Some Early Thoughts on Male Ultrarunner of the Year

AJWs TaproomWhile there are still a few months left in the year, it’s a reasonable time to begin thinking about Ultrarunner of the Year.* And, I have to say that this year seems to be one of the toughest to pick in the last decade. Of course, it’s always difficult parsing out the various results and comparing courses, distances, and head-to-head matches but this year, for me, it really is a toss-up between four guys (and yes, I am stealing a page out of Karl Meltzer’s book and throwing down some odds).

Sage Canaday

Sage Canaday - 2013 Cayuga Trails 50 mileThis guy has had a wonderfully consistent season on a variety of different courses. His racing has been varied and his performances have proven both his versatility and persistence.

The Big “But”: Sage has not yet made the jump to the 100-mile distance and that could sway some few voters.

Odds of winning: 8-1

Ian Sharman

Ian Sharman - 2013 Leadville 100What to say about Ian? The guy blasted through the Grand Slam in an 11-week competition with Nick Clark and ran with focus and grace. His win at Leadville and second place at Wasatch propelled him to new heights and it’s hard to argue with the grit and determination it takes to gut out a Grand Slam like Ian did.

The Big “But”: In head-to-head races with the other UROY contenders, Ian lags a bit behind.

Odds of winning: 6-1

Timothy Olson

Timothy Olson - 2013 TNF UTMB

Tim won Western States with a scorching time on a truly scorching day. Were it not for his course record run in benign conditions last year, his 2013 WS alone might have, in the past, propelled him to being a shoo-in for UROY. But alas, it is likely to be much tighter this year even with his “second season” of racing in which he traveled around, beating a variety of different fields on a wide range of courses.

The Big “But”: Even with his incredible run at WS, Tim’s resume lacks that big “wow” race that often sways voters.

Odds of winning: 4-1

Rob Krar

Rob KrarRob started the year innocently enough, winning at Moab Red Hot and quietly beating Dakota Jones there. Then, he traveled to Leona Divide, an old and established race on the SoCal circuit, and blistered the course record. Two weeks later, he made history in the Grand Canyon by throwing down a new Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim FKT there by over 20 minutes. He decided to jump into Western States having earned a spot in Leona and ran the fastest second place ever and the fastest debut Western States 100 ever. Then, after taking it easy in the second half of the summer and winning TransRockies, he won the UROC 100k over a talented international field. Amazing!

The Big “But”: Rob did not win Western States. While that may seem nitpicky given the resume listed above, it will matter to some voters as head-to-head comparisons are important.

Odds of winning: 3-1

Wrap Up

Indeed, there are still a few months left and I know some of these guys may still have some racing left in their legs. But, in my opinion, it’s not too early to begin speculating, so, let’s have at it! Who’s gonna take it?

Bottoms up!

PS. I will have a similar look at the Female Ultrarunner of the Year contenders in my October 18th column.

* Editor’s Note: AJW is discussing ultrarunner of the year candidates who reside in North America. Obviously, other runners would warrant consideration if the geographic scope of consideration where larger.

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Flagstaff Brewing CompanyThe week’s Beer of the Week comes from Rob Krar’s home in Flagstaff, Arizona. Flagstaff Brewing Company’s Three Pin Pale Ale is a unique spin on that classic style. It’s got a hoppy start and a malty finish that I like. It’s certainly not a “big” beer, but it’s one of those that seems like it’s gone before you even get started. In other words, it’s fast, like all these guys above.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Which of the guys above do you think has the current edge for the North American ultrarunner of the year title? Who’ll get it in the end?
  • If you were to add a fifth (and sixth?) runner for serious consideration, who would it be and why?
  • If we expand the scope of consideration to the rest of the world, Kilian Jornet is obviously a strong contender. However, who else outside of North America would be in the running for global men’s ultrarunner of the year?

There are 266 comments

  1. Steve

    The UROY award will not be decided until the TNF50. If Krar wins the TNF50, then the award will likely go to him. If Sage wins, then he'll probably be the front runner for the award. I think Sharman, Olson, and Olsen are the locks for the next 3 spots, with the 100k road champs potentially providing a mix up if Jon Olsen finishes in the top-5.

    As for Ultra performance of the year, I believe that it should go to Sharman hands down. He destroyed the Grand Slam record, in the process grabbing an amazing 4th at WS (in one of the most competitive WS fields ever) and then he won Leadville.

    UROY if Krar wins TNF:

    1) Krar

    2) Canaday

    3) Olson

    4) Sharman

    5) J. Olsen


    1) Sharman's Grand Slam

    2) J. Olsen's 11:59

    3) Clarke's GS

    4) Jones's SJS record

  2. markdorion

    It's funny, but I hear from INTERNATIONAL ultra friends, including some who are trail specialists, and THEY all suggest California's JON OLSEN should have early strong consieration for "ultrarunner of the year."

    Jon beat the best INTERNATIONAL runners in the world to win the IAU 24 Hour on a tough 1.4 mile loop in the Netherlands– with the 2nd best US total ever at 167+. The last week he set the North American 100 mile record with 11:59:28. I seriously doubt any of the popular "trail specialists" named could run within one full hour of that time.

    How does a runner like Jon Olsen not even get NAMED by a supposedly-savvy ultra blogger??? Or did A J-W mean to say "TRAIL runner of the year, and not "ULTRA runner of the year"??

    By the bye I am a trail runner, direct trail races, even once won an event in California, the birthplace of modern trail ultra running. BUT I know WORLD CLASS performances when I see them. As and aside, even a race like Western States does not draw as diverse an international field as a USA road ultra like the New York 6/ 10 day.

  3. markdorion

    To Joe F. and other multi-day racers,

    If this were any other country in the world (I include our neighbors Canada and Mexico too, your multi-day efforts would garner loud acclaim from bloggers and statisticians. See, for e.g., some of the op-eds at http://www.multidayrunning

    In the USA, we have reached a point where many runners believe that "ULTRArunning" and "TRAILrunning" are one and the same thing.

    I have also asked for years why UR magazine can't choose both a "trail ultrarunner of the year" and a road one. This would alleviate many headaches for voters and fans. But what do I know?

    By the bye, I expect several top MEXICAN ultrarunners, a good Ukrainian runner, plus Jon Olsen to duke it out at our S.U.V. 60Km here in New Mexico on Feb. 1. I wonder if any top USA trail specialists will show up??

  4. Jon Olsen

    I want to make sure the discussion doesn't get off of the topic….we are here, in reality, to celebrate those runners that have had exceptional years! Those individuals named, have been named for a reason…because they truly put together some draw dropping performances. It really is a honor to be spoken in the same breathe as the Ian's, Sage's, Timmy's, Krar's….of the world. There are still a few months left in the season. Lets see how it all shakes out:)

  5. Alex

    To be honest im quite offended. All the credit always goes to American runners. What about those who destroyed Sage and Max King in Sierre Zinal? what about Luis Alberto from Spain? I think he should be the ultra runner of the year. Man his first year racing he had AMAZING results!. Europeans dont get any credit (apart from MR KILIAN of course). I dont get it, american runners and races get so much credit. There are many europeans here who would beat these guys that have no sponsors and no recognition. In the UTMB everyone was talking about timothy olson and anton k, but guess who won it? a french guy that no one knew about. I guess this article should be titled: Male American Ultrarunner of the Year.

  6. SteelTownRunner


    It's not just that Jon broke a record that has been around for 20+ years. Look at the number of people who have broken 12 hours for 100mi and their resumes. It is a performance we are unlikely to see for a while in spite of Jon's humble assertion that his record will be broken soon.

    …and the field at the WC – far deeper than any trail ultra with the *possible* exception of UTMB.

    My vote would go to Jon

  7. Bryon Powell

    You shouldn't be offended. The article lays out the scope of consideration and acknowledges… even calls for discussion of those elsewhere who've had outstanding seasons. Now's your chance to discuss those such as Kilian, Luis Alberto, and others! Let us know who else has crushed it this year aside from those two? :-)


    1. Alex

      Okay, maybe I exaggerated by writing that I was offended. Im not really hehe. But its kinda discouraging.

      -Iker karrera

      -Xavier Thevenard

      -Marco de Gasperi ( he was head to head with Kilian in the Dolomites sky race, amazing finish).

      -Philipp Reiter (maybe he didnt have the best season)

  8. Cole

    Bryon, those performance clauses have fallen out of contracts due to multiple sponsors being worn on a vest in this day in age. Companies no longer match or half-match winnings since it is rare that a single athlete has a single sponsor.

  9. Alex

    The UTMB is considered the most important and competitive race in ultra running by many. Thus shouldn't the winer of the UTMB (ultra race of the year perhaps?) be the ultra runner of the year? :)

    1. Bryon Powell

      Here in the US, there's long been a tradition of separating the performance of the year from the ultrarunner of the year. Obviously, winning performances at the most competitive races have significant weight, but they're not seen as defining who's best over the course of the year.

    2. John M.

      That "considered… by many" is the catch point. There is a divide, here in the U.S., between

      a) west of the plains (the mountain ultras) and east of the Mississippi (the might be ugly trail ultras),

      b) trails versus roads (with track runs being thrown in with roads, but some not even giving thought to indoor/outdoor time events and whether a track run is the same as a time event on a loop course),

      c) throwing in FKTs — as if there is some standardized certified course for an FKT,

      d) and other stuff.

    3. Sean

      I'm going disagree with both Alex and Joe, and reiterate what Ian said in a previous comment about Comrades being the most competitive ultra in the world each year. The Comrades winner doesn't earn the title "World Champion", but the world championships of any sport aren't necessarily the most competitive event of a sport.

      That said, I believe Jon's 11:59 is the world-best POY so far this year. However, this article is supposed to be about UROY, not POY.

  10. Fejes

    No UTMB is not the most competitive event. The World Championship is to which Jon Olsen. Jon was also on the 100k team and slated to run the World Championship which unfortunately was cancelled. I also don't believe anyone in the World has run a faster time this year (or in recent years) for a 100 miles.

  11. Fejes

    Sean, I will concede that Comrades may have as competitive group of international runners as the WC but I discounted the race (rightly or wrongly) for being a non recognized distance compared to standard 50k, 100k, 100 mile, 24 hour events. Then again I'm not sure any trail race with a time faster than an existing world record at such standard distances would be recognized.

    1. John M.

      That standard distance thing puzzles a lot of runners. As ultramarathons grew in number, the "need" for all things being equal factor kicked in. If you go back a few years there were many "odd" distance ultras: 75k (road), 38-mile (trail), and so on… even time events had nonstandard stuff: 6-hour trail, 24-hour on a five-mile country loop, 41.2ish-mile (road–paved and gravel), 70 miles (trail), 40.5 miles (road), 36.2 miles (trail)… and so on.

      The rules for USATF/IAAF records will keep trail stuff from the "real" records pages. There isn't even a category for the indoor run Olsen just had–have to throw it into the "all comers doing whatever" to get recognized.

  12. AJW

    Hey everyone, thanks for all the comments and for keeping the conversation constructive.

    Just an FYI, for the past two years I have done my own "Year in Ultraunninng Selections" in a January column. Last year's is linked below. If there is sufficient interest (and we could figure out how to tabulate results) perhaps we could morph this into some kind of People's Choice Awards. As you'll undoubtedly note if you look at last year's article I pretty much just made it up as I went along. It's fun, but it's just one guy's opinion. I, for one, like the two categories I invented, Rookie of the Year and Surprise of the Year. Clearly, a road/track and trail separation might be warranted, as well.

  13. John M.

    Cole — that kind of generalization is close to being just plain silly. Kouros, one of the greats of ultramarathon running, seldom went to trails (one finish at Western), but no one has even come close to what he did in time events or at the Spartathlon. That is part of the issue in ultramarathon "awards"–the variety of venues seems to reward a variety of talents, not all of which transfer from one course to the other.

    1. Ian Sharman

      For me Kouros is the best ultrarunner ever, yet he couldn't run trails and his one trail event I'm aware of was an over 20hr Western States. But on the flat stuff he's light years ahead of anyone else.

        1. John M.

          From September 1988 UltraRunning: 20:12:54, 24th overall. "This year's race also marked the WS debut of the legendary Yiannis Kouros. He had just broken the world record for 1,000 miles three weeks prior to the race, and had run 100km in Belgium the week before in 7:36. His intent was to just run the course and learn the trail, perhaps returning next year when he could be more competitive."

  14. Sean

    Cole, not only is that generalization silly, as John M says, but you are simply wrong. You clearly didn't research last December's Across the Years race in AZ, so let me summarize it for you. Ian won the 24 hr race with 109 miles. Joe won the 72 hr race, running 141 miles for his 24 hr split.

    Also, not quite sure what your point is when referencing Scott. Ian's marathon p.r. is faster than Scott's, but Scott's 24 hr distance is better than Ian's.

    1. Ian Sharman

      I did walk the last 70 miles of Across the Years so the 109 miles was more of a forced suffer-fest to mentally prepare for the Grand Slam than a race. I should have stopped due to injury (it then forced me to basically take off Jan and to not run in Feb). Joe's run over the 3 days was very impressive but I can see why this type of event doesn't appeal to a lot of talented runners since tiny loops aren't as inspiring (to me) as mountains and trails.

  15. Jon Olsen

    Sean……is absolute right…..kind of:) I've got depressed many a times watching some of Kilians insanity on YouTube…..I come away thinking….no matter how hard I train….I will NEVER be that. And I know there are other Euro Freaks out there doing amazing things. I think the American "general public" won't consider any Europeans until they come to the US and win any big races…such as Kilian and Heras.

    I know better than that however.

    1. Lstomsl

      Don't be depressed. Killian could never be you either. He almost cried last week having to run a paved bike trail on vail pass for a few miles…..

  16. Lstomsl

    In he cycling world there are distinct specialties of mountain, road, and track. Within each there are sub specialties of XC, downhill, time trailing, one day or stage races, and even then there are sub-sub-specialties for sprinters, climbers, etc and each rider chooses focus races that suit there specific abilities. Bottom line is nobody would think of arguing over whether a track performance is better or worse than a downhill mtn bike race performance. Or arguing over who is the cyclist of the year. It's apples and oranges.

    In running ere is less official organization. UROY is meaningful because it has a history but there is nothing saying that they can't just decide to do so e different as the sport changes. Or that somebody else couldn't do something completely different of they want. Heck it's 2013 and we have the Internet. I could put up a web site with my opinion tomorrow, or even a poll tomorrow but nobody would care because nobody knows who I am. But Trail Runer magazine could have their own set of awards specific for trail runners. IRunFar could have a people's choice type of awards. Karl could post his Speedgoat awards on his website jf he felt like it. The sport is growing. There is room for more than just one award from one place decided by a select few anonymous elites. Why argue about what this one award means or should mean. Why not put forth some solutions for different awards. International, track, distance specific, FKT, whatever. If the process is worthy, the awards will gain prestige. Kind of like we have multiple awards for movies that don't always make the same decisions, and don't always have the same process, and don't necessarily carry the same prestige. But they are there nonetheless.

    1. Sean

      "because nobody knows who I am."

      Don't kid yourself, buddy. I do, as do all of the other SCRUDites! This is the internet – you cannot hide!

      1. Lstomsl

        I am officially awarding the LSTOMSL award for most Improved beer mile of 2013 to you Sean. And also the award for most entertaining post-beer mile can crushing.

        1. Sean

          Thank you so much, Lstomsl (don't worry, your real identity is safe with SCRUD). I am honored to have those prestigious awards bestowed upon me. These not only mean that my season has been a success, but on a much broader scale, my runner career has been a success. Perhaps I should consider retiring. Does that come with social security benefits?

          And to my esteemed employer, Powell, I anxiously await said cold day in January. Perhaps we can have an iRF promotion on that day for 8 minutes and 49 seconds.

  17. Ian Sharman

    I did the sums 2 years ago and at exchange rates that year a local winner getting all sponsor bonuses they'd be eligible for, plus a CR would have earned over $100k. Even just a win by a foreigner on a sponsored team (which applies to all of the contenders) would have earned well over $50k without the record.

  18. Fejes

    Thanks Ian–I was very pleased with my 141 first day total at ATY especially after the 156 miles I had run two weeks prior at Desert Solstice. If I remember correctly all 3 of us-you, me and Dave James were leg weary going into ATY from our Desert Solstice efforts. I won't make that mistake this year before my 6 day ATY. Yes running 24 hours or more on short quarter mile or one mile loops is not appealing to many mainstream ultra runners although probably a bit more popular abroad.

  19. Fejes

    I would absolutely love to do a trans con run one day but taking for more than a week off work just ain't happening any time soon. Maybe if I hit the lotto or win Comrades with the sponsor jersey with a multiplier. Lol

  20. DP

    as far as trail runners go, i think it doesn't get any better than Krar. the guy doesnt care who he's racing or what distance hes racing. he just dominates everyone. im excited to see what he will do to that WS100 cr if he chooses to train for it

  21. Trey

    +1 its about running far and covers a whole year's worth of racing. This is why I think the short list of contenders profiled above, is too narrowly focused on just "speedsters"…..

  22. Geoff

    This might be the year that the TNF 50 is actually taken seriously in the UROY voting. I think if Krar wins tnf he should be a lock, and if sage wins he should be the clear favorite, but if anyone else wins it is easy to make an argument for any of the 4 mentioned plus J. Olsen. Then there is also the possibility of DJ winning TNF which would essentially make it a pretty much even 6 way race. Definitely the most up in the air voting in some time.

    AJW, (and Bryon?) not to be too nit picky but you might want to change the statement in the article that Krar ran the fastest 2nd place ever at WS. I would suggest something like, "fastest second place time in an odd year", or perhaps just "third fastest second place time" would work too.

  23. Aaron Sorensen

    If we're talking about "Ultra Running" why don't we look at who's in the Ultra Running Hall of Fame.

    Ted Corbitt (2004)

    *Sandra Kiddy (2004)

    *Marcy Schwam (2005)

    *Sue Ellen Trapp (2006)

    *Bernd Heinrich (2007)

    *Stu Mittleman (2008)

    *Allan Kirik (2009)

    *Barney Klecker (2010)

    *Rae Clark (2011)

    *Park Barner (2012)

    Most of these guys and gals are 24+ hour runners and have several records in those longer distances.

    So why should the Annual UROY be any different?

    John's sub 12-100 should be on the #1 for performance of the year.

    Joe Fejes should be in the running and be at 1-4 odds of winning UROY.

    The only thing is there is no certified 3 day record.

    We've lost the adventure of the long run and follow the more recreational runner that can do a sub 6 hour 50 miler. There shouldn't be any distance under 100k to count for UROY.

    We need to reflect the past into the future.

    1. LSD

      "…follow the more recreational runner that can do a sub 6 hour 50 miler." Wow, I had no idea that that a time like that for 50 miles is now considered "recreational."

  24. markdorion

    Since when does the Grand Slam count as ONE "performance of the year"?? It is a series of four different races. Many people create their own slams of one sort or another. What about a runner who has four great 24 hour races with world class distances, run in different countries no less?? Is that the same as "The Grand Slam"?? Keep in mind also that Vermont 100 mile was not for many years a part of "The grand Slam."

    Also keep in mind I am a newbie ultrarunner and have only done about six ultra total in my life.

  25. markdorion

    I have been following ultras since the 1970s. There is NO "given" that any trail star can or will cross over with any success to road and track ultras. I have seen many trail stars fail miserably when attempting road ultras.

    I have also seen 2:10-2:12 marathoners try an ultra (road and trail both) and have troubles mentally and physically. You just never know.

    Conversely, some of the fastest road runners in the world have had trouble in various trail events. BUT it is really fair to have a great sea level road runner like Kouros, the Russians, etal. go up to high altitude and compete against the guys who live and train there all year?

  26. markdorion

    RR 100 course was re-measured with calibrated wheel (admittedly, not easy on any trail surface) as: pre-2006– 94.6 miles. 2010 course– 99.1 miles. Keep in mind that for many, many years Western States was 88+ miles, then 94 miles up to 1987 or so.

    The new Garmin GPS devices (out Nov 1) are much more accurate than the models from two years ago, and will help with measuring trail courses. Just remember, the only CERTIFIED ultras are on road and track. And the longest ultra in the world is on a certified .55 of a mile loop around Austin Park in NYC. World class international runners compete, some averaging 75+ miles per day for 42 days (3100 miles/ 5000Km). We don't hear much about this famous race in the USA, but in Europe the winner is always mentioned as a candidate for "ultra performance of the year."

  27. markdorion

    I am wondering how the Rocky Raccoon "100" was measured?? Was it certified?? Do we know for a fact all runners ran EXACTLY as it was measured? When I ran there some years ago, by total accident much of the field ran right through one of those long, winding switchbacks (game trails cut straight up the middle, cutting off perhaps 100 yards).

  28. markdorion

    be careful . . . I would say Hokas have many great USA TRAIL ultra runners using them, BUT I would not say internationally, nor in major road ultras, they are even in the top 10 of shoes being used. At multidays in Europe and the USA this year, the most common shoes (not in order) included Saucony Kinivara/ Ride, Mizuno Inspire and Wave Rider, adidas Boost, Nike Pegasus and Vomero, various Brooks models, etc.

  29. markdorion

    Ditto what Dr. David Mackey said! US trail specialists from the Rocky Mountains need to look out at the BIG world. We have US road runners winning INTERNATIONAL titles. The most international US ultras are NOT Western States or some trail race, but rather road ultras, where there is much less "home course advantage." Note 22 countries had runners at the big New York 6 and 10 day event this past April.

  30. Geoff

    "Most of these guys and gals are 24+ hour runners and have several records in those longer distances.

    So why should the Annual UROY be any different?"

    The answer to this is as simple as the basic economic notion of supply and demand. UROY is decided by ultrarunning magazine, a for profit entity that is trying to sell magazines. Sure, they could choose to "reflect the past into the future", but for every person who participates in or closely follows the types of events that were the most popular in ultrarunning 20+ years ago there are dozens who participate in or closely follow the events that are most popular today. This isn't to say we shouldn't acknowledge and respect this past, and that we shouldn't highly respect the amazing performances that we still see in these "old school" type events, but over time things just go in and out of fashion. Right now in this country trail races up to 100 miles are the popular trend in ultrarunning. To expect the primary focus of any UROY discussion to center around anything other than these types of events is wishful thinking that just isn't going to happen until the trends shift.

  31. Anonymous

    Instead of the award being assigned by a website or a magazine, why not just have the people vote — readers/subscribers submit whatever name they want, tally the entries and BAM! you have a reader/subscriber voted winner.

    Most folks have established an opinion based on their individual preferences of runner personality, event type, terrain, degree of inspiration, etc and therefore have an opinion. At this point I am unclear as to why it is left to an editorial staff of a website or magazine to determine…

    If an "award" is mandatory, than perhaps create relevant categories that represent the variety of competition that exists (Trail, Road, Track) and represent the participants (North American, International) that participate.

    This approach would better represent the wide variety of ultra events, and IMO is more thorough and fair.

    Specific (rather than general)awards would also expose the larger ultra community to the different categories of "ultra" — and the people pushing the envelope of human endurance.

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