Open Season (Or Is It The Endless Season?)

AJW takes a look at whether there’s now an endless competitive ultrarunning season and what that means.

By on March 16, 2012 | Comments

AJWs TaproomBack when I lived in California I made the annual pilgrimage to Cool, California to run the Way Too Cool 50k every March. I remember one year, I think around 2004, I was hanging around the finish line with Tim Tweitmeyer and talking about the race. For us, at least those of us for whom the Western States 100 was the annual focus race, Way Too Cool (or Cool Canyon Crawl as the real old-timers called it) was always the “season opener.” It gave us the opportunity to run on some of our favorite trails in pretty nice weather and, best of all, to re-connect with all the people who we had missed hanging out with during the long, dark, lonely winter months.

Last weekend the annual season-opener took place once again. This time, under ideal conditions, Gary Gellin and Tyler Stewart, two Northern Californians, set new Way Too Cool course records and hundreds of people enjoyed the splendor and beauty of some of America’s most storied trails. In addition, Northern California legend Rich Hanna made a comeback of sorts finishing second in a blazing time over his backyard trails. By all accounts, it was another great day at Way Too Cool. But was it, truly, the season opener? Is there, in fact, an off-season any more? And, if there is, does Cool still represent the early pre-season tune-up of choice?

When you think about it, the ultrarunning season really hasn’t stopped. Ever since The North Face targeted the first week of December as their Championship date and Bandera 100k became the premier winter Western States qualifier in January, runners have simply kept going. Add to that the HURT 100 in January and the Rocky Raccoon 100 in February and there really is no rest for the weary. Or is there? Is the key to ultrarunning success these days not what races you run but rather, what races you don’t run? And, if this is the case, how do racers choose?

Clearly, come the Ides of March, regardless of what you’ve done (or not done) all winter, it’s time to dust off the cobwebs and pin on a number. And now, in addition to Way Too Cool, the best runners in the country are finding their way to an ever-growing list of outstanding 50k races to test their early-season mettle and to get after it.

At the top of that list this year is Krissy Moehl’s showcase event, the Chuckanut 50k. This coming weekend, all eyes turn to Bellingham, Washington for what will certainly be the biggest and most competitive 50k race this country has ever seen. Krissy’s impeccable attention to detail combined with an expanded field and a general friskiness in the ultramarathon ranks has set this up to be a special one and Bryon will be there, of course, to give us the play-by-play. In addition, coming out of the race we’ll have a pretty good bead on who is in form going into the longer events of April and May.

But, back to the endless season. What is the ultimate takeaway from having so many events with so many runners taking people to so many places across the country for so many months? To be honest, I am of two minds on this one. On the one hand, it is wonderful that there are so many opportunities for people to enjoy beautiful trails in beautiful places doing what they love. On the other end, I worry that the competitive aspect of the sport and the shared camaraderie of competition may be watered down in the process. The Cool/Chuckanut situation is a good example. This year, clearly, the more competitive field is assembled at Chuckanut. Does that mean it’s a better race? I’m not sure. But, what it does mean is that, over the course of an eight-day period in the middle of March, more than 1,600 people will toe the line at trail 50k’s in the western United States. From wherever you stand, that has to be a good thing. The rest, I suppose, will take care of itself.

Bottoms up!

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Russian River Pliny the ElderThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from the renowned Russian River Brewery in Santa Rosa, California. I was originally intending on making the trip there this past weekend while in California for Way Too Cool but was distracted with knee surgery. Fortunately, my good friend and pacer Scott Wolfe (aka MonkeyBoy) from Bend, Oregon was going to be there so I sent him the following text:

“MonkeyBoy, you HAVE to head over to Russian River Brewing. I’d love a review of Pliny the Elder.”

The resulting review is contained herein, enjoy!

I think FOMO (Fear of Missing Out) drives a lot of the popularity of this California IPA. Much celebrated by mostly East Coast-biased beer reviewers, Pliny the Elder serves notice that you can have a very smooth, drinkable experience with a very popular California Double IPA and still feel like you have satisfied your Kraft Beer jones. Fairly light for a Double IPA, especially when compared with Ninkasi Tricerahops Double IPA. Pliny has a very lemony, almost piney, smell to it during the pour. Small head and good color. This beer is intended to be enjoyed soon after distribution is made available. I sampled Pliny from the tap brewed on March 2nd and Pliny bottled on February 16th versions of the Elder and could tell little difference in the taste or presentation. Carbonation, pour, and color was consistent with both.

Overall, a decent IPA. I have a 3-tap kegerator at the house and this wouldn’t make my Top 5 IPA’s in Bend, much less the rest of Oregon. The Imperial IPA’s from Hopworks, Bend Brewing, Boneyard and Ninkasi tend to lend shape to most of my kraft-beer epiphanies. Overall, I’d say Pliny the Elder is pretty mediocre compared to Oregon IPA’s. I guess if you have to buy beer in California, though, this is not a bad choice. If you really want to talk about IPA, give Hopworks Ace of Spades, Ninkasi Tricerahops or BBC’s Hophead a try and see if you are still as enamored with Pliny the Elder as you were before your Oregon IPA experience.

– Scott Wolfe

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • What are your thoughts on the now seemingly endless competitive ultrarunning season? Does it keep you excited about the sport through the winter? Are there negative repercussions?
  • If you take a break, what race traditionally kicks off your new season?
  • If there’ s a break on the big calendar, has Chuckanut supplanted Way Too Cool as the season opener?
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.