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24 ultra running storylines to watch in 2024


What will 2023 UTMB champions Jim Walmsley and Courtney Dauwalter do for an encore in 2024?

By Henry Howard

 

As we set aside our running calendars for 2023 and open blank ones for the new year, it’s a good time to also look ahead to some of the top storylines ahead. I did a similar post a year ago, which included some poignant takes. Among them:

 

• "As the UTMB-Ironman collaboration extends its reach further, the impact will continue to be felt by runners, race directors, other brands and more."

 

• "What will Courtney Dauwalter do next?" with references to Western States and Hardrock.

 

• "Is this — finally — the year for an American male to win UTMB? ... (Jim) Walmsley has firmly committed himself to winning the race. Will this be the year for him?"

 

There were plenty of memorable moments in ultra running throughout 2023. Who knows exactly what 2024 will bring? But looking ahead, here are 24 storylines in trail and ultra running to monitor during 2024:


What are the stories to watch in ultra running in 2024?

Top running storylines to watch in 2024

 

1. Will UTMB continue its shenanigans? The UTMB-Ironman collaboration expanded its reach further, staging a coup of Gary Robbins’ Whistler Alpine Meadows race. Paying little attention to the outrage expressed by those in the North American trail and ultra running community, UTMB then fired beloved and talented race commentator Corrine Malcolm. Will UTMB continue its corporate-driven quest for expansion at any cost? Or will it signify a willingness to work with other well-known races as it has with the Speedgoat 50K?


2. What’s the fallout from UTMB’s moves? Already, there are indications that American elites are looking for non-UTMB races. A late December post on Instagram from Zach Miller captures the sentiments perfectly. It read in part, “I don’t think we should have to sacrifice our morals, and the well being of our sport to find that (highly competitive race). The question isn’t if it’s wrong. The question is, is it good? is it kind?, is it helpful?”


3. Will the new World Trail Majors succeed? It will be interesting to see which elites gravitate toward the new collection of “bucket list” races. The series promises memorable adventures for both amateur and professional runners. The timing of the announcement for the joint venture surely was aimed at taking advantage of UTMB’s missteps. In 2024, we’ll get a good look at whether the World Trail Majors will become popular or begin to fade away.


With nothing to prove at Hardrock, will Courtney Dauwalter return again?

4. What will Courtney Dauwalter do next? This is literally the same question I asked a year ago. After succeeding in her Western States-Hardrock-UTMB triple, what’s next for the uber talented ultra runner? Right now, she is signed up for Hardrock once again. But she has nothing to prove there. Here’s what I would like to see: Dauwalter take a shot at the course record at her hometown race, the Leadville 100. The current record for women was set by Ann Trason in 1994 with a time of 18:06:24.

 

5. Will Jim Walmsley triumph again at Western States? The course record holder is slated to return this year after achieving his goal of winning UTMB. Walmsley will likely enter as the favorite. However, the field will be packed with speedy challengers. On the current start list are top 10 finishers from 2023 including Tyler Green, who also took second place in 2021; Anthony Costales; Jiasheng Shen; Daniel Jones; Ryan Montgomery; Janosch Kowalczyk; Cole Watson and Jeffrey Colt.


6. How will American women fare at Western States? Last year, I asked a similar question after non-American women dominated the 2022 top 10 at Western. In 2023, more Americans finished in the top 10, led by Courtney Dauwalter’s victory. Top Americans entered in the 2024 race include Devon Yanko, Leah Yingling, Kaci Lickteig, Katie Asmuth and Heather Jackson.


7. Will Western States change its qualification rules? It’s no secret among ultra runners just how hard it is to get into Western States. A record 9,388 runners applied for the lottery for the 2024 race. The 4,434 applicants with one ticket were more than all those in the lottery in 2017 and every year previously.


Candice Burt has normalized 200-mile races, and now she is planning a 300-mile event.

8. How much more will 200-mile races grow? Driven by Candice Burt’s Triple Crown of 200s, there are more races of that distance popping up. Most noticeably is the Cocodona 250. But there are others sprouting up across the United States. They are certainly growing in popularity, which raises another question …


9. How soon until the Vol State 500 gets company? The race across Tennessee has been around for decades, at least 30 years. Candice Burt is already planning a 310-mile race in Arizona for 2025. It shouldn’t be too much longer until we see even more races (outside of last person standing events, stage race and multi-day track competitions) of 300, 400 or even 500 miles growing in number.


10. Will UTMB disenchantment lead to a resurgence in old-school races? My answer: Yes. Ultra runners thrive on the community. And nowhere is that more evident than at small, old-school races that offer little in the sense of glitz but so much in the way of positive vibes.


11. Will the Barkley Marathons eat its young once again? In 2023, three men finished the Barkley Marathons. Not only was that most ever in one year, they were the first to complete the five loops since 2017. Will the course rebound and post a shutout? Or will this be the year when a woman finally conquers Barkley?


12. What’s the next evolution in live coverage of races? Thanks to iRunFar, Aravapia Running and others, the coverage of remote trail races has improved significantly in the past few years. The use of drones and commentators have brought the coverage closer to the modern age of live sports feeds. Personally, I can’t wait to see what’s next.


13. What will the changing face of trail and ultra media look like? When I first got hooked on the sport, Ultra Running Podcast was where I learned a lot. Unfortunately, it has been sunsetted while others like Finn Melanson’s Singletrack and Joe Corcione’s Everyday Ultra have gained traction. And the standbys for the written word — iRunFar, Ultrarunning Magazine and Trail Runner Magazine — face their own challenges but are still pumping out informative content.


14.  Which new big-dollar sponsors will enter the arena? UTMB Mont-Blanc was sponsored by Dacia, a European car maker. And the Hong Kong 100K in January will have Anta Sports as its title sponsor.


15. Who will be the breakout runners in 2024? Among the up-and-coming runners who I will be watching this year — and likely beyond — are Charlie Lawrence, who set the 50-mile world record at Tunnel Hill. On the women’s side, I’ll be keeping tabs on Priscilla Forgie, who took second at the Canyons 100K and eighth place at Western States.



How will Adam Peterman return to racing after a long injury?

16.  Can injured elites successfully return? I’ll focus on two that have been beset by longtime injuries after successful 2022 seasons. Adam Peterman burst on to the scene at his first ultra, the Speedgoat 50K in 2021, then proceeded to click off impressive victory after impressive victory. He won JFK 50 in November 2021, Chuckanut 50K in March 2022, and then the 100K Canyons Endurance Run a month later, followed by victories at Western States and UTMB Thailand. An injury sidelined him for pretty much all of 2023. But he’s back and looking at returning to competitive racing, as he told me in this exclusive interview. Jazmine Lowther won the Canyons 100K in April 2022 and then took fourth at CCC that August. Last year was essentially wiped out, other than a runner-up finish in February at the Transgrancanaria – 128K. But it appears Lowther is back to training.


17. What role will science play in performance gains? Science is always developing and providing new insight into factors that could improve athletes’ performance. Studies are released seemingly daily that give runners, coaches and others new information to ponder, try out and see what works. And more athletes are taking a close look at how their nutrition, training and rest all affect their health. (For me, I use InsideTracker to get a thorough understanding of how those elements are impacting my health. I highly recommend trying it out, if you haven’t already. Get at least a 20 percent discount off any InsideTracker test at my special page.)


18.  What new nutrition trends will become popular? Athletes are always looking for an edge and companies are happy to comply with nutrition products that promise going faster and longer. Thank goodness Maurten’s sodium bicarbonate didn’t catch on. Fun fact: It’s baking soda.


19.  Will there be more advances in inclusivity and diversity? Efforts to diversify the sport are starting to create necessary change. That is in large part a credit to athletes like nonbinary runner Riley Brady, Coree Woltering and Ryan Montgomery. Through their actions and race performances, they have brought more attention to the LGBQT community. But one thing is for certain: more work needs to be done to fully embrace inclusivity and diversity throughout the sport.


Stefanie Flippin is among the 10 women in lululemon's FURTHER movement.

20. What’s next for lululemon? The brand made its foray into ultra running in 2023, announcing its new initiative, FURTHER, which celebrates human possibility and demonstrates how far women can go when they’re supported with resources and product innovations typically reserved for men. The initiative will be on full display on International Women’s Day, March 8, when a group of 10 women compete in various ultra marathon distances. Among the women will be Camille Herron, Devon Yanko, Leah Yingling and Stefanie Flippin. 


21. Will severe weather impact more races? Climate change is real and we are experiencing it in real time. Will the changes in our weather system create more extreme challenges on race day, or affect courses and trail conditions that will affect races? If not in 2024, it won’t be too much longer until trail and ultra runners are experiencing these outcomes more regularly.

 

22. What records will fall? We’ve seen record after record fall in recent years. And not just in races featuring Courtney Dauwalter. Take 80-year-old Wally Hesseltine, for example.  Hesseltine finished the Tunnel Hill 100-mile run in 26 hours and 22 minutes, shattering the age group record for 100 miles. And who can forget Candice Burt’s 200 consecutive days running a 50K or longer? 

 

23. Will PED testing and/or usage increase? With more money and attention coming into the sport, so too will the pressure on athletes to perform well. Science can provide the answers to stronger performance, quicker recovery, fewer injuries. Some solutions are fair game, others are in violation of the governing rules. It would not be surprising to see more testing at high-profile races and, with it, athletes who face doping allegations.

 

24. Will consolidation become a theme? We’ll conclude along the same lines of where this post started, UTMB. As the monolithic race organization plots its future, will it look to add other races into its fold? Or will other smaller races, perhaps facing their own struggles, look to sell off to mid-tier race companies? Let us hope, for the good of the sport, that this doesn’t turn into a race company version of Last Person Standing.

 

What intriguing storylines are you following or are most interested in? Leave a comment on any of my posts or shoot me an email.

 



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