Montrail Ultra Cup Winners and Losers

When this year’s Western States 100 was canceled, iRunFar pointed out a few issues raised by the cancellation. Well one of those issues, the determination as to the winners of the 2007-08 Montrail Ultra Cup has been made. After tallying the results of three MUC races instead of four (the WS100 was to be the mandatory 4th race) Erik Skaden and Nikki Kimball came out the victors.

iRunFar agrees that the elimination one race from this year’s series was the right thing to do. It would be too hard for the contenders to all schedule a fourth to-be-determined race, especially if it was to be a 100 miler. One nice thing about the MUC is that competitors know the races well ahead of time and can plan their schedules accordingly. However, all is not well with the Montrail Ultra Cup. Read on to find out what seems to be wrong and suggest solutions of your own.

One huge problem should become immediately apparent after a quick look at the series results listed below.


  1. Erik Skaden (Folsom, CA)
  2. Jean Pommier (Cupertino, CA)
  3. No qualifying third place winner


  1. Nikki Kimball (Livingston, MT)
  2. Caren Spore (Davis, CA)
  3. Leslie Antonis (Modesto, CA)

Ok, so we highlighted the obvious problem. Even without requiring competitors to finish Western States, only two men qualified for the MUC standings! That’s absurd. While there’s no easy solution, having a series based around 7 races most of which are extremely difficult (if not damn near impossible) to get into appears to put a ceiling on the MUC’s stature.

Also, the MUC podium does not have the geographic mix it should with the exception of Nikki Kimball. The other four runners cumulatively live 300 miles from Sacramento, California. That highlights another problem with requiring runners to finish four events – the cost of getting to four MUC races. That also creates a huge geographic disparity in that it’s clearly much less expensive for a Northern Californian to compete for the Cup. This year’s MUC included three races (Way Too Cool, American River, and Miwok) that were a grand total of 130 miles from Sacramento. In comparison, any East Coaster looking to compete for this year’s cup would need to have traveled a minimum of around 12,000 miles … and that’s (1) assuming they live in Lynchburg, Virginia (where the MUC’s Mount Masochist is held) and (2) not highlighting that it would be closer to 18,000 miles if Western States had been run. That does not compute into a national championship.

[Update 7/23 8:30 p.m.] Meissner just brought up a third problem that we’d considered, but obviously forgot to include earlier. It’s kinda silly to have to sign up for the series and even worse to have to enter your data from particular races. It seems like a competition that awards $10,000 could pony up a couple hours to do the data compilation. There’ve got to be loads of interns clambering to work for Montrail, right?

That said, there’s alot of promise in a series like the Montrail Ultra Cup, but that promise cannot be realized under the Cup’s current format.

So how would you suggest Montrail modify the Ultra Cup in coming years? Different races? A change in how the winner is determined?

Below are a couple quick, scattershot ideas for improving the MUC to get you thinking:

  • Add some races to the series that aren’t on Route 80 in California.
  • Cut the series to two required races. To be eligible for the Cup, a runner must place top 3 at an MUC qualifying race. Qualified MUC contenders must then have to finish Western States. Placement among MUC qualifiers at States would determine the winner.
  • Reserve slots at MUC races other than the WS100 for top series participants. We’ve admittedly got no clue how to initially determine who gets the reserved slots. Perhaps there could be a mandatory first race from which 10 runners have guaranteed slots at the next race or possibly the rest of the series. The first race would have to be held at a race with a nearly unlimited field.

There are 11 comments

  1. saschasdad

    One big reason why there aren't at least 3 men is that only 2 signed up for the actual MUC, and completed at least 3 of the other races. I know that I was totally lame and just spaced the whole signing up thing. I wonder how many other there are who did the same? I know I'm not the only one.

  2. Brennen

    I'm not sure which is worse — having to sign up or being signed up whether you like it or not. The "Trail Runner" magazine series puts you in the "competition" whether you like it or not, including you in the point standings simply by running one of the races in the series.An elite runner, who wins a race that by chance happens to be in the series, can then seemingly be beaten by someone competing in the series who is out to accumulate points by finishing numerous races.Oh man, I'd hate to think The North Face may have gotten it right. As many problems as I had with its Bear Mountain 50M, there's at least an attempt to stage races in a number of regions so that there's some geographical diversity at the Northern California championship.

  3. Paul DeWitt

    I actually liked the way the MUC used to be organized, where they picked some of the premier races at each distance and you had to do one at each distance. The "championship" race was Masochist, but you didn't have to do it (you were rewarded with more points than in the regular races however). Also, to the geographic issue, you could easily do the whole series w/o going to California, if that was your goal. My other problem with the current set-up is it perpetuates the idea that 100s are the most important distance. If they are including distances of 50K to 100 mile in their definition of "ultra" then it just makes more sense to pick an intermediate distance as the championship. There are some great ultrarunners (Uli for example) who don't do 100s, but that doesn't mean they are any less deserving. – paul

  4. Grae

    Jeez! Where do you start with this one? I think you first need a philosophy from Montrail to therefore build on the goals for the MUC in the first place. When I look at the MUC from the "joe average" point of view, I see a "Championship Series" that initially, started with promise and good intentions, and was basically abandoned upon the buyout of Montrail by Columbia. Someone was put in charge of the MUC that had there hands tied and just sustained it by throwing the program some $ or the parent company isn't really in touch with trail running and the participant. Probably some of both and a lot of the latter. It look like the goal of this regional series is the result of Montrail buying the primary sponsorship of WS along with some lottery slots. Then they went from that point and tried to figure out how to qualify runners to get in to those slots. How they went about picking the races is anyone's guess. Since they didn't know what they were doing or to lazy, they apparently made Soderlund's other races the other qualifiers. The problem seems to be, among many others, is that these slots are from a few races in Northern California primarily. It's really hard to figure that whole system out, or, again, speculate on Montrail's goals? I believe in the first year the MUC winner male/female received 5000 large. The next year it went down to 3000. Now I believe it is a $3000.00 gift cert. to Fleet Feet. What? What kind of business sense does that make? If I owned the Fleet Feet in Sacramento,I would want to be Skaden's best friend! Wouldn't you want the winner of the MUC in $3000.00 worth of Montrail shoes and Mountain Hardware clothing? Or put them on your race team if your not going to give them cash? You know, like the cash they have to spend going to the races.I agree with Paul and Brennen. The MUC was better in the beginning and TNF, in principle, has it right.Especially the cash. If your going to cater to the elite, do it right. Hell, I would expect to win a gift certificate to TGI Fridays at a race. I think the only reason the MUC gets the runners it does is because of the WS slots. I know it's not because of a Fleet Feet gift certificate.I think the MUC needs to be s-canned and started anew from the ground up.Again,this is going to take money,goals,philosophy and a business sense that doesn't resemble some form of mental illness. I think the contract for WS sponsorship has about another two years, so I imagine nothing will change until then. And who knows what the future holds for Montrail? I know profits are down 20% in the shoe division, but I think if they decide to keep the series, put some real money in to it and find someone to organize it in a meaningful way to the greatest number of people, it can work.After all,Columbia is the primary sponsor of a Tour de France team, which is at least several million dollars, at least. I guess the central question is, does anyone care, sponsor or runner?

  5. I am a runner. &quot

    For as much as I wanted to see the MUC succeed and was really into it initially. The whole thing from year to year has been crap. I would say on average 5 people in TOTAL actually finish it! That is rediculous. Perhaps that has to do with 3 of the races having entry where you need to be online in the first 6 minutes to get a slot in a 400 runner field THEN have a 1/7 chance shot at getting your name drawn in a lottery. (prior to 2008 where you could EARN a slot into the final race) Does that pass the common sense test? No. Does it make sense to have a nat'l competition where 4 of the 7 events are on the SAME trail??? NO, obviously not…no matter how nice that hot dusty revered trail is. It does not make sense.What would I do? Simple, I'd pick the 4 best know/most competitive/highest finisher number races at each of the standard ultra distances: 50k, 50 mile, 100 mile.POINTS:To be in the point scoring competition and earn a right to compete in the final championship race at the end of the year you need to compete in one of the 4 races at each distance: A total of 3 races. If you competed in say 2 or 3 of the 50 mile races, you are scored on your BEST placing.All those who competed in the pre-mentioned 3 race minimum are inveted to come race at the year end championship race. The twelve winners of the below events are given plane tickets to this final raceFinal Race:This should be a 100k.(and a new created event) . This would add excitement by making it a different distance and COULD lead to slots on our national 100k team. Prize money?? $10k to the mens and womens POINTS winner, $5k to 2nd $3k to 3rd, $2k to 4th, $1k to 5th. Points are given the way the New England Grand tree trail series is done: by giving a percentage of first place time = to points. If I win I get 100pts. If 2nd and close running 98% of the winning time I get 98pts. This helps balance a 2nd at leadville which was 3 hrs behind first… with a 2nd at vermont which was 7 minutes behind.My proposed races:50K:Mt Mist (AL)HAT (MD)Ice Age (WI)Sun Mart (TX)50M:Bull Run Run (VA)American River (CA)White River (WA)JFK (MD)100M:Rocky Raccoon (TX)Western States (CA)Vermont (VT)Leadville (CO)If you went with something easy to get into like this and offering this much money. I absolutely gauruntee folks would compete in it. and compete HARD!There you go Montrail or North Face. Give me some credit and GO WITH THIS SYSTEM NXT YEAR!!!!!!!!!

  6. saschasdad

    Loomdog, with your proposed races, when would that 100k championship be? There's no time left.Also, man, I would LOVE to get some of that $42,000, but I'm pretty sure there's absolutely no company out there right now who would be willing to pony up that for ultrarunning. That's waaaaaay too much.As for the current 4 out of 7 races on the same trail, only 2 are: WS and Cool. While AR finishes in Auburn, it gets there from the west, while WS and Cool run east of Auburn. I can only guess Miwok is the other race, and that, my friend, is a few hours west of Auburn – definitely the prettiest of those 4 races!I like your general idea, though. 3 distances, 4 choices at each distance. However, I think the 4 choices for each distance need to be more geographically diverse. The 100s represent good geographical diversity, but the others don't. For the 50 mi, there are 2 on each coast. What about the runners in the middle? Oh yeah, they're all busy running all the 50k's. I do think you're on to something, though.

  7. I am a runner. &quot

    Sean, Auburn is the "endurance capital of the world" but they do not need 3 big races, and their close-by child (Miwok) As for 42k. PEANUTS!!! I know some cyclists that really as they would even state "are not that good" that make that much off their sponsors per year individually. One friend I went to college with races Mtn bikes and only road cycles a few times a year. That sport I see as LESS popular than trail running. And certainly less attainnable by the common folk. Yet my friend is one of 100 or so that has at least that much sponsor dollars put on her. Doesn't make sense.Nike / Adidas / NB / Asics throw that kind of money away! One company could OWN the trail running world with a developed trail ciruit/race series.As far as Schedule, you gotta go with a December race in a warmish place. Maybe take out the Sunmart 50k and replace it with a different one and use those trails for a championship- criterion type course with a citizens race 50 mile the same weekend???

  8. Susannah

    Howabout the Pemberton Trail 50k outside of Phoenix? "…A fast 50k run completely on trails in the beautiful McDowell Mountain Regional Park. Gently rolling hills, great volunteers, good food, mild weather…"It's a criterium course (2x15m loop), and RD Brian Wieck is a flexible and fun-lovin' guy. He might be game to host a 100k…Next year it's on Saturday, February 14th, 2009…

  9. Trail Goat

    Sean,That's the thing… I don't think folks should have to sign up. If you are in any of the MUC races, you should automatically be eligible for the awards.Brennen,I'm not so troubled by normal folks seemingly beating elites… I think runners can gauge the difference. The "Trail Runner" series is a collection of points that favors someone who has a Fear of Missing Out (i.e., has the time, money, and mentality to race all the time). Something like the MUC should result in at least the top three men and women being legitimate competitors.I think in many ways The North Face did a good job in site selection and criteria. I think it's better to have a championship series where the races are set up for that purpose. Why put old timers at a particular race at odds with those wanting to compete in a series. On the other hand, the TNF races themselves were not without many hiccups.

  10. Trail Goat

    DeWitt,I like what you are saying… have a spread of distances and no required race. Alternately, why not have a championship race that's either 50 miles or 100k. I like the 100k idea.Grae,As always thanks for your plentiful thoughts! I do think the MUC needs to start anew and I think that's going to happen if and when they lose their W$ sponsorship… it's too much money for them not to make the big show. Montrail was much more successful when it was a grassroots program rather than the sponsor of only the big events. Time to bring it back down to trail level and start from there. Hopefully, the move to Mountain Hardware and the incorporation of some ultrarunners into the staffing mix will help the process out.

  11. Trail Goat

    Loomis,I like that you're thinking hard about this, but a couple problems. First, you can't just go with the biggest races, as some races don't want that kind of sponsorship (i.e., Bull Run Run). The points thing is tricky for a couple reasons… but isn't any system tricky? The percentage based system screws a runner who shows up at the most competitive race or even one with just one great runner. Say I go to race at HAT and Mike Wardian decides to make a go at a trail 50k…. well, I just lost a huge amount of points compared to the race's normal competitive field. I do very much like the 100k championship… it keeps the 50k runner honest while requiring more speed than simply trudging through a 100. I think 50 miles on not so technical or hilly course really favors the 50k guy too much.I'm not so into the money, even if it were possible to scrounge up that kinda dough.I do really like the geographic diversity and even the critereon style championship with an open race the same weekend. Someplace warm during the winter would be brilliant… be it FL, TX, SoCal, or somewhere in between.Susannah,Nice thinking.. 100k in AZ – love it. While Grae's not a big fan of the race near the highway, I think a championship needs to be near a major airport and have good transportation.

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