DNFs: Do No Forgets for Ultrarunner of the Year

In the first edition of AJW’s Taproom, Andy Jones-Wilkins discusses the possible effect of DNFs on the Ultrarunner of the Year discussion.

By on October 14, 2011 | Comments

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 running 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.

Andy Jones-Wilkins

Andy Jones-Wilkins is an educator by day and has been the author of AJW’s Taproom at iRunFar for over 11 years. A veteran of over 190 ultramarathons, including 38 100-mile races, Andy has run some of the most well-known ultras in the United States. Of particular note are his 10 finishes at the Western States 100, which included 7 times finishing in the top 10. Andy lives with his wife, Shelly, and Josey, the dog, and is the proud parent of three sons, Carson, Logan, and Tully.