Analysis: Impact of the World Trail Majors
By Henry Howard
While there really is no off-season for trail and ultra running, for many athletes this time of the year represents a slowdown.
But just a few weeks after the news of the UTMB takeover of the Whistler race starting next September, another — perhaps more significant — announcement was made.
On Nov. 13, the World Trail Majors was born. It’s nine well-known ultra races coming together to form a union in support of one another. Their mission, according to the press release is to create “a diverse, respectful, sustainable and independent approach to trail and ultra racing.”
For more, read the press release and get iRunFar’s analysis here. There are also some podcasts featuring instant reaction such as Finn Melanson’s SingleTrack where he interviews Steve Brammar, co-race director of the Hong Kong 100; and a solo episode on Andy Jones-Wilkins’ Crack a Brew with AJW.
Here are my initial thoughts and questions:
1. This does not appear to be the championship many fans of the sport have wished for. The ranking system is still being worked out and the races span the globe, making it challenging to do even two a year. Jamil Coury, whose Black Canyon 100K will be among the races, compared it to the World Marathon Majors. It’s “similar to the World Marathon Majors — a collection of some of the best races, a bucket list of events.” That’s an interesting concept, encouraging runners to complete a lifetime goal. But how many have the resources for so many races requiring long travel? In the U.S., that’s eight international trips, as compared with three for the marathon majors.
2. Will this lead to a next step of teams being formed? If so, will they be based on geography, shoe sponsor, or some other criteria? I could see a team competition, which would address the issues related to geography. Imagine if international teams had athletes competing. Tom Evans representing a team at a race in Europe, while teammate Jim Walmsley does the honors in the United States at another race in the series.
3. It wasn’t that long ago when we were raging at UTMB for its role in replacing Gary Robbins’ race. This could be perfect timing to launch a collaborative effort to unite trail runners, not attempt a coup. As such, there’s a good chance that trail runners will flock to support this set of races.
4. What’s next? Will other races seek to create a similar approaching, uniting for the common good? How cool would it have a similar championship series for sub elites or even masters athletes in the U.S.? Think about top performers like Jeff Browning. He’s still competing at the top of competitive ultras. But aging is inevitable. And as Browning slows, a sub elite type series would be able to allow him to compete against other competitive fields.
5. Follow the money. It will be interesting to see who jumps at sponsoring this event. While a lot of the details still need to be refined, these are already races that are popular and well-respected. It will be interesting to see how sponsorship money plays a role.
6. This is, after all, a championship series of sorts. So how will testing for performance enhancers be handled? With more prestige and money at stake, there will be an increase in those pushing the limits and looking for every possible edge in performance gains.