With 18.000ft of climb and 22.000ft of downhill, the race has in the past been full of incredible stories – Ann Trason, Scott Jurek, Nikki Kimball, Ellie Greenwood and Timothy Olson to name just a few names from an incredible 40+ years of history.
Over the years, the course is often discussed around the heat that the canyons bring and if it will be a snow or no snow year.
Let’s be clear, the 2017 WSER is going to be a snow year but it is melting.
A little rain is never a great way to start a day, particularly when you have 55km of tough, challenging and mountain terrain to get over – the Ultra Skymarathon Madeira, the next race in the Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series started today at 0600 from the town of Santana.
Hillary Allen had flown in from USA and after placing 2nd last year was looking for some sun and the top rung on the podium. Obstacle racing world champion and Skyrunner Series World Champion for the Extreme distance Jon Albon, was looking for a little mud, colder temperatures and was more than happy with a little rain.
Weaving up and down mountains, around beaches, through dense undergrowth, up a riverbed and of course plenty of climbing and descending, the USM course is a unique one – It’s not an ordinary Skyrunning course!
The USM has a brutal start to the day, just 1km to warm up and then a climb of 1400m. Head torches illuminated the trail and light persistent rain followed the runners until they broke through the cloud – on the other side, blue skies and a different day.
A section of via ferrata at around 6km was followed by a little descending and a final push for the highest point of the day. Aurelien Dunand-Pallaz from France was the first to arrive and yes, it was somewhat of a surprise. He was closely followed by Russian Dimitry Mityaev and Jon Albon.
For the ladies, Hillary Allen was making her presence felt with a convincing lead of Ekaterina Mityaev and then Anna Frost followed some time later.
Descending over the summit, the cloud inversion was clearly visible – the landscape awe-inspiring. It was quite special to see so many mountains and trails all above the cloud.
Running the ridges and several more climbing sections, the front of the race didn’t change until they returned to the coast.
A descent to the sea was followed by a steep short climb and then another descent which was followed by a section of riverbed littered with boulders. Albon made his move, the obstacle course world champion was in his element and he pulled away from the Frenchman with ease. At first opening a slender gap but on the steep climb that followed, the Englishman who lives in Norway but the hammer down realizing a course record was possible. Albon crossed the line obliterating the old record of 6-hours 28-second setting a benchmark 5-hours 45-minutes.
Dunand-Pallaz held on for 2nd also breaking the old course record in 5-hours 55-minutes and Mityaev placed 3rd in 6-hours 7-minutes.
Allen’s wish came true – in the closing kilometers from the river bed, she extended her lead over the Russian and took top honors in 7-hours 4-minutes, her time just outside the course record.
Mityaev placed 2nd but looked exhausted and dehydrated when she crossed the line – a great weekend double for her! The previous day she had won the Santana Vertical Kilometer. Frost was expected next but news came in she had withdrawn on the beach section therefore opening the doorway for Catalan runner Eli Bertran. Mityaev and Bertran finished in 7-hours 34-minutes and 8-hours 35-minutes respectively.
‘USM is one of if not the hardest race I have ever done. It was relentless terrain of ups and downs, the variety is incredible and I loved the river bed section,” said Albon. ‘This race is up there with my all-time favourites. I will definitely be back!’
Attention now turns to Lugano next weekend were the Migu Run Skyrunner® World Series continues with the Scenic Trail K113.
Episode 132 of Talk Ultra and we talk ‘The Road To Sparta’ with Dean Karnazes. Mike Wardian tells us how difficult it is to cover 20-miles at Barkley and Janine Canham tells us about multi-day running, the Hong Kong run scene and the 9 Dragons race.
I am going solo this week. Karl is on the road and has been for sometime promoting his up and coming movie on his Appalachian Trail FKT (info HERE) and Niandi is busy with work…
So here I am, recording solo literally just before I jump on a plane and head for Morocco and the 32nd Marathon des Sables.
Just a little info on Niandi – the cam boot is off and slowly but surely she is moving around more. Pool sessions daily and strength work in the gym are all falling into place and we have set ourselves a little 3-day fast packing for early May as a target. Running may be a way off yet, this fracture was more serious than the one a year ago.
Me? Well, I had a weekend off work with Niandi in Paris which was pretty awesome and then I followed that with a trip to Norway to work as a stills photographer on a feature film. Something new for me and I loved it… I am a real fitm fan so to work behind the scenes with the crew and actors was just incredible. I will be back in Norway at the end of April for 2 more days on set
Talk Ultra is now on Tunein – just another way to make the show available for those who prefer not to use iTunes – HERE You can download the Tunein APP HERE
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Well the big news is all about a little race in Tennessee that usually nobody finishes. This year one person did, John Kelly. The 15th finisher. However, his incredible victory in many ways was overshadowed by what first looked like Gary Robbins missing the 60-hour cut-off by 6-seconds. The reality was, Gary had gone off course and navigated his way back to the yellow gate the wrong way – he would have been a DQ even had he been inside the 60-hour time. It all makes for a great story and you can read more HERE. However, lets celebrate John Kelly being the 15th finisher of what is arguably, the toughest race in the world.
If you need clarification on ‘toughest’ – I caught up with Mike Wardian who got lost on lap-1 and eventually finished the first 20-mile loop outside the 12-hour cut-off.
INTERVIEW with MIKE WARDIAN
Georgia Death Race
Avery Collins won the 74-mile race ahead of Kyle Boykin and in the process obtained a Western States slot. What has followed is a Tweet/ FB storm as Dave Mackey has called Collins out for smoking dope (a banned substance on WADA’s list). There has been much chatter with in the community and this will rumble on. Bob Shebest was 3rd.
Aliza Lapierre won the ladies race ahead of Jackie Merritt and Alondra Moody – 14:00, 14:24 and 14:58 respectively.
Kilian announced his year! Everest figures and an attempt at the Bob Graham Round.
Surprisingly, his run calendar is full, no doubt due to the run series that is currently a little under the radar…. Mont Blanc Marathon, Sierre Zinal, a return to a super stacked UTMB and of course Hardrock 100 and Ultra Pirineu figure. From a UK perspective, KJ will race at Glen Coe which is awesome news.
Jon Olsen and Gina Slaby took top honours running 154.58 and 142.38 miles respectively.
American River 50
Scott Trummer beat Zach Bitter by 13-mins 6:03 to 6:13 and Rich Hanna was 3rd. Vanessa Taylor was top lady ahead of Melissa Penwell and Kelly Cronin – 7:29, 7:37 and 8:26.
El Reventon Mountain Race
Aritz Egea is back taking a win ahead of Miguel Heras by 12-min – 3:48 to 4:00. Cristofer Clemente placed 3rd. Dominique Van Mechgelen won the ladies’ race in 5:09.
The racing scene in Hong Kong is growing and growing and I caught up with Brit, Janine Canham who has lived there for 25-years. She has witnessed the run scene grow and she tells us about her running, multi-day running and the recent 9 Dragons race.
INTERVIEW with JANINE CANHAM
Recently I was in Bulgaria with Dean Karnazes and it was just too much of an opportunity to pin him down and talk about his up and coming book The Road To Sparta which is currently being released worldwide and will be available in the UK from late April. Read more HERE
Please support Talk Ultra by becoming a Patron at www.patreon.com/talkultra and THANKS to all our Patrons who support us. Rand Haley and Simon Darmody get a mention on the show here for ‘Becoming 100k Runners’ with a high-tier Patronage.
Dean Karnazes got many a runner into ultra- running, me included. It was that initial story, that initial step that many could relate to:
“It was my 30th birthday and I was doing what anyone does on a 30th birthday – I was out drinking with friends. I had the car, the house and the high-powered job but I needed more. I left the party, went home to my garage, took out a pair of run shoes and ran a mile for every year. Off the bat, 30-miles and a new story began.”
I recently shared a stage with Dean in Bulgaria and had an opportunity to chat with him in-depth. A future episode of Talk Ultra Podcast will feature him and HERE is a teaser on IRUN4ULTRA.
Episode 126 of Talk Ultra is here, Happy New Year! – We have an interview with Stevie Kremer, we chat with Lindsey Topham about her movie, ‘The Trails Are Free’ and Sondre Amdahl tells us about racing in Hong Kong and how is preparation for The Coastal Challenge is going… Speedgoat is back too!
New Year and Talk Ultra needs your help!
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RUNNING BEYOND BOOK is travelling the world and of course I recommend it as a great Christmas present… we mentioned in the last show about Running Beyond Event which will take place 3, 4 and 5th March in London, plans are progressing for that… in addition, Niandi and myself will now be in Amsterdam on Feb 3rd, 4th and 5th for a Trails in Motion event and Running Beyond book signing with Mud Sweat and Trails and I will be also going to Sofia in Bulgaria on the 17th, 18th and 19th March for a trail, mountain and Skyrunning expo.
Across The Years – 24, 48, 72-hours and 6-Days
24: Kelly Agnew and Chavet Breslin ran 124 and 119-miles
48: Karen Bonnett Natraj and Alex Ramset ran 140 and 177-miles
72: Iso Yucra and Anne Lang ran 248 and 200-miles
6-Day: Ed Ettinghausen and Liz Bauer ran 451.4 and 418.9-miles
Ultra-Trail Tai Mo Shan
Gediminas Grinius and Andrea Huser won the 100-mile in 20:04 and 26:01.
Sondre Amdahl and Marie McNaughton won the 115km in 16:15 and 16:20
“TCC will be my main target for the winter/spring of 2017. I have had a couple of easy months after a DNS at the Tor des Géants (due to injury). I have had a good block of training in November, December, I raced at Ultra-Trail Tai Mo Shan in Hong Kong (115km) on New Year’s Eve which I won and then in January I will go to Gran Canaria to prepare for TCC.”
00:53:34 INTERVIEW with Sondre Amdahl
Read a preview of the 2017 The Coastal Challenge HERE
01:20:36 INTERVIEW with Stevie Kremer
02:12:14 INTERVIEW with Lindsey Topham about the film ‘The Trails Are Free’
The Trails are Free tells the story of how Boston based trail running club, the Trail Animals Running Club (TARC), promotes and preserves the culture of ultra running through a series of grassroots, community based races in the greater Boston area. The film captures the history of the club and how it has grown from a few members to over 4000 since its founding in the early 1990’s. From its start TARC has been more focused on camaraderie and community among runners than on competition and winning. The club’s motto “Leave No Animal Behind” exemplifies their welcoming spirit, as well as their humility, level playing field, and love for the outdoors. Trail Animals come from all walks of life and all abilities and there is no pecking order.
The club’s rapid growth has mirrored a nationwide trend in the sport in recent years. Where ultra running used to be considered an oddball sport, it is now the subject of many books and is gaining more mainstream coverage in film and on television. The threat of this community spirit becoming consumed by competition and commercialisation is becoming a realistic, legitimate concern.
In 2011 the club introduced the TARC Trail Series, a group of 10 trail races of varying distances, from 10K to 100 Miles. This film documents the ways these races have become a vehicle for preserving, promoting, and sharing the culture of the sport with new members. Race organisers keep race costs down by organising volunteers to mark courses, maintain trails, and provide support, provisions, and food for potluck-style aid stations. First place finishers win handmade trophies. There is no prize money.
“The Trails Are Free” was shot on location at various TARC races over the years. It is quintessentially New England. There is snow, mud, peepers, rocks, roots, and bright foliage.
The days are getting shorter and bad weather is just around the corner. Wet, wind, snow and ice are all part of the norm if you are going to keep training and racing outdoors through the months of November, December, January, February and if you (we) are lucky, the weather may start to improve with the arrival of March.
Getting outdoors when the days are dark and the weather is inclement can be difficult. But if you have the correct apparel, these days can actually provide some of the most inspiring experiences. Pretty sure you have heard the saying, ‘No such thing as bad weather, just bad equipment!’
Although this article is a review of two key items of apparel to keep you warm and dry while out on the trails or in the mountains. I should clarify first and foremost a couple of good protocols that will make any run in winter better.
Layering is key so that you can regulate temperature.
Start with a base layer that will keep you warm but also wick away sweat. Merino wool is a great fabric.
Use 3/4 or full length tights. Some runners like to continue running in shorts through winter. It all comes down to personal preference but keep in mind conditions. For example, snow and ice can burn.
Have gloves, hat and a buff like product and ideally use a specific run sock, again, Merino wool is best.
Depending on conditions, the length of run you are undertaking and how high (altitude) you will go, taking a mid-layer is probably a good idea.
Two options exist:
A ‘down’ filled jacket that will pack small, weigh very little and provide excellent warmth. The main problem with down is that it must not get wet!
A ‘Primaloft’ jacket (or similar) will pack a little larger than down and weigh a little more but the big advantage is that a product with a synthetic filling can get wet and retain warmth. For mountain, trail and fell runners this is a better choice.
With all the above boxes ticked. Any runner who ventures into the fells, mountains and any challenging environment should take a high quality waterproof jacket and over trousers. This is where inov-8 step in with the AT/C Racepant and AT/C Stormshell.
The current trend of moving fast and light has seen runners take less and less to the mountain. Light is great providing you can move fast, the two go hand in hand. I’ve often heard many a runner say, ‘Waterproof jacket, waterproof trousers… pfffff! I don’t need them to race. If I am using them then my race is over!’
And that is exactly the point. Warm layers, waterproof layers are there for when unpredictable conditions hit or when you (the runner) have an unexpected or unplanned incident. A sprained ankle for example can stop you running and result in a slow walk. One thing is guaranteed to happen and that is your core temperature will drop and hypothermia won’t be far away.
With the AT/C Racepant and Stormshell you can still travel light but have the luxury of two excellent products that will keep you dry, warm and protected from the wind.
AT/C RACE PANT
•Colour : BLACK
•Weight : 175g / 6.2oz
•Material : 55% PU / 45% Polyester
•Gender : Unisex
•4-way stretch, super micro soft hand touch.
•Knee length YKK Aquaguard zips with locking zip heads.
•Elasticated front, flat back waist band and hem.
•Packs away into pocket.
The RACE PANT weighs ****g rolls up small and will fit in any pack and pretty much any waist pack. They are simple in design with a thick waist band, an internal pocket with elastic loop so you don’t loose keys, a tapered leg and a lower leg zip on both legs that allows the pants to be added or removed without removing shoes. In regard to size, they are a streamlined and tapered product and therefore should you have a bigger leg, you may want to check on the appropriate size for you. For example, I wear medium in all inov-8 products but I chose large in the Race Pant.
These pants fit so well that they cause no discomfort or odd feeling when running. This is often a problem with any over trouser as the additional layer can feel claustrophobic. I used the Racepant with shorts, 3/4 tights and full length tights underneath. Without doubt, the Race Pant is more comfortable with 3/4 or full length tights underneath as a layer of fabric stops the Race Pant sticking to your leg.
The AT/C Race Pant is breathable and retains warmth very well. Of course, if conditions improve and the ambient temperature rises, it’s advisable to move the Racepant asap otherwise you will get hot quickly.
The AT/C Race Pant is a quality product and is comparable to the TNF Storm Trouser (which is very lightweight) and in my opinion is a considerably better product than the OMM Kamleika Race Pant which I found too hot and a little heavier.
AT/C STORM SHELL RACE JACKET
•Colour : RED
•Weight : 150g / 5.5oz
•Material : 100% Nylon ripstop face, PU Laminate
•Gender : MENS
•Deep centre front YKK Aquaguard 2 way front zip with internal storm flap and locking zip heads.
•Roll-away hood with wired peak and single hand adjustment.
•YKK Aquaguard chest pocket zip with fully taped seams.
•Lycra bound cuffs with integrated thumb hole.
The Stormshell is a pullover product with a two-way zip that stops mid-chest. The hood is fully adjustable, zips high and has a peak to protect from wind and rain. The sleeves are longer in length and include a thumb hole, so, should you need extra hand warmth or protection, you call pull your hand inside the sleeve. At ***g it’s seriously lightweight and it also packs small. It’s a product that really personifies fast and light without a compromise on quality or protection from the elements.
The Race Jacket has become my ‘go to’ waterproof layer when running or working. It’s so light and small there really is no reason NOT to take it! The benefits it brings when the weather changes are huge and although looks shouldn’t come into the equation, it’s a fine looking jacket too!
It’s minimalist in design so you wont find many pockets. A chest pocket is the only addition.
Fully taped seams guarantee that the jacket remains waterproof. A pull cord around the waist allows you to adjust the fit. The hood has adjustment on the front left and right sides and on the rear of the hood is a pull cord so you can tighten up any excess fabric. The peak has a flexible reinforced section that allows you to bend the peak to your preferred fit. This reinforcement also stops the hood collapsing. The hood can also be rolled up and secured inside the jacket by a fabric loop with velcro fastening. As mentioned, the zip is two-way which will allow you to have the jacket fastened under your chin but with the zip open should you require some ventilation. The zip goes up high, almost to nose height and if you have the hood adjusted correctly, you rally can protect yourself from the elements with just your eyes showing. The chest pocket is big enough for a phone or similar sized product and it also include a drawstring bag (the size of my hand) that the jacket can fold into.
Like the trousers, the jacket fits snugly and you may want to check sizing based on your intended use, particularly if you may want to use an insulating layer between the base layer and the outer layer.
The jacket for me is a real winner. I’d go as far as saying that it’s one of the best products of its type that I have tried and tested. The combination of weight, size and features is incredible. It has so many pluses that it’s difficult to find a negative. The only negative may well come in durability? However, I have nothing to base this question on. For 6-months this jacket has performed exceptionally well.
The AT/C Racepant and Stormshell work together like cheese and pickle, like gin and tonic; they are a match made in heaven. They may not be the cheapest products on the market but with lightweight and waterproof products, you get what you pay for! I have tested many different trouser/ jacket combinations and if you want to move fast and light with maximum protection, this duo is hard (impossible?) to beat. The only time I would exchange the AT/C Racepant and Stormshell for something more substantial, like a Gore-Tex Active product is if I knew that I was going to be spending many hours in a tough, cold and unpredictable environment and moving at a slower pace. The benefits of the AT/C Racepant and Stormshell is they are so light and small, you really have no reason not to take them with you. That’s a real plus! If you are racing in the mountains, nearly all races now require an ever increasing mandatory kit list. I can pretty much guarantee that at the top of that list will be: ‘waterproof jacket and trousers with taped seams’ – inov-8 have provided you with a perfect solution with no comprises; low weight, small size and 100% protection – what more could you want?
More detailed photographs and action photos to follow.
Torrential rain and thunderstorms started in the morning of the VK and continued on through the day and resulted in a course change instigated by the race organisation for safety reasons. The resulting course was very different to the original route and considerably longer at 6km. Less steep, less technical and considerably more runnable. Of course this may very well have changed the dynamic of the race but the usual protagonists for the VK distance still performed at the highest level.
Philip Götsch and Christel Dewalle won the race and in the process set two new course records for the ‘B’ route – incredible under such tough conditions.
Race director, Fabio Meraldi, made the decision earlier in the day with advice from mountain rescue that the original vertical route would not be possible in such bad conditions.
Although 289 runners were entered into the race, only 180 started in the inclement conditions. Leaving the warmth of a large tent, the 180 headed up 6km covering a total gain of 1200m.
Stian Angermund lead the race in the early stages but it was Philip Götsch who won the race, 32 seconds faster than Remi Bonnet in 2015 to finish with a CR 43:19. Stian finished just 1-second slower in an agonising 43:20. Patrick Facchini placed 3rd in 43:47.
Christel Dewalle ran an incredible time of 49:59 to go 48 seconds faster than 2015 and also set a new CR. The expected battle with VK specialist Laura Orgue did not happen with Laura deciding to rest ahead of tomorrow’s SkyRace. Valentina Belotti placed 2nd 53:15 and Hilde Alders placed a solid 3rd in 54:50.
Attention now turns to the Limone Extreme SkyRace which will start at 1100 tomorrow.
Thanks to the support of our Partner Migu Xempower, Sponsor Alpina Watches and Official Pool Suppliers, Scott Running, Compressport and Salomon.
About Skyrunner® World Series
Skyrunning was founded in 1992 by Italian Marino Giacometti, President of the International Skyrunning Federation which sanctions the discipline worldwide and sports the tagline: Less cloud. More sky.
The Skyrunner® World Series was launched in 2004 and has grown to represent the peak of outdoor running defined by altitude and technicality. In 2016, the Series, composed of four disciplines, features 23 races in 15 venues on three continents.
IANCORLESS.COM IS THE OFFICIAL PHOTOGRAPHER AND MEDIA PARTNER FOR THE
“This is a long run in wild terrain. If you are at the start line wearing a t-shirt and shorts carrying nothing but a bum bag, expect us to be asking a few questions. If the weather is bad, then pack extra kit. This event is not like many other ultras in the UK calendar – it goes up on to the high fells and STAYS up there so don’t take any chances.”
The ‘Lakes in a Day’ is a point-to-point race that starts in the northern Lakeland town of Caldbeck. The route heads directly south all the way to Cartmel passing through four major points; Threlkeld, Ambleside, Finisthwaite (a small hamlet) and then Newby Bridge before the finish in Cartmel.
It’s a race that requires endurance, technical skill and the ability to navigate – this is not a race with a marked route! Maps for the race are provided with a very clearly defined route which must be adhered to, the only exception being in the early stages when the runners leave Nether Row and head to the summit of Blencathara.
Unlike many ‘true’ navigation events, the use of a GPS is allowed and a GPX route is provided for runners in advance so that they can download it.
The route is almost split into two halves. The tough and challenging terrain of the high fells in the early stages takes in some classic Lakeland terrain such as Blencathra, Hall’s Fell, Helvellyn and Grizedale Tarn before heading up Fairfield and dropping down to Ambleside.
After Ambleside, there is a transition into the lowland fells from Ambleside. The second half of the race is all about survival after the tough opening miles.
The route heads to the west of Windermere and heads down in an almost straight line passing through Newby Bridge an on to Cartmel.
Kim Collison was the champion in 2015 and his time obliterated the old course record, his time of 9:12:07 won him £500 which is also on offer in 2016 for the fleet of foot!. Post race he said, ‘It was one of those days. I felt really good and the conditions were perfect. I just made the most of it!’
Helen Leigh was equally impressive in 2015 and it turned out an expensive day for race director James Thurlow – Helen also set a course record 11:00:10 to bag £500.
The 2016 line-up can be viewed here and the race website is available here for any last minute information. The race route is available to view and download here and on race day, it is possible to follow live by tacker here.
Race start is 0800 Saturday 8th October.
Over 400 runners will toe the line for an epic, if not lengthy and challenging day in the Lakeland mountains and fells.
Last week and the week before, EPO, DOPING and the UTMB was the hot topic after Gonzalo Callisto’s positive test. Everyone was talking about it… this week it’s all gone quiet. That can’t happen! You can catch up on my posts below.
There are far too many questions unanswered, there are far too many people being quiet and if we want to eradicate doping from Mountain, Ultra and Trail running – we need to keep talking and discussing.
I was approached by Outside Magazine and they asked me a few questions. I am pretty sure that what gets used or published will be an edited version and with that in mind here are my thoughts, un-edited.
In light of the latest news from UTMB, what you think this positive test means for the sport?
One has to embrace the positive test as a good thing as it confirms that preventative measures against doping are working. This positive was an ‘in competition’ test which only confirms the need for out of competition testing and blood passports. Of course, the answer is always that testing is too expensive. We have to act now and be proactive. I don’t have the answers but I do feel that we could start to address certain issues that would help. Maybe it’s time that we ask (for example) the top 100 male and top 50 female runners as listed on ITRA to pay for a regular medical? Sage Canaday recently released a full report on his medical status to ‘prove’ he is clean; that’s a good thing! (See below). Athletes of course may well say that they can’t afford it but this is where sponsors come in maybe? We cannot keep making excuses as to why we can’t but find ways to make sure we can! We are at the very early stages of doping in our sport and if we don’t act now it will only become worse and God forbid, we could end up like cycling or athletics.
Do you think doping is really becoming something to worry about, or is this a case of an outlier?
We need to worry, yes! This is not the first positive test, it maybe a high profile conviction, but it would be foolish to think that this is an isolated incident.
Are people starting to talk about doping more in ultarunning than before? Or maybe a better way of asking this is how are the athletes you know, talking about this subject and what it means for the sport?
I certainly have witnessed more discussion about doping and of course this was highlighted at the end of 2015 at San Francisco 50. This was a moment when the sport really looked at itself and many questions were asked. It actually became quite nasty at times and I think a sense of perspective was lost. For example, WMRA (World Mountain Running Association) and Skyrunning have been testing athletes for many years. They have very much paved the way but they acknowledge they can only do so much. In competition testing costs 1000’s of euros or dollars for one event and of course, only urine can be tested. Many say it takes an idiot to to be caught ‘in competition’ but it happens. I go back to blood passports – we really need them for elite, professional and sponsored runners. Some races do not have a ‘PED’ policy and San Francisco highlighted the need for races and RD’s to address this in the rules of the race. Western States for example has re-written its race rules to say that any runner who has had a positive conviction cannot race. Many runners have asked for a lifetime ban for any positive test and they have been vocal about this. I personally am reluctant to go down this route… I do believe that mistakes can happen in drug testing but I am not an expert. This creates a whole new debate and raises questions about the lasting effects of a doping program. For example, we used to have two positive tests and out, I liked that but apparently that has been deemed unfair?
Are people starting to test more for doping than in previous years? What has this looked like?
As mentioned previously, WMRA and Skyrunning have been testing for many years but not at all events. Skyrunning for example had its World Championships in Spain in July, they had three events, VK, SKY and ULTRA and WADA performed tests at all three race distances. The problem comes, once again with cost. At the Skyrunning World Championships, 12 athletes were tested. The make and female winner in each category (making 6) and then 6random tests. Let’s assume testing at an event is $10,000 – who pays? Do we add a surcharge on every runners entry fee? Does that race find a sponsor to cover the cost? Do we rely on a wealthy donor or do we approach all the major brands in the sport and say, you must pay! It’s a complex matter and this is why doping control is a rarity in contrast to the norm. Let’s look at races such as Speedgoat 50k, Run Rabbit Run and San Francisco 50 – these races have some substantial prize money, in some scenarios it could mean a pay check of $10,000+ for a win. Yet nobody has any idea if the winner is clean? Moving away from trail running and looking at ultra road running, Comrades in South Africa has huge prize money and it has a very chequered past with doping: Max King, Ellie Greenwood, Sage Canaday and Michael Wardian (amongst others) have all witnessed the impact of it first hand.
What is your own experience with testing?
I attend races as a photographer and a journalist so in reality, I have little experience of the drug testing process. However, I am a media partner for Skyrunning and I have been present and seen the processes undertaken at several major events where doping control has been in place by WADA. For example, I was at the Skyrunning World Champions on July, 22, 23rd and 24th. I also experienced doping control at Limone Extreme in 2015 and Mont-Blanc 80k in 2014 amongst others.
Do you think the tests, or the conversation about doping in general in ultras is lacking? What could be done better?
Certainly the positive test of Gonzalo Calisto has raised some major flaws in the communication process. I have done extensive research over the last weeks and my conclusions have been quite worrying. I will elaborate:
Gonzalo Calisto was tested after placing 5th at UTMB by French drug control – AFLD In August 2015.
AFLD have a written policy that a positive test is given to (in this case) the runner within three weeks.
The runner is then entitled to appeal and ask for a B sample test.
This process can then go backwards and forwards for several weeks and in this scenario (as I understand it) months. Don’t get me wrong, the runner has rights and it’s only fair that he or she has every opportunity to clear his or her name.
In June 2016 the IAAF released its current banned list.
On July 18/19th British Ultrarunner Robbie Britton noticed that Gonzalo Calisto was convicted of EPO and banned till March 2017.
I picked up the case and contacted UTWT and UTMB directly and asked were they aware of this conviction? I later found out, no!
Within 12 hours, UTMB released a press release disqualifying Gonzalo Calisto of doping.
The above raised so many questions for me:
1. How was it possible that Gonzalo Calisto had tested positive but UTMB did not know?
2. Why was his period of exclusion dated till March 2017 when he had been tested in August 2015?
3. Why had the IAAF only published this in June 2016?
I asked questions of the UTMB and the IAAF. In both scenarios they were both helpful.
1. To cut a long story short it would appear that when an athlete is tested positive, the testing control, in this scenario AFLD, are not required to inform the race. REALLY? A race has a runner place 5th, the runner is tested, the runner is found guilty, due process is run and then a positive is confirmed and a sanction is put in place without the race being told…. C’mon that HAS to change! Had it not been for the eagle eyes of Robbie Britton and me grabbing the bull by the horns, nobody ‘may’ have known?
2. IAAF explained the ‘due process’ to me and although they were not able to supply specifics, they did say that these things can often take much longer than we would all like and that 6 months is not unusual. Considering Calisto was tested on the last day of August, that potentially could take us to February or March the following year.
3. The IAAF then confirmed that an error had been made! As I pointed out to them, why was Calisto banned till March 2017? The answer: Calisto’s ban and records were amended from a memo dated March 2016 and it was therefore human error. Calisto’s ban dates actually run from March 2016 to March 2018. This coincided with point 2 above and a lengthy due process where one assumes Calisto tried to clear his name.
4. From the March conviction, Calisto’s records then entered the IAAF system and his conviction was uploaded to the ‘sanctioned athletes’ list in June 2016.
5. The IAAF confirmed to me that AFLD did not have to notify UTMB of a conviction but they would look into it?
So, for UTMB to be aware that an athlete had cheated at a previous edition of their race it would appear that the only option open to them is to check daily on the IAAF website for any additions to the sanctioned athlete list.
I could go on…
Why do you think the sport has stayed clean for so long, and what might be changing that would compel people to cheat?
The sport hasn’t been clean for so long. That is a naive viewpoint. Doping has existed in trail running for ages but if you don’t have testing or a blood passport, how would you know that…? I like to use an example and I must be clear here, I don’t doubt the integrity of the runner I use as an example. Karl Meltzer, my co-host for Talk Ultra podcast has won more 100 mile races than anyone. He has even won Run Rabbit Run and he took home $10,000+ He has been running ULTRA’s for 20+ years. You know how many times he has been tested for PED use? NEVER. Need I say more… This is why our sport has bean ‘clean’ for so long, no testing!
For the most part it seems like the conversation around doping in ultras is relatively new, and also that cheating might be a new thing too. Do you think there’s a chance for race directors, athletes, etc. to get out in front of this and keep the sport clean before it becomes the kind of large-scale issue it is in some other sports?
The Calisto case has raised eyebrows, we need to latch on to that momentum and we need to consider many of my points above but let’s be clear, Calisto is not the first!
On a final note we need to keep this discussion open, we need to keep asking questions and we need to find answers and solutions. It’s too easy to say it’s too expensive, too difficult and so on. We could start by:
Blood passports for runners
Regular in and out of competition testing
Positive results MUST be sent to a race or RD as soon as possible if a positive test came from a race.
IAAF need to find a way to communicate ‘new’ sanctioned athletes to the relevant sport discipline. This is where ITRA or maybe an athlete commission could be set up.
We, as runners, journalists, sponsors and so on must be loud and clear that doping is not welcome and we must do all we can to work together. In the Calisto case I have still not seen or heard any public statement from his sponsors, Movistar and Compressport. Compressport did contact me to say that they were ‘looking into it!’ What does that mean…? They also said that Callisto’s sponsorship with Compressport was with a local distributor and not the International division. As far as I am concerned, local or International, Calisto is still representing a brand and that brand gains attention. And also what about the races that Calisto has run and placed in in post August 2015? The IAAF now confirms the suspension dates back to that time and until March 2018. Not one word, not one public statement from any race that I have seen… do these races condone doping? What about the runners who placed top 5 or top 10 only to loose a place… come on, speak up!
Update August 12th and Compressport respond
A great place to start is here, Sage Canaday has just recently posted his results online for all to see. Let’s lead by example!