Furthermore

In recounting the past year and looking forward to the next, there is more to my imagination than Krar, Roes, Mackey and Morton, but that’s a fine way to contemplate the end and the advent.  Each of those runners, in his own way, rose above the rest and reminds us of why we do this, why this is so much fun – running, getting fit, living high and low, and taking a shit (nice).  These guys, by the way, I am sure scare the shit out of their race day competition.  Again, let’s raise a mug in hopes that these four can carry-on their health, their sport and its growing fans in this same way into the 2014 fray.

I have commented enough on the “culture” of MUT, or more specifically “ultra.” Ultimately, my problem is it has very little to do with the athletics, the real sport of which is the interest here on this site.  The only possible consideration might (might) include some point (which I’ve made) about the lack of organization undermining athletes’ health and race performance.  Blah blah blah.  Who says any of these “underachievers” want to race well?  Dakota Jones (bless his soul) eloquently states: “In America, trail running came out of a culture of hiking and mountain climbing that has its roots in solitude and escape. When Americans race, they are almost afraid to say they are racing, because they don’t want to betray traditional values about the purity of the sport” (iancorless.org). This is the final word, imho, on the cultural matter.  The sport is international and every significant race now has international presence.  This is not the Olympics or some Commonwealth Games.  These are races.  Since I have always been more concerned with the competitions, we focus on the podium, the way a race unfolds, how an athlete’s performance stacks-up for him/her personally or historically.  For whatever reasons, if an individual is not racing, they are not racing.  The end.  Jones’ comment is a perfect insight on the entire cultural discussion. Another popular (beside the point) discussion is race organization.  As for the race organization, hopefully no runners are being tackled or shot at.

And if ever I have strayed from my mission, it was done to address some point of the competition.  As far as I’m concerned, I left that cocktail party, the one rambling about this or that cultural element, a while ago.  Given my only possible trace of OCD, I will have to address and reconcile certain contradictions or hypocrisies as I carry-on. One, off the top of my head, might be one of my renderings of Anton Krupicka.  There is nothing confusing, at all, about this cat.  He’s a mountain runner.  Next.

Who has more ultra promise?  Sage Canaday or Xavier Thevenard?  We’ll never know since one uses the dry mountain trail to cross-train during off-season.  Thevenard won the CCC at 22 and UTMB at 25 and holds the later’s CR.  Canaday is a burgeoning ultra talent yet to realize his dreams, which I suppose include trail domination, product endorsement/development and film making.  Let’s keep our eyes on the trail accomplishments of these two.

Funny that despite Sage’s massive success so far, he seems to lack that big win ala Transvulcania or UROC.  In other words, each time he comes-up short, I get more interested in seeing his next race because you know how important this is to him, how determined he is to succeed.  A great 2013 but I predict and even better 2014.

You know, speaking of Anton and resurrections, here’s my brief letter to Anton: become what you’ve always been meant to be: a great adventurer (ala Nolans) and 50 miler.  What’s his record in 50milers, 5-0?  That’s his distance. Get it done!  Also, speaking of Anton crossing a finish line in first, I’m calling a return to the trail for Kyle Skaggs. It’s been six naked years since he’s decorated our iMUTgination. It’s all happening this year: Anton gets off some fantastic results in Europe and here at home, and Kyle beats-up another pair of minimalist kicks.

There are so many athletes and parts of the racing calendar to be explored (and I would appreciate any suggestions).  Joe Gray and Max King really interest me because of their duel mountain and cross country credentials.  I can’t wait to see what these two are up to, as well as others that follow some of that track to trail lead. Ben Bruce comes to mind.

Indeed, there are too many story-lines. To be honest, the one I perhaps look most forward to following is that of Young Money.  He’s got a lot of smarts, which might actually get in the way of his racing.  Of them all, he might have some of the best mountain chops anywhere.  And like Canaday, despite kegs of success, there is some sense that he too is  missing some of those giant results you know he’s running toward.  True, it’s tough to ignore Transvulcania ’12, but besting Matt Carpenter’s SJS CR last year, amongst other feathers. . . this bird’s gonna fly in 2014.

Finally, for now, I’ve got $100 that says Kilian and Emelie honneymoon somewhere in the snow.  I know, so ultra. But seriously, I’m on the lookout for Kilian’s next quest: Kilian Shoots the Moon.  He’s done with MUT, no?  The great days of De Gasperi v Kilian are over, youngsters like Luis Hernando and Thevenard (both probably older than the KJ) are nipping at his Skyrunning heels and the Americans are boning-up on ultra speed.  Do he and Jono face-off in made for TV European mountain racing?  I posit he’ll push the Spanish economy to such great heights, they’ll develop a space program and he’ll be the first Spanish lunar ambassador.  Wait, who am I kidding: Salomon will build his space station.

Thoughts on The North Face EC Championships 2011

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile Championship 2011 is in the books.  So, what happened?  As far as my picks were concerned, I didn’t do too shabby.  Although I mentioned D Jones as an outright favorite in SF in a recent post digesting his R2R2R FKT, paired with the rest of his nutty and gutsy 2011, I balked and fell for the ole Geoff Roes will find his big stage big race form once again.  Roes at or near his best has so much appeal, I might spend another year looking for that immaculate into the wild form.

In the aforementioned “recent post” I called Jones the future of  competitive American ultra.  His 2nd and HR100 2011 and his shorter ultra chops make him so dangerous on just about any track.  Only world-class studs (Chorier, M Wolfe, etc.) will be able to run him down on a good day.  Remember the early century K Skaggs and Krupicka?  Welcome to Jonestown.  He’s only 21.

Then there’s Mike Wolfe.  In the discussion that ensued post-race, there was talk of Wolfe for UROY.   His 2nd at WS100, the win at Way Too Cool, strong showing at Miwok among others and, indeed, this guy is right there, especially considering the other candidates.  Granted, I picked Wolfe to possibly win SF50, but I had the wrong dog.  Jason Wolfe finished 8th.

The Endurables’ fantastic portrayal of the day gives us a nice perspective on how things unfolded out there in the Headlands.  Stunning scenery.  The gorgeous landscape was pretty fine too.  Yeah, the scenery to which I refer is the peloton of world-class runners that battled across that dirt roller-coaster consisting of 10k of climbing, forest canopied trail, technical sections and the like.  Jones and Wolfe exchanging blows for what seemed about 20 miles, with some of the literal who’s who of ultra and mountain running in their wake, makes SF50 an instant classic.

Mike Wolfe – the grinder who seems really smart and calculating (I think he’s a lawyer for God’s sake), strong and not someone you want to tangle with even if you do plan to inflict head wounds.

Mike Wardian – how can his race schedule have been auspicious at all going into TNFSF.  I think a lot of people had him winning.  I thought, in the end, he’d implode at the start.   Pretty gutsy to run like that. . . almost every weekend!

Adam Campbell – A classy guy who ran an absolutely classly race.  I am very disappointed that I didn’t see that although we all certainly missed a runner or two due to this incredible depth.  I am really stoked for this Canuck mountain runner.  And will continue to enjoy his stuff.

Jason Schlarb, one of my lucky 7, had a nice race, finishing 10th.

Alex Nichols, a popular pick amongst some Coloradans was apparently running really strong at the front when he twisted his ankle.  Very unfortunate.

What about Laborchet off the front through about 20 miles with another Salomon runner (Vollet?) and then pulling-out?  What was that?

We could go on and on.  The bummer for me is still that Roes didn’t quite have the goods.  I thought he did have unfinished business.  I thought he was ready to crush some demons, salvage 2011 massively.  Hey, top five is still fantastic; I just like his style and wanted to see him carve off the front.  I remember seeing a tweet from iRunFar at about 25 miles, Geoff in about 3-4th place and Bryon saying Geoff looks “chill.”  That sounded perfect.  But it sounds like his energy waned and he just didn’t have the boost to stay with the mad dogs fighting it out for the win (and again, iRunFar’s coverage was great).

Other than those menial thoughts on the men’s race, overall I thought Salomon and mountain running showed-up big-time.  Anna Frost is a huge talent.  The fact that she in very recent times has competed victoriously with the women Skyrunners, and is now doing very well at the ultra distance seems pretty remarkable.  I like Adam’s 3rd for Salomon, as well.  The white suits continue to represent where ever they “lace them up.”

I did get a chance to see Rickey Gates’ race report.  In sum, he was calling for more of these ultra guys to step to some of the shorter, more classic mountain races ala Sierre Zinal and Mt. Washington.  I love to hear that as it seems against the popular train of thought, the one that goes:  “yeah, my grandma got chosen for HR100, so I’ll be pacing her and the whole family is getting involved.”  Long live American mountain running.

What does this race say about 2011 and 2012?  Last year, this race dawned an incredible trend of Salomon dominance that’s well chronicled.  What trends might we see in 2012 hatched from the Headlands of 2011?  Any thoughts on that?

I think last weekend’s race is a kind of coronation for Mike Wolfe who seems like a very legitimate world-class ultra marathoner.  Maybe (other than Kilian) the best in his sport given what he’s done on big stages.  Last Saturday had to be a big pint of confidence.  I’ve heard others talk about him.  I’ve gathered bits and pieces of some of his training that seems utterly world-class (big volume, big hills, blue-collar ballz).  Certainly TNF has a fine leader in Mike Wolfe.

I’ve already waxed about Jones.  He’s the future of the sport if he continues to enjoy it as much as he currently does.  Mad game.  Can run all kinds of tracks.

Adam Campbell is just another reason I want to visit Canada.  That big block of ice, that purports to offer fantastic culture, spits out some pretty classy and down-to-earth athletic talents, specifically of the endurance tribe.  We’re rooting for Adam all the way.  Here’s to a big 2012.

Geoff Roes will be a very compelling athlete to watch in 2012.  I’m sure he will have some superb races and results.  No need to say anything else, really.  Other than we’re rooting for Geoff big time.

Looking forward to it all.  What do you think about 2012? Especially as TNF50 Championships may have produced a couple of trends we can watch develop perhaps over the next year or so?

The North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco Championship 2011

It’s Friday (well, Thursday night really), the day before the biggest ultra of the year (2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge  San Francisco Championship). There are a few reasons why we should consider this race ultra big, or this ultra race big. That’s what I’ll spend the next hour or so chipping away at, that idea that we’ve reached at last the Marin Headlands and a field of runners will assemble in just a few hours that could absolutely, in the spirit so poetically described by Geoff Roes, explode trail lore. Imagine what’s at stake. We are witnessing a sport get defined, re-defined as its precocious limbs mature before our very eyes.

The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships San Francisco represents the other half of this sport’s split personality. About a month ago, I explored the meaning of UROC and think some of those words apply here to this weekend’s race.

“What is the intent of [UROC]? This is a rhetorical question. The race is about the competitive nature of the sport. Period. Even more interesting: Geoff Roes is at the front of this campaign to create a race where elites are treated like elites and the race is centered around highlighting that competition at the front. Again, this sport is suggestive of two worlds: the down-to-earth just run and have fun and finish vibe, and the world-class Micahael Wardian v Geoff Roes vibe, or Jornet v Wolfe and Clark or Heras v Roes and Mackey vibe. It’s tough to deny this split personality in the sport.”

That is what is happening in San Francisco this weekend.

All year, every weekend, runners gather on myriad national and international trail to “race.” Most of these are friendly battles between friends and family members, or new and familiar faces just enjoying the outdoors. These events might more represent the local endurance challenge. The “race” might be inaugural or it might be 35 years-old. The spirit is better reminiscent of fellowship, of sister or brotherhood, of people of all walks of life sharing in the stewardship of our natural world and getting fit and having fun at the same time. “Winning” might not even be part of the local lexicon. A podium might be replaced by pints of craft beer; but the sweat and the beautiful feelings associated with giving it a go out there circulate like the good vibes of a people engaged in what I would call a new civic duty.

TNFSF50 certainly includes this same kind of friendly praxis, even amongst the elites (perhaps even more amongst the elites). Be that as it may, there’s a race going-on, one of world-class proportions, one so big it’s more germane to the competitions of ancient Greece, where epic battle preceded a celebratory feast.

This race has been well hashed and rehashed by the blogs. The folks at iRunFar produced a fine preview of the men’s and women’s race. The aforementioned renderings of Mr. Roes have people spinning on their bar stools. Adam Chase has been keeping us abreast of the Salomon scene, as well.  Here we are, still in the tryptophanic aftermath of Thanksgiving, and, indeed, we have a lot to be thankful for. I am certainly thankful for the access we are all granted to so many stellar peeks at this sport’s elites (the runners, the managers, race directors, publishers, etc.). I am thankful for the blog as it seems to give us all an opportunity to articulate whatever odd ball single-track idea we’ve developed and hope to share with a few passersby.

The idea that this sport is indeed schizophrenic or of two minds (whatever you want to call it), is supported by this online presence.  As AJW essays on the future of the sport with certain fundamental changes happening all around, in terms of corporate influence, etc., we have to be reminded that the sport is largely defined by the casual, neighborly discourse that exists on these webs, just like it is during those trail runs, at and after those hundreds of weekend races. Significant commercialization of all of that would be a tall order.  Is some of this white-collar share-holder cologne distorting or undermining some of the trail discussions or the competitions? Perhaps. But the positive effects of these dollars are on display, as well: This weekend and any such opportunity we have to watch these elites battle it out on world-class trails has to be welcomed by even the casual fan. Viewing the MUT world in this open-minded way, I think, is imperative at this point. The sport is clearly changing, and Saturday’s race is another such example. But the sport is also staying the same, and every weekend of the year marks occasion for this argument in the abundance of ultra and mountain “races” in which we all get to compete.

Both worlds will be on parade tomorrow in San Francisco.

And this is how I see the men’s race going down: Above, I referenced a passage from an article I wrote about UROC.  I make note of the role Geoff Roes played in that race’s organization (of course he played a pretty big role in the actual race, as well). I referenced that passage to evidence the parallels we see in UROC and TNFEC50. These two are especially similar in that they are geared toward attracting a large field by offering substantial prize money. Looks like we’re building a parallelogram: I see Geoff Roes winning this race, convincingly. He’s definitely had some close-calls at this race in the past. Sure there’s his back-to-back runners-up finishes in ’09 and ’10, but don’t forget about 2008.  He was right there when the shit went down between Steidl and Carpenter.  This is a must read from the event website archives:

At the bottom on the bone-crunching descent, at the seaside hamlet of Stinson Beach, Carpenter met his crew – his wife, Yvonne, and his six-year-old daughter, Kyla. “Last year, I’d come into a station and scrounge around a little bit for my drop bag,” he explains. “I’d lose a few seconds. And at this level you just can’t do that.” Still, Carpenter lost ground as the pack passed by like greyhounds, weaving through the quaint town’s streets before vanishing up the Matt Davis trail, heading 1,700 vertical feet uphill. This is when many runners felt Carpenter, who has built his legendary status running up the steep slopes of Pikes Peak near his home in Manitou Springs, Colorado, made his move and took control of the race. He quickly passed Steidl and soon came upon the others. “By the top I had wheeled everybody in again,” recalls Carpenter. “It was Geoff Roes and Shiloh (Mielke).” Carpenter, unsure of whether there were still some others ahead, turned to them and asked, “Gentlemen, who’s still ahead?” They replied, “Nobody.” And Carpenter pushed on. After a short out-and-back segment, during which runners could measure exactly where they stood (Carpenter, Skaggs, Steidl), they passed through Pantoll once again. Now Steidl had passed Skaggs, who had become somewhat dehydrated. At this point, Mile 30, Carpenter still held a two-minute gap on Steidl, but, entering the stretch run, and heading down into another deep valley, spectators wondered if Steidl could catch Carpenter. And, lurking only a few seconds behind, was Geoff Roes, hanging tough. They all dove 1,000 feet down the famed Bootjack trail, devouring technical trail like Tour de France riders descending the Alpe d’Huez.

Roes finished 5th that year in 7:12:35.  That was the awakening of Geoff Roes if you ask me. His entire 2009 and 2010 were legendary. We all know that’s quite a run, which had already begun in Marin County in 2008 under the no less watchful eye than that of the great Matt Carpenter.

Team Salomon, which includes Rickey Gates, Christophe Malarde, Adam Campell, and the recently signed Matt Flaherty and Jorge Maravilla, look very well represented; and who knows if they might implement some team tactics to break-up what will be a very loaded peloton. Can Gates hang with Roes for 50 fast undulating miles? Can the Frenchman, or the talented Canadian? I don’t see it.  Some see Flaherty as a real dark horse.  If he were to win, that would be a huge upset.  Some are picking Maravilla top 5.

The other runners I like this weekend are Dakota Jones, Michael Wardian, Jason Wolfe, Jason Schlarb, Leigh Schmitt and my big dark horse is Galen Burrell. Jones might have won last year and his 2011 campaign has been really solid. Knowing he can compete really well in such diverse conditions as Hardrock (2nd) and Sierre-Zinal (17th), races really well at this ultra distance, and just nabbed the R2R2R FKT, I really like this guy’s chances. Wardian is there because he’s Wardian. He absolutely could win this thing, but I don’t see him climbing with Geoff. Wolfe is a bit of an unknown to me, but I sense he has gobs of speed and climbing enduranc; he has some nice road and off-road results to his name, namely the Trans Rockies win.  He could be tough.  Schlarb was top five here last year and  is apparently very fit and ready to rumble.  Schmidt seems like a lock for this distance; he should have a solid showing. And, of course, the ultra inexperienced Burrell who can climb with the best of them and just spanked Leor Pantilat at a trail marathon in the bay area (and Pantilat doesn’t lose).  I’m getting really good odds on my Burrell pick.  There’s my lucky 7.

For the women, I’m really going-out on a limb here and picking Frost, Greenwood and Hawker to claim the podium.  Based on recent racing though, how do you not pencil in these ladies.

A quick shout-out to Max King, wishing him luck this weekend going for another win at the Xterra Worlds in Hawaii; and a helpful reminder that TNF SF 50 would also offer some lovely trail travel this time of year, say, in 2012.

But it’s Roes with the huge win this year.  He has unfinished business in Marin, and that is, I’m afraid, the way it is.

Trail Commentary

The results are in.  At least from a few revealing events that have transpired over the last couple of weeks.  Let’s start with what our burrowing Euro Bureau correspondent has to report.  The Skyrunner Series is officially finito.  The European Skyrunning Championships took place in Alicante, Spain on Saturday, November 5th with the Vertical Kilometer® del Puig CampanaTalk about earning your post-race beverages: the course amounts to one thousand metres elevation gain over 3.650 km distance with inclines that reach 35.5%. The race starts at 380m in Finestrat, ascending to the summit of Puig Campana at 1,408m, which stands overlooking the Costa Blanca.  The 8 km descent is done at what we would assume a much more leisurely pace.

Individual and team titles were at stake.  The European final is combined with the Swiss International SkyRace® which took place on June 12.  Points are added from both races for the combined title.

Ranking after the first leg in Switzerland on June 12:

1 SPAIN – 326 points
2 ITALY  – 298
3 SWITZERLAND – 170
4 RUSSIA  –  152
5 ANDORRA  – 142
6 GERMANY –  92
7 FRANCE – 86
8 GREAT BRITAIN – 80
9 SLOVAKIA – 74

The men’s race was dominated by the Italians, smothering the podium with Urban Zemmer, Marco De Gasperi and Nicola Golinelli going 1st 2nd 3rd.  Zemmer set a course record, covering the 3.6k and 1k vert gain in 35:43.

A course record occurred in the women’s race, as well, as Spain’s “new skyrunning promise” Laura Orgue went 44:01.  Oihana Kortazar and Corine Favre, women’s Skyrunning regulars (Kortazar the 2011 women’s series champion) finished 2nd and 3rd.

Ranking after the European Skyrunning Championships del Puig Campana:

1 ITALY – 630 points
2 SPAIN  –  628
3 FRANCE – 314
4 ANDORRA  –  312
5 RUSSIA  – 238
6 SWITZERLAND –  150
7 GERMANY – 88
8 GREAT BRITAIN – 82
9 SLOVAKIA – 80

Italy and Spain certainly have asserted their dominance in this style of racing.  The battle among Kilian Jornet, De Gasperi and 2011 Skyrunning Series Champ Luis Hernando at the recent Mt. Kinabalu Climbathon/Skyrunner SuperCup, along with the scuffles at Giir di Mont and Sierre Zinal between Jornet and De Gasperi, remind us of this year long supremacy.  As the European cold sets-in, allow us to tip our hat to the magnificent racing that took place in this epic series and look forward to 2012.  Stay tuned!

Now just a few quick remarks about some of the domestic professional trail:  For the foreseeable future I see Max King and Dakota Jones dominating their respective schedules.  No need to explain my King hypothesis.  He is the U.S. and mountain running world champ, and owns his USATF “jurisdiction.”  I’m interested to see how he’ll fair in more ultra events and whether or not he’ll take a few deeper cuts at races on the Skyrunning calendar, going head-to-head with those guys, and even getting to the start of Pikes Peak with some timely fitness.  This guy is young and has barrels of talent.

That last sentence can also be used to describe Dakota Jones.  Here’s another guy, like Nick Pedatella, for whom I could make a case for UROY.  He ends-up a little light on the typical criteria, but I say, what the hell: if the award is truly up for grabs, then let’s say he has a shot and that TNFEC San Francisco championship has much to say about that recognition.

Look at this Ultra Sign-up card for a glance at this 20 year-old’s 2011 results.  To make a long story short, he was 2nd at the disturbingly difficult 2011 HR100, beat some stiff competition at both Moab’s Red Hot 50, and the Pocatello 50, and was 17th at Sierre Zinal.  That last one (definitely not an ultra) is really impressive, in my humble opinion, in terms of this guy’s potential.

Of course he just beat Mackey’s R2R2R FKT.  His write-up is great.  I think it gives a nod to the entire sport of ultra running in that IF more and more talented runners entire the fray, records (FKT) will drop accordingly.

I will have more to say about Jones in an upcoming column that previews the San Francisco ultra mayhem.  With his GC exploits, Jones is a clear favorite (recall he was off the front for much of the race last year before being swallowed-up by some of the sport’s bests).  But I will leave you with a reminder to keep an eye on Mr. Geoff Roes’ blog.  There is a direct correlation between his writing and running.  He is loving life, if you ask me.  Which could be terrifying for any ultra running peloton.

This is also published at my personal blog.

Links and Thoughts on UTMB

Krissy Moehl and gang pre-UTMB. (photo: krissymoehl.com)

As race reports and articles come across the wires, a clearer picture is coming into view; but that doesn’t mean that additional questions aren’t raised.  The difficulty of the scheduling changes, the course reroutes, the way in which organizers communicate to participants can cause frustration at varying levels.  Some handled it well (exceptionally well), like Lizzy Hawker, Darcy Africa, Mike Foote, and Nick Pedatella.  Some, like Scott Jaime, handled it the best they could and grinded through the course, teeth gnashing, legs burning.  Others, like Hal Koerner and Roch Horton, had the shell of their pride torn away and made it to the finish in nearly twice the time of the winner, thus revealing a brighter and bigger sense of pride and due respect.

Here are some of the writings that have emerged in the few days following last weekend’s epic race.

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Geoff Roes, UTMB DNF Team Montrail

Geoff Roes’ year has been a stark contrast to last season.  Not finishing the two biggest ultras this year leaves one wondering whether it’s a matter of being tired, physically run-down, or something more mentally derived.  He’s raced and run harder and more in past seasons and dominated.  It’s difficult to speculate from what he’s written in his report but we certainly hope the best for him.

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Nick Clark, UTMB DNF Team Pearl Izumi

When I heard Nick Clark had dropped from UTMB, I assumed one (or both) of his legs had simply detached and fallen off. Aside from Dave Mackey, I consider Nick the toughest guy out there.  This is one person I’m certain will rebound quickly and, frankly, I feel sorry for the competitors at the next event in which he chooses to race.  What made UTMB different for him?

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CCC 2nd place, Adam Campbell, Canadian  Team Salomon

Adam Campbell might not be a name recognized by many in the ultra world, but he is the Canadian 50 mile national champion, running 5:44 for the distance.  The CCC (98k) was the first run he’s done longer than six hours.  He captures the culture and energy of this particular European event well in his report.

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A piece on the comparison between elite US and European ultrarunners written by a Greek fan

There are some good points in this article.  It’s nice to see that Americans aren’t the only ones who sometimes have narrow or limited views of other cultures’ approaches, athletes, and venues.  Matt and I both have trouble with a couple of this article’s major points.  We’re interested in what others have to say about it.

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Dave Mackey, Waldo 100k Win and CR Team Hoka

Even though it took place last week, we want to reference Dave’s run at Waldo as an example of an American ultrarunner with both race day laser focus and season race scheduling focus.  Dave chooses his races carefully, and rarely, if ever, “jumps into” any event longer than a half marathon.  With course record splits written on his arm, he surgically picked the course and the competition apart to break Erik Skaggs’ CR from 2009.  It’s also worth mentioning that Dave is 15 years older than Skaggs was when he set the record.  Speaking of Mackey, SF Bay area resident and impressive adventurist Leor Pantilat ran and dominated another trail 50k at the Tamalpa Headlands though he came-up short of one of DM’s many CRs.  Reference to the question we posed last week, will we see another runner like Mackey dominate the way he has (variety and longevity)?  By the way, we see Mackey’s stock going up here at the end of 2011 and surging through 2012.

The runners who dropped at UTMB knew early in the season they’d be competing there.  Did they take it too lightly?  Did they assume that fitness from the first part of the season would carry them across the finish in Chamonix?  What is the key to performing well there for Americans?

We’ve been thinking about the attrition at UTMB and have come to a couple of distinct conclusions, which we’re happy to share, but we’d like to hear some other opinions from fans.

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Tomorrow we’ll share an interesting write-up and interview we did with a trail industry insider.  Stay-tuned!

2011 Ultra-Trail du Mont Blanc Aftermath

Like a cog train steadily grinding up one of many summits, the Salomon team gets the job done. (photo: The North Face)

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.

Nick Pedatella fueling up en route to 14th place overall (photo: Meghan Hicks)

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).

Lizzy Hawker finishing her dominating run (photo: The North Face)

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?

Left to right: Sebastien, Kilian, Iker. (photo: The North Face)

2011 The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc

courtesy of bivouak.net

Greetings.  We’re just getting-in some quick picks and (very) brief descriptions of the runners most likely to make some noise trotting around the Mont Blanc massif in a day or so.  Footfeathers (Tim) is on the road this very minute to new residence, so this week has been a little hectic.  Pardon the lack of sensory detail, the vivid verbal pictures of Chamonix or some of the UTMB trails where coveys of mountain runner are attempting to tip-toe into those last moments of late summer tapers before the BIG DANCE.

The Boys

Kilian Jornet: He’s the two-time defending champ, so he seems like the natural favorite here; if Vegas had odds (actually, do they?), he’d be the pick, no doubt.  What more can we say except to clarify that he’s running well and seems to be enjoying himself in the Alps.  Though he finished 3rd at Sierre-Zinal just two weeks ago, first and second raced very well that day; and the 2011 Western States 100 winner actually posted his best SZ finish.  His June win at the Auburn track meet adds to the likability of this guy extending his UTMB win streak.

Furthering the line of thought we started in the Sierre-Zinal post last week, we may as well underscore that he’s raced a lot.  He won a 100k in Australia in May, WS100 in June and then trained for and raced vertical SZ. Perhaps more specifically is whether he got himself back into 100 mile fitness for the UTMB.

Geoff Roes: Hard to believe this guy is a dark-horse; I’m sure some people think that’s out of line.  But realistically, he just hasn’t been himself in 2011.  Even recently he’s shared some of his concern about fatigue, about not recovering from bigger runs.  Having said that, this might be the only guy (on a good one) who can go with and beat Kilian, especially late.  Let’s not forget this guy’s closing speed.  I think he’s healthy again and wants to RUN.

Jez Bragg: This is a guy to watch.  Sneak a peek at some of his recent posts.  Summarily, he was disappointed at his lack of an extra gear at WS100; through 80 miles he was in striking distance, but just didn’t seem to have that ability to stay with Jornet.  But, he specifically addressed that in his subsequent training, and has had some big blocks that have included specific UTMB work including some Mont Blanc recon with his TNF team.  Think he might want to certify last year’s asterisked win?  I do.

Miguel Heras: This talent put-on an unbelievable late surge and blew the TNF50 San Francisco wide-open last December, grinding-out a win over Geoff Roes, Dave Mackey, Jez Bragg, Dakota Jones, Jason Schlarb, and a distant Uli Steidl (to name a few).  He sparked the so-called Salomon Running slam that may have another jewel for its crown if he or Kilian can win.  In June, he won the Zugspitz Ultra Trail, 101k that takes runners through some epic climbs in the German Zugspitz mountain chain.  Heras might have the climb and the speed he needs.

Mike Wolfe:  We’ve heard him called Wolfe-man.  Without knowing too much more about Mr. Wolfe (if that’s even necessary with such a nickname), his 2011 2nd at WS100 has people buzzing.  Before that he had an impressive 2nd at the Miwok 100k (just 3 min back of Dave Mackey) and a Way Too Cool 50k win.  Maybe this is where Mike makes a name for himself, a coming-out dinner party, if you will, preceded by him stalking leaders late, smelling blood.  One to watch for sure.

Nick Clark: If you don’t know him, read our interview.  A gentleman you don’t want to pick a fight with on a trail in 100 mile route.  His two huge 3rds (WS100 and HR100) and wins at Jemez 50m (CR) and Speedgoat 50k mean he’s ready to rumble.  Not lacking the toughness to go out and follow some guys off the front.  His nice 3rd at American River 50m back in April counts for quickness.  He’s all mountain, coming-off a nice run at Sierre-Zinal.  Perhaps he’s itching to get back to the states already, with a little souvenir he’s picked-up in Chamonix.

Dakota Jones: This one is wild. Card. He races and races well.  Back in December 2010, he finished 4th in the Heras upset win in SF.  He was 19, ran off the front for much of the race and simply ran-out of gas.  About 6 weeks ago he finished 2nd at HR100.  A month later he finished 17th at Sierre-Zinal.  That’s post-modern art.  The HR100 win might really reverberate here.  He’s young, tough (2011 HR100-wise) and mountain fast.  I can’t see him NOT near the front.

Sebastien Chaigneau: 2nd at the UTMB 2009 is very impressive and logically means he’s for real.  He won the difficult Lavaredo Ultra Trail in the Dolomites in June that started at midnight.  He could be in winning form, and having just missed here in ’09, look-out.  Starting to see the depth of this race.

Tsuyoshi Kaburaki:  Another dangerous ultra marathoner.  In 2009 he was 2nd at WS100 and 3rd at the UTMB.  And he was pushing 40.  This year he was 5th at WS, running a 16:07.  At 42, does he have enough to reel-in some of the younger game?  His wise and steady race demeanor could see light at the end of this tunnel.

Others to watch:

Zigor Iturrieta (3rd in last year’s version, 2nd at Lavaredo), François D’Haene (4th here in 2006, 5th in 2007 and 2nd to Jornet at the Australian 100k in May), and Hal Koerner (actually, having a solid year despite his DNF at WS100.  3rd at Miwok and 2nd at Zane Grey).  There are so many others, Americans and internationals alike.

How does it play-out? 

I like Geoff Roes for the win.  If he’s on, he’s Alaska.  Redemption arrives for Geoff!  Kilian Jornet and Jez Bragg round-out the podium.  As I think I made pretty clear above, however, anything could happen.  Heras, Chaigeneau, Jones, Wolfe, Clark. . .stay-tuned!

The Girls

I’m pretty light again and pleading guilty of being a homer.  Indeed, I like me some American women (if they’re all running):

Podium: Krissy Moehl, Nerea Martinez, and Lizzy Hawker (though I like Darcy Africa for Team PI).

Diana Finkel and Maud Giraud could be in the mix, as well.

__________________________________________________________________________

Footfeathers was kind enough to wire us some of his ultra intelligence before touching-off.

How it plays out:

Men:
Kilian Jornet
Two time champion of UTMB and then controlled the field at Western States, beating many of the competitors he will face on his home turf this time.  He felt WS was flat.  UTMB is more to his liking and fits his natural climbing talent.
Jez Bragg
Won the abbreviated version of UTMB last year and has been busy lately with, “heaps of UTMB specific training” as he says on his site.  With a fast 4th place at Western States, he’s ready to move into the spotlight and could very well take the whole thing.
Miguel Heras
His victory at last December’s NF 50 mile championship in San Francisco started it all for the Salomon dominance that has sparked the conversations both exhausting and denying international dominance in America’s big ultras.  He’s poised for this race but must take down the king to do it.
Sebastien Chaigneau
2nd to Kilian in 2009’s version of UTMB, Sebastien has the experience, training and power of team backing to podium even in this year’s race that is stacked with talent.
Tsuyoshi Kaburaki
The definition of consistency, Tsuyoshi has 3rd and 4th place finishes at UTMB to his credit.  Add to that his showing of speed and tenacity to nab 5th overall at Western States, taking top masters honors over the likes of fellow master, Dave Mackey.  Don’t be surprised to see him up with the leaders late in the game.
Women:
Krissy Moehl
2009 champion is rested and fit.  No reason not to repeat.
Nerea Martinez
Nerea is likely fired up to have the run she wanted at Hardrock where she DNF’d after getting off course for several miles.  Watch for her to take it out fast but Krissy is patient and will reel her in midway through and power on, leaving Nerea with the absolutely respectable 2nd.
Lizzy Hawker
Lizzy hasn’t done a lot this year but still earns the nod for a podium finish.  She’s a former champion of UTMB and can never be counted out.