I have a confession to make. Back in May, when the trail running and ultrarunning worlds were rocked by the announcement that UTMB and Ironman were joining forces to create the UTMB World Series, I was skeptical. At the time of the announcement, nine events, all owned by the UTMB Group, were declared part of the series. Curiously, none of those original events were in North America, and it caused many to wonder, myself included, if there would be any North American races in the series. Last week we learned that North America’s most iconic race, the Western States 100, would become part of the UTMB World Series too.
Looking into the announcement a little deeper, it appears as though UTMB has made some significant exceptions in their original plans in order to bring the Western States 100 into the UTMB World Series. First, while the May announcement stated that all World Series events would be owned by the UTMB Group, the Western States 100 clearly has maintained its independent, nonprofit status and will not have “by UTMB” following its race name as all the others in the series do.
Additionally, concurrent to the announcement that the Western States was joining the World Series, it was also announced that four to five Golden Ticket Races, races that have been used by elite runners to gain entry into Western States, would also join the World Series in 2023. At this point, we don’t know how many current Golden Ticket Races will join the World Series or how many new ones will become a part of the program.
Finally, in perhaps the most unique part of the new arrangement, also beginning in 2023, elite athletes will have the chance to double qualify for UTMB and Western States through the integration of those select Western States Golden Ticket races.
As I sift through this new arrangement, one thing is clear: UTMB and Ironman need Western States more than Western States needs UTMB and Ironman. Certainly, any series of events claiming to be a “World Series” would have to include the race that literally started it all.
From my perspective, it was essential for UTMB to do whatever possible to get the Western States into their series, even if that meant making an exception to their plans. As a result, as it has for decades, Western States has been able to remain true to its values and traditions while adapting to the seemingly incessant changes which have been a large part of the sport in recent years.
From my perspective, as a long-time ultra participant and a lifelong Western States supporter, I see this development in a positive light. And, while I was initially concerned that this kind of partnership would serve to disrupt the strong sense of community that we hold dear, I now believe that when change is managed correctly, as this one was, it can actually perpetuate the sense of community rather than erode it.
Ultimately, time will tell how this will all evolve, but as for me, I am grateful for the fact that the Western States remains what it has always been, an event that transcends the ordinary. An event that presents the opportunity for 369 fortunate souls to experience something truly extraordinary.
In spite of changes, partnerships, commercialization, and growth, I hope that for years to come, on the fourth weekend in June in a special corner of California, people will continue to be treated to the experience of a lifetime.
AJW’s Beer of the Week
This week’s Beer of the Week comes from Sierra Nevada Brewing Company in Chico, California. One of the founding fathers of the craft beer movement, Sierra Nevada continues to produce fine beers in spite of seemingly constant growth.
This winter, Sierra Nevada has released Powder Day IPA which is dry-hopped and fruity. While not a hop bomb, it is a deep, classic West Coast IPA that is great on a cold winter’s night.
Call for Comments
- We’re sure this article will elicit many comments, but what’s your take on the UTMB expansion and the inclusion of the Western States 100 into the UTMB World Series?