DNFs: Do No Forgets for Ultrarunner of the Year

Greetings, iRunFar Nation! Andy Jones-Wilkins here welcoming you to a new feature here at iRunFar called “AJW’s Taproom.” This bi-weekly column will be an editorial voice for iRunFar and will be published every other Friday beginning today. I look forward to sharing my thoughts and ideas about ultramarathon running and to stimulate lively discussion along the way. I will, of course, continue to wax philosophic over at AJW’s Blog, but look forward to reaching a wider audience here at Bryon’s amazing resource.

For my first post I figured I would return to the discussion I began in January of 2010 about DNF’s (follow up piece). Readers of AJW’s blog may recall that in my commentary back then I wondered aloud about whether or not DNFs should be included in the criteria for Ultrarunning Magazine’s Ultrarunner of the Year (UROY) voting. Many readers commented on the post and a lively discussion ensued. A look at some of the races and runners from 2011 could add an interesting dynamic to that discussion.

Let’s begin with 2009 and 2010 UROY Geoff Roes. Geoff would likely be the first to admit that he is probably not in the running for UROY as his two high profile DNFs at UTMB and WS100 would likely impact the voters. However, in the spring, Geoff set a course record at the highly competitive Chuckanut 50K and won the Santa Barbara 100 miler in a smoking fast time. Then, a few weeks ago he won UROC. If he wins the NF 50 in SF in December, could a case be made for Geoff in spite of the two DNFs?

Conversely, how about Dave Mackey? In 2011, Dave set several course records and notched wins at a host of races (American River, Miwok, Waldo, Firetrails, etc…), gutted out an 8th place finish at WS100, and had one DNF at UROC. At this point Dave is the frontrunner for UROY. One wonders if Dave were to DNF at NF 50 in SF would he still be UROY?

And then there’s Nick Clark. After a solid spring of race results he dazzled the ultra world with podium finishes at WS and HRH in the span of 13 days. He didn’t win either race, but he obliterated a very solid record for the WS/HRH double. :) Then, at UTMB, the last-minute course changes and the resulting race organization snafus led him to a very uncharacteristic DNF after nearly 90 miles. Does anyone care about this DNF after the season Nick had?

All interesting thoughts and legitimate questions…

Following up on these scenarios are also the notable finishes in races where runners were seemingly given up for dead. Scott Jaime’s Western States and Hal Koerner’s UTMB both stand out as gutsy finishes when others may have dropped. [Broken link to Hal Koerner’s Sept. 4, 2011 blogpost entitled “UTMB Takeaway” removed.] Do runners deserve some kind of credit for these? I know I admire these two guys and reading their blog reports on those races suggests that they learned quite a bit from those walking-it-in experiences.

Where does all this leave us in the context of our ever evolving and fast developing sport? Several years ago commenters began to opine about the fact that the overall growth in ultramarathon running and the increasing number of fast runners coming into the game was leading to more of an all-or-nothing attitude among racers and that an increase in DNFs would be the inevitable byproduct of such evolution. Furthermore, several observers noted that the surprising increase in post-race kidney problems could be directly attributed to runners competing beyond their training levels and that, subsequently, such health issues could drive some people out of the sport forever.

From my perspective, DNFs should always be part of the equation when judging a given ultrarunner’s body of work. This is not to suggest that I think we should judge the runner on why he/she dropped, as those decisions are all relative to the situation. What I am suggesting, however, is that a runner’s capacity, propensity, and ability to not only run a given course, but also to complete the course is an important variable when considering a runner’s overall performance in a given year.

In the end, we know from experience, that not every runner who starts a race will finish and in some cases that is the way it should be. For those of us who cut our teeth in this sport years ago in a different era just finishing still counts for something. And, in that context, it really does matter.

Until next time, bottoms up!


Editor’s Notes from Bryon Powell

Call for Comments
AJW raises some great questions about the roll of DNFs in an ultrarunner’s body of work. Please share your thoughts about them.

Logo Design Contest
We’ll try something totally new here. We’re going to ask you, the iRunFar readers, to design the logo for AJW’s Taproom. The design is totally open, except for a couple technical specs: the logo should be square, be provided at a minimum of 300×300 pixels, and be readable at 125×125 pixels. To enter, submit a link to your design in a comment or send it to me via iRunFar’s contact form by midnight Sunday, October 23. As it’s his column, AJW will be choosing the winner, who’ll get his or her choice an iRunFar hat or visor and any one item in the iRunFar Store. We’ll debut the winning logo and name its designer in AJW’s next editorial on October 28th.

On Adding AJW to the iRunFar Team
For the second time in a week, I’m psyched to announce the addition of a good friend and great person to the iRunFar team. Andy Jones-Wilkins (I’m told that’s his real name) is and has been a great voice and spokesman in the ultrarunning world for a while and, now, he’ll share some of his ruminations on the sport in editorial format here at iRunFar.

For the past four years, I’ve largely avoided editorializing, opting instead for an information sharing tone. That said, I’ve long thought of bringing an editorial voice to iRF. In the past, I’d thought that voice would be my own, but couldn’t be more pleased to give AJW first shot at it. I say first shot, as I’ll likely be adding my own editorial opinions to iRunFar in the future. Know that if I do so, such editorial pieces will be clearly designated.

Thanks to AJW for joining iRunFar and thanks to all of you for joining us on this journey.

There are 105 comments

  1. Brett

    At the other end of the DNF spectrum is DTMR (did too many races). Should someone like Mike Wardian get extra credit?

    This year he had great results in ultramarathons, like finishing 1st in UROC in the 65 mile division. ;) A 3rd place in his first year in Badwater (4 days later he won the Grant & Pierce Marathon). 11th place at Comrades (where he came through 50 miles in about 5h20m). In June he finished 2nd in the North Face 50 mile run in DC, then won the North Face half marathon event the next day. I guess that really annoyed him to not win both, so in August he won the North Face 50k race in Missouri on a Saturday, then won the half marathon on Sunday. He finished 2nd in the world at the 100k championships in the Netherlands. Won several other marathons. Set a world record in the marathon dressed as Spiderman. Just for fun ran a marathon on a treadmill during a Baltimore Orioles game when the heat index was 100 degrees this summer (the challenge was to finish before the baseball game did…and he did). Qualified for the Olympic Trials with a 2h17m marathon.

    etc etc etc

    I think his DTMRs need to factor in.

    1. Scott Keeps Running

      I agree with you on this.

      I think it raises an interesting about what an ultrarunner truly is. Or is an ultrarunner someone who only competes in ultraDISTANCE events? Take that Belgium guy who ran 365 marathons in one year a couple years ago (whether they were legitimate "races/events" isn't the point here). As far as I know, not a single one was an ultra. But c'mon, that guy's an ultrarunner.

      I think it should be taken into consideration that Wardian ran (and often won) marathons the day after other marathons or ultras. And that when he runs he's always competing for the win (no matter distance or surface). I think this epitomizes what an ultrarunner is.

    2. @terrysrunning

      Good point, Brett. Ian Sharman is another good example. Had that RIDICULOUSLY fast Rocky Raccoon early in the year, but a shortage of top results after that. But it seems like he raced about every weekend! So, if someone hardly ever wins or even podiums, but finishes in the top ten at every big race all year, for my money(and I don't actually have any :-) ) that's as impressive or more so as someone who only races twice a year but wins.

      1. Brian

        Just look at Gingerich in 2010. His results were ridiculous. He ran the fastest 100 mile and 50 mile times in the nation. Won Badwater and Arrowhead 135. He showed he could excel at every ultra distance but still came in a distant 3rd in the voting (barely inched out Nick in 4th). Anton ended up being well ahead of him in the voting and only finished 3 races and won 2. I am not saying Zach is a better runner than Anton but he did have a more impressive year.

        There is a huge mountain bias in this sport.

  2. jeff wilbur

    So lets take an extreme example – someone DNF's at all of the Grand Slam events plus a few big name 50's, then sets a world record 200miles in a 24hr event – UROY? I sure believe so. While ignoring DNF's will never happen simply due to the human element of the voting block – I believe it is the body of (top or amazing) finishes that produce the criteria for UROY – everything else is just training, even DNF's. Attempting to include DNF's in the process is attempting judgement based on the voters belief system and not on the votee's i.e. how does one separate a severe ankle twist, or lingering effects of the flu from a "just not my day" day. You can have a loosing record yet still win the superbowl.

    Examples like Hal's finish at UTMB are a great illustration of the "je ne sais quoi" of the sport, but should not enhance or detract from any UROY consideration, until UROY becomes a "spirit" award DNF's are simply more training.

      1. Scott Keeps Running

        But you can't strike out 9 out of 10 times and still with the batting title…

        I think this is exactly why there's the Ultra Performance of the Year award. The 200 mile 24/hr would surely with this category if that was all the runner did all year.

  3. Darthrunner

    The folks over at Inside Trail have brought up what I think is a more valid question than DNF's when it comes to UROY. What exactly are the folks at Ultrarunner voting for and who is in the running for the award?

    How is a 100 mile trail run weighted, objectively, against a 100k road run or something like Jureks 24 hour record? It really has no validity unless we know who is voting for what and under what criteria.

    Also, what about international runners? Journet not eligible because hes not American? If thats the case then UROY is a joke.

    For my 2 cents, UROY 2011 goes to Jennifer Pharr-Davis.

    1. Scott Keeps Running

      "What exactly are the folks at Ultrarunner voting for and who is in the running for the award? How is a 100 mile trail run weighted, objectively, against a 100k road run or something like Jureks 24 hour record? It really has no validity unless we know who is voting for what and under what criteria."


  4. David T.

    I agree with Darthrunner that the questions raised by Inside Trail in regard to how you compare across races (distance, terrain, elavation, etc.) is a significant issue. And what was the competition like? Likewise setting a CR is important but how significant was the previous CR? All big issues. How you deal with DNFs (and I agree with AJW's take on it) is only one among many issues.

  5. Andrew

    Interesting point Brett. I too feel the need to give Wardian an extra nod for his non ultra attempts (and resulting victories) when combined with his stellar ultra performances. I guess, in a way, it's like judging someone's DNF in addition to their stellar ultra performances. But I think at the end of the day its best to just judge UROY candidates by their stellar performances alone and leave the non ultra stuff (DNFs included) out of the equation

  6. Trail Clown

    It seems clear to me after reading many different perspectives (Inside Trail, AJW, other blogs, comments, etc.) that the whole UROY thing really needs a new "direction". More transparency, more guidelines, more categories. To being with, separate "Trail UROY" and "Road UROY". Separate "US UROY" and "World UROY". Heck, even separate "West Coast UROY" and "East Coast UROY". I don't think one "UROY" award is viable any longer. Seems obvious that it will just continue to spark lots of debates. I know the desire is to have one "grand championin" of ultrarunning, but I think the arguing is ultimately bad for the sport.

  7. Anonymous

    DNFs are part of running and life in genreal, what is important is that you keep moving after they happen.

    For example a lot of people may have thrown in the towel if they were is Geoff's shoes. The guy seemed unstoppable, hell he was literally unbeatable at 100miles. Then the wheels seemed to fall off on the worlds biggest stages, again many people might have hung it up with an "I'll get them next year approach." But Geoff kept moving, to me this is one of the roots of the ultra mentality, KEEP MOVING!

    That said Dave has had an AMAZING year, winning many of "Spring Classics" then slowed up later and continued his great season, So a little DNF just kind of spiced up the year!

    Nick. Nick is monster, I am still imagining what was going through his head those first few steps at Hardrock, my guess and hope is…not a lot!? And I am not even considering his Spring. That said I do think when it comes to UROY wins and big races are a must. And with the utmost respect for Nick that did not happen. And the DNF in France, I could care less the guy killed it all year, again those things happen.

    Ok enough talk, to sum it up, I think NF will be the proving ground for this. Interms of DNFs they happen but it is what you do with those that count! And one other thing….

    Mike Wardian??? I thought he had a pretty good year???

  8. Mike

    In a sense who cares if you DNF or not? If UROY is performance based, then isn't a DNF is the same as walking it in? Perform big, on big stages, against big competition. If you DNF or walk it in, then you didn't have that top performance for whatever reason. In my mind, Wardian didn't have enough top-level racing…astounding running year though. Nick Clark showed up big in more big races (WS, HRH, Speedgoat), that he's had the legitimate UROY performances to me. DNF at UTMB doesn't detract from his year, it just doesn't contribute to what is already an astounding year. This shouldn't be the toughest man competition, or the 48 hour suffer-fest just to say you finished award, this should be a performance award.

    1. Burt

      Wardian didn't have enough top-level racing???????

      He performed ridiculously well in arguably the 2 most competitive road ultras in the world (Comrades & Worlds 100KM) and ran great at UROC despite getting lost. How do these compare to UTMB or WS 100 in terms of depth. It would be hard to imagine more running talent in any ultra than that which is found at Comrades or World's 100K.

      Of course, trails and roads are hard to compare and the UROY award voting is clearly done through a trail-centric prism. (And it is perfectly the right of the owners of the magazine to do so.) However, I would like to see one other point factored in to the voting and that is Wardian's willingess to race the best trail guys on trails, but their lack of interest in racing him on the roads. I respect the hell out of all of the top trail guys, but I would love to see them be as willing to take on Wardian on the roads as he is to take them on on the trails.

      A new UR series to decide: a road 50 km, a trail 50 km, a road 100 km, a trail 100 km, a road 100 mile, and a trail 100 mile.

  9. Brett

    DNFs are overrated if you ask me. Dave Mackey was still a bit sick before UROC. What if he had just not started? Then his DNF wouldn't exist. So should he be penalized for at least trying?

    That's one reason why I think Jeff's comment way back above is so good. Sure, if you DNF everything, then you'll have no body of work for people to vote on for UROY. But I think DNFs are way overanalyzed when there are DNSs, or DNER (did not even register), or DNMTL (did not make the lottery).

  10. frdp

    Need an award for best 100 mile runner. Sure, real runners appreciate the value of the 50k's and 50 milers, but for the hoi polloi, like me, nothing is as sexy as the 100 mile race, just not impressed with the 50k's–so sue me.

        1. Bryon Powell

          The award in question is actually the North American Ultrarunner of the Year award. Given that it's an English-language publication based and targeted toward the US and Canada, I don't think the name needs to state everything. If Ultrafondus (France) had an award and chose only French runners, I'd have no problem with them calling the award the French equivalent of Ultrarunner of the Year. :-) Honestly, we're still a few years away from being able to reasonably having an international ultrarunner of the year award. Ok, sure we could all pick Kilian for the win (Any dissenters? Yes, I hear you road ultra fans.), but after that there's not enough intercontinental racing to make useful comparisons. I mean that both in terms of head-to-head match ups and history of runners crossing over to other continents and racing so we can get a sense of relative course difficulty. All I'm saying is that while the day may be coming, judging who's the best ultrarunner is best left to regional comparisons.

  11. George Zack

    I really don't want to care but I am interested in what everyone has to say so I am submitting this lame comment … but ultimately – UROY is not a race. We race – right? Start, finish … that is it. Whoever gets there first is the winner. UROY is something akin to ice dancing in my book.

  12. OOJ

    Love the new column! Reads definitely at the "Fully Academic"-caliber! :)

    However, based on AJW's UROY analysis, maybe the column should be called, "AJW's Alehouse" — because his UROY mentions — Roes, Mackey, Clark (and Jaime/Koerner) are all traditional, West Coast tr"ale" guys.

    Notably absent: Mike Wardian, the road/"lager guy"!

    Very tough to argue against his year: top finishes not only in the "domestic" races, but also the "import"/international events like World 100K (in theory, the "world championship ultra"), and Comrades.

    It doesn't have be a hop-laden ale to taste great: a cool, crisp lager can win out; and the "lager guy" Wardian would get my vote for UROY.

  13. AJW

    Great comments everyone! Thanks so much for visiting the Taproom. A couple replies:

    First, while I know there is much angst around UROY and the criteria for selection, please know that it is the exclusive domain of Ultrarunning Magazine. They determine the voting standards and since 1981 the award has been limited to North American runners. I do not know what John/Tia/Lisa think of all these discussions about the award but if you have a concern about it I suggest you take it up with them. I am a voter on the panel and would be happy to share your concerns with them but, to be honest, I don't see things changing any time soon. Why? You might ask. Well, they don't need to. It's kind of like why Western States doesn't need prize money. And, that is an interesting comparison. When WS decided not to give prize money what happened, other races emerged and gave prize money.

    Second, I actually intended this first editorial to be about dnf's and they're place in the "order of things". Then, somehow, the conversation quickly shifted. Such is the nature of the world these days. We're nimble, responsive, fickle, non-commital. But, I guess I am being an old boy.

    Third, indeed, to those who have asked if the name of the editorial means there will be the occasional brew review, absolutely! I just didn't want to bog down the interwebs with this first foray. That said, if you are wondering what I've been sipping these days it's none other than the "Dogfish 120 Minute IPA" If you haven't tried it, you should. 68IBU's and 18% ABV.

      1. DR.ew

        how bout that Lagunitas Hop Stoopid. little easier on the ABV but 102 ibu's, come on! so damn good. oh and as far as UROY goes, i vote for Byron for his contributions to our sport.

  14. Ben Nephew

    The value of including DNF's in any sort of assessment is to differentiate between two runners with similar records. I doubt anyone is suggesting that they are weighted more than what they are, a placing of somewhere very near the bottom of the actual race results. It is true that DNF's will implicitly be part of someone's race record, but they are not the same as a DNS. Picking when and what to race is also part of a race record. If you have two equally successful racers in terms of races completed, the runner who has fewer DNF's was able to compile that record in fewer attempts, and made fewer mistakes.

    If my goal was to finish up front, and I DNF'd, I would consider that a failure. It could have been due to a random injury, sickness, poor pacing, or apathy, but I still failed at what I was trying to accomplish. If I was too tired and should not have raced, then I made a poor decision. A DNS and choosing to rest and race somewhere else would have been a wise decision.

    I will also say that as someone who used to regularly follow European track results, I grew very tired of seeing all the American DNF's. Compared to other countries, we had far more than our share of runners at the bottom of the results, and I'm not talking about rabbits like Krummenacker. Performances have improved a great deal over the last few years, but the US men's performance at the marathon world champs brought back bad memories.

    The increase in kidney failure is part statistics and part ignorance and/or stupidity. Even people that are made aware of the danger of taking NSAIDS before and during ultras still take them. Even without the NSAIDS, long ultras select for people with at least a tendency to be obsessive/compulsive which is likely to affect the decision on whether to drop or not.

  15. Matt Newell

    The only DNF's I'm concerned about are those who Do Not Finish their beer. Hooray for adult frothy beverages!!! Cheers — Matt

  16. William Swint

    Here's another thing to consider for UROY voters. People who helped others realize thier potential. I would think after AJW helping Lord Balls at Grindstone 100,he will get where I'm coming from.

    Here goes.

    1. Max King's course record at McDonald Forest 50k.

    2. Ian Sharman's course record at Mt. Hood 50 mile.

    3. Rod Bien's course record at Cascade Crest 100 mile.

    What's the connection you ask? Well one man pushed them all to course record glory.That man would be William Swint. I was glad to do it!

    1. Max told me after Mac 50k just knowing I was back there somewhere (1hr 20 mins. behind) pushed him that much more.

    2. I don't know Ian,but on the out and back at Mt. Hood 50 I saw the fear in his eyes. If your reading this Ian, I was the guy without a shirt,that should always have a shirt on.

    3. Seeing Rod from a distance before CCC 100, I could swear I read his lips and he said,Oh SH*T when he seen me. Rod was so scared he didn't even wait the 10+ hours till I finshed to get the heck out of there.

    4. Even though I wasn't there this year, I would like to think I had a hand in Dave Mackey's course record at Waldo 100k. I'm sure he went over the splits from the 2008 race and seen that I had the tied for fourth fastest split from Charlton to 4290 and knew if he was going to live up to that he better bring his A-Game!

    I think if you take all this into consideration it will make it so easy for the voters to make the right decision and vote for me. Plus not one DNF,unless you count the three miler I was gonna do this morning. Damn this Oregon rain! When can I expect my trophy or whatever the UROY gets? And to all those guys I mentioned above, You're welcome!

    Thanks for reading,

    William Swint – showing punk bitches what time it is since 1973.

    p.s. now that Sean Meissner is a real coach do I have to pay him when I ask him training questions?

      1. james

        William, er, I mean Mr. Swint, you are precisely the reason I did not enter a single one of those events. The mere mention of your name loosens my bowels. I feared being in your presence would have resulted in unimaginable embarrassment for me and crushed any hopes and dreams of worthiness.

        My FB status has been changed to proclaim your greatness:


        James Reeves

        William Swint is the greatest ultrarunner ever. Swint for UROY

        And I have tweeted about your magnificence:
        Now please stay away from my wife, kids and dogs lest they find me too unworthy and flee toward the irresistible aura of your brilliance.

        And like Matt said above, drink up you bastards.

  17. Tropical John

    Some great comments here! I think it is safe to say that most voters consider DNFs to at least some degree, though we specifically don't give any guidance in this regard. It's clearly a judgment call, but then so, too, is the entire thing. That's what makes it fun and great fodder for forums like this one.

    Having said all of that, I think that the panel has historically done a very good job of comparing all the apples and oranges. Is it trail-centric? Probably, but so is the sport (~90% of races are on trails). Does it favor those who have done well at 100 milers. Yes, probably a tad too much, but that is what many find the most difficult commonly-run distance. So it gets the most props.

    UR only covers North America in complete detail and candidates are limited to North American residents. Kilian will just have to move here if he wants to win! We do indeed call it the North American Ultra Runner(s) of the Year. There have been many other times in the past when overseas runners would likely have won had the voting been inclusive of non-North Americans.

    Will reserve commentary on the various candidates until after the voting. Always fun to read who shoulda/woulda/coulda after the fact. Finally, I love Nick Clark, but c'mon: the previous WS100/HRH double "record" was pretty lame. . .; o )

  18. Speedgoatkarl

    Burt, put a series together, bring in real top prize money on your 6 race suggestions. THAT would decide it, and is a great idea. The real problem is that what is the prize anyway? Nothing, its a "show about nothing". :-)

    If say 50,000k or more were offered to win this "series", then trail runners may show up for that prize. Even me. (not that I would have a chance against the boys mentioned above) It would certainly show diversity.

    It won't happen though cuz' noone is throwing down that prize money, unfortunately.

  19. Mauricio

    I don't disagree with you at all. My only point is that the current name for the award could have served it's purpose when it was created (1981?), because the both the community and racing were kind of small and regional (not many people outside of the US knew about the award). But given the current growth and exposure(?) of the sport, I believe the award name represents something more inclusive, at a worldwide level. Of course (as with every other things in this sport), the people who put up the award can name it whatever they want. These are just my 0.02 cents :)

  20. Roland

    Back to DNFs. If one considers ultra running an "actvity" centered around finishing a given ultra distance, then DNFs would be a logical consideration. However, if one considers ultra running a competitive sport, then DNFs are essentially meaningless as competitive sport is all about excellence.

    A finish with a slow time, whilst perhaps an individual accomplishment, is not excellence w/r/t the sport. Many factors come into play with DNFs, including the real potential of a competitive athlete pushing their edge, i.e. engaging with excellence. Without such efforts, either successful or not, excellence will not be achieved. DNFs are an integral part of the "sport" of ultra running and should be viewed in a positive aspect since they represent, at least for the competitive athletes, attempts at excellence.

    1. Ben Nephew

      The impression that I get from talking with or reading interviews from individuals who DNF is not that they consider it an attempt at excellence. When asked what happened, I rarely hear about going for the win and coming up short. What I often hear about are injuries, overtraining, or poor fueling or nutrition. DNF's often involves intense frustration from not meeting expectations, and the reason for stopping may be entirely psychological, sometimes involving extreme anxiety. Considering how many top runners rarely DNF, both pushing to the edge and excellence can be achieved without the DNF. If you look at a top runner's career, the most DNF's will not be during that runners most successful period.

      Pre going for win at the 72 olympics and ending up 4th was excellence. If he had gone out at world record pace and stepped off the track at 3k, that would have been far from excellent.

      1. jeff wilbur

        The Pre example illustrates the "results" orientation to our culture, and isnt UROY a "results" designation? The issue is would/should stepping off the track at world record pace take away from other results? In this case, possibly not, as it might add to his who has the most guts mystique. In an ultra case, should someones running style – like Eric Clifton or Dave James – take away from their results? And is the goal of the UROY designation to even take into account running style – or is it simply results?

        While UROY will, by the nature of the sport always be a subjective title – it seems to me that by attempting to make it as objective as possible – based on results – limits the arguments to judgements that can be easily debated, i.e. this course is harder than that course, the weather here was horrible, etc. Trying to add the DNF component, as your example above points out, adds a level of complexity that asks the voters to be psychics.

        1. Ben Nephew

          If you start to take an exam, and then feel it is not your day and leave, that grade is most likely going to count (at least it should, don't get me started on recent depressing trends in academics). You state that someone's running style should not take away from their results. A conservative runner certainly pays the price for their running style in their record of results, why should we omit DNF's for someone runs aggressively? DNF's are results, and a policy of not considering them will surely encourage runners to drop out more often, which I do not want to see at races. If I win a race, and someone drops out, did I not beat that runner? You don't have to be a psychic, just log the race results. My comment about the reasons for dropping can also be applied to poor performances, should those be omitted as well? Including DNF's is not subjective. Omiting them is grade inflation.

          If you were selecting a team for an international competition with team scoring, I would hope you would want to know how often someone fails to finish a race.

          1. jeff wilbur

            Interesting thoughts, but I would argue that a DNF is a result, as in an outcome – but not a Result, as in a satisfactory outcome of an undertaking (both listed definitions) A conservative runner will not have the satisfactory Results to compare to an aggressive runner – example: 5 top ten finishes vs 3 wins,1 course record and 2 DNFs – the logged Results speak for themselves, no? Finisher = Result, nonfinisher = result.

            My point is that in order to use DNFs as a criteria you have to discern the underlying reasoning behind them to be able to apply them fairly – and I dont think thats possible in all/most cases.

            International team competition is a different animal, UROY is not a team designation.

            1. Ben Nephew

              My first point was that DNF's are useful to differentiate between two runners with similar records. One runner with 5 wins, no DNF's, one runner with 5 wins and 2-3 DNF's.

              I am trying to make general comments about DNF's without being specific to UROY, and international teams should consist of the best runners. Clearly UROY is a subjective award, so omitting something that may be subjective seems odd. With UROY, we are talking about runners who are racing on all sorts of different courses with extreme variations in the competitiveness of the fields. All wins are not equal. I think a win at WS lasts at least a couple of years, if not a decade!

              I don't think the reasoning for a DNF is necessary. What would justify not including a DNF, food poisoning? If I eat some bad sushi and don't race well, but finish, can we just drop that result?

              If competiveness of race field is an important consideration in assessing a race record, was the field strength at UTMB much less at the finish than at the start after all the drops? Should we consider DNF's for field competitiveness, but not on an individual basis?

            2. jeff wilbur

              So when comparing similar records – if the DNFs are the result of sprained/broken ankles, or getting lost (does it matter who's fault?vandals or inattention), food poisoning from the pre-race meal, stopping to help another injured runner, being kicked by a moose, or just plain tired from over racing, etc. – do they all have the same weight? and are considered as detrimental to the record vs someone with no DNFs?

              All wins are not equal, but neither are all DNFs – pushing to the limit and blowing up is vastly different from many of the above – and the question is can a UROY voter know the reasoning behind every DNF to be able to judge.

            3. Ben Nephew

              Injuries and bad luck can affect finishes as well as DNF's. Why is it OK to not know the reasoning behind every finish, but DNF's are to be omitted because the reasoning is unknown?

            4. jeff wilbur

              I can't come up with an injury or bad luck scenario that affects a finish (except for the injury/bad luck happening to another runner thereby effecting the final standing) that would be pertinent to or effect UROY voting?? The finish is what it is – any concerns for rules violations, cheating, etc. would be assumed to have been vetted by the RD.

              But, applying a negative value for a DNF does (or could) effect voting – so it seems to be an apples/oranges comparison – in the case of UROY.

      2. Roland

        Ben, I would only ask if these are competitive ultra marathon runners you quote (meaning that they have realistic goals of winning or being within 110% of the winning time, i.e. they are truly elite runners and not "the rest of the field"), then why are they there? It is all about excellence at world-level competitions in deep fields, and the DNF (1) could, as I say above, be the result of many, interacting, factors (e.g. training, health, and injury) all of which are part of the same multi-variant "equation" determining a particular athletic performance. The psychological part of endurance sport (or any sport for that matter) is major, as you well know. An inability to routinely manage, from both a mental and a physical perspective, the vagaries of conditions that arise during an ultra race will lead to highly variable results for a talented athlete. Consistency has much to do with this, but if you are attempting excellence with "the edge" being very near it does not take much for something to go wrong and possibly lead to a DNF. In addition, as one progresses in their training and conditioning, experiments must be run in order for one to determine where their edge is. Often a race is where this experimentation can be best deployed. We have often heard competitors say something like: "well I went out harder than I thought I could and then, to my surprise, I just held it"… such occasions are elation for the athlete and represent one small step in the journey to excellence. But in the same instance, perhaps the athlete could not hold the pace, they may have just gone over the edge and not be able to recover. The sport will be well served, and I, for one, would rather see, the attempt than the pulling back to ensure a finish in a non-competitive time in every race (1).

        The attempt at excellence is always the focus for the elites, otherwise what is the point? Some may from time to time treat a race as a "training race" but they are forwardly admitting at the outset that they are not going to attempt excellence.

        As far as the exigent conditions (fueling, nutrition, over-training, etc.) these are all things that need to be focused upon in order for excellence to be achieved. They are all a part of the same thing: the drive for excellence. Without it we do not have sport.

        (1) The current statistics (whatever they are) on DNFs of "top" trail ultra marathon runners may be affected by the depth of the field, as there may only be a few truly "elite" athletes entered in any given event. As a result they may not be challenged to the fullest extent. In highly competitive individual endurance sports such as the road marathon and Nordic skiing it is common for there to be a significant number of competitors within about 5% of the winning time. We are beginning to see this happening in ultra races (e.g. at the WS 2011, there were 5 competitors within 5% of the winning time) but the sport is hampered by the lack of routine inclusion of qualified "elite" racers in many US events.

        (2) In an embryonic sport such as trail ultra marathon, we are in the early stages of learning how to train for such races. As the sport matures and the fields become deeper it will be interesting to see what role DNFs play. It may be that when the sport reaches some level of maturity (e.g. that at any given race there are 20 or more competitors that could take the race, as is the case in many sports) the DNF is more common. Then again, with increased knowledge of training techniques perhaps a DNF will become less common.

        1. Ben Nephew

          Kilian clearly stated he was exhausted before his recent DNF, and said he make a bad decision on racing. He raced because he had family coming to the race. Nick Clark cited poor communication about the course changes at UTMB. Other discussions that my comments are based on are from runners who have made World Mountain Running Teams and World 50k and 100k teams.

          You don't need to DNF to find out where you limits are, especially when success is running a fast pace for a very long time. Massive positive splits are enough to test your limits. Someone who doesn't DNF isn't pushing to the edge?

          I think one common qualify of my competitive ultra runner friends is their ability to challenge themselves, so I don't know if a deep field is necessary. Let's take Geoff Roes for example. During both his WS course record and his UROC win, he ran his own race; letting other runners get sizable leads. The depth of the field did not seem to have much of an impact on his race. Mike Wardian can run a mid 2:50 50k in one of the most competitive 50k's of the year (IAU 50k 2010), and can also run the same time with a 10 minute lead at the USATF champs. Many of the ultra trail course records have involved incredible margins of victory. I don't think deeper fields are going to result in more DNF's among the top racers. As you note, it is possible that deeper fields will result in the front of the race being filled with highly motivated runners that train very hard, are acutely aware of their abilities, and have enough experience to properly prepare for races 99% of the time.

          The comment about races being times to experiment is interesting. In marathoning it is now common for long runs to be at marathon race pace, and this type of training is certainly not limited to world record chasing marathoners. Top marathon coaches will now give very specific predictions of what their athletes are capable of. This is not some extrapolation from a 10k, this is from 22 mile run at race pace. It was not a surprise to Khalid Khannouchi when we was able to throw down 4:30 miles at the end of marathon because he did that in workouts.

          Do you think that the many top runners who DNF at the Olympic marathon are all going for the win and drop out due to the effort? I always thought it had more to do with the major fall marathons!

          1. Roland

            Great comments!

            I agree that one need not DNF to find one's limits…. but one might; even the best may. Truly pushing the edge and not DNFing represents an optimal performance, something we all strive for.

            Nick's experience may be a case in point. He was running an excellent race, perhaps near his edge and was thrown a curveball with the course change/lengthening (we won't discuss the efficacy of text messaging in weather-controlled mountainous terrain for notification of course changes in one of the most challenging 160K-ish ultras) and he realized (as it seems to be portrayed in his account), based on what he had already put forth, that he could not realistically expect to continue to the finish at a competitive (or perhaps at any reasonable) pace. This is one such "something" that can go wrong and lead to a DNF.

            Agreed, this sport is a lot about challenging one's self, maintaining discipline for intelligent training, and staying healthy. However if there are more and more elite level competitors, does the bar not rise? I think so. It is in this respect that the depth of the field does make a difference. However, ultras could be different, time will tell.

            The race pace workout at or near race length is common in many sports (Nordic skiing being a prime example) and does provide for additional confidence in the competitive event. But there is no replacement for the combination of a great day with great competition to produce excellence. The deeper the fields, the more likely it is for this to happen. It is readily apparent in swimming where the race conditions are highly controlled and the training is very formulaic. It is also seen in road cycling and, again, in Nordic skiing. Perhaps the variability inherent in ultras will prevent such from ever being the case.

            Once real sponsorship enters the fray in a significant way in ultras, you will see some behaviour that is focused on the broader picture (i.e. "fall marathons", etc.), which is, unfortunately, a byproduct of professionalism. In fact Jornet demonstrated this at UTMB 2011 when, by his own admission, he waited for his teammates to help ensure a Salomon-dominated podium, saying that since the course had been changed there was no point in going after a record. One can argue that this same professionalism will also lead to greater accomplishment in the right circumstance.

            DNFing is a bummer. No one wants to see it happen. But it is a reality of pushing one's self beyond one's limits (either physically or mentally (or both)) on the day of a particular competition. The more experienced one becomes, the less likely it will be, however, that probability will not go to zero. I argue that it is better for the sport to not put "artificial" barriers between the competitor and excellence, rather, let the edge be probed and the performance be maximized without undue value being assessed to the act of finishing.

            As has oft been quoted:

            It's not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or when the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worth cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat.

            Theodore Roosevelt

            Dare greatly… it is what leads to excellence.

            1. Ben Nephew

              Saying that DNF's are a reality of pushing oneself to the limit is a glorification. If we are talking about top competitors, we are comparing people that win a lot and DNF versus those that win frequently and don't DNF. If the DNF is necessary to pursue your limits, then apparently Geb, Bekele, Khannouchi, Tergat, etc. were not pushing hard enough when they were dominant. I'm sure you can find a few DNF's during their top years, but these would be outliers. Based on the reports from Geb's recent DNF, he had an asthma attack and made a mistake by not bringing his inhaler. If he had his inhaler and had been able to finish, would that have indicated that he wasn't pushing as hard as if he had DNF'd?

              Including DNF's is not placing undue value, it's just being honest. Omitting data is artificial, and I see the negative effects of data omission all the time. It used to be thought that SSRI's were safe for teens, because a few adverse events in clinical testing (commonly known as suicides) were not published. The drug companies are also persuing excellence in a competitive field.

            2. Roland

              It is not proposed that DNFs are necessary for pursuit of excellence, just a possibility. Glorification might be your interpretation but others view DNFs differently and with positive value.

              If you would like to use the process of science metaphorically, then let's take it to a full logical conclusion. As a research scientist (Physics), one knows that the process of science is all about being wrong, as this is what allows for discovery. One must be wrong, know and understand why, and to proceed to discover truisms. This is the case in theoretical and experimental pursuits. The DNF is about being wrong, knowing and understanding why, and proceeding to higher achievement with this knowledge. Einstein had formulated much of the conceptual aspects of the General Theory of Relativity but cast about trying to develop a mathematical formalism to describe it. He tried a few and they were lacking and then discovered the work of Levi-Civita and put it all together. Being wrong about the mathematics was a positive part of the ultimate advance (1). Including DNFs as a negative aspect of evaluating greatness is misplaced. It is an integral part of the process of attaining greatness.

              Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

              Samuel Beckett

              (1) If the drug companies (i.e. the scientists employed at the drug companies) were in fact pursuing excellence in a competitive field then I expect that they had good reasons, at the time, to exclude certain "adverse events". They have likely now learned from this mistake… at least we hope. I prefer to take the view that scientists (and engineers) do not purposefully omit data, rather they are using a thought process that, for some reason, excludes these data from the aggregate. This thought process is in a continual state of development when you are at the "edge" of knowledge.

  21. Cedar Tree

    Somehow I can't imagine more than 6 or 7 persons actually care about UROY … it's kind of a 'big fish in a small pond' award.

    1. Mackey

      Ben: All DNF's have some background information that make their "justification" purely subjective. Some have circumstances where a runner makes a poor decision will lead to DNFs but safe to say that the vast majority of ultra DNFs come from these circumstances.

      1) Going out to fast

      2) Racing too often or overtraining (fatigue)

      3) Undertraining.. out of shape

      4) Illness

      5) Brain fart.. aka error, ie getting off course

      As long as someone isn't DNFing a significant number of times, I don't think it's a big deal. Everyone weighs risks versus rewards every time they choose to race and during the race, and some are more conservative than others in their pacing and will never what it is like to completely blow up. Ultrarunning is much more competitive now that it was prior (not to say there haven't been exceptional runners and times prior but overall the sport is faster internationally). Think about signficant times and course records, like Geoff's WS course record. I paced him and know first hand what it took for him to set a new standard at WS. He ran on the edge the whole race. If he had DNF'ed, in AJWs book that'd have been a failure. It took risky running for him to open a new chapter in running. And even this year on a faster course Kilian could come close to Geoff's time from 2010.

      And even the fabled Kilian dropped this year. He found his seemingly nonexisting limit by overracing, and in my book should be applauded for doing so, not knocked down a notch.

      RE: "forgetting" an inhaler.. whose to say Gebrelaisie (sp) didn't want to try racing without his inhaler? as albuterol can also have side effects such as reduced potassium levels and chest tightness. In all likelihood he was experimenting.. aka taking a risk. Running without an inhaler is like forgetting to run without socks.

      1. Bryon Powell

        Mackey, I strongly agree with your statement, "As long as someone isn’t DNFing a significant number of times, I don’t think it’s a big deal." I think one would have to heavily weigh DNFs if someone who would only continue running if he or she were in first or on course record pace, with that runner dropping from a very high percentage of races. There have been ultrarunners who've taken approaches like this. This would be heightened if there are frequent circumstances of that runner dropping directly after being passed (and in second, seemingly fine otherwise) or falling off that course record pace. These are the scenarios in which I think DNFs in and of themselves.

        Here's how I see less chronic DNFing figuring into something like UROY… and why a lack of consideration would be detrimental. In considering an ultrarunner's annual body of work, I think it's natural to first look at wins, degree of competition at those wins, and Performance of the Year type performances (national records, significant course records at well established course, etc.) regardless of competition. After that I think it would make sense to look at a runner's deeper placings. When was he or she a close second or third. When was he or she a distance fifth or eighth or eleventh. A runner's position further back can boost a runner's relative status, if those positions are close to the winner in a competitive field. On the other hand, a mix of a few great performances with as many or more relatively mediocre performances would lower a runner's overall status on the year. I think it's in this latter group that DNFs need to be considered. Sure, one DNF is relatively, if not completely, meaningless. On the other hand, I would look at a couple DNFs along side those less spectacular performances and weigh into the runner's cumulative performance on the year. Not necessarily "a big deal," just part of the equation rather than something that vanishes into the ether.

        1. Roland

          Bryon, Good points which support the importance of a points system for such awards or ranking. The DNF is accounted for in a points system because you do not get points if you do not finish (or, in some points systems, you get more points, where fewer points are the desired result). Putting a points system together for ultra marathon will be difficult but the FIS system used in Nordic skiing is an example of how to accommodate the variability in course, competition, and distance. Here is an excerpt which tries to explain the basis for the (complicated) points system:

          FIS points – why are they so complicated?

          Cross-country skiing competitions take place mostly in mountainous and forested terrain around the world. Unlike most other sports with standardized courts, pitches, tracks or courses, cross-country skiing is, in essence, a “wilderness” sport. There is a range of standard race distances encompassing sprints of about 1km to long distance races of 50km. Some races use mass starts, others employ interval starts. Skiers race in a wide variety of snow conditions, terrain and temperatures.

          As no two races are the same, so the scoring system for ranking cross-country skiers must include a number of variables that capture the relative ability of skiers in the race. To do this, FIS points are calculated according to a formula incorporating adjustments called “factors” and “penalties” to arrive at the final FIS points awarded to each skier for each race.

          Penalties and Factors

          The quality of the competition determines a “penalty” for the race. For major events,such as the Olympics, the penalty is zero. Usually, however, each race's penalty is based upon the current FIS points of three top finishers in the race. Each skier is awarded race points proportional to the time difference behind the winner of the race. This is multiplied by a “factor” [or “f” value] fixed by FIS. The type of start (mass or interval) and type of race (distance or sprint) are“factors”. Thus, racing against the world’s best skiers and coming 40th may well yield better FIS points than competing in a regional race and coming 10th.

          Such points systems, although imperfect, go a long way to objectify athletic performance. It seems that an accepted points system for ultra marathon is needed to at least put a foundation on ranking and awards. The current system in use for UROY at Ultrarunning Magazine is apparently highly subjective and ill-defined.

        2. jeff wilbur

          Bryon, Mackey, Ben, etc. – While I understand your reasoning in terms of why/how you would use DNF's in the descending order of importance etc., all of which makes perfect sense – Im at a loss as to the underlying reasoning as to why DNFs are such a negative thing? Seriously, complete the sentence "DNFs are bad because…"

          I understand that from a personal standpoint they can be viewed as a failure to reach your goals – but from a detriment to the sport standpoint?? Other than for ben's example of team selection criteria, what does a DNF inform us about the quality of a runner? It seems like DNFs have done nothing detrimental to the perception of Barkley or persons such as Clifton, races tout their DNF rate as a measure of toughness – yet they seem to be almost universally feared/disliked/hated, something to avoided at all costs. Because…..

          Im thinking the following should be playing in the background as you answer this:

          1. Bryon Powell

            First off, I think this discussion, or at least the one Mackey, Ben, and I are having, is primarily about contemplating DNFs' role in ranking elites' relative performance over the course of the season in the form of UROY. We're not just comparing each runner's best race, we're looking at the whole body of work. To me, that means looking at both a runner's best performances as well as their frequency and degree of their subpar performances. A top UROY contender showing up for TNF EC or Western States and finishing 10th or 15th or 150th constitute a varying degree of sub-par performance. So does a DNF. I don't think that I'd consider all that differently a DNF by the likes of Geoff Roes or Dave Mackey at Western States than either runner finishing 20th place there. Either performance would merely constitute a non-elite performance and should be remembered and considered as such.

            As for Barkley, it's my perception that it's neither a run or race. It's a ridiculously hard outdoor challenge that no one is supposed to finish. Sometimes someone does and that's an exception to the rule. (BTW, I don't mean to take away from anyone who's finished Barkley, I'm merely suggesting that it's not a good example of a DNF being accepted.)

            I'd also think that some would find that frequently pulling a Clifton can be detrimental to one's perception. We all have different opinions on what constitutes a great body of work for an endurance athlete. For some, it's all about reaching as close to 100% as possible, even if it that means more frequent failure (i.e., Clifton). Others appreciate a more consistent approach that means more efforts at 97, 98, or 99% much more frequently with much lower percentage of blowups or DNFs (perhaps AJW would be an example of such a runner type). I'm more of the latter sort, although I can understand how someone view things from the other lens. :-)

            Individually and personally, I've got no problems with DNFs. Sure, I'd like to avoid them, but I've thrown in the towel before. I understand that other folks dropping from an ultra is a completely individual decision that's made for a multitude of reasons. I don't look at a person, elite or back of the packer, negatively on an individual level for dropping.

            1. Ben Nephew

              Bingo, etc.

              It just doesn't make any sense to include Dave's 8th place at WS, but not include a DNF if he had skipped the lap on the track.

              DNF's are bad because:

              — It was a race from A to B. To win, you must first get to B.

              — You have to find a way back to your car.

              — You don't get the money, or the the bag of beets for winning.

              — You never get to use your new leg speed from all the track work, because you stop 50 miles from the finish.

              — You got beat by the course, badly. It wasn't even close.

              — You raced when you shouldn't have, and wasted time and money.

              — If you DNF'd due to kidney failure, well, medically speaking, that is not good.

              — You made me run too hard at the start, and then I suffered to a slow time after you dropped out (thank you Tim Parr, Dave James,etc.)!

              There could be dozens of reasons, and it's just a DNF, just like a 20th place from someone who was running for the win.

              In terms of the sport, too many DNF's are bad because:

              — Apparently some Euro's make fun of you??

              — Who wants to follow a race when many of the top runners drop out?

              — Sponsors are not going to be excited about races where runners finish 30 minutes apart due to DNF's.

              — If we want more individuals to get large sponsorships, more DNF's is not the best strategy.

              — Having a clear policy of excluding DNF's from rankings will encourage anyone who cares about the rankings to DNF whenever they are having an off day.

              As Bryon pointed out, none of the above pertains to the current discussion of whether or not they should be included in any sort of ranking. All I want to know is, how do you justify omitting DNF's but leaving in poor performances? If you scroll down far enough at this year's TNF 50 mile in December, you will find all the DNF's in the results.

            2. jeff wilbur

              Ben – Your first list (personal) surely belies the stigma we attach to a DNF, so maybe the personal failure aspect is more the culprit.

              Your second list (sport) makes some really interesting points, with the last being the most relevant to this conversation.

              No system is perfect – and maybe the point system would alleviate my concerns – but I still find it wrong to penalize a DNF for reasons other than having a bad day (injury, vandalized course, allergic reaction to …, etc) as it is not the same as a poor performance – and then how do you discern that in all cases.

              A win is a win, 3rd is 3rd… – but all DNFs are not created equal, why rank them equally?

            3. Anonymous

              A win is a win as much as DNF is a DNF. A win at WS is not equal to a win a your local fatass 50k. Did you know they have a category for ultra performance of the year?

              Maybe I'm wrong, but I'm guessing that the list of voters for UROY is a rather well informed bunch, and the reason they are selected is so that the decisions they present are well-informed. Trail ultrarunning is not even close to the point where you can make an objective decision on rankings.

              Do you not see how your concerns over DNF's are just as applicable to poor performances?

              So if the turn Wardian missed at UROC was vandalized and he had DNF'd, Geoff would not have beaten him, because DNF's magically disappear? External factors affect wins, 20th places, and DNF's.

            4. jeff wilbur

              Absolutely a win at WS is different from a win elsewhere, inherent to the sport, and a win at Hardrock is different from Rocky – but in relative terms, understandable. A DNF due to injury, and even vandalism is not the same as an Im not going to win so Im going to drop DNF – so how do you weight it in the voting, and is it always discernible?.

              And sure its absolutely applicable to poor performance – but in that case there is a listed result which I would assume, and I may be totally wrong – means a UROY voter would really not look beyond. No need to try and deduce why someone won as part of the award and or came in 3rd or 23rd -as A: that has been vetted at/by the race (as in the case of UROC) and B: it would be incredibly cumbersome if not impossible.

              But, if Wardian DNFed due to vandals, sure Geoff gets the win (really not sure where magic comes in on that), but why should that detract from mikes record – a simple point.

              I also wonder why your afraid to stand behind your opinion by not signing your name – seems like common courtesy gets lost online.

      2. Ben Nephew

        I doubt anyone has an issue with the occasional DNF. With Geoff's WS run, he won because he ran smart, and didn't tear off with Anton and Killian. This is a great example of how DNF's are not a necessary outcome of being aggressive. Anton and Kilian were somewhat aggressive in that race, but both managed to finish. Anton and Kilian failed to win the race, and if Geoff had DNF'd he would have failed to win, place in the top 10, etc. I think that all three of those guys ran great races, and I would rank their efforts in exactly the same order as the race results!

        It wasn't the greatest video of the finish at WS, but Kilian didn't look too tired! He also ran off course, right? Did you see how much time he put into Iker over the last 8k at UTMB? I personally don't want to be applauded for having a subpar performance if my goal was winning the race. He said himself that he made a bad decision on starting the race, but if he were in the UROY ranking, it would be as if that race had never happened. If he had finished far back, it would count.

        DNF's are not a big deal, they happen, just like wins. Both should count.

        On the topic of drugs (see the discussion above with Roland), feel free to chime in on the topic of drug companies in the US. From my understanding, drug companies are somewhat profit driven, which often factors in on whether or not adverse effects are published. It is frightening to think what products would get out if there were no federal requirements to publish adverse event data, and/or the fear of aggressive lawyers. You really can't assume that data is being omitted for good reasons. Yes, most scientists are honest, and trust is an absolute necessity in research. At drug companies, the decisions on what data are published may not made by the scientist generated the data. To say their are conflicts of interest involved would be putting it mildly. We are talking about companies that don't produce needed vaccines because the profit margin is too small.

  22. AJW

    Cedar Tree,

    Interesting comment and to an extent I agree with you.

    However, for the past 15 years successful ultrarunners have used UROY as a springboard to further success. In fact, if you look at marketing materials from various companies over the past 10 years "Ultrarunner of the Year" has been used as a mark more than any other, save one — that one, of course, is Western States Champion.

    Say what you want about old school, set-in-their ways people but the facts seem to suggest that if you want to make money running, if you want to be a pro on the trails, if you want to impart that passion on others and make the Man money in the process the two things you should do are become UROY and win Western States.


    1. Cedar Tree

      I digress … but are any of these guys (and gals) really 'pro' runners? Is there any current North American runner who actually makes enough money on the ultrarunning circuit to pay the bills (or flash more cash than a grocery store clerk)? I realize many of the big boys get some free Udo's Oil, Moeben sleeves and shoes/socks to their heart's content and some trip $$ to race … but what about cold hard(or foldable)cash?

      I agree that UROY or any other honor or big win (especially Western) will look good on marketing materials.

      1. Mackey

        Re: money.. probably a taboo subject for some, not much to be made out there but the best trail runners are making 5 figures. Those who want take down make much much more moola (and claim to be the best) aren't elite runners; they are elite marketers. and these are the guys who won't ever come close to UROY or winning Western states.

        Re: DNFs.. those who don't have a DNF here and there aren't trying hard enough and aren't taking risks. Seems like a soft, sad way to go if you ask me, AJW :)

        Re: internationals for UROY.. can't go there as it is huge can of worms to open. Even having foreigners who live in North America be eligible for the award is a big grey area.

        Re: UROY women.. why doesn't anyone talk about the gals? I think the words femal, woman, or girl aren't even in the spell check of insidetrail.com

            1. Mackey

              Last comment from me.. I have had one spineless DNF (Zane Grey 2004) and these are unacceptable. Run with courage or stay at home.

  23. Anonymous

    BTW – I ran the Hartford Marathon today where Wardian placed third, about 80 seconds behind the winner (he won in 2010), and is running Acadia's Mount Desert Island Marathon tomorrow (actually now today EDT). Talk about DTMRs! I agree that DTMRs, or some DTMR/DNF ratio, should be factored in.

  24. Brian

    Scott Dunlap wrote a spot on assessment of the UROY voting on Dave Mackey's blog last winter when Dave Mackey was trying to figure out the voting system.

    "If you are interested in the make up of the UROY award, I think I've figured out most of the people and processes. It's 18 folks who have been in the sport for decades, primarily Race Directors and a few outstanding runners who obsess about results (ie, AJW). They all individually make an effort to look at a broad spectrum of races, but tend to play historical favorites. For example, if the voters are comprised of UR Magazine staff (all in CA), Greg Soderlund, Julie Fingar, AJ Wilkins, and a few other Western States favorites, it shouldn't be a surprise to see a bias towards certain races (and people who run those races)."

  25. james


    Why not have a fan based award for the best runner of the year? We are all fans of the sport. You have one of the hottest ultra related sites out there so let's settle things here with the iRunFar Runners Choice Awards. Let the people decide not some high falutin' magazine execs, washed up has beens and never weres. Anybody remember Jethro Tull getting the Grammy for Best Heavy Metal Band?

    Might as well have multiple categories too.

    UROY (best overall regardless of nationality)

    Best Male

    Best Female

    Best Race

    Best Performance (single event)

    Breakthrough Performance

    Best Grinder (for slogging out a gutsy race despite time)

    Best DNF

    Besides the respect of the fans maybe you could throw in a shirt or a hat. Think about it. What a marketing opportunity. Drive traffic here and the winners get a title that rings. "William Swint, iRunFar Best Performance Award Winner". He could put it on his business cards. And the only rule is that beer must be included in the process. Cheers.

  26. William Swint

    I think a new rule should be any runner who contemplates dropping should be handed the book Endurance. What if Sir Ernest Shackleton would've quit? I wish someone would've mentioned Sir Ernest when I had my one DNF, I think I would've reconsidered. It still hurts when I think about it.

    I also wish AJW would quit calling races that where canceled half way through DNF's. You know you didn't quit!


  27. Rick Merriman

    Since it seems as though no one's going to throw up enough money to make the guys who are actually nominated for UROY to actually care about it enough to make their race schedule around winning it; I propose that the UROY criteria include an "under ground" race would need to be included in the requirement for any UROY nomination. That said – Pitchell – http://wnctrailrunner.wikispaces.com/Pitchell+100… -(more like 108k) would be the one course that could be used as a way of seperating the Slim Shady's from the Real Slim Shady's.

  28. Zac

    Following up on a previous comment concerning UROY being a joke as it doesn't consider foreign runners.

    This is a very leftist point of view, but it seems that US imperialism has even spilled over into the ultra world.

    Just look at the assault, and failure by ALL the big US names at UTMB. After this, I suggested in a comment on AJWs blog that elite European Mountain ultrarunners are simply better then US mountain ultrarunners nowadays. It was met with anger and excuses: "it just wasn't their day" – what, all 20 of them? come on.

    I always believed that the spirit of ultrarunning was inclusiveness, and breaking down barriers. Why do you Americans need to maintain a belief in your own superiority by making UROY only for US citizens?

    For the decolonization of ultrarunning…

    1. Bryon Powell

      Hey Zac,
      First off, you should know that this is a North American award and, while the rules aren't spelled out, there is no citizenship requirement, only what appears to be a residency requirement. Nick Clark and Ian Sharman are both Brits living in the US and they're eligible. So's Ellie Greenwood, a Scot living in Canada. No, I don't know their individual citizenship statuses, but I know they're included and am pretty darn certain that no one is checking out their citizenship status.

      Second, as I've tried to explain elsewhere in the comments, it would a fools errand to try to rank globally say the top 10 men and women's body of ultrarunning work on the year at this poing. Having talked with voters for the Ultrarunning mag award, they are given a quite substantial set of documentation and spend a considerable amount of time sorting through it. It would be a Herculean task to try to compare 50 or more runners, most of who will have raced on a ton of courses that folks have never heard much if anything about against fields that they're equally ill-informed of. Yes, I feel confident that I could pick Kilian for UROY, but would have a very hard time ranking the next tier of guys like Miguel Heras, Jez Bragg, Iker Carrera, Tsuyoshi Kaburaki, Dave Mackey, and so on, because aside from one or two races, I do not have adequate context (I think context is key, because I can and do see raw results) to thoughtfully consider Jez setting a course record at a 40 miler in the Scottish Highlands with Tsuyoshi completing the same feat at a 100k road race in Japan. I think that prior to Lizzy Hawker's road 24-hour world record, an international panel would have similar difficulty in picking between Ellie Greenwood and Lizzy Hawker for the women international UROY. (I admit, there maybe a road ultra specialist I don't know of.) Voters in both the US and Europe would be well enough informed about these ladies' performance at Western States (Ellie) and UTMB (Lizzy), but US voters would have too little context for the rest of Lizzy's races and, likewise, the Europeans would not have enough context for Ellie's racing in North America.

      Finally, please don't take the UROY out of context. In this discussion, we're talking about an English language magazine, edited and printed in the US, and primarily distributed in the US and Canada that publishes the results of American and Canadian ultramarathons! This magazine long ago created an award aimed at its readership based the content that the magazine contained at a time when it would have not only been a very difficult task to sort through the data, but remarkably difficult for anyone to collect all relevant ultra info from around the world. (I guess the USATF also has an UROY award, but its super tightly bound by citizenship, association membership, and consideration of the organization's races or international events to which the organization sends racers, that it truly is an organizational award… which is probably reasonable for a governing body.) I wonder if you would have as big a problem with a European or Japanese or Australian magazine picking only runners from its country (or, perhaps in Europe, from Europe as a whole) as you do with a US magazine creating an award close to home when that's what the sport was and continuing that tradition.

      Please realize I'm coming at this from the perspective of someone who is immersed in and a rather big proponent of the internationalization of the sport. Maybe in a few years there will be enough draw to a few particular international events and enough money from sponsors to fly their runners to these events, that we can adequately and fairly judge the yearlong relative performances of the world's top ultrarunners. At this point, there are largely a few, largely disconnected major race circuits in Europe, Asia, and America with a few high profile events in Africa, South America, and Australia. A few runners get to travel the whole of the world (mostly Salomon and North Face athletes), while for the rest the only significant intercontinental overlap is at UTMB, WS100, Comrades, and the IAU events.

      1. AJW

        Bryon, great comment.

        And everyone, great discussion.

        But, to bring it down to size, think about how difficult it is to compare golfers across the Globe. Yes, I said Golfers. This is a truly international sport with Major Championship Winners coming from five continents. Yet even that sport, with all the sponsorship money in the world, can't really truly crown a "World Champion."

        Instead, they have the Majors. Augusta, the US, the Open and the PGA. Sure, three of the four are on US soil but if you come here and win you're the man (at least for a few months).

        If that is a context (and that is a Big If) what are our Majors? I'd say WS is our Augusta but what about the rest? And why?

        Ok, I'll shut up. I need to get to work on Friday's column…

        1. Roland

          AJW, at this point you are probably right… in trail ultra marathon it is all about the "major" events as these are attracting the most competitive fields (aside from the lottery dislocations). WS is clearly one of of these. UTMB is another. They are very different challenges and suit different talents (although Jornet seems to be able to perform across the board). Arguments can be made for numerous other races particularly the NF50 SF. The US will be challenged by the limited fields that the USFS and BLM impose upon the premiere races unless race organizations allow qualified "elite" entries outside of the lotteries.

          I will point out that the comparison to golf is a bit thin (as you acknowledge). Trail ultra marathon is transitioning from isolated national-level events to an international presence. I expect that it is only a matter of time before a French-based international governing body takes the mantle and brings an ordered system of events scheduling and ranking into place (this is a bit facetious, but I will point to the UCI and the FIS as examples, not to mention the IOC (based in Switzerland but in the "French" part and started by a Frenchman)). I do look forward to a points system and a professional approach where sponsorship is real, racers are traveling to the premiere events (perhaps a World Cup-type series), and performances are mind-boggling. This is not to say that the current crop of racers is not doing amazing things, I just think that given deep fields, sponsored athletes, and an international series the bar will rise.

  29. Bryon Powell

    As Tropical John explains elsewhere in this thread with regard to the award itself,

    "Is it trail-centric? Probably, but so is the sport (~90% of races are on trails)."

    I think that the same would be true with regard to mountains. For the most part, trail runners gravitate to the mountains… or in places like the US Midwest, to the hilliest terrain they can find. Mountain trail ultras are what the people want. It's what RDs put on. It's where a majority of the sport's elites showdown against one another.

    I wish someone who was following the sport in the US 30 years ago would be able to tell us if there was a road and/or track bias … because that's the type of ultras folks did back then. Anyone? Bueller?

  30. Tropical John

    OK, Bueller here. I am old enough (alas) to have been around 30 years ago. I actually was running ultras 30 years ago! And yes, there was indeed a road bias 30 years ago. WS100 had some followers even then but there was precious little else that mattered on trails. The oldest trail 50K in the country is Skyline 50K, and that was first run in 1982!

    The pendulum has swung completely the other way. Now, almost everything is on trails. The UROY voters follow the trends, as they probably should. If most of the top runners are focusing on trails, so should the voters. Now it's the road specialists that might get short shrift. You didn't win a big deal trail 100, or at least Miwok/White River/TNF? You don't have much chance, sorry.

  31. Cedar Tree

    Pardon my opinion but Irunfar seems more than a bit 'elite-O-centric' … so it is easy to think from the discussion that the majority of ultrarunners actually care about UROY, UROC, prize $$, who-won-what and so forth. I'll bet the average ultrarunner would be hard pressed to tell you who won any of the major events (and the women's champion even less so) … especially with the rapid turnover at the top of the sport these days (it was easier when Trason dominated the sport for what seemed like decades … the same with Jurek … using the golf analogy, even if you didn't know anything about golf you'd go with the answer 'Tiger Woods?').

    I hope the sport will continue to be an everyperson's type of game where anybody who shows up and gives it an honest go is considered part of the tribe and is considered no better or no worse – nor more interesting or 'rewarded' – than anyone else. Yes, it's fun to think about Anton running semi-naked on snowy Green Mtn or Roes training with the Grizzly Bears or how Jornet keeps those tighty whitey compression shorts so clean … but keep it in perspective. They just run faster that's all …

  32. Hone

    I think AJW should have written this piece and forwarded it to the actual voters. What is the point of publishing it on Irunfar?

    The UROY is decided by a couple of mostly Anon people. I (the average runner) do not have a vote and I do not get to vote for those that get to vote. So there is zero representation by me (the average runner) in the voting process. So who cares what any of us (other than the 18-20 people that vote) think about DNFs and UROY? It doesnt make any difference.

    UROY is nothing more than an award given out by an obscure magazine (to which I subscribe). We should just leave it at that.

  33. Anonymous

    UROY is about as interesting and meaningful as who won the Prom King/Queen back in High School (none). As far as Dnfs go, the only one I care about is my own.

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