UTMB Intrigue

AJW's TaproomLast year in this space and on this weekend, I wrote a piece titled “UTMB Envy” in which I spoke about how badly I want to one day run UTMB and how every year around this time I envy those who get to do so. This year, I am sad to say, I feel the same way. I really wish I was heading over to Chamonix, France like many of my friends and not just to run but I’d also love to go over there to see the whole thing unfold.

I completely agree with Bryon Powell, who wrote in iRunFar’s men’s preview article on Monday that this year’s UTMB is the deepest, most competitive men’s field ever assembled for a trail 100 miler. And in reading that, it reminded me of a time seven years ago when he and I said the same thing about the men’s race at Western States. The 2010 Western States 100 turned out to be an inflection point for our sport and to this day resonates with me as one of the single best days of competitive ultrarunning I have ever seen. Perhaps this year’s UTMB will be another such inflection point.

Allow me to take you back to the last Saturday in June of 2010 and give you a sense of the men’s field that day:

First of all, there were ‘the big four.’ Two-time defending champion, Hal Koerner, was returning and by all accounts was in the best shape of his life. Two-time Leadville Trail 100 Mile winner Anton Krupicka was coming to run his first Western States after a series of impressive tune-up races and a seemingly incomprehensible training schedule. Alaskan Geoff Roes was making his way to Squaw Valley, California to run his first Western States after completing what was, perhaps, the single greatest season of ultrarunning ever. And, Catalan phenom Kilian Jornet was making his North American ultramarathon race debut after wowing the ultra world with his exploits in other parts of the world. For most prognosticators, the winner was going to come from one of those four.

However, chasing that group were some impressive runners, some names that will still be recognized and others perhaps less so. Zach Miller was back as one of only a few returning top-10 runners from 2009. Nick Clark and Ian Sharman were running, believe it or not, their first Western States. Gary Robbins was coming down from Canada, Neal Gorman from Virginia, and Leigh Schmitt from Massachusetts. To top that all off, the grand master himself, Tom Nielsen, was returning to Western States after several years away.

In short, it was a stacked field in which most of us believed anything could happen. And, indeed it did! On the slightly modified course, in the end, Geoff Roes closed hard after Foresthill, passing Anton Krupicka at mile 89 and going on to set a new course record. Krupicka held on for what was, at the time, the fastest second-place finish ever and Kilian Jornet, after making a few rookie mistakes, managed a third-place finish.

Hal Koerner didn’t have his best day and ended up dropping at the river crossing as did Leigh Schmitt. Miller, Robbins, Clark, and Sharman, however, all went on to impressive top-10 finishes and the race went down in history. To this day, I can still feel the energy that was coursing through the awards ceremony that hot June Sunday afternoon. It was positively palpable.

Looking at next weekend’s UTMB, I have a hunch it could be quite similar to that 2010 Western States. While certainly the field is deeper and more robust and the cast of characters is different, it could, nonetheless, be another inflection point for the men’s side of our sport and that is wonderfully exciting!

For a continued trip down memory lane, here are a few memories from that great day in 2010:

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week

Boulevard Brewing Company Tank 7 Farmhouse AleThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Boulevard Brewing Company in Kansas City, Missouri. Their Tank 7 Farmhouse Ale is one of the best of this variety I have tasted. It’s fruity yet dry with just a touch of sourness. Wonderfully drinkable and simple.

Call for Comments (from Meghan)

  • Do you remember the 2010 Western States men’s race? What stories from the race can you recall?
  • What about this idea of inflection points? Do you think next week’s UTMB could be an inflection point for the men’s side of the sport?
  • Can you think of parallel inflection points for women’s trail ultrarunning? What races shifted what we think we know about it?