AJW’s Taproom 2019 in Ultrarunning Awards

[Editor’s Note: Has iRunFar shared a story that’s made you smile, an editorial article that’s made you think, or a humor piece that’s made you laugh out loud in 2019? Were you riveted by our live coverage of one or more races? If so, consider supporting us with a one-time donation during iRunFar’s end-of-year fund drive.]

AJW's TaproomFor the past eight years (end of 2011end of 2012end of 2013end of 2014end of 2015end of 2016end of 2017, and end of 2018), I have posted some year-end ultrarunning awards. Now, I would like to introduce the ninth-annual AJW’s Taproom Year in Ultrarunning Rankings for 2019.

These are not scientific in any way and the criteria are made up entirely by me. They represent a selection of North American racers competing in events in the U.S. and abroad. My rankings, in no way, represent an exhaustive study or do they pretend to be fully representative of all that occurred in 2019, so take them or leave them. Here goes!

Female Ultrarunner of the Year

  1. Courtney Dauwalter
  2. Kaci Lickteig
  3. Clare Gallagher
  4. Brittany Peterson

Male Ultrarunner of the Year

  1.  Jim Walmsley
  2. Zach Bitter
  3. Patrick Reagan
  4.  Jared Hazen

Female Performance of the Year

  1. Camille Herron’s 24-hour world record at the IAU 24-Hour World Championships
  2. Maggie Guterl’s overall win at Big Backyard Ultra
  3. Courtney Dauwalter’s win at UTMB (interview)

Male Performance of the Year

  1. Jim Walmsley’s course record at the Western States 100 (interview)
  2. Zach Bitter’s 100-mile world record at Six Days in the Dome
  3. Jim Walmsley’s 50-mile world record at Project X (interview)

Female Rookie of the Year

[Author’s Note: For the purposes of my ‘Rookie of the Year’ award, I consider a runner to be a ‘rookie’ if 2019 was their first season racing at a highly competitive level. In most cases, the candidates considered for this award have completed a few races in prior years, but 2019 marked the first time they made an impact on the national/international scene beyond a race or two. For me, my ‘rookie’ litmus-test example is Anton Krupicka in 2006 when he came out of nowhere and won the Leadville Trail 100 Mile.]

  • Madison Hart

Male Rookie of the Year

  • Matt Daniels

Female Surprise of the Year

  • Brittany Peterson’s second-place finish at the Western States 100 (interview)

Male Surprise of the Year

  • Seth Ruhling’s win at the JFK 50 Mile

Female Fastest Known Time (FKT) of the Year

  • Alondra Moody’s Smokies Challenge Adventure Run (SCAR) unsupported FKT

Male FKT of the Year

  • Jordan Fields’s Presidential Traverse FKT

Best Trail Running Film of the Year

  • Leadman: The Dave Mackey Story by Billy Yang and Matt Trappe

Most Inspirational Person of the Year

  • Amelia Boone

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

This Week’s Beer of the Week comes from OddStory Brewing Company in Chattanooga, Tennessee. I had the opportunity to visit OddStory last weekend while running the Lookout Mountain 50 Mile and was impressed with their beer. Of particular note was their Winter Warmer which is a unique take on the English Strong Ale variety. Tipping the scales at 9% ABV, it is certainly robust but a perfect beer for the holiday season and it’s sneaky since it tastes so smooth.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Who are your choices for North American ultrarunner of the year? And if you were to vote for global ultrarunners of the year, who would they be?
  • How about AJW’s other categories? What would be your picks?

There are 29 comments

  1. Nick V.

    AJW – agree almost 100% with your rankings, but one question. Where does Yiou Wang fit in to your rankings this year? After reviewing your scoring method it seems to me like she had a pretty high average score with wins at TNF, LS50, and second fastest all time, just 2nd place to Kaci at BC100k. I typically like to 100 milers on a resume for the year, but I can’t help but put her at #3 after Kaci. Clare had a great year as well though, no doubt!

    1. Nick V.

      Dean – I agree with you she had a great year (I have her 4th and ahead of Clare and Peterson), would love to see Never Summer 100k become more competitive and she’d get more credit for the great run she had there this year.

    2. AJW

      Thanks for the comment Dean! I had Sabrina 8th in my UROY ballot and her Reunion was 5th in my POY ranking. She has certainly been one of the more consistent racers over the past three years and I hope she can defend her title at Hardrock in 2020

  2. Jesse L.

    I think the Top Female Performances list is right on but if there was a 4th slot I’d add Sabrina Stanley’s win at Grand Raid Reunion Island Diagonale des Fous becuase it might be a long time before another American is at the top spot in that race. The race has chewed up the best of the best in the past. I would also put this win as the most under-reported win of the year.

  3. speedgoat

    1. Zac Bitter
    2. Jim Walmsley
    3. Patrick Reagan
    4. Olivier Leblond
    5. Jeff Browning
    6. Mark Hammond
    7. Jared Hazen
    8. Tim Tollefson
    9. Jason Schlarb
    10. Seth Ruhling

    1. Courtney Duwalter
    2. Kaci Lickteig
    3. Katie Schide
    4. Taylor Nowlin
    5. Yiuo Wang
    6. Sabrina Stanley
    7. Brittany Peterson
    8. Amanda Basham
    9. Clare Gallagher
    10. Ashley Nordell

  4. David Tran

    Great list! Don’t know enough to really add anything material in terms of actual rankings, but I followed a few of these races extensively with iRunFar this year. So many inspiring stories! Camille, Zach, and Jim’s records were def a highlight for me and I loved following all the stories at states including Jim’s CR, Matt Daniel’s amazing debut, and Clare and Brittany going down to the last few miles! Was also really fun to see YiOu take down TNF 50M crown in person.

    1. AJW

      Thanks for the comment Trail Nerd! I had Mike 10th in my UROY Ballot but did not have him in my top-5 POYs. While his accomplishments in the 200 mile distance were excellent, the fact that he had a rather mediocre 51st place finish at Western States ultimately counted against him. We will see, over the years, if the 200 mile distance increases in competitiveness, how Mike’s times this past year stack up.

  5. AJW

    @JD thanks for the comment! It’s totally understandable that you’d disagree with some of my picks. That’s pretty typical. As far as outside influence, absolutely not. This Friday column is mine and mine alone. All of the opinions expressed here for the past 9 years are all mine.

  6. Greg H

    Bitter over Walmsley?!?

    Come on. If 100 total points are allotted, it goes like this:

    1. Jim 85 points
    2. Jared 12
    3. Bitter, Daniels, Hawks 1 each

    Zach Bitter is very good at what he does, but it is so fringe within the fringe sport of ultrarunning that there’s no way to compare him to the other current to guys. When he races the other guys on this list, he is not even close. 200 milers are even less of a factor in generating a list of top athletes. None of the top 50 to 100 USA men are contesting those events.

    The only story of the year is Jim’s Western States. Beyond that it was a down year for US men overall. I’m not hating, just speaking truth.

    The women’s list is really just a 3 person contest——that’s closer.

    1. Dauwalter. 50 points for winning the Olympics of ultrarunning/UTMB
    2. Gallagher 30 points for winning the Super Bowl of ultrarunning/Western
    3. Camille 20 points for winning a World Championship (but in a minimally contested genre).

    My one hesitation is putting too much value on races with lotteries and limits on numbers of elite athletes. That’s most events, which is one reason UTMB results should always weigh heavily on best of lists.

  7. Andy

    Am I the only one who does not Love everything Jim Walmsley does? He puts up great times at some races, then burns out and quits others. I would love to see him go crush a course like Hardrock or better yet Barkley and then he would have this top spot. I think the real ultrarunner of the year is the dude/chick busting out 10 100’s while working a full time job.

    1. Daniel Burke

      Ultramarathons are more than just 100 milers. If someone was to bust out 10 100 milers and win the majority of them than I would agree with you.

  8. Greg H

    Andy. I think many don’t appreciate Walmsley. The old guard ultrarunners don’t like his bravado. Nor do they like that he’s brought full professionalism to ultrarunning in the U.S. He’s given a glimpse of the future, where the more genetically talented American runners start taking trail ultras seriously. The road racing crowd equally dislikes him. His Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier race at the Houston last year really bothered the kids on Letsrun.com. He’s seen as not “real runner” because he beats up on those with lesser genetics on the trails.

    This is what I personally like about Walmsley. He’s a disruptor. He’s a non-conformist to others’ expectations, which I believe is at the core of ultra-distance running is about.

    Btw. If Walmsley were to put any kind of focus onto Hardrock or Barkley, taking a measured approach to competing at those events, he’d be successful. Running is running. Fast is fast. That Walmsley won’t back off to make sure he wins conservatively or finishes respectably instead of flaming out or winning spectacularly is what makes him special.

    1. EB

      I think this is an overall simplistic view. First of all, folks on letsrun seem to dislike Walmsley mostly for his fan base. They point to the fact that he qualified with the slowest time possible in a half marathon and his fan base is out of touch with road running not realizing that his time does not put him in a position to make the Olympic team, while many people actually think he will win the trials marathon. They think he takes the ‘easy way’ of running ultra’s where there is less competition as he would not be able to win road marathons.

      On the other hand, I think he may be disliked for the same reasons in the ultra world. That he isn’t running ultra’s for the ‘love’ of it. He is running where he knows he can win. Many people love ultra running for the grit, the determination, the punishment etc… its not always about running a fast time. Its about lining up somewhere you might not even finish and giving it your all until you cross the line. This is why guys like Zach Miller are so well liked, even though he has yet to win a 100 miler. He’s had some amazing performances, but mostly he embodies what many people believe this sport is all about.

      Also, I just have to say that I think people who parrot this line about Walmsley bringing professionalism to trail ultra’s have a short view. Plenty of fast runners have crossed over from the road or had track backgrounds prior to ultra’s. Walmsley was not the first to do so. While he has brought more attention to ultra’s I don’t think he has really affected the evolution of ultra running to quite the extent many of his rabid fans believe. Walmsley or no Walmsley the trajectory would be more or less be the same.

      Honestly, I am not trying to take a side here. I like Walmsley and think he is exciting and I don’t mean to take anything away from his accomplishments. His CR at WS was definitely performance of the year for sure.

  9. Trevor

    Walmsley is working on getting into Hardrock– I could be wrong but he’s volunteered there a few times and seems to be trying to develop a relationship with the race.

    Barkley is more of a ‘pure endurance’ event and I don’t think someone with real running acumen needs to compete in that. Walmsley just by dominating Western his legacy is solidified.

    1. Speedgoat

      Jim will have to finish a Hardrock Qualifier race to get in HR. Western States is not a qualifier. He did finish UTMB in 5th, but that was too many years ago. Just sayin’ Noone “builds a relationship” with a race, then gets in. Even Kilian now is not automatic, because he dropped out before it was cancelled last year. Of course…there are always “Dale’s Picks”.

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