Montrail Ultra Cup – New and Improved

Montrail Ultra CupThis evening Montrail announced some major improvements to the Montrail Ultra Cup. Among those improvements are the addition of a couple races that make the MUC more geographically diverse, an increased emphasis on longer races, and more flexibility in the race series. We know for a fact that Montrail consulted extensively with its athletes in revising the series. While not everyone will be 100% satisfied with the changes (that would be impossible), we think that the changes make the Montrail Ultra Cup a much better ultra series.

The Races
The 2009-10 MUC will have more races, longer races, and more geographic diversity. The 2008-09 MUC included the White River 50 mile (WA), Mountain Masochist 50 mile (VA), JFK 50 mile (MD), Way Too Cool 50k (CA), American River 50 mile (CA), Miwok 100k (CA), and, of course, the Western States 100 (CA). From that line-up only the White River 50 mile (being run this weekend) has been left out of the next MUC. Without additions, the series would be even less geographically diverse than it was, as all the carryover races are along the I-80 in California or within a few hours of Washington, DC. Fortunately, Montrail added races in Oregon, Vermont, Texas, Alabama, and Wisconsin. These races are the Where’s Waldo 100k (OR), the Vermont 50k and 50 mile (VT), the Bandera 100k and 50k (TX), the Cheaha 50k (AL), and the Ice Age 50 mile and 50k (WI). This diversity was a highlight that all three of the Montrail athletes we talked to – Eric Grossman, Sean Meissner, and Matt Hart – mentioned. Here’s the schedule:

  1. 8/22/09 – Where’s Waldo 100k (Willamette Pass, OR)
  2. 9/27/09 – Vermont 50 Mile/50k (Ascutney Mtn Resort, VT)
  3. 11/7/09 – Mountain Masochist 50 Mile (Lynchburg, VA)
  4. 11/21/09 – JFK 50 (Washington County, MD)
  5. 1/9/10 – Bandera 100k/50k (Bandera, TX)
  6. 2/27/10 – Cheaha 50k (Cheaha State Park, AL)
  7. 3/13/10 – Way Too Cool 50k (Cool, CA)
  8. 4/10/10 – American River 50 (Sacramento, CA)
  9. 5/1/10 – Miwok 100k (Marin Headlands, CA)
  10. 5/8/10 – Ice Age Trail 50 Mile/50k (LaGrange, WI)
  11. 6/26/10 – Western States 100 (Squaw Valley, CA)

In general, we really like this schedule, but as an astute commenter pointed out last week, entry is already closed for the Mountain Masochist and JFK 50s. This is an odd oversight, considering Montrail leaked Where’s Waldo’s inclusion into the 2009-10 MUC at Western States.

Western States Qualifiers
As automatic Western States 100 entries have been the most talked about aspect of the MUC in recent, we’ll go there before talking about the series championship. Two big changes here.

First, runners will no longer be able to earn an automatic Western States entry at 50ks. Only 50 milers and 100ks will do the trick. A big thumbs up to this change… though in the future it would be interesting to throw in an “off-season” 100 miler for those of the slow, but strong persuasion to have a better chance for auto-entries. As odd as it may sound, there are decent 100 milers that don’t start in Squaw Valley.

Second, to earn Western States spot at one of the 9 qualifying MUC races a runner will need to place first or second. If you cross the line as the third man or woman, too bad. We can only assume that Montrail’s agreement with Western States was for a certain number of race slots and that adding qualifying races necessarily resulted in fewer slots per race.

The Montrail Ultra Cup, Itself
While Western States has been a (the?) key aspect of the Montrail Ultra Cup over the past few years, the revisions may catapult the series itself to prominence.

One major improvement is the elimination of Western States as the sole mandatory race of the series. Matt Hart noted “I appreciate that it’s no longer required. It just didn’t make sense with their very difficult lottery.” We agree. That said, Western States will be more heavily weighted in calculating series standings.

For the 2009-20 Ultra Cup, racers will only need to finish races to be eligible for series awards; however, up to four races will count towards a runner’s series total. Obviously, that makes it all but mandatory that a top MUC competitor run at least four races in the series.

In the revised Montrail Ultra Cup the longer the race, the more points earned. Hart told us that he’s “most excited about the fact that the races are weighted.” Maximum points earned in each race will correspond to the number of miles run in that race (i.e., 31 points for a 50k and 100 points for the WS 100) and race scoring will be separated by gender. The male and female winner of each race receives the maximum number of points, while every other competitor is awarded the maximum number of points reduced by the ratio of the winner’s time to the competitor’s time. Need to see an example to understand, check out the MUC participant guidelines page or Greg Crowther’s comment below.

As Greg points out, anyone participating in a shorter MUC race will receive considerably fewer points for the effort than a less impressive performance in a long race. For this reason, it would seem to us that no series MUC competitor would enter the shorter distance at event in which there are two MUC races. For instance, more points would be earned by jogging the Vermont 50 mile than racing the hell out of the 50k.

One of our own pet peeves with previous Montrail Ultra Cups has been eliminated. Once you enter the Montrail Ultra Cup online, you won’t have to log each of your subsequent results. Montrail will now be taking care of that.

For you top guys and gals who may be reading, pay attention. Montrail will be giving cash three deep: 1st = $2,500, 2nd = $1,000, and 3rd = $500. Money winners will also get a pair of Montrail shoes, a Nathan pack, and some nuun. Fourth and fifth places in the series will get a pair of Montrail shoes and flip-flops, respectively.

Call for Comments
So what do y’all think of the changes?

There are 27 comments

  1. Anonymous

    No rolldown of the slots is ridiculous. Say you have athletes coming within 30-40 seconds of getting 2nd place, and the winner was already qualified. Is that saying the 3rd place finisher was not fast enough to merit WS entry? If Montrail doesn't like the idea that maybe some "slow" person sneaks into 3rd place, then put a % on the winner's time and say to be eligible for roll down, IF 1st/2nd have already qualified, you must also be within X% of the winning time. Seems like more fast athletes will be elgible creating a more competitive WS field (in 2008, 6 of the 36 slots were claimed by those already qualified) and it takes away ZERO slots from other racers as Montrail and WS have already agreed on the slot allocation.

  2. Anonymous

    By the way, did anyone catch that 8 qualifying races x 4 slots = 32 slots whereas before there were 6 races x 6 slots = 36 slots? Did Montrail not pay enough or did they scavenge off 4 slots for their own "sponsor exemption" athltetes?

  3. Mark Gilligan

    Big thumbs up for longer races and the elimination of 50k's. A fast 50k runner does not always equal a successful 100 mile finisher. The elimination of WS as a mandatory race is also very nice. It's a double gouge when you can't get into Western via the lottery AND you can't participate in the Cup. I feel for the folks in the Rockies.

  4. Christian

    Meh, East vs. West, I don't see the middle ground represented, such as something in the Rockies.If the athletes were consulted then this would make sense since none of them travel there (except for Geoff Roes).

  5. Anonymous

    @ Anon#1: What Rocky Mtn races did you have in mind? @ Anon#2: I fail to see how it's ridiculous for there not to be any rolldown. The rules are clear. You finish in the Top 3. If you want to win the MUC, (which is the goal of this, not winning WS slots) you have to finish high in as many races. So if the top athletes are participating and winning "slots" at events, then that is part of the scoring. So if you have the first 15 finishers at American River 50 already qualified and entered into WS do you roll down those slots to 16th and 17th, who might be over an hour behind the winner? It's about scoring points to win the Cup, not getting WS slots. You seem obsessed with the WS slots, not with the points you can earn from participating in and supporting the series. @ Christian: What Rocky Mtn races has Geoff Roes done? Were you going to say Wasatch?

  6. Paul Charteris

    A great move by Montrail! I am all for an expanded ultra-cup. I do not know much about Rocky Mountain races, but it does seem to be a part of the country that would deserve a MUC race. Now, if I may climb back on my international soapbox again, I'd like to see the Montrail ultracup expanded to other countries. Obviously, (due to travel costs), these overseas races would not count for MUC points, but picking the top-two runners from say ten races races around the world would add some amazing talent to the WSER field. The event organizers did well to spot Jez Bragg and Tsuyoshi Kaburagi and let them run, but who knows what sort of runners would show up if you had MUC races in any one of a dozen European countris in addition to South Africa, Australia, New Zealand…Cheers, Paul

  7. AJW

    I like the changes. 50k's have never been good gauges for 100 milers. And, the new races they've chosen are classy events (especially Waldo and Bandera!) I do think the Rockies could have been thrown a bone with Zane Gray, Jemez Mountain Races, Squaw Peak 50or any of a number of 50 milers in Colorado. But, we all travel a bunch anyway so oh well.Still holding out for a couple 100 mile qualifiers for us slow, old guys.

  8. Bryon Powell

    AJW,I was talking with some folks at an OR endurance event this evening and used you as an example of why there should be another 100 miler in the MUC. With no offense meant to you, you're simply unlikely to get a top 2 spot at an uber-competitive 50 mile or 100k, but throw in an off season 100 and you'd be right in it and then obviously be competitive at Western States…. but then again you don't have to worry about such things so long as you and your pacers keep that top-10 thing going along. ;-)

  9. AJW

    No offense taken Goat. I have only finished in the top-2 in races under 100 miles like three times in my life, and that was when I was a lot younger.I'm just thinking if somebody could convince Montrail to have Javelina, HURT, Rocky or some other winter 100 miler as a qualifier that would be great.Of course, I'm hoping you can help keep me in the M numbers for at least 2 more years:)AJW

  10. Bryon Powell

    AJW, here's to both of us getting a Top 10 in 2011, 'cause goodness knows I'm not getting a MUC Western States slow anytime soon!

  11. crowther

    I dislike the new scoring system, which weights the race distances such that those who run superbly at the 50K and 50-mile races will score lower than "pretty good" finishers of the 100K and 100-miler. Example #1: a 100K in the series is won in a time of 8 hours, and I finish in 9 hours — a full hour behind the winner. I get 8/9 x 62 = 55 points, which is more than the 50 points garnered by the winner of a 50-mile race in the series. Example #2: another 100K is won in 8 hours, and I have a really bad day and finish in 16 hours. My point total is 8/16 x 62 = 31, which is the same number of points as the winner of a 50K in the series. The system thus offers huge rewards for finishing the longest races, with performance quality being a secondary criterion. I predict that anyone who uses a 50K as one of their four point-scoring races will be shut out of the Ultra Cup podium, regardless of how fast they are.

  12. Craig Thornley

    @Crowther,One thing that needs to be considered is that it is more difficult to finish a WS or a 100K than it is a 50 miler or 50K. For example, the finishing rate at Waldo the last two years has been 79%. At Way Too Cool it has been 96% and 97%. The risk for a runner that is going for the MUC title not finishing Waldo is real. This scoring system rewards that risk. If they choose to put all their eggs in the three 100Ks and WS basket what are the chances they'll finish all of them?

  13. Nick

    Got to be loving LaSportiva that much more if you're in the Rockies. Maybe because they focus more on mountain running than trail running more broadly, they've had the foresight to see that Colorado (to name one state in the Mountain West) is a hot bed of trail running and worthy of inclusion in their race series. Even one race in CO, UT, WY, ID or NM might be enough to encourage runners in the region to consider the MUC series. As it is, Sportiva will continue to be the only series for competitive trail runners in the region.

  14. Bryon Powell

    Guys, wherever you stand on the MUC thanks for chiming in on this great discussion. Obviously it's impossible to make everyone happy, but having a dialogue like this is really important. Montrail certainly heard what "us" about the Cup in the past and were willing to modify the series based on the feedback from top ultrarunners. While I've got no insider knowledge, I can't imagine that Montrail wouldn't be willing to tweak things a bit for future Ultra Cups.

  15. Paul DeWitt

    I actually liked the way it was in its first incarnation (go figure!) due to the requirement that you had to race once at each standard US trail distance – 50k/50M/100M. In that sense, regardless of what you think a "real" ultra is, the runners had to prove themselves to be good all-around runners. Further, I second Greg's concerns regarding the bias towards the longer distances.Finally, how can the prize money actually be decreasing with the passage of time? When I did the series years ago the first place prize was more than it is now. Would be nice to see the prize keep up with entry fee inflation at least! – PaulD

  16. Anonymous

    I have to say, La Sportiva is really going to reap some benefits from this new system. I actually had to google the race in Alabama. As far as races in the Rockies, look at a race calendar, close your eyes, and point. In Colorado alone there's a dozen.

  17. Anonymous

    Anonymous said "Did Montrail not pay enough or did they scavenge off 4 slots for their own "sponsor exemption" athltetes?"I would have put the quotes around "athletes" versus "sponsor exemption"

  18. Montrail

    Runners, thanks for your interest and your passion. Okay, here's a few things to put on the table. Regarding WS slots, the MUC is not about winning the WS slots, it's about winning the Ultra Cup. The WS slots are secondary (from Montrail's point of view). And just so you all know, Montrail has to work with the WS Board regarding the entries granted to the Ultra Cup. The WS Board was not willing to grant us more spots this year. Therefore, b/c we expanded the series, we had to work with the 36 spots we had. The fairest way to do this was to have 4 available at each race over 50k. Again, this was not Montrail's decision. Also, WS Board will not allow us to roll down the slots. It's their race, so they get plenty of say in how the auto-entry spots work. We tried hard to get more WS spots for the series but with no success. So, direct your complaints to the WS Board.We also tried hard to include a race in the Rockies. However, b/c many of the well established ultras in the this region already have sponsors, we weren't able to make it happen this year. There were also scheduling conflicts and other issues that arose when looking at a few ultras in the Rockies. We will certainly look to add one or two Rockies races to the series in years to come. We regret that we couldn't make it happen this year, but such is. We'll move on and make the most of it. We decided not to add another 100 miler yet b/c we do want WS to be the finale and only 100 miler. Again, plenty of room to tweak things for future years if needed.The scoring system is fair and transparent and will now require some strategy. You can race two longer distance races or you can race 4 50k or 50 milers. We did lots of computations and we've leveled the playing field a bit here. B/c you can count as few as 2 or as many as 4 races, things will even out in the end and you'll see more people competing for Cup near the end of season.Prize money is still on the table. Dewitt, in year's past we offered a Fleet Feet Gift Certificate, not cash. So comparing the two really does no good.The changes this year are meant to increase participation around the country and continue to encourage top runners, middle of the pack runners and new ultrarunners to compete and participate.As far as the Colorado issue, Montrail currently sponsors three large and well established ultramarathons in Colorado and another 6-10 non-ultras in Colorado. I'd like to remind you all that we sponsor more than just ultras, as does La Sportiva. At the same time, we're all doing the same thing here (Montrail, La Sportiva, Vasque, etc.) which is supporting the sports of ultrarunning and trail running. We'd hope you all would be grateful to that. Without support from these brands the sport wouldn't be where it is today, not to mention the product we all make for these activites.Thank you all, look forward to seeing you at some Ultra Cup races in 09/10.

  19. Paul DeWitt

    Actually "Montrail" the year I won it I got 3000 cash. The previous year I was 2nd and got 1000 cash. Even earlier than that Jurek and Mackey got either 3K or 5K (can't remember for sure). Sort of weird that Montrail doesn't know the history of their own event. – PaulD

  20. Jason White

    as a newbie to the ultrarunning scene, it seems like some are too caught up in the money. if you're in it for the money, you're in the wrong sport. shouldn't take someone like me to tell you that. if you want more money Paul, go win North Face Endurance Challenge or run short distances and win the La Sportiva Cup. Otherwise, focus on the things that matter. i look forward to participating in my first Ultra Cup this year. i won't be winning any races, but i'll try to finish 3 or 4 of them. looking forward to it!

  21. Anonymous

    Just want to say that after a few years of not participating in the Ultra Cup, for various reasons (mainly not getting into WS) I will definitely be running in 2 or 3 races this year. Happy to see the changes.

  22. Anonymous

    Montrail, Point taken. Complaints about WS entry should be directed to the Board. Crowther is right though, do the math and you pretty much have to be in WS to win the Cup, so maybe it is more about getting into WS. If one were to get within 90% of the winning time in all three 100Ks and one 50 mile, one could get 212 points. If one lives on I-80, one could finish within 90% of the winning time in all three I-80 races and then have to finish within 85% of the WS winning time. There’s no way this is about money because no prize purse will pay for more than travel expenses, unless you happen to be an I-80 athlete. Nothing at all against NorCal runners, just pointing out it’s not about the money.You’re absolutely right Montrail. If people have issues with it, they can simply start their own brand and/or race series and try to please everyone themselves. In the meantime, great work getting more lesser known national races put on the map! I can’t wait to see what other Midwest and Rockies races are added in future years. When you’re done with WS, you could probably start your own Championship series for each distance. And, when push comes to shove, if you offered enough money, you could easily supplant WS as the top 100 miler for $peedy people. After all, then you can invite who you want and make sure everyone gets in the race in the first place.

  23. Speedgoat Karl

    Montrail is Columbia now, so we see a decrease in cash prizes and a decrease in quality. Funny how back in the day when Scotty J and I ran for Montrail. The winning prize was 5000 bucks, not 2500. It's not feasible to race all around the country if the prize money doesn't at least defer the costs. It's pretty silly really. And it's funny how the best ultrarunners in the US could care less about he "Ultra Cup". Every year after Paul D won it, we don't even know who these people are that won it. No offense to those people. It's just an observation of mine.:-) Columbia low grade continues. Montrail need Menno back!

  24. Bryon Powell

    Karl, thanks for stopping by and sharing your thoughts. It'll be interesting to see if Montrail can reel some of ultrarunning's big guns back into the MUC. Having them there would legitimize the series in a self-perpetuating way. If one looks at the La Sportiva Mountain Cup, some of the country's top mountain runners are flying around to try and win the championship without it necessarily being a direct economic gain. Why? Because there's prestige in winning the LSMC, because of who runs it.

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