It appears we’re a glutton for punishment here at Ultra168.
After the uproar that our global most influential list caused in the land of the free, we thought we’d tone things down somewhat by offering up our opinion of the top 17 most influential in Australian ultra running. The important point to make here is that we encourage debate, but respectful debate. We’re not going to get everyone agreeing with our list, as we pointed out last time – however this was duly ignored by some for whom the inability to read and respect of other people’s opinion was quite apparent.
But you Aussies are generally a kind bunch, so we hope this little list not only entertains you, but also maybe educates a few of you about some of the personalities that have been at the centre of our sport over the last twenty years or so. But before we begin, let’s just clarify so that everyone is clear, how we’ve determined people’s influence. Influence is not about how great a runner or thing you are, although that helps. We have determined influence by two simple factors. It’s about ‘reach’ and ‘relevance’.
Reach is about someone or something’s ability to hit as many different types of people en masse. It’s about broad appeal to a cross-section of the ultra community, and in some cases, beyond. Relevance is about that person or thing’s ability to have an impact to the sport in some way. Did they pioneer something? Were they the first to do something? Do they hold a record of sorts? These are the types of considerations that we’ve pulled together when factoring our list. A person might be a great runner, but does that make them influential?
A second point to make is that lists such as this are highly personal too. Not everyone is going to agree with what we say, because everyone is influenced by different people. All we can ask is that you cast aside you own personal favourites and consider the impact of these people or things on the community as a whole. These types of things always cause rigorous debate, which is fine. Simply keep it respectful. By the way, the list is in no particular order and you might be asking why 17? Well this is the number I ended up at. Rather than defining a set number of people who I should include, I was dictated by the number of names that came up, so as to not add in people for number’s sake.
Here goes… enjoy!
Turia Pitt and Kate Sanderson
It’s almost a sad thing to see these two ladies included in the list as if proper due care and attention had been paid on that fateful day, our community wouldn’t have been impacted by these two. That said, out of tragedy comes positive and determination and it is remarkable to see how these two women have battled to overcome what would destroy most. Both have approached their battles in very different ways.
Turia has been very public about her journey since that fateful day and in the process has been an inspirational role model not just for those in the ultra running community, but reaches massive broad public appeal too where she now speaks regularly about her ordeal. Her work in particular with young girls and body image really brings home her message.
Kate Sanderson in contrast is extremely private and decided not to follow a public life. But, she continues to do great things in private that the general public may not be privy too. Both ladies, as well as the two men Michael Hull and Martin van der Merwe deserve full recognition for the manner in which they handled that fateful day and subsequent ongoing daily battles to get their lives back to some sense of normality.
The four are influential not because of what happened to them, but because of the way in which they reached an entire population both at home and abroad and as a result, the change in attitudes among runners as to the very real threats and dangers that exist when we run today.
Andy is the definition of ‘tough’. In 1995 he set the now infamous Bogong to Hotham record, which still stands to this day at a smoking time of 6hrs 41mins. That year he also took out Cradle Mountain and 6ft track with three records in three months. There are rumours that in training, he would regularly tie a chainsaw to his back and come home with whole trees (I jest – maybe). He’s a mountain man through and through and if he ran today, he’s be smashing the arse off most of these ‘sponsored runners’. He’s the epitomy of old school.
Tom Landon-Smith & Alina MacMaster
When you have race directors asking you for advice as to how to be the ‘next TNF100’ you know that you’re one of the pioneers of the sport. In the new age of commercial trail and ultra running, these guys were the first to make a fist of making some decent coin from a race. And what a race it has become. First they had Kilian and now a whole bunch of international trail running glitterati make their way over to the Blue Mountains for some first class action. Tom and Alina were the ‘first’ as such and my question to any race director that wants to emulate this is “what’s your own first?’
A wild dark horse for entry into our top 17 and he’ll probably hate me for even putting him in here. The fact is that Stu is Andy Kromar in the making… he’s like Andy’s ‘next in line’ if that doesn’t sound patronising. It’s certainly not meant to and I know how much Stu tries to learn from people like Andy.
Another that shuns the limelight, sticks two fingers up at the commercial nature of the sport, gets his head down and trains like a beast. Twice a winner at TNF100, rarely fails to win any event he enters and has the talent to back up anything that gets written about him. His privacy and secrecy make him even more alluring to those that follow his racing.
Melbourne’s little pocket rocket is well-known for her charity runs, having just completed a monster of a run across South Africa’s Freedom Trail for Save the Children. I’ve worked with Sam on a few things and what I admire about her is the genuine passion to help others. She trained to be a lawyer but soon realised that just wasn’t her, so gave it up to follow her passion. She’s the first to admit that she’s not a leading athlete, but her reach and personality go far not only in the ultra running world, but to every day ordinary folk too.
Who? Well, he only holds the Aussie 100km record at a stupidly quick time of 6hrs 29mins. That’s only one minute slower than US Olympic hopeful Max King did last week in Doha. And Tim ran this back in 1995 before running 100kms even became cool. Another member of the old school, who I know occasionally pops up on the comments sections of these pages. I’ve never met the guy, but I’d love to shake his hand and find out more about him.
Andy is a massive, yet hugely understated part of the ultra running scene in Australia. Like many others, he was doing this shit before it was cool. I think he told me that he ran his first ultra in 1984. He’s also our most experienced runner at the infamous Hardrock 100, having completed the course five times. As a race director, he’s probably the best in the business and is renound all over Australia as such. People seek his opinion and guidance on issues of safety in races, as well as how to run a slick race. He’s also a really top bloke.
Another outstanding stalwart of Aussie ultra running who once again, like many on this list show versatility across both trail and track. It’s the latter that he’s probably best known for with his epic runs that now span into 6 and 10 day running. Perhaps his most memorable performance was the absolutely ridiculous 433kms he ran in 48 hours at the prestigious Surgères event. An invite only race for the world’s best. Martin is also at the heart of the ACT running scene where he passes on such valuable knowledge to runners in the capital, but across the country. He’s pretty much the inspiration for those guys and girls that attempt the track stuff.
Built in a similar mold to Martin, Sarah is the queen of Aussie track distance running and dominant in her world. It’s the quiet unassuming nature of the way she goes about her business that makes people look up to her. She’s a humble, yet serial racer – just take a look at what she’s done. Her most outstanding achievement to date has to be the completion of the self-transcendence 3,100 mile race in New York, going round and round that block in Queens, New York.
6ft track and Cradle Mountain
I’ve put these two races together because they were started within a year of each other and are again widely regarded as the start of Australian trail and ultra running. The two also exist and sellout in around ten minutes today, such is the pull they have to the general Aussie public that want a piece of Australian ultra running heritage. You can also throw into the mix here Max Bogenhuber, who at the age of 71 has run every single Six Foot Track race since its inception. He even ran it the year it was called off due to the floods. He is Mr. Six Foot Track.
If there’s a record 12hrs and over, you can bet your bottom dollar it’s held by this man. He holds every men’s outdoor road world record from 100 to 1,000 miles and every road and track record from 12 hours to 6 days. His 303kms over 24hrs beggars belief at times. No one can barely get within 20kms of it, even today. Kouros came to prominence when he won the Spartathlon in 1984 in record time and the Sydney to Melbourne Ultramarathon in 1985 in a record time of 5 days, 5 hours, 7 minutes and 6 seconds. He has also written over 1,000 poems (several of which appear in his book Symblegmata (Clusters) and the book The Six-Day Run of the Century.
A loveable Kiwi turned Aussie who again presents such versatility in her running. Kicking ass over both trail and track. Her standout performance came last year when she ran a massive 239kms in 24 hours around a 500m track – that run was the third longest by a woman in the world in 2013. She pretty much wins most races she enters, and is also a massive part of the Brisbane Trail Runners community. Back in 2008 when I ran my first Glasshouse 100kms and was suffering in such a huge way, I remember Deb running past me having completed her loops at checkpoint 8 with a huge smile on her face and a nice wave. She summed up ultra running for me that day and taught me about the attitude I need to take into my racing.
There’s no denying that Brendan is one of Australia’s most successful ultra runners in the current times. Highest placing Australian at Western States finishing eighth in June this year. A highly versatile runner over both trail and road. Just last week he ran another sub 7hr 100kms at the 100km world road champs and is also the current TNF100 record holder. There’s not many who can claim to be able to shift and be so successful across many different forms of the sport.
Who hasn’t heard about the story of an old sheep farmer turning up to one of the world’s most famous races in little more than his gum boots? The ultra ‘shuffle’ is widely regarded as being started by our ‘Cliffie’ and in some respects, he along with Yiannis Kouros are regarded as our ultra running founding fathers. While there are sure to be parts of Cliff’s story that are embellished somewhat, the fact remains that his influence on our sport will last forever with his win at the very first Sydney to Melbourne race.
There are a couple of great things about Ben. Firstly, there’s his versatility across two sports, running and triathlon and being at the top of his game in both. The second is ‘that record’. I’ve heard plenty of mutterings over the last few years from certain quarters that it’s very attainable. Sure it might be, but plenty have tried and failed in the last few years too. Talk is cheap and the fact is that no one is within spitting distance still. The stories I’ve heard of Ben’s preparation for the year that he broke that record would have OCD protagonists across the country sweating with glee. He’s a pioneer of Six Foot Track and how to run that race, I do hope he returns to pointy end very soon.
A weapon. That’s how you would describe Emma Murray. She’s never lost an ultra race and she’s the current ladies Six Foot Track record holder, with a record that like Ben’s has stood the test of time since 2006. I personally don’t know too much about her or have even met her, but when researching this article, she’s a name that cropped up time and time again, she does therefore have influence in terms of the people she has reached simply through her outstanding achievements on the trail.
A quiet, unassuming gentleman that has simply gone about his business of being the bedrock of Queensland running for the last twenty-five years or so. Ian started the Glasshouse Mountains series of races and in 1996 started Australia’s first 100 miler, which again, is still running today. Not many people will know this, but Ian also ran in the Sydney to Melbourne races.