Mountain, Ultra, Trail and Skyrunning Review of 2017

As a year comes to a close, I always like to look back and consider the highlights of the year, not only personal highlights but global highlights of the running world.

It is a daunting task at times.

The running year is now so full that it can be difficult to remember what happened just weeks ago, never mind months ago. So, with this in mind, please consider that this article is my thoughts and not a definitive highlight of 2017.

Having said that, I am going to make some huge mistakes and I am going to miss some key people, races and performances.

I welcome you, the reader, reminding me of what they are – please, just be nice!

So, let us look at 2017.

I was considering going through chronologically and in all honesty, it may have been the better solution to the task at hand, however, I have just gone on impulse! 

Western States was won by Ryan Sandes and I have to say, it was a sweet victory for the South African who over the years I have considered a great friend. Ryan was my first ever interview on Talk Ultra podcast and I love his story. The non-runner who became a runner who eventually won Western States. It’s a dream story. While on the subject of Western, we also need to mention the ladies champ, Cat Bradley. While all the top contenders faded, Cat ran a sound and solid race to take the biggest win of her life. It was no one-off, something she has proven recently by setting a FKT in the Grand Canyon – Rim – to – Rim – to – Rim fastest known time in 7:52:20

Francois D’Haene racing in China, April 2017

Francois D’Haene is the best 100-mile mountain runner in the world – end of the story. The dude has been nailing it for years and when Rob Krar won 3 100’s in one year, so did Francois. The Frenchman has consistently dominated the distance and when the trail has vertical, he is almost unbeatable. In 2017, he elevated himself to a new level firstly beating the ‘unbeatable’ Kilian Jornet at UTMB and then setting (obliterating) the FKT for the John Muir Trail. He also ripped MIUT (Madeira Island Ultra Trail) apart, and the previous CR set by Zach Miller. Without doubt, Francois is the male ultra-runner of the year in my eyes. We just need to see him at Hardrock 100 now!

Andrea Huser blows my mind constantly. She is the most impressive and consistent runner in the ultra-world and I often ask the question, if she raced less, would she win more? She has a string of top results but often has missed the big win. But when you race as much as she does, you can’t help but just nod in respect.

Caroline Chaverot was unbeatable in 2016 and 2017 started with some issues, issues that she has battled with throughout 2017. Despite this, she won Hardrock 100. It was a great victory and not one without controversy… she left her bleeding pacer on the trail for others to help. Just recently she rounded out her year with a win at Saint E Lyon in France – the classic November night race.

Ida Nilsson and Tim Freriks kicked off their seasons with victory at Transvulcania. Ida’s win was to be expected, but Tim’s win was a revelation. The ‘cowboy’ then went on to set a FKT in the Grand Canyon. Ida continued her great running throughout 2017 and then the duo turned up at San Francisco 50 and both won again – they topped and tailed the year and we can expect big things in 2018!

Jim Walmsley and the PR machine in many ways signified a new era in the sport of ultra-running and not all for the better in my opinion. The hype around the 2017 Western States before the race pretty much had Jim with his buckle, the Cougar and a new CR. The reality was very different. Jim then went to UTMB and showed signs of learning the craft. He watched Francois and Kilian and paced his day. It eventually went wrong but he rallied and closed out strong. A definitive moment for Jim and I was well aware that this would be a turning point for his 100-mile future. He then confirmed he would run on Reunion Island at Raid de la Reunion! While I can admire the decision, for me, it was always going to be a questionable decision in regard to his ‘professional’ development. But I am being judgmental and I hope not in a negative way. I ‘get’ that Jim wanted to run on the island but the step-up from UTMB was huge and despite leading the race, he eventually dropped around the 100km mark. It has been a huge learning year for the fast man and I still hold true that up to 100km, the guy is pretty much un-matched. I am looking forward to seeing him nail 100-miles in 2018 (maybe 2019) and when he does, watch out, it will almost certainly be super-fast and mind blowing. 

Kilian Jornet pretty much was missing from the mountain, ultra and trail calendar for the past 18-months and rightly so. He had set targets on the final summit of his Summits of my Life – Everest. A failed attempt in previous year and then Nepal earthquakes had put things on hold. No bad thing. Kilian learned, progressed and then finally summited Everest twice in one week which blew the minds of the whole world. Of course, anything so amazing has questions raised over it and rightly so. Just recently an article appeared and Kilian responded. Read HERE. More will come to light in regard to Everest and ultimately one has to assume the Everest film will answer all questions. Post Everest, Kilian started running again and won a super-fast Sierre Zinal, he won Hardrock 100 with a dislocated shoulder, placed 2nd behind Francois at UTMB and won Glen Coe Skyline. In the winter, he has had operations on his shoulders and now is in recovery and waiting to get back into the SkiMo season. Kilian has nothing to prove in my eyes. What does 2018 hold? Who knows really, ultimately, Kilian is at the top of his game and he will go where his heart takes him… expect a Zegama appearance, a Hardrock appearance, maybe the Bob Graham will be on the cards and maybe he will be back in Scotland for Glen Coe. Who knows? Whatever the path, he will inspire.

Camille Herron won Comrades, wow, it is the holy grail of road ultra-running. She then followed with a DNF at Western States and Leadville and I, and others, was left wondering what had happened. Oh, my word has she put the record straight. In recent weeks Camille has set a 100-mile world record 12:42:39, a 100km USA track record 7:36:39 at Desert Solstice and then went on to run for 12-hours and set a 12hr All-Surface World Record 92.708 miles. She is the new Ann Trason and arguably, she will be in for a shout as ultra-runner of the year.

Courtney Dewaulter can push Camille close. This lady won Run Rabbit Run (again) this time losing her vision in the final 10km. She then went on to win Moab 200 (actually 238-miles) outright and then recently ran 250.079km / 155.391 miles in 24-hours setting an American record. Wow!

Nuria Picas came out of the wilderness of 2016 and quite rightly, finally won UTMB. Nuria was unstoppable for many years but the big loop around Chamonix had eluded her, I firmly believe she can consider her career complete with this win!

The UK’s Dan Lawson flew around the Gobi Desert to win with a new CR at the 400km Ultra Gobi. Dan is the UK’s hottest prospect at the long game, particularly when you consider past runs on the Grand Union Canal and 2nd at the iconic Spartathlon.

Marco De Gasperi pioneered the way for Skyrunning on Monte Rosa in the early 90’s and has had incredible journey as one of the most respected mountain runners in the world. Finally, in 2017, Marco became the Skyrunner World Series (SWS) champion after an incredible season of consistent running and podium places – a true inspiration.

Maite Maiora moved up several notches in 2017 and was a dominant force on the Skyrunning circuit with a string of victories and podium places. 2017 was her year in the sky! But let us not forget Ragna Debats, she had an amazing full season and triumphed over multiple distances in addition to a great run at the IAU World Trail Champs. Also, Sheila Aviles came of age… a name to watch in future years! For the guys, keep an eye on Jan Maragarit.

UTMB had arguably the greatest male line-up of elite runners ever and it turned out to be great show down and we saw the confirmation that US runners are getting UTMB. Tim Tollefson was again flying the flag with a 3rd place. It is only a matter of time until we see an American win the big dance around France, Italy and Switzerland – will it be 2018? It could well be if Francois d’Haene and Kilian Jornet don’t run.

Hillary Allen has represented the USA in Europe for a couple of years now and once again she was doing so in 2017. However, it all fell apart, before my eyes, at Tromso SkyRace in Norway. She fell many meters, bounced on the rocks below and came away with some serious injuries. Thankfully, the recovery process has gone well and I wish Hillary well for 2018.

Ruth Croft has been in the mix for some time and I think it is fair to say that her victory at ‘Templiers’ in France recently has elevated to the New Zealander to a new level for the coming year… what does 2018 hold for this lady?

2017 most certainly has been a FKT year – Iker Karrera, Darcy Piceu, Francois d’Haene, Tim Freriks, Cat Bradley, Alicia Vargo, Rickey Gates and so many more have all taken the Fastest Known Time discipline to new heights but I wonder if ‘Stringbean’s’ FKT on the Appalachian Trail is the one that should have had more press and coverage? He soloed the AT quicker than Karl Meltzer and Scott Jurek and without help, but, relatively slipped under most radars. Read here.

Jeff Browning crushed the 100-mile distance in 2016 and did so again in 2017, he is a great ambassador for the sport.

Luis Alberto Hernando is for me, arguably one of the most talented runners in the world. But he is a quiet guy who in many ways, keeps himself to himself. He races hard and crushes the competition. In 2017, he once again became IAU World Trail Champion on a course that he, and many others said, didn’t suit him. The guy is pure class!

The UK’s Damian Hall came to running late in life (not that he is old) but he has slowly and surely chipped his way through the ultra-ranks and this year just missed the top-10 at UTMB – an incredible result.

Tom Evans broke on the scene by placing 3rd at MDS Morocco and in the process set a new benchmark for UK based runners to aim for. He followed this up with some other solid results in 2017 and I, like many others, wonder what 2018 holds in store.

Rickey Gates ran across America. Nuff said! Read here.

Ueli Steck, the Swiss Machine, died on the mountains and left the mountain world devastated by his passing. Here.

Alex Honold free soloed El Cap in arguably one of the most awe-inspiring and risky climbs in the history of the sport. It is quite literally, off the scale and beyond comprehension. I know it’s not running but it is without doubt worth a mention! Here.

The infamous Barkley once again served up another serving of spine tingling history with John Kelly finishing and Canada’s Gary Robbins left wiped out on the floor in tears. You can’t make stories like this up.

Gary Cantrell (Lazarus Lake of Barkley fame) organised a race that went through his garden, The Big Backyard Ultra. Every 60-minutes, runners set off on a loop. During the night, the loop changed. The principal was simple, you keep going till one man or woman is left Standing. Well, Guiiiaume Calmettes was that man in 2017 running 245.835 pipping Harvey Lewis. 

Rachid Elmorabity once again won Marathon des Sables in Morocco proving that he is the greatest multi-day desert runner in the world at the moment. Elisabet Barnes, 2015 MDS champion once again returned to the sand pit after missing victory in 2016 and was unstoppable with a dominant and impressive force of sand running.

MDS Peru followed on the 32-year traditions of its Moroccan big brother with the first edition in Peru’s Ica Desert. This was the first time any event was allowed permission to take place in this amazing National Park. It was great first event with Morocco’s Rachid Elmorabity and France’s Nathalie Mauclair taking the top honours.

Michael Wardian did what he always does, run and run and run throughout 2017. But he kicked off the year with a world record running 7-marathons on 7-continents in 7-days. The guy just continues to impress.

Best shoes of 2017? Well, this is well and truly a can of worms and I can only answer from a personal perspective. The Nike Air Zoom Wildhorse 4 here blew my socks off and is now my favourite day-to-day trail running shoe. For when it gets technical, gnarly, muddy and I need an aggressive shoe, the VJ Sport iRock2 here has set a new benchmark for me in regard to grip.

Best clothing? inov-8 have continued to impress me with not only excellent run shoes but appeared to match. They now have a really specific line of products (including packs) that make them an excellent one-stop shop for anything that you would need for a messy and muddy 5km fell run to the tough and challenging 100+ mile UTMB.

Best moment of 2017? That is a serious toughie but maybe Ryan Sandes finally taking that WSER top slot. I know how much he wanted it and he didn’t have an easy journey obtaining it. Huge respect! But hey, I have been inspired by so many in 2017.

On a personal note to conclude:

For me, I started travelling in January and I stopped in December. Yes, I have been on the road for 12-months and I consider myself to be truly blessed for the opportunities I have had to follow my dreams and make a living from it. I never take it for granted! While I could go into the details of each trip, I won’t. Every race is documented in words and images on this website and my social channels and you can find out about them should you so wish.

INSTAGRAM here

TWITTER here

FACEBOOK PHOTOGRAPHY here FACEBOOK TALK ULTRA here

PHOTOGRAPHY WEBSITE here IMAGE SALES here

Don’t forget Talk Ultra Podcast which has documented this sport HERE

BUT, and this is a huge BUT. My passion, and my work calendar comes at a price. I have a son, a family and an amazing partner, Niandi. They have all been neglected in 2017 with my travel and race coverage. It’s a dilemma and one that keeps me awake. I struggle for answers but I want to say THANK YOU for the support to all those people who mean the world to me, you know who you are.

 

Everest Trail Race by The Elements Pure Coconut Water #ETR2017 – STAGE 5 PHAKDING to TENGBOCHE

Day 5 #ETR2017

Many say that the 16km route from Phakding to Tengboche is one of the most beautiful trails in the world. The view of the Himalayan peaks is beyond mind blowing. Especially when you arrive at the monastery and Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam await. It’s quite the picture postcard and the perfect finish line for the ETR.

However, to take in this spectacle a journey of 20km and 2124m of positive incline waits. It doesn’t sound too much does it? However, many runners crossed the line saying, ‘that was a seriously tough day!’

Departing Phakding (2700m), Namche Bazar (3600m) is the first port of call then Kumjung and Cp2 and Phungi Tenga (3300m) before the tough and steep ascent to Tengboche at 3900m.

Today was all about Luis Alberto Hernando and Suman Kulung. On past days, it was expected that Luis Alberto would have an advantage with the uphill tough finish. This proved to be true!

Luis Alberto won days 1 and 2, Suman days 3 and 4 and now the Spaniard takes day 5 and an invaluable 1-minute 57-seconds to extend his overall lead by 6-minutes 23-seconds. He is going to need all that time on the last day which will suit the Nepali runner as much of it is downhill! It is going to be an epic battle to the finish line.

As in previous days, Sondre Amdahl and Jordi Gamito were once again consistent placing 3rd and 4th.

For the ladies, it was expected that maybe Ester Alves would steal some time back today on Nepali, Chhechee Sherpa. It was not to be. As the days have progressed, Chhechee has got stronger and despite not climbing to expectation on day 2, today she pushed on the final climb to finish ahead of Ester by 6-minutes 53-seconds. The Nepali runner now has an overall lead of 12-minutes 22-seconds and it will take a disastrous last day for her not to be the 2017 ETR champion.

Ester had a solid day but had no extra energy to fight Chhechee and Elisabet Barnes safe in 3rd took a more relaxed approach to the penultimate day safe in the knowledge that 2nd was unattainable this late in the race and secure that the 4th lady could not catch her.

The finish line at Tengboche is arguably one of THE most amazing finishing lines of any race and this was reflected in some of the emotions shown as runners crossed the line today.

Tomorrow is the final day of the ETR 2017 and the runners run back to Lukla via Namche Bazaar.

 

Results top-3 

  1. Luis Alberto Hernando 2:33:47
  2. Suman Kulung 2:35:44
  3. Sondre Amdahl 3:00:34

 

  1. Chhechee Sherpa 3:50:26
  2. Ester Alves 3:57:19
  3. Elisabet Barnes 4:08:42

 

Everest Trail Race by The Elements Pure Coconut Water #ETR2017 – STAGE 4 KHARIKOLA to PHAKDING

©iancorless.com_ETR2017-01090

Day 4 #ETR2014

Kharikola to Phakding is very much a transition stage. The first 3-days have been quiet with the occasional glimpse of life but now the runners are on the motorway of Nepal. Porters are transporting all manner of goods from food and drink to 8’x4’ sheets of wood and even fridges! In and amongst this frenetic relay of goods are mule and yak trains and a plethora of tourists moving up and down the trails.

The diversity is incredible. Children play, parents work and the runners navigate a way through this section to finish at what many consider to be the gateway to Everest, Phakding.

Leaving the sleepy monastery of Kharikola, 29.5 km’s awaited the runners and after a short and twisting technical descent, a vertical kilometre of elevation to CP1 (Kari La) provided a great way to start the day and brush off the cobwebs. The descent to Surke (Cp2) is a 17km ankle twisting and knee swelling series of switchbacks of technical trail. But there is no rest, more climbing, more technical trails and finally the wire bridge at Monjo offers the ETR finish line.

It may come as no surprise that Suman Kulung and Luis Alberto Hernando dictated the pace from the start and arrived at Cp1 in less than 1-hour, Suman with a slender lead over the Spaniard.  It was a ridiculous time considering the technicality and elevation of the course. Sondre Amdahl was holding his ground but the writing was already on the wall. The Nepali runner was pushing hard and making Luis Alberto chase hard to retain his overall lead. It was a brave effort by both runners. At the line, Suman took the victory in 3:15:23 a 3+ min margin making the final 2-days of the 2017 ETR very exciting with it all to fight for between the Nepali and the Spaniard. Luis Alberto finished in 3:18:52 and still holds the number 1 slot on GC but it is close, really close! Sondre finished 3rd in 3:42:34 and Jordi Gamito 4th in 3:51:14

Chhechee Sherpa is one seriously impressive lady! She has a look of focus and determination that is softened by a smile. After a slow start in the 2017 ETR, this Nepali lady has been a force to reckon with. Once again, she was first to CP1 with a strong lead over Ester Alves who was chasing hard and then Elisabet Barnes who was further back. As the day unfolded though, Chhechee slowed. Firstly, Elisabet caught Ester and then the duo closed on Chhechee. For once, the first 3 ladies were separated by minutes and it remained that way all the way to the line. The Nepali crossed the line first in 4:45:04 and just 34-seconds later Ester crossed with Elisabet just 22-seconds later – that is a close and hard-fought race! The overall GC remains with Chhechee 1st, Ester 2nd and Elisabet 3rd – this is unlikely to change over the following 2-days.

Tomorrow, stage-5 is a short day of just 20km’s and 2124m of vertical gain. It culminates at the monastery at Tengboche with Everest, Lhotse and Ama Dablam providing arguably the most impressive finish line of any race!

Results top-3

  1. Suman Kulung 3:15:23
  2. Luis Alberto Hernando 3:18:52
  3. Sondre Amdahl 3:42:34

 

  1. Chhechee Sherpa 4:45:04
  2. Ester Alves 4:45:38
  3. Elisabet Barnes 4:46:00

 

Everest Trail Race by The Elements Pure Coconut Water #ETR2017 – STAGE 3 JASE BHANJYANG to KHARIKOLA

Day 3 #ETR2017

After yesterday relentless uphill struggle today, day-3 of the Everest Trail Race was all downhill, well, sort of. Starting in Jase Bhanjyang runners passed through Jumbesi, Phurteng, Salung, Taksindu and then from Jubhing the race finishes with a tough climb to the stunning monastery at Kharikola. At 37.4km in length the total descent is a quad busting 4110m in contrast to 2512m of ascent.

Many thought today would be an easier day, however, for those in the know… although descending may be a little kinder on the lungs, descending 4000m+ on tired legs is no easy task. Especially when the terrain has added technicality and steepness.

Suman Kulung and Luis Alberto Hernando led from the front once again and the stage looked all set for an epic battle. Suman a super-fast descender, has Luis Alberto worried before the start. He knew it was going to be tough. Over the early miles they ran together but eventually the Nepali runner broke the elastic and the Spaniard was left pursuing. Although a gap opened, Luis Alberto did an incredible job of holding Suman and then with a tough and relentless final climb, he closed to reduce his losses and still retain the lead. Suman crossed in 3:47:27 and Luis Alberto 3:55:58.

In third place, Sondre Amdahl and Jordi Gamito run together, Sondre using Jordi’s descending ability as a guide to help him down the trails. On the final climb, they stayed together and crossed the line 1-second apart, Sondre remaining 3rd overall.

Chhechee Sherpa, like her male counterpart has an incredible reputation for running downhill. She put this to great use on day 2 basically opening a gap from the moment the race day started all the way to the line. Despite Ester Alves’ incredible mountain experience, she couldn’t match the Nepali runner, Ester crossed the line in 6:03:36, an incredible 36-minutes slower than Chhechee who crossed in 5:27:27.

Elisabet Barnes is not known for her downhill ability and today it tested her to the max, so much so, it opened the doorway for Rebecca Ferry to take 3rd on the stage in 6:28:19 and Elisabet crossing in 6:40:35. However, Rebecca did start in the 0700 wave when she was listed to start in the 0800 wave, therefore, Elisabet was unaware of Rebecca’s position when running. Elisabet still retained her 3rd overall position and now Chhechee has the overall lead just ahead of Ester by 4-minutes 45-seconds

The trails and route for the ETR from Kharikola to Tyangboche and back to Lukla are now on the main trekking routes and in addition to this it is the main transport route for all supplies. Porters, mules and yaks are like cars on a motorway as they move up and down the trail carrying loads that are often beyond comprehension. It’s amazing to see life unfold and I for one feel very privileged for the opportunity to see it and record it in images and memories.

Results top-3

  1. Suman Kulung 3:47:27
  2. Luis Alberto Hernando 3:55:58
  3. Jordi Gamito/ Sondre Amdahl 4:20:39

 

  1. Chhechee Sherpa 5:27:27
  2. Ester Alves 6:03:36
  3. Rebecca Ferry 6:28:19
  4. Elisabet Barnes 6:40:35

I will attempt to upload image gallery asap

Everest Trail Race by The Elements Pure Coconut Water #ETR2017 – STAGE 2 BHANDAR to JASE BHANJYANG

Day 2 #ETR2017

Starting in Bhandar runners have the pleasure of running downhill along some twisting and technical trail before crossing a suspension bridge that stretches over Kinja Khola River. What follows is a lung busting and leg-sapping climb to Golla at just over 3000m. A little respite and then climbing starts again firstly to Ngaur and then onward to the highest point of the ETR; Pikey Peak at 4063m. From the summit at Pikey Peak an amazing Himalayan vista awaited but the runners had to work for it… really work for it! Dropping down a tough technical descent for several kilometres, a tough short climb is the sting in the tail to the arrival at Jase Bhanjyang at 3600m.

Day 2 of the Everest Trail Race is the toughest of the race: fact! It’s a brutal exercise in climbing and one that takes place at attitude stretching each and every participant to the limit. However, despite its severity, today, Luis Alberto Hernando dare I say, made it look it easy! He smashed the old course record and in the process set a new time of 3:35.

It’s difficult to comprehend how the Spaniard climbed to Pikey Peak and climbed 2700m in the time that he did. He arrived at the summit in 3:10 and then flew down the final technical descent and climbed to the finish line in 25-minutes – incredible!

It wasn’t all Luis’s day though, in the early stages he was pushed by Sondre Amdahl. The duo traded the lead over the early climbing and Nepali Suman Kulung tried to hold the pace but the other two were too strong.

Eventually Luis made his move and Sondre new that he could not match the pace, but he arrived 2nd at the summit less than 10-minutes behind. Suman arrived 3rd and then used his incredible downhill ability to not only catch Sondre but pass him, finished 2nd and Sondre was 3rd. Jordi Gamito once again placed 4th, he is running a strong race but just doesn’t have the pace or the form of the top-3.

In the ladies’ race. Ester Alves used her mountain experience and climbing to forge ahead but the Portuguese lady didn’t open up the possible huge gap many had expected. At the Pikey Peak summit, she had only a handful of minutes over Elisabet Barnes. Elisabet the two time MDS champ is not known for her mountain ability but in 2017 she has honed her skills and in particular, she has trained a great deal at altitude.

On the technical descent, Ester extended her lead, her technical running ability is still better than Elisabet’s but the gap is closing. Post-race, Elisabet said, ‘I am really happy with my race, I climbed really well, handled the altitude and after 3400m I was really strong, the training paid off!’

Chhechhee Sherpa was the 3rd lady and I guess somewhat surprisingly couldn’t match Ester and Elisabet on the climb – unusual for a Nepal native. However, she ran a strong race for 3rd with the UK’s Becks Ferry placing 4th.

It was a tough day with many runners coming close to the cut-off time. Eight runners were forced to take the short cut route and avoid Pikey Peak and as the day comes to a close, it looks like we may have one runner who will not make the cut-off.

Results top-3

  1. Luis Alberto Hernando 3:35:14
  2. Suman Kulung 3:49:25
  3. Sondre Amdahl 3:53:04

 

  1. Ester Alves 5:21:07
  2. Elisabet Barnes 5:33:57
  3. Chhechhee Sherpa 5:41:48

 

Day 3 Jase Bhanjyang – Karikola

A brutal day that is a stark opposite to day-2, at 37.4km it has more descending (4110m) than ascending (2512m).

Starting in Jase Bhanjyang runners will pass through Jumbesi, Phurteng, Salung, Taksindu and then from Jubhing the race finishes with a tough climb to the stunning monastery at Kharikola.