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2016 Ultrarunner Of The Year Balloting: Women’s Edition

For the past eight years I have been honored and privileged to be part of the panel of individuals who vote on UltraRunning magazine’s annual Ultrarunner of the Year awards, an award for runners residing in North America. Each year around this time the 30 or so members of the panel receive a lengthy email from John Medinger, the coordinator of the annual vote, with some instructions on the balloting process and an incredibly detailed spreadsheet summarizing the year’s results. This spreadsheet includes data on over 60 North American ultrarunners as well as a couple dozen age-group runners.

Along with John’s annual letter, each year John also reminds us that the selection process is by no means an exact science and that part of the reason for such a large panel is that the diversity of opinion in the sport is often disparate and occasionally controversial. As such, John reminds us to vote on the criteria we believe to be most important and to also consider such things as head-to-head competition, field strength of certain ultras, and the runner’s full “body of work.”

[Author’s Note: At the time of this writing there are two additional events taking place this weekend which could impact the voting, Hellgate 100k in Virginia and Desert Solstice in Arizona. With ballots being due on December 12th, there will be time for voters to include results from these events in their ballots should that be necessary.]

This year, in compiling my ballot, I have decided to establish some criteria of my own to inform my rankings in an attempt to inject some objectivity into my own personal process. In this column I am going to share that criteria and then provide an alphabetical listing of the female runners meeting that criteria for 2016. I am welcoming reader comments in the comment section with suggestions on how to rank the runners in each group. Then, next Friday, I’ll compile and publish a similar list on the men’s side here in the Taproom.

So, here you go, AJW’s Ultrarunner of the Year Criteria:

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 North American women who meet the criteria and the events in which they competed for 2016:

Caroline Boller
Wins: Mokelumne River 50k, Caumsett 50k
Majors: Western States (12th), IAU 50k (16th)
Other Races: JFK 50 Mile (2nd)

Magdalena Boulet
Wins: Canyons 100k, Overlook 50k
Majors: UTMB (5th), TNF 50 Mile (2nd)
Other Races: Speedgoat 50k (3rd), Western States (DNF)

Traci Falbo
Wins: Mad City 100k, Burning River 100 Mile
Majors: Comrades (18th), IAU 100k (16th)

Kaci Lickeig
Wins: Silver State 50 Mile, The Bear 100 Mile, Western States, GOATz 50k, Bohemian Alps 50k, Psycho Psummer 50k
Majors: Western States 100 (1st), Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (2nd)

Bethany Patterson
Wins: Georgia Death Race 68 Mile, Promise Land 50k
Majors: Western States (7th)
Other Races: Holiday Lake 50k (2nd)

Pam Smith
Wins: Dawn to Dusk 24 Hour/100 Mile, Hagg Mud 50k
Majors: IAU 100k (12th)
Other Races: Spartathlon (2nd)
[Added 12/9, 8 a.m. Mountain Time]

Amy Sproston
Wins: Tillamook Burn 50 Mile, Black Canyon 100k
Majors: Western States (2nd)
Other Races: Zane Grey 50 Mile (4th), UTMB (DNF)

Alissa St Laurent
Wins: Mt Si 50 Mile, Capitol Peak 50 Mile, Bridle Trails 50k
Majors: Western States (5th)
Other Races: Run Rabbit Run 100 Mile (2nd)

YiOu Yang
Wins: Lake Sonoma 50 Mile, Quicksilver 50k
Majors: Western States (13th), Lake Sonoma 50 Mile (1st)
Other Races: Way Too Cool 50k (2nd), IAU Trail World Championships (DNF)

Devon Yanko
Wins: Sean O’Brien 100k, American River 50 Mile, Berkeley Trail Adventure 50k
Majors: Western States (3rd)

Now, it is entirely possible that I missed someone who may meet the criteria and if so please leave a comment and I’ll add them to the list. In the meantime, I look forward to hearing from the loyal AJW’s Taproom readers on how you think I should rank the nine speedy women listed above.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Orpheus Brewing in Atlanta, Georgia. These guys make a great, simple, single IPA called Life.Death.Life.Truth that I was able to try last month while on vacation in Georgia. It’s a wonderfully fruity IPA without any stickiness or overly hop-forward tones. I think it’s definitely worth a growler fill if you find yourself in Atlanta.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • You heard AJW’s question above, how would you rank the women listed who meet his criteria?
  • 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?
  • Can you think of a scenario or a runner whose annual body of work might be good enough for top-10 UROY but who wouldn’t qualify within AJW’s criteria?
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 (148)

  • US Skyrunning Series winner Sarah Keyes should be listed based on your criteria. Look out for her at Western States next year...

    -A runner must have completed at least four ultras in 2016 of at least two different distances. (3x50k, 1x50 mile, 1x100 mile)
    -A runner must have finished first place (in their gender) in at least two races in 2016. (1st at Broken Arrow, 1st at Aspen Power of Four, 1st at Runamuck 50k)
    -A runner must have had at least one top finish (top 205) in a ‘major’ ultra in 2016. (12th North Face 50 California).

    2016 Results:

    1st Broken Arrow Sky Race
    1st Runamuck 50k
    1st Power of Four Sky Race
    2nd Flagstaff Sky Race
    4th Cascade Crest 100
    12th North Face 50 California

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  • Had the pleasure of watching Caroline Boller and Maggatron while running my race at Brazos Bend SP (my backyard) and was blown away - wanna break records, come to Texas.

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  • AJW,
    One woman who meets your criteria who didn't even make TJ's spreadsheet is Laura Kline. Wins at TNF Ontario and TNF DC 50Ks, second at Caumsett, third at Cayuga, 11th at TNF 50mile champs. Don't want to be accused of partisanship, so I'll probably leave her off my ballot, but she probably deserves some votes.
    Jay

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  • Just submitted my ballot to UR Mag. Since it's been such a hot topic here are my 5 female Performances of the Year:

    1. Gina Slaby Desert Solstice 100
    2. Caroline Boller Brazos Bend 50
    3. Kaci Lickteig Western States 100
    4. Katalin Nagy Spartathlon
    5. Maggie Guterl Brazos Bend 100

    Glad that's done!

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    • Good top 5 and I'd have said Katalin's Spartathlon was the leader before this weekend but then the 100 mile WR had to leap above that, although it's not a record that's really been tested as much (I'd guess Ann could have run sub 13hrs if she'd really focused on it).

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    • Thanks for the post and transparency AJW; fully knowing you were opening a can of worms :). I don't know what order my 2-5 would be, tough call. Fully on board (whatever that's worth) with Gina's run. Till next post! ;)

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      • Thanks @steeltown Come back Friday for the men's analysis. I just sent it to Meghan and Bryon this morning:)

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    • you and I are so close

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  • Kaci! enough said

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  • Gina Slaby - 100 mi American Record

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    • POY in my book.

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      • Agreed. Mind blowing.

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      • Amen!

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    • World record!

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  • PSA: the panel received an email this morning summarizing the weekend's results so nothing will be missed. Now we're all just scurrying around trying to get our ballots in by the deadline!

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  • With what she did over the weekend...looks like Kaci wrapped it up, picked out a box and put a bow on it! To win the UROY! Very nicely done!

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  • Yesterday was a day of women domination. Fun day to watch records fall!

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  • And one more...Kaci Lickteig 7:54 and first place overall at the Hitchcock Night Run 50 mile last night

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  • Well, last night's/this morning's results have certainly made things interesting:
    Gina Slaby World Record 100 mile on the track to take down an Ann Trason record which goes along with her 100 mile wins at Vermont and Lumberjack
    Caroline Boller's amazing 5:48 at Brazos Bend 50 break another Ann Trason record and go along with her results noted above
    Maggie Guterl 14:47 and overall win at Brazos Bend 100 which makes her the 11th woman to meet my criteria above as it was her second win to go along with her F8 at WS
    Courtney Dauwalter closing in on 140 miles at Desert Solstice after her win at RRR as well as a string of other great performance.
    It's going to be really hard to narrow this list down to just 10!

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  • Another name to add to your list, for the sake of completeness, Elissa Ballas: 2 wins at 50k, a 100k win, and 5th American at Comrades.

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  • Isn't an FKTa race against anyone who had run the same course just at different times, and Is usually highly competitive based on who has run them? It may not bean official race against live competition, but everyone goes into an FKT in the best shape and in the best weather, ruling out a top competitor having a bad run due to weather. Not trying to influence anyone, just thinking out loud.

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  • Gina Slaby is crushing it right now over at desert solstice. Might be in for a new 100 mile world track record, but it's gonna be close. She's gonna decimate the U.S. record. Can't keep my eyes off the live reporting!

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      • Wow! That is flying! Yes, of course it counts. Need to check her other results this year as I don't know them off the top of my head.

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    • Which of course begs the question: is breaking a world record in an objective, comparable event, effectively a major bc you're competing with everyone across time?

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  • So with this same logic for the men, you wouldn't consider Pete Kostelnick?

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    • No top placing in a major

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      • 29th at WS, CR at Badwater, fastest ever run across the US. He's easily had a top 5 kind of year and you wouldn't even put him in your top 10... Sorry to say this, keep in mind that I'm a huge fan of yours and all you do, but your system is flawed.

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        • Chris, as per the publisher's instructions, FKTs are not being considered this year. So Petes transcontinental record is out. With that stipulation, it's tough to vote for him.

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        • No apology necessary. The differences of opinion are a big part of what makes this exercise so compelling.

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  • And Bam! Caroline Boller breaks a 22 year old 50 mile trail record she decided to race at the last moment! Sure to change some voters minds...

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    • Might not change their minds but will certainly influence their minds. And Maggie's 100 too. Still #outthere

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  • Gmack, I hear where you're coming from and concur. However, what I did in determining my 7 majors was to look solely at competitiveness in the context of North American participation. After doing that, these are the races I chose. Next year, perhaps I'll choose seven different ones. But regardless, the seven selections had nothing to do with geography or sponsorship.

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  • The idea of Ultrarunner of the Year (North Americans, only) has always stuck me as ridiculous in the 15 years I've been in the sport. Even more so with qualifying races.

    Ultrarunning is a meritocracy, race-by-race. To render a competition based on the subjectivity of a vote of ‘experts’ runs counter to the sport. It always has, but we looked the other way and congratulated the winners. Happy for them. No harm, no foul.

    Now, look at the 3 US races - all located in California. The entrants lists for the races are unsurprisingly full of Californians. No offense, I used to live in the Bay Area, but seriously? For many elites in Colorado, it’s not a barrier, but an unnecessary obstacle.

    The US qualifying races are also WS100-centric. That is, rolling hills and leg speed. No big mountains, no altitude. I believe big-mountain races define the ultra of today. Just an opinion, but substantiated. That leaves UTMB as the sole qualifier in that category. For most, that means having a deep-pocketed sponsor. Also, WS100 and UTMB are also sister UTWT races, coincidence?

    For ultrarunning to become cliquey and further arbitrary is a mistake. The trend towards event syndicates and contrived standards pushes the sport towards tribes we really shouldn’t have.

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  • And on the same course out in Texas Maggie Guterl went through 50 miles in 7:06. She's running the 100

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