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. Molly's dad

    But isnt that the problem with this idea; the type of races are so different that you are comparing winners of 'flat' trail races with steep technical terrain, apples with oranges and all that.

    I just wonder whether, given the proposed points system, there will be a credible winner at the end of the day or whether, as in cycling (as mentioned above) anyone will actually care about who has the highest number of points. If it doesnt hold any interest then it just becomes a money skimming exercise surely

  2. Kevin

    I was surprised I had to go this far for my main question.

    If this is a series where RDs are handing over 15K one would hope there would be a prize purse at each race and one for the overall series winner.

  3. LL

    I just don't understand what Western States stands to gain by joining. It has an amazing history, incredible demand, top athletes and no ability to expand.

  4. Mike

    I say go for it. Armchair quarterbacks/runners can debate what it means for ultra-running, but maybe seeing it in action will make obvious successes and failures of the idea, because there will be both. There are people who believe ultra-running is doomed with any type of corporate involvement – I think that's just naïve and over-reactionary. The sport is growing (accept it) and I think this simply an evolution of the sport's structure. If it doesn't work, I think that'll be pretty obvious, fairly quickly. Best of luck I say!

  5. Paul

    The sport IMHO has been divided by invested interests of greedy sponsors and race directors for sometime. A sport that was founded on honesty and a genuine connection to people is now utterly corrupted.

    And as much as I hate to say this Irunfar, your puppet master pays your bills too.

    Sad but true.

  6. John

    4 or 5 Amateur cyclists had positive urine screens for EPO at Grand Fondo's not counting races during the past 2 years. PED's will always be tempting and difficult to control. Personally I think that on the pro-side that life time bands (essentially Career ending) should be used earlier in the process.

  7. Matt

    I agree. An exponentially increasing human population is a BIG environmental concern, but the increasing atmospheric concentration of carbon dioxide cannot be blamed on cellular respiration. Simple chemistry: photosynthesis absorbs CO2 to produce the food we need to live (and breathe). In contrast, the emissions of fossil fuels are independent of this carbon absorption/release cycle and are far from a "self fixing problem." Yes, we will eventually run out of fossil fuels, but not before we jack up atmospheric CO2 concentrations to well over 400 PPM, which is unacceptable just like your proposal to spay/neuter the human population. Heroics aside: do you have the cojones to choose an ultra closer to home (thereby reducing your carbon footprint)?

    1. Adam

      Did you mean "I disagree" in reference to Peter's comment? In any case, many projections now suggest that we will never run out of oil (http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2013/05/what-if-we-never-run-out-of-oil/309294/), and the techniques used to get at that oil (fracking, off-shore drilling) are increasingly destructive. Air travel places a huge demand pressure on oil supplies, driving up prices and thus making the pursuit of difficult reserves economically viable. Population is a huge part of the problem, but only part, given that it takes three average Chinese people to emit as much carbon via fossil fuel consumption as one average North American.

    2. Peter Andersson

      Well, if I take my cojones to an ultra by air plane – shouldn't that rather be referred to as leaving a "carbon cockprint"? ;-)

  8. NickP

    This is at least an interesting concept, and I am curious to see how it pans out. I wonder how many from the US will participate given the travel and associated expense. As Karl notes, there are probably only a handful of runners receiving travel support from sponsors so unless the organization offers significant support I doubt there will be much participation from the US. I wonder if it will just be a race among 5-10 guys (and girls) that have the necessary support.

  9. dawgrunner

    Exactly what I was thinking. Bigtime cash incentives in other sports have created situations where PEDs are seen as a way to gain an edge. The bigger the pot, the more the incentive for the elites to cheat, all the while the rest of us just subsidize their behavior with increased fees.

    I'd love to run in one of these races, so I'm willing to let this play out.

  10. Jesse

    I think there are very many arguments for and against this idea. I know a lot of people have aversions to making the sport so main stream, and quite frankly mimicking the world of road and track running, which so many of us were drawn to the trails and ultra running to avoid. I, myself, hope for the sport to stay low-key, and quite frankly done for love of the game. Not love of the reward, or to figure out who is the best? Who Cares. If you have to have a best, 2nd, etc, etc, you might have other issues you need to resolve. If I wanted large prize money, perks and benefits, as well as a ranking system, I guess I would have stuck to a road or track running career. Or road ultra running for that matter.

    I also do think it is very important for us all, to take a look at our own environmental impact through travel and consumption. Which when pondered more deeply, makes us all abusive spouses. Beating our significant other, while espousing our love (of nature). As we travel all over to see the places we love. This idea compounds and befuddles that issue further, and is indicative of where the hearts of those involved are really placed IMHO.

    I hope the amazing group of individuals I have grown to know through my love of this sport, can find better ways to do things, than mimicking ideas that have been done before. Use all that creative energy that is flowing through us from the hours spent on the trail, and think of new and better ideas for the world of Ultra Running, otherwise why didn't we all just stay on the roads??

  11. Speedgoatkarl

    actually the marketing value will be lower with less participants. At least I think so. Look at Run Rabbit Run, 35k prize purse, the largest in ultrarunning history. (in the US) and no big companies want to throw in more…..why….45 fast runners are not enough. It is what it is.

    Most "pro" ultrarunner athletes don't get as much financial support as you may think…unfortunately.

  12. [email protected]

    Thanks Craig. Guess I gotta follow you on Twitter. Various Montrail pages (FB, ultra cup page, etc.) have not been quick to give up information on the changes this year. It's good to know the MUC will go forward in some similar fashion. I feel it has really added to the up front racing (at least for those of us who enjoy watching that kind of thing).

  13. Jeremy

    Actually, running WS is pretty easy. Just go to squaw valley and run to auburn. Can be a lot cheaper too if you do it without course markings and aid stations…

  14. Bob Gilmore

    Why not institute a 100 mile world championships instead? With a different country hosting every year….what a novel idea. Oh wait…. I think a few other sports already do that. Keep the iconic races accessible to the people that have been supporting them all these years.

  15. Johnny

    What I'm seeing is that this $15,000.00 Fee is coming from the RD, which in turn is probably money (at least partly) that came from registration fees. So in essence, part of our registration fees for these races are paying for travel/support for elite athletes. This may lead to either less course support/supplies/aid/food and/or higher registration fees.

    1. Tom

      Nothing against the elites, I love to see them at races but I don't know if I love it enough to pay higher entry fees so that elites can get to the races, many get travel expenses from sponsors, granted not all do, but personally I don't want to see our sport go the direction of triathlon and become the elitist sport that triathlon has become.

  16. Michael Owen

    Interesting. It was only a matter of time that we began to see the works of a series of such. Bryon, I agree with your last point about the travel support being offered to certain athletes. If the sponsored, already-supported, athletes are the only ones receiving support, wouldn't this lead to an elitism model where only a select few even have a chance to participate in the events? How would non full-time ultra runners be able to have the time, money, and flexibility to travel to the events without support of the full time sponsored athletes? I've always wondered how "elite" is defined. We hear the phrase "elite ultra runners" all the time, but is there a true definition of elite or just an understood one?

    I like how rankings will be based on three races – I still wonder if there will ever be an attempt to make a true "championship race." Maybe make one UTWT major-race required, one non-major required, then have UTMB as the "championship." It would put more on the line for one race and would assemble many competitive runners associated with one distinct series vying for the same thing. Or, is it kind of understood that it is virtually impossible to line up "all" the best ultra runners in the world for one race on one day for a true championship?

  17. Tom

    Do we really need an organization to "show" us the different cultures of the world? Create a "calendar" of events that already exists? The Ironman Corporation created a world circuit. Entry fees went through the roof, qualifying races for Ironman Hawaii went from excellent regional independent races to predominantly (if only races put on by the corporation). In my opinion, this is a slippery slope and one I think that will lead to the exclusion of the local population trying to participate in the events. Ideas like the UTWT are not why I left the world of triathlon to race on the trails.

      1. Marcos

        Hey Tom,

        Beat me to it, I read it and instantly thought about the Ironman franchise. I got fed up with all their crap just like you and at the same time I found the trail running community, I love triathlon, but everyday I think about selling all my gear just because of their attitude, I'd hate to see it all turning the same thing.

  18. Michael Owen

    Trey, I'm not sure that races not part of the series will be affected much. Maybe less elite runners in them, but what is the big deal about having 1-2 fast guys in a small local race? If this thing does take hold, I actually think the opposite will happen – more interest in the sport from regular non-elite runners and bigger participation in local races. Similar to track and marathons… the bigger venues like the Olympics or Olympic Trials creates more interest in running and bigger crowds at small 5k's, half marathons and marathons.

  19. Evan

    I like the idea at face value, but I foresee problems in the execution. Some of those races are really difficult to get into even for "elites"- will people doing the series get preferential entry? If not, how is anyone that is sub-elite supposed to properly compete in the series if they can't get into some of the races, and the other half are on the other side of the world? The fact that they are all over the world is appealing for travel's sake, but extremely challenging logistically and financially for most. The obvious solution to that is to have more races, but the. You are diluting the field, too. I could get excited if a certain placing or number of points earned you automatic entry and travel support to a third race, or a championship race (UTMB?) Either way, I'll be interested to see what comes of it. The sport evolves! Life is in motion and change is the rule, not the exception.

  20. Steve

    As I read the release of this the first thought through my mind was that most RDs would apply for tourism/govt/local govt funding in exchange for the publicity to the various districts . As a fellow Kiwi I've seen this work well down here many a time .

    The central North Island of New Zealand is simply amazing , so fits well with that concept .

    As Im keen new runner and not up to 100kms yet I will confirm my entry to the Tarawera100 in 2015 .(hahahaha)

    And Im sure most of us would love the chance to rub shoulders with more of the elite Athletes without remortgaging our homes to travel northwards

    So thanks paul and ill be on the sidelines in march at least watching

    Cheers Steve

  21. WeiDe

    If there is more prize money, will there be doping checks for the top finishers of each race / the series?

    Recovery time will play a major role here too…

  22. Justin

    nbskis – ''you clearly have no idea what it takes to be a so called elite'',

    How would I? I am not an elite, I only wish to give my opinion on this. I have total respect for the elite performers, my concern is that this won't improve the sport. By that I mean, if the same people keep getting all the assistance it is making things harder(not impossible) for new/up-coming talent to have the opportunity to challenge them.

    nbskis – ''they don’t get money out of it, they typically get just enough to cover expenses, not to save or live a “comfortable” life.''

    I did not say they got money or led a comfortable lifestyle! I said '' the elites get more free races, assistance with accommodation, lots of great kit and plenty of time to acclimatize/train in these nice place.'' Am I wrong?

    PS I have no interest in competing at skiing or biking, I choose to pay the money for reliable clothing and footwear. I also choose to enter these races and pay the travel costs. What I am saying is, if we didn't, then the big sponsors wouldn't be in a position to aid those who give their events/brands the opportunities they get.

  23. Lstomsl

    I like following the sport as much as anyone and I don't see anything wrong with a formal point series. As it currently stands I see some elite runners seem to focus on being consistent over an entire series, some target a specific race year after year, some will pick a year to chase the grand slam, or an FKT. Another point series just adds one more dimension but I have doubts about how successful it will be. I don't see folks dropping everything else year after year. I doubt 5 people on the planet could be competitive at 10 long races a year. Does anyone even know who the skyrunning points champ from last year is? In the end it might bring some more hype, attention and financial support to the elites. Like 90% of us, however, I will watch vicariously through iRunFar and hit the occasional grassroots local race and avoid the crowds. It won't impact my life in any meaningful way at all.

  24. Paul

    I think it'll just be something that is there. It won't have that much relevance to the Ultra calendar as nothing seems to be changing. I also don't know if it'll draw the elites to it either as in essence, most of these guys run because they love being out on the trail & the freedom of it. The commercial side of things mightn't appeal…I certainly don't see many of them doing MDS. Too touristy.

    But hey, it's great to see the sport grow. Just not too much ;)


    1. Martin G

      If I have a full time job that I'm good at and qualified for, I don't think 40k pounds per year will create controversy.

      Now take a full time runner, who's not only good and qualified for his "job" but is simply part of the best of its kind in the world, why would it be wrong?

      Let's keep in mind that it wasn't given to them but they worked extremely hard to get there.

      I am no elite athlete and even though I wish I could have been one I have no right to question their achievements and rewards that come with it.

      Now about the UTWT:

      I am already laughing at when they will have to pay travel expenses for 20 to 30 elite athletes to come to one single race. Seeing how UTMB treats elite athletes (no invitation, no accommodation, no travel expenses covered, no prize money), my bet is that they simply won't.

      So Iet's wait and see how this will unfold, but to me this is just fancy words on paper to justify the 15,000 euros fee per race to be part of the series. Soon enough they will put on a rule that will limit the field invited elites or they will ensure that only a handful of athletes will receive the title "elite 1" according to their standards.

  25. Trey

    A good number of people seem turned off by the whole idea-this change coming to ultra running. My question is, how is it affecting you if you are doing a race that is not in the Tour?? Wouldn't it stay the same?? Assuming you got into WS, once its part of the Tour – how does that ruin it for you once you actually start running the race?? If you are not chasing points or an elite, how would these changes affect your actual running of the event??

    1. Tim


      It affects those who would like to run the actual event by possibly: making the entrance cost higher, as well as getting a spot into the race more difficult because of more spots being saved for elites. Of course it does nothing to change the act of actually putting one foot in front of the other, and running the event.

  26. SteelTownRunner

    Some of those races seem odd to be lumped together in the same series. Why is MDS in the mix? Who is going to compete in these races? You need to have the $$$ to just even enter MDS. Does WSER need something else to attract runners? Will this have any affiliation with the Skyrunning ultra series?

  27. Robbie

    It's simple folks, support your local races. I have dozens to choose from in Oregon, and Washington State. IMO, the Pacific Northwest, has the best terrain to run on.

    1. Scott

      Let's just keep the PNW's greatness on the down low we already have a big enough problem with transient residents we don't need more :)

    1. Sabine

      Exactly – this is what I think, too!!

      I don't like the current trend in ultrarunning, with more and more big money coming into play and with all the fuss about certain races and race series. It is inevitable that middle-of-the-pack and back-of-the-pack runners, who want to participate in these UTWT races will have to pay for it – either literally by higher entrance fees or by higher difficulty to get a spot in the race.

      I personally find much more of the atmosphere that has sparked my love for ultrarunning in local or smaller races – or even in fat ass events.

  28. Josh

    Ian Corless did make a valid point that most press leaves UTMB after the top runners come through. Thus, holding a press conference after the press has left would be pointless. Not to suggest that this series is thinking at all of the average runner, but to have a press conference at UTMB, you've got to do it early.

  29. tom

    369 rolling average and 400 "selected" but only 218 drawn from the lottery on average. That seems like a lot (182?) of automatics, MUC, sponsor exempts and other special considerations. Where will the elite entries come from and what will that do to the entry fee?

  30. Speedgoatkarl

    The UTWT model seems to be the same model as Skyrunning. RD's fork over some cash to the "federation", the federation offers the assistance in gathering elite runners with the money that the RD forked over to them.

    HMMM, sounds like an Un-needed middleman. If I'm gonna fork over "x" amount of dollars to a federation, I have to then ask myself "why"?. How about I fork over that "x" amount of dollars in the form of a cash purse instead of appearance fees in the form of travel support.

    UTMB is the most amazing race in the world as far as I'm concerned, the venue in Chamonix, Courmayeur etc, etc…and oh, Mt. Blanc. It is a real mountain race, a race that Europe embraces..No pacers, carry your own shit, it's great. They also let in elite athletes after the fact, and those elite athletes get NO compensation, no travel expense, no hotel….the same treatment. Other than being able to slip in the side door at the start line and not get stuck in the beginning.

    4000 runners (all 4 races) X roughly 200 bucks each to enter…..= $800,000 is accrued in entry fees. OK, 800 thousand bucks. Towns donate to have the race go through them, other sponsors. (It's doubtful they even pay for the schwag that's donated).

    My gripe is where is the prize purse? How about throw in say 100k? No good? still a $700,000 + budget to work with right?

    UTMB is a super first class event for everyone, form the DFL to the winner, but in reality, there should be prize money with all that money in entry fees. And yes it comes from all of us entering, but so does Lebron James' salary….from spectators, via TV or seats in the stadium.

    I guess I"m starting to ramnble and I could go on and on, but in my opinion, it's just another way to make money…having a series. I could easily put together a "speedgoat series" in the Utah area, and probably make a bunch of money, but I won't do that, we'll just keep it at 50k with pizza and beer at the finish, and a few extra bucks to watch those fast guys and girls run fast.

    Run the race you want to run, don't get lost and go on the world tour if you can afford it. :-)

  31. Kory

    I second this entire conversation. The hottest topic of this past year in one phrase or another has been "our sport is growing", or "why has ultrarunning gained so much populaity?" Take those statements and look at how Ironman began in the early 80's. It was as humble as trail running until somebody realized that they could make a ton of money off of it, and they did. Granted, these are two entirely different sports,requiring entirely different needs, but, the point remains. An entity is seizing an opportunity to profit based on the demand of a sport.

    How long until it costs over $300 to get in a race?

    I dont mean to sound redundant, but "we" all exclaim that the reason we love trail running is because… well just look at Hardrock. Even if you or I never get into the race, we cant deny that it is the single race that defines everything we love about the sport.

    This organization certainly does not appear to represent that.

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