Competition: Can You Feel It Spreading?

AJW takes a look at 2012’s most competitive 100 mile races and what they mean for the sport of ultrarunning.

By on December 16, 2011 | 112 comments

AJWs TaproomWith the two big 100-mile lotteries in the rearview mirror and the respective fields taking shape for the big summer 100’s one thing stands out for me, the competition is dispersing across the landscape and I am not sure what to think about it.

Western States has eight women and eight men from last year’s top-10 returning. A few top names got in via the lottery but many others were shut out. Interestingly, in two days after the lottery, several runners appeared on the entrants list that had not been entered in the lottery.  A few of them were top-10 runners from 2011 and a couple others may have earned slots through Special Consideration which had the net effect of strengthening the field.  Additionally, there are quite a few spots to be had in the Montrail Ultra Cup races but aside from the field at Bandera I don’t see a top-10’er coming out of Sonoma, Leona, or Ice Age. Those races are just too close to the Big Dance to allow anyone to adequately recover for a serious run at the front. So, in general, the current Western States field looks to be a bit shallower than in past years and that is mostly because of…


This year the lottery Gods were looking down fondly on some of the top American runners in this lottery and, as such, many of the top runners in the US will be toeing the line in Silverton come July. Assuming everyone stays healthy this will be far and away the most competitive race in Hardrock history. But, will it be the top race of the summer? I am not sure, Western States will still claim its fair share of the top guys/gals and with most of the Europeans essentially shut out, unless the Hardrock organizers completely change their ethos and cave, there will not be another Salomon invasion of this race in 2012. Good or bad, I just don’t see Dale, Blake or the Board letting that happen. So this field is essentially set, up to about #30 on the waitlist.

Which brings us to Leadville. Anyone, of course, can get into this one as long as their money’s green and they can stomach the aid station food. Perhaps this will be the year, given that Hardrock and Western States are lacking some top American and international runners, that someone could take a stab at Carpenter’s course record. The competition here seems to be slowly moving beyond the Front Range and a few out-of-staters have even cracked the top-5 in the last couple years. It’s hard to say at this point but one thing’s for sure, this will turn out to be quite a race, in spite of itself.

Next, there’s UTMB. This is an event that has clearly become World Championship caliber. And, with Europe’s loose wilderness ethic and the openness of the course a couple thousand people can get in and usually do. So, in that context, it’s a biggie. But, the race is in Europe and it is at the end of August. For some, Chamonix is an attraction and for others it is a deterrent. But, given the way this season is lining up, it could be the race we’re all watching. And, if any Americans make the trip over, they can do some serious damage control.

But wait, now there’s a $100,000 purse on the line at a new little 100 mile race in Steamboat Springs in September. (iRF article) Could someone recover from a win at Western States or Hardrock and win this one too? How about the injured folks? Could they capitalize on the summer’s carnage and take the big payday after they’ve recovered and the leaves start to change? Time will tell, of course, but it’s looking to be more and more difficult to bring all the best runners all together in one place at one time to hammer it out. This cash purse could be the last best chance we’ve got.

Maybe that’s good and maybe that’s not.

From where I sit we have arrived at an interesting intersection. Coming from one direction is the desire on the part of the fans of the sport and, to some extent, from the runners, as well, to see a pure championship event that pits all the best runners against one another at one time. From the other direction are the organizers of the events themselves who, while they may have an interest in some kind of championship and may even want their event to lay claim to such a championship, are mainly interested in the success of their own, particular event. In the case of Western States, Hardrock, Leadvllle, UTMB, and, now, Run Rabbit Run, we know the race organizers are as diverse as the sport itself. And, in the end, it is perpetuating the beauty and simplicity of the sport that I hope all these organizers have in common.

So, alas, as we settle ourselves in for a long winter’s night and look back on 2011 it is also quite intriguing to look ahead. If I were a betting man, as complex and didactic as the conversations about 2011 UROY have been, I can only imagine how much fun the 2012 conversation will be. And, we haven’t even started!

Bottoms Up!


AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Ballast Point Sculpin IPAThis week’s Beer of the Week is Scott Jaime’s favorite – Sculpin IPA from Ballast Point Brewing and Spirits. And, I gotta say, it’s one of the best I’ve ever had (even if it is from Southern California :) ).

Go out and get one of these. Better on tap but good just about anywhere, anytime…

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Which 100 miler(s) are you most excited to follow in 2012?
  • Which 100 miler do you think will have the best set of runners going for the win? Will a different race have the deepest field of top runners?
  • Do you think 2012 will start a trend toward additional “dilution” of competition at 100s? Do you wish that the top 100 mile runners were congregating at a smaller set of races? What are some ways to bring the top competition together?
Andy Jones-Wilkins
finished in the top 10 men at the Western States 100 7-straight times. He's sponsored by Patagonia and Drymax socks and is iRunFar's editorialist.