For the fourth year in a row I had the great honor and terrible luck to be given a ballot for Ultrarunning Magazine's prestigious Ultrarunner of the Year award. As I did in 2016 and 2017, I'll share my picks below, but not before complaining about how awful the process of filling out the ballot is. There are literally dozens of runners who deserve consideration for this award, and I invariably have a list of about twenty athletes on both the men's and the women's side who absolutely should be in the top 10--an impossible task. I take the responsibility very seriously and therefore I agonize over every decision, and while it's fun in the abstract, the actual process becomes painful on a nearly physical level by the time I'm done.
I continue to invite criticism by posting my ballot. I'm not quite sure why I do this, other than that it's easy content creation. I do enjoy debating the picks and hearing people's rationales for arguments for and against various decisions. As with anything online it can get a little personal or angry, but for the most part people have been good-natured and civil about it. Please continue to do so. The debate is the fun part, but only if we respect each other's opinions. Our sport covers a variety of distances, surfaces, and formats, and while these awards smush all of them together, we all value different things and have our own prejudices and biases.
Last year, I was supposed to have Jason Mintz come on the podcast to enact one of these debates in more or less real time. A scheduling conflict prevented him from doing the show, but he forwarded his ballot to Laura Kline, who came on the show to argue Mintz's picks. This year the original @veganultrarunner1 was able to come on the show and speak for himself. Check it out, we had a lot of fun doing it. I'll leave most of the details on our decision-making to the podcast and stick with just the basics here. Since Mintz and I recorded last week, about a week before the ballot was due, I did make a few modifications to my final picks based on our conversation.
1. Courtney Dauwalter
2. Kelly Wolf
3. Hillary Gerardi
4. Katylyn Gerbin
5. Keely Henninger
6. Sarah Bard
7. Amanda Basham
8. Brittany Peterson
9. Corrine Malcolm
10. Darcy Piceu
Courtney was the easiest #1 pick since Jim in 2016. Kelly also seemed like a fairly easy #2 for me; after that it got significantly harder. I bumped Clare Gallagher for Darcy at the last minute; Mintz and I discussed that one at length. Toughest omissions: Clare Gallagher, Katie Schide, Camille Herron, Megan Alvarado, Rory Bosio, Stephanie Howe Violett, Aliza Lapierre, Kaci Lickteig, Sabrina Little, Sabrina Stanley, and Taylor Nowlin.
Women's Performance of the Year
1. Camille Herron's 24-hour WR at Desert Solstice
2. Courtney at Big's Backyard
3. Courtney at Western States
4. Megan Alvarado, 146 mile 24 hour at Fast Track (#9 all-time US)
5. Sarah Bard, 8th at Comrades
For once, I found this category to be pretty easy. Tough omissions were Kelly Wolf winning Lavaredo, Julie Hamulecki's Canadian record at the 100K World Championships, Magdalena Boulet winning Marathon des Sables, and Courtney at the Tahoe 200 (not really, I don't care that much about 200s).
Women's Age Group Performance of the Year
1. Diana Fitzpatrick (60 years old), an age-group record 23:52(!!) at Western States
2. Paula Chapman (63), 20:58 (!) at Kansas Fall (women's winner)
3. Claudia Newsome (67), 26:27 at the Jackpot 100 (fourth female)
4. Connie Gardner (55), 16:40 at Canal Corridor (women's winner)
5. Megan Laws (56), 8:40 at Lake Sonoma (10th female)
1. Dylan Bowman
2. Jeff Browning
3. Jim Walmsley
4. Mark Hammond
5. Mario Mendoza
6. Cody Reed
7. Jason Schlarb
8. Rob Krar
9. Kyle Pietari
10. Jared Hazen
As usual, this was the worst, and made much more difficult by the carnage at UTMB, the cancellation of North Face, and the subsequently thin resumes of many of the top contendors. Again, listen to the podcast for most of my reasoning. My toughest cuts in this category: Zach Miller, Zach Bitter, Tim Tollefson, Hayden Hawks, Kris Brown, Brian Rusiecki, Olivier Leblond, Ryan Ghelfi, Cody Lind, David Sinclair, and Jim Sweeney.
Men's Performance of the Year
1. Jim Walmsley's CR at Western States
2. Zach Bitter's 12:08 at Tunnel Hill
3. Rob Krar's "comeback" win and near-CR at Leadville
4. Jared Hazen's 5:34 win at JFK
5. Morgan Elliot's CR at Mount Mitchell
I thought I had this list nailed, and then Rich Heffron pointed out that I missed Geoff Burns' fifth-place finish at the 100K World Championships. He's right; my bad. I should've had that in the top five, though I dis want to recognize Morgan's Mount Mitchell CR, which he absolutely obliterated on a historic course. (I know, it should be "an historic course," but that's the one rule of grammar I absolutely refuse to follow.) Toughest snubs: Jim's CR at Lake Sonoma, Hayden Hawks' win at Lavaredo, Olivier Leblond's 161-mile national championship win at North Coast 24, and Jim Sweeney's solo 13:09 at the Hennepin Hundred.
Men's Age Group Performance of the Year
1. Bob Hearn (53 years old), 153.84 miles at Desert Solstice (and a likely spot on the US team)
2. Thomas Dever (61), 3:39 at Tallahassee Distance Classic (winner)
3. Jean Pommier (54), 6:20 at Ruth Anderson 50 (winner)
4. Ruperto Romero (54), 8:14 at Sean O'Brien (winner)
5. Hans Schmid (78), 8:07 at Quad Dipsea