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. Speedgoatkarl

        So is Clark, that's a tough one, they live in the US and have for years right? I know Sharman lives in Bend, Clark in Ft. Collins. I'd say if they have some sort of citizenship, then they're good to go. We've gone over this before…next..:-)

      1. Speedgoatkarl

        He is fast, no doubt, but will he be another guy who shows up for a year or two, then dissapears? :-) We see this alot in ultrarunning, and it's fully legit. We all have jobs and families too.

  1. Swimmons

    I commend Mr. AJW for this post and obviously gracious interaction with all responders. I am continually pleasantly surprised by this aspect of our sport. I refer some of the responders to the bonus good beer recommendations of his posts, which will not sour your tongue like the warm piss you must be drinking. Now as to the contest… Obviously the most exciting race of the year was Western States. Even more exciting than usual and thats saying something. No other race drew more interest and thrills. And in THAT field, Olsen took it down, AGAIN. congrats Mr. Olsen, and you'd have my vote. On a side note, while important, FKT's should not count since the public doesn't get to participate in the event until after the fact.

    1. AJW


      Mr AJW, I like that. And yes, the beer recommendations are the best part of all my posts. Unfortunately, it seems that commenters only comment on them when nothing in the foregoing article inspires them. Sigh.

  2. Anonymous

    I think it is alwasys dangerous just to look at one race and say that should make anyone a lock for UROY. Although history shows later performances seem to have a bigger impact.(probably because it is fresh in peoples mind) Some people may race TNF but have had a long racing season and doing it more because it is an opportunity to meet up with many runners at the end the year. That is one of the greatest things about the sport is that the runners seem to really enjoy the opportunity to run/race together. I don't think Ian who has ran 4 100's starting with Western States or Tim who has ran 3 100's and other races if they chose to run would be able to be as competitive as they could at a different time. It comes down to focus and some people will go into the race well rested because this is a race they have considered a focus race for the year. Others will feel the racing season is over for them and they may pass altogether or run it less competively.

  3. Mike R

    I'd def throw my vote in for Krar. He has had a killer season across a variety of distances including his iconic Grand Canyon FKT, and he just beat Sage (who I would put as a close runner up at this point). Plus, his beard is just awesome.

  4. RobertP


    First reason – he achieved a lot if we take into account shorter and longer distances.

    Second – duel between Timoty and Rob – Timoty won, Western States 100.

  5. Randy

    Could also make a lottery(since they are a staple of Ultras now)for your vote.A ticket for each beer AJW gets,x-tra tickets if it's a really good beer.(Lose tickets if it's Coors).

  6. Greg H.

    Chris Barry? From Keene? He gets my vote for middle school xc coach of the year. Sage gets my vote for UROY. Sage will prove it at TNF50. I'm a huge Krar fan but Sage is the man at 50miles!

  7. Fejes

    Any UROY voter that doesn't vote for Jon Olsen to win should have their voting privileges revoked immediately and permanently. Reminds me of the clueless judge in the Mayweather/Alavarez fight.

    Jon's sub 12 100 plus his gold medal win at the 24 hour WC are jaw dropping. What's more he might even break another AR in December at the Soochow Invitational 24 hour in Taiwan.

    1. Speedgoatkarl

      He'll win perfrormance of the year hands down, if he doesn't…I agree, take the voter off the panel. :-) But he didn't race anyone anywhere else, that carries weight here unfortunately. I"d bet with 20 voters, we may see a clean sweep on performance of the year, that may be a first. He's got one vote from me.

      If he kills it at Soochaw, his name goes AT LEAST top 3. This would be an example of flying under the radar with amazing performances but no competition. (except the worlds where he ran against "non-contenders" in the NA scene). It really should be a different catagory, cuz 95% of folks who even look at ultras now are looking at trail races. He'd win so easily in the 80's with a clean sweep. :-)

      1. JC

        I do not understand why Jon's performances are more impressive than the course records that were broken. Jon set the record on a track, Sage at Lake Sonoma, Jones at SJS ect. Different skills sets, yes, but to say that one is by far and a way more impressive than another is a bit of a stretch. That's why we need to look at the competition and how old the record was.

        1. Ben Nephew

          You might want to take your own advice on look the competition and how old the record was, and then you would probably understand. The reason that many ultrarunners with a more extensive background in the sport think Jon's runs are much more impressive is because the organized and competitive histories of the both the 24hr and 100 mile are much deeper than most trail events. With road and track events, it is easier to compare across races and time. Look at the competitive records of the men that own the records that Jon broke. It'll be easy, two of them are in the American ultrarunning hall of fame. I'd be interested to know what Sage and Dakota think of their runs in comparison to Jon's.

      2. Ben Nephew

        That's funny, Karl, as you realize, only in this conversation would an international win not get much credit despite the reality that US men struggle internationally at trail events. It's like saying Meb won the Silver medal, but top US guys weren't there, so whoever won Twin Cities is superior. While I value wins with strong competition, I've always looked at records as if the new record holder was competing with all the great runners that went before him.

  8. MT

    Props to Ian's comment above. Sage's most recent results seem to be drowning out his stellar performances earlier this year. Speedgoat was a _stacked_ field. And it was not even his only win.

    It seems to me, a casual lurker on this forum :-), that Sage gets the short end of the stick when it comes to public support. Especially from soul runners. If he was smarter, he would focus on touching the grass and surviving on drops of universe juice. Or at least make it appear so on his blog :-D

    1. Jon

      Doesn't matter… No other North American has run 100 miles that fast… Wait and see what happens @ Desert Solstice, if Olsen runs it… With all due respect to all of the folks mentioned, this isn't about beards or trails (exclusively) it's about ultrarunning… Period.

  9. running blind

    Absolutely Jon Olsen should be at the top. World Championship win and US record.

    Really a shame how little regard there is for the road/track ultra scene.

    Love to see road guys like Wardian step into the trails and mix it up on foreign terrain. Olsen even did this in 2012 when he ran WS100. When are the trail guys going to return the favor and step to the roads/track?

  10. Anonymous


    Can you set up an informal UOY poll on this site and enable the collective wisdom of the iRunFar community to be captured?

    1. Scott

      I love, love this idea.

      The irunfar runner of the year award

      Performance of the year

      If I could help out in organizing it – let me know!

  11. adam

    I gota go Sage. He kicked ass at so many ultras this year already. If 100 miles is a requirement…Tim for sure. Can't go with Rob cause Tim beat him when they went head to head.

  12. Fejes

    Are multiday ultra performances banned from consideration? My 329 miles ATY 72 hour, Vol State 500k course record, 10th WC 24 hour-154 miles should be worthy of being considered notwithstanding the low number of competitors in ATY and Vol State. Or not?

  13. Speedgoatkarl

    I have an idea to qualify for the voting for UROY. And I'm surprised it hasn't been mentioned yet.

    What about having a total number of "miles raced"? Perhaps about 300-350 total? This would take Dakota out. Not that he's in it anyway IMHO, but having some kind of criteria like this might eliminate the "one time big race winner". Such as Dan Held years ago. It's different now, but it would at least thin it out a bit. Ultras are about running far.

    FKT's are out, they don't count, they shouldn't, I could very easily pull a Rosie Ruiz and go run the Wind River Highline Trail, set a ridiculous FKT, and who would really know if I were joking or cheating? Or who would even know if it's stout or not?

    I'm not saying anyone is cheating, don't call me on that, but I'm just sayin', that only races should matter.

    1. Lstomsl

      I'd support the idea of the one-time big race winner. I suspect in the future however as the sport gets more competitive we will see the top guys running less and training more scientifically, truly peaking for specific races. Like marathoners and cyclists do. It's impressive to see folks like Sage being competitive January to December (assuming he runs TNF). But it's also impressive to see folks just crushing it 3 or 4 times and never having a bad day…. Maybe 200 miles is enough???

    2. Patrick L

      I agree with Karl that there should be some type of standard to qualify for the award. With ultra running coming in so many different forms, how can you compare certain accomplishments? How does four 100-milers in a summer compare with a difficult FKT or a victory against an impressive field of elites?

      Perhaps it has already been suggested, but a 27-tier point system should be created so that all races/routes can be compartmentalized easily. Course record at Vermont 100? 16 points. Michael Arnstein was there and scattered banana peels all over the trail? Add 4 more points. Finish in 4th place at Lake Sonoma? 12 points. It was a stacked field with every Salomon runner in attendance and you beat every one? Add 3 more points. Good luck creating this, Karl. We can't wait!

      Baseball writers have been disagreeing for decades about MVP voting, too. Does the award go to the best player in each league or the player who's presence elevated his team into the playoffs? Voters still aren't unanimous. But as long as our young sport has an open discussion about the topic, we're doing ultra running justice.

      Thanks for getting ball rolling, Karl. You're the best!

  14. Andy R

    For me we are talking about ultra running. Endurance. All that we have talked about are amazing athletes. For me the most inspiring are Sharman , Clark and Jon Olsen.

  15. Fejes

    An overall American Record to me should carry much more weight than simply a course record regardless of the comparative difficulties associated with a particular course or it's conditions. The AR 100 mile record Jon broke has been around since 1989. As far as competition I am not sure the field gets any deeper than a World Championship. Most of the US races simply don't have many of the international competitors though that is changing with the advent of international ultra series.

  16. Chris Cawley

    Krar had a better season than TO, winning at each of the classic american ultra distances against top athletes, except for at WS100, where he lost by a very short margin after running basically just as smart a race as TO. I totally agree that in consideration for UROY, FKT's should not be heavily weighted, but I think the R2R2R is well established enough, and has been contested by such an elite group, that it could be an exception. The only possibly chink in Krar's armor, to me, is that he has not jumped in any elite races with really big vert or technical course conditions; he's clearly a runners' runner, whereas TO is developing an aptitude for races like UTMB and Speedgoat.

    Olson, on the other hand, won only the Bandera 50K in January against runners lesser known to most of us, and WS100. Anything else not edivdent on the ultrasignup records? His UTMB/RRR turnaround is impressive–and obviously the man is among the most talented ultrarunners in the world–but selecting a race calendar that allows for maximum performance on a smaller number of race days, and then winning across a diverse assortment of distances/conditions is by far more impressive to me. I think that if runners who have the time and resources to pursue extremely rigorous training volume and intensity would also include complete, dynamic, focused rest in their cycles–like pro-tour cyclists and elite road runners–they would run faster races, and the level of competition in ultra running would be elevating even more rapidly than it already has been the last couple years. TO has certainly shown impressive focus and distinct preparation for WS100, but he has not found a way to bring the shorter distances into his wheelhouse more consistently, and I think training for true speed is most effective when supplimented with rest.

    Canaday FTW? Most likely; although he has shown real weaknesses among his absurd race calendar, his combination of strength (INSANE Speedgoat course record) and speed (Lake Sonoma) may be unmatched. OTOH, Krar's only second place all season was one of the standout individual performances of 2013 AND a 100-mile debut on a day with extremely challenging conditions.

    Dakota had a reduced calendar this year, but I think any run that breaks a Matt Carpenter course record deserves a nod for performance of the year; SJS50 was a career highlight for Dakota, and you gotta give it to the guy for pursuing a wide variety of mountain activities, RDing for the first time, and then heading to an under-the-radar event for a focus race and absolutely blowing it up on one of ultrarunning's more challenging courses.

  17. Fejes

    To put the level of competition for the World Championship in perspective, there has never been an individual US gold medalist in the 25 year history of the 100k. Additionally there have only been 2 US gold medalist in the 24 hour–Mike Morton and Jon Olsen.

    1. Anonymous

      For men perhaps. For woman 100k, dont forget Amy Sproston. Shes a, great example of someone bridging the gap between road/trail . At any race over 50 miles shes a contender.
      Morton is probably the only US male
      runner that contends road/trail internationally.

  18. Dylan

    Might be time to split UROY into two categories. The sport has evolved and trail performances seem to be more highly regarded than Road/ timed performances. Comparing the four aforementioned
    athlete's remarkable accomplishments to
    road running accomplishments is like
    comparing apples and oranges. Do we weight winning Lake Sonoma 50 equally with running the fastest American 100 mile time ever? Some might argue that races such as WS100, Lake Sonoma and UROC have the most competetive fields
    and therefore deserve more weight. I
    personally have no awareness of how competetive road, track or timed ultras are…probably due to a lack of depth in coverage regarding the events and the
    athletes. I have to assume however, that
    when records stand from the 1980s that
    many great runners have made attempts
    during the long span of the record. For this reason, I would vote for Jon Olsen's
    100 and 24hrs as Performance/ UROY of the year. If the categories were split…hands down Ian Sharman Trail UROY! for its epic quality, competition, historic value and dismantling of a stout time. For what its worth I'd put Nick Clark's GS ahead of Timmy, Sage and Krar. Pretty amazing all the way around!

  19. Jake

    At this moment I would put it Sage, Ian, and Krar. The sheer number of wins in competitive ultra fields and course records Sage has put down just can't be ignored. Ian accomplishing something that's hard to fathom, running four 100 milers fast. And Krar for what he has done this year from FKT's to competitions, a range that is just astounding.

  20. AJW

    Hey everyone, thanks for all of the responses to this post. It has, indeed, been a very interesting discussion.

    As some of you know, Bryon and Meghan are in the midst of a move from Park City to Moab so they may not have followed along on this thread as much as others. I can assure you that they are paying attention and we will pull together the irunfar editorial team to figure out the best way to address your concerns.

    From my perspective, it appears as though there is significant interest in considering a new approach to determining Ultrarunner of the Year. I can assure all of you that I will be in touch with Bryon and Meghan to discuss possibilities as we know that irunfar has become the "Go-To" site for ultrarunning aficionados. That said, it is likely that whatever we come up with will not be entirely satisfactory to the entire ultrarunning community as we have clearly come to realize that you are an increasingly disparate and opinionated group.

    So, all this is to say, the overwhelming response to this rather underwhelming post has piqued our interest and please stay tuned in the next few weeks for whatever we can come up with.

    Yours, AJW

    1. Randy

      Seem to remember a lot of this same discussion last year,do the people at Ultra-Running Magazine,which started this award,just refuse to want to add any change to there UROY format?A lot has changed in ultra-running over the years in events and participation,seems like these awards should change with it.Hope iRunFar can bring these awards up to date.

      1. AJW

        Randy, you are correct, this has been hashed out before and, over the past few years, the UR Magazine critieria has changed. Most notably, beginning in 2011, voters were provided with dnf data which prior to that time was excluded from the data provided to voters. Indeed, there is frustration and difference of opinion about this award but please be assured that the URagazine folks are paying attention.

        1. Randy

          Thank's AJW,i'm on the outside looking in,so maybe i'm missing things,but sure seems what like Dylan above said,comparing apples and oranges to a lot of these great performances,and having just one UROY to represent all the different aspects of ultra-running seems kinda narrow-minded staying in the past.

  21. Mike

    The write up of Sage Canaday is weirdly sparse and lacking in details, as well as the obvious lack of "bold" font. Frankly, I feel sorry for the guy, he seems to be still trying to convince the old guard that he is a force to be reckoned with. Will he ever be accepted by the slow old guys that seem to make up the ultra contingent?

    Andy's twitter response to Sage's question about why there is a lack of details says it all…

    "space mostly. And, the assumption that any reader would know the results. Obviously, that assumption was wrong."

    I personally know that Sage has won a lot of races….do I remember them all? Hmm….no.

    [Editorial Note: Personal attacks and cursing have been removed as it is in appropriate in a discussion on iRunFar. I apologize if this appears uneven handed; however, I've just checked iRunFar's section for the first time in two days (I was moving) and this is the first comment I saw (reverse chron) with inappropriate content.

    I would encourage all of you to keep this discussion civil and constructive.


    1. Nicole

      I noticed it too; it's weirdly slanted content in an otherwise fair handed article. Along with an anonymous voting cabal, the whole thing kind of creeps me out.

  22. Sniffer

    shouldn't it be North American Ultra Runner of the Year??? and if that is the criteria then all races not held in North America would also be out. If a runner has won every race across the pond and around the globe, but never a ultra in the US they would never be considered for the award.

  23. Speedgoatkarl

    I"m not so sure US runners struggle with international trail events. Dakota WON Transvulcania, 4th and 5th at UTMB this year for Foote and Olsen. Sage and Olsen at Transvulcania 2013. Not sure if those efforts are "struggling". :-) It really is mumbo jumbo. And look at Joe Fejes, his 72 hour run I think qualifies for this year right? Super stout….

    I do agree that records mean alot, and to look back who held them means alot, even with no comp. Sometimes it means even more to break a stout record all alone.

    The season isn't over yet, let's just hope these jokers in congress can let us run on Forest Service Land. I think that would be first priority right now.

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