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. Anonymous

    What about Jon Olson? Gold at the World 24 Hour Champs, and recently setting the North American 100 mile record? Think it's worth a few votes…

    1. Alex

      You'd hope. But if we're giving odds on what is likely to happen – rather than what should – then we have to acknowledge that he's got very little chance. Non-mountain ultras don't get the same attention.

      1. AJW

        Yes, performance of the year for both male and female is an additional award in the UR Magazine poll. I'll pen some thoughts about those in the coming months.

            1. Carey

              For men, between Dakota and Jon Olson and Rob Krar I'll vote for Dakota's SJS record because I value outdoor mountainous terrain so much. SJS beats Krar's R2R2R because the record at SJS was so much stouter.

              For women, Rory at UTMB and nothing else even close.

  2. Just Adam

    What do you mean fastest 2nd place ever at WS (Krar)? Didn't Sandes run around 15:05 just last year? Did you mean closest 2nd place time? (Or am I missing something? )

    1. Just Adam

      And for that matter, had Ryan Sandes ever run WS prior to last year? Still at least fastest first 100 at WS… And clearly Krar has had a fantastic year thus far!

    1. Greg


      I'm not trying to be antagonistic but am curious your reasoning for putting Tim at first. He only won two races this year (granted, one was WS) while both Rob and Sage had more wins. And head-to-head, Sage beat Tim every time (three times by my count) they raced.

      1. André Cruz

        He won WS, was 4th at UTMB, ran RRR 100 just a few weeks after UTMB.

        Beyond that, he was consistency in New Zeland and Spain.


  3. David T

    I have to go with Krar. He has a long list of wins and a huge second place. He also has the course records and a huge FKT. Tim has a major win and then a long list of races where he placed well but didn't win. Sage could also win (his resume is stacked) but I have to agree that voters will probably go with someone with at least one solid 100 mile performance.

  4. OldGoat

    Wow, here we go again. How can you equate all the diverse ultrarunning disciplines and athletes and say one is superior? And if we must, who is this panel of geniuses who makes the call? Isn't AJW a judge? IMO, this is a gimmick for Ultrarunning Mag to sell more subscriptions, one of the reasons I've cancelled mine. If we must, why not let a public vote select the champion? Maybe we are not "genius" enough. OldGoat

    1. AJW

      Old Goat: Full disclosure. I am one of the voters in the UR Magazine survey and have been for about 10 years. It is a very diverse group (although we don't all know who else is on the committee) and each year we receive very clear and thorough instructions from the magazine publishers. I can also assure you that we all take the voting seriously.

      That said, Bryon and I have, from time to time, discussed something more akin to what you are talking about (kind of a People's Choice Awards type thing) and we just haven't had the time/energy/wherewithall to pull it all together. No, for now, the UR Mag rankings are the recognized leader in this category in large part because they have been conducting the polling since the early '80s


      1. Ari

        Just curious AJW, how would you know that you all take the voting seriously when you admitted that you don't even know who is on the committee? I presume you meant that YOU take the voting seriously and not that WE take the voting seriously.

        1. AJW

          Ari, good point. I can only speak for myself and the few other members of the committee that I do know. We all take it seriously. The rest is just a hunch I have.

          1. Ari

            Thanks for the clarification. You are quite thoughtful and I would imagine the others are the same and do the research. And for the record I agree with your analysis (you just don't know if I'm a voting member or not! haha). Just go easy on the bottoms up stuff when you make your final vote.

  5. Mike D

    I'd have to go with Krar. He has burst onto the scene and putting in amazing performances. And if you go with the head to head, Krar did beat Sage at UROC.

  6. gontxal

    Tim Olson,solid and regular in very important international races plus WS.

    2nd,Sage Canaday,whith the same reasons

    3th,Rob Krar,awesome irruption in top level ultras,and brighter future.

    4th Dakota Jones,although He has compited in very few races,his world elite class is intact

  7. astroyam

    If you average out the ultra distances 50k to 100 miles, Krar and Canaday are the best ultra trail runners on the less technical courses, and Jones is the best on the more technical courses.

    It's only if you are WS-centric that Tim Olson is the best ;-) and at that Tim is the best. However I don't believe WS to be the end-all-be-all of trail running anymore.

    Sharman and Clark have blown the top off the grand slam, and win for mental fortitude in the long run, but in head to heads with the other top guys don't usually win.

    If pure fitness and ability in the mountains was the yard stick, I'd have to go with Krupicka, but his race results didn't materialize this year.

    The 100 mile track record is noteworthy, but there isn't the same level of competition in this area, simply because most people aren't interested.

    So I'm going to go with:

    1. Krar

    2. Jones

    3. Canaday

    4. Olsen

    1. Ian Sharman

      I've only raced Sage once (UROC 2012), Rob once (WS 2013), Timmy several times (once in 2013), so my head-to-head against these guys in 2013 boils down WS. Just wanted to point that out.

      1. astroyam

        Dang, caught red-handed. Should have known better than to blather about stuff I know so little about! Thanks, Ian! I know you have crazy flats speed too…

        1. astroyam

          Also, in full disclosure, I am Canadian so I'm biased in favor of Krar ;-), and Dakota's articles crack me up. So.. not actually claiming real objectivity!

  8. Jimmy Mac

    These dudes are all on a whole 'nother level- it's basically a draw; all four have amazing accomplishments this past calender year.

    It depends on how you weight it- Sage hasn't stepped up to the 100-miler yet, but on any 50-miler or 50k he's the guy to beat. Krar's definitely Rookie of the Year (yeah, I know he's been racing longer than '13, but bear with me here).

    Tim's WS and UTMB performances are super clutchy, a win paired with a "top American" finish, that run in the Alps was gutsy.

    But I think for the 100-mile distance, in the mountains, in a 3 month summer racing window- my vote goes to Ian Sharman. That's just gnarly.

  9. Tim

    Its a slight tangent, but if you are looking at it from the most exciting/ groundbreaking perspective then one of these two results should walk away with it:

    Hal & Wolfe for the JMT FKT

    Jez Bragg for Te Araroa

    I think there is too much focus on just race results, when this sport originated in pushing the boundaries in the first place.

    1. Ben Clark

      I like this sort of "out of the box" thinking Tim. We all spend a lot more time training than racing and although races are such a great celebration of community, the focus is purposed rightfully on the fastest at these events. I'm only speaking for myself, but I think what the folks above, Scott Jaime, even TK on Nolan's 14 did this year are worthy and inspiring results from testpeices demanding challenging logistics on top of flawless execution in performance-in between showing up and still racing.

  10. Ryan

    I honestly think it will come down to Krar and Sage.

    Although, Luis Alberto Hernandez has had an amazing year for his first year running ultras. Even though he's had to run at the heels of Kilian, his performances are consistent and impressive.

  11. Dean G

    Sharman – top 4 in all four of Grandslams TM ;) , winning one, second in another, and takes the record under 70 hours…. Krar wins as brightest new star – and maybe 'Guy we suspect is going to be a superstar' – but I'D vote Ian for UROY.

  12. CJ

    Krar has the edge in my opinion. I think it will come down to TNF50 in December to decide since several of these guys will race head to head one last time in 2013

    1. CJ

      For performance of the year, Dakota's San Juan Solstice would get my vote, although I may be forgetting other notable performances. Anytime you break a Matt Carpenter record, that speaks for itself

        1. Brett

          I by no means intend to belittle Dakota's effort. Having been on that course, running sub 8 hours is embarrassingly ridiculous.

          But MattC messed up his fueling twice during that race. At mile 21, he beat the setup of the aid station and so all he could do was grab his own camelback from the drop bag and head out. And he had neglected to realize that when he pre-mixed his broken up energy bars in with water into his camelbak, that it would ferment and foam (and taste) like spoiled milk.

          At mile 31 he couldn't get his bladder back in after he took it out to fill it (he had brought a 100oz instead of the standard 70oz), so he had to just take off carrying the bladder in his hand. I bet if he were 30 years old he would go back and make another run at the course again.

  13. Guy C.

    Wow, this is quite surprising and clearly I don't understand how UROY works. It seems to me the odds for Sage to win should be much higher.

    win and course record at Bandera 100k

    Win and beats Tim Olson at Tarawera.

    Win, course record, beats Tim at Sonoma (stacked field)

    Top US finisher at Transvulcania (ahead of Olson)

    course record and win at Speedgoat (stacked field) Also, beats Tim again, though Tim was recovering from Western….

    some other random less important stuff I'm forgetting….

    Ok, yeah, "bad" day at UROC, still finishes second in Skyrunning points, correct?

    And yes, no beard, ok. (but he does run shirtless)

    I would argue this record warrants a better description than "a wonderfully consistent season on a variety of different courses." Seems like he kicked ass wherever he went with a couple of hiccups at UROC and Sierra Zinal. And he certainly didn't hide from the competition; he ran the big races with the exception of Western and UTMB.

    I'm curious to see why this resume doesn't put him higher in the standings…. I understand that a performance at a 100 miler trumps a performance at a 50 miler, and I suppose if Tim had won UTMB as well I would understand putting him ahead of Sage.

    Any thoughts/explanation would be appreciated. Is there some sort of "rubric" used for the decision? 2 50's = 100? Etc? Thanks!

    I do think we can all agree that in previous years any one of these guys could have won the UROY and the depth of this years field points (again) to the increased competition in ultras.

    1. Alex

      Agree, except for the part about a 100 trumping a 50. Longer races aren't "better" by default. A win is a win, regardless of distance. Shorter races (still ultras, lets remember) just mean you have to run faster.

      But yeah, I really think Sage should be the favorite here.

      1. Guy C.

        Hypothetical: Sage wins TNF in December.

        It's done, right? Sage would be a lock for UROY. No voting necessary: AJW and the other "shrouded ten" could go for a long run and enjoy the afternoon…. And yet, I get the feeling by what I read here that even if Sage were to win TNF, it would still not be enough to win UROY.

        Is it those "roadie" sunglasses….?

        1. AJW

          Guy C, that's an interesting scenario and one that could happen. That said, history suggests that 100-mile performances have greater significance in some voter's eyes. I am not saying they should but quickly perusing past winners that seems to be the case.

          And, one more thing, there are significantly more than 10 voters.

          1. Guy C.

            AJW: Thanks

            Anyone know: Is Mackey the only guy to win UROY without a 100 mile win on his resume for the year?

            Has anyone ever won with no 100 miles finishes?

    2. Mike

      Agree. I think the Krar produced individually more notable performances (Grand Canyon is iconic and UROC was absurd), but I think it was on a smaller sample size than the number of difference races Sage did. Sage's performances at Sonoma, Speedgoat (what's he doing setting a CR on a crazy vertical ultra?!?), Bandera, Transvulcania, 3rd at Mt. Washington, FKT on Maroon Bells, etc. Lots of stout racing on varied terrain against stacked fields – UROY.

  14. Rob

    Your odds work out to about 11%, 14%, 20% and 33% respectively. That adds up to about 78%; are you predicting about 22% chance for some unnamed person to take it?

  15. Aaron Spurlock

    Blah, blah, blah. Is Ultrarunning magazine really even relevant anymore? They offer nothing that I can't get online, for free, without having to wait two months. UROY is really all they have left and it is void of any real meaning. Why are we supposed to be in awe of some arbitrary award selected by a secret panel, judging on secret criteria (other than AJWs self-admitted obsession with Western States)?

      1. Aaron Spurlock

        Fair enough, but that doesn't make it any more relevant. The "votes" aren't based on any measurable criteria. It just seems to be a "good ol' boys" club that needs some sort of mechanism to appear important and UROY is that mechanism. I will celebrate the amazing athletes who accomplish these feats, not the opinion of some secret, self-important clandestine group. Just my 2¢.

  16. Chris

    I think this has to be between Krar and Canaday. Both have shown incredible versatility over the year. And, this is for "ultra runner of the year". Not "50k runner" or "50 mile runner" or "100 mile runner". I really think it's an all encompassing title. Both Sage and Rob have wins at 50k, 50 mile, 100k. Both have impressive FKT's this year as well.

    But, when it comes down to it I give the edge to Krar. Not only has he raced the entire gamut from 50k to the 100 miles (placing a very respectable 2nd at WS on one of the hottest days in recent memory) but in their only meeting this year (UROC) Krar took the win. Krar has also won a stage race in 2013 (Transrockies). While Sage has run amazingly this year he has shown some "weakness" (if you can call it that) at Sierra-Zinal and somewhat at UROC. Whereas, Krar has essentially dominated everywhere. Both are incredible athletes but I'm going with Krar.

    If this was 100 mile runner of the year I'd give it to Sharman. Top 4 in four of the biggest 100's in the US within a few weeks… including a win at Leadville. With Timmy and Nick a close 2nd and 3rd.

  17. Carey

    I was going to say that the UROY was worthless and irrelevant, and I will still say that, but…

    Because we do have UROY, we are having this fascinating discussion right here. Many of the explanations folks are giving for their votes are very persuasive. These comments make us think explicitly about the kind of excellence that we respect in this sport.

    So, I've changed my mind. Not about UROY, but about getting rid of UROY. The award itself and the final vote — I don't care about that at all. But I do like the discussion beforehand!

    So, for this worthless award, my vote would be:

    1) Sage (consistently brilliant performance against the best competition)

    2) Krar (same thing; and very very close w/Sage, you need a microscope to see a difference)

    3) Sharman (mind-blowing 100M running this year)

    1. AJW

      Carey, it may be a worthless award to you but others put quite a bit of value on it. Several runners I can think of have turned their UROY success into jobs as full-time runners. I think that's certainly worth something!

      1. Carey

        Agree with you, AJW. It's a worthless award *to me* — but if I were a runner in contention for the award it would not be worthless at all!

      2. Aaron Spurlock

        I have to argue that these runners have turned their success and hard work into careers, regardless of UROY title. To say that these people would not be where they are without "UROY" is insulting to their efforts. Is Kilian missing out on anything because he has never been selected for this "honor"? I don't think so.

        1. AJW

          Aaron, I don't mean to insult them at all. But, a quick review of marketing materials from major outdoor/running companies over the past five years suggests that being named Ultrarunner of the Year is viewed as prestigious. In most "congratulatory" advertisements as well as Trade Show publications, etc…Ultrarunner of the Year is noted. As in, "Congratulations to old, fat, injured and slow AJW on being named UR Magazine's Ultrarunner of the Year". Apologies if people's efforts are insulted by my comment.

  18. Gary

    If the voting for the geographic scope of this award is only North America, then wouldn't it also stand to reason that ONLY performances on North American soil should be considered? If that's the case, then Transvulcania, Tarawera and UTMB all have to be removed from consideration… amongst others…

  19. Carey

    To respond to Bryon's question, if the award were expanded outside of North America I would give it to Kilian. As I would have (easily) for the past 5-7 years. He's a strong contender for being the most dominating athlete in any sport, period, if that weren't a concept bordering on the ridiculous.

    Second place would only be slightly less difficult: Luis Alberto Hernando. Super strong, super consistent. Kilian is the only guy he can't beat.

    Third, Marco DeGasperi. He can (or could) occasionally beat Kilian in shorter races and came close this year at the Dolomites Skyrace. Injuries drop him to third behind LAH.

    1. Daniel Westrate

      I think I'd go Ricky Lightfoot third. IAU World Trail Running Champion and an amazing performance at the The Otter Trail recently where he beat Ryans Sandes's CR by like 30 minutes. I agree with your top two though. And of course this is all if it were not North Americans…

  20. t dog

    Like everyone else, I will be tuning into the TNF EC 50 before deciding who is my UROY, however, right now, I certainly feel I can rule out Tim Olson. But man, having to choose between Krar, Canaday, and Sharman… gosh…

    Also: didn't Sage express some interest in running R2R2R in October in an iRF interview? If he were able to take down Krar's record (by no means guaranteed), that would make things very interesting!

  21. Barry

    Tim Olson @ UTMB was incredible but if you consider that Krarr's 1st 100 miler was WS and he finished second pretty close to Tim and his win last weekend he would get my vote.

  22. Randy

    Should have made it top 6 contenders for UROY,AJW.Getting a beer from each(political perc),would have made it a nice six-pack.Judging the krarteria,have to say Krar.

  23. rero

    krar beat the fkt by 30 minutes in the big ditch.Won everything he entered setting course records cept ws 2nd by 5 minutes. Maybe the r2r2r is not a big deal to everybody else but if you have ever done it that 30 minutes is incredible.

  24. Trey

    What Nick has done in 2013 is F'n BIG and has nothing to do with setting any course records. Who from the list of favorites could do this??

    2013 Races Completed

    Tor Des Geants 334km (9/8): 7th place, 81hrs 33mins

    Chiemgauer 100 (7/26): 1st place, 22hrs 45mins

    San Diego 100 (6/8): 5th, 20hrs 10mins

    Leona Divide 50 (4/27): 16th, 8hrs 3mins

    Rabbit Peak 22 Miler (4/6): 3rd, 5hrs 53mins

    Barkley Marathons (4/1): 1st place, 57hrs 41mins

    El Cajon Mtn Trail Race (3/2): 1st place, 1hr 40mins

    Rohring around the Clock 12hr (2/23): 1st place 77.4 miles

    Baz 21K (2/16): 2nd place, 1hr 34mins 48secs

    Iron Mountain Trail Race (2/03): 2nd, 1hr 41mins

    HURT 100(1/19): 3rd, 21hrs 43mins

    Mt. Woodson Trail Race(1/05): 1st, 59mins 44sec

  25. Something Completely

    How about David Laney? The dude won and set new records at Chuckanut and Waldo. At Chuckanut he came in front of a very fit Max King and his course record shows that he ran a faster time on that course than practically every ultra star in North America, including Canaday and Olsen. His Waldo time is 45 minutes faster than Olsen's 2012 winning time and, of course, ahead of Mackey's 2011 UROY worthy performance. Oh wait, Laney did not run 100 this year.

  26. Ian Sharman

    Three of those guys are presumably running TNF50 so if one of them wins I can't see anyone else getting UROY. Sage has had the best set of results this year with his numerous course records, all at competitive ultras. But for some reason the fact his last couple of races weren't perfect (Sierre Zinal…not even an ultra…and UROC), discounts those results. I'm sure if those 2 race results had been the start of the year he'd still be clearly in the lead in any voting (despite having exactly the same results in 2013, just in a different order).

  27. Deb

    One of the reasons I feel 100 miles is given a lot of weight is athletes who

    Are preparing for those races have to consider that when they race other

    Distances. The body generally is going to take longer to recover and you can't

    Afford to go into the race on tierd legs. Often times shorter races are used to

    Prepare for a focus race. They are raced hard but the big picture has

    to be kept in mind. It is always hard when you have many deserving athletes.

    The problem is they all have different focuses so even looking at head to

    Head performances doesn't tell the whole picture, I remember last year when

    The debate started asking who is Mike Morton? I looked him up and was

    Amazed at his many accomplishments. Since I had followed mountain races

    I had not been aware of who he was. In my opinion they all have proven

    Themselves deserving it is just unfortunate only one can win. It probably

    Would be easier to compare if you were judging the best athlete at

    A particular distance. I think a strong argument can be made for all four of them.

  28. David

    Sage has to be in front of Olson, as he beat him multiple times this year and has more wins overall. Then it's a toss up between Sage & Krar.

  29. Lstomsl

    If it was 100 miler of the year iid say it's a toss up between Timmy and Ian. Timmy for one stellar performance and Ian for consistency over the summer. If it were short distance it would have to go to Sage, who has been unbeatable at 50 miles and under and set several stout CRs. But as ultra runner of the year I say it comes down to Krar and Dakota. While R2R2R and WS FKTs fall every few years, Matt Carpenters ultra records have stood for a decade despite some stout competition. The only one to have beaten one of Matt's records is Dakota and he did it by almost 30seconds a mile. And the only person to have beaten Dakota is Rob Krar. Robs won at 50k, 50 miles, and 100k and set multiple CRs and was second at his first 100 and one of the most competitive ever. Dakota hasn't done a 100 yet but he has been very competitive at them in the past and also did some community service as the RD for a spectacular new race in Telluride. That counts for something to me. Have to go with Krar first and Dakota second.

    1. RobertP

      I like Dakota very much he is young and most talented alongside Kilian,younger than Kilian, but exaggeration is not advisable ;) second ? no way.

      1. Lstomsl

        You are certainly entitled to your opinion, I would never say it was not "advisable". But I am sticking with mine. Fact is that he has not raced much this year but at every time, at a variety of distance, against stacked fields nobody has ever run faster, not even Mart Carpenter. Except Rob Krar.

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