Ultra-Trail World Tour to Launch in 2014

Ultra-Trail World TourThis 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.

Ultra-Trail World Tour - organizations and runners

Representatives from a few races in the Ultra-Trail World Tour as well as a few potential runners. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

UTWT Objectives

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.]

There are 172 comments

  1. Jeff R

    Given the general sentiment expressed in these comments, a lot of people need to start boycotting this site. It's a huge part of the "problem". Take a second to think about it.

  2. Cody

    This is nuts! Folks are getting this upset about a series of running events?

    Here's the deal: whether you like it or not, this is inevitable in any sport that's growing in popularity. Just because you were here first doesn't make the sport "yours." It's going global and garnering big money. Soon it will be like many other sports: average runners won't be able to compete in large pro events.

    If you want to run the course, run it on your own. If you want to race, race any number of incredible local events. If you want to run the pro races, get faster.

    There are so many bigger problems in the world. Running and the events associated with running are not, and will never be, a subject to be really upset about.

    1. jenn

      I think this far too facile and glosses over one of the bigger topics ongoing over the growth of the support – environmental impacts and the carrying capacity of the trails and resources where many races are run. Growth may be inevitable, but "like it or not" those of us who value the wild places we run through (I presume that includes you!) SHOULD be discussing growth, limits, and best ways to proceed. That conversation includes a lot of factors, and is bound to be a tad messy!

      1. Lstomsl

        It's valid to have a conversation about impacts and steps we can take to minimize them but let's be real, all the western states ever run don't have nearly the impact that a single horse race on that trail does. I doubt that the FS will ever allow new races through existing wilderness areas and only a few have been grandfathered in. We certainly do have impacts and we all need to be aware and do what we can to minimize them but in the larger scheme of things they are pretty small. There are still plenty of places I can go run all day without seeing another human.

  3. OOJ

    Wanna know what's truly "expensive"? The physical cost of a very small number of elite ultramarathon runners intensely racing several (e.g. 3 or more) 100K+ ultramarathons in a single year.

    The fatal flaw in this circuit (and others) is the assumption that it is an "OK thing" for individual ultra runners to compete at the highest level in more than one or two major races in a year. The physical reality is, running more than 1-2 ultramarathons (especially those 100K or longer) per year at full intensity is not sustainable and, as we'll continue to find out, results in burn-out and the end of competitive careers.

    At present, we have two major issues in the sport:

    1.) the lack of consistent, sustainably-performing "stars" in the sport – athletes that people can identify, follow, and become loyal to – in large part because they run well for 1-3 years, then flame out.

    2.) a dilution of top-level talent because of the proliferation of "championship" races and circuits, which aim to entice elite runners to race there.

    The result is…a bunch of so-so races that lack a compelling storyline (beyond who DNS'd, DNF'd or otherwise flamed-out) and even worse, a derailment – or premature end – of individual running careers.

    I don't know how to solve these issues, but I don't feel like incentivizing the running of three or more long, intense ultras is part of the solution.

    1. Pierre

      They use to say that the best marathoners in the world would compete in 1, 2 or 3 marathons, maximum per year. That's 127km of racing. Not even one 100 miles (161 kilometers),

      Completly agree with you.

      As Seb Chaigneau usually says, when you get to the cashier, the price to pay is high each time (on all levels).

  4. PezUK

    no it is not controversy it is fact & perfectly justifiable salary & response to:”they don’t get money out of it, they typically get just enough to cover expenses, not to save or live a “comfortable” life.

  5. James

    This is certainly one of those inevitable moments in our sport. Personally, it always has been a pity that SO much emphasis is put on the racing element of trail running. It’s often almost a complete detraction from why we actually run trails in the first place. That being said though, it is of course the primary element that is bolstering the growth and development of the sport so like it or not, it remains one of the most important factors in driving the sport’s future trends. To be honest, I do think that the idea of a world tour has merit.

    My only concern however comes from the slight (and I use this term loosely) exclusivity of such a tour.

    I quote one of the objectives you mentioned above:

    “Giving the opportunity to anyone to take part, troughout the years, in the most beautiful long distance trails of the world.”

    With the €15,000.00 price tag that an organiser must pay to have their event part of this series (something you eluded to in you post Bryon) I believe renders many events and communities devoid from actually participating in such a series. I get it that the big brands will be able to support such monetary outlays, but €15,000.00 on top of their already potentially high sponsorships to events, may be the “straw that breaks the camels back” for many investors of the sport. Then what? Just because the event cant cough up the money, does this mean that it’s not recognised as a “true” ultra-trail event, fit for people to participate in? What about races in places like South America and Africa where the exchange rate starts to hit double digits?

    Quoting another objective above: "Allow all trail runners to take part in popular events in which top runners are systematically associated with." When up until now has it ever been a problem before to just simply enter the race of your choice if you want to run it?

    Perhaps a very specific example, but a relevant one none the less, is the International Skyrunning Federation [ISF] Skyrunner Series. If an event organiser wants their race to be recognized as a skyrunning event, there is a bunch of regulatory criteria they need to meet (developed over almost 22 years), as well as an annual fee that needs to be paid (however quite significantly lower then €15,000.00 I might add) to the ISF. But, what this means for the runners is not only an event that is garuanteed to present a certain level of standard and offer a variety of unique and positive elements, but also a reinvestment into the sport, ensuring it's furture growth and development. In light of this, my parting question is simply, who actually benefits from the €15,000.00/event for the UTWT? I sure hope the answer to this is the runner!

  6. Dave M

    I agree with OOJ that it's probably not possible to be %100 recovered if you race more than a couple ultras per year, but 1-2 ultras per year? How boring.

    I think it is easily possible to run an 100K every other month and be really close to 100%, as long as the taper and recovery are well managed.

    And to run more than 1-2 ultras.. this is a problem? I personally don't experience any problems from this. I agree that ultrarunners aren't peaking properly at 99 to 100% to run the best race possible every time, me and OOJ included. But this is an incredibly exciting time for the sport and there are dozens of cool exotic races to run and the UTWT series is leveraging this, just like the Skyrunner series. Regarding the UTWT series itself: don't run it if you don't like it.

    Yes the term "world championship" is overused but this is the case for most grass rootsy smaller sports.

    Regarding flaming out of elite runners, there are only a handful that I know of who have faded away, and that may or may not be due to overracing, but rather due to health issues or changes in life priorities, rather than injuries or burnout. I think there has been an actual net increase in energy and vitality from racing more than what has been perceived as the limits of the human body. Ten years ago the UROY raced well at maybe 4-5 US Ultras and that was perceived as the best; now this performance level is top 20 at best.

    1. OOJ

      Assuming this is "Diamond Dave Mackey" posting this, he is one of the few top-level ultrarunners who has been consistently top-performing for close to a decade (hard to believe Dave was battling Jurek for the '04 WS title!). That said, his opinion carries a lot of weight.

      Or…how he takes care of his body – in training, nutrition, and lifestyle – is worth paying attention to. Perhaps the problem with circuits and championships is not only the drive to race hard, but to train hard – year round, nonstop.

      Either way, a balance needs to be struck regarding when to train and race hard. Only then will you see the "99-100%" performances, and top-heavy, competitive battles at these races…and I think that's what the race organizers are looking for.

      1. Speedgoatkarl

        DAve is exactly right that many of the elite runners that have thrown down many fast times are not necessarily "burnt out", but actually need to earn a living. None of us can earn a living being and ultrarunner, there is no prize money, other than a few races.

        As far as longevity…..it is possible to race 8-10 ultras a year and be competitive, because we are not racing fast, just often and as Macdaddy says, it's boring to train all year for one race. I rarely see an elite runner train for one thing and actually kill it.

        I also feel in ultramarathoning, that experience plays a bigger role than just focusing on one event or even 3 events. the more you run em', the better you get at it. The smarter you run and pace yourself. And recovery is the key element. Don't jump in too quick after running 100 miles, or you'll go home weeping…..cuz you're hurt.

  7. Dave

    Dave m- i agree with most of what you have said.i do believe that the top athletes should get paid out of this idea- that is totally fair. Being from the uk i would hope to do Lavaredo and Utmb at some point soon- i just hope that it doesnt get even harder to getinto these races as a result of this new set up either through a reduction in places for non elites or a big hike in entry fees

  8. Andre Blumberg

    Seems unconfirmed as yet although it was listed among the 14 'potential' races. It's not part of the 8 confirmed events. TNF is pretty decentralized in Asia Pacific and managed on a country by country basis through the resellers which vary by country. I suspect there may be more stakeholders involved that need to be convinced, plus the race has been selling out solid for a couple years already. Let's wait and see how it evolves …

  9. Expat in Sweden

    They is such a large range of trail and ultra possibilities, and the growth of the sport has increased the opportunities. Many races remain largely local while others attract international talent and receive extensive medi coverage. I toed the line many years back at the VT100 and recently I ran my first Alps race this summer and had a blast. Both were super exciting, but very different reasons. In the Alps mountain running has a long tradition – wasn't it the 40th Sierre-Zinal? Look at the results list for such rases; a small international elite field and then the majority are from nearby areas in France and French-speaking Switzerland – mostly fairly local. I ran in Zermatt and the majority seemed to be German-speaking Swiss from nearby areas. There are also an amazing number of local races! Some races are huge, bur still with mostly regional runners with small elite fields. The courses follow established trails (sometimes trails used over hundreds of years) and environmental impacts seem well considered. The sport is younger in the US and will have to go through its growing pains, but a similar range of small local races to large events seems to be developing.
    Sure, I miss the nearly total solitude I once had on my local training trails, but it is great to see more people being active and I am happy to share the joys of the trail.
    Is irunfar or other media contributing to the problem? No, I personally do not think so, because clearly Bryon facilitates precisely this discussion in these comment fields. And Bryon, Megan and Co are doing a great job keeping a personal and very human touch to their coverage of the sport.

  10. ljic

    money, money, money & only money…this is not trail running, this is only money for big brands, chamonix, etc…this is only points for runners ego cv…Support your local & undergrond races!

  11. Aaron

    I like this. There is a part of me (the part cultivated by my track background) that loves organization, rules, travel money, prize money, drug-testing, points standings, etc. There's also a part of me that just wants to go for a very long run in the mountains with friends. I'm glad that "ultrarunning" is a big enough tent to house both the corporate-fueled UTMB-style neon Euro-fests and the crusty old Hardrock-style mountain gatherings.

    Have no fear old-school ultra dudes. . .I can't imagine there ever being a shortage of low-key local races where the course is still marked with a sack of flour and the biggest sponsor is Billy Bob's Discount Tire Palace. I'll see you there. And maybe also at UTMB one day.

  12. NickP

    Bryon – Do you know if there has been any consideration about making this a two-year series? Sort of like how the World Marathon Majors does things. This obviously would add some complications, but it seems like it could potentially resolve some of the issues, particularly over-racing and travel (both time and expense). This was just a thought, and I was wondering if you have any insight into this.

  13. Samo

    Very interesting discussion. I have ran a few Skyraces and I also organized a local 21km mountain race. From my point of view it is very, very hard to organize even a decent small event, because you need enthusiastic team, many volunteers and devote more or less all of your spare time to the race. We got some support from a few sponsors, local government but the race costs were too high and was to risky to continue with the race although the people who participated liked the race. I would be interested to hear other people opinion what UTWT or SKYRUNNING fed. should/can do to finance/promote/develop local races if they want to be the leading organization to promote the sport.

    I see benefits only if:

    – UTWT is run as a associations of races and not as a personal project of some inside people. I don't know nothing how Skyrunning operates and distribute material and financial resources from sponsors to athletes and races.

    – All included races should have a vote on how the UTWT should be developing

    – UTWT should have a clear policy how sponsorship, TV, ads,.. money should be divided (let's say: 20% for managing the series, 40% elite athletes, 30% for included races and 10% for promoting the local events)

    My question is: Is it possible to have a system where these 10% would go back to some local organizers who demonstrate the willingness to develop the sport on grass root level under umbrella of UTWT or Skyrunning?

    Brands which support some of the elite teams/athletes will probably focus on these races which is good and what is already happening. We should admit that this is a normal process for any elite athlete. If Killian is able to run 10 races per year I would rather see him at top races but I would also like to see him at 1 small race mentioned above. I think in Tennis they have a rule that all top players must also compete at one or two local ATPs per year to promote the sport.

  14. Les

    Exactly, Robbie! That's how you ensure that the sport can continue and grow in the long-term, regardless of what global plans are put in place. It's also just a nice way to meet folks in the community!

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