UTMB anymore. A long interview in February 2013.
            http://www.jotdown.es/2013/02/kilian-jornet-la-mo

            Here's for example an interesting answer :

            Question : La primera vez que ganaste el Ultra Trail del Montblanc, la carrera de montaña más importante del mundo, tenías 20 años. Siempre se había pensado que era un deporte para gente con experiencia.

            Answer : Yo ya tenía esta experiencia, pero el problema de Chamonix es que es un valle muy cerrado y aquí lo que importa son los guías, la montaña y el turismo. Se miran mucho el ombligo. Puede caer una bomba atómica en Ginebra y no se enterarán. La pregunta que se hacen cuando te ven es de quién eres hijo. Esto hace que la organización del Ultra Trail del Montblanc nunca hubiera oído hablar del esquí de montaña o el skyrunning, porque no está en su mundo. Entre los voluntarios tengo muchos amigos, pero con la organización de la carrera… después de lo que me hicieron el primer año nunca tendré relación con ellos ni nunca les ayudaré.

  2. ClownRunner

    I think this conversation should be reserved for years that American men finish outside the Top 10. American men have finished in the Top 5 for a few years now–which in UltraRunning just means someone had a better day. Jason Schlarb did the same thing Rory did….lived over there for 90 days, trained well, and ran a relaxed race. D'Haene just had a better day. It's not as big of a deal as everyone is making it out to be and it takes away from Jason's race to bemoan the fact that someone from America didn't dominate. My 2 cents, worth a penny.

    1. grroes

      didn't mean to take anything away from the great race that Jason had, but one runner's good race isn't enough (in my mind) to eliminate questions as to why the other 4 or 5 American men who could have finished top 10 on a solid day mostly dropped or finished way below what might be considered a good run for them. and then when you consider this is the 4th or 5th year in a row this has happened I think it's more than logical to explore the possibility that there are specific factors that are causing this to occur.

  3. David_FL

    Yeah, Western is no better a comparison than Hardrock. Smaller than UTMB, lottery, not a "mountain run," not many Euros have run it, etc. Better just to focus on UTMB itself as you do later in the article.

    1. grroes

      i wasn't comparing WS to UTMB as saying that they are similar races, but only that they are similar in their respective countries in terms of being the focus 100 miler such that each continents top runners tend to race them. in other words, the fact that they are so different from each other is why runners from other countries seem to struggle when running either one of them. you are correct that not many Euros have run WS, but those that have have struggled much more than they have recently in other American 100s such as Hardrock and Leadville.

  4. Jogwbaby

    Great overview Geoff. UTMB seems to be one of those races where it can be lost in the first 20 miles, just as much as it can in the last 20. Leg speed is paramount to be with the front group from the onset, if one is going for the win – some folks have it and some dont.

  5. @mcronrn

    Super interesting article! Thanks, Geoff! Thanks, IRF! I was glued to this year's UTMB and IRF's outstanding coverage.

    I too was struck by Rory's laid-back attitude to the race and to her training. As a newer ultrarunner, I wonder how I might learn from her. It seems that staying loose and relaxed on race day should improve the ability to consume calories, since stress hormones directly decrease GI blood flow. I think Rory is a yoga practitioner – I bet that helps too.

    I find Geoff's thoughts on the layout of the UTMB super interesting. Les Contamines is 31k into the race, with a 2400ft climb stuck in the middle. FDH went through in 2'45'', for an average speed of 10.6k/hr. If he walked up the (roughly) 2 mile climb, that would bring his speed to 7.6mph or so. US elite men weren't far back – TK went through in 2'58'', Schlarb went though in 2'55''. http://utmb.livetrail.net/coureur.php?rech=2

    I do look forward to an American winning UTMB, and I will be glad to overlook Rob Krar's pesky Canadian-ness if/when he wins! :-)

  6. @SAnthonyOD

    Is it possible that PED's are factoring into the sport, akin to Tour De France? Perhaps it's time for drug testing. I'm not familiar with the drug testing policy in major 100's but this comes to mind when you start to see disparity amongst top athletes.

      1. @SAnthonyOD

        Thanks for the link. But if I'm reading between the lines, the Salomon team seems to have an entourage of people, "at least two or three other folks who I’m not even sure what their titles would be". How much influence does this entourage have on their athletes regarding supplying supplements, etc. Not saying they are doping by any stretch, but it's naive to think that ultrarunners would not cheat. Incentives are sponsorships and winning. Although UTMB does say they can test anybody, there is no mention of how many they test. For all we know, it may be really weak oversight. As you mention, there isn't a ton of money for these events and testing would be very expensive. This is a huge race so would be hard to enforce.

      2. @SAnthonyOD

        Thanks for the link. Although they can test, we don't really know how MUCH they test. If the testing is lax, then the runner's would definitely know and be more willing to cheat. It's naive to think ultrarunning is somehow morally above other sports when it comes to cheating. These are people that want to win at all cost. Not saying anybody cheated at UTMB, but you can't disregard the possibility.

        1. @SageCanaday

          Out of season testing is the only way to catch people. I got tested at Pikes Peak for the first time in my whole career and I took it as a huge honor! Test people a month before the race though, test them in the off-season: EPO, HGH, etc.. make it comprehensive. There is money is the sport to be made…but more importantly I think there are still people who want "the edge"- and they will continually look to disregard any moral or logical reasoning with ethics in the sport.

          1. sharmanian

            Would you mind all the prize money being spent on this testing? It's not cheap and even very comprehensive year-round testing (e.g. cycling) doesn't catch cheats. Lance never failed a drug test… I don't know the answer for how to catch cheats but it doesn't seem there's currently a solution.

            1. @SageCanaday

              Bio passports?…long term comparisons. If your hematocrit is usually 45-48 and you pop a 50+ that's suspicious. I admit I don't know much about testing costs/types or even what drugs people might take to improve their performance (EPO, HGH would be the first I'd think) and what kind of micro cycle they can do to clear their system (I'm guessing very fast like a couple days or less) but to ignore how all this might be an issue in the sport I think would be a huge mistake.

            2. lstomsl

              I hear what you're saying but drug testing has caught plenty of cyclists. Lance and some others were protected at high levels and they had the money to switch to transfusions when tests for EPO became available which very few runners would have.

              Its a moot point to me as a mid-packer who runs for the joy of it but I would think that elite runners would WANT testing. Ultimately the money they make is dependent on their results and reputations. Prize money is almost non-existent and thus likely an insignificant part of their earnings.

            3. @SageCanaday

              Yes, for sure I'd love to see more testing… who pays for it?…I don't know. Prize money is actually a very significant part of my earnings… it's the difference between being able to pull of running full-time and not being able to (which of course i am very grateful for and make sure to appreciate every single day that I can still do it because I know it won't last). But yeah, it might trickle down to those racing to win their age group at a local race…and/or those trying to win a Strava segment and other things that aren't even motivated by money (that sounds silly…as does taking PEDs in the first place..but where do you draw the line?).

            4. lstomsl

              First congratulations on your run today. Second, thanks for taking a vocal anti-doping stance. As a cycling fan, that means a lot to me.

              I know that you have had success targeting the few ultras that do have cash purses and winning then so I am sure that prize money does contribute to you. But I am sure you realize that you must be the exception. With a few notable exceptions there just isn't much money available. The big prestigious races like WS, hardrock, UTMB don't pay anything.

              But my point was that a win at Western states or UTMB would still be worth more financially, then winning $1500 for a shorter, less established race like the rut. Or even the couple thousand you might win for coming in 3rd or 4th at run rabbit run. So it seems to me that elites would be better off if the RD of prestigious races spent the money making sure the playing field was fair than they would be with the slight chance of winning a few bucks against a field of cheaters.

              That may change if races like run rabbit run with decent cash prizes continue to be more available but then again, so will the incentive and ability to cheat.

              Not an easy question, no easy solutions. But as a cycling fan from way back I think it would be naive to simply not test in the belief that runners are somehow more honest and the sport will lose credibility if it fails to at least make an attempt to catch dopers.

      3. hughygbifter

        American's didn't win so the Europeans must be on drugs?! It's the home advantage. This is discussed every year after UTMB. European runners train on similar courses, run similar races, won't be suffering from long travel or jet lag, they're used to the aid station food etc etc

    1. runsnotsofar

      Scary thought! I sure hope there are no drugs involved. Actually, I'm pretty sure there are not. Ultra Mountain running is just too much of a niche and there isn't enough money that can be made. So it's not worth it. Plus, drugs don't come for free. The Tour de France teams (supposedly) spent fortunes on EPO and blood transfusions and whatnot…. Again, ultra running doesn't have the dough for that. Luckily.

    2. jimcheesmanwork

      I don't doubt that PEDs are or will be a factor, but what I do doubt is that they would provide a particular advantage or disadvantage to any given nationality (the focus of this article).

      Certainly, if professional cycling is any guide, drug cheating is not limited to one country – Armstrong, Pantani, Ullrich, Millar, Anquetil, Contador…

    3. grroes

      Personally I do not think that PEDs are being used with any kind of significance in ultrarunning. i could be totally wrong, but i sure hope not.

    4. @Watoni

      Three points:
      1. It is naive to think people do not dope (in 2007 cyclists at an amateur race I was at in Italy were busted for EPO), but, as others have said, ultrarunning is not really in a position to test on the scale that would be needed, and so we need to rely mostly on the ethos of the sport for now, as unsatisfying as that is.
      2. I do think apples and oranges applies to the courses in the US (maybe other than Hardrock) and UTMB. While many US courses have lots of climbing, the scale of the big climbs in Europe is of another level, period. You need to train on these types of courses to do well. Tony K. crushed the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy this summer, so his UTMB is a matter of not peaking and/or underperforming, in my view.
      3. Peaking: As the sport gets deeper, trying to run too many A races to win will eat you alive. Kilian is the exception to some degree, because physically and mentally he is the exception.

  7. @unknowndest

    I've been on the course or running last 4 UTMB and it's safe to say that American runners are those who get MOST support and cheers from the crowd. God knows why, but Frenchies are crazy for TK, Timmy, Rory or anybody sporting the star spangled banner. The rooting factor doesn't apply.

    Interesting read, not sure about the rest, but the Salomon example is definitely a good point.

    1. totops1

      Yes, definitely great to bring Salomon in the topic.
      To me, Salomon is WAY ahead of the other brands, on a technology point and athletes management point
      They have GREAT gear/shoes when most of the brands have their model aging. They are not afraid to raise the price of their shoes and in the end THAT is what brings evolution (who would have thought of a carbon rock plate? of a "vest" concept for back packs? of a soft flask ? etc…)
      They see athletes as a way to enhance their product instead of ONLY representing a brand. Their S-Lab process is a great example.
      No surprises that their athletes performs well in such a great environment.

    2. fellmonkey

      Totally agree. The rooting factor definitely does not apply. If anything, the American runners seem to get even more support, but the spirit of the race is such that nationality really doesn't play into it at all. Supporters are out day and night on that course and they don't care where you are from. They cheer, clap, ring cowbells and shout your name whoever you are. Same for the other races over the course of the week too.

      I hadn't really considered it before in terms of logistics, but the section on Salomon is very interesting.

    3. grroes

      yes, you guys are probably right. they do go nuts for all the runners, and seem to have an affinity for the Americans that they recognize.

  8. TropicalJohn

    Smart, well-reasoned analysis, thanks Geoff. A fair amount of the relative performance of US elites is the sopecificity of the course. By American standards, the UTMB course is unusual in that it is very mountainous and most of it is very technical (especially so if it is rainy/muddy as it so often is), but unlike Hardrock, altitude is not much of a factor at all. There really isn't anything like it in the US, but there are many races in Europe that are substantially similar.

    Conversely, there are no courses in Europe that even remotely resemble Western States, where heat is often a large factor and there are long stretches of highly runnable non-technical trail in the last half of the race.

    So it isn't terribly surprising that the home court advantage is so strong. Nor that the few who have successfully overcome it either spend a very long time acclimatizing/adjusting (Rory, Jason) or are simply superior enough athletes (Kilian) to overcome the disadvantages.

    1. @rycology

      That was my initial thought.

      The difference between a "trail" race and a "mountain" race is highlighted perfectly by courses in the States vs European (and Asian – UTMF et al).

      Having said that, running is a versatile sport. Nobody expects a pitcher to swing for the bleachers but as a runner, and specifically trail running, once would expect elite athletes to be able to adapt to all conditions thrown their way. As Geoff points out in regards to Kilian winning WS100, sure his time wasn't the best but he still won it. We aren't discussing why American male runners aren't setting CRs but rather why they aren't winning..

      Then again, I haven't been in the sport long enough to have an opinion of any weight so, there's that..

  9. Ian

    I wonder what effect the lack of pacers has on runners who are used to the psychological boost that comes in the latter stages of racing.

    Also numbers are a factor think of the number of American runners that really had a chance of a podium finish and then realise that there were thousands of runners taking part. Surprises can and do happen as well which leaves the numbers stacked against an American finishing in the top three.

  10. sharmanian

    Geoff, one correction. Jez isn't the only European runner to finish in the top 5 at Western States. I've only lived here 5 years and don't have US citizenship (we can exclude Clarkie as his beard and passport clearly show he's 50% American now :)). Most of my races have been in Europe, albeit predominantly on the roads.

    1. totops1

      Im sure Geoff Roes meant that you are mainly racing in the US, living in the US……hence he didn't consider you as europen finisher at WS
      Ok you are European but british, hence you don't have a language or culture barrier like a French or Spanish guy would have if they were to live your life in Walnut creek.
      On the paperwork side, you are not American but on your day to day life, you live with the American culture and even when it comes to racing. Also, you have mainly American sponsors (probably except julbo since its French company)

      AND, We haven't seen you in European trail races or podiums. Actually, I would like to see you in races like sierra zinal, utmb, templiers and even zegama…have you considered it?

    2. TropicalJohn

      Sorry, Ian. You live in a town where the sun shines every day, not twice a month. You haven't driven through a roundabout in ages, and when you go back to the UK your mates tell you that you talk like a bloody Yank. And you drink US beer. OK, it's good microbrew, but it's still brewed in the US. We're definitely claiming you as ours. Clarkie, too (he drinks even more US beer than you do).

      Yeah, yeah, you're one of a very few elite runners on these shores who know what the significance of the Magna Carta is, what Ian Botham is famous for, and what spotted dick is. No matter, we're claiming you anyway.

  11. Bollweg

    What is interesting to me and a great point that Geoff brought up was the Salomon topic. Schlarb pointed out in the post-race interview that number three (Tor I think) was said to be looking terrible. We all know that number two helped out number three and finished together, but if had that been a TNF sponsored athlete would Jason have finished third? I am on the fence about the whole team thing. I mean I love how Salomon treat their athletes like real professional athletes (how they should be treated), but helping a team mate out to steal the number three spot from someone who had a HELL of a race? I don't know it sounds messed up to me. Just my two cents. BTW I thought Schlarb had a fantastic race, going from 20-ish to 4th is pretty amazing.

    1. grroes

      i'm certain that Iker and Tofol stuck together much more as friends than as teammates. there is certainly no way to limit runners from running and finishing a race together, nor should there be. did Tofol finish a bit faster because iker stuck with him? probably, but Iker also ran a bit slower because of this.

    2. totops1

      What ?? Then why would we have this concept of "racing team" if it's to play it solo when it comes to finishing ?
      And anyway, "Steal" the number three spot ? Seriously ? WOW, Like how a runners steals a spot by just digging deeper & stronger than the other one ?
      LOL, next time I finish a race, I will walk up to the runner in front of me and say" Wait! You just stole my spot, did you have somebody help you do that?!!!" How funny is THAT gonna be!

      It doesn't remove the fact that schlarb had a great race but he finished 4th because he finished 4th, period.

    3. totops1

      Oh, BTW, you should notice that Kilian helped Olson to run hardrock….Yep, he ran with him a section of the course, I saw a video at grants swamp pass….
      I think we should put a rule in the US that runners cant run together more than 15 ft close so that we're sure they don't help each other…..

      Man, what do we hear these days….

    4. Cocayo73

      For non americans it is very annoying to read such completely US centered comments, as if the US men/women were the only athletes worth following or with any merit in these races. Have you ever run an ultra ? Or even a marathon ? Everyone has bad patches at some point during a 20+ hours race. Come on, just take a look at the final classification ! Tofol finished 44 minutes in front of Schlarb. So no matter whether he ran alone or with a team mate, he was clearly the stronger runner (in the same way than François d'Haene was stronger than Iker and Tofol). Schlarb might have had a hell of a race, but Tofol Castanyer, who was running his first ultra, even more so !

      1. olgav100

        It's an American website? I mean, it has been centering on non-US ultras and runners, expanding the knowledge and interest, but it did originate here as written for American runners, and I would guess, still, has majority of American followers and commenters. No harm. But indeed, Tofol had an amazing race, and I agree, in general, it is unfair to say since US runners didn't end up winning/podium, something is wrong. Nothing is wrong, Europe has extremely talented runners who also train for the course. Why would Americans think "We come and we take the laurel because we're bigger and better"? Anyway, that's my non-American part speaking, but generally, I do care for and follow only US runners:)

  12. Jogwbaby

    If you think that is stealing, then what do pacers do for racers here in the US??? You are implying that Tofol did not have a great race as well…..and then some

  13. Bollweg

    Ok, to address some issues:
    1. Killian did not help Olson to the finish line for 30-40 miles
    2. Pacers cannot interact with the runner (i.e- help them up off the ground). I saw Iker helping Tof multiple times (holding him up, pushing him along.
    3. Holding hands and crossing the finish line is good and cute and all, but when other racers depend on results because their sponsors put incentives on them, I do not think that should be allowed. It's kinda how if you want to earn some prize money in a marathon you cannot wear any headphones.
    4. It was just my two cents, saying "what do we hear these days" is ignorant and pathetic, the above posts have been about how Killian is doping or not (which I find atrocious, Killian is a freak of nature and great). So please, just take it with a grain of salt, basically running in its primitive sport is a individual sport very much and what happened at UTMB this year was the first time I have seen a team effort in an individual sport which is ultrarunning. That is all, do not get your panties in a wad.

    1. @Baristing

      1) Clearly.
      2) This happens all the time. Would you be shocked to know that pacers often carry things for their runner, even when muling isn't allowed?
      3) I'm sure Altra is perfectly happy with Schlarb's race. And it's really nothing like your headphones example, because the rules don't ban racers from running together. So no rules were broken.
      4) If you think running is an individual sport, I'd direct you to any high level road marathon or track meet of the last, oh, 60 years. Google "El Guerrouj", and start there. Specific to ultras… competitors run together all the time for long stretches of the race, whether they share a sponsor or not.
      Finally, do try and finish your arguments without quite so much casual misogyny.

  14. Jogwbaby

    Geoff, I think this is very telling: " feel more like you just ran a 20-mile race than you do like you just rac the first 20 miles of a 100 miler. You could of course choose to go out nice and slow, like we are all used to being forced into doing by the terrain in most mountain hundreds in North America." I'v noticed that whether the Euros are racing in the US or back home, they race aggressively, whether it starts out with a climb or not, which you point out is typically different than how US 100s are run. The European favorites like to race from the front, and not mid pack. If I'm not mistaken, al the US men this year took it out slowly (US pace), while Francois was essentially at the front of the race from the start. Same this year at Hardrock with Kilian, Julien. To me, this is the big difference. Their race pace versus our race pace.

    1. Jogwbaby

      continued….

      I also can't help think how similar this is to cycling – Euro races are the biggest, hardest, most competitive, aggressive in the world. You could be the best US cyclist but the chances of that carrying over into Eurpoe are on the slim side. To counter that, and be competitive in Europe, many cyclists essentially move to Europe to immerse themselevs in that type of racing. Not saying that ultra-runners have to do that, but certainly, if doing well at UTMB (like the TourdeFrance) is the top goal, then spending more time over there in those race, those courses, that pace would certainly be beneficial.

  15. francois_g

    I agree to some extend with what Geoff writes here… The fact is, however, europeans are more successful at iconic US races than US runners are at european races, DESPITE the unbalanced focus: UTMB is a good example of a strong US contingent, quite focused on the race: AK, Foote, Shlarb are admittedly preparing this one ahead. Tim is somehow special as his biggest focus was HR. On the other hand, the european are not coming in full force to US races and still do good. Yes, no european besides Kilian has won WS, but who really tried? Besides Miguel Heras whose wheels came off… but he did good at TNF EC50, so did Francois. Same thing for Leadville: who besides Lorblanchet (who won that) really came from europe hungry for Leadville?
    Another factor clearly is the density of runners in europe, between spain, france and italy. The adjustment to travels, as well as to the very different media exposure that hits the US runners when they land in europe, is something that is also bigger than what they are used to, and can be overwhelming. Finally, the pressure the guys are putting upon themselves to perform, could somehow inhibit their ability to actually perform…

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