Sunday, March 14, 2010

"Ultrarunning: year in review" review

Recently the March issue of Ultrarunner landed in my mailbox. It might be the most anticipated issue of the year as it has the "year in review" section in it.

Here's my review of the review:

Ultrarunner of the year MEN:
No question, Geoff deserves the UoY award. In almost any other year Karl's record would have given him the UoY title, but Geoff's breaking (crushing) of several CRs at big-time races - and his head-to-head win against Karl at Wasatch - clearly give him the nod.

Ultrarunner of the year WOMEN:
Anything but a unanimous vote for Kami would have been a big surprise.
Caitlin Smith had more wins, and she might challenge Kami this year for the title, but Kami's 6 wins were all at big-time races, and she beat Caitlin head to head at Miwok.

Ultrarunner of the year voting: A

Performance of the year MEN:
While one could argue with the order of the top 5 performances on the list, overall I pretty much agree with the choice of the voters.
It is interesting to note, though, that Anton Krupicka got a FIRST place vote for breaking my CR at White River by 30 some seconds while I didn't a single vote when I set the record in 2004 (Ultrarunning March 2005).

Performance of the year WOMEN:
Again, Kami's IAU 100k win was clearly the PoY. I have no idea why 2 voters voted for Kami's 50k win. The 100k has a much stronger field than the 50k, and a 3:30h 50k on the road is not that impressive. 2:57h marathon + 5 miles.

Performance of the year voting: B+
Performance of the year voting 2004: C-

Most competitive fields:
I guess there is no good, objective way to determine the competitiveness of races. UR's way of determining it has the advantage of not depending directly on people's votes. The pitfall with that method is that very strong runners who don't run several ultras a year and foreigners will not contribute points to the competitiveness score for that race. So at TNF 50 myself (1st), Chris Lundstrom (2:17 marathoner, 3rd), Kaburagi (Japan, 4th) as well as the French guy who was 2nd at the Tour du Mont Blanc (dropped out) did not add any points. Had Matt Carpenter been there, as was his plan, he, too, would not have added any points.

JFK 50 had the fastest field in the history of the event (average of the top runners on the men's side), but didn't make the top 10.

Competitive field analysis: B

Significant course records:
Judging the significance of a course record solely by the number of years the event has been around is not all that useful in my opinion. Sure, the older the race the more runners have raced it (generally). And some of the most prestigous races are also some of the oldest.
(not graded)

100mile - 100k - 50mile - 50k:
Top 100 lists: Sort of interesting, though times are hard / impossible to compare.
(And the TNF 50 San Francisco results are missing for the women.)

Top graded performances: What the $&@#??? Who came up with the grading algorithm? They were either high on something or simply rolled the dice. Examples:
100M: Geoff's Wasatch (performance of the year) is graded as the 3rd best 100 mile performance.
50M: Geoff's Mtn Masochist CR, my TNF San Fr. CR and Antons White River CR are graded as the nuber 14, 15 and 19, respectively, 50 mile performances. Yet 7 of the top 12 performances are from the JFK 50 (a race that's - wrongly - not rated among the 10 most competitive ones).
50k: If a 3:06:49 at Caumsett gives you a rating of .6030 and a 2:56:36 gives you a .570, does that mean that Keith Pierce's rating of .536 (at El Scorcho) is worth about a 2:46 at Caumsett?

Grading of performances: F

I appreciate the thoughts of others on the "year in review"!


  1. Uli,

    I mostly agree with everything you wrote. The thing that boggles my mind most about the End Of The Year rankings is how there is consistently VERY little credence given to The North Face Championship 50. Whoever wins that in any given year should automatically be in the top 3 for Performance of the Year, given the competition that has showed up each of the last three years.

    It's probably because of the limited "history" at that race, but that doesn't negate the fact that most of the best ultrarunners have showed up there to compete over a fair distance (50 miles isn't too long or too short) on a fair course (lots of climbing, good mix of fast track and technical track, no altitude disadvantage). Sure, it comes at an awkward time of the season, but $15K in prize money should make anyone who has a legitimate chance rethink when they want to be in shape.

    As for our respective White River performances, I think the reason you didn't get any votes back in 2004 was because it took people five years of lots of really good runners barely coming within 20 minutes of your time to realize how fast 6:32 is on that course.

    I hope the running's going well!


  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this one. I've always wondered how you guys think about these things, and it helps to know I'm not the only one baffled by the top graded performances.

    I agree with Tony on his analysis of your 2004 performances. It was SO fast, it was hard to fathom. Plus given the voting team at UR is a close group of 100-miler RD's and runners, there is a familiarity that is required to get the votes. I mean, Josh Cox set a new 50k American Record with one of the fastest times in the world and he's nowhere in these rankings.


  3. Tony and Scott,

    yes, the UoY and PoY voting seems to be somewhat slanted towards 100 milers, and definitely towards trail as opposed to road (though you can't ignore a win at the IAU 100k WC, no matter how much you are biased towards trails). Yes, Josh's 50K record was voted # 9 PoY, too low on the list. I'm sure I missed others, too.

    Tony, I only partly agree with your explanation for my WR time getting no votes in 2004. WR has been the national trail championship since 2001, so the list of those who have run WR between 2001 and 2004 is almost a Who's Who list of top Ultrarunners in the country 10 years ago:
    Nate McDowell 6:50
    William Emerson 6:58
    Dave Mackey 6:58
    Phil Kochik 6:58
    Chad Ricklefs 6:58
    Dave Dunham 6:59
    Plus the following who were not able to break 7:00:
    Clark Zeland, Eric Clifton, Hal Koerner, Karl Meltzer, Scott Jurek, Mark Godale, Carl Anderson, Ian Torrence...

    Of course, the fact that noone has come close to it since then until you broke it last year added credibility to the record.

  4. Uli, another possible partial explanation for the lack of votes for your 2004 WR50 (and your 2007 NF50) is the fact that you're German. UltraRunning is clearly devoted to North American ultras, and I don't think the magazine has always made it clear as to whether citizens of non-North American countries are eligible for these year-end honors. Perhaps their instructions to the mystery panelists are now clearer on this point, since you got more votes this time around? (Or maybe the panelists gave you a break because they knew you were about to get dual citizenship?)

  5. Uli,
    With so many amazing athletes and incredibly different courses, I can't imagine how hard it is to establish a baseline to judge from.

    On a selfish note, I'm glad you disliked the results enough to blog about it! I would love to see more on this blog, even if it's just "What I ate for breakfast this morning" or "Trish is learning to play the guitar and if I hear 'Mary had a Little Lamb' again I'll..."!!! I also want you to autograph the UR cover for me so I can put it on my wall!

    I think that with time, the TNFEC 50 will become more of a gold standard. How can it not? That prize money attracts one heck of a field! It might get bigger, if the same guy didn't win year after year, scaring away the competition!!! (He-he!) :P One interesting thing I've found; if you search the UR calendar for 50 milers, TNFEC doesn't even come up.
    Perhaps TNFEC's exclusion is more of a political thing?

    So, here's how we game the system: Uli, you need to run WR50 and Tony, the TNFEC50 this year! With both of you on each field, I'm sure you'll push each other to amazing performances! At the very least, it would be really fun to watch from my end of the pack!!!! So with that, gentlemen, I'm issuing a challenge! I will race both of you at both events! My goal will be to beat both of your COMBINED finishing times!!!! ;) Ha! The gauntlet has been thrown down!

    All Day!

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