Thoughts on the 2023 UltraRunner of the Year Awards

A look at current and previous winners of “UltraRunning Magazine’s” UltraRunner of the Year awards.

By on January 26, 2024 | Comments

AJW's TaproomEarlier this month, “UltraRunning Magazine” released the results of their annual North American UltraRunner of the Year voting. These awards, which have been presented annually by the magazine since 1981 — except for 2020, when the voting was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic — are awarded to the top male and female ultrarunners in North America.

Limited to full-time North American residents, regardless of citizenship, and North American citizens, regardless of residency, the North American UltraRunner of the Year (UROY) awards provide an annual opportunity for fans and participants to debate and discuss excellence in the sport.

For 2023, the top spots went to Courtney Dauwalter and Jim Walmsley. For Dauwalter this was her fifth consecutive trip to the top step of the UROY podium, as she concluded an extraordinary year, which featured wins at Western States 100, Hardrock 100, and UTMB. For Walmsley, this was the sixth time in the past seven years he has won the award.

Jim Walmsley - 2023 UTMB champion

Jim Walmsley, 2023 UTMB champion, and six-time winner of UltraRunning Magazine’s UltraRunner of the Year award. Photo: iRunFar/Meghan Hicks

Previous Female Winners

A look back at the history of the award places Dauwalter in second place all time with her five wins. Only the legendary Ann Trason won more UROY awards with 12. Trason won 11 in a row from 1988 to 1998, and then a 12th in 2001. While it is clear that Dauwalter is an incredible runner, I suspect Trason’s record is safe, for now.

Behind Dauwalter on the all-time women’s list are a pair of legends, Nikki Kimball and Ellie Greenwood. Kimball won the award in 2003, 2004, and 2007, while Greenwood won the award in 2011, 2012, and 2014.

Behind them there are only four other multiple time winners — Marcy Schwam (1981, 1982), Sandra Kiddy (1985, 1986), Anne Riddle (2005, 2006), and Kami Semick (2008, 2009) — who have two wins apiece.

Marcy Schwam

Marcy Schwam, who set the first women’s 48-hour record in 1979 — winner of the 1981 and 1982 UltraRunner of the Year awards. Photo: Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team

Previous Male Winners

On the men’s side, Walmsley’s six wins place him on top of a rather talented heap. Two behind, with four wins each, are two Western States 100 legends, Scott Jurek and Tom Johnson.

Jurek won three consecutive awards in 2003, 2004, and 2005, and then a fourth in 2007. Interestingly, in 2006, in one of the closest votes in the history of the award, Karl Meltzer edged out Jurek for his first and so far only UROY award.

Johnson won his four awards consecutively between 1994 and 1997, when he was a dominant force in the sport on both the trails and the roads.

Bernd Heinrich won the award three times in the early days of 1981, 1983, and 1984. Five runners across the decades — Stu Mittleman (1982, 1985), Andy Jones (1990, 1991), Kevin Setnes (1993, 1998), Geoff Roes (2009, 2010), and Rob Krar (2013, 2014) — all have two wins each.

No matter how you slice it, the stretch of excellence that both Dauwalter and Walmsley have displayed over the last seven years is truly extraordinary in the history of the sport. With the exception of Trason, who is an outlier, we may never see a run of excellence like this again. And, it will be fascinating to see how much longer both streaks last.

Bottoms up!

Courtney Dauwalter- 2023 Hardrock 100 - Maggie Gulch

Courtney Dauwalter — 2023 UltraRunner of the Year — climbs amongst the 2023 Hardrock 100 wildflowers. Photo: iRunFar/Eszter Horanyi

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Yards Brewing Company logoThis week’s beer of the week comes from Yards Brewing Company in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Washington’s Porter is a deep and robust porter that is inspired by General George Washington’s original recipe. With strong hints of chocolate and a smooth finish it is clear that, as with many things, the General really knew what he was doing!

Call for Comments

How long do you think Jim Walmsley and Courtney Dauwalter will keep up their winning ways at this award?

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.