Unsung ultramarathon performances of 2007

January 20, 2008

UltraRunning magazine has released its 2007 rankings of North American runners and performances of the year.

In general, I think the magazine’s anonymous panel of judges does a good job with a difficult task, namely, sorting through and ranking results from every conceivable variety of ultramarathon, from pancake-flat road 50Ks to epic multiday trail races. The 2007 rankings seem mostly reasonable to me, with Scott Jurek and Nikki Kimball certainly deserving of their Runner of the Year titles. But how could Uli Steidl’s North Face 50 win and Kami Semick’s 9th-place World Cup 100K finish not be near the top of the Performance of the Year lists?

The San Francisco finale of The North Face’s “Endurance Challenge” series was plagued by problems with course marking and monitoring. Nevertheless, Uli knew the course and nobody could stay with him, including Matt Carpenter. Although times on brand-new courses are difficult to assess, I’m confident that nobody mentioned in the UltraRunning rankings could have beaten Uli on that course on that day. And if that isn’t a performance of the year, what is?

As for Kami: in 2006 she placed 11th at the World Cup 100K in Korea, a showing which was rated as the 2nd-best female performance of the year. In 2007 she improved to 9th, with a faster time, but didn’t even receive “honorable mention” status for this achievement. It just doesn’t make sense.

Of course, obsessing about these rankings doesn’t make much sense either. In a sport with so little media coverage, prize money, and sponsorship, racing well is usually its own reward.


  1. Some good points Greg. Speaking of Uli's TNF 50 race, I have always had similar thoughts when faced with quantifying a performance in a new or relatively new race with few top runners. Particularly with Hardrock and HURT, it was hard to know in the earlier years if the times were really that good, and sure enough, in the last year or so the records at both were solidly beat.In the case of Uli, I can't think of anybody who could have beat him on that day and like you, that to me is the definition of a "performance of the year."

  2. I agree with your thoughts Greg. Nobody could have touched Uli at TNF.I think in the coming years Uli will be commanding more respect and turning more heads in the ultra running world.One thing that could boost his ranking would be to compete in some of the popular longer races. But then again, he dominates at that 50 mile range, so why change a good thing, right? Last time I checked the 50 miler was still an ultra.And congrats to you Greg on your outstanding year and recognition.

  3. I think Erik Skaggs' Quad Dipsea run should be higher up, too. That was an unbelievable performance.

  4. Greg,Was checking out your blog. Very nice. I think UR Magazine picks US Citizens only. I believe that is way Uli's performance is not on the list.Nunes run at Badwater was also a great performance. I have not seen the Mag. but I suspect he is not mentioned either.On my blog I listed some of the impressive performance from 2007.http://markgodale.blogspot.com/It's under Sat. Jan. 5th.Mark

  5. Mark: I appreciate the mention on your blog. As for the citizenship issue, I believe that all people living in North America are eligible, regardless of citizenship. That would explain why both Uli and Akos Konya (a Hungarian living in California) received some votes this year (as well as in previous years, in Uli's case), whereas Nunes (who lives in Brazil) did not.

  6. No doubt Ulli's performance was awesome, beating Carpenter shows that alone, not to mention third was 50 minutes back. Estes at HURT goes unrecognized which is ridiculous! It's hard for the judges to recognize Estes' performance if none of them have ever run there, but I have run there and would even rank Estes' above Jurek's. Scott Jurek slowed down at Hardrock once he knew he had the win…it can be faster at HR. And JUrek's performance at Spartathlon? How'd that get second performance? 2 1/2 hours off the record doesn't sound right, perhaps they needed to.give him the top two to justify his Runner of the Year Vote. Two decent races shouldn't win the award, durability and speed combined should…just my humble opinion. Thanks for the plug for karlmeltzer.com!

  7. I agree that Erik Skaggs' Quad Dipsea and Matt Estes' HURT 100 were both outstanding — probably deserving of more Performance of the Year points than they received. However, I'd also put Jurek's Spartathlon right up there because he won against a competitive, truly international field — something that no other American man did last year. Yes, his time was well off of Yiannis Kouros' best, but Yiannis was the greatest 24-hour runner of all time. Let's not pretend that setting a course record at some semi-popular American race is equivalent to going head-to-head with Europe's finest.As for the Runner of the Year standings, people will have very different opinions depending on where they stand on the quality-vs.-quantity issue. To me, it's unrealistic to expect an ultramarathoner to deliver his/her absolute best performance more than two or three times a year, so I'm happy to judge people on the basis of their best two or three races. There's also the issue of versatility, which some value more than others. I tend to be especially impressed with people who produce good results on both trails and roads over a wide range of distances, as Jurek has done over the last three years.P.S. If others reading this want to cast a vote in Karl's "Speedgoat of the Year" poll, go to wasatchspeedgoat.com.

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