FM Show: Organization of Trail and Ultra Running

et Gary

Gary David sporting ET at American Zofingen race

Welcome to Elevation Trail and the FM Show with Footfeathers and Matt.  Today we chat about the impact of organization and money in the sport of ultra and trail running.  We discuss the excitement of Skyrunning, the development of the ISF, and, of course, other mundane things like the weather.

karen et

Karen Peterson in the ET hat after a sharp run at Silver State 50k


Running shorts.  There are few features of most shorts that require consideration.  Most shorts are like Honda Accords.  They look fairly average, are reliable, and serve their mundane duties admirably.  Then there’s the Salomon EXO II Wings TW shorts.  They are as exotic as their name is long.

First time I pulled them on I noticed they are tight.  I wear size medium and have other compression shorts.  The Salomons fit tighter, consistently tighter throughout the legs and rear.  The material is a four-way stretching, perforated nylon with a grid pattern that Salomon named “Sensifit”.  There is an over short that is sewn in a way where they don’t cover everything, yet are attached at the inner thigh both in front and back, exposing the inner thigh and crotch so that only the compression tight is left, eliminating any additional material bunching.  This is an interesting design that reduces friction, increases ventilation, and adds a modicum of discretion in public.

The tights are long, reaching just above my knees and thus supporting all major muscles in the quads and hamstrings.  The idea of compression makes sense when one thinks about the vibration and shaking of muscles with a normal running stride.  That creates a lot of stress at the connecting points of the muscles and, over a long distance race, can reduce fatigue and micro tears in the muscles.

Wearing any compression gear can take a little getting used to but once you’re comfortable in it, you’ll feel naked without.  I’ve put these shorts through the wringer, bounding over slickrock in the desert, zipping through long stride intervals on level singletrack, and careening down long, rocky descents.  I’m a proponent of compression products and the Salomon shorts performed in a way that only solidifies my allegiance.

These shorts have a few specific features I’d like to point out.  The waistband isn’t a traditional crimped elastic band; it’s looser, riding nicely on the hips, and the shorts rely on the overall fit to hold them up.  For the first few minutes of running in them they slip down slightly but once you get a little warmed up and sweat a bit, they hold snuggly in place.  There is a convenient pocket at the small of the back that can hold a couple gels.  A zipper pocket here would be useful.  The compression material varies through the thigh and crotch.  Around the quads and hamstrings the material is perforated, enabling it to breath well and dry very quickly even with the loose over-shorts.  In the crotch and inner thigh the material is solid.  Without the over-shorts covering this section, it allows for smooth movement with no friction and breaths well.

At $80-$100 they are pricey but the quality and technology built into the Exo II Wings TW Shorts will change your perception of this piece of utilitarian but otherwise forgotten running gear.

Western States 100 Questionnaire

On the eve of the WS100 entry application, we thought it would be interesting to gage runners’ interest, thoughts, and general view of the race, so an informal comment-style questionnaire follows along with my answers. (just copy questions and write over my answers).

1) Do you want to run Western States?

-yes and no.  It’s like spoiled milk in the fridge; you know it’s not what you want to do but you sniff it anyway just to see what it’s like.

2) Why/why not?

-Yes, because then I can comment on it with base knowledge and experience and not just sound like some windbag armchair WS basher.

3) Are you entering the lottery?

-Yes. (not holding my breath on getting in)

4) What do you like or dislike about WS100?

-Like – history and challenge.  I’ve heard it’s amazing and I’ve heard it’s over-hyped and not that interesting.  Dislike – Entry fee.  Old boys network.  The event’s general exclusive attitude and feel.

5) Should the WS board allow (invite!) Karl Meltzer to the race?  Why/why not?

-Hell yes.  The man is a legend.  How can you have such a “wonderful” event and not have a legend run it?

6) Anyone else think it’s odd that the qualifying events (Montrail Cup) are not representational of racing 100 miles?

-I sure do.  As Karl pointed out today on irunfar’s employee, AJW’s post today, a 100 is like three 50s.  It’s like using a 10k to qualify for Boston.

7) What is the most annoying thing about the event?  Hype (like this post)? Elitism? Entry fee?  Smoke and mirrors of the entry/lottery process?

-All the above. 

8) Here’s a fun one… Will the US get crushed again this year in the race?

-I’ll say no because Salomon probably will move on and find something else to dominate.  Business is done there.

9) What are some other 100s you believe are better and why?  Terrain?  Entry?  Direction?  Lack of or more competition?  Nicer schwag?

-Having not done WS, I can only say which 100s in my small experience I like:  HARDROCK, Grand Mesa was a tough bastard too.

10) What are you going to do when you don’t get selected in the lottery?  Grumble online?  Sigh and have a beer?  Write a constructive letter to the WS board outlining the unethical and unfair entry process and what they should do about it?  Run another 100 in June?

-Hopefully be focused on Hardrock. (probably grumble online a bit too).

Have a good weekend, follow along at Javelina 100.  The field is deep with talent and they’ll be enduring some nasty weather this weekend.

UROY: How Big Is Your Running Award?

Tim:  What a year of racing so far. American ultrarunning has experienced globalization in its biggest events and narrow perceptions have been peeled wide open. It all seemingly began with Salomon surging to a convincing men’s and women’s sweep at last year’s North Face Endurance Challenge Championship in San Francisco, thus earning the $20,000 prize and introducing a significant change in the landscape of US ultras. That spark set off the firestorm of not only “foreigners” winning the big American events, but one team dominating the big races. Salomon seems to have single-handedly retooled American ultrarunning to the international colors and to the meaning of the word “team”.

What does this storm of white and red compression clothing do to the sport here in the US? It reestablishes the concept of “elite” and “best”. The coveted annual award of Ultra Runner Of the Year (UROY), presented by UltraRunning Magazine has been awarded to North Americans (Canadians and Americans, mostly) who’ve won the big US events, with acute focus on the big 100 milers, specifically Western States. The organizers of this award will have to either clarify, which they don’t do currently, whom is eligible for this award or specifically rename it the “UROY award for North American residing runners placing highest in primarily western US trail 100 mile races with arbitrarily weighted importance to which only the selection board is privy.” Personally, I say open it up to the world. What do you think, Matt?

Matt:  I think this is a problem: I could say that the UROY award goes to that year’s “world’s best ultrarunner,” and up through 2010 there might not be much opposition to that. My audience would half-nod in agreement, not really knowing what they’re agreeing to. But really the award is for the best American runner (which echoes your earlier reference to “narrow perceptions.”). From the UR website, the announcement of the award reads like this: “2010 UltraRunning Magazine North American ultramarathoners of the year.” That is fairly clear as to whom the award goes; it’s reserved for an American (and rare Canadian). The point is this: clarify the intent of the award, which is to recognize ultra runners from North America only. I bet a lot of people think it carries more weight than that.

Another problem comes from just a fleeting glance at the past winners. The UROY prize has pretty much gone to trail runners who have excelled at the 100 mile distance (a specific kind of ultramarathon). More specifically, as you have already pointed-out, the winners have excelled at 100 milers in the western half of the U.S., and even more specifically at one particular race. So, just call it the Western States 100 Mile Champ award or the Champion of the 100 Milers in the Western Half of the States award. All kidding aside, many interested people have shared these complaints.

Tim:  As you point out, there are a lot of tangential conversations that emerge from this topic. Back to my original point, the merging of nationalities is common at races like UTMB, but we’ve never really seen it here in the US (especially in the bigger 100 milers). I think the organizers of UROY have to face the task of either revamping the award and the process in which runners are chosen or the committee must face the diluted value of the award. In many people’s minds, including mine, Kilian Jornet is the UROY, worldwide. The UROY voters in the US have had a somewhat easy task when voting in the past; “Who won Western States? Okay, that’s our UROY winner.” What do they do now that a Spaniard, a Frenchman, and a South African have won the big 100s in the American Wild West? The “old boys” network has its work cut out. Regardless, Salomon has smashed the rosy, narrow-view lens through which we’ve enjoyed looking, believing that America had the best ultra runners in the world. This exciting year will come full circle in December and The North Face Championship in San Francisco will be the climax event of 2011. I’m excited that we at Inside Trail will be there.

Matt:  Yes, the process has only been complicated by the non-American wins at big American 100s (and yes the TNF50 in December will be epic!). The award’s value will certainly be diluted if the much larger (internationally enhanced) audience doesn’t concur with the judge’s decision, especially in the men’s “race” to UROY. By reading what others have already said about the UROY and USA Track and Field’s awards, one has to wonder why there hasn’t been more effort to find a true governing body to oversee these important recognitions. Is that what the International Association of Ultrarunners is all about? Why does the UROY have more credibility than the winner of the IAU 100k World Championship? Because UROY is about trail/mountain 100 milers, not some subordinate road ultra? Essentially, what happens in mountain 100 milers in the western portion of the U.S. says a lot more about who is “the best” ultrarunner (or it used to say that). According to the UROY web page, regarding the 2010 voting, “A panel of 18 race organizers from all regions of North America submitted ballots this year. An ultramarathon is generally defined as any race longer than a 26.2-mile marathon. There were 554 ultramarathon races held in North America in 2010.” I would guess that the 554 races probably include road ultras. And based on the voting, the races that really count are, in fact, 100 milers run on trails.

In the end, clarify what the UROY award means (as it apparently means a lot – at least in the U.S.). Because of the confusion about the true criteria of the award, and because of the huge displacement of American runners in these “big” races this year, the award committee probably ought to reassess (quickly) what it’s looking for. After all, what exactly is an Ultra Runner of the Year?

This is the article we wrote for Go Trail Magazine this month.  Check out the mag.  It’s truly levels above its contemporaries. 

Links and Thoughts on UTMB

Krissy Moehl and gang pre-UTMB. (photo:

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.


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.


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?


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.


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.


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.


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

UTMB – Salomon 1st, 2nd

Kilian Jornet proves his dominance and talent at UTMB, running in the front all night and day to win in 20:36. Salomon teammate, Iker Karrera, cruises in shortly afterward for 2nd. The North Face’s Sebastien Chaigneau sweeps in for 3rd.  Did you follow it?  What are your thoughts?

Ultra Runner of the Year, Kilian Jornet. Lights out, next topic. (photo: Megan Hicks)