Tim: First, believe it or not, there were other events taking place this weekend, besides UTMB. I have to mention Cascade Crest 100, where Rod Bien broke the course record set last year by fellow Oregonian, Jeff Browning. Rod finished in 18:27. Top woman finisher was Shawna Thompkins in 21:15. Big props to those solid runners.
However, if you listened carefully anytime on Saturday, you could hear a rumbling, like an approaching double, sometimes triple, engine train. That would be the Salomon Express at the Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc, roaring over single track trails, leading some 2,300 runners over France, Italy, and Switzerland. The difficulty of the race is evident in part of an email I received from my friend, Nick Pedatella, 14th place finisher, “The course is brutal, unbelievably steep climbs and downhills. The rerouted course had 34-35k of climb so definitely was pretty beat by the end.” The rerouted course was necessary due to storms that also delayed the start until 11:30pm local race time. For those with short attention spans, the two big stories that lie before us post race are Salomon’s dominance and the startling number of Americans who dropped from the race (DNF).
It wasn’t all Salomon. In fact, arguably the most impressive run of the day came from The North Face’s Lizzy Hawker, who took the lead early and continually built on it, finishing in 25:02 (13th overall). The 2nd place woman, Nerea Martinez (Salomon), wouldn’t cross the finish line for nearly three hours afterward (27:55). Pearl Izumi’s and top female American, Darcy Africa took the third step on the podium in 28:30. For the men it was the Salomon two engine train of “King” Kilian Jornet covering the lengthened course in 20:36, Salomon teammate, Iker Karrera 2nd, and Sebastien Chaigneau rounding out the podium in 20:55.
Matt: There were other “events”? Definitely, congrats to Mr. Bien. Nice to see him continue his very productive season. He seemed like a pretty cool customer at this year’s hot SD100 where he finished tied for second. A nod to team Patagonia. And, of course, we haven’t forgotten about the Trans Rockies. Last year Max King (and Andy Martin) of Team Bend outlasted Jason Wolfe (and Eric Bohn) of Goretex/Salomon/Run Flagstaff. This year Wolfe equalized with a solid win in the men’s open division with new partner Mike Smith, the pair representing Run Flagstaff. They beat King and his new partner Ryan Bak, still of Team Bend. Someone might want to tell Jason Wolfe to try his craft on the ultra circuit, the one that has a kind of consensus world championship starting and finishing in Chamonix, France. Tracy Garneau and Nikki Kimball of The North Face won the women’s open at Trans Rockies and Rickey Gates and Anna Frost of Salomon won the mixed division. So, some solid runners certainly had fun out there in what one competitor called a “great time.” Mr. Teisher went on to say that the race actually, “felt more like a hash weekend with a few epic ballbuster trails than an actual race.”
On that note, let’s turn to the business at hand. There’s so much that still needs to be flushed-out on blogs and internet rags, etc. But the superficial “results” are in, and their pretty consistent with what we started talking about last week. Only the news is worse than expected. Last week, we simply remarked that a few trends are developing on the mountain/ultra running circuit. I pointed-out Salomon Running’s dominance here in the states. I also wondered what American runners might be ready to competitively meet this considerable collection of (primarily) European elite mountain runners over the next several years.
Going-in to TNFUTMB 2011, I picked Geoff Roes to win. Indeed, I need to accentuate that. I picked Roes. I absolutely wanted the excitement of an American bucking this international trend, of that low-key Alaskan ultra spirit rising up and unleashing serious carnage on the world’s best around Mont Blanc. Definitely this was a wild card and nothing of the sort transpired. I’ll just get it out of the way here: the perception of American ultra running continues to take a digger. Denying this is silly. Granted, the world is not ending, nor does one even have to invest in the very competitive vibe that surrounds the sport (focusing instead on the love of mountainous exhaustion in the heart of nature’s fierce beauty); but for those paying attention, the trend is undeniable.
The blogs are on fire with this competitive banter, and some of it’s become down-right nasty. So, let’s do the right thing, here and now, and remind ourselves that there’s more racing on the horizon. Our elite’s just need to get back to work, shake it off, have a beer, and onward and upward. TNF50 San Francisco in December is a great place to start (or end, however you want to look at it since that’s where it all started). That’s where the Salomon reign began; let’s stop the bleeding there, regardless of whom shows-up. Yes, this is only getting started, readers, and we’re not just talking about Inside Trail.
Tim: I hear you on the hopeful pick in your preview. We’ve seen a range of emotions and shoot from the hip comments either bashing Americans for burying their heads in the ground or looking for reasons (excuses) for dropping out of a race most knew would be brutally competitive. The blaming of race organization is not the way to go. The winners and the ones who finished ran the same course under the same rules. The complaining and sandbagging (as you know) is a sour spot with me. I’m tired of reading that “I have jet lag.” “I’m a little tired.” “My training hasn’t been perfect.” I have noticed that many of the international runners (specifically, Miguel, Kilian, Julien and Ryan) we’re talking about seem to be pretty upbeat, admit they are ready and excited, never complain. It’s like it’s become a chore to race for some of the American runners we follow. If you’re not into it, then don’t bother showing up. It’s harsh, but as a runner and fan it’s aggravating when you want to get behind these guys and support them and they drop from the most competitive race they’ve been pining for all year. Sure there are legitimate reasons in some cases to drop, but the list of “elite” American DNFs at UTMB is pretty incredible.
On a bright note, I want to call out to my buddy, Nick Pedatella who moved up throughout the race, starting in about 100th position and finishing in 14th overall. Same goes for Mike Foote and Mike Wolfe who grinded it out with the top 20 and flirted with top ten finishes. And, what about Hal Koerner? 39 hours to finish. Got it done and deserves respect. Jack Pilla, 52 years old and finishes in 27:35, dominating the V2 (over 50 category) by three hours.
Matt: That’s right; there are some great results from some runners that unfortunately weren’t in the spot-light, per se. Nick Pedatella and Mike Foote are fantastic outcomes for the Americans. Jack Pilla finished 22nd! Darcy Africa podiumed and finished 31st overall. Congrats to perennial stud Scott Jaime (40th), Helen Cospolich (51st), Jason Poole (81st), Hal and Rock, Todd Hoover and Rob Stafford, Colleen Ihnken, Mark Christopherson, Chad Piala. Of course much respect to all who participated, who got themselves into position to face the music under some pretty severe conditions. It appears that these conditions had something to do with the DNF bug that took a bite out of the American squad; that’s what has the blogosphere a buzz, for sure. Geoff Roes, Scott Jurek, Joe Grant, Nick Clark, Dakota Jones, and Krissy Moehl come to mind. On the surface it’s very disappointing because the American contingent seemed very well represented. These runners make headlines all over the 50 states in ultra results that garner tons of praise and accolades. Fierce competitors, all of them. And now the fall-out of a different kind of trend.
This is huge debate, the DNF, whether or not finishing a race like this hurts a runner’s trail cred. We talked about this when I brought-up the idea of mountain ethos on another blog and how maybe if conditions get too risky like in HR100 2011, a DNF might be absolutely acceptable (to even the hardcore enthusiast) because continuing on is a literal health hazard (breathing problems, stage 5 rapids, lightning storms, etc.). I finally reconciled that by saying that dying on the mountain is probably what the true hardcore mountaineers include in their approach to adventure objectives. The real mountain genre, so to speak. There’s a bit of humor in that, but also a genuine read on much of the “logic” that develops in the wild.
The answer to the question of what’s right or wrong about DNFs can be answered and debated all day and night. There are great anecdotes and race reports that probably best put this thing in perspective. The Matt Carpenter 2004 Leadville report is one way of looking at it. Here’s a runner with tons of pride, much success in his running career to that point (2004). He decides to take a break from Pikes and take a shot a 100. At his first attempt, he fails. He suffers and feels a lot of embarrassment crossing the finish line, wrecked, humiliated. He could have quit. He had every reason to DNF; this isn’t for me, fuck it, back to Pikes and some 50 milers. But he endured and I have read him say that finishing 2004 (no DNF) fueled his epic CR in 2005. At the same time, you’ve heard stories about DNFs fueling redemptive comebacks, as well. To each his own.
Be that as it may, the number of DNFs on the American side is just going to linger for a few fans and athletes who follow this sport. There is the amateur comic that someone linked in the comments on this very site, yesterday (it seems to be surfacing in several places). I call that a drive-by, meaning it’s only meant to hurt, is pretty cheap, and who knows who orchestrated that cheap-shot.
No way does Inside Trail condone those kinds of views. However, we do support the open and honest discourse about this sport we love. And it’s those kinds of views that can fuel the competitive juices we’re all looking for in some future epic trail races.
Tim: I like the focus on the future. But to do that you have to understand the past. Ezra Pound wrote, “Make strong old dreams; lest this, our own world, lose heart.” DNFs are a separate issue than the dominance of non-American runners this year (beginning late last year). I’ve personally DNF’d and felt disgusting afterward for quite a while. I feel that ego has a lot to do with it. For some reason, both voting in the Ultra Runner of the Year and sites like ultrasignup.com don’t seem to value DNFs in gaging performance. Say a runner wins 4 races and drops out of 2 others; ultrasignup has his “score” or ranking as 100%. It’s like DNFs don’t exist. Of course, a valid reason to drop, like a serious health issue is understandable for most. Simply because you’re getting manhandled in a race is not a valid reason to drop, in my opinion. Moving on…
Kilian’s new name needs to be King Kilian. Those who don’t like it can try to take him down from his throne (good luck with that task). Really, the performances of him, Iker, and Sebastien are special. Business-like, with heart, twisting the valve of training depth to full-on. Regardless what backwoods view some may have that “them damn foreigners are takin’ over the sport,” these guys and gals are tremendous athletes who have the focus and training to perform when it counts. There are no excuses for those who want to compete but don’t for some reason or another. They need to shut up, look at what works, and emulate the process. Jogging around in the woods when you feel like it isn’t going to get it done against these guys who are showing us how to do it at every race. Give credit where and when it’s due. And it is due, now.
Matt: I agree with you on the credit that is due. But let’s reiterate: these results and even the subsequent trash talking should only spur the competitive fire in our elites. At the same time, since there really isn’t a solid, organized race circuit, or even an official championship, you’ll have runners focusing on their own goals. That’s where this is definitely different from much more organized sports where defined rivalries can develop through scheduled competitions. Who knows who gets in to many of the lottery-based races. And something tells me that UROC won’t quite have the feel of a championship race.
To finish with some thoughts on the UTMB (what many are calling a kind of mountain ultra world championship), big props to Mr. Jornet. His desire to run seems only matched by his natural talent. One of the comments from yesterday mentioned Kilian’s seeming denial of a taper, of a willingness to “rest;” he just loves to run, literally “training” or running right through organized races. Granted, it does appear that the young king of the sport is running amok all over everyone’s previous perceptions of what is typical of a competitive mountain short and long course athlete, but we should assure ourselves that his program is organized and being executed to perfection. I don’t think Salomon would have it any other way.
His win this weekend along with his WS100 win has to raise questions about the UROY award as it’s now defined. The sport is clearly international (there is no need to have to explain that). So, why have an award that only recognizes a North American man and woman? But I digress.
Iker Karrera Aranbaru’s incredible 2nd has to be keeping the Salomon grin shiny, as well, especially given the quite tumultuous Mont Blanc race that saw so many runners fall off the front for good or DNF. Karrera’s 2011 results at the Transvulcania, Citadelles and Zugspitz ultras had many believing in this guy. Salomon’s Miguel Heras succumbed to knee issues, but Karrera was able to stay with Jornet for the entire race. The pictures blasted across the interwebs often showed 2-4 runners in Salomon white galloping off the front. Karrera only adds to that team’s international supremacy. And kudos to Tony Krupicka who really sold Karrera’s stock going into the weekend’s festivities. Of course, the Frenchman Sebastien Chaigneau’s 3rd just enhances his UTMB portfolio and certainly makes The North Face team proud. This year’s brilliance adds to his 2nd to Kilian in 2009. Hungarian Nemeth Csaba did well for himself, too, by improving upon his UTMB 7th in ’09 to finish 4th. Again, congrats to all of the runners and fans who certainly witnessed quite a mountain running scene full of volatile weather, massive culture and the unbelievable beauty of the 2011 Chamonix Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc.
Where do we go from here?