Saturday, December 19, 2009

Unsolicited Opinion: US Men's mountain running performances of the year

As a fan of list and end-of-the-year retrospectives, I love end-of-the-year retrospectives that involve lists. I am going to add to the wide range of lists out there with one of my own.

USATF MUT has been recognizing the top mountain runner of the year since 1999 (and sometimes they even get it right) and Ultrarunning magazine publishes a more official performance list for the ultradistances with voting and everything but there is no acknowledgment or analysis (official or otherwise) of the many impressive performances for short distance (say, finishing time less than three hours) mountain races (by US men) out there.

Disclaimer: I have in the past been associated with the national team but this is just my list. It does not represent anything from USATF, the Teva USMRT, or any of my sponsors. I you do not agree with the order or feel that some performance was left out completely, leave a comment. I am always interested in other peoples' perception of high performance mountain running even if those people are wrong. Here is my shot at ranking what I saw as the top performances of the year; if you like, you can think of these are the performances that most impressed me over the past year. Let’s get on with it.

10. Eric Blake’s second place on The Hill
Lost in the excitement of an outstanding performance by the winner (see below) was the fact that Quadzilla’s second place finish in 1:01:19 is smoking fast and over a minute in front of USATF MROY, Joe Gray. …and to think, this is only Eric’s forth fastest time on The Hill.

9. Matt Carpenter's ninth PPM win
Not only did the 44-year-old Matt C. win the marathon, his split time to the top was faster than the winner of The Ascent from the previous day. I would be surprised by this considering that The Ascent generally attracts a pretty good field except for the fact that this is the sixth time that Matt has run the fastest ascent time of the weekend during the marathon. Awesome.

8. Tim Parr’s win at Cheyenne Canon
The second of two national team selection races had a pretty good field (including the future 13th place finisher at the WRTC and Timmy came off of a few years of poor performances for a big win and a spot on his third national team.

7. Joe Gray’s win at Cranmore
This race had the quality field that you would expect at a race that was the USATF National Mountain Running Championship and one of two national team selection races and Joe Gray beat the lot of them.

6. Matt Carpenter’s win at the Native Eyewear 10K Spring Runoff
The day after he ran to second place in the Triumph Development Vail Pass Half Marathon (which, at 4% average grade, does not qualify its participants for consideration on this list), Carpenter smoked a smokin’ field at this minor diversion from all of the real outdoor sports at the Teva Mountain Games. Considering that he beat Rickey Gates and Joe Gray who would respectively break one hour on The Hill and win the USATF Mountain Running Championship later that month (both of whom also ran the ½ marathon on the previous day), this was a very impressive performance indeed.

5. Bill 'Rickey' Gates 5th place at Grossglockner Berglauf
Rickey’s 1:13:09 was even faster than his 1:13:38 from the previous year in this race up the highest peak in Austria. This is one of those performances that may not sound all that impressive (wow, 5th place in a race that I have never heard of, I can hear someone saying in the background…). Trust me, this was some fast $&#@.

4. Joe Gray’s 16th place at the WMRC
This is where the performances start to get really good. Joe had a fine season (good enough for his second USATF MROY award) and this was certainly his top race in 2009. 16th at the WMRC- in a field that was almost certainly the best ever for an up and down year is also some fast $&#@.

3. Andrew Bedford’s 13th place at the WMRC
Andy made a huge improvement from 12th junior in Bursa (2006 WMRT) to make his first senior national team with a second place at the Cheyenne Canon Mountain Race. He then made another substantial leap forward with a 13th place in this year’s WMRC (see comments above). Such a high place from someone so young makes me optimistic regarding the chances of the US men returning to the WMRT/C podium in the near future. I do not know what he and his coach are doing over in Richmond, but whatever it is, I hope that they keep it up!

2. Bill 'Rickey' Gates 4th place at Sierre-Zinal
Rickey’s 2:38:52 was the fastest that any US man has run on this course since the great Pablo Vigil won the race in 1982 (one of his four wins). To finish well at Sierre-Zinal, you have to be able to handle long steep climbs, fast running at (moderate) altitude, and ridiculous, technical descents. Sierre-Zinal is the best mountain race in the world and 4th place there is good enough for second on this list.

1. Bill 'Rickey' Gates running up The Hill in 59:58
I debated with myself for a while about some of the other positions on this list. I am still not sure if Rickey’s S-Z is better than Andrew’s WMRC. I am, however, sure that Rickey’s sub-60 on The Hill is the best performance by a US man in 2009. I do not feel the need to elaborate.

There it is. Was sub-60 tops in your estimation? Is 4th at S-Z better than 13th at the WMRC? What else belongs on this list? King’s win at the Xterra Trail Running "World Champs"? Joe Gray's 6th place at Skaala? Matt Carpenter's win at The Barr? Michael Spence's win at the USATF Trail 10k nats? Some other performance?


  1. I agree with you completely on this list, but you did leave off one (maybe 2)... JJ's run up Loon was pretty spectacular... That may have been a close 11th maybe, just beating out his run up Ascutney on a very tough version of the race that rivals the Barkley marathon and Badwater (according to Dunham)...

  2. DoubleJ,

    Sorry, the Loon performance fits under the frustrating category of "may have been a great performance but there is no way of being sure because nobody was there for proper calibration". I know that your comment was in jest but, hey, this is a problem none the less. Congradulations on making the inov8 team. You guys really need to pipedown about Asscutney;)

  3. I officially state that I HATE the new Ascutney course.

    Great stuff. Rickey's run at Sierre Zinal is freakin' amazing.

    I might have put Andrew Benford's 13th place at the World Championship at number 10.