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2016 Ultrarunner Of The Year Balloting: Men’s Edition

Last Friday, I devoted this column to an analysis of the female UltraRunning magazine Ultrarunner of the Year candidates, an award for runners residing in North America, and attempted to establish some objective criteria to assist in my decision making. This week, I am going to delve into the male side of the ballot.

As a reminder, here are the criteria I have established:

To meet the standard…

  1. A runner must have completed at least four ultras in 2016 of at least two different distances.
  2. A runner must have finished first place (in their gender) in at least two races in 2016.
  3. A runner must have had at least one top finish* in a ‘major’** ultra in 2016.

*A top finish is defined as a finish in the top 20% of the overall field.

**For the purpose of this exercise here are seven ‘majors:’

  1. The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships
  2. Lake Sonoma 50 Mile
  3. UTMB
  4. Western States
  5. Comrades Marathon
  6. IAU 100k World Championships
  7. IAU 50k World Championships

Here is an alphabetical listing of the 12 North American men who meet the criteria and the events in which they competed:

Zach Bitter
Wins: Desert Solstice 100 Mile, Mendocino Coast 50k, Javelina Jundred
Majors: Comrades Marathon (32nd), Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (10th), IAU 100k (20th)
Other Races: Overlook 50k (2nd)

Jeff Browning
Wins: HURT 100 Mile, Free State 100k, Frozen Trail Runfest 50k
Majors: Western States (3rd)
Other Races: Hardrock (4th), Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile (4th)

Chris DeNucci
Wins: American River 50 Mile, Quicksilver 50k
Majors: Western States (9th)
Other Races: Bandera 100k (2nd), Way Too Cool 50k (9th), Squamish 50 Mile (2nd)

Jesse Haynes
Wins: Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile, Leona Divide 50 Mile, Valencia 50k
Majors: Western States (10th), Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (19th)
Other Races: Sean O’Brien 100k (2nd)

Pete Kostelnick
Wins: Desert Solstice 24 Hour, Badwater 135
Majors: Western States (29th)
Other Races: Desert Solstice 100 Mile (2nd)

Paddy O’Leary
Wins: The Canyons 100k, Mt. Tam Trail Run 50k
Majors: TNF 50 (9th)
Other Races: Way Too Cool 50k (4th)

Chikara Omine
Wins: Jed Smith 50k, Ruth Anderson 50 Mile, Headlands 100 Mile
Majors: IAU 100k (18th)
Other Races: Miwok 100k (2nd)

Cody Reed
Wins: Miwok 100k, Tamalpa Headlands 50k, UROC 100k
Majors: TNF 50 (16th)

David Riddle
Wins: Georgia Jewel 50 Mile, Stone Steps 50k, Pinhoti 100 Mile, Thunderbunny 50k
Majors: TNF 50 (24th)
Other Races: Mohican 50 Mile

Ian Sharman
Wins: Rocky Raccoon 100 Mile, Gorge Waterfalls 50k, Leadville 100 Mile
Majors: Western States (6th), Comrades Marathon (68th)
Other Races: American River 50 Mile (3rd)

Tim Tollefson
Wins: The Canyons 50k, Silver State 50k
Majors: UTMB (3rd)
Other Races: Broken Arrow 50k (2nd), Transgrancanaria (92nd)

Jim Walmsley
Wins: Bandera 100k, Moab Red Hot 55k, Mesquite Canyon 50k, Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, Franklin Mountains 50k, Flagstaff to Grand Canyon 55k, JFK 50 Mile
Majors: Western States (20th), Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (1st)

Now, after reviewing this list and also comparing it to other runners who did not meet my criteria, I decided to add several others to my pool of candidates as it appeared to me that the four-race/two-win minimum as well as the ‘majors’ qualification was disqualifying several deserving athletes. As it turned out, even my attempt at some kind of objective assessment proved too limiting! I guess rules really are meant to be broken. So, in addition to the 12 men listed above, the following 10 runners were added to my pool:

Dylan Bowman (one win)
Win: Ultra-Trail Mt. Fuji (shortened edition)
Majors: Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (4th)
Other Races: Way Too Cool 50k (3rd), Cayuga 50 Mile (4th), Tamalpa Headlands 50k (3rd), Les Templiers (9th)

Sage Canaday (one win)
Win: Black Canyon 100k
Majors: Western States (11th), TNF 50 (6th)
Other Races: Transvulcania (3rd), Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile (DNF)

Hayden Hawks (three races)
Wins: Speedgoat 50k, Capstone 50k
Majors: TNF 50 (2nd)

David Laney (three races/no wins)
Majors: Western States (33rd), UTMB (4th), TNF 50 (3rd)

Andrew Miller (two races)
Wins: Georgia Death Race, Western States
Majors: Western States

Zach Miller (three races)
Wins: Madera Island Ultra Trail, TNF 50
Majors: UTMB (6th)

Chris Mocko (no wins)
Majors: Western States (7th)
Other Races: Gorge Waterfalls 100k (2nd), Way Too Cool 50k (8th), Run the Rut 50k (19th), Black Canyon 100k (3rd)

Alex Nichols (one win)
Wins: Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile
Majors: TNF 50 (5th)
Other Races: Speedgoat 50k (2nd), Broken Arrow 50k (4th)

Patrick Reagan (three races/no wins)
Majors:  IAU 100k (3rd)
Other Races: Ultravasan (3rd), Mad City 100k (2nd)

Brian Rusiecki
Wins: Bull Run 50 Mile, Massanutten 100 Mile, Vermont 100 Mile, Vermont 50 Mile, Hellgate 100k
Majors: UTMB (235th)
Other Races:  Georgia Death Race (11th), TNF 50 – New York (2nd), Mountain Masochist 50 Mile (2nd), Pisgah 50k (2nd), Manitou Ridge 54 Mile (2nd)
[Added 12/16, 8 a.m. Mountain Time]

Jason Schlarb (one win/no major)
Wins: Hardrock
Other Races: Tarawera 100k (6th), Marathon de Sables (11th), Dirty Thirty 50k (3rd), UTMB (DNF), The Bear 100 Mile (DNF)

So, with that, I have 22 runners to choose from and there is only space on the ballot for 10. Additionally, as we saw in my women’s analysis, it is likely that I missed at least one or two other deserving runners if not more. Please feel free to drop a comment into the comment section with your feedback.

And, until next week’s Taproom Annual Awards…

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Goose Island Beer Company in Chicago, Illinois. Their annual release of the Bourbon County Brand Imperial Stout is always well received and this year’s Coffee Stout is particularly good, although not for the faint of heart. Weighing in at a robust 13.4% ABV, this is truly a sipper’s beer. But, an extraordinarily balanced and flavorful one!

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • How would you rank the men AJW has listed?
  • How would you tweak AJW’s selection criteria to better select for UROY?
  • If you were to create your own UROY selection criteria, what would they be?
Categories: AJW's Taproom
Andy Jones-Wilkins: finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.

View Comments (97)

  • What about Iron Mike? He's relentless in his racing and competitive.

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  • jim walmsley gonna win it.Santa FKT already prove it

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  • Jim Walmsley..........nobody else comes close!

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  • Hello to all my American friends, there's one and only Ultrarunner : François d'Haene...just keeding. Happy holidays !

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    • Serously ? For me, Pete kostelnick !!!!!!!

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  • Browning has been a most regular year, from Hurt 100 in january to his victory in last 50k in december, without any bad result..for me is the better...Jim Walmsley is awesome and your speed is incredibile..but i missed to 100 miles....thanks from Spain

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  • I think you have only three to choose from: Pete, Jim and Jeff. I think my vote goes to Jeff Browning, he nailed some of the hardest races in a single season and competed against top notch competition. Pete would be my runner up, after all, he did set a cross country record and if that isn't ultrarunning, I don't know what is. Although Jim is in a separate category for speed, I believe consistency to be important. Also, I think I have a bias to vote for people who have a life outside of running, IE, a family and a career. In my opinion, to train for these races with outside commitment and still come out on top if mind blowing!

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    • It's a whole different ballgame with kids and a job in the mix.

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      • Well you and Jeff get UMOY and UDOY in my book! :))

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        • Thanks!

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    • I absolutely agree...a few years ago Clarkie, Mackey and I were talking about the whole people-with-jobs-and-families-and-kids thing and even floated the idea of a separate award for those folks. And, to be honest, the most amazing people in my opinion are the moms with kids and jobs and still killing it out on the trails!

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  • My vote would go to Bronco Billy. His age mixed with his consistency, nothing short of amazing. Took the "double" away from Nick Clark to boot.

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    • +1. 100% Badass

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      • 100% agree

        Bronco all the way

        I can relate to the 40 something dad bit - in awe of his achievements

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  • Accolades are for the retired or dead

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    • Pete, can you elaborate on this a bit? Do you mean to suggest that accolades are reserved for the retired or the dead?

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      • Ah, I'm just trying to yank your chain AJW. But ultrarunning is probably the most apples to oranges sport there is, so refining it to one category seems nearly impossible. Which is okay, because we do it for the fun and pain. Being under appreciated by the wider audiences keeps it pure, for the most part, so acollades naturally don't mean much to ultrarunners. But it is fun to see and compare the top performances

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        • Pete, I agree with you 100%. And for those of us who've been around a while we completely understand the apples to orange challenge. Just google Tom Johnson, Rich Hanna, Eric Clifton and Scott Jurek from back in the late '90s and attempt to make order of it. Certainly, there weren't guys running across the USA or down the AT or through the Grand Canyon as fast as y'all did this past year but trust me when I say there were still guys back then chasing their dreams and laying it all out there just like dozens did this last year. Most times, in spite of awards from magazines, it's the intrinsic rewards that mean the most, know what I mean?

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          • I realize it wasn't a race but Pete's record time across the country should have gotten a mention in his section.

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          • It's not a race so it can't count. Wait until the FKT of the Year Award ...

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  • I like that you broke the rules and added some of the men who clearly belong in the discussion. Now, to be fair, shouldn't you do the same thing for the women? It seems to me that someone like Kathleen Cusick (lots of east coast wins including some tough 100 milers, but no majors) belongs in the same way Brian Rusziecki does.

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  • What about Mark Hammond?

    1st- Monument Valley 50k
    2nd- Zion 100k
    1st- Squaw Peak 50
    1st- Bryce 100
    1st- Capitol Reef 50
    2nd- Run Rabbit Run 100
    1st- Rio Del Lago 100
    20th- TNF 50

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    • Typically, Utah runners are overlooked....trust me I know. :-)

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      • Just like Rhode Island...overlooked! :)

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  • I know I'm flogging a dead horse here, but there's just no way it's anyone but Walmsley. Yes, he screwed up Western States at the end, but MY GOD the pace he ran for the first 90 miles. Then cutting almost HALF AN HOUR off of the Rob Krar R2R2R record that everyone thought was a high water mark for the ages? Plus all the races he DID win? There's no question that he's the best ultradistance runner in the world right now.

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    • Kilian or Luis Alberto might question that ;)

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      • Killian is an unbelievable mountain athlete - he can run super-technical courses, mountaineer, ski-mo, hell, chances are he's a darn good technical rock-climber too. If there was a "Swiss Army Knife" award for dominating multiple outdoor disciplines, he'd be a shoe-in every year. But this is the Ultra RUNNER of the year award, and I think that based on past performances if you put Killian at his best versus Walmsley in the form he had this summer head-to-head on a runnable 50 or 100 mile course, there's little doubt in my mind about the outcome.

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        • There is this little race in Europe called Serre Zinal which tends to attract runners that are somewhat fast. It requires a decent amount of climbing strength and some speed. Kilian has done well there.

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          • Understatement is always enjoyed by those of us who pick it up! :-)

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          • Thanks, my pleasure!

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        • It's fun to debate this stuff but when Kilian seems to set his mind to anything trail-related he wins. Yes, it would be fun to watch Walmsley vs. Kilian or Luis Alberto on a 'runnable' course but I'm predicting either would actually beat him. We might get to witness this next year as there is talk of a Zegama showdown. That will be amazing to witness.

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          • Jim was talking about the idea of Zegama for 2017 before Western States this year but since he needs to go back to Western for redemption (but has to get in via a spring Golden Ticket race) it probably won't happen so he can focus on training for both.

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  • Thanks for publicly sharing your thought process AJW. As a first-time UROY Voter, I found the voting decision to be mind-bendingly difficult - I pride myself on being fair, objective, and insightful - and struggled to meet my own standard given the difficult choices!

    And so I also appreciate that you established some criteria to make your decisions more manageable - and I appreciate even more that you dropped those criteria for your Mens analysis. For example, if someone only raced three times and never won, but those three were Top 5 finishes at Comrades, UTMB, and the TNF50, that would one of the best seasons in ultrarunning history.

    My own criteria was this: Beat the other guy. Fundamentally, that is what a race is: beat the person next to you; time, distance, and difficulty are meaningful but not fundamental to the equation. So I looked at head-head competition.

    Unfortunately, with dilution due to all the good races out there and few recognized Championships, that criteria did not yield firm answers either!

    For me, the #1 Woman and #1 Male were apparent and so easy choices. For #2-10 I was pulling my hair out (what I have left).

    I ended up very pleased that 25 or so people will Vote - group process has been scientifically demonstrated to yield the most accurate results. Anyone who thinks they are smart enough to decide this themselves has demonstrated that they are not.

    Gonna be good!

    And stay tuned for the new FKT of the Year award, coming in March!

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    • Is this award only for "real" FKT, i.e. unofficial best times, or will you include record times run in sanctioned events as well? If the former, it's hard to look beyond a two-man race between Walmsley and Kostelnick for 2016 achievements. I'm super-happy for Karl M that he finally got his AT record, but percentage-wise he just shaved a hair off of Jurek's time.

      If we are considering official WR/AR as well, the two gals who just took down decades-old Ann Trason records at Desert Solstice and Brazos Bend have to be up there for consideration.

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      • I really think the FKT award should go to my crew on the AT. crewing for the R2R2R is almost non-existent, and crewing the run across America is childs play compared to crewing on the AT. :-) Pete's stellar run was easy to crew following along on the road, on the AT map skills are important, and the "runner" also carries alot more supplies while moving. I only say this because having also done the Pony Express Trail, which is basically road, I carried nothing but a bottle of water, even that wasn't necessary 95% of the time. Pete made the RAM a stout record, but it wasn't stout before that. The AT record was stout when Andrew Thompson broke it I think that was 2005. If you've never run multi days on the AT, go find out for yourself how tough it really is...my mumbo jumbo worth about a half penny. All three FKT's are amazing, but again it's apples to oranges to kumquats..

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        • Excellent discussion Karl! Yup, Apples to Kumquats indeed, but it's all fruit (sorry about pushing that metaphor over the edge! :-) So we will discuss what is the best FKT, and in doing so we will all learn routes we didn't know about, be inspired, and come together more as a community. There really isn't a right answer, but hopefully there will be a good process.

          And good call on a "Crew of the Year" Award! That should probably happen some day ... the stories would be better than the story on what the runner did ... but who could print them?

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      • Good question. Ultrarunning Magazine also has a "Performance of the Year" category, which is only for races, like the UROY award. The FKTOY will essentially be the single best performance (for Female and Male) in a non-sanctioned run. So Solstice and Brazos will be separate from RAM and R2R2R.

        Another good question would be "What activities can count toward the FKT of the Year?" Boundaries, thankfully, are becoming blurred. (Hint: one has to be running or hiking a majority of the time).

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    • Thanks for weighing in Buzz, and I am thrilled that you are part of the panel. Specifically with respect to head-to-head competition (which, as you know, is an important metric in John's suggestions to us) how did you weigh the fact that 19 people beat Walmsley at WS and the entire field beat Schlarb at UTMB? I ask these questions rhetorically, of course, and do not expect an answer. Rather, I ask them in an attempt to illustrate how difficult it is to ever use one method for determining excellence in ultrarunning. In fact, it's almost as difficult as determining what's the best training method. But, as they say, that's a song for another time.

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      • Agreed. This is why I was tearing my hair out! Interestingly, I put Walmsley's WS100 in as one of the Performances of the Year (my out-of-the-box nature could no longer be controlled that late in the ballot ;-)

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        • I am sure you're not the only one who did that. It is called a "performance" after all:))

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  • I realize East Coaster's often don't get a ton of love when it comes to polling like this but can someone explain to me, objectively, how Brian Rusiecki makes the top 5 on anyone's list? I don't mean to troll but in the two most competitive races he ran he was way back at UTMB and 11th at Georgia Death Race (over three hours behind Andrew Miller). The next most competitive race was probably Vermont 100 and he was 1:15 slower than he ran there two years ago and almost 2 hours off the CR. Brian deserves some love for the wins he has racked up but I feel those wins have come at much less competitive races compared to many other guys on this list.

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    • Ben, I just want to be clear that I added Brian to the list above not because I think he's top-5 (or even top-10) but rather because, as once commenter pointed out, he was in the same "bucket" as some of the others on that second list. That said, in my criteria his 235th place at UTMB did not count in my analysis as a top place.

      I do think the weight placed on the Georgia Death Race, in Brian's case as well as in Andrew's, Bethany's and Maggie's, should be heavier than many might have placed on that race previously as it proved to be a very good harbinger of positive results later in the season. Moving forward, I would strongly suggest any east coast runner complaining of a west coast bias simply go down to GDR and kick some ass as it has certainly become the most competitive ultra east of the Mississippi and the proof is in the pudding - if you want to do well out west do well at GDR:). OK, rant over

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      • AJW, GDR seems a really beautiful and tough race, and Sean's really invested and bringing some cool courses to the fray. I've gotta disagree on the sentiment of GDR being the Most Competitive Ultra east of the Mississippi. Seems crazy to imply that it is. The field isn't deep, doesn't have much of a national draw or even large east coast pull, with finishes at 20 to 30 minute intervals. Although Grindstone ebbs and flows, I'd say GDR is no more, if not a bit less competitive with less pull. The North Face Bear Mountain also pulls a more national and competitive field than GDR as does JFK. Most competitive? I think you'd be hard pressed to make a case for a more competitive east coast ultra than CT50.

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        • OK, you all are probably right, I got a bit carried away with my excitement about GDR. Maybe it's one of the top 5 most competitive races east of the Mississippi?

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      • I would be interested to see an explanation of how GDR is more competitive than Cayuga.

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      • I'd love to see more western runners run races on the east coast too. There's some really mean courses out here (Cruel Jewel, Massanutten, Grindstone, Eastern States, GDR), as well as fast races (JFK50, Bull Run Run, Vermont 100) that I think would really mix up the competition for UROY.

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        • Well, UROC will be in Virginia next year so maybe some will venture out! :)

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  • I'm glad I don't have to choose from this list. Narrowing that group down to just 10 is tough. Good beer choice though!

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    • I know, 13.4%, just in time for Christmas!

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  • I like the list and your flexing to allow others in. For me there is a clear top 4 and then everything is up for debate:
    1) Walmsley
    2) Browning ('Mr. 100')
    3) Zach Miller
    4) David Laney

    I'd probably put Schlarb up there in the next few spots. Similar with Ian Sharman. Then who knows!

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  • I know Walmsley seems like the obvious choice, but I really think Brian Rusiecki gives him a run (ha ha...) for his money. So it's really a tough call for me.

    Don't get me wrong, Walmsley's fast, REAL FAST, and had a lot of wins at competitive races, however, a lot of them are on the shorter side.

    I think a lot of Rusiecki's credit comes from the fact that he dominated so much, and dominated TOUGH long courses and displayed incredible endurance and durability through the season. For me, that toughness over the year is quite an underestimated quality when we consider racers.

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  • Brian Rusieki or Jim Walmsley of course.

    Aside from the "annual-ness" of the award, I'm still amazed at Ian Sharman's consistency and longevity. A 13:45 at Rocky Racoon, a top ten Western finish, (his seventh top-10 Western States finish in a row, with only one going over 17 hours). He followed up with a Leadville win only a month later this year (he did this twice, along with another podium finish).

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    • And what may get lost in Sharman's consistency is that he ran the fourth fastest Leadville time ever this year. Carpenter, Krar, and Krupicka are the only ones to have run faster.

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    • Certainly, Ian is one of the most consistent runners of this era. I bet he gets 10 straight top-10s at WS

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    • Sorry, Rusiecki**

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  • Of course, Jim Walmsley rolls right off the tongue, but ... 100 miles is the "distance of truth" ... and with that being said, the year Jeff Browning had is stellar - especially WS + Hardrock double... my .02 :)

    The list is great

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    • Totally agree, two hundred miles in 21 days, finishing Top5 each, let alone in record time. That's what "ultra" sounds to me.
      Plus: father of the three kindergarten dudes - that has to count for something, right ?

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  • Great list! Here's my addition, Gediminas Grinius:

    UTMB 2nd
    Lavaredo Ultra Trail 2nd
    Transgrancanaria 2nd
    Hong Kong 100 3rd

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    • Great runner, but not North American (I believe he's from Lithuania).

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    • Sorry, I realize that I didn't mention in my intro that this is a North America award

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  • Jorge Maravilla
    - 2nd at Way Too Cool 50k
    - 10th at Tamalpa Headlands 50k
    - 4th at TNF 50

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    • Thanks Chris, yeah I was definitely on the fence with Jorge. Three races, one major, no wins. Decided to leave him off. A bit harsh, I know, but in my effort to inject some kind of objectivity into the process it's how it went down.

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