With the Olympic Marathon Trials happening a couple Saturdays ago I couldn't help but dream about what a 100 Mile Trail Race would look like as an Olympic sport, and subsequently having a U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials event that selected the 3 males and females to represent America at the Olympics. This idea will probably never happen in our lifetime, but it is fun to think about what a 100 mile event would look like at the Olympics. I just don't think there is enough countries represented in ultra marathon and 100 mile distances to warrant it as an Olympic sport. The sport is growing however, so who knows, maybe an ultra marathon at the Olympics will happen someday.
I also remember in 2011 when Geoff Roes started a discussion about "The Championship Race." It is kind of funny going back and reading his post and the comments on it, as ultra running has grown so much and taken on new structures and ideals in the past 5 years. But as Geoff called for in 2011, "a true championship race in American Ultrarunning," we have still not seen it. Races such as the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) and Run Rabbit Run 100 have started since then offering higher prize money and attempting to attract "championship" caliber fields, and while organizations such as the US Skyrunner Series and USATF Championship Races create a "championship" feel at their races, there is still no "true championship" race in American Ultrarunning. In my opinion, traditional ultramarathons like Western States 100, Lake Sonoma 50, and The North Face 50 Mile EC have all been the most competitive fields for American Ultrarunners. This article and graph from UltraRunning even confirms what the most competitive races were in 2015.
|UltraRunnings findings for most competitive races in 2015.
The fact is that there is no one race per year (or every four years like the Marathon Trials) where ALL of the top ultra runners in America show up to compete for something worthwhile.
I am not saying we need to have this type of event. The argument of whether an elite race like this is good or bad for our sport has long been overplayed in past discussions, but for the sake of imagining a bid for running in the Olympics in a 100 Mile Trail Race, we need to have such a race.
Most individual sports (golf, tennis, running, etc.) have events where ALL of the top athletes in that sport are competing. Golf and tennis have the four majors, running has the major marathons and Olympics every four years. In ultra running, when was the last time all of the top 10 vote-getters for Ultra Runner of the Year raced in the same event? I'd venture to say never! It is probably rare to even have more than 3-4 of the top 10 vote-getters at the same race, except for maybe one or two of the races from the chart above.
If the Olympics had a 100 Mile Trail Race event, then ALL of the top American Ultrarunners would toe the line in the same race at the same time every 4 years at the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials.
This is exactly the case of the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials. Throughout the 4 years between marathon trials events, each major marathon sees a dozen or more elite American men and women per race, but it isn't until the Olympic Marathon Trials that ALL of the top American men and women compete against each other. If there was a 100 mile race with the same incentive of making the Olympic team, I would argue that we would see the same thing every 4 years in ultra running. Could you imagine!?
The Marathon Trials has a simple method of time standards for runners to achieve in order to qualify for the Olympic Trials. 100 Mile Ultra Trail Races cannot use this method because of the variability in terrain at different races. So, there needs to be some sort of method to select the runners who would compete in the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials. This method would need to be worked out, but it may be based on wins and placement in selected races, your ranking by one of the established ranking systems, or application/resume based. I think placement at a selected list of races over the course of 2-3 years would fill the team well (like top 10 of certain races qualify, etc.).
Having one race on one day to select the top 3 males and females to represent America makes for such a compelling story. Even ultrarunners were watching the marathon trials a couple weeks ago! This makes for a dramatic way to select a team, but really, it is the fairest, least-ambiguous way to send a team to the Olympics. The U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials would need to have the same selection method in order to get ALL the top ultra runners in one race. Sure, some runners would be injured and some would have a bad day, but that all adds to the drama of a "championship."
Just like in the marathon, the 100 Mile Trials would need to take place every four years. If the Olympics are in the summer of 2020 per-se, then the 100 Mile Trials would need to fall sometime before that date giving qualifiers plenty of time to recover and train for the Olympics. The Marathon Trials are in January so I would guess 100 milers would need even more time to recover, plan, and train for the Olympics. Maybe a date in September or October of the year before the Olympics is when this 100 Mile Trials should be.
LOCATION & COURSE
The location of the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials would need to alternate every four years. It could either be bid on from current events like how the Marathon Trials is or Local Organizing Committee's (LOC's) could form to create an entirely new race every four years. This might be the best option since the 100 Mile Trials course would need to mimic the Olympics location. For instance, the 2020 Summer Olympics are in Tokyo so the U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials would need to be similar to the 100 Mile Course in Japan, which would already be plotted out by the actual Olympic Organizing Committee. The terrain, elevation, etc. would all need to as closely as possible match the Olympic site. This is all assuming a typical trail 100 mile, with singletrack trail, runnable terrain, and variable elevation changes. This 100 mile race would not be on a road or track.
LOCAL ORGANIZING COMMITTEE'S
Imagine an all-star line-up of reputable race directors getting together to plan and put a bid in for a U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials hosting right. There may for 2-4 LOC's from different regions of the country making a compelling case to hold the 100 Mile Trials at their location. This competitive bidding process would bring out the best course, planning, and logistics and ultimately be the best operated 100 mile around.
KEEPING THE SPIRIT OF ULTRA RUNNING
Ultra running is know for its community and ability to put the most elite men and women in the exact same race as those runners not competing for top places. This is one aspect of the sport that needs to remain in tact even if a U.S. Olympic 100 Mile Trials takes place. To do this, it could be structured just as the Marathon Trials are, by having the elite race on one day and the "pedestrian" race on the day after. This structure would encourage more spectators at the 100 Mile Trials and then allow those spectators to run the exact same course the next day. I think this would really keep in line with the community and spirit of the sport.
This is a fun dream, isn't it? Who wouldn't want to see Rob Krar, Timothy Olsen, David Laney, Sage Canaday, Dakota Jones, Seth Swansen, Dylan Bowman, Jeff Browning, Ian Sharman, Jason Schlarb Hal Koerner, Mike Wolfe, Alex Varner, Zach Miller, Max King, Jorge Maravilla, Mike Wardian, Scott Jurek, Anton Krupicka, Mike Foote, Nick Clark, Yassine Diboun and the 100 or more top American men as well as Madga Boulet, Stephanie Howe, Rory Bosio, Kaci Lickteig, Larissa Dannis, Krissy Moehl, Nikki Kimball, Michell Yates, Darcy Piceu, Aliza Lapierre, Cassie Scallon, Denise Bourassa,Sally Mcrae, Meghan Abogast, Pam Smith, Caroline Boller, Jodee Moore, Joelle Vaught, Amy Sproston, Pam Reed and the 100 or more top American women ALL compete in the same race!?
Comment below and discuss!
Happy Trails [and Trials]