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. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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

  4. 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

  5. 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"…..

  6. 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.

  7. 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."

  8. 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.

  9. 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?

  10. 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."

  11. 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).

  12. 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.

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

  15. 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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