Reflections on the Women’s Ultra Performance of the Year

AJWs TaproomThe publication last week of Ultrarunning magazine’s 2011 Ultrarunners of the Year awards was exciting and thought provoking. From the overwhelming victory of Ellie Greenwood in the Women’s Ultrarunner of the Year category to the closest vote ever in the Men’s Ultrarunner of the Year category the results spurred conversations across the country about what an amazing year in ultrarunning 2011 truly was.

From my perspective, I found one category this year to be particularly intriguing, the women’s Performance of the Year. To me, it was fascinating to see that three very different runners, in three very different events, with three different styles took home the top-3 honors. In that context, this category deserves a deeper dive:

In third place was Meghan Arbogast’s IAU 100K World Championships run. In that race Meghan powered to a 5th place finish in a time of 7:46 and in the process broke the women’s 50 and over World Record for the 100K. You read that right, world record! Additionally, in that race she was the top-American women’s runner of any age. The fact that the voters selected Meghan’s World 100K race for this honor, suggests that not all of the panel are “trail-centric” as some have suggested. In fact, one could have easily selected Meghan’s Western States run, for example, where she came just six minutes shy of breaking the storied men’s 50 and over record set by Doug Latimer way back in 1989. Instead, the panel looked to a highly competitive road race on the international stage and thought Meghan’s run there deserved the nod.

Meghan Arbogast 2011 IAU 100k World Championships

Meghan Arbogast (sunglasses) running the 2011 IAU 100k World Championships.

Ellie Greenwood WS100 2011Speaking of Western States, Ellie Greenwood’s win at that event took second in the Performance of the Year category. Only the second woman ever to run under 18 hours, Ellie distinguished herself this year as on of the fastest women ever to tackle the storied course from Squaw Valley to Auburn. In addition, it is interesting to note, that the voters chose Ellie’s Western States run over her 4th place finish at Comrades which would seem to suggest a contrary tendency than was seen in the Arbogast vote. Perhaps the Western States competition tipped the balance in Greenwood’s favor or perhaps this is just a coincidence. Nonetheless, it would be interesting to know what Ellie and Meghan think their best runs of the year were. :)

Perhaps most interestingly, the #1 performance was not in a formal competitive event at all. Rather, the Ultrarunning magazine panel was obviously impressed with a very long, very fast hike and gave the #1 spot to Jennifer Pharr-Davis who set a new standard on the 2,100 mile long Appalachian Trail hiking it in an astounding 46 days, 11 hours, and 20 minutes. This transcendent performance, which knocked about 20 hours off Andrew Thompson’s previous record – JPD not only became the fastest woman to hike the AT she became the fastest person ever, male or female! – took the ultrarunning world by storm in June and July as thousands sat by their computers riveted by the story as it was unfolding and was documented by Brew Davis, Jenn’s husband and crew who also happens to be an outstanding writer. The consistency and persistence that Pharr-Davis showed during this extraordinary hike was, to me, the most compelling and inspirational aspect of it.

Jennifer Pharr-Davis Appalachian Trail

JPD on the AT. Photo: Melissa Dobbins

There is no doubt about the fact that these three performance were deserving of their places at the top of the sport. In addition, these three runs show both the breadth and depth of women’s ultrarunning at the moment. Furthermore, while there has been some concern raised in the ultrarunning community that perhaps the Ultrarunner of the Year voting is biased toward certain events and certain surfaces, these rankings seem to suggest otherwise. It’s also interesting to note that the 4th place performance was Connie Gardner’s 24 hour run and 5th place was Kami Semick’s third place finish at the Comrades Marathon, the largest ultramarathon in the world, and a road race.

One can only imagine what these five extraordinary women have in store for all of us in 2012.

Bottoms up!

AJW Taproom’s Beer of the Week
Boneyard Beer Girl Beer - BeermosaThis week’s Beer of the Week is my wife Shelly’s favorite. This is the second beer I’ve selected for the Taproom from Boneyard Beer in Bend, OR but it is certainly appropriate for this week’s column. So, next time you’re in Bend, stop by Boneyard and fill up your growler with their Girl Beer (aka “Beermosa”) you won’t be sorry!

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

  • Which women’s ultrarunning performances from 2011 stand out in your mind?
  • What do you think of the mix of performances the Ultrarunning panel chose?

* Note: As a North American publication, the Ultrarunning mag panel considers only North American-based athletes for its year-end awards.