Aussie Ultra Running Year in Review

As we come towards the close of another year, it’s certainly been a year where we’ve seen Aussie ultra running move up a notch in terms of performances from our athletes at both home and abroad. We’ve gone from completing to competing in some of the biggest and best known events in the world. That’s not to say that in the past others haven’t excelled on the global scale, but what we’re seeing now is consistency of performance across both our Aussie women and men.

A little over a week ago, we posted our nominations for the Aussie ultra runners of the year and performances of the year. The winners should be no secret, given we allowed voting numbers to be viewed after each person had voted, but here we’ll recap and congratulate those that received the nod of their peers as well as reflect upon some of the outstanding performances too.

First up, thanks to those that voted. Across all four categories, we had a combined total of nearly 2,000 votes.

Andrew Tuckey has moved up a big gear in 2014 to be male ultra runner of the year according to Ultra168 readers
Andrew Tuckey has moved up a big gear in 2014 to be male ultra runner of the year according to Ultra168 readers

Congratulations to both Lucy Bartholomew and Andrew Tuckey, two very clear-cut winners for female and male ultra runners of the year. Both had highly consistent years with a number of podiums and great performances in a number of races. For Lucy, she cracked three wins from seven races and her best performance was probably her win at Two Bays down in Victoria.

Andrew Tuckey has had a phenomenal year and has really moved up a notch in 2014- he’s gone from top Aussie ultra runner to globally competitive top-end runner. I’m sure most people agree that his best performances were at UTMB, where he finished a brilliant sixth in what s probably the most stacked field in the world with WSER100, as well as that astonishing C2K record-breaking run.

As far as performances of the year were concerned, your winners were Bernadette Benson’s 238kms in 24hrs and Grant Maughan’s second place at Badwater. Bernadette follows in the same line to Deb Nicholl, who last year racked up 239kms in 24hrs and continues our strong tradition of women runners in the classic 24hr timed distance event. That run from Berndatte ranks her as number one in the world this year. While running 6min kms might seem easy to most people, the focus required to do that for 24hrs non-stop virtually is something else. It’s a huge achievement.

Grant Maughan might be not so well-known to many of our Aussie readers as he mainly races overseas. Of the eleven races he’s done this year, he’s won four, while finishing second a further five times… not a bad record for 2014! You guys voted his second place at Badwater as performance of the year, which is also incidentally where he finished up in Badwater in 2013 too. Hopefully he can go one better next year and win the thing!

It would be remiss however not to mention and celebrate a number of other performances too, which is where I might be a little self-indulgent. In the ladies, I have to single our Sarah Barnett’s stunning win at the Sri Chinmoy 3,100 – which as the title suggests is a 3,100 mile race around a block in Queens, New York. Competitors must average 59.6 miles (nearly 100kms) per day- for 52 straight days – in order to reach 3100 miles.

While there is the obvious physical exertion, this run is more about facing a mental challenge and a term often associated with this run is ‘self-transcendence’.Β The goal here is to transcend our own capacities and not to defeat others. This race, or run is where ultra running diverts into a another sub sector. It’s an interesting concept, given the debate we had recently about hand holding and other articles we’ve written or compete or compete? I believe there’s a place for both types of mentalities in ultra running, regardless of what certain quarters of our niche think about this type of running or in some cases hiking in races too.

Staying with the track and it would be hard to ignore the profound rise of Barry Loveday and his joining of Bernadette Benson as the number one ranked runner in the world over the timed 24hr distance race, clocking up a huge 265kms. It’s been a fair while since Australia had a runner clock 260kms+ and it would be really interesting to see someone of Barry’s calibre have a crack at some of the big trail events too. He has obvious pace to burn, and it will be far easier for someone with his speed to convert over to trails, than the other way around. Ultra trail running needs more people of the likes of Barry to compete at the top end.

In the ladies, a few other notable performances to mention include Tina Major at Comrades, who wasn’t specifically mentioned in the awards, but scored the best performance by an Australian lady at the iconic South African event with a scorching time of7hrs12mins. As you can imagine, it’s extremely hard to cover absolutely every performance by all Australians across thousands of global races and some slip through the cracks. Unfortunately I don’t have an automatic feed of performances generating results for me and all searching is done manually based on people I know. If I don’t know you, I won’t be able to find you πŸ™‚ However I like to think we capture 90-odd percent and more of the top performances, and Tina’s run deserves due recognition.

Gill Fowler has had another top year in the 'montanes'
Gill Fowler has had another top year in the ‘montanes’

As does Nikki Wynd’s excellent third place at Badwater, continuing to Aussie tradition of doing well at this event. Gill Fowler has once again had a great year, with her fifth place at Wasatch 100 miler being a big highlight against what is a highly competitive field over there. Gill is one of our most consistent female ultra runners and again deserves due recognition for the consistency of her performances once again this year. Finally, over the shorter stuff, Hanny Allston, a true elite runner and world champion orienteer was just three minutes off breaking the long-standing Six Foot track record his year held by Emma Murray. I feel sure that should she return to race, she’ll become the new record holder very soon.

It’s also no coincidence that quite a few of our leading ladies and men are also leading orienteers and adventure racers, which for me shows the value in that discipline and how its strengths translate across to ultra running, particularly the leg strength required in that sport from running off marked trails.

In the male performances, we’ve seen two guys dominate our article thus far in Andrew Tuckey and Grant Maughan. Due recognition and a nod of the head also must go to Brendan Davies for an ever consistent year, culminating in a superb eighth place at the Western States 100 miler, guaranteeing him a spot in next year’s race in what is a highly stacked field as well as a top ten placing in the UTWT ranking with Shona Stephenson.

I’ll be really frank here, the UTWT ranking in my opinion does not tell us an awful lot. What they tell you is how good a runner is in two to four races out of a possible ten or dozen you can choose from. Given the huge geographical spread of the races, runners will naturally only choose a certain number of races each year and close to where they live – the points system also has to be rigorous to stop people from tactically choosing races too. I congratulate the Australian’s that raced in this series and their respective performances, however perspective also needs to be added to this concept, which is still in its early stages. For a true representation of where a runner ranks globally, I would look to three races globally: Western States, UTMB and the Skyrunning World Championships. These are the most stacked fields in the big stuff and sorts the men and women out from the boys and girls.

Ben Duffus claimed one of the performances of the year at the Sky Running World Champs - here he is winning the Surf Coast Century last year.
Ben Duffus claimed one of the performances of the year at the Sky Running World Champs – here he is winning the Surf Coast Century last year.

This is also a lesson the new Skyrunning series will take on board too in Australia and New Zealand. With over a dozen different races across two countries, Kiwis will naturally race their own races, as will the Aussies and the points system as far as I can tell will reflect the toughness of each race, rewarding those that decide to take on the bigger challenge. Hopefully we’ll see a consistent number of our top runners from both sides of the pond regularly duking it out in at least five to six of the races and against one another. There will be speed bumps to get over, but what you are going to see more of in 2015 is the divide between UTWT and Skyrunning. Two bodies that now have their own set of races and ‘series’ and two sets of ‘world champions’. As we pointed out in an article about the number of races taking place in Australia right there, we are seeing a dilution of the sport at the top end. Yes, these series give us an indication, but on a personal level, I look at specific races and the depth of the field to really appreciate where a runner ranks on the global scale.

And finally, staying with the theme of Skyrunning, we should raise a big hand to firstly, Ben Duffus for his remarkable third placed effort at the Skyrunning World Champs, for me one of the male performances of the year, but also the endeavours of Blake Hose and Caine Warburton too. Blake is still in the infancy of his ultra running career, but has huge potential to be one of our best, alongside Ben. Again, a real marker for the creme of the crop in Australia is the Bogong to Hotham race next month. Retaining its amateur ethos, this race attracts 10-15 of our best talent and the winners there are what I would regard some of the best mountain running talent in Australia. The race this year will be fascinating, I do feel that the 19yr old record is going.

Caine Warbuton has really made an impact and name for himself this year and deserves a big pat on the back, here’s hoping he moves that up a notch in 2015 in a similar vein to what we’ve seen with Andrew Tuckey.

That concludes our review of some of the elite runners and performances of the year, we hope 2015 brings all our runners and readers even further success, either competitively against others or on an individual, personal level.

Feature Image credit – Gretel Fortmann

 

 

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Dan
I'm a mediocre runner who can bat above his average when I train hard. A man of extremes, I do enjoy everything life offers and consider it an absolute pleasure just to be able to put one foot in front of the other and let my mind wander somewhere different.

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