Inside Trail Commentary: Part II

Matt:  Tim, welcome back to the tabloidy pages of Inside Trail Commentary.  Seems like last year about this same time when we got this project up and rolling.  Year two.

Obviously, there’s been a lot of racing thus far in 2012.

Last weekend saw a big 50k mountain competition in Utah that attracted some International Skyrunning folks along with a host of stout American mountain runners. The aftermath of this race has attracted a lot of discussion regarding a couple of storylines that emerged.  The 2012 Speedgoat 50k definitely lived-up to its young yet legitimate mountain running reputation.  The speedgoat himself, Karl Meltzer, continues to organize this mountain classic, which took a dramatic turn last Saturday.

So, Tim, what do you make of the events and aftermath of the 2012 Speedgoat 50k?  You have run this very race, I believe in 2008.  As for 2012, should there have been a DQ?  What about the race itself?  Give us some perspective.

Tim:  Well, thanks, Matt.  Good to be back.  The commentary never really stopped and certainly the substance that evokes the discussion has only grown in both size and richness.  We’ve had some outstanding races in the trail ultra world, including Timmy Olson’s dismantling of Western States, Hal Koerner’s gutsy win at Hardrock, and now the free-for-all at Karl Meltzer’s Speedgoat 50k last Saturday.  Ricky Gates clearly won the race on the prescribed race course.  Too bad he has to now justify and explain why he’s notched in 2nd place.  Though some on the discussion boards want the discourse to end, I don’t see a problem with hashing it out and coming to some sort of legitimate reasoning of why KJ wasn’t DQ’d.  I think it’s unfortunate that he received an official finish.  KJ’s got deep talent and natural ability but when 200+ people run the correct course and he doesn’t, it’s difficult to give him a placing with the others.  And now the ISF (International Skyrunning Federation) comes to the conclusion that KJ should be penalized 3 minutes?(!) – a meaningless penalty.  Kilian retains his lead in the Skyrunning standings (whereas he would’ve dropped to 4th if he’d been DQ’d at Speedgoat).  Side note:  I ran off course towards the end of the 2008 Speedgoat race and crossed the line in 6:37 but was DQ’d.  Of course, I’m not Mr. Jornet.  Karl did the best he could and what he thought right under the circumstances and congratulations to him for building a truly top level competition when others merely have the facade of such an event.

Moving along, I mentioned one of the most prolific ultraunners in the world, Hal Koerner.  It’s terrific seeing him have another great year (Rocky Raccoon 100 win in 13:24 and his 24:50 at Hardrock).  Talk about longevity at the top of the field.  His Hardrock performance was stunning and illustrates his versatility between flat speed and floating up mountain grades.

It also brings up something I noticed while wasting time at a running store in Palo Alto, CA a couple weeks ago.  You (Matt had come up to the Bay Area to visit me for an “Inside Trail Commentary Conference”, including lots of beers, trail running, and talking) and I decided to head down to Zombie Runner to validate our 11 mile slog-run in the Marin Headlands with a purchase of some new pretty running gear and on the way out of the shop we found ourselves  standing in front of the book, magazine, and movie shelves and simultaneously wondered “Hmmm, if a non runner, especially non-ultrarunner, was looking at these books and movies, he’d come to the conclusion that the people dominating the sport today are Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka…, and Dean Karnazes.”  Ultramarathon Man, 50/50, and Run by Karnazes, “Unbreakable”, “Indulgence” with Anton,  Eat to Run and various magazine ads by and with Jurek all filling the shelves and our squinting eyeballs.  While great runners, none of them has really been a force in the sport for at least the last two years.  Of course, Jurek has earned his notoriety with years of dominating both in the US and abroad.   However, it seemed like a distorted view of where we are currently on the scene.  Where are guys like Mike Morton, Mike Wolfe, Jeff Browning, Ryan Sandes (oh yeah, forgot, he’s not American), Hal Koerner, Dave Mackey, Nick Clark? Oh, and where the hell are the women in the sport in terms of marketing?!  What makes a runner marketable if it’s not for his current performances?  Are simply training feats and cool photos of training runs selling shoes?  It’s nice to see “Ultrarunning” magazine use images of current players on its covers.  The August cover is a sharp image of Tim Olson (Peral Izumi’s got a handle on their team and knows what sells to true fans of the sport).  Any ideas on the dual realities of the current ultra racing scene and the marketing world?  Am I just a naïve dope putting too much thought into this thing?

Matt:  To the task at hand: address the two points you so generously bring to this article: Kilian Jornet running buck wild at the Speedgoat 50k and the popular perception of ultra running (or WWAD – What Would Anton Do).

I think if you asked just about anyone, inside or out of trail running, what to do if a runner cuts a course, the answer is obvious: DQ the runner.  It happened to you, Tim, as you point-out and it would happen to just about anyone, running any race. Again, and moreover, if you are CAUGHT cutting a course, if in fact you were warned, having been caught already, and you continue to cut the course: you’re out.  What is the alternative?

I, like others, think Karl made a correct, albeit difficult, decision.  It was diplomatic and really only works on Jornet’s first Speedgoat 50k.  Indeed, the only thing keeping Jornet’s result relevant to ISF is the fact that Meltzer’s race is included in that federation’s esteemed mountain series, and he, understandably, wants to keep it that way (I would think).  He was simply being generous, a gesture of forgiveness, a pass.  It was diplomatic because Meltzer is business savvy.  His race, or perhaps other US mountain courses to follow, gains tremendous international mountain-running credibility by being associated with Skyrunning.  Therefore, (business) reason prevails here.  To summarize, this was the inaugural year of the Speedgoat-ISF courtship, the culprit has more mountain running credibility than anyone, he’s European (and therefore cuts courses), and it was his first run at Speedgoat; so Karl made the right, difficult decision.

Of course, I did leave-out perhaps the most logical reason behind the RD’s final decision: the PPP (the Pikes Peak Precedent).  Indeed a foreigner was DQed following the 1994 PPM, yet he was gifted his Skyrunning points.  In other words, I think there were several reasons for Meltzer’s decision.

Yes:  RD, clarify the race directions.  And No: runners, do not cut courses.  It’s what we call common sense, fairness, and mountain preservation.

Speaking of mountain preservation, I have to add that I recall a discussion last year around the running of UTMB that addressed the state of the trail over there.  I forget the exact context of the discussion, but it pertained to people waxing poetic about the Alps and other seemingly pristine mountains and trail networks in Europe.  Based on the comments, I’m pretty sure the “poet” was American because someone who knew some state of the trail over there advised the runner to enjoy the American trails since many popular European trail destinations are, in fact, “vandalized” by comparison.  The insight suggested that large swaths of mountainside are relatively trampled with runner/hiker damage, which includes human waste.  This was a sad commentary on the way, I guess, people run mountains outside the United States.

Listening to Bryon Powell interview Meltzer about the men’s final standings “adjustment” reminded me of this discussion I had heard last year.  Karl seems deflated having to explain the awkward position in which Jornet puts him.  The runner was warned a couple of times, yet he continued to cut the course.  Wow.

And finally, Jornet’s “mountain-running glee” despite his heinous rules violations seems really odd.  Didn’t sound like he even cared.  You are aware that you could be DQ, right?  Weeeeeeeee!

Tim, as for your concern about the perception of mountain ultra running, of course you’re over-thinking.  Welcome back to Trail Commentary.

The blogosphere has democratized our world and by extension given us real (virtual) access to people’s lives.  The Anton Krupicka story is pretty remarkable.  Taking nothing away from him as a phenomenal mountain runner, doesn’t his “success” have a lot to do with his training?  Couldn’t we argue that, in the big picture, his incredible mileage quantity (especially back in the day) has been an enormous factor in his, shall I say, marketability?

There are more successful racers from the same sport, and I suppose those runners have relatively adequate sponsorships, etc., but doesn’t it seem to be a case where, as Tim points-out, Krupicka is a kind of trail ultra running icon?  Given the incredible cast of characters surrounding Tony, why him?  What is his gargantuan appeal?  The free and unlimited access to his meticulously vertical 25+ hours a week of trail?

Again, the guy has blazed stellar CRs across the trail landscape, but doesn’t it seem fair to say that his training and “lifestyle” are what have really defined him as such a trail celebrity?

I almost feel like he got more recognition for 2nd at WS100 in 2010 than Geoff Roes did for winning it and setting a massive CR.  I may be wrong.  And like Tim says, Tony just hasn’t raced and won much recently.  Yet his celebrity soars more than anyone else when in fact there are handfuls of tremendous runners out there racing and competing regularly, and winning.

In no way am I trying to disrespect the man.  I guess I’m just asking, like Tim, a few questions that others might not feel comfortable asking.  Sorry if it rubs you the wrong way.

12 thoughts on “Inside Trail Commentary: Part II

  1. It’s funny, my first thought when the Speedgoat thing happened was that same write up from last year and the response about how “they shit all over the trails over there.”

    While I can respect and even may be drawn in to the allure of the concept of summit/descent as fast as possible that exists int he European mountain races I don’t see an excuse for not knowing the rules when you sign up for a race. I’m pretty sure he’s raced in the states before hasn’t he?

    As for Krupicka, I don’t think there is any doubt that his training and lifestyle are the reasons behind his celebrity status. I know it was what originally drew me to him a few years ago. It’s the Ultrarunners dream to live the vagabond lifestyle and just run mountains with little to no other cares int he world.


    1. Well put on both. Looks like we read the same piece about the “shit all over the trails” in parts of Europe. I think Meltzer found a nice compromise that would at least try to appease everyone. A one time concession.

      And I agree on the lifestyle aspect of ultra. Anton seems to embody all of the goods: educated, living from TH to TH out of his truck, huge appetite for the run, shirtless, short shorts (okay, maybe not), long hair, facial hair, intriguing name. . . can you imagine a famous ultra runner named Bob Smith?

      Aren’t you running Leadville? Hope all is well with you guys. And so sad to hear about Ben and Gill. I didn’t know Gill, but ran with Ben once in Sycamore canyon. Seemed like a really good guy. Very sad.


      1. Sorry it took me this long to respond. I forgot to check the “email on follow up box.”

        I won’t be doing Leadville but Jess is for his first 100 and he’s in monster shape. I can’t wait to see what he does.

        I only knew Gil through stories but had gotten to know Ben pretty well. Huge loss for the community as a whole and he left some massive shoes to fill on the mountains.


  2. There is no doubt that marketing of any athlete is not just about their athletic performance. It is usually a sum of factors, some which are a hell of a lot less objective than race results. Tony’s got the wins at Leadville, a life style many aspire in some regard for, and – hell, let’s be honest – a good look. He is articulate and a good writer. Either by design or by accident, he markets it on his blog and a variety of other running forums (RT, Ultraspire). Even if he never won or was in contention for another race again, he’d probably be still a good front man for NB because of his marketability. I have no problem with that for him or for other “stars” of the sport like Dean. Even if they don’t run at the highest level of the sport, they are motivating people to move – and I think that is good.

    It is unfortunate that guys like Mackey, Roes, Wolfe and Olson or Greenwood, Moehl and Africa don’t get more coverage … but that is the nature of the sport and the other mix of factors.

    This does leave open a question for me: what ever came of that post Transvulcania race social media conference?


  3. There is a video clip out there (Matt Hart?) that shows Kilian cutting a switch back on a climb up.

    For folks who get lost or miss a turn, they always have to go back and rejoin the course. I guess Kilian wasn’t asked because they figured he did it deliberately, since thats how they do it in Skyrunning…but that makes no sense to me. Thats the other interesting side of this to me – that they said ‘hey stop doing that’ instead of ‘hey stop doing that, and also go back and re-run this section correctly’. That would have been the proper instructions, no? Then you would have also been able to avoid any potential ‘English translation’ of did he understand or not.


  4. David T

    I have my own opinions on this but have shared them elsewhere (over and over again), so I will only point out that I loved how, in the face of the Speedgoat controversy, Kilian and Tony just said f it were going to go run up the Grand and were pictured, arms around each other, on the summit. I think there is a lesson in there for the rest of us.


  5. Good to see you guys back and at it again!

    Anton is a very legit trail runner. I actually think his Miwok victory a few years ago might be his most impressive performance to date.



  6. Rick

    Hey Matt. Yeah, not sure KJ even cared what Karl’s decision was, I didn’t. Perhaps he has much bigger fish to fry and this was simply a high altitude training run. Personally I can’t help but love is competitive spirit – looking over his shoulder, seeing Ricky right behind him – give a look like Lance might give Jan, and take a route that is harder than what the RD intended just to say to his competition – “can you do this?” I think KJ’s a good guy on his own agenda having some fun, meaning no harm. He saw Ricky hangin’ and competitive instincts set in and he took off, that’s all.


    1. Thats it, Rick: you wear speedos for sure. I hear you on KJ perhaps not taking the race/RD seriously but what’s the point? And I imagine he wants his Skyrunning points. Lucky he got to keep those.

      The competitive/show-off juices encouraging such disregard seems pretty counter productive.

      Enjoy that Spanish lager, my friend!


  7. Rick

    I’m pretty sure fine Spanish Lager is called Sangria, Matt, and sipping it in a Speedo with a puddle of sweat in your belly button hole is something you should experience in that fine Spanish influence region you call home 😉
    I don’t think KJ is in anyway a “show-off.” I think he just has an incredible competitive personality that over rides rules. He knows he “won.”
    You and I share a common to our athletic base, so I’m sure you can relate to throwing rules out the window to win only because of a competitive nature.
    The only mistake that I think was made in the Speedgoat 50 was Ricky’s decision NOT to follow KJ on the cuts and match him. If it were me, I would have disregarded any purse and followed KJ just to show the best in the world that he can’t drop me no matter what the RD’s decision is at the end. That said, I don’t think Ricky was wrong for staying on course, but I’d question his competitive edge compared to KJ’s. Sometimes, in any sport, it’s not about officially winning the “race” but beating your competition. Perhaps Ricky passed up a chance to “beat” KJ?
    P.S. – Rupp is a BAD ASS!!!!


  8. Pingback: Ultranutrition: How to not poop out, figuratively | Andrea Works . . . and Writes, and Runs

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