Ultra-Trail World Tour to Launch in 2014

This morning, the Ultra-Trail World Tour (UTWT) was announced in Chamonix, France amidst the festivities of The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc. To launch in 2014, the Ultra-Trail Series (as the UTWT’s circuit will be called) will consist of eight to 10 events, each 100 kilometers or longer, distributed around the world (four or more continents). Of these, five or six races will be designated as “Majors” in the UTWT.

Races will be designated a certain number of points based on their size and the race’s designation. These points will be used to formulate a championship ranking similar to those used in skiing, cycling, and tennis. Three races will count toward the ranking with two races from the Majors and one from an additional race. Some elite racers will receive support to attend series races. In choosing races, the organizers want these runners to ask “Not what can I do because I can afford it, but what can I do because I want to.”

Tentative 2014 Ultra-Trail Series Schedule

  • January 19 – Vibram Hong Kong 100
  • March 1 – The North Face Transgrancaria (Spain)
  • March 15 – Vibram Tarawera Ultramarathon (New Zealand)
  • April 5 – Marathon des Sables (Morocco)
  • April 26 – Ultra-Trail Mount Fuji (Japan)
  • June 28 – Western States 100 (USA)
  • June 28 – The North Face Lavaredo Ultra Trail (Italy)
  • August 29 – The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (France/Italy/Switzerland)

Additional race organizations have been contacted with more races likely to be added to the tour in the coming months.

Representatives from a few races in the Ultra-Trail World Tour as well as a few potential runners. Photo: iRunFar/Bryon Powell

UTWT Objectives

Here’s some of what the organizers have laid out (slightly de-Franglished):

The Ultra-Trail World Tour is an invitation to travel through the world, and to take part in the most mythical races.

What are its objectives?

  • Give the opportunity to anyone to take part, throughout the year, in the most beautiful long-distance trail races of the world (at least 100k in length).
  • Allow all trail runners to take part in popular events in which top runners are systematically associated with.
  • Allow the top trail runners to meet regularly and to be confronted to each other in an annual circuit.
  • Carry trail running’s values by giving the opportunity to everyone to improve himself through traveling, discovering new cultures, and sharing with other athletes from all around the world.
  • Use the experience, the history and the traditions of each events, to offer to the athletes a renewed vision of their sport and new experiences.
  • Associate races suitable for every athlete, in spectacular and diversified environments and with various difficulties and technical elements.

Benefits to the Rest of Us Ultrarunners

Those runners who join the UTWT may benefit from insurance, travel assistance, and discounts on running equipment. Runners who complete at least one race can request a UTWT passport and receive visa for each race they complete.

Quick Editorial Thoughts on the Championship Circuit

As I’ve covered the pointy end of the field at many highly competitive races in recent years, I’ll offer few personal thoughts limited strictly to that area.

  • I like the idea of a high-level international circuit for ultrarunning. I’m inspired by seeing the best ultrarunners from around the world race one another. That’s great.
  • I like that the series includes races as vastly different as the Tarawera Ultramarathon (flat 100k at sea level) and the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (167km mountain race. It allows differently suited trail runners to rank against one another in the same series.
  • I was worried that the ranking might encourage runners to run too many races in one year, but basing the ranking on the total of three races (including one non-major) might limit that issue. I would be interested in seeing the organizers limit maximum participation of each athlete. Otherwise, this might remain an issue, although most runners in contention will realize that it might be a fools errand to try to improve their ranking in highly competitive 100-kilometer-or-longer events by racing many more than the number of races that count toward the ranking.
  • On the other hand, keeping the races at 100 kilometers or longer means less overlap with the Skyrunning Ultra Series, which only had one 100k race and one race over 100k in 2013. As suggested by my thoughts above, I’d prefer one unified ultramarathon series with a very wide mix of distances (26.3 miles to whatever…); big mountains and faster, flatter courses; and maybe even a road race (Comrades or the IAU 100k World Championship) in a world ultra series.
  • I wish the series wasn’t limited only to races 100k and more in length. While I love ultras, more isn’t always better and I wish the same admirable diversity of terrain was reflected with a greater diversity of race lengths. I also worry about the potential harm to athletes who may race long and hard so often, as a result of the series. Perhaps, the 100k or more requirement is an attempt at branding through differentiation or perhaps it is a different conception of the sport that varies from the “an ultra is anything over 26.2 miles” concept with which I was indoctrinated into the sport.
  • Although many of the races are iconic, I wonder if travel support for a limited number of athletes will be sufficient to draw some in. Aren’t those most likely to receive travel support from the UTWT the same as those who are most likely to get material travel support from their sponsors? How to get the travel support to the excellent runners with lesser sponsor support?

Call for Comments

I’m sure this concept will draw plenty of comments both on the elite and regular runner prospective with out me prompting questions. :-) All viewpoints are welcome, we just ask that you keep the conversation civil. (A good test before posting a comment, is  whether you would say the same thing to the person who is the subject of the comment if you were out on a trail run with him or her.)

[Editor’s Note: As it has come up elsewhere, we’ll note that iRunFar has no affiliation with the Ultra-Trail World Tour.]

Bryon Powell: is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of iRunFar.com. Having spent nearly 20 years as an ultrarunner and three decades as a trail runner, he's also written Relentless Forward Progress: A Guide to Running Ultramarathons and co-wrote Where the Road Ends: A Guide to Trail Running. He calls Silverton, Colorado and Moab, Utah home.

View Comments (172)

  • Looks like profiteering to me Bryon, 15,000 Euros per race director to be part of the circuit and sounds a lot like the Racing the Planet series, where if you are an average runner and have deep pockets you get to travel to these races. What to RD's get in return ? A few tweets, a few FB updates and a couple of elites to their race ! A little underwhelming if you ask me and not a major unification of the sport.

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  • Agree with marcus. It feels a little bit like someone(many) have seen the skyrunning success but also spotted its limitations in being restricted by elevations and climb for a race to be part of it. It does mean technically any country and city can be part of a 'world series' but I miss the motive? Do we need it? Has the sport asked for it? That leaves us with profiteering. Also, the distance criteria is a problem- you have to run 3 huge races to be ranked, that's too much to allow for competitive running. Looking at the schedule at least two huge runs will need to be done close together. Plus what average joe can afford to do 3 huge races? I can't afford a single racetheplanet race and I won't be able to hop into europe for 3 races- I won't have enough annual leave!

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  • I do not understand the point in this. Does Skyrunning not offer a perfectly adequate version of this? Also, regarding cycling, the World Tour points system has all but failed and holds no interest for fans.

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    • I think Skyrunning embraces a particular sub-type of trail running. It focuses on higher, steeper, often more technical. Those appear to be the organization's roots and future. The vast majority of trail races in many areas as well as many of the world's premiere events fall outside the scope of Skyrunning.

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  • While I'm not yet convinced on the concept -see cycling WT etc - I get the idea that the fees paid are for bringing elites to the races? I wonder how much the $15,000 is offset by whatever they used to ante up to host/travel elites...

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  • The ITU world triathlon series, although set up differently has a similar sounding points system, and it has definitely created more excitement around the events, especially the grand final event that's happening soon. But I too worry about a series of races at these distances and the effects it could have on the runners.

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  • I get the idea but not sure you can have World Tour with Majors, without Hardrock ... and judging from what you've told me in the past the HR guys would never sign up to this. I could be wrong, love to know your thoughts Bryon.

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    • I'll ride a flying pig to Hardrock's announcement that it's part of the Ultra-Trail World Tour... ;-)

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      • Thought so :)

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  • What does it mean for the average runner?? Less entriies available for big events?? Increased race entry fee?

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    • I think it quite telling what they think of the average runner - 40% of the field is still currently running UTMB and the same organisers host a press conference during the race.

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      • Very good point indeed marcus. I livein Ireland so the european races are accessible to me but i would be totally pissed off , say for example that they reduce the number of entries for non elites at utmb or increase fees etc- not right when it is fact that the non elites make the utmb what it is

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        • Not forgetting that its the Average runner that makes the run both feasible and profitable (should that be the goal). Even races designed for Elite's requires substantial public entries to succeed- Like UROC or North Face Endurance challenge champs.

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  • Hello everyone,

    Paul Charteris here - Race Director for Tarawera (and one of the UTWT races). Firstly, I was not in Chamonix, so I cannot comment on what was actually said at the press conference. Seems like it did raise more questions than answers though.

    The merits of each race joining UTWT will differ vastly depending on the goals of the race. For a race like Tarawera which is nowhere near its entry limit and is in a major tourist destination both the race, local and national tourism partners have a very great incentive to reach runners world-wide. This is an opportunity that can help me achieve that.

    I have had about 6 weeks to stew over the UTWT concept. What I really like about the idea is the opportunity it gives runners to travel and complete the entire Tour over a number of years - more of a lifetime achievement thing rather than grabbing as many UTWT points in one year.

    Personally, I LOVE the idea of some of these races coming together to create a world tour. If you have the time, resources (and legs) to do a world tour over a number of years - and you are keen to explore different parts of the world - then go for it! If not, just do one or none of these races.

    For me there have already been a number of professional benefits. Already I have been discussing timing, safety and athlete tracking with a number of these RDs. I would never have approached them if Tarawera was not in the UTWT. Expect to see greater cooperation and sharing of ideas between us RDs in the months and years to come.

    Finally, I would hate for anyone to think I am 'profiteering' from this. I truth, I have a fulltime job and organise Tarawera in my spare time (late nights and weekends). If the race got to such a level that i could make a living from it - i would be delighted - but I would hardly call that profiteering.

    Yours sincerely,

    Paul Charteris

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    • Paul, thanks for the insights of an RD and you raise many valid points on how it can help the runner and spectator (safety and race tracking etc). To clarify my stance the potential 'Profiteering' was not aimed at RD's. It was the UTWT organisation. I believe Marcus was implying the same. Thanks

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      • Exactly - I was referring to the UTWT body and not the RD's. The RD's were be even more financially strapped after handing over 15,000 Euros

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        • Without the RD's we don't have races and I definately see the allure of being part of this as a RD. I read the press release. My hope is that all the questions that get raised result in UTWT having to come up with the right answers which ultimately do lead to something very positive being created for all ultra runners. I strongly believe all ultra runners need to benefit from this as their are scores of other groups that were looking at doing similar things. UTWT were the first to put something down (which potential means others may shelf plans) and being elitist is the wrong move, it's not Ultra Running and UROC/RRR have already done that recently.

          Anyway, I don't think I have anything new to contribute now so as Bryon would say...Happy trails

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        • Don't forget that a lot of races have marketing budgets already for media & bringing elites out... This may perhaps be seen by some races as a targeted spend...

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  • For me personally, I just don't see the point. Take the objectives of the organization, and I find that I don't need an "organization" to accomplish any of these:

    What are its objectives?

    Give the opportunity to anyone to take part, throughout the year, in the most beautiful long-distance trail races of the world (at least 100k in length). - This happens already, they are not creating any new races, just unifying existing races which anyone can "take part [of], throughout the year".

    Allow all trail runners to take part in popular events in which top runners are systematically associated with. -Again, this is already happening. There are currently plenty of popular events that any runner can sign up to be a part of, and share the starting line with elites.

    Allow the top trail runners to meet regularly and to be confronted to each other in an annual circuit. -Top trail runners already do meet, and often times pull out of races because they are "over-raced" as it is.

    Carry trail running’s values by giving the opportunity to everyone to improve himself through traveling, discovering new cultures, and sharing with other athletes from all around the world. -Do we need an organization to help discover new cultures and share trail running values? I personally don't think so.

    Use the experience, the history and the traditions of each events, to offer to the athletes a renewed vision of their sport and new experiences. -Again, this is a for profit organization that is trying to create an experience that makes consumers want to be a part of. They are creating a "renewed vision" of trail running by providing a UTWT passport that we can get race visas in? I think it's silly, we have t-shirts that say we finished races, race buffs, water bottles, pictures, etc. Now we need a race passport full of race visas?

    Associate races suitable for every athlete, in spectacular and diversified environments and with various difficulties and technical elements. -Already happening by these iconic races, without unifying them.

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    • well said, but they got to say something to justify their creation...

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  • Excellent tim . Totally agree- this is looking like a total money grab by this organisation. The only positive is for races like Tarawera - raising the profile and race entry numbers etc- but 15 000 euros?? Steep indeed

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  • Sorry One quick question perhaps for Bryon and Marcus. What are the organizers of UTWT individual names? Think it would be interesting to know and help the understanding a bit more- are they RD's of current races or come from business backgrounds etc...

    Cheers

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    • Based on the information provided to http://www.ultra168.com they are operating managers Fabrice Perrin and Jean Charles Perrin along with the Poletti's who organise UTMB and UTMF - all under the Ultra Trail company I believe.

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      • Ah jeez, it was obvious. It has big North Face look about it. There is no way TNF would just stump up 60,000 euros to a random company to credit 4 of its already hugely popular races. Its profiteering for them, no question. That doesn't make them bad though- its there business. Every consumer has an option not to 'buy'

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  • why are there no ISF races listed?

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    • Do we know what next year's Skyrunning Ultra Series races are yet? With so many top races out there, and only two UTWT-eligible races on this year's schedule - Ronda del Cimes and UROC, it's not surprising there's no overlap, even if it's be great to see some. :-)

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  • I don't like the diversity of the races. I was hoping for somethin similar to the ironman series, ONE distance (100m), similar elevations, age groups winners and a final

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    • that's boring.

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  • Great, did it just go from nearly impossible to get into WS100 to completely impossible!

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    • The same is true for the UTMB - although in fairness there are many alternatives available.

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    • There are plenty of other races.

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    • Exactly my thought. Ill never get to run WS now.

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  • €UTWT is like climbing Everest. There will be many people drawn to running them. Personally, I like climbing Denali (#HR100), you still have to haul your own ~100lbs of backpack & sled up the mountain.

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  • " Bryon Powell of IrunFar here with Ultra Trail World Tour 2014."

    Yep, would love to see you do a live interview with the UTWT and field questions from the iRunFar audience.

    Great dialogue thus far...

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  • I'm actually really intrigued by the idea. For years the ultra community has complained and argued about who is the top ultra runner and how we don't have a true championship race or series. Also top runners have complained about not having enough support. Now we have an organization that is offering both. Of course there will need to be a fee to participate since some runners are going to be supported to travel and the series needs to be managed. I look forward to the excitement this series brings to ultra running. Honestly, it is about time.

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    • I'm not sure you can speak for the ultra running community on this - while I'm aware some keyboard warriors have debated this issue I'm not sure it's been a burning issue in the running community I'm part of.

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      • That's fine if it is not a burning issue within your community.

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  • I honestly don't know what I think about this whole idea - a part of me kind of hates it, a part of me thinks that maybe it's fine for the people it's aimed toward. Two thoughts that came to mind though were (1) my impression was the whole passport/visa thing was helping to expedite visas for international travel, which could be useful for visiting some countries, but maybe I'm misunderstanding that?, and (2) this schedule/race list (at least currently) seems geared towards Europeans, with 3 races in France/Spain/Italy and 1 across the Med in Morocco. For runners in the Americas, Asia, and Down Under, participation in this seems like a much less workable proposition. However, since it sounds like the race list may expand, perhaps that calculation will change.

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    • Ahh, I'm now getting the "passport" thing. A little slow on the uptake there :) Need.More.Caffeine!

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  • Good luck with a global series, NEVER will all top runners be at each race. Way too expensive, even for the most decorated athletes.

    "Although many of the races are iconic, I wonder if travel support for a limited number of athletes will be sufficient to draw some in. Aren’t those most likely to receive travel support from the UTWT the same as those who are most likely to get material travel support from their sponsors?"

    Don't always assume that elite runners get full support to race around the world....and lastly, my big question:

    Whats the prize purse? Let's just hope it's not a "ranking".

    What's the draw for it if the prize purse is not large?

    Lastly. That picture at the top: Tony K is the "governor" Awesome!

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    • "NEVER will all top runners be at each race. Way too expensive"

      Hence the Ultra-Trail World Tour making it financially possible to get more of the top runners to these events.

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  • Does AK plans to finish any of the races?

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    • If by mistake you skipped over Calls for Comments from Bryon:
      (A good test before posting a comment, is whether you would say the same thing to the person who is the subject of the comment if you were out on a trail run with him or her.)

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