The Ten Best Ultra Runs of 2012

AJWs Taproom[Introductory Note: These rankings are simply the ruminations of one observer and represent a combination of domestic and international racers competing in events in the US and abroad. It, in no way, represents an exhaustive study nor does it pretend to be fully representative of all the great runs of 2012.]

It’s that time of year again! The holidays, sweet treats, dark beers, and prognostications about Ultrarunner(s) of the Year. The Ultrarunning Magazine rankings are a few weeks away, but I thought it would fun to prime the pump with a top-10 list of my own, the ten best runs of the year. I haven’t divided them by gender or distance or terrain, rather, I have simply ranked what were, in my opinion, the best of the year. Here goes:

10. Hal Koerner’s Hardrock 100 – Hal-o-Matic got the conditions he wanted, nailed his training, drew inspiration from pacing Timothy Olson at Western States, and was a natural for this year’s course direction. Hammering the long road downhills and power hiking forcefully through the night, Hal took the lead at Ouray and never relinquished it. Another big notch in one of ultrarunning’s iconic belts.

9. Emilie Forsberg’s North Face San Francisco 50 – This young Swede fought hard through some of the sketchiest conditions of the year to prevail over a stacked field. Employing solid tactics and adhering to a focused race plan, Forsberg displayed tremendous skill that belied her youth.

8. Dakota Jones’ Lake Sonoma 50 – While many have lauded Dakota’s win at Transvulcania, I believe his win at Lake Sonoma was more impressive. Against a focused field Dakota simply obliterated the competition. Running hills that most of his competitors were walking, “Young Money” showed that he has what it takes to win big.

7. Anna Frost’s Transvulcania 83k – Frosty showed up on La Palma with an intense focus and a clear goal. Running off the front from the starting gun, Anna managed the intense heat and sketchy volcanic terrain with ease and just missed breaking into the overall top-10 along the way.

6. Amy Sproston’s 100k World Championship – With impeccable pacing and perfect timing, Sproston took the lead in this prestigious race with just a few kilometers to go and surged to an impressive world-championships victory. Along the way, she led her USA team to a first place finish that firmly placed the American women in the forefront of the world ultrarunning map.

5. Sage Canaday’s White River 50 – The White River 50 is one of the oldest 50-milers on the West Coast and has seen its share of great performances over the years. Most notably, in the past few years the course record has been progressively lowered by Uli Steidl and then Anton Krupicka. In the 2012 version, young upstart Sage Canaday, running in his first 50-miler, pushed the course record even lower and gave notice that he has arrived on the scene.

4. Timothy Olson’s Western States 100 – After a sixth place finish at WS in 2011 and an outstanding spring season that included a win at Bandera and second place finishes at Lake Sonoma and Leona Divide, Timothy put together a perfect race under ideal race conditions to set a new course record and become the first runner on the modern course to run under 15 hours. It was a personal thrill for me to run the mile or so into the Rucky Chucky River Crossing with Timothy and his pacer Hal Koerner and realize that he was truly having “his day.”

3. Max King’s JFK 50 – While Canaday’s course record at White River was amazing, King’s course record at JFK was truly extraordinary. Going up against an international field of accomplished road and trail racers in America’s oldest ultra, Max King blazed his way to victory in metronomic course-record time and proved that he is the #1 sub-100-mile ultrarunner in the country.

2. Ellie Greenwood’s Western States 100 – Taking nothing away from Timothy Olson’s course record run I must say that Ellie’s course record edged him out. Besting none other than the immortal 14-time Western States champion Ann Trason, Ellie etched her name in the history books and cemented her frontrunner status for female Ultrarunner of the Year.

1. Mike Morton’s World 24-Hour Championship – The 1997 Western States champion and former course record holder broke Scott Jurek’s 24-hour record by over 7 miles along the way to a stunning victory in the 24-Hour World Championships. Shadow boxing with Jurek over the past fifteen years, Morton finally returned the favor following up on Jurek’s besting of his record in the 2004 Western States with a new record of his own. Not only did Morton secure his legacy as one of the great ultrarunners of our time, but he also made a strong case for 2012 Ultrarunner of the Year.

Happy New Year everyone!

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Schlafly Tasmanian IPA
For the last week of the year we’re looking south to the warmer climate of Australia. Schlafly Brewing Company in St. Louis has produced an outstanding Tasmanian IPA hopped completely with Australian hops. The result is a citrusy smooth beer with a nice blend of sweetness and spice.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)
What do you think were some of the top runs of 2012?

There are 44 comments

  1. Davide

    A fine selection of great runs, good job AJW.

    From an european point of view, Kilian's win at Zegama was probably also one of the highlights of the year, with nasty conditions, absolutely stacked field and a great course, but being a marathon, it doesn't qualify for the ultra-moments.

    Tofol Castanyer win at CCC is also a great performance… The guy mastered a monster course with terrible weather (ask Dave MacKey) in one hell of a fast time. He's got a bright future ahead.

    And give more credit to Hal, his HR win should be higher in the list!

  2. Anonymous

    Come on man. Dakotas victory at Transvulcania was Americas first real breakout performance on the international scene. Dakota should be on here twice. The problem is I am not sure which run you would replace. Good list other then that.

  3. Brett

    Also, what a great year when things like Jon Olson's 12 hour 29 minute 100 miler, Ellie Greenwood's JFK, and Barkleys records didn't make the list.

  4. Tropical John

    These lists are always tough! But if you put Morton's run at number 1, you would have to have Connie Gardner's 149+ miles American Record in there too I expect. And Ellie's JFK (and Chuckanut and Comrades). And Dakota's Transvulcania. And Meghan's 7:41 100K at age 51. And Jon Olsen's 12:29 100 miler. And Dylan Bowman's Leona. And Leor's Skyline.

    Oh wait. That's more than 10, isn't it. . .

  5. Speedgoatkarl

    Old man Meltzer won RRR100? 44 years old has to count for something. First year races are always tough to judge…. It's all mumbo jumbo.

    Great list. I think Morton is on top too. Going over 170,and winning 5 100+ mile runs in one year is huge. He had a great season, now we just need to get Mike to the mountains. :-) Happy New Year!

    1. Jason H

      Problem is, Mike moved to Florida! Great FLAT year round running. He had an incredible year. Set CR's at a couple 100's, and came within seconds of doing the same at Badwater. Awesome!

      Karl, I'd give you a spot on there for RRR, probably in place of TNF50 Emilie. That was an awesome showing.

  6. BGD

    Some runs that impressed me this year:

    1) Gary Gellin's CR at WTC50k

    2) Vajin Armstrong "jogging" a 5:53 AR50

    3) D-Bow's near-sub 6 at Leona Divide

    4) Zeke Tiernan's last 38mi's of WS (6hr05min, I think)

    5) Ryan Burch 7:40 at Quad Rock 50

    1. BGD

      Also, Tyler Stewart's 3:49 WTC 50k and Ellie's AR50 (and her unreal 1hr15min split from Rattlesnake Bar to the finish – 2nd fastest in the entire field).

    2. Gary Gellin

      Ugh, I don't deserve this BGD – especially if my prediction comes true that Max and/or Leor will take 5 to 10 minutes off my CR at Way Too Cool in the next edition. But thanks for the vote of confidence!

      I want to add Miguel Heras's performance at TNFEC 50 – San Francisco: 47 miles with 9,000ft (2700m) of climbing in the pouring rain on muddy trails at 7:05 mpm pace (!) with miles 23.5 to 47 run at very nearly the same pace as the very fast initial 23.5. Wow.

      Ditto on Ellie, Sage, Max, and Dakota for each taking down super-solid course records.

  7. IndyB

    How about Lizzie Hawker winning the UTMB again, and then a month later taking the Spartathlon record! As far as I'm aware, nobody has ever won both in the same year (has anyone even come close to that before!?) , that has to be the most impressive feat of the year for me.

  8. Pete

    Great list, AJW. Very glad to see Mike Morton's accomplishment recognized on lists like these where the epic trail races seem to get priority. Also, they didn't win but they made the podium in miserable conditions at a very tough race: Krupicka and Jones taking #2 and #3 at Cavalls del Vent were both impressive ultra performances in 2012.

  9. Carey

    These lists are where I think the "ultra" distiction makes the least sense for me. I like to think in terms of "great trail/mountain runs."

    If I'm thinking that, somewhere in the top 10 is Emelie Forsberg's Dolomites Skyrace. Came out of virtually nowhere and crushed it.

    And if mountain runs of shorter distance are in play, Sage Canaday's Mount Washington Road Race makes the top five.

  10. AJW

    Hey everyone, thanks for the comments. A few additional criteria I set for myself when making the list:
    1. Only ultra events
    2. Only runners who finished 1st


  11. Mike Morton

    Thanks for the awesome ranking! There are some amazing runners doing amazing things these days. The sport is huge compared to the 90's!

    There are so many amazing performances that it is not possible to give credit where it is due.

    Time and time again I'm impressed by the folks who fight for 24 plus hours in a 100, they are the best runners in the country! So many great performances don't result in a win or even a top ten finishe; they are the warriors that fight through sun up, sun down and sun up again!

    Karl- your comments mean a lot to me, I have nothing but respect for you!

    1. Niklas

      Impressive comes in many forms. To be one of the greatest elite runners and pointing to all the unsung heroes/heroines is one of them. Mike, I believe your personality is about as shining as your running performances.

      A total pacifist saying that about a soldier is weired, but people are strange.

      You're awesome!

    2. Tom W

      I will be doing the 50 at Rocky and can't wait to see Mike rolling along at 7:20-7:30/mile pace. Good luck and see you out there soldier.

      Semper Fi


  12. Wyatt Hornsby

    With all due respect to AJW, I have to say I agree that Dakota's Transvulcania win should be on here. I've always known "Young Money" is good, but I was nonetheless stunned that he beat out such a strong field of international talent led by Kilian Jornet.


    1. Jeremy

      Yeah, he's right in there in second place between Kollar and Jones! Nah, seriously that is a wonderful performance for Morton, but I don't know much about the sport of "fast" ultras like tracks and circles and such. I just know the sport of mountain running much better. To me, Morton's greater feats were: 1. Years of elite special forces service and the courage and vision to come back to the top of his sport after all that time away, 2. 1997 Western States, 3. 2012 Badwater.

  13. AJW

    I think it's pretty cool that Irunfar has created a forum where Karl Meltzer and Mike Morton can confer and the rest of us can follow along. Happy New Year everyone. AJW

  14. Astroyam

    These listings have to be American, or else there'd be many listings missing…

    But for Americans I have to second Jones at TransVulcania, top 5, and ditto for Koerner HR. Krupicka at Cavalls in top 10 as well.

  15. jenn

    Huh. I disagree – I can think of a fair number of races, where the competition for the top spot produced greater performances by the person coming in second than the winners of other races. YMMV.

    1. AJW

      Jenn, certainly true. I simply felt I needed some boundaries in creating this list. Certainly, if one of these lists were to be made in 2005 the 2nd place guy at Western States certainly would have been on there:) AJW

  16. Patrick L

    Great point, AJW! I'm always fascinated to see a post by one of the elites right next to a novice or simply a "Joe Finisher" like myself.

    And thanks for sparking the debate in which this could happen.

    It's like sitting in a bar with Roy Halladay and hear him discuss Justin Verlander's pitch selection. Unreal.

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