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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?
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)

  • I'd go with Kaci. These women sure are incredibly talented and an inspiration!

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  • Unless you missed someone, out of those resumes it has to be Kaci.

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  • Didn't have to read below Kaci's resume - nuff said right there.

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  • Kaci. 100%

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  • Kaci for the win. I'm honored to even be included on this list of talented women.

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    • Good luck at Hellgate!

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      • I won't be running Hellgate, unfortunately. My year is complete!

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        • Bethany, don't you mean:

          "I won’t be running Hellgate, fortunately. My year is complete!" ;-)

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          • There is that! Hellgate and I are frenemies.

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          • I'm with Powell on this one. I'd rather have my right hip torn up than run through the night in this crap. Good call!

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          • You west coasters like the groomed trails. Hellgate is Hell...gate for a reason.

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          • Guilty as charged! Even 7 years later Mau-Har gives me bad dreams

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          • I definitely love my western US groomed trails, Bethany! However, I don't think HG is 100% evil. About half of the terrain is very easy/non-technical footing, i.e, dirt roads, grass roads, etc. The other half, well, it's covered in knee-deep leaves, so I'm not quite sure what's under there, but it's not super fun. And I'd consider all of HG's terrain relatively easy compared to parts of TT252!!

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          • hellgate is tough midnight start (fast guys don't understand running through the night), the time of year, the cold, and the leaves. TT252, on the other hand was one of my fondest memories. Way harder than Hellgate for sure, but different.

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          • 50+ miles a day for five straight days over increasingly brutal terrain. Yeah, different for sure and #badass

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  • Jason koop will be happy

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  • You missed Pam Smith. Three wins, plus 2nd at Spartathlon (which oddly does not appear on her ultrasignup). Not to mention a handful of ARs, plus one AG WR, at her spring 24-hour.

    Also, why is Spartathlon not on your list of majors?

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    • Oh, her major top finish would be 100k Worlds.

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    • Bob, you are quite right, I did miss Pam. Darn! I will edit the post to include her.

      And, sorry Pam!

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  • Thank you and I feel like Bethany, being very honored to be among these amazing women. They all inspire me and push me to be better than I was yesterday. One more talented woman I would include is, Katalin Nagy. She's had one impressive year.

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    • Thanks Kaci, I may have missed Katalin. Let me go back to my spreadsheet.

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      • I don't know if Katalin meets all the criteria you put forth because she was injured part of the year, but after running Spartathlon, I have to say she needs to at least be on the list for POY - she is 90 minutes faster than any other woman has ever been on that course (including Lizzie Hawker) and she is running in the mix with the top men. 153.6 miles in a hair over 25 hours (and not on a flat loop like 24 hour races!) is incredible!

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        • Pam, thanks for this and, indeed, Katalin's Spartathlon has to be at or near the top for female performance of the year. With respect to my criteria, while there is some disagreement on this, I did not include Katalin on my list due to her not running one of my "majors". And, at least according to the chart I am using she "only" ran three races. All that being said, when the real voting takes place I would not be surprised if she ends up in the top-10

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          • Pam that is a great point! And yes, she's definitely making a run at the POY! Thanks for all the input. AJW you are a busy man today. Just wait until next week with them men!! You're going to be bombarded with replies.

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          • Yep, gonna be a busy week:))

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          • Ahhh, so I would argue that your methodology for selecting the majors needs more work. The list is fine, but should be include any race with a concentration x of y ranked runners, where some math type (Bob H, I'm looking at you) gets the algorithm down.

            I would suggest at looking how USSA/FIS ranks skiers by a points system where your points per race are accounted for by the points of the top skiers in attendance. It's a very objective easy of ranking skiers.

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          • Excuse the bad autospelling in that post!

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          • If there's someone out there who wants to do FIS type scoring for every ultra in the world I would gladly analyze that data. Provided they understand that this particular award is for North American Ultrarunner of the Year.

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      • The unfortunate thing is that her performance last year at Spartathlon was even better -- smashing the CR by nearly two hours -- but was not recognized for UPOY. That was a Kouros-level performance, one for the ages.

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        • Yes, I think the panel (present company included) completely missed Katalin's 2015 Spartathlon run

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  • While I LOVE this conversation, and Kaci seems a lock... seems like it's time it should be renamed North American UROY, or open it up to international runners because Ida Nilsson also had a pretty great year, didn't she?

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    • It is North American runners only as is noted in the first paragraph. That is the way Ultrarunning Magazine has chosen to limit the scope of the award since they first awarded it in 1981

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      • I realize that's how it's been done, but this tiny bit of North American centrism causes me to cringe ever so slightly. I suppose it's a bit like the "World Series" for baseball, eh? :-)

        And I also suppose it's hard enough to come up with a NA UROY, let alone accounting for the other continents! I'll confess my own Northern and Western bias in thinking primarily of adding European runners to the conversation, but that would no doubt leave off highly qualified candidates from Asia, South America, Austraila and Africa...

        For such a discussion, the line has to be drawn somewhere!

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        • Thanks Gary! I know there are some folks out there who have been working on a global ultrarunner of the year system I just don't know how evolved the discussion is at this point. I do know, however, that such a poll would be way above my pay grade

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    • Gary, I'll see your Ida Nilsson and raise you a Caroline Chaverot!

      She won the two most competitive races in the world (arguably) in UTMB AND IAU Trail World Champs. Insane.

      Oh, and she also won Buff Epic Trail, Mont Blanc 80k, Madeira Island Ultra-Trail, and Transgrancanaria.

      Ida certainly did well at the 'shorter' end of the ultra spectrum but Caroline crushed the longer end!

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      • I agree that Caroline would be the Ultra Runner of the World this year! She had an outstanding season. I can't wait to see her race Hardrock next year. It's going to be awesome to have her talent in the field. And Ida, is also one that would contend to be an UROY-World! :)

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      • Utmb etc. Were more competetive than comrades, two oceans and some other big prize money races in southern africa??

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        • Mark d, no, probably not. But aside from Comrades there were few, if any, high end North American runners in those races. And, if I missed some please let me know. I hope, someday, to run an ultra in South Africa. Seems like the motherland

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          • Keep in mind there are 20,000 runners in Comrades...which really adds to the competition. The winner is competing for $30k in prize money and Africa has a great history with a lot of very talented and amazing distance runners... Max King (100km American Record Holder and IAU 100km Champ was only 8th there this year on the "down" and 52nd place on the "up" year). I really respect Max and he is an amazing runner with great range, but the competitive depth at Comrades is just totally insane (look at the close margins of the top 10 with finisher density and realize it's a 5.5 hour race or so)....running 6:10/ mile pace for 54-miles with 6000' of climbing on a net uphill course! Nothing compares to Comrades.

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          • For sure Sage, while I've never been there (although I hope to get there one day) there is no ultra quite like Comrades.

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          • Is the women's depth at Comrades comparable to the men's?

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  • Shouldn't we consider times as well (not just placing), at least when judging road / track races? Part of the beauty to those races is being able to look objectively how those race results rank in history, both domestically and internationally.

    Another "major" race that got left out is Spartathlon; consistently one of the most competitive ultras in the world. Granted, this year had weaker competition due to close scheduling proximity to the European 24hr Champs, but Katalin Nagy still ran the second fastest time (2nd to her CR from last year) on that course in history. A stellar time for men.

    Kati's friend and rival, Aly Venti won both Keys 100 and Badwater (again, for both). Again, when competition might not be up to snuff, this is where times can make a difference. Her Badwater, granted they call it a new CR, is probably more properly called a Race Record (with the revised night start), but was darn fast no matter which way you slice it.

    Another seemingly overlooked performance was Yolanda Holder's 600+ mi (don't have the exact mileage handy) at the Sri Chinmoy 10 Day. She has run other ultras this year, and that's a fine performance. I don't think it would get the nod from me, but should warrant a mention.

    *************************

    Some other races left on the 2016 calendar:
    -Brazos Bend 100 (Maggie Guterl, among others, running)
    -Tallahassee Ultra Distance Classic (unlikely to see anything to shake up the rankings, but an historic race)
    -Daytona 100 miler in FL
    -Trail of Fears (a last man standing spin-off of Gary Cantrell's Big Backyard Ultra). Notable entrant includes Marylou Corino - a 27X 72hr runner.

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    • Thanks Steeltown. I looked long and hard at Spartathlon and decided not to give it "major" status. I know that may bother some people but I just looked at the other 7 and decided it wasn't as competitive. Now, I am just one guy so I am sure many on the panel will end up weighing it heavily.

      Also, I do know about Brazos and the potential for Maggie to win and therefore meet the criteria. So, we'll see...

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      • May I ask why you'd ignore Spartathlon? Lake Sonoma has some* depth to it as does Western (some years more than others), but I'd argue Western had less depth (save for a few: Jim, Sage, etc) than in recent years, and that Spartathlon was no less competitive. Certainly, the field as a whole, is more competitive than Western or LS, and far more history (with historic times to compare) than LS.

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        • Steeltown, as I said earlier, I didn't ignore Spartathlon. Rather, I just didn't consider the level of competition commensurate with the seven races on my list. And again, I am just one of a panel of many

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  • Man, I'd love to see that spreadsheet from John!

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  • I find the Spartathlon omission puzzling. I understand it was down a little this year (competitively) due to the proximity of the World 24 hour (which should also count as a major), but it is competitively superior to all the US races included. I see the need to include the top US races, as it is a North American list, but performances on the world stage should count for more than success in local events.

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    • While I hear you on Spartathlon and the 24 hour I respectfully disagree. Keep in mind, as well, that four of the seven majors on my list are international races.

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    • FWIW there were no 24-hour WCs this year; now they alternate years with 100K WCs. So I'd assumed AJW's criteria would use them next year instead. But based on his reply here, maybe not? Which would be a real head/scratcher to me.

      Without a doubt, the competition level at Spartathlon is comparable to that at 24-hour WCs. It's the same people competing. I admit I am biased, but many, myself included, consider Spartathlon "the greatest footrace on Earth", due to the history, the organization, the competition, and especially the very tight cutoffs. (In most years only about 40% finish.)

      Of course you are free to disagree, but re the level of competition, at least, I don't think there's much room for debate.

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      • Bob, Thanks and fair enough to have a little disagreement about relative competitiveness. That said, please keep in mind that, as I said in the column, this is the first time in my eight years on the UR Magazine panel that I have endeavored to inject some degree of objectivity into my ballot. And it is way more art than science. Perhaps next year a month before the end of the year I'll ask the readers of the column to nominate their "majors" and then compile the list from there. As with so many things in this beloved sport of ours, this is ever evolving...

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  • Andy, are those 7 races the only 7 major races that you are considering, and it is dictated per year based on competition, or are there more on your list? And I'm assuming you chose those races based on several factors including history of the race, size of field, but most importantly probably competition? JFK comes to mind -- realizing it didn't have the depth of competition as the other 7 -- but say it had a 15 deep field breaking 6 hours next year, would it be in your "major" race list? Hardrock 100 could be looked at similarly - like for the men, Jason Schlarb should be considered as a top 10 UROY runner but I don't know if he ran any of the 7 major races you have listed, but he won HR100.

    For considering "major" races, and then being considered a "top finisher" being top 20% can really vary based on size of field. I feel like being top 20% is a lot. Top 20% at UTMB would be a lot of runners compared to top 20% at Western States.

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    • Michael, Thanks for asking. I chose those seven solely on the level of competition. And, my interpretation of that competition.

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  • I'm curious about your criteria about racing at least two different distances in the same year. While I'm sure it didn't eliminate anyone, it seems somewhat arbitrary. If a woman won a bunch of prestigious 100 milers, but never raced another distance would that make her less deserving somehow?

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    • Mark, in our instructions from the magazine we are asked to consider both the breadth and depth of a runner's performance. That is why I had as my standard at least four races at at least two distances.

      And, even with that, as we'll see in the men's discussion next Friday, at least three top-tier male runners ran fewer than four and are certainly worthy of being part of the discussion.

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  • All good stuff, AJW! It's gotta be Kaci, but I hope you spell her name right on the ballot! :)

    "Kaci Lickeig"

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  • AJW did you "bottom's up" a few too many before you reviewed your data? :)

    I agree on several of your pics, but I don't see 100 milers as being an absolute requirement to be picked.. an ultra's an ultra's an ultra IMO. top 100 mile races are so hard to even toe the line, I don't weight those as much; the entry process and demand to get into HR and WS don't make for a level playing field. for example hillary allen killed it this year overseas in stiff competition and didn't run 100 miles..maybe she would have run HR and WS both if she'd been able to get in (I don't know if she tried). Jason schlarb had a great run at HR, but he got a slot through sponsors and not through the normal lottery route (nothing against jason at all as he is one of my best buds and love him to death..just an example).
    that's a good side of the UROY panel in the variety of nominators' opinions. now back to that beer..

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    • Good to hear from you Mackey! And, in spite of the fact that I have been accused often of having a 100 mile bias, in this case I honestly tried not to which is why five of the seven "majors" I designated are races less than 100 miles.

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      • Hey there AJW and Mack Daddy.
        Dave, I did not receive a slot from sponsors to enter Hardrock, I gained entry with no help on my 5th try.
        I tried to resist, but failed:
        -Kilian
        -Xavier (master of UTMB races)
        -Jeff Browning
        -Timmy O
        -Nick Clark
        -Ryan Burch
        -Joe Grant
        But MORE importantly: the precedence of the race and who has raced it in the past. This race should not be left off any ultra running benchmark, national or international. HRH won't ever have the single year volume of TNF or UTMB and usually Western States, but over time most every iconic mountain ultra runner will probably run this race. One can always just look at an athletes times for HRH (with weather consideration of course) regardless of that year's entrants.

        We only really have two world class 100 milers in North America (at this time), you can't just scratch one of them man.

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        • I hear you loud and clear Schlarbie, and truth is, we all wish HR was more competitive. But bottom line, it's not. That said, a couple of the girls who defied the odds and got in for 2017 will make it a bit more competitive on the distaff side than it's been recently.

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        • No love for Ryan Kaiser Schlarb? He's had a helluva last two years.

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      • ... but none are *over* 100 miles. :-)

        One more point about Spartathlon and I'll shut up. You have four trail races, three road races. Spartathlon would be the obvious way to balance that (as well as getting something well over 100, which really is its own regime).

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  • I think Ashley Nordell should be in the conversation. First Overall at Ozark 100, and F1 at Bighorn 100.

    Also Denise Bourassa. F1 at HURT and Chimera. (along with a few other podium finishes).

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    • Both had great years but no majors. Had to draw the line somewhere. Jackie Merritt, left off for that reason too.

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      • Jackie is a stud. 2017, the year of Jackie, mark my words.

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        • ...and the head games begin :))

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          • No head games! She's just hitting her stride. I see a golden ticket and good WS run in her near future.

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          • Sounds familiar:)

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        • Agreed, Bethany!

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          • She can rep the beastcoast with Maggatron since I won't be there. #passingthetorch

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  • What if a runner were to win three of your "majors" in a year, but those were the only ultras that he or she did? Hard to imagine that runner wouldn't be up for consideration simply for not doing a fourth race.

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    • Mason, quite true. The four race minimum is, indeed, quite arbitrary and perhaps unfair. Probably something I'll tweak in the future. Looking over the women's list I couldn't find anyone who ran fewer than four, had two wins, and a top place in a major. On the men's side, however, it is another story with Z Miller and H Hawks. Miller ran three races, won two, and the one he didn't win was 6th at UTMB. Hawks also ran three, won two, and the one he didn't win was second to Zach at North Face. Then, there's Andrew Miller who ran two races, one them both, and one of them was Western States. Like I said, it's more art than science:))

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      • If Zach Miller is not eligible, then the criteria needs to be changed.

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        • Buzz, "eligible" might be a strong word as this is just me playing around with some criteria. That said, Zach is certainly a worthy candidate for ultrarunner of the year regardless of the fact that he did not meet my criteria. And, perhaps my criteria is bad. Who knows? In my column next week I'll be sure to explain that. To be honest, I think this is worthy of a classic "quality vs quantity" discussion but let's save that for next week. This is the week to discuss the women's ballot.

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      • Thanks for the response.
        Quality almost always impresses me more than quantity.

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        • You're not alone

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          • If Zach Miller is not eligible, then the criteria needs to be changed.

            +1

            As much as I love the beast that is Walmsley, let us also give thanks to the runner known as Zach. Can we please give them both a win?

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  • Do FKT accomplishments play any impact in this criteria process?

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    • Dwight, no. For the first time the publishers of the magazine explicitly instructed us NOT to consider FKTs in our voting.

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    • I actually started the FKT discussion, and even though I was one of the FKT guys...I vote against it being included. I suggested there be a "best FKT vote" just for kicks because it's a popular thing these days. Only competitive races should be counted

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  • Times relative to stout historical records are just as relevant as places and with only 7 major races considered it's easy enough to put each in the context of it's history regarding course changes or weather...or direction (for Comrades).

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