If you haven’t seen recently, the UTMB organisers have changed the qualification standards yet again. I think this is something like the fourth change in five years.
There are two main changes for consideration this year.
First, the lowering of the qualification standards from 15 points for the main event (UTMB lottery), down to 10 points. Interesting move. If applications have increased by 68% over three years (as stated on the UTMB website), why would you lower qualification standards to increase the pool further still? Create more demand, more hype no doubt. Make it more unobtainable, special etc… Or rather to get more and more people to enter specific UTMB and UTWT races more likely. Feed the machine.
Which leads onto the second part of the new changes. The arrival of what they’re calling the 18 stones method. ‘Running stones’ will be recorded on a database. Once runners have reached the required number of running stones, they gain direct entry for the UTMB® Mont-Blanc race of their choice without having to go through the lottery.
From January 2020, it is possible to collect running stones by participating in:
- By UTMB®” events (Gaoligong, Ushuaia, Oman, etc.)
- The 2020 Ultra-Trail World Tour events.
For UTMB races, 1 ITRA point = 1 Running Stone. You need 18 Running Stones to enter UTMB. But wait, there’s more. If you enter UTMB races in Oman, China, Argentina, which are worth 6 points, there’s a multiplier of three to the running stones collected at these races. So if you simply enter one of these three miler events, bang you’re in UTMB.
Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? Yep, if you’re keen to enter select races and feed the machine.
Unfortunately, what I think this really does is two things.
- It could potentially have a huge impact on those people wishing to enter via the lottery – as in piss all over their parade. What if this new system becomes so successful that 1,500 people all qualify for UTMB in 2020 via finishing these three races, leaving just 1,000 places for the lottery? Have the organisers thought this through? You’d like to think so, and the relevant modeling has been done. But the reality is they probably want this to happen more on this below.
- Offering what is in effect 18 points to finishers of three select races completely devalues the UTMB lottery and the points system for that. The organisers of UTMB are effectively pushing as many people as possible to three races of their choosing. They have a sold out product in UTMB. But to be frank, it makes a mockery of what is really a ‘choose your own adventure’ points system. It creates an elitist route into UTMB.
What could happen here is quite ironically, fewer French nationals lining up for UTMB and more from China and the Middle-East (awesome for those runners for sure), along with those who can afford to travel these places to gather their points i.e. It’s an elitist system.
Of course, one might suggest that UTMB is aiming to drive up participation from overseas competitors so that ‘everyone from around the world can enjoy the UTMB experience’… or perhaps it might be that the average dollar spend in Chamonix from overseas competitors is far higher than those local to UTMB… hey, call me a cynic 🙂
But hey, as mentioned, it’s their race, their system, they can do what they like. They can tinker with it until the business model works right for them. And that’s fair enough. But this is important. It’s changing the dynamics of trail running and 100 milers. Some may argue for the better. Others like me, look at it all and think it’s all just a little bit overly complicated and overly focused on (blatantly) maximising revenue. All races are equal, except ones of their choosing.
As runners we have a choice. You can choose to play the system or you can choose not to. For us, here in Australia and New Zealand, there are over 100 ultras in which you can run. We have races harder than UTMB. GSER 100, Northburn 100 and Alpine 100 if toughness is what you’re looking for. We have races to match some of the most scenic and best run anywhere in the world too – Great Ocean Walk 100, Kepler, The Old Ghost Road and Cradle Mountain.
Yes, it’s wonderful to experience new countries and races. But consider what’s in your own backyard too and work out what ‘experience’ means for you.