I have to admit that a decade or so ago when Montrail launched the Montrail Ultra Cup I was skeptical. To be honest, at the time, I didn’t believe that an ultramarathon series could succeed in large part due to the decentralized nature of our sport and the rugged individualism of many race directors. In short, I thought it would have a short life.
Boy, was I wrong!
As Montrail has evolved through the years as a key player in ultramarathons and, in particular, since Montrail become the presenting sponsor of the Western States 100, interest and participation in the Montrail Ultra Cup has exploded. Today, most of the races on the circuit attract some of the most competitive fields in the country and winning the Cup is now perceived as one of the crowning triumphs of an ultrarunner’s career.
All that said, the most significant impact of the Montrail Ultra Cup, from my perspective, is the fact that it has become a way into the Western States 100 that is at once transparent and accessible. Certainly, to get into the Big Dance via the Cup you need to be fast, but, today, a runner has nine opportunities to do that in a variety of venues scattered across the country and throughout the calendar year. And, the end result has been a tremendous increase in the depth of the field at Western States every year.
It took some time for the results to play out, but last year’s race was a good indication of the Ultra Cup’s impact as half of the men’s top 10 and just about as many of the women’s top 10 got into the event through the Ultra Cup. Furthermore, by showcasing the top ultra talent through a series of run-up races, the Cup has set the stage for the drama and competitive fire that we have all come to associate with the Western States 100.
Craig Thornley, Western States Race Director, has stated that, “The Ultra Cup qualifying races have been significantly energized by the competition. With one race to go we have 20 runners in Western States through the MUC. Several of these are faster runners who have never run 100 miles. From my perspective Montrail was the first to put any money up for the elites in the sport and they continue to be the most influential.”
This weekend the Ice Age 50 in Wisconsin presents runners with one last chance to “race into” the 2013 Western States and, once again, a highly competitive field stands poised to give it a go. It will be fun to watch!
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes an old favorite, Smuttynose Brewing Company in Massachusetts. Their Big A IPA packs a serious punch at 9.4% ABV and a whopping 120 IBUs. However, remarkably, it is neither boozy or overly palate-wrecking. If you can find a four-pack, give it a shot!
Call for Comments (from Bryon)
What have been your thoughts about the Montrail Ultra Cup through the years?