Competitive Scene - Page 9
Runners vie for chunk of the $40,000 prize purse at the Run Rabbit 100, Steamboat Springs, Colorado. Photo by Matt Trappe.
With so many events hoisting the championship banner, they must still compete with what many consider several “unofficial” championships. Wardian, who’s won his share of official championships, says, “There are some races that draw the best runners in the world and are not recognized championships.” Despite winning USATF trail national championships at 50K and 50 miles, Semick agrees, “The USATF- and [IAU]-sanctioned races do not necessarily attract the ‘best’ runners from around the world. I do think there are de facto championships such as Western States, the TNF 50 and The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc [UTMB].”
Roes is drawn to competition regardless of whether a race is an official championship. He notes, “It just so happens that currently many of the more competitive ultras in the world are unofficial championships. I think this speaks to the lack of focus and intent on the part of many of the existing official championship races.”
For some examples of unofficial championships, let’s take a look at 100-mile races.
While a few top runners will toe the line at Ohio’s Burning River 100 mile in July for the USATF Trail 100-mile championship, it’s unlikely to be even one of the top five most competitive fields of American runners in a 100-mile race this year.
For most of the past three decades, the Western States 100 in California has been the de facto 100-mile world championship. It’s been a long time since Western States offered prize money and it’s never been the USATF championship. However, as the oldest, most prestigious and, until recently, unquestionably the most competitive 100-miler in the world, Western States boasts its status without the race having to say a word.
Despite Western States’ history and continued competitiveness, another race is poised to challenge for the mantle as 100-mile world championship. In 2012, the field for UTMB was as strong as that at its Californian predecessor despite being only 10 years old and also refraining from offering prize money. In fact, with more top Americans showing up at UTMB than top Europeans at Western States some years, such as in 2011 and possibly again this year, the Alpine adventure is certainly in the running as the new de facto 100-mile world championship.
Age, size and prestige are not enough to guarantee another race won’t attempt to reach championship status. New in 2012, the Run Rabbit Run 100 in Steamboat Springs, Colorado, aims to unify top 100-mile talent that is spreading itself between Western States, Hardrock, Leadville, UTMB and other 100-mile races. To this end, the race offered trail ultrarunning’s biggest ever prize purse—$40,000—in 2012 with an eventual goal of offering up to $100,000.
Shorter trail races follow in the same vein. For example, for many years, the Pikes Peak Ascent and Marathon have attracted championship-caliber fields even in the majority years in which neither race has an American or International championship designation.
Pondering the future course of trail-running championships in America is akin to staring out at an endless expanse of slickrock. New championships can come from anywhere at any time, challenging the dominion of existing races. As we move forward, will the range of championship offerings become ever broader or will the various methods of drawing together championship fields—prestige, history, official designations, prize money and course desirability, to name a few—merge sufficiently to offer a discrete set of championships that everyone can agree upon?
Bryon Powell is Runner-in-Chief at irunfar.com.