Breaking Down The 2015 Ultrarunner Of The Year Voting

Aloha, TJ

[Editor’s Note: On January 1, Magda Boulet and David Laney were named 2015 Ultrarunners of the Year by UltraRunning magazine. The full story on the men’s and women’s top-10 UROY is available at UltraRunning’s website.]

For the past nine years I’ve had the honor of organizing the Ultrarunner of the Year (UROY) balloting for UltraRunning magazine. A panel of 37 veteran observers of the sport, most of them race directors, casts ballots. It’s always interesting to watch the votes come in, and see who liked what performers and performances by our top runners.

Voters are asked to select their top-10 men and women, as well as top-five individual performances and top-five age-group performances. Instructions are pretty vague; voters are simply asked to consider the runner’s entire body of work for the year, with emphasis on important races.

The magazine rolls out the top-10 runners of the year during the last 10 days of December on UltraRunning.com, teasing us all by counting down the top 10 Casey Kasem style.

By any measure, figuring out a top-10 ranking is really hard. Some years it’s been pretty obvious who should be on top, but ranking places five through 10 is incredibly difficult. Voters have their own ideas of what constitutes excellence.

Obviously, wins at big-deal races like Western States, UTMB, The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-Mile Championships, Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, and the IAU 100k World Championships are important. But some voters like multi-day performances more than others, and others have what appears to be a trail bias or a road bias. Analytically, it appears that there is an overall bias in favor of the 100-mile trail run, elevating runners who did well at that distance, and perhaps undervaluing the results of those runners who didn’t attempt a 100 miler (Zach Miller, Alex Nichols, Camille Herron, Bethany Patterson as examples this year).

It also appears that voters favored runners who raced well over multiple distances and over varied terrain; those who ran only on roads or only on mountain-goat courses were graded down a bit. Some might also argue that there’s a bias toward trails, but that argument can be countered with the fact that more than 90% of ultras are trail races, so maybe there should be a bias. Ultimately, it’s hard: voters are asked to compare a stellar 50k race to a multi-day, road versus trail, domestic and international. There are a lot of apples and oranges comparisons. And bananas, kumquats, and watermelons to boot. I often have a quibble or two, wondering how in the world runner X finished ahead of runner Y, when my ballot had them in reverse order. But at the end of the process, I am always impressed at just how good the consensus is.

This year, the men’s ballot was especially difficult. Four of the top-five men had a bad race or DNF. The fifth, Seth Swanson, was remarkably consistent–but he didn’t win any races. Could UROY be given to a runner who didn’t win a race all year? Six of the 37 voters thought so. David Laney eventually came out on top, based on the breadth of his résumé. He won major races at 50k (Chuckanut) and 100k (Bandera), and ran very well at both Western States and at UTMB, where he posted the fastest time ever for an American. It impressed voters that he did well over a variety of distances and terrains. Chuckanut is a course that is very runnable, UTMB is a mountain-goat course for sure, with Bandera and Western somewhere in between.

The balance of the top-five men were as closely bunched as perhaps they ever have been. Ian Sharman, Seth Swanson, Rob Krar, and Dylan Bowman were separated by a total of 19 votes, with each runner getting more than 200 in a scoring system where the top runner on a ballot gets 15 points, then 12-10-8-6-5-4-3-2-1. Zach Miller was sixth, and perhaps a bit underappreciated after wins at TNF EC 50 Mile and CCC, the 101k sister race of UTMB. Like Rob Krar, Miller had only three ultra finishes and that might have influenced their vote totals a bit. (One of the recent trends seems to be that top runners race a bit less often than they did in the past. If this spreads, it will make future voting even more difficult.) In a sport where too much is sometimes not enough, sheer volume is appreciated. Top-10 runners Brian Rusiecki and Bob Shebest were clearly rewarded for having finished 10 and eight ultras during the year, respectively.

Impressively, 11 men received at least one vote for runner of the year. Not included in that group was Zach Bitter, whose 11:40:55 American track record for 100 miles came a week too late to be included in the voting for 2015.

[Author’s Note: The January/February issue of UltraRunning went to press two days before the Desert Solstice Invitational, which was held a week later than usual this year. As it was, UR’s editorial staff–huge kudos to Karl Hoagland, Erika Lindland, and Cory Smith for pulling it all together–was scrambling furiously to get all the year-end voting and statistical lists together in time for the printer. Such are the vagaries of the print-magazine business.]

The women’s vote was much more clear-cut. All but one voter had either Magda Boulet or Camille Herron on top. Boulet ended up as the winner, again aided by the variety of distance and terrain that she raced on. With wins at two 50k’s, three 100k’s and Western States, Boulet’s year was stellar. So, too, was Herron’s, with wins at the IAU 100k World Championships, Mad City 100k, and the IAU 50k World Championships, and also setting a world-best time at the Door County 50 Mile. It seems that voters discounted the IAU 50k World Championships win a bit, as the competition there was nowhere near as strong as it was in the 100k. And Herron’s 5:38:41 50-mile time at Door County, while officially the fastest ever recorded, weirdly wasn’t the fastest ever run, nor a record.

[Author’s Note: Herron’s Door County time isn’t eligible for record purposes, since the course is point-to-point. Herron’s 50-mile split time at the IAU 100k World Championships was about a minute faster than this, but since they only recorded lap times every 10k, all she got was a split at 80k, not 50 miles [80k is 49.71 miles]. And Ann Trason, who ran 7:00:48 on the same Winschoten, Netherlands course back in 1996, would’ve come through 50 miles in about 5:32. Tomoe Abe of Japan ran 6:33:11 at Lake Saroma 100k in Japan in 2000, setting the 100k world record. Her 50-mile split would likely have been about 5:13. Further confounding all of this is the fact that Lake Saroma is also a point-to-point course. IAAF rules then allowed for records on a point-to-point course as long as the start and finish were no more than 20% of the overall distance apart. After intense lobbying by the Japanese federation, the IAAF shamefully changed the rule–after the fact–to allow for records on point-to-point courses as long as they were no more than 40% of the overall distance apart. Lake Saroma’s start and finish are a bit more than 30% apart. One more note, Abe was aided by a 10- to 20-mile-per-hour tailwind for much of the record race. Having said all of that, it still appears to be an intrinsically superior mark to Trason’s 7:00:48, though certainly not as superior as it looks on paper. Okay, this is starting to read like a David Foster Wallace author’s note here, so I’ll move along.]

After Boulet and Herron, Stephanie Howe was a clear-cut choice for third. Fourth through seventh was virtually a four-way tie, with Kaci Lickteig, Katalin Nagy, Nicole Studer, and Aliza Lapierre all bunched up within a few votes of each other. Nagy’s case was particularly interesting, as she won all three races she competed in, including the IAU 24-Hour World Championships and Spartathlon, a complete departure from the type of racing that the other women at the top did. Voters clearly struggled with how to compare her year to the others; she received one first-place vote and was left off a couple of ballots altogether.

In the Performance of the Year category, Herron’s IAU 100k World Championships win was an easy winner, garnering two-thirds of the first-place votes. Her 7:08:35 clocking is the fourth fastest of any woman ever. Nagy’s IAU 24-Hour World Championships win (151.922 miles) was a distant second. Nicole Studer’s Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile–at 14:22:18 the fastest ever trail 100 miler recorded–was third, followed closely by Stephanie Howe’s course record at Lake Sonoma 50 Mile and Devon Yanko’s spectacular Javelina Jundred win.

The men’s Performance of the Year was another of those apples versus oranges comparisons. How do you compare Joe Fejes’s modern-day American record for six days against Rob Krar’s Western States win? Krar’s run was a mere three minutes outside the course record, and run on a day that was 20 degrees hotter than the day that Timothy Olson set the record. It was clearly the best performance in the 42-year history of the race. “A lot more top runners have run Western States over the years than have ever attempted a six-day race,” one voter commented in justifying his vote. But in the end, Fejes’s 606-plus miles in six days was just too good to ignore and he edged Krar by a mere two votes. What is really interesting to contemplate here is where Zach Bitter’s 11:40:55 100-mile time would have placed had the voting been done a week later. Certainly, it is on par with Fejes and Krar–interesting fodder for a conversation over a couple of beers.

Interestingly, Alex Varner had two of the top-five performances of the year, with his course-record wins at Quad Dipsea and Lake Sonoma. When Varner’s on top of his game, he’s pretty tough to beat. But, combined with a sub-par run at the IAU Trail World Championships in France and a DNF at Western States, Varner only managed to finish 11th in the overall voting.

The age-group awards are in many ways even tougher to vote on, since you have the 50k versus six-day thing in addition to a really fast 50-year-old versus a runner in his eighties.

Mark Richtman, who still competes with the big dogs at age 60, won best age-group performance with his 7:52:50 at Lake Sonoma. Bill Dodson’s 10:16:17 at the Ruth Anderson 50 Mile was a strong second. Dodson, who is 80, ran five ultras during the year and every one of his races received votes. Richtman also took third place in the category with his run at the Miwok 100k.

Gunhild Swanson’s Western States finish was the easy age-group winner for the women. Finishing just six seconds under the 30-hour time limit, Swanson became the oldest woman to ever complete the venerable race, and the first 70-year-old female. UltraRunning Publisher Karl Hoagland’s commentary bears repeating here: you gotta’ love a sport where the most exciting moment of the year is a last-place finish by a 70-year-old woman.

All of the vote totals and more details will be in the January/February issue of UltraRunning magazine, which hits the mail this week. Depending on the vagaries of the postal service, subscribers should see it in their mailbox around January 10. The magazine is also available at many specialty running stores and at most Barnes & Noble outlets.

The voting panel this year:

  • Don Allison — former Publisher, UltraRunning magazine
  • Meghan Arbogast — RD, Waldo 100k
  • Gary Cantrell — RD, Barkley Marathons and Strolling Jim 41 Mile
  • John Catts — RD, Quad Dipsea
  • Ed Demoney — founder, Old Dominion 100 Mile
  • Mark Dorion — elite runner (TX)
  • Chrissy Ferguson — RD, Arkansas Traveler 100 Mile
  • Julie Fingar — RD, NorCal Ultras (American River 50 Mile, Way Too Cool 50k, Rio del Lago 100 Mile)
  • Tim Fitzpatrick — RD, Tamalpa Headlands 50k
  • Jay Friedman — super analyst, gunksrunner.blogspot.com
  • Topher Gaylord — former President, Mountain Hardwear
  • Lisa Henson — RD, Lake Sonoma 50 Mile
  • Meghan Hicks — Senior Editor, iRunFar.com
  • Karl Hoagland — Publisher, UltraRunning magazine
  • David Horton — RD, Hellgate 100k and Promise Land 50k
  • Andy Jones-Wilkins — RD, Thomas Jefferson 100k
  • Erika Lindland — Contributing Editor, UltraRunning magazine
  • Don Lundell — Owner, Zombie Runner
  • Dave Mackey — elite runner (CO)
  • John Medinger — RD, Lake Sonoma 50 Mile
  • Karl Meltzer — RD, Speedgoat 50k
  • Scott Mills — RD, San Diego 100 Mile
  • Justin Mock — Columnist, iRunFar.com
  • Krissy Moehl — RD, Chuckanut 50k
  • Joe Prusaitis — former RD, Bandera 100k and other Tejas Trails events
  • Glen Redpath — elite runner (NY)
  • Brett Rivers — elite runner (CA)
  • Cory Smith — Operations Manager, UltraRunning magazine
  • Meredith Terranova — elite runner (TX)
  • Craig Thornley — RD, Western States 100 Mile
  • Ian Torrence — elite runner (AZ)
  • John Trent — RD, Silver State 50 Mile
  • Joe Uhan — elite runner (OR)
  • Ethan Veneklasen — CEO, He(a)rd Sports Marketing
  • Gary Wang — Managing Editor, realendurance.com
  • Blake Wood — Hardrock 100 Mile Board of Directors

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • What are your thoughts on the selection process for UltraRunning magazine’s Ultrarunner of the Year?
  • Who would you have chosen for Ultrarunner of the Year and Performance of the Year? Why?
John Medinger

is the founder and race director of the Lake Sonoma 50. A former publisher of UltraRunning magazine, he ran his first ultra in 1980 and has now completed more than 130 ultras. He is also the founder and former race director of the Quad Dipsea race and has served on the Western States 100 Board since 1992.

There are 43 comments

  1. Anonymous

    On the men’s side, while I think David Laney is a more than deserving winner of the ‘Ultrarunner of the Year’ title, I think Zach Miller’s year was significantly undervalued by the judges. Interesting to read the part about judges potentially undervaluing those who didn’t run 100 milers and maybe speaks to the overall trend toward favoring longer distances? If I recall correctly, Dylan Bowman has mentioned a few times ‘the disappearing middle distance in ultrarunning’ in comments here and in interviews and I think that trend may persist if we continue to undervalue shorter distances. Is the 100 miler the epitome of the sport? Maybe but let’s not wholly discount the performances of those runners who ran and excelled at shorter distances.

  2. msgreen

    Great article! I think Brian Rusiecki’s 2015 performance was also rather low at #7, and I’m wondering if performances in East Coast ultras (Vermont, Grindstone, Massanutten, Manitous Revenge, etc.) are also undervalued by the judges.

    1. Tropical John

      East coast races probably are a bit under-valued, mostly because they typically don’t attract as many elite runners as the major west coast races do (Western States, The North Face Challenge, and Lake Sonoma all had more than 10 men who received votes on one ballot or another. No east coast race had more than 3.) It’s always tough knowing how to value runners like Rusiecki or Bethany Patterson, who dominate local/regional races but don’t compete much against other top national-class runners.

  3. Camille

    Thank you John for the breakdown! I appreciate the mostly trail panel for valuing my road credentials, although a bit under-valued IMHO. As I noted on Justin’s article, I’m disappointed by the trail people saying I “lacked competition” and “variety”. I faced more 2:30-something marathoners at the 50K and 100K World Championships than what exists on the trails or at Two Oceans/Comrades last year. There’s only 1 Comrades winner ever (Ann) who has a faster 100K time. I also raced a variety of road courses and conditions (just as the trail runners faced a variety of trail courses/conditions)– there’s very few athletes doing both last year. For more dorky notes on road ultra history– Zach B thinks my Fall 50 performance equated to sub 5:30 on any other day/course. With the rain/headwind/hills (and getting lost in the middle!), it took everything I had to get under 5:40 that day. I consider this the superior performance, over my 100K World Champs performance. Regarding the Winschoten course, I heard the old 1990’s course had fewer turns and was faster. They changed it since the last World Champs in Winschoten– I counted 400+ turns (and my left ankle was black and blue from all the turns!). I’ve only done 5 ultras now, and have drastically improved on my fueling and hydration since the 100K. I’ll give the 100K AR another shot next year! I’m excited to mix it up on all surfaces and distances in 2016. Lake Sonoma was a blast to run around last week (ask Bob for his assessment on how he thinks I’ll do)! :)

  4. Dylan Bowman

    Thanks for the insight! No doubt, the men’s ballot was incredibly difficult this year. While I don’t envy the voters or have a serious problem with the process, a couple things stand out.

    First, yes, there is definitely a 100 mile bias. There also seems to be a bias towards North American races. Unfortunately, Alex Nichols suffered from both of these. In my mind, he was the most underrated person on the list by far. While some of the races he did don’t carry name-brand recognition stateside, he completely slayed it on the international scene this year. The three races he did in the US also conspired to work against him it seems (Moab 55k – Early season performances tend to slip come voting time, Pikes Peak – Not an ultra, & TNF50 – DNF). If I had a vote, Nichols would have been #1 or #2. At the very least, he deserved to be ahead of me.

    Also on the men’s side, I was really surprised to not see either Jared Hazen or Jorge Maravilla anywhere on the list. Jorge seemed to suffer from the no-100 miler bias, but Hazen was overlooked for some other reason (not enough races?). I’d be really interested to see where the two of them ended up in the overall voting.

    Again, this is not meant to be critical, it just speaks to the difficulty of the men’s voting this year. I don’t see any glaring problems or omissions on the women’s side but I’d be interested to hear more opinions there. Thanks for the analysis and peek inside the process! End of year reflection is always fun.

    1. Tropical John

      I agree that Alex Nichols probably was under valued a bit, three of his races were in France and so likely it was more difficult for voters to assess or appreciate. Voters seemed to value Laney and Swanson for their 3rd and 4th at UTMB, and Zach Miller for his CCC win. The other Euro races are less well known I expect. And the DNF at the The North Face undoubtedly hurt Nichols’ chances.

      Jared Hazen ended up 12th in the balloting, Jorge Maravilla was 15th. Both ran consistently well in big races, but I’m guessing placing 3rd or 4th doesn’t garner as many votes as maybe it should. It’s easy enough to say they should’ve been higher, but then somebody ahead of them would need to be moved down, and who?? The elite men were incredibly deep – maybe 20 deserving guys – with not a lot to distinguish among them. It was just a tough year to vote.

      Further note on The North Face 50. It’s just so late in the season, many runners have been competing since early spring and there’s an obvious burn-out factor. There are always a large number of DNFs there, personally I wish they’d move it up to October where it would be more impactful and then there could be an actual off season.

      1. Dylan Bowman

        Agreed on all points, TJ. Templiers, Mont Blanc 80k and IAU 80k don’t have the same reputation as UTMB/CCC here in the US. Voters would have to follow the European scene pretty closely to know just how significant those races are on the Euro calendar.

        Thanks for the clarification on Hazen/Jorge, too. Glad to know they were both close to the top-10.

        1. meredith

          When I submitted my ballot, I specifically told TJ that I struggled through the men this year. So many locations, distances, and depth of field to consider. I gave Jared a HUGE nod and actually gave the least amount of weight to the 100 mile distance than I have in the past. I looked more to the full body of work. I also feel like Ryan Smith was a hidden gem this past year, as was, bias aside, Paul Terranova. In the end, isn’t this a fantastic problem to have…so much talent there should be a top 20! It makes all the athletes work hard and race well.

    2. speedgoat Karl

      I think the 100 mile bias is very true. And I’m one of the voters who is a bit biased with that distance. I see it this way: the 100 mile distance is nothing like a fast 50 mile race. No doubt they are both difficult. Just like saying running a fast marathon is just as hard as a 100 miler sometimes. But in my opinion, the 100 miler defines the ultrarunner. Most elite 50 mile runners can bang out 50 in 7 hours or less. A few bottles of water and some gel. At 100 miles, especially real mountain ones, require more skills. Night running, fuel and strategy. To me it just takes alot more to be successful at 100s. Not to disrespect you guys running low 6 hours for 50. But many times, the best strategist wins the 100. Rarely do guys just run away. Even Krar did not lead Western early on. But he waited, then pounced. The rabbit rarely wins. :-)

      1. Mark Dorion

        OK, I hear and respect what Coach Meltzer is saying, BUT . . . if 100 mile races indeed “require more skills,” then would not 200 miles/ 48 hours/ 6 days and beyond require EVEN MORE skills?

        How did Joe Fejes manage to go out and average over 101 miles PER DAY for 6 days while also sleeping and eating, fixing feet and shoes, etc.? OK, he was on a smallish loop, but he still had to run at night and through a variety of weather. I have heard ultra world record holders agree that “the longer the race, the more different things that can go wrong.” You could be cruising along for 3+ days when suddenly a wave of nausea and a big painful blister come on simultaneously. Even the best in the world have fallen asleep on their feet and crashed into a tree or trash can or the ground. AND I feel that many multi-day races (especially in Europe) have more talented fields overall than the average U.S. 50 or 100 mile race. Runners do not generally enter such a super-long race unless they have really trained, and have years of experience. I have seen multi-days where almost every runner in the race has run between 12:10 and 18:00 for 100 miles.

        1. Markus Mueller

          And most 100 miler top runners can’t even get it done alone. They need a pacer. Karl Meltzer is one of the few exceptions.

        2. speedgoat Karl

          Hey Mark. I agree totally, the only thing the 48 hour, or 6-day runner “usually” has is support 24-7. Most of these multi day races are run in circles, so if any attention is needed for foot care, nausea etc, are right there. And I’d guess many of the runners who run these mulit day races on a track or short loop, don’t carry anything?….maybe some water, but it’s like being muled….sort of. Some 100 mile races, and 200 mile races have LONG distances where the runner must work through, carrying some supplies of some sort. It’s just different, and a different mindset. What Joe Fejes did with 600 miles in 6 days is ridiculous absolutely ridiculous. For me personally, I just prefer trail, so I’m a nut too, doing the Pony Express and Appalachian Trails. Far greater than a 6 day race. But the same type of thing. Sleep deprivation. (talk to Jurek about that one) and crew are an important key ingredient to success. As Tropical John says..it’s comparing apples to cumquats to sausage. It’s incredibly difficult to rank any performances in ultrarunning. What always amazes me in the end, the voting comes out pretty fair. At least it’s not a “fan vote”, the results would be entirely different. He who tweets the most would probably win if they had even a decent season.

          1. Mark Dorion

            Thanks Karl– we are on the same page (or within a paragraph or so of the same page!) I am glad you mentioned sleep deprivation, because even on small loops such as generally used for 48 hours and longer, runners have wandered off the course, fallen asleep on their feet, fallen into a cold lake or creek, etc. One aspect of comparing shorter ultras (I have trouble calling 50Km an ultra, but of course it is– I mean I never liked racing that distance much because it just seemed the same as a marathon to me, but then I am old school) with super-lone races, be they 200+ miles on the trails or across a state or country or the A.T. or 6 days or 3100 miles = HOW MANY serious efforts can a person make at a super-long race in one year?? I think a good runner could do eight or more high quality races between 50 and 100Km in a year, but ONE good 6 day may be all there is in the tank. Another good point you make = the importance of a good crew in long runs/ races, be it the A.T. or Long Trail or a multi-day on short 1 mile loops etc. Several world class multi-day runners have opined that “world class helpers/ crews are rarer than world class runners.” I agree. See you on the trail/ road/ cross country . . .

  5. Anonymous

    The the Ultrarunner of the Year (UROY) is basically a vote on the American ultrarunner of the year. The challenge is that distances are varying from 50k to 3100 miles and you can’t compare those.

    There are 140 100 milers in North America, so it is kind of funny that some get so much more recognition. Not every runner has the means of traveling the country and a lot of races have limited starter fields. Basically there is no way of comparing winners of these 140 100 milers.

    It is so much easier when it comes to road running. The 7:08 over 100k from Camille Herron is a 7:08 everywhere. And that is the best performance of 2015 by 12 minutes:
    http://statistik.d-u-v.org/getintbestlist.php?dist=100km&year=2015&gender=W

    And it is probably a overall top 5 performance world wide ever:
    http://statistik.d-u-v.org/bestenlisten/AT-100km.pdf
    Page 46

    I think you can’t vote for that one ultrarunner of the year.
    There should be different categories for different distances and surfaces.
    If somebody was great at a 50k, 50 miler and a 100 miler, I would think the competition was just not that great.

    To vote for diverse runners on various distances will lead to more injured top athletes who race too much. (Top Marathon runners do one race a year)

    But lists like this a great to start a discussion about ultrarunning, so they have a good purpose :-)

    1. Tropical John

      You’re right Markus, the UROY is indeed limited to North American residents.

      It’s cool to contemplate a world-wide UROY, but historically there has been very limited competition among top runners from different parts of the world. That is slowly changing, with many top Americans competing at races like Transvulcania, Templiers and UTMB, and more top Euros at Western States.

      1. Markus Mueller

        The is quite a bit of competition in 100k and 24 hour road races world wide and there are actual World Championships.

        Unfortunately these kind of races are not much raced in the US.

        1. Tropical John

          Yes, but in the US more than 90% of ultra finishes are on trail courses. I expect that this is similar elsewhere in the world as well, with the huge number of people running at UTMB/CCC/TDS and other very popular trail races like Templiers, Davos, Lavaredo, Mt Fuji, La Diagonale des Fous, etc. Not to discount the World 100K Championships, which are obviously very important, but there are just so many more runners doing trail races it is difficult to get a complete grasp on international competition.

          1. Bob Hearn

            I’d like to see what the breakdown actually is on trail vs. road races, and finishes, US vs. international. But just counting finishes, Comrades alone would outweigh all the trail races you mentioned.

            1. Tropical John

              South Africa is clearly the outlier here, with the great tradition of Comrades (and Two Oceans). But outside of South Africa, I can’t think of a single large road ultra. Though somebody will surely correct me if I’m wrong!

            2. Markus Mueller

              The Biel 100k in Switzerland still sees over 700 finishers. Between 1974 and 1989 they always had above 2000 finishers. The race is held since 1959.
              http://statistik.d-u-v.org/eventdetail.php?event=27683

              Lake Saroma, Japan was held for the 30th time. They always have between 1000 and 2000 finishers.

              http://statistik.d-u-v.org/eventdetail.php?event=26528

              Actually Japan had quite a lot of 100k races with more than 1000 finishers.

              France has one 72k trail race with over 5000 finishers
              http://statistik.d-u-v.org/getresultevent.php?event=25562

              http://statistik.d-u-v.org/geteventlist.php?year=2015&dist=all&country=FRA&Submit.x=19&Submit.y=7&label=&surface=all&sort=1&from=&to=

              The classic Millau 100k for the 44th time had over 1400 runners
              http://statistik.d-u-v.org/getresultevent.php?event=24337

              And I am sure there are a lot more.

          2. Markus Mueller

            Really hard to tell since I don’t life in Europe anymore. There was a shift towards trail running but I would think there are still a lot of road ultras going on. Definitely not 10-90% like in the US.

            I just found this interesting statistic for US runners on the German ultrarunning association website:
            http://statistik.d-u-v.org/summary.php?country=USA&Submit.x=20&Submit.y=6#PerfbyNation
            Just keep in mind that they don’t have all the American results.

      2. Mark Dorion

        For many years ultra historian and running statistician Andy Milroy (UK) would pick “world ultra runners of the year,” world performances of the year, etc.(yes, I have heard the criticism that Andy favored road efforts over anything on trails, but that is not my point here). I remind folks who say “one person can’t award such titles/ honors” that back in the day ONE MAN– Walter Camp– awarded All-American status to top U.S. football players. In the 1980’s ONE amazing U.S. statistician/ historian– Nick Marshall– drew up lists of top ten “All-American” U.S. ultra runners. I understand that several European multi-day statisticians/ RDs are coming up with a WORLD multi-day (over 24 hours) all-star list. Did any U.S. runners note the 40 day 9 hour+ 3100 mile (5000Km) record here– in New York City– by Finland’s legendary Ashprihanal Pekka Aalto in 2015?? (I come up with 76.8+ miles a day average . . . think about that).

  6. Dominic Grossman

    This was the first time in a few years for the men’s division that there wasn’t a “juggernaut” that won several big races (Krar/Roes), so I don’t envy the board’s challenge in picking 1 runner to be the UROY.

    I think a lot of the comments about UROY overlook the impossible challenge in authoritatively ranking runners in a sport of our breadth and variety.

    Does triathlon compare Olympic Distance and Ironman athletes? No (but I did find out that they do have an online voting panel for viewers to pick out which triathletes have the hottest bods, which UROY doesn’t appear to take into consideration (although Laney’s handsome mustache was mentioned in his UROY interview)).

    So, as “unjust” as it might be to some, there’s no way to really compare kangaroos to koalas or cats to catfish. I do admire the board’s attempts though!

  7. Bob Heran

    Missing from this analysis is that Nagy’s Spartathlon win was also a nearly two-hour course record. That performance was really out of this world, and the clear Performance of the Year in my book. That level of domination puts her in a league with Kouros.

    Overall my vote would probably have Herron on top for UROY, close call between Boulet and Nagy for second.

    1. Bob Hearn

      Sorry to keep harping on this… I got the Jan/Feb UR. The “significant course records set in 2015” list does not include Nagy’s Spartathlon CR. OK, so it’s not a North American race, but the list does include Dylan Bowman’s Ultra Trail Australia CR. I think most people really don’t appreciate how big a deal her CR here was. This list is also sorted by Age of Race — Spartathlon would be at the top.

      (Incidentally, a couple pages later, the top 24-hour lists are missing New Year’s races, and the top distances reported, from That DAM hill, in Ontario, must be in kilometers, not miles — unless Kouros’s untouchable 24-hour record was silently broken.)

      1. Dan Brannen

        Bob, you are right on Katalin Nagy’s Spartathlon, and you are even more right to single it out in this discussion. It was the “sleeper” of the year women’s performance. Actually, it was more like an explosion surpassing decades of ultra history. For perspective: Scott Jurek made his mark on the American ultra psyche by winning Western States 7 times and breaking its course record in the process. But he did not register similarly on the global ultra psyche until he won Spartathlon (with performances that were arguably better than any of his Western States wins). And then he cemented his place in the global history books by repeating that twice more, in the process climbing past dozens of established world-class men in the history of the sport. For perspective on Nagy’s absolute shattering of the Spartathlon women’s record (which has been passed down through a veritable Who’s Who in the distaff side of global ultra history): In the 33-year history of the event, it has always been populated (both men & women) by a stellar, world-class field. For 9 of those 33 years, Nagy’s time would have won the race outright, over the entire men’s field. For 15 of those years she would have finished 2nd in the men’s race. For 28 of those years she would have finished 3rd among men. Her course record factors out at 89% of Jurek’s all-time men’s #2 (second only to Kouros) performance there. If you take 89% of Jurek’s best (then course record) run at Western States, it comes out to just around 17 hours. So, the intrinsic quality of Nagy’s Spartathlon is legitimately, measurably, barely slower than Ellie Greenwood’s Western States course record, and superior to all of the legendary Ann Trason’s Western States performances.

  8. Pam

    Why hasn’t UltraRunning magazine figured out that Desert Solstice IS a big race?? No, it is not trail and yeah, track holds lesser interest and competition, but there have been some BIG performances there by people trying to put up fast times/high mileage and to discount that is inexcusable. Zach Bitter has set AR there two of the last three years and I think Mark Richtman’s 50k there was better than his Lake Sonoma (trail lovers will disagree, but he still should have gotten another top 5 age group place). Publish the January edition two days later or put the UROY results in the Feb magazine (they used to be in March!)or do like USATF and call the year Dec. 1 to Nov 30 and make all December results part of the next year’s voting. Surely there is a solution so that people like Zach Bitter don’t miss out on the recognition they deserve.

    1. Tropical John

      It all sounds so simple, but it isn’t. Printer time is scheduled months in advance and working around the holidays throws everything off by several days as it is. Back when I was Publisher, we got the magazine out a few days later than usual a couple of times due to one problem or another. The phone would ring off the hook from folks who couldn’t understand why their issue hadn’t arrived yet! (Okay, you gotta love having subscribers so addicted that they can’t wait a few extra days, but delays create all sorts of additional work.)

      But to your point: Desert Solstice, as noted in the article, was a week later than usual this year. When the printer time was scheduled, I don’t think the good folks at UR were aware of this. (As soon as I learned about the date change I just knew that Zach would throw down something incredible.) I’m reliably informed that Desert Solstice will be back on the second weekend of December for 2016, so hopefully this problem will not re-occur.

      Meantime, I think UR should be commended for making a valid attempt to get all this stuff into the January/February issue. If they had waited until March (as it used to be done) they could have had a perfect calendar year approach, but who wants to wait until March to read about what happened the previous year?

    2. Bob Hearn

      Thank you Pam. Mark Richtman’s 50k was also a 60+ WR, so I agree with you.

      And I’m being immodest, but my 149 miles was a 50+ AR (and according to the WMA tables just edged Jurek’s former AR of 165.7, age-graded), but didn’t rate a mention on irunfar’s coverage. Not that I’m remotely claiming I belong on any of these lists. But DS does get slighted.

      1. Tropical John

        Again, not to belabor the point, it’s all just a matter of timing. Two years ago Zach Bitter’s 11:47 100-mile at Desert Solstice was voted the Performance of the Year. Pam Smith’s 14:11 at Desert Solstice was third place Performance of the Year for women. So I can’t buy the argument that the race is somehow slighted. Had the race been on its traditional date, this year’s results would have been included for consideration in the voting.

        1. Pam

          I appreciate all the hard work that goes into the voting and indeed, I have no idea what running a magazine entails. However, those performances you mention two years ago required an emergency “revote” because the official balloting DID close before DS (which was held on the earlier Saturday). I am glad to hear that this won’t be an issue next year (and hopefully every other year in the future, too).

          1. Tropical John

            Yeah, it did! We give voters a week to cast a ballot, which is necessary since most take several hours sifting through all the data (every race for the top 50-ish men and women). We were almost done with the voting, then you and Zach go screw everything up by running so fast. . . but we were aware that this might happen, and warned everybody in advance. A bit of extra work, yes, but then not nearly as much work as running 402+ laps all out.

            1. Tropical John

              Actually, the ballots are due the Sunday after DS, but many had completed before then and had to redo them. Hellgate 100K is that weekend, too, one year Amy Sproston moved up in the rankings at the last minute after setting a course record there. Deadlines are definitely a pain-in-the you-know-where.

            2. Bob Hearn

              Wouldn’t it be simpler to do as Pam suggested and count every race past whatever the deadline is for the following year? What happens this past year to races like Snowdrop 55 (where Joe Fejes set a 50+ 48-hour AR) and Across the Years (where Ed Ettinghausen broke his own 50+ 6-day AR)? Do they count as 2016 because they ended in 2016?

  9. Tropical John

    Yes, Bob we will do that, so Bitter is the early leader for 2016. (USATF has done this for as long as I can remember, they cut off the year in November I think. The problem always seems to be that the wow from the previous December’s races kind of fades as time passes. But not always, Joe Fejes’ 6-day was at the very beginning of the year) And yes, we’ve always counted ATY as the first race of the year, not the last race of the previous year, since it doesn’t finish until New Years Day.

    The “normal” date for DS works out well typically, since UR can still get to the printer for Jan/Feb and there usually aren’t any significant race results the 3rd and 4th weekend of December. This year was an anomaly.

  10. Scotty Kummer

    I agree that it is a tough job and you do the best you can. There’s no way to please everyone. One thing I would like to see someday is a consideration of winter ultra runners as well. I understand they are smaller and not as glamorous, but I think the good folks that brave sub zero temps to run 100, 350 or even 1100 miles self-supported should at least be considered.

    Example: this year Sue Lucas, 51, won the Tuscobia 150 miler outright, was 1F and set a course record at Arrowhead 135, and completed the Actif Epica 80 miler in Canada to become the 7th person (and first female) EVER to complete those three races in one season.

    Example: in 2014 David Johnston won and set records in the Susitna 100 and the Iditerod Trail Invitational 350 Miler a couple of weeks apart (and went on to run 551 miles in the ATY 6 day).

    I’m not saying winter athletes should be given any priority or anything, but it would be nice to know these athletes who do something that many elite ultra runners would never even attempt should be considered in some way. Maybe adding someone like RD John Storkamp of MN as a voter would get those names and results out to the judges. heck…I’d email anything that stands out to someone! :)

    Again. Not criticizing. Just offering a suggestion so these talented folks could be considered. (although I think they both examples should have made the top ten).

  11. GMack

    There continues to be some misunderstanding in the US of the breadth and depth of international competition in ultras typical of in the comments section above by Mr. Medinger. The US has a regional bias towards both North American athletes and courses. Trail courses here tend to be flatter and on more gentle trail, with very few exceptions. These courses emphasize road speed and many elite US ultramarathoners come from a marathoning background.

    Look at 100 milers in North America – only 3 out of 141 (2%) have more than 30,000’ of climb, or of sustained grades over 15%. It’s not for lack of mountains here. Hopefully this is changing with the popularity in the US of SkyRunning and races like Hardrock.

    Top euro ultramarathoners tend to have more of an alpine climbing background. While having respectable road speed, it’s their ability over steep, technical terrain that separates them, generally, from the US counterparts. It’s easy to point to KJ in this respect, but he’s just the most visible athlete in this regard. If you’re going about recognizing excellence in this sport, which itself is defined by competition, you need to incorporate a standard that involves the most internationally competitive attributes.

    I’d put a lot of emphasis in the 100 mile distance in judging an elite ultrarunner. I’ve competed in everything up to 350 miles, but it’s the 100 milers that seem to combine the right mix of speed, strategy and ability. The sweet spot of ultra competition. But, I’d add to that and say ability on steep, technical terrain further defines an elite ultrarunner. Terrain you can’t cover on a bike or horse, if you want to define it. It’s here where US runners need more competition at home.

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