Sixth Annual AJW’s Taproom Year In Ultrarunning Rankings: 2016

AJW's TaproomFor the past five years (end of 2011end of 2012end of 2013end of 2014 , and end of 2015), I have posted some year-end ultrarunning awards. Now, I would like to introduce the Sixth Annual AJW’s Taproom Year in Ultrarunning Rankings.

These are not scientific in any way and the criteria was made up entirely by me. They represent a selection of North American racers competing in events in the U.S. and abroad. My rankings, in no way, represent an exhaustive study nor do they pretend to be fully representative of all that occurred in 2016, so take them or leave them.

Male Ultrarunner of the Year

  1. Jim Walmsley
  2. Jeff Browning
  3. Zach Miller
  4. Zach Bitter

Female Ultrarunner of the Year

  1. Kaci Lickteig
  2. Gina Slaby
  3. Magda Boulet
  4. Amy Sproston

Male Performance of the Year

  1. Jim Walmsley’s win of the JFK 50 Mile
  2. Zach Miller’s win at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile Championships (interview, race report)
  3. Jason Schlarb’s tie for the win with Kilian Jornet at Hardrock (interview)

Female Performance of the Year

  1. Gina Slaby’s 100-mile world record at Desert Solstice (interview)
  2. Caroline Boller’s 50-mile American trail best at Brazos Bend 50 Mile (race report)
  3. Kaci Lickteig’s win of Western States (interview)

NOTE: For the purposes of these awards, I consider a runner to be a ‘rookie’ if 2016 was their first season racing and they placed well in at least two ultramarathons. For me, my ‘rookie’ litmus-test example is Anton Krupicka in 2006 when he came out of nowhere and won the Leadville Trail 100 Mile.

Male Rookie of the Year

Female Rookie of the Year

Male Surprise of the Year

  • Andrew Miller’s win at Western States (interview)

Female Surprise of the Year

  • Caroline Boller’s 50-mile American trail best at Brazos Bend 50 Mile (race report)

FKT of the Year

  • Karl Meltzer’s supported speed record of the Appalachian Trail (interview)

Best Trail Running Film of the Year

Most Inspirational Person of the Year

  • Dave Mackey

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Upslope Brewing Company Barrel Ages Imperial Milk StoutThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Dave Mackey’s hometown of Boulder, Colorado. Among the many great beers in this outdoor-lovers mecca and one of my favorites is Upslope Brewing Company’s Barrel Aged Imperial Milk Stout. Brewed with a nicely blended combination of oak and bourbon barrels, this beer is a great accompaniment to any chilly December evening.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Who are your choices for ultrarunner of the year, according to AJW’s voting rules of North American runners and their competitions at ‘home’ and abroad?
  • If you were to vote for global ultrarunners of the year, who would they be?
  • How about AJW’s other categories? What would be your picks?

There are 55 comments

  1. Gary

    Aw. Too bad! You were doing so well until FKT of the year… Pete Kostelnick’s Trans-Con beats Speadgoat by a nose. The AT has gone down several times in recent years. NO ONE had come CLOSE to the trans-con record in decades…

    1. speedgoat Karl

      But not many people even consider running trans con….How many legitmate attempts of the trans con record have there been since it was set in 1980 something? In my entire career, spanning 20 freaking years….I can’t even remember one person who went after it, that was legit.

      But let me say this, Yes, Pete’s run across the US was amazing, there aren’t many of us out there, that can even understand what it takes to either do 48 mpd on the AT, or 73 mpd on the roads. Both FKT’s are very similar. Days spent, time on feet is very close, Pete and I both were on the feet for about 13-16 hrs per day, although different terrain, many issues were exactly the same, Mental, shins, etc…..

      Both these records are beatable. Me being one full day ahead of JPD’s itinerary on day 19, then gave it all back and then some because of shin issues,

      And Pete, who had a big fat ZERO day, which is incredible to think he got that all back.
      Records are made to be broken, and if anyone is out there with a legit chance, whether it’s the AT, PCT, or route 80 from San Fran to NYC, I”m in for crewing, cuz’ it doesn’t get any better than that…..Happy Holidays, from the Speedgoat’s mouth.

  2. Gary

    And, curious if you considered Zach Bitter’s Javelina win at all for POY? I think that’s a pretty underrated performance with no one really pushing him in a particularly scorching year. Also Upslope is LEGIT. Reminds me that I need to go get some of those cans! Merry Christmas!

    1. AJW

      Gary, Yes, I strongly considered Zach’s JJ CR, like Devon’s the year before (when I named it surprise of the year) but in the end it got 4th place. Schlarb’s Hardrock was a little under rated I think because it was a tie but when you think about it running stride for stride with Kilian is pretty impressive.

      1. speedgoat Karl

        Yah, Schlarb’s HR was amazing, but AJW is exactly right, he did not win the race, he “tied”, and even though it was a sick time, very sick I shall say, they should have raced to the end. I guess HR boys don’t call it a “race”, but don’t kid yourself….it’s a race. Tying…is two guys or gals giving up on racing at the end…Just my two cents….

        1. Sam

          Honestly I’m sure Killian could have won if he wanted to. Read some of his interviews – I really think that he’d rather enjoy the course with a colleague than just blow it away another time (after having set CRs in each direction). The kid

  3. Luke

    I could argue details (I feel like there were more impressive FKTs), but overall a pretty solid slate! Can’t recommend that video highly enough, but watch it and ‘All In’ together (should’ve use that closing footage in both videos, IMHO).

    1. speedgoat Karl

      Luke, please mention the awesome FKT’s you know of other than the big 3. Jim, me, Pete. I know of Versteeg’s AZ trail, and Anish also the AZ unsupported effort. Also correct me if I’m wrong, but didn’t the PCT record go down again too? that would be stout, the problem with the PCT record, is documentation, we need that. Other FKT’s that are not iconic trails, or at least some special route that the general world knows about, sort of become irrelevant. Running all the Lost River Range in Idaho faster than anyone would be damn incredible, but noone else has done it. I can say I’ve run the Pony faster than anyone else too, but it’s not really a “set” trail, it’s too loose to count for anything, So yah, mention then here, so when we look at that in a week or two, we can at least get all of the good stuff mentioned.

        1. speedgoat Karl

          :-) Nice, I was really just asking what other ones Luke knows of is all. In my opinion, Jim’s Grand Canyon is the one furthest out of reach, the other two are different beasts altogether. We are all good at running because running is a simple concept….put one foot in front of the other quicker than walking…I must be bored, as I’ve been yacking alot more lately.

      1. Buzz Burrell

        Here’s a few – more coming soon to a Voter near you – – –

        Nick Elson, on the Grand Traverse (17 miles), 6h30m49s, 8/13/2016, breaking the FKT by legendary alpinists Alex Lowe and Rolo Garibotti. You can die on this one rather easily.

        Ryan Ghelfi, Mt Shasta ascent, 1h37m5s, 7/6/2016. This FKT has serious history: John Muir set the FKT (4h10m) in 1874!

        Uli Steidl, Mt Rainier (car-to-car), 4h24m30s, 7/26/2016. Another super classic FKT route, requiring running and glacier travel.

        Leor Pantilat, Sierra High Route (195 miles), 4d16h21m, 8/6-10/2016. Classic Leor: Unsupported, intimate route knowledge, no grandstanding, way faster than anyone else.

    1. Silke Koester

      Absolutely! I completely agree that Clare has hopped onto the scene in 2016 and crushed 50k-100M distances this year placing 2nd at the competitive Dirty Thirty 50K in Golden in June, in addition to the Leadville win and TNF 5th place.

  4. Silke Koester

    Hillary Allen has had a phenomenal 2016 and deserves consideration for Female Ultrarunner of the Year. While she focused on European races coming in 3rd in the 2016 Skyrunner World Series Ultra division, she also podiumed at the competitive The Rut 50K (1st American). She’s proven herself this year against the biggest competition on some of the toughest (sub 100M distance) races!

  5. Silke Koester

    Courtney Dauwalter has also placed 1st or 2nd every one of the 9 ultra distance races she ran this year including dominating RRR and running just shy of 150 miles at the 24 hour race in AZ this month (winning the race overall).

    1. Matt

      Am I the only the only one who feels like Mont Blanc was way too over sentimentalised? I Thought it was ruined by the music and editing and was just way too much…then again I’m British and we don’t really go in for that sort of thing.

      1. Sam

        I agree. For my preference, the Hayden v Miller was way more entertaining – I love the long follow shots through the wonderful trail. UTMB wasn’t bad, but it felt more like a long commercial, Miller v hawkes just let the running speak for itself

    2. Myke

      While what Jamil has been doing is great I’d consider it event coverage, not a film. Miller. vs. Hawk and Chasing Walmsley in the Grand Canyon are the closest we’re getting right now to what other sports get with live video coverage but without commentary or narrative (Jamil – get on some directors cut color commentary!) and honestly they’re mostly just shaky butt shots for 20 minutes. Mount Marathon is one of the few trail races with live television coverage with commentary which is awesome but I still preferred what Salomon TV did with their short film. In my opinion my favorite film of the year was “The Hard Way” about 88 year old Bob Hayes (a little biased though coming from Montana) but I also really liked Joel Wolpert’s “Outside Voices” with Jenn Shelton – trail running films tend to be very formulaic and in the middle of almost falling asleep at a film festival watching them his creative approach and breaking a lot of norms was really refreshing (though it’s definitely not for everyone).

  6. Adam L

    Some good picks on there. Best of the bunch being Miller vs Hawks which I will be watching over and over again.

    Jamil’s film making has gone up a level or two in the last few months and is stunning right now.

    1. Stephen

      I too love Jamil’s work. It’s a rare thing to be able to keep pace with the superstars like Walmsley and Miller long enough to get usable footage and not fall on your face in the process. Can’t wait to see more.

  7. Alex

    All great picks. For me, the sheer superhuman spectacle of Walmsley’s Grand Canyon FKT tops the list. Karl and Pete both put on master classes of endurance and logistics management – they AND their crews did fantastic work, but both shaved fairly small slivers off their respective FKT targets. Walmsley DESTROYED the R2R2R record, cutting nearly 7% off of Rob Krar’s already superlative time. En route he broke the once-across FKT, going the wrong way (south to north is net uphill). To start the day’s festivities, he came within 2 minutes of the fastest-ever documented descent of the South Kaibab Trail while RUNNING IN THE DARK. There’s just nothing about the entire effort that is less than mind-boggling. Unless Jim goes back to try and top this run himself, I suspect this is one FKT that’s going to hang around for a good long while.

      1. Dean G

        Someone (albeit a rare talent) just has to have 1/2 of a really great day to beat that…

        Whereas someone will need more than a month of perfect to beat yours or Pete’s though Karl…

        So while Jim’s might be “the obliteration of the year”… I bet it is beat before both yours and Pete’s are.

        1. Sam

          Really? AT was broken two years in a row. Prior to that the record was held by Davis (an all but unknown in the ultra community, but absolute badass and mom). Jurek just barely squeaked by her record and Meltzers margin was really that much more significant (but obviously out of reach for most mortals). But what I’m saying is the AT record has turned over three times since 2011, once by an unknown.

          But all that being said maybe the best thing to do is stratify FKTs in regards to single runs (ex. R2R2R) vs multi-day efforts?

          1. speedgoat Karl

            yah, once again, it’s apple and oranges and kumquots. Pete and I can certainly be compared, and probably a close vote either way, Jim is a one effort gig, totally different and reserved for the fast young kiddo. Even though Pete is young too. :-)

      2. sleeper

        Jim’s destruction of Rob’s time was incredible and the 7% margin was hug. Pete’s margin over the old record was 8.8%. Margin of victory shouldn’t be the only standard, but both record beat very stout existing ones and it’s not like Pete just squeaked by.

  8. Geoff Weston

    Gina had an amazing year! But hasn’t she been winning ultras for many years rather than being a “rookie” in 2016? She won Hurt 100 in 2014 and a few other shorter ultras as early as 2009.

    1. AJW

      True indeed. But winning HURT and a few other shorter ultras is a far cry from a world record 100. It’s kind of like that pitcher who toiled in the minors for years before making it to the show, winning 20 games, striking out 200, and hurling a perfect game. So yes, a rookie in my book.

      1. Sean

        I’m with Geoff. I think that referring to Gina as a rookie is disrespectful to her history. Just because her past ultrarunning wasn’t at the elite level doesn’t mean she wasn’t an ultrarunner.

        Speaking of rookie of the year, I think Cody Reed’s 3 wins out of 4 starts, and one blow-up, is the clear choice for Male Rookie of the Year.

  9. Myke

    While I don’t think he qualifies to make top 10 based on a limited race schedule and only racing the 50k distance I think Morgan Elliot deserves an honorable mention. US Skyrunning didn’t really do much all year to promote him or his series win but he won Aspen Power of Four, Flagstaff Sky Race and got second at Franklin Mountain 50k after latecomer Walmsley showed up (had Jim not been there and won he would have received an additional $3,000 bonus for winning three Skyrunning events). Morgan had been living in North Carolina before living out of his car to do the Skyrunning series this summer (#beastcoast) but a move to Colorado this fall should allow him to train more specifically for mountain ultras next year.

    1. Myke

      I just realized Sarah Keyes from Georgia didn’t show up in your women’s balloting or and reader comments – also this year’s Skyrunning winner. She stuck to shorter distances this year but she got an early entry to the 2017 Western States through a sponsor so I’m guessing her focus will change.

      1st Broken Arrow Sky Race
      1st Runamuck 50k
      1st Power of Four Sky Race
      2nd Flagstaff Sky Race
      4th Cascade Crest 100

        1. Myke

          Not sure why I put Georgia but yeah based on AJW’s standard for women’s UROY consideration she should be listed.

          -A runner must have completed at least four ultras in 2016 of at least two different distances. (3x50k, 1×50 mile, 1×100 mile)
          -A runner must have finished first place (in their gender) in at least two races in 2016. (1st at Broken Arrow, 1st at Aspen Power of Four, 1st at Runamuck 50k)
          -A runner must have had at least one top finish (top 20%) in a ‘major’ ultra in 2016. (12th North Face 50 California which I forgot to list).

  10. Wilk

    Courtney has proven a huge range winning JJ100K (women’s record?), RRR100M and running a US Women’s 5th best all-time in the 24 hour. No mention of her seems severely lacking, IMO.

  11. Smallhills

    Speaking of other categories what about traditional mountain distance or as some refer “sub ultra mountain running”? My picks

    1. Joe Gray
    2. Andy Wacker
    3. Pat Smythe

  12. Randy

    Browning has been a consistent runner, season after season and this past year has truly been inspirational to me, an almost 40 year old, husband, father of two with a full time job. Put that in front of Jim and see where he ends up. My vote is for Browning, a veteran ambassador to ultra trail running.

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