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Why Hardrock and Other U.S. Races Won’t Pay to Become UTMB Qualifiers Photo by Peter Fredricson / Creative Commons 2.0

Why Hardrock and Other U.S. Races Won’t Pay to Become UTMB Qualifiers

The race directors of some of the United States' most iconic ultras explain why they won't pay into the UTMB qualification system.

Fred Abramowitz June 29th, 2017

[Editor’s note] This is an op-ed written by Fred Abramowitz, race director for the Run Rabbit Run 50 and 100, and member of the board of directors for the Hardrock 100. 

Some background: UTMB works off of a points-based entry system. Where many U.S. races use a lottery, UTMB requires runners to acquire points by running  between one and three qualifying races. Each qualifying race comes with a certain number of points, between one and six, and runners need to acquire 15 points in order to apply to enter the race. 

Several weeks ago the Hardrock Hundred received an email from Catherine Poletti, who, along with her husband Michel, owns UTMB and ITRA. It stated, in essence, that Kilian Jornet (defending Hardrock champion) wished to run UTMB, but since Hardrock had not paid to join ITRA, Kilian lacked the qualifying UTMB “points.” So, the gist was, won’t Hardrock pay up so that Kilian could run? The answer is no. And here’s why.

For those unfamiliar with the procedure, UTMB requires ultra races to pay an annual fee to ITRA to earn qualifying “points.” The Hardrock Hundred has been clear: UTMB is welcome to use results of the HRH as qualifying for entry, but we have no interest in paying them to do so. Many other races, including Run Rabbit Run, Bighorn and Wasatch, have also been approached by UTMB/ITRA and asked to pay to qualify for UTMB “points.”

Many of us have also been approached by runners who have been told by UTMB/ITRA to contact race directors to urge them to pony up the fee so that those runners could get “points.” Some runners have asked why many of us have refused.

First, the decision to adopt a qualifying standard based on “points” earned running one of UTMB’s races (as opposed, for example, to a lottery) was UTMB’s. We do not believe we should be required to pay for UTMB’s entry scheme. Secondly, UTMB and ITRA are strictly for-profit enterprises, with revenues estimated in the millions of Euros. It’s difficult to avoid concluding that requiring events to “pay for points” is not just another way to maximize what is already a very profitable enterprise. While we don’t fault UTMB/ITRA for seeking to maximize their profits, their “pay for points” scheme does nothing to contribute to the wellbeing of our sport. They do no inspection of any of the events to whom they award “points;” do no due diligence to ascertain whether those events are safe, well-organized or meet any other minimal standards; and, to the best of our knowledge, have never declined to award “points” to any event that is willing to pay. Indeed, with more and more Americans wishing to run UTMB, some new events with little or no track record (or even a poor one) have found that “paying for points” is an easy way to garner entry fees.

Because of various federal, state and local restrictions, American ultras do not have the luxury of putting ten thousand runners on our courses as UTMB may, and thus cannot generate the revenue that UTMB can. Even if American races could, many would choose not to, considering it contrary to the spirit of ultrarunning. We recognize that as our sport grows, increasing commercialization and a desire to monetize the sport’s popularity may be inevitable, and indeed, for better or worse, UTMB and the “Ironmanization” of our great sport might be the unavoidable future. But while we certainly understand why many runners want to run UTMB, these aren’t the values that we think represent the best of our sport or that we wish to further.

We have no problem with UTMB using our races as qualifiers. But no other event – including popular and iconic events such as the Western States 100, the Hardrock Hundred, or the Boston or New York City Marathon – has then attempted to extract fees from those races in exchange for being a qualifier.

So we won’t pay. And we hope runners understand why.

Hardrock Hundred
Run, Rabbit, Run 50 and 100 Mile Runs
Speedgoat 50K
Wasatch Front 100
San Diego 100 Mile Run
Cascade Crest 100 Mile Run
Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run
Grindstone 100 Mile Run
Big Horn Trail Runs

 

UTMB and ITRA issued the following response to the letter (above) written by nine U.S. race directors. 

  1. It is written : “Catherine Poletti, who, along with her husband Michel, owns UTMB and ITRA”

No, Catherine and Michel Poletti don’t own ITRA nor UTMB®. The ITRA is an association and its governance is ensured by a Steering Committee and an Executive Board. Michel Poletti is the association’s current elected President. Catherine Poletti is one of the ITRA’s founder members, and does not have any decision-making power inside the association.

The UTMB® is co-organised by the LLC Autour du Mont Blanc and Association les Trailers du Mont Blanc. Catherine and Michel Poletti are co-managers of the LLC Autour du Mont-Blanc and co-directors of UTMB®.

 

  1. It is written : “UTMB and ITRA are strictly for-profit enterprises, with revenues estimated in the millions of Euros.”

The ITRA is a non-profit association founded under Swiss law. Its financial statements havebeen published during the General Meeting on 11th June 2017 and have been sent to all the attendees.

For more information on ITRA, including its finances, you can consult the presentation made during the General Meeting by clicking here.

The UTMB® organization’s budget is driven by the LLC Autour du Mont-Blanc whose annual accounts are filed with the French administration.

 

  1. It is written : “UTMB requires ultra races to pay an annual fee to ITRA to earn qualifying “points.”” [1]

No, the ITRA offers different services to runners and organizers, including a race evaluation system. These services are offered to ITRA members up-to-date with their membership, and for non-member organizers interested in using them.

Each organization decides on the necessary qualification requirements to enter its race.  Each organization can choose the races that will be qualifying for its race, whether or not they are evaluated by ITRA. There is no fee payable to be a race on the UTMB® qualifying list.

 

  1. It is written : “Kilian lacked the qualifying UTMB “points.”” [2]

The UTMB® organization has ensured that Kilian Jornet had his points. Regarding the performances of the latter and knowing the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run and its limited number of finishers (between 110 and 125), the UTMB® has chosen to add retroactively the race, on an exceptional basis, to the list of races allowing runners to qualify (6 points). Thischoice was approved by Dale Garland, the race director of Hardrock 100 Endurance Run. In fact, Kilian Jornet has his points to run the 2017 UTMB®.

Following the discussions resulting from this article, the ITRA wishes to provide anexplanation regarding its organization and operation in order to respond to the questions as accurately as possible.

 

The facts

ITRA received an email on 19th March, 2017 from UTMB® indicating that Hardrock 100 Endurance Run accepted the UTMB® proposal to be a qualifying race.

At the same time, the UTMB® proposed to the race director of Hardrock 100 Endurance Run that he be contacted by the ITRA, in order to let the latter present its organization and operation to him. The proposal was agreed.

Three days later, the ITRA contacted the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run as agreed and informed them by email about the general organization and the association’s missions. Since ITRA did not receive any answer to the last email sent, they concluded that the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run was not interested in joining the organization. The discussions stopped there and nothing else was done to follow up.

So far, the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run is not an ITRA member and has not been evaluated by ITRA.

 

ITRA organization

ITRA is an international non-profit association. Any positive balance of funds is fully reinvested to finance the ITRA’s development and activities.

Its members are runners, organizers, and national athletics federations. Today it counts 14 founding members, 14 institutional members, 874 organizer members, and 3198 runner members from 84 different countries.

Organizers and runners are represented by 86 national representatives elected for 2 years by the runner and organizer members of each country.

ITRA is directed by a Steering Committee elected democratically composed by 2 founding members, 8 institutional members, 8 organizer members and 4 runner members.

The day-to-day work is under the Executive Committee, composed by the president, the 4 vice-presidents, the secretary-general and the treasurer. The Executive Committee is elected by the Steering Committee. Michel Poletti is the current elected president.

All the ITRA elected members are volunteers: they do not receive any salary for their functions inside ITRA. The ITRA has 4 full-time or part-time employees.

The ITRA statutes are available here.

 

How is ITRA run ?

ITRA brings certain services to its members, but also offers some free services to all organizers or runners. Currently, they count 918 organizer accounts and 29,474 free runner accounts.

ITRA has set up many commissions to work on the different topics related to the sport:

 

The health commission
It organizes doctors and researchers in order to understand trail-running’s effects on health and to develop a health program for runners.

The security & safety commission
It offers solutions to help organizers by improving the safety measures set up in their races (The security guidelines can be downloaded for free in 6 languages on the ITRA website byclicking here).

The quality commission
It will soon offer to organizers a method to evaluate the international quality of their races.

The ranking and evaluation commission
It brings the ITRA Performance Index and the ITRA points’ calculation.

  • Much works has been carried out to improve the calculation of the Performance Index and other factors could be included in the calculation soon.
  • Race evaluations are requested through the organization’s account on the ITRA website. The account creation is free, the organization can decide to be a member or not. In the case of membership, the annual fees cover the evaluation requests for all the year, otherwise the price for an evaluation is 100€. Only quantifiable factors are used to evaluate races, namely: the distance and the elevation gain.

The World Championships commission
ITRA develops the technical and communication specifications and share them with the IAU and the local organizer. It works jointly with IAU and the local organizer in relation to the World Championships’ organization.

The elite athletes commission
Whenever the Steering Committee must take a strategic decision for ITRA in relation to this subject, it asks the elite athletes commission for their point of view.

For more information about ITRA, including its finances, you can consult the presentation made at the last General Assembly of ITRA, 11th June 2017 in Badia Prataglia, Italy, by clicking here.

 

Key information to remember

The ITRA evaluates GPS tracks of race organizers who request evaluation.

Points awarded by the ITRA to races allow runners to register on some races that require, in their race regulation, a minimum of points (such as UTMF, Lavaredo Ultra-Trail®, Madeira Island Ultra-Trail®, UTMB®, Trail Verbier Saint Bernard, Mauna to Mauna Ultra,…).

ITRA doesn’t intervene in the organizers’ choices regarding their qualifying races. This is not ITRA’s job, it is the role of the organizers only.

Leave A Comment

22 Comments on "Why Hardrock and Other U.S. Races Won’t Pay to Become UTMB Qualifiers"

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Andy N
Guest

I will never enter UTMB, it’s just there to make money and has too many entries. If you are not in the elite category you are just in a big queue along the course. There are plenty of similar (and better) races in Europe with similar distances and terrain with less competitors that don’t require you to collect points or expect other race organisers to pay them. I think you are right to not pay.

Charles
Guest
For UTMB you need the points to enter a lottery, just like other races in the US. From what I understand UTMB ask for $100 to qualify a race which is not a lot of money. I just think this is american self centered selfishness, which goes against the runners who woud like to travel and try out the iconic european race. These races, WS, Hardrock, just think they’re the best, that they don’t need to open up to the world or europe, and don’t think they’re runners would want to either. That’s just jumping into the american stereotype, and… Read more »
Andrea Purdy
Guest

Replying to Charles. If it’s a non issue, why doesUTMB ask for it? What does UTMB do with that money? It’s also a question of non profit (Hardrock, Run Rabbit Run, Wasatch, Bighorn vs. For profit (UTMB).

Charles
Guest

I understand the argument of non-profit vs profit, but I’m thinking what does a race like WS or Hardrock care ? if it’s just a small amount of $ to make the race qualifying, and enable thousands of runners to use it to get into UTMB if they want to. It’s just giving more to their own runners. I personnaly do not care, profit, non profit, I like running, I like racing, I like mountains…all of them

Steve
Guest

The article / press release is full of inaccuracy. ITRA is not for profit. It is an association run by democratically elected representatives from all over the globe, and seeks simply to benefit the sport. It’s a shame the article is going viral because it’s based on a complete misconception.

Andrea Purdy
Guest

What does Kilian have to say about this? I say bravo to these iconic races.

Charles
Guest

“these aren’t the values that we think represent the best of our sport or that we wish to further.”….Come on this isn’t any better : http://fixhardrock.blogspot.com/

Hans Schmid
Guest

Totally agree with your position

Loo
Guest
I understand this letter’s position, but it is quite irresponsible to state that”…ITRA are strictly for-profit enterprises…They do no inspection of any of the events to whom they award points;”. First, the points-based entry system is to make sure that those who enter lottery (yes UTMB uses lottery too) are “experienced enough” for the race. In this case it is necessary to have ITRA assessing the difficulties of those qualifiers and it is irrelevant to “ascertain whether those events are safe, well-organized, etc”. Second, ITRA is not for profit and is indeed for the wellbeing of the sport, if you… Read more »
Mark Nassi
Guest
ITRA was created for the sole purpose of levying a tax on every race that wants to be a UTMB qualifier. They claim that a neutral body is needed to determine point values to award to races. If that’s the case, 1) why does each race have to re-apply for “certification” each year, even if nothing has changed about a course? 2) what was wrong with the pre-ITRA formula (that UTMB devised) to determine points? It very simply calculated points by using horizontal race distance and vertical gain over the race as variables. 3) why is there absolutely no actual… Read more »
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[…] More on the UTMB points drama. […]

tim
Guest

Terrible position. It’s is based on a factually incorrect premise that ITRA is “strictly for profit” (which the editors of TRM should have caught). And, although the RD is trying to throw a punch in the direction of ITRA, he winds up hitting every runner who joins his race and also wants to race UTMB in the face over a small amount of $. Good job.

Karen
Guest

Totally agree with this stand! You go, and I hope you never give into commercializing our sport. I miss the good ole days, and I understand the sport is going crazy, but let’s see where it is in another 10 years. We see a lot of newcomers, who disappear again. And that doesn’t surprise me.

Dolores
Guest

That makes complete sense.

trackback

[…] Response to the article published by 9 american organizers on ultrarunning.com and trailrunnermag.com […]

Klaus
Guest

It’s important to write about that problmes. More informations about that you find in the German issue of Runner’s World, but it’s written in German 😉 …

Klaus
Guest
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[…] controvérsia aconteceu depois de algumas das principais provas norte-americanas terem recusado pagar uma taxa para obterem os pontos de qualificação da IT…, pontos necessários para correrem, por exemplo, no Ultra Trail Mont Blanc. Devido a negativa, […]

Errol
Guest
ITRA Response to the article published by 9 American organizers  0 By Guest Author on 07/04/2017 Featured, News ed note: The following was issued by ITRA in response to a press release issued by Hardrock and 8 other races. 1.It is written : “Catherine Poletti, who, along with her husband Michel, owns UTMB and ITRA” No, Catherine and Michel Poletti don’t own ITRA nor UTMB®. The ITRA is an association and its governance is ensured by a Steering Committee and an Executive Board. Michel Poletti is the association’s current elected President. Catherine Poletti is one of the ITRA’s founder… Read more »
EBM
Guest
As best I can tell, having a trail race certified by ITRA is a bit like having a road race distance certified by USATF. And UTMB requires qualifying races to be ITRA certified to be eligible for points. I think big marathons in the US have similar requirements. Certfying officials used by USATF seem to require a modest processing fee. The fee charged by ITRA looks to be in the same vein. A big difference is that ITRA requires re certification each year, whereas a USATF certification lasts 10 years. I don’t know why this is. Courses for trail marathons… Read more »
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[…] Response to the article published by 9 american organizers on ultrarunning.com and trailrunnermag.com […]

Josh W
Guest
No real issues with Hardrock paying or not, but it’s sort of ironic that Fred A is the author of this letter. As director of RRR 100, he pushed for a $100k prize purse there, wooed sponsors, and lauded the potential benefits of that type of commercialization of the sport. I get that the prize purse at RRR is for runners as opposed the race, but the concerns voiced surrounding commercialization are legitimate regardless of where the money comes from or goes to. Inject a bunch of money and it’s not the same. Seems disingenuous of him to vilify UTMB.
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