I have had time today to reflect a little more on the North Downs Way and begin writing a race report chronicling some of the outstanding stories amongst many that we had over race weekend. I look forward to posting that, as well as the full results and the photos later this week.
On another note I was a little saddened to see the response some of the US/ UK elite runners received in the aftermath of a whole raft of DNFs at the UTMB over the weekend.
The race was clearly as epic as ever with storms and course changes causing more havoc after the destruction of last years abandoned race. From my point of view the communication from the race management was lacking last year, but it is extremely hard to react efficiently and quickly to the volume of runners they have competing. People say 'well have less runners then' but then there would be a Western States style backlog of people desperate, but not able to run.
This year I have got to see ultras from a very different perspective, that of a true back of the packer. Let me tell you that in a head to head of racing to a fast finish and having the stress of position and splits preying on you throughout Vs fighting to make the cut at the back and being out for 150% to 200% of the leaders time, being at the back sucks way harder than being at the front. To grind out Western in a time close to the final cut, was one of the hardest things I've ever done, whereas to compete for a podium spot in one of the desert races felt psychologically much easier because you know what, if you fail to achieve your very best, you can always slow it up and bring it in for a finish.
I have received a few e mails from experience ultra runners in the last few days expressing disappointment at the failure of the top guys to finish. I have to agree with them but with a few caveats. When someone with Nick Clarks skill drops after 20 hours of running and with relatively so little of the race to eek out for a finish (let alone being in 9th position at the time) it is kind of perplexing. Surely finishing farther down the field is better than not finishing at all? Mike Woolfe fell off of the pace considerably but pushed on to the finish line. Hal Koerner went 'one better' and blew up much earlier and took what should have been a top 10 spot at the very least for a runner of his calibre, out to a 38 hour finish!!!! I have a lot of respect for him for doing that as well as for Jorge Pacheco one of the finest ultra runners in the US who will always grind out an appalling (for him) finish time rather than drop out if he can possibly avoid it. Having said all of that, I also cannot understand people who go on to the blogs of runners like Nick Clark and start ranting at him. Nicks decisions during his races are none of their business. Criticising a runner of that ilk for dropping, when he backed a sub 16 hour Western States into a podium finish at Hardrock inside of 12 days, is so pointless it defies belief. It wouldn't even be worth commenting on, except that there are quite a few people who have decided to take a pop at him following the outcome of the UTMB. Secondly and most importantly, general public/ ultrarunners have to remember that the top guys are competing at the very top in a handful of races. Winning one of them is enough to secure a sponsorship deal and we are not talking about people sitting on amassed fortunes here, most elite runners have families to look after and bills to pay just like the rest of us. If they can save it for a day when they can fly at their best again rather than taking a 2 - 3 month recovery period after a 12 hours slog just to finish then they will. Most of us aren't aware of having that decision to make. Still for me, it does make me smile thinking that it isn't just us slower guys who have bad days....
Let's be honest, UTMB is not the hardest race out there, but it is very close to it. With the international depth of field and calibre of finisher once again this year, it is obvious that no US or other European race is able to keep pace with it as a 'World Cup' of trail running. It will be interesting to see how many of the top guys make the trip again next year but I sincerely hope they all continue to do so and that their sponsors back them in to it. Killian and Lizzy as winners together are world class in all respects. However so are all of the other top guys and the Europeans creating things like this http://i.imgur.com/umsH2.jpghttp://i.imgur.com/umsH2.jpgshould really hold back because as with every other sport, it will only be a matter of time before someone from across the pond comes over and wins it just like Jez did last year!!!!!!
It's great to finally be back in the UK for a while and looking forward to seeing other people battle their demons out on UK ultra courses over the next few months.