USATF MUT Nominations (the-not-so soft pour)

USATF MUT Award

Thursday, we at Inside Trail tossed up one of those big neon softballs in the form of “Here’s the USATF MUT nominations. What do you think about it?” It was an intentional trial attempt at not laying out thick commentary of our observations in the hopes of drawing comments and thoughts from readers.

Regurgitating existing conversations or reposting current thoughts found elsewhere isn’t Inside Trail’s style, so we want to augment our last post with some IT-type questions and offer a bit of “substance of competition”. To begin, though, we need to understand what the criteria for the award is and how to interpret it. It seems that the qualifications have evolved over the last ten years. For instance, international competition was merely “encouraged” whereas it’s now a specific requirement.  As we’ll see, that turns out to be the doorman bouncer that keeps otherwise qualified candidates out of the party.

We’re not ones to sugarcoat things, so when I say that the USATF website is as jumbled as their year-long search for a new CEO, I’m simply pointing out facts. For example, the “History” section covers 133 years of history in approximately 100 words and thats for the overall history. There’s nothing other than an overview of the “joint subcommittee” of MUT being established in 1998 and annual meeting minutes from which to glean historical information regarding the MUT and, frankly, I’m not that interested to where I’ll spend a couple hours reading through meeting minutes. So, we’ll just start the discussion…

Tim: As I’ve pointed out above, there’s yet another weakness in the establishments attempting to manage our great sport. I don’t covet their task and assume it’s like trying to manage a wet bar of soap on tile. I did receive a response from Nancy Hobbs regarding the USATF MUT annual awards. The most important clarification I needed was whether “international competition” means competition off American soil or any race that has an international field, e.g. Western States. She confirmed that it means off US soil. That alone excludes Dave Mackey from contention for the USATF MUT Ultra Runner of the Year award. So, who does that leave? Obviously, the Mountain Runners of the Year have to be Max King and Kasie Enman. I’d like to focus on the ultra classification. Wardian is everyone’s obvious choice but let’s introduce Nick Pedatella into the mix. Heck, let’s talk about Pedatella for both USATF MUT Ultra Runner of the Year and UltraRunning Magazine’s UROY award. He flies low, under the radar with no blog, no sponsors, and a self effacing nature that screams “ah, shucks, I just run and that’s it.”  Matt, you actually pointed out Nick Pedatella’s stout season and obvious qualifications for consideration for BOTH of these awards. What’s your take on all this?

Matt: We quasi-academics like to complicate things. Before we get to an epic 10%ABV bottle of irony, let’s shore-up our superficial understanding of USATF, adding to what you said very well above. First of all, Matt Carpenter’s critical view of the USATF back in ’07 in an interview in Running Times seems to have a lot of traction (among the abundance of criticism out there). You allude to the lack of leadership, the organization still looking for a CEO for over a year, and just the simple lack of information that exists seems pretty indicative of how important these sports are to USATF discourse.

We might add that the MUT moniker was coined by Nancy Hobbs at a USATF convention in Florida in 1998 and two years later at a conference in Albuquerque the new MUT subcommittee was “elevated to the status of a Running Council.” Prior to that, USATF did have an Ultra Subcommittee, but no representation of mountain running. So, going on 11 years now, USATF has “supported” the mountain, ultra and trail running sports. The argument that the organization has a stake in American off-road racing does not possess much of a statistical argument (beyond some race results). In other words, if we’re going to be really honest here, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence that one might consider enough to engage the audience with a clear, articulate national (and even international) argument for trail and mountain running. And based on our requests for information from current USATF leadership being unequivocally denied, the organization does not appear too concerned either about its MUT ethical argument (“don’t you want us to like you?”). Nonetheless, the organization has had a huge presence in road and track, as you point-out, Tim, for over one hundred years. And even if the folks at USATF embrace MUT with their fingers, it’s, I guess, better than nothing.

On their website, under MUT Records & Lists, they provide some records of past USA Champions for the various ultra and trail distances. Please excuse the attention here on the men’s side. I will list here the men’s champs. Each distance category provides past winners. The road categories go back to the 60s whereas the trail races go back to the mid-to-late 90s.
· Michael Wardian is the 2011 50k road champ
· Todd Braje is the defending 50 mile road champ
o The 2011 50mile championship is next weekend – October 23, 2011
Tussey Mt. Ski Area – Boalsburg, PA
· Andy Henshaw is the 2011 100k road champ
· A 100 mile road championship hasn’t been run since 2003
· Max King is the current 50k trail champ (although this result is not listed)
· Jason Schlarb is the current 50mile trail champ
· The trail 100k category doesn’t exist, but Dave Mackey won that event back in January at Bandera
· The trail 100 mile link is dead (no records), yet Dave James won the 2011 100 Trail Championship at Burning River 100. The Mohican 100 appears to have been a venue used in the past, as well..
· Max King is the 2011 USA Mountain Champion (Cranmore Hill Climb)
· Max King is the defending Trail Marathon Champ
o The 2011 championship is Nov. 5th at the Lithia Loop Trail Marathon
· The 2011 10km Trail Champion is Joe Moore

Why did I list all of those? It’s informative, so go ahead and start nominating though you’ll have to wait on the trail marathon results and the 50mile road ultra results, as they have yet to run.

One thing seems pretty clear about the USATF: the 100mile distance doesn’t get the press that other trail and ultra distances do. Maybe that’s just me. Now, for your 2011 USATF Runners of the Year nominations, go back to the criteria in our previous post and start making your case for a mountain, ultra and trail runner.

Since the USATF winner of any MUT category must have raced abroad, Max King is clearly the 2011 USATF Mountain Runner of the Year (and indeed Kasie Enman is the women’s winner). As for the USATF Trail Runner of the Year, King looks suited for that too having added the ½ Marathon Trail Championship, the 50k Trail, and most likely the Trail Marathon in Nov. Joe Grey won the 15k trail. So, maybe Max doubles.

And then we have the 2011 USATF Ultra Runner of the Year award.
Front runners:

Michael Wardian: Look at his results. He’s raced abroad, nabbing 2nd at the 100k Worlds and he won the USATF 50k road championships. He also won the NFEC Kansas City 50miler, 3rd at Badwater, 3rd at NFEC Washington, and 2nd at UROC.

Andy Henshaw: 3rd at 100k Worlds, 4th at White River and a 1st at Lost Lake 50k and a stellar win at the 100k road championship.

Beyond that, you’re pretty stuck (though do complicate, please).

Dave Mackey is not eligible because he did not race abroad. Nick Clark’s Sierre-Zinal isn’t an ultra and his 100 miler podiums don’t seem like USATF material although his Jemez and Speedgoat wins seem admissible. But the international race criterion I think nips him in the bud.

Footfeathers and Nick Pedatella

We like a runner named Nick Pedatella for USATF Ultra Runner of the Year, too. He was 2nd American at UTMB (I believe 13th overall). He won Oil Creek 100, The Bear 100, was 2nd at Big Horn 100, 2nd at Speedgoat 50k, and 4th at Jemez. His international entry is HUGE. And he faired extremely well at 3 other 100s to go along with shorter ultra results in big races. The guy raced a lot. And podiumed a lot. We like him. A lot.

But the USATF may look elsewhere. Michael Wardian has won three straight Ted Corbitt Memorial USATF Ultra Runner of the Year Awards. Although last year he had a win at The Comrades 98k and a 3rd at Marathon de Sables, his 2011 looks pretty impressive again. I would only say look at Henshaw as well; though Wardian did beat him head-to-head in The Netherlands. Wardian seems a natural pick for USATF ultra award, again.

That’s the men’s USATF UROY.

I hope you’ve been doing the math because although Pedatella’s phenomenal year doesn’t seem to measure-up to the spirit of the USATF Ultra Runner of the Year award, we would like to take this opportunity to suggest that he might be the perfect dark horse for the other big ultra award, UROY.

This award, it is widely known, loves it some mountain 100 milers! The fact that Nick Clark is clearly one of the favorites based on two third places at two very prominent 100 milers is another indication of this trend. If you just look at the results, the comparison between Mackey and Clark isn’t quite that compelling. Mackey has had a HUGE year (And had he made it to the UTMB, even to run the CCC, that would have been his international entry and the USATF ultra runner of the year would be his). It’s tough to compare Mackey and Clark only because Mackey has more wins in some very prominent American ultras. The ONLY reason there is still a conversation is that Mackey doesn’t stack-up on the 100 scale. He only ran one. And he finished 6th. And Clark finished 3rd in the same race, the one between Squaw Valley and Auburn, California. Otherwise, Mackey won just about every race he entered (American River, Miwok, Waldo, Firetrails, etc.). There is nothing soft about Mackey’s race schedule. He had a mammoth year. Please, don’t get me wrong: Clark’s WS/HR double podium is epic, as well. His Jemez CR, fantastic. But I would give the nod to Mackey just on the statistical argument.

However, the other Nick (Pedatella) submits a resume for UROY that is unmistakably UROY-like (other than the fact that he did not race WS100). Try this: compare the Geoff Roes 2009 year with the Pedatella 2011 year. Although Roes was bagging course records at 100s (HURT, Wasatch and The Bear) and winning some smaller ultras, Pedatella ran 4 100s this year, won 2, finished 2nd American at a BRUTAL UTMB (juxtaposed with the slew of DNFs we all witnessed), 2nd to Clark at Speedgoat and 4th at Jemez.

So you say the Roes ’09 and Pedatella ’11 don’t quite compare? There isn’t the same level of dominance that Geoff displayed back in the day? I beg to differ, especially given who Pedatella is up against this year. For UROY, the 100 is the golden egg. It’s what’s holding-back the brilliant year of Dave Mackey. How is Pedatella not in the conversation? Talk about mind-boggling.

Here’s your exercise to narrow-down the running for UROY:

1. Look at the UROY past winners. Look at those winners’ race results.
2. Compare the 2011 Nick Clark to the 2011 Nick Pedatella. Look at their race results, especially in the 100.
3. Once you’ve decided between those two;
4. Compare Nick to Dave. Look at their race results, especially in the 100.

In the end, we have a problem here. I (along with others) assume the 100 is the main currency for the UROY judges. That’s what they like. It’s indisputable. However, we don’t really know. You know what happens when we assume things.

Another observation that I may as well mention, which ultimately hurts Nick Pedatella, is the sense that the UROY award seems to also value an athlete’s visibility, or even popularity. I sure hope that’s not the case; granted, I know visibility comes from an active racing schedule, racing big buzz events, and getting results. But it’s just something we’ve noticed and that seems to be a factor negatively affecting Pedatella. Based on the numbers, there’s no way he should not be in the UROY conversation (or even the USATF UROY conversation).

And what about this bottle of irony I’ve opened. It’s the fact that based on all the factors and flawed ultra awards processes, Dave Mackey could be empty-handed when it’s all said and done. Most likely he wins UROY, but if that’s the case, then what happens to the “criteria” UROY has subtly conveyed to its audience over the years? Sure it’s that magazine’s award and they can do whatever they want. But not really.

Luckily, we won’t be thinking about this later this month when the 50mile Road Championships goes off, nor in November when Max King tries to defend his trail marathon championship. We certainly won’t give a rat’s ass when the boys line-up in the Marin Headlands in December among all the rest of the great trail racing taking place in the next few months.

I’m not sure what Dave Mackey will be thinking, but maybe even the prospect of such a turn of events with these hokey awards will light a little fire for this little race in December. Awards or not, he and the rest of these elite runners are having incredible years, enjoying the ups and downs of the literal and proverbial trail.

Nick Pedatella in his iconic striped green racing shirt. Photo: Jeff Montgomery

In closing, keep your eye on Nick Pedatella. His numbers have a lot of class. He can not be discounted. Do the math. As for Inside Trail’s “little darling,” [DM] I think 2011 is a win-win. He most likely wins the coveted UROY. Or he gets [N]icked in the final vote count. And comes back pissed and hungry for an even “insaner” 2012.

That’s what I think, Tim.

13 thoughts on “USATF MUT Nominations (the-not-so soft pour)

  1. USATF’s support of MUT has been a complete joke. I can’t put I any simpler or more honest than that. Until they start supporting our athletes, especially when it comes to the big international races, these awards are a bit of a slap in the face. They certainly go to deserving people who I imagine appreciate the recognition, however, in my book, the awards would mean much more if the organization did something ($$) to show that they really cared about MUT runners. Until that time we should our relative seclusion and ignore the jerks.

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  2. Mike Wardian raced again this weekend, just a little bit. He ran a 2:22 marathon Saturday to finish 1 minute out of first place. Sunday he did a shake out run, winning the Bar Harbor Marathon in 2:32.

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  3. Not sure if USATF would ever really throw money at the top MUT guys. Free travel to international inter-country competition (i.e. wearing Team USA singlet), sure, but athlete funding has never really been the USATF’s style, even for track guys. There are the Elite Athlete Development Grant and the Post Collegiate Scholarship Fund for track athletes, but these are pretty minimal. They also only exist to help struggling athletes “get to the next level,” which sort of presumes a profession at the top level of the sport—guys making a decent living solely as runners. I know there are guys scraping by as professional ultra or trail runners, but it’s not quite the same as top level track and field or road running. Hopefully, we can move in that direction.

    In a bit of encouraging news, the USATF just hired Max Siegel, Inc. to overhaul its marketing and communications: http://3wiresports.com/2011/10/17/usatf-boldly-does-something-right/ Siegel has had a lot of success in both sports and entertainment, and seems willing to think outside the box a bit. Perhaps this is an opportunity for the MUT sports to come more to the fore in the U.S. I’ll probably write a letter to Mr. Siegel stating as much, though I’m sure there are others out there who are more connected and would have more pull.

    Not to stray entirely off topic, I probably agree with Max for T/M, Wardian for U. And yes, there seems to be some disconnect between the nomination criteria and the actual state of the sport. Seems ridiculous that Mackey can’t be up for USATF Ultra Runner of the Year. International competition probably should have remained as merely “encouraged.”

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    • This is some helpful information and interesting ideas. Support for international travel, greater attention, USATF sanctioned events and/or support for events, a development program, training camps, are all possibilities. It may be that there are a significant number of former college cross country and/or steeple chase guys and gals out there that didn’t or couldn’t make the transition to big time road or track competition but who may be a natural for MUT. With greater attention and support we may see an influx of those runners.

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  4. I just read through some annual reports at USATF. In this one: http://www.usatf.org/about/annualreport/2009.pdf I noted on page 31 Note 6 that the organization converted its pension program to a matching 401k. Hats off to them. That is a much more plannable expense and one where they will not end up having to pay tons of money to people who don’t even work there anymore some day. It also appears on first glance that their overhead costs appear pretty low.

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