21 Dec 13 by James Elson

2013: A year in ultrarunning mega review Part 1.

This is the first of a three part blog post about ultrarunning in 2013. This part focuses on UK Ultrarunning Performances of the Year. The second part will focus on the top 10 male and female performances in Centurion events in 2013. The final part will look at our ultra team and fast forward to what's happening on the race scene in 2014.

In the US, Ultra Running Magazine has been going since the 1980s and quickly established itself as the authority on results and reports for all US ultra distance events. Whilst the sport has exploded in recent times, Ultra Running's UPOY (Ultra Performance of the Year) and UROY (Ultra Runner of the Year), remain the most presitgious honours bestowed to North American Ultra distance athletes. The awards can be handed only to North American Runners though they do allow residents to be included, so that UK runners like Joe Grant, Ian Sharman and Nick Clark are all eligible for awards. 

UK Run Ramles, otherwise know as Profeet's Richard Felton made the jump last year to polling for UK UROY and UPOY, a move that was welcomed. The difference with Ultra Running Magazine is that they have a very well established board of judges drawn from all areas of the sport and who's opinions are greatly respected. Between them they vote for their individual picks and proceed from there to the awards. I'd like to see something similar done here in the UK. 

The below is my own individual perspective. I have absolutely no qualification to judge these athletes and I will undoubtedly have missed off mind blowing performances by UK runners by the handful. That's the difference between one individual and a committee. There is still no universal publication of results for Ultra Distance races and we are still a ways off from one central source where all results are fielded. DUV statistik leads the way and the hard work the guys over there have done is incredible. As the database grows this has become the go to place to check out other athletes historical results, much like the power of ten here in the UK or Ultrasignup in the US. Long may this growth continue. 

So finally, before I start, please go wild with comments for who has been missed and who deserves recognition that I haven't included. This, as with all of my pre race previews, comes from my own tracking of the sport in the UK only, so try to hold back on criticism for information sorely lacking :) I've included non-UK resident UK athletes. In my opinion that's the way it should be done. 


Steve way, Stockholm 100k:
UK 100k running has fallen by the way side in recent times. In recent years, we have struggled as a nation to produce athletes capable of going under the 7hr mark, where in days gone by the benchmark was a full 40 minutes less than this. Finally it seems we have an athlete who can bring back the glory days and begin to compete for the podium at the Worlds. As a sub 2:20 marathoner making his first foray in to ultras, Steve Way is probably the most exiciting prospect out there and his first effort in Stockholm this summer was electrifying to follow as he blazed his way to a 6:40, the 5th fastest UK 100km runner of all time. 

Ian Sharman, Leadville 100 & Grand Slam:
THE Ian Sharman has in my opinion taken another step towards becoming the best of the best, in 2013. With a prolific level of racing in the past including 100s of marathons and ultras, he began fine tuning his training towards specific and more elevated goals three years ago and hasn't looked back since. Performances prior to 2013 including his 6:01 at Comrades and his 12:44 at Rocky Raccoon 100, have been, for me, the most outstanding runs he has had to date. With 3 Western States 100 Top 10 finishes behind him, he decided to embark on the adventure of the Grand Slam of Ultrarunning in the US this summer. The drama that unfolded as Ian raced the overall record for the 4 x 100 milers, as well as compatriot Nick Clark, was something to behold. In a summer where he banked his 4th consecutive WS Top 10 and a strong Vermont 100 just three weeks apart, he then went and ran Leadville in a way that I simply would never have predicted he could have. I spoke to him the week prior to the race and his goal was to win the race. That wasn't something born out of a big ego, but out of confidence in his ability, something that is inherent in many of the very best in the sport. He raced through the first 13 miles of Leadville in 1st place, I was surprised, the runners behind him undoubtedly were too, and promptly put any concerns about how the altitude would affect him out of the back door as he made the turn at Winfield and ploughed through the other 800 runners still headed outbound to mile 50. After the event he described the final 13 miles as the most painful he'd ever experienced. The threat of Nick from behind, the monotony of that final lakeside path, the will to better the Grand Slam record and to win the race outright, drove him to become the third fastest runner ever over the course. With the quality of athletes that have shown up to run Leadville in it's long history, this for me, puts his result up there with his Comrades and Rocky efforts as one of the best trail 100s ever run by a British athlete. As he went on to Wasatch and finished 2nd to Nick, he broke the existing Grand Slam record in a time which I think will stand for a long while to come. But for me, his Leadville was one of the outstanding runs in the US this summer, irrespective of the other 3 100s he flew through around it. 

Nick Clark, Wasatch Front 100: 
Nick, like Ian Sharman, has been exiled from the UK for some time. His family are in Kent and my hope is that one day he will run the NDW100. In the meantime, Nick still calls Colorado home and has been one of the most consistent runners on the US scene over the 100 mile distance for a number of years. THis year he pushed Ian all the way in the Slam, but excelled himself by taking the win at Wasatch in his final race of the 4. 

Marco Consani, Tooting Bec 24hr:
Marco is Mr humble. For years he has watched his wife Debbie run world class performances over the 24hr distance, supporting Team GB and quietly going about the business of becoming one of the best Ultra distance trail runners in the UK. This summer he finished 2nd in the WHW Race, in a time that would have won it most any other year, but was bettered by Paul Giblin who is also mentioned in this post. Marco decided to try his hand at a 24hr race in September, with the roles reversed and Debs supporting him this time around. The GB 24hr team qualifying standard was at the time, 231km. Marco knew this was do-able, in fact he went out with a plan not just to better this but to record a world class effort. He did exactly that. Rattling off 8 minute mile after 8 minute mile, he shattered the 15hr mark, running 14:31 for the first 100 miles. He went on to hold a steady effort all of the way to the finish, to record one of the best 24hr totals in recent years of 154 miles, the best of 2013 by any British runner and put himself as our new number 1. All in his first 24hr event.

Ed Catmur, North Downs Way 100:
The North Downs Way 100 is in my opinion, the toughest of our 4 Centurion 100 milers. Whilst the overall elevation change isn't great with just under 10,000feet of climbing, the climbs present in short sharp and very steep bursts. Furthermore on top of gates and stiles to negotiate, the chop and change in the underfoot conditions from chalk, to rock, to grass, to tarmac and everything in between, do a huge number on breaking a runners rhythm, not to mention the fact that the course runs a few miles long and that section after Detling.... well you have to see it for yourself. I always felt we would see someone run a sub 17 on the course in the near future. As standards in UK runners rise, that was a possibility. I didn't see a sub 16 coming unless a world class 100 mile athlete decided to make the trip over. In an epic to and fro this year, Anthony Forsyth pushed Ed to a 15:44 or sub 9:30 minute miling over the full distance. Anthonys performance would have merited an appearance on here on it's own, but with no crew and no fuss, Ed ran that rare combination of all out, yet within himself all day and recorded one of the best 100 mile performances on UK soil this year. For me, Ed's race here won't be fully understood until time gives us the perspective to look back and compare this effort against years of attempts and other winning times by top level athletes. The truth is, much like Dan Dohertys UTSW of recent times, this run could turn out to be even more special than it already seems.

Lee kemp, Highland Fling

This has to be the most under appreciated run of 2013. The Fling has had a history of attracting this countrys very best. Jez Bragg, Andrew James, Terry Conway, Paul Giblin, Scott Bradley - just some of the names that have thrown down over the many years this race has been in existence. Lee Kemp's Course Record 7:02 this year was significantly faster than any of those athletes before him, and was enough to put him well ahead of a who's who Top 10 of UK ultrarunning this year, including but not limited to many other names on this list (Ricky, Marco, Paul for a start). Much like Dakota Jones breaking Matt Carpenter records in the US, this was a game changing run and one which strangely seemed to fly a little under the radar. 

Ricky Lightfoot, World Trail Championships 2013:
Ricky became World Trail Running Champion in Wales this July, not just winning the 77km race outright in 5:36, but destroying the competition by over 10 minutes. Whilst this performance made him world champion, a result that quite obviously speaks for itself. Craig Holgate described the course afterwards at not having a single flat secion and with temps hitting 27 degrees, put Rickys peformance out there as one he felt would be hard to comprehend by anyone not out there on the course.  

Paul Giblin, WHW race:
For me, this was the most outstanding ultra distance run on UK soil in 2013. In 2012, we stood at the sports centre at the end of the WHW race, to see if Terry Conway would come in inside of the course record 15:44. He destroyed himself to come in inside of it and ranked it as an even better performance than his epic and renowned sub 20hr Lakeland 100 Course Record. Paul took another 32 MINUTES off of that time (15:07). In the UK, we don't have too many races like this, with a deep history of incredible competition and lasting performances to compare against. This is one of the truly classic UK ultras on one of our greatest trails. Much like Tim Olson's 14:46 at WSER in 2012, this was a game changing performance. Paul redefined what is possible on this route. Having finished 2nd to Terry in 2012 and run a Winter WHW later that year (where his retinas froze), Paul obviously knew it like the back of his hand, and had the confidence to go out at a pace that most could not have sustained even as far as the first CP, Drymen at 13 miles. He ran fearless and executed it flawlessly, breaking only when he arrived at Beinglas before the CP had even opened (losing a few minutes) The brilliant Q&A he wrote afterwards gives more of an insight in to how he did it and what it took. What amazing things does he have in store for the future. I hope he goes on to race some of the other bigger global 100s and show us the level of class he displayed here. 

Robbie Britton, Petzl South Downs Way 100:
Robbie smashed the Petzl SDW100 this year in a time of 15:43, beating the remainder of the field by over an hour and lowering the course record by 80 minutes. In doing so he scooped the first place pay check of £500 put up by Petzl. In a young race, again this performance can't really be fully understood. What's without doubt is that the time, on a course with 13,000 feet of climbing is world class. What makes this performance stand out for me, and what makes Robbie the most outstanding young prospect on the UK scene at the moment, is that instead of backing off and securing an easy win, Robbie raced himself and the clock all the way to the track. Paced by Paul Navesey, he put his foot on the gas from the gun and didn't let go for a second. His drive and determination not just to win but to race the best race he could was what makes this shine beyond the incredible time.

Ben Abdelnoor, Lakeland 50:
The Lakeland 50/100 has quickly established itself at the pinnacle of UK Ultra Running Events. Excellent organisation, stunning and challenging courses and some incredible performances have set them aside as must do events. Ben ran a 7:39 bettering the course record by 7 minutes and winning on the day by over 40. Again, the quality of this performance is both against the competition on the day but more so against those that have raced this course before and know how brilliant a time like that is on a course like the Lakeland 50.

Paddy Robbins, Spartathlon:
Mr Grand Union this year turned out what was for me, the best result of his running career to date, one which has included multiple wins/ CRs at the longest non-stop races we have here in the UK. After 4 Grand Union victories including his Course Best of 25:37 and a win at the Viking Way last year (as well as numerous world class GB 24hr performances), Paddys 27:09 at this years Sparta was the stand out long performance of 2013 by a UK runner. Paddy rolled out of the gate at Sparta in his trademark fashion, running very easy and allowing 3/4 of the field to gallop off into the distance, including yours truly. His metronomic pace has become a thing of legend. Whilst most fade dramatically over the distance, Paddy is somehow able to keep a flat even pace going from beginning to end. This skill set is almost unique in races of the length of spartathlon. Simply put, his second half race splits are unmatched by any other runner. Cruising past me at mile 65ish, he went on to record a nigh on even split for a race where almost all of the climbing (8000 feet) comes in the second 76 miles, for a 7th overall and finally put in a Sparta effort akin to the golden days when UK runners were pushing for the podium/ outright wins in one of the worlds classic races.

Danny Kendall, MdS:
Danny has become somewhat of an MdS specialist in recent years. The fact of desert racing is, that the more you run them the better your race management becomes, in an event format where race management is so crucially important. Gear, nutrition, hydration, sleep, body temperature management, recovery, electrolyte balance. These are some of the many things that contribute to success in desert races beyond pure fitness. Dannys times this year have been top end all the way from cross country through road marathons and on to ultras. But his MdS this year, 21:46 got a British athlete in to the top 10 overall for the first time, ever. A combination of brilliant running, brilliant race management and superb fitness. 

Iain Ridgeway, JFK 50:
The JFK 50 mile is the oldest ultra in the US. In years gone by it's mix of Appalachian Trail start and blazing fast towpath second half, have brought in some epicly quick times, this year was no exception as Zach Miller blazed a 5:38 for the win. In 2011, Dave Riddles 5:40 (since bettered by Max Kings 5:34) was enough to win him US UPOY. This year, a Brit went over and much like Ian Sharman last year (and ellie greenwood on the ladies side) ran a blistering race and put the UK on the US map so to speak. Whilst this performance wasn't a win, or a Course Record I've included it as it was brilliant to see a UK based runner go over and throw down a 4th place at one of the US's most prestigious events, something that happens all too infrequently. Any sub 6 hr 50 deserves recognition and Iains 5:57 was exceptional. 

Female UPOY

Lizzie Wraith, Lakeland 100:
Working the Boot aid station at this years Lakeland 100, we had a chance to see Lizzie Wraith come through as first lady, in a mind boggling early pace, looking supremely comfortable in her (for lakeland) lightweight Salomon S-labs, and wondered if perhaps, like watching Lizzy Hawker in her early UTMB days, we were either witnessing something truly special or a truly unsustainable early pace. It turned out that we were witnessing the former. Rory Bosio ran, for me, the oustanding world female performance this year at UTMB, gaining 7th overall and taking hours off of the CR. Lizzie's Lakeland performance whilst not on Rorys level was similar to it in many ways. Running in a 24:15 and taking 4hrs off of the CR and finishing 8th overall. What more is there to say.

Sharon Law, World 24hr:
On her way to 226km at the world 24hs in Steenbergen in May, Sharon set new Scottish 200km and 24hr records. Her total earned her 3rd in the Europeans (held concurrently). A huge performance, a PB and good enough to help secure the silver medal for the GB Team. 

Joanna Zakrezewski, World Trail Champs:
Similar to Ricky Lightfoots effort at the WTC, Joanna did the UK proud, coming in 4th female clocking 7:01 overall. On any given day, a 7:01 over a 77km course would be a phenomenal effort, but with the elevation change and heat on the day, this was an exceptional run. Joanna is no stranger to epic performances on a world level but this trail performance added to her 7:41 for 2nd at the World 100k's in 2011. 

Sue Harrison, European 100km Champs:
Sue posted third overall at the European 100k's this past April, clocking a 7:48 for the distance, placing her 4th fastest on the UK ultra list. Again, in comparison with male performances, Sue has put herself on the map in a very similar way to Steve Way, with this only her second attempt at the distance. Clearly we have much more exciting times ahead in the future of UK 100km running. 

Jean Beaumont, Petzl South Downs Way 100:
Jean rolled through this years SDW100 like the world class athlete she is. In a very similar race to Robbie's equivalent overall win, Jean put almost 2 hrs in to second place. No stranger to 100 mile trail wins having previously held the Course Records at the Northburn 100 in NZ and the Winter 100, Jean smashed her trail PB and ran a time of 16:56 good enough for 3rd overall and walked away with the prize purse in the process. Epic Run. 

Mimi Anderson, GUCR Double:
This is the one performance included in either list which has nothing to do directly with time. There was uproar in the US a couple of years back when Jenn Pharr-Davies' outright Appalachian Trail record was recorded as female UPOY, and in the whole I agree with the condemnation for that selection on a number of levels. That being said, how do you give the credit a performance on that scale deserves, without mentioning it alongside the best race performances? When Mimi began running backwards down the GUCR course two days before this years official race, most thought that she had finally bitten off more than she could chew. Her aim was to run the 145 miles to the start, in under 36 hours and then return to finish the official race after a short night of rest. 300 miles (almost) back to back. Not only did Mimi finish, she made the initial journey in 31:50 and came back in a time of 36:49, 8 hours inside of the cut off and good enough for 5th female. Truly a mind blowing individual effort.

Who gets your vote? Please comment at the bottom.