2015 Montrail Ultra Cup Schedule Announced

Montrail Ultra CupToday, Montrail announced the 2015 Montrail Ultra Cup (MUC) schedule as well as updates to the series rules and rewards. Next year’s series will include some old favorites along with races not previously included in the series. Of note for the 2015 series is a change to how and how many Western States 100 entries are awarded at each series race. Additionally, the award structure for the MUC has changed.

2015 Montrail Ultra Cup Schedule

Changes to Western States Entry via the MUC

There have been two major changes to the way runners can gain entry into the Western States 100 via each of the other MUC races.

  • Each race will now qualify 2 women and 2 men per race for Western States whereas in previous years each race yielded up to three spots for both the gents and ladies.
  • Qualifying spots will now roll down as far as fifth place in each race, if three (or four) of the top five at a race already have a spot in WS100 ’15 or decides to opt out of that entry. Last year, spots only rolled as deep as fourth place.

More details, including the series rules and prizes will be announced soon on the Montrail Ultra Cup website.

2015 MUC Additional Details

First off, we right away notice the appearance of two new-to-the-MUC races, the Black Canyon 100k and the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, mixed in with returning events, the Bandera 100k, the Sean O’Brien 100k and the Lake Sonoma 50 Mile. (A 100k at Sean O’Brien? More on that in a minute.)

About the series mixture, WS 100 race director Craig Thornley says:

“It’s a mix of established and new races all with energetic and excited race directors: the Coury brothers in Arizona, Keira Henninger and Tropical John Medinger in California, James Varner in Oregon, and Joe Prusaitis in Texas are among the best RDs in the country. We’re confident they will attract high-quality fields. Judging by the reaction of some them this morning, it is obvious they are excited to be part of the MUC. The courses are challenging and in locations that are beautiful, have mild winter/springs, and are easy to travel to. All goodness.”

First, let’s touch on the new 100k distance at Sean O’Brien down in SoCal. Keira Henninger says she’s long wanted to host a 100k in the Santa Monica Mountains, but this is the first year the National Park Service, the mountain range’s land manager, has permitted her to do so:

“To be honest, before the fires on the [old] Ray Miller course I had planned to add the 100k distance to that event for 2012. Then it burned, and the idea was never able to happen. Along came Sean O’Brien, and I pushed really hard this year with National Park Services to allow it, and they did. Montrail reached out to me, and the rest just happened. I am super excited for this new distance.”

About the course itself, Keira says it will follow the 50-mile course (which is still taking place this year but not as part of the MUC) with an out-and-back add-on near the end of the race:

“The added out-and-back section [will be] at the mile 42 aid station at Corral. This will step entirely off the 50-mile course and run on new sections. It will add the additional 12 miles we need to get the 100k distance, and also add a whopping 3,000 feet of gain and loss. The 100k course will have roughly 14,000 feet of gain.”

We move over to Arizona, to another new MUC series race for this year, the Black Canyon 100k, directed by Nick and Jamil Coury. Here’s how Jamil describes Black Canyon:

“The Black Canyon 100k is unique amongst other races in the series in that it is a point-to-point race which is also a net-downhill course–just like Western States. The landscape along the trail changes almost with every mile traversed, beginning in high-desert grasslands with juniper pines and expansive vistas. Along the way participants will descend off Antelope Mesa, dropping into the proper Sonoran desert with giant saguaro-cactus forests and traverse several desert arroyos and deep canyons before finishing on relatively flat terrain on the outskirts of Phoenix. This trail is not an easy one, with much of the 7,000 feet of accumulated gain of the race in the second half and increasingly technical terrain.

“The other important aspect of this race is the history. Although some trail sections have been recently built, this trail corridor has been used for centuries by Indian settlements and more recently as a stagecoach route and sheep drive. You can almost feel like you are back in the 1800s riding down the stagecoach route prospecting for gold as you run past windmills, herds of cattle, and mining remnants through Arizona’s remaining Wild West country.”

We also asked Jamil to describe what skills or adaptations runners will need to have success at Black Canyon, what will likely be necessary for one of those elusive WS100 entries. He says:

“Runners looking to race for those two top spots should begin their heat training a little early. Although average temperature and weather in February is typically perfect in the desert southwest (there is even a possibility of snow on the top part of the course which begins above 4,000 feet), last year we saw temperatures soar into the upper 80s [Fahrenheit]! The course has a wide mix of terrain including many miles of smooth singletrack, canyon crossings, sand, and rock. While the first 20 miles of the course features the bulk of the net downhill of the race, the middle and back third of the race features the bulk of the climbing. To do well here, you will have to manage the early speed and be prepared for the toughest sections of trail to come, climbing in and out of several canyons.”

Up in Oregon at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k, race director James Varner’s got some totally different offerings:

“Lots of waterfalls! More than we can count, even. As for racing, the Gorge 100k is a tough course to race. The technicality of some of the sections makes it impossible for most runners to ever get into much of a rhythm. The course is primarily stunning singletrack, and winds its way along the base of the Cascades, where rugged Oregon peaks meet the mighty Columbia River, winding past more waterfalls than runners dare count. Rolling hills is a fair descriptor for the bulk of this course, with the biggest climb on the course being about 1,500 feet, but there are enough climbs of 200 to 500 feet that this course has a surprising amount of elevation gain–about 12,000 feet of gain. The majority of the course is in deep, old-growth forest with ancient trees standing guard; moss flanks the trail with deep, rich greens; and runners will wonder as they run if they might just see an elf, or a gnome. This course will definitely make runners work, but they’ll have plenty of spectacular scenery as a reward.”

We asked James how he thinks the Gorge Waterfalls 100k fits into the 2015 MUC series:

“Obviously, it’s fantastic having a Pacific Northwest addition to the series! As those of us who live here know, there are some unbelievable trails up in the upper-left corner of America, and we’re super psyched about sharing them with a larger audience.

“For runners hoping to do well at Western, running the Gorge 100k three months out will be a really good test of how they can run technical sections of trail on tired legs, in the heart of their training. As Gorge includes a little bit of everything–rolling climbs and drops, a big climb and drop in both the first miles and last miles, technical terrain, mud, and a few miles of road running–it’ll be a good way for Western hopefuls to gauge where they are in their training, and see which aspects they’re really ready for in the long trek from Squaw to Auburn, as well as see where they still need to do some tuning up. It’ll also definitely punish runners’ quads (lots of descents), ankles (lots of technicality), and all those core stabilizers–if runners have weaknesses to work on before Western, this course will help find those weaknesses.”

Potential MUC participants are perhaps left with a couple questions, namely about how the series has changed from 2014 to 2015. First off, no 100 miler is included in the series this year. Explains Craig Thornley:

“Why no 100? Last year we had a 100 miler that was on the same day as another MUC race. We wanted to avoid having two MUC races on the same weekend. With the MUC races being between the December lottery and the June race, our options for a 100 miler are limited. It has to be early enough in the year to allow for recovery which means dead of winter, not exactly 100-mile season.”

Also on people’s minds must be the changes to WS100 entry allotments. First, to address the increase in roll-down opportunities, Montrail’s Senior Brand Manager, Eron Osterhaus, says:”

“In the past, not all of the entries were used at each event or across the series as a whole and since that number isn’t final until after the lottery, it created unused spots. By reducing the overall number and lowering the eligible ‘roll-down’ place to fifth, we hope to better ensure that every entry is used at each of the five events.”

In the past, WS100 has devoted 30 entries to the MUC series via three slots awarded to each of two genders at a total of five races. This year, with only two slots being awarded to each of two genders at a total of five races, there are 10 slots to spare. Here’s where they are going, according to Craig:

“Five of those entries have been reabsorbed into the standard WS100 Lottery process to be applied to all applicants, and five will be allocated to sponsor use to be outlined later. So stay tuned for that announcement later.”

Last but not least, potential MUC competitors must be wondering about how the series will be scored and awarded. Per Eron, the scoring will remain the same but, in a major change, the cash from the award structure is being eliminated:

“The point system will remain the same, and the award structure will continue to apply to the top-five series point leaders per gender, but will no longer include direct prize money. Prizes will consist of significant product packages from Montrail and Mountain Hardwear.”

Have a look at the MUC guidelines page for details on how the series is scored and how it, last year anyway, was awarded. (This page should be updated soon with the 2015 award details.)

Call for Comments

  • What do you think of the changes in the schedule, rules, and award structure?
  • Will you be running one of these races in 2015, whether or not it’s in hopes of a Western States 100 spot?
  • If you’ve run either of the new events in the MUC–the Black Canyon 100k or Gorge Waterfalls 100k–what did you think of the races? What are the courses like?
The 2014 MUC champ: Kaci Lickteig and Ian Sharman

The 2014 MUC champs, Kaci Lickteig and Ian Sharman. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell