Saturday, December 24, 2016

UltraRunner of the Year

There are many posts out there where UROY panelist describe their voting decisions, as it's a challenging decision to make!  How do you compare a top 10 finish at a competitive race such as Western States versus a win at other less competitive races?  How many other races to you need to win in order to make up for not racing (or placing well) at a highly competitive race?  If you run 3 truly outstanding results, is that a more impressive year than someone who had many solid performances? 

This year, I was honored to be asked to cast a ballot on the UROY voting.  I appreciate the trust that was placed with that decision - and understood the importance of this role.  I spent many training runs with friends having the debate over who had the most impressive year, and how to objectively rank these athletes.  I also spent hours culling through the long list of results that were provided to me - hoping these would somehow sort themselves into the 'correct answer'.

I know every voter approached this differently - here's how I sorted through the long list of amazing runners and decided on my ballot.

1. Tropical John provided each panelist with an extensive spreadsheet listing about 50 males and 50 females with all their results for that year (including noting course records, female overall victories, etc.).  There was also a list of about 50 top age group performances.  He provided some general guidelines:
  • Runner of the Year should encompass the runner’s full body of work for the entire year. One great race can be identified in the voting for Best Performance.
  • first emphasis should be on performances in significantly competitive events where a number of elite runners are competing (major 100-milers, World Cup events, highly competitive shorter races such as The North Face Challenge, Lake Sonoma, Bandera, Speedgoat, et al.). We are more impressed with stellar performances in elite competitions than a fast time at Uncle Pete’s Fat Ass 50.
  • Look, too, at head to head competition, where they exist. If Runner A beats Runner B every time, it is pretty hard to put Runner B ahead of Runner A in the rankings.
  • FKTs. After considerable discussion, there is a consensus (ok, not unanimous, but a consensus nonetheless) that these performances should not be considered as part of the process since they are essentially individual time trials and not races. We do note that the FKTs have captured the imagination of the running public (and ours as well). UR plans to do an extensive summary of all 2016 FKTs in the spring, giving these athletes their due.

    2. I needed to shorten the list from the roughly 50 male/females, so I decided on some criteria that I believe are in keeping with what I believe makes someone have had the best ultrarunning year:
  •  Finishing at least 4 races - with so many athletes having such strong results, and this award being about who had the best 'race resume' for this year, I felt that runners who didn't do at least 4 races simply didn't stack up. 
  •  Finishing at least two different distance races - I think the 'ideal' best ultrarunner would be someone who shows versatility over different distance races.  While I truly admire folks who can rack up impressive results at numerous 50k races, or likewise the 100-mile specialist who doesn't run anything shorter, I chose to reward folks who showed strong results at multiple distances. 
  •  Winning at least one ultra - again, I was simply trying to narrow the field.  But, it's hard to argue for a top athlete who doesn't have at least one victory throughout the year. 
    I understand that these criteria are highly controversial, and really it's the heart of the decision that each panelist was tasked with.  I chose the criteria above based on what I think the criteria are for the best ultrarunner.  When it comes down to it, it was similar to the process I deal with at work - reviewing resumes and deciding who has the strongest, most versatile experience to bring to the table. 
    I will note that while ideally, the top ultrarunner of the year would be someone who wins everything and can beat everyone else on the list and #2 would be someone whose lowest finish would be a 2nd place when they faced the top guy...but I understand the reality is much different.  I don't know that the #2 ultrarunner can necessarily beat everyone except the #1 runner, that someone can't be the top runner if they have an off day, or that the #6 ultrarunner is the 6th best ultrarunner and was only beated by the 5 females ahead of her in the past year.  In general, a lot of results are based on race distance run, course specifics, and what else they've run recently. 
    My husband, for the past several years, has finished in the second half of the top 10.  He never understands it - he'll rank ahead of guys that he feels would beat him in a head-to-head competition.  I always remind him that being voted as the #5 doesn't mean that you'd necessarily be able to beat anyone but the top 4 anytime you race them.  But, I also argue that while other folk beat him during the year, I wonder how well they would race against him if they completed the same race schedule that Brian did.  My point is, I believe it's about the best resume that year, not necessarily who is the fastest.
    Anyway, after a lot of time and consideration (and some AWESOME debating with friends over some miles), here's the slate that I voted for:
    UltraRunner of the Year:
        Female                                                   Male
    1. Kaci Lickteig                                         Jim Walmsley
    2. Courtney Dauwalter                              David Riddle
    3. Maggie Guterl                                       Ian Sharman
    4. Caroline Boller                                     Jeff Browning
    5. Darcy Piceu                                          Brian Rusiecki
    6. Devon Yanko                                       Jesse Haynes
    7. Gina Slaby                                            Jesse Lang
    8. Alissa St. Laurent                                 Zach Bitter
    9. Pam Smith                                            Tim Tollefson
    10. Kathleen Cusick                                 Ryan Smith
    Age Group Performance of the Year
        Female                                                 Male
    1. Meghan Arbogast (IAU 100k)             Ed Ettinghausen (Sri Chinmoy)
    2. Eldrith Gosney (Headlands)                 David Jones (Tunnel Hill)
    3. Riva Johnson (Bryce)                           Ian Maddieson (Lean Horse)
    4. Roxanne Woodhouse (Tahoe 200)       Bill Dodson (Ruth Anderson)
    5. Debra Horn (Across the Years)            Mark Richtman (Miwok)
    Performance of the Year
        Female                                                 Male
    1. Gina Slaby (100 mile WR)                   Jim Walmsley (JFK Course Record)
    2. Caroline Boller (50m trail AR)            Zach Bitter (100 mile AR)
    3. Meghan Arboghast (100k WR-AG)     Tony Migliozzi (50k World Champion)
    4. Caroline Boller (50k AR-AG)              Chris Vargo (Crown King CR)
    5. Megan Roche (T. Headlands CR)        Jim Walmsley (Bandera CR)



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