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.

 

Marathon des Sables PERU 2017 #MDSPeru – RACE DAY 6

The race is over! What a race… MDS Peru is a classic in the making and Rachid El Morabity and Nathalie Mauclair, both Raidlight athletes, will go down in history as the pioneering champions of this race.

Many congratulations to Melanie Rousset and Rocio Carrion for rounding out the ladies podium and Aldo Ramirez and Erik Clavery for the men!

It has been an epic week of sand, wind, intense heat and set-sufficiency. It is why Marathon des Sables has pioneered the way for this race format, now MDS Peru follows and creates a new era for the brand and sport.

A full summary of the week to follow and images galleries at iancorless.hotoshelter.com.

The 2017 MDS Peru top-3 are:

  1. Rachid El Morabity
  2. Aldo Ramirez
  3. Erik Clavery

 

  1. Nathalie Mauclair
  2. Melanie Rousset
  3. Rocio Carrion

Marathon des Sables PERU 2017 #MDSPeru – RACE DAY 4

Stage 4 of MDS Peru was the eagerly anticipated long-day, it was billed as a stunning stage and it didn’t disappoint, however, with beauty came difficulty and many said how hard it was. The thought of views of the Pacific Ocean pulled the runners through to the 51km mark and then from here, the sea was by their side all the way to the finish line.

Erik Clavery dictated the race early on but by Cp2 he was caught and it was Also Ramirez from Peru who forged a fast pace looking for a top-3 finish. Fellow Peruvian, Remigio Huaman, was never going to let a countryman run away from him and the duo ran at the head of the race before Rachid El Morabity budged the gap. It was interesting to see the dynamics at the front of the race, it would appear, that El Morabity was not having a ‘normal’ dominating day and this was reflected in him crossing the line with Huaman, hand-in-hand, in 7:10:24. Ramirez held on for 3rd just 7-minutes later with Gediminas Grinius and Clavery placing 4th and 5th.

The ladies race once again had a very similar format as all the previous days with Nathalie Mauclair dictating from the front and never looking back. She is, with all due respect to the other ladies, in a race on her own! She crossed the line in 8:08:45 and Melanie Rousset finished 2nd once again over 1-hour later in 9:19:10. Peruvian, Rocio Carrion, was as consistent as ever placing 3rd in 10:01.

The long-day will be remembered for the stunning landscape and the variety. Beautiful white dunes, white stone flats, amazing valleys flanked by mountains and then the stunning sandy drop to the Pacific and bivouac 4 next to the sea.

 

  1. Remigio Huaman 7:10:24
  2. Rachid El Morabity 7:10:25
  3. Aldo Ramirez 7:17:21

 

  1. Nathalie Mauclair 8:08:45
  2. Melanie Rousset 9:19:10
  3. Rocio Carrion 10:01:15

 

GC

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 17:09:53
  2. Remigio Huaman 17:47:54
  3. Aldo Ramirez 18:49:51

 

  1. Nathalie Mauclair 20:23:35
  2. Melanie Rousset 23:15:44
  3. Rocio Carrion 25:46:50

 

Stage 5 of MDS Peru is as the Moroccan brother, the marathon stage. Staring on the beach in Barlovento, the runners will cover 42.2km to Mendieta hugging the coastline of the Pacific. It will be a stunning stage!

Marathon des Sables PERU 2017 #MDSPeru – RACE DAY 3

Today’s stage at 32.7km to Ocucaje felt almost like an ‘easy ‘day after two hard days. Maybe because it is the long day tomorrow?

The course actually is one that climbs for most of the day but it is very gradual, so gradual that one hardly notices it. Several short sharp shocks break up the day. After yesterday’s stunning course, today’s route was less dramatic, however, it started with a canyon and a climb and culminated with small dunes. In between it was a mixture of sandy trail and rock. The most noticeable thing was the heat -today was hot!

From a racing point of view, it was almost a repeat of yesterday with Gediminas Grinius leading from the front costly followed by Remigio Huaman. Race leader, Rachid El Morabity, happily sat back and eased himself into the race working through the runners to once again take the front of the race for the win.

It was a closer day today though! El Morabity crossed in 2:56:09, Huaman in 2:58:37 and Grinius continued his revival after a tough day-1 to lace 3rd again in 3:02:38. Talking of revivals, Iain Don Wauchope after struggling for 2-days with illness had a revival today and finished 5th. Notably, Erik Clavery and Julien Chorier finished out of the top-5. With the long day tomorrow, it will be an interesting battle to see who are the top-3 on GC after the 68.4km stage.

For the ladies, Nathalie Mauclair is like a train, she starts at speed and just pushes to the line. She is so incredibly strong. She sounds like she is suffering as she passes, but she smiles, says hello and then pushes on. Once again, she won the day 3:31:18, a time that ranks highly overall!

Melanie Rousset was as consistent as ever. She looked happy in the dunes today and smiled her way to the line crossing in 4:00:23.

Rocio Carrion continues to fly the flag for Peru finishing 3rd once again in 4:30:00 and securing her 3rd lady overall position.

Renee Romero Sayritupac and Aydee Soto Quispe are also representing Peru in style lacing 4th and 5th.

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 2:56:09
  2. Remigio Huaman 2:58:37
  3. Gediminas Grinius 3:02:58

 

  1. Nathalie Mauclair 3:31:18
  2. Melanie Rousset 4:00:23
  3. Rocio Carrion 4:30:50

 

GC

 

  1. Rachid El Morabity 9:59:28
  2. Remigio Huaman 10:37:30
  3. Julien Chorier 11:24:03

 

  1. Nathalie Mauclair 12:14:50
  2. Melanie Rousset 413:56:34
  3. Rocio Carrion 15:45:35

 

Stage 4 of MDS Peru is the long-day and is set to be quite the spectacle, the runners will get a first glimpse of the Pacific as they approach CP5 at 51.1km covered.

 

 

 

 

Marathon des Sables PERU 2017 #MDSPeru – RACE DAY 2

Gediminas Grinius did not have a good day yesterday, his stomach was angry with him and he had a tough first experience of the Marathon des Sables Peru. Today, however, he was refreshed and with new energy. He dictated the early pace for the 42.2km from Coyungo to Samac. In reality, he pretty much led the race until Remigio Huaman and of course, Rachid El Morabity closed in on him and passed him.

Rachid ran very relaxed in the early stages, he is known for this! He likes to take his time, settle in to the day and then push hard, close the gaps and then lead from the front for victory. It was a text book day for the Moroccan. He seemed to revel in the arena in which he had to play! It was a stunning day and very different to Morocco. Big landscapes, high dunes, canyons, rivers, moon like landscape, there colours of sand and some intense heat and strong winds.

From the gun, Grinius, Huaman and Erik Clavery seemed on a mission after day 1 not going to plan. Huaman and Clavery had lost 2nd and 3rd places due to the heat and dehydration and it obviously had motivated them to come back and try again. Grinius ran ahead and Huaman closely followed. Clavery ran in 3rd and Julien Chorier, who placed 2nd on day 1, ran with El Morabity. Grinius was looking strong out front but Huaman was also looking comfortable trailing the Lithuanian.

There was a distinct point when El Morabity switched gear and he then chased down and past everyone to take another victory by approximately 7-minutes. Huaman hunted Grinius down and then finally passed with Grinius placing 2nd – it was a great day for these two and certainly makes for an interesting competition.

Nathalie Mauclair once again dictated the ladies race from the front. In the early stages, Melanie Rousset was keeping close and following her fellow French lady and it looked as though we may have a battle on our hands. However, Mauclair snapped the elastic and moved away from the competition and in reality, most of the men.

Rousset, as in the previous day, ran strong in 2nd and this is where she stayed for the whole day. Rocio Carrion once consistent and paced herself for another 3rd place. Josephine Adams is the leading British lady and she was in 4th position after day 1, today she finished 5th.

The day will be remembered for the course and the landscape, it was stunning! The early miles took place on a sandy road that slowly climbed up to Cp1. From here, the first dunes of MDS Peru welcomed the runners and they were stunning. A sandy plateau gently introduced the runners to the canyon of Rio ICA and here the course became something quite special with mixed sandy and rocky terrain and stunning views off into the distance. It was a day not to forget.

Tomorrow’s stage is 32.7km and finishes in Ocucaje. However, most runners will be thinking of the day after, day 4, the in-famous ‘long-day!’ Of the MDS.

  1. Rachid El Morabity 4:18:23
  2. Remigio Huaman 4:25:36 (Remigio has now moved into 2nd overall)
  3. Gediminas Grinius 4:26:04

 

  1. Nathalie Mauclair 5:00:41
  2. Melanie Rousset 5:36:18
  3. Rocio Carrion 6:12:04

Live Tracking HERE

Stage Results HERE

 

Marathon des Sables PERU 2017 #MDSPeru – RACE DAY 1

What a tough first day for the MDS Peru! Hot temperatures and a course of very mixed terrain made the journey from Cahuachi to Coyungo a really tough one. To all intents and purposes, it was a fact day with very little climbing, to be honest, it was a day with more downhill running based on the course profile.

It was expected that Peruvian runner, Remigio Huaman would be motivated to set the pace at the front and he didn’t disappoint. He pushed ahead with Both African runner, Iain Don Wauchope. The gap opened up slightly but the ever watchful Rachid El Morabity was keeping them in contact along with Erik Clavery and Julien Chorier.

It wasn’t long before El Morabity reeled the duo in and forged ahead. The writing was on the wall, the five time winner of Marathon des Sables Morocco was showing his experience and the others could only watch. Huaman followed in 2nd and then Clavery with Chorier not far behind. Unfortunately, Don Wauchope was struggling with a bug that I had picked up just a few days before the race – it made him feel flat despite his early pace.

With just over 6km to go, the Moroccan was well ahead of the chasers but surprisingly it was Chorier who arrived second. It turned out that both Huaman and Clavery were suffering in the heat. Regrettably, the heat and illness saw the South African to a walkbut he battled to finish the stage.

It was victory for the El Morabity, he looked in a class of his own out on day 1 in MDS Peru and for sure, just as predicted, he is going to be the one to beat.

For the ladies race, just as in the men’s race, experience counted. Nathalie Mauclair dictated the race and the pace straight from the gun and with the passing of each kilometre, the French lady extended her lead for victory.

Melanie Rousset ran Mauclair close early on but in the latter stages, she too suffered from the heat and dehydration and was forced to pace herself to the line.

Rocio Carrion flew the Peruvian flag placing 3rd.

It was a tough day… no doubt and a route of much variety. In particular, passing small villages and sharing time with the locals was a highlight.

Tomorrow’s stage is 42.2km and takes in impressive dunes and a canyon.

The inaugural 2017 MDS Peru has well and truly begun!

Marathon des Sables PERU 2017 #MDSPeru Day 2

After a late arrival in camp last night, day one in bivouac was an admin day with equipment checks and the deposit of personal belongings. It’s a day that often drags as runners work through all their belongings deciding what to take and what not. Once they drop their case, that is it! No going back. If you have forgot something, you have forgotten it.

It’s all about balancing essentials with luxuries. The ‘racers’ keep things to a minimum trying to get the pack to 6.5kg (the minimum) plus water. This mean no luxuries! The pack weight is pretty much all food, maybe a change of socks, a sleeping bag, seeping mat and of course compulsory items. Once water is added, race pack weight is usually around 8kg on race day 1. This gets lighter as the days pass and the runner eats the contents.

Other runners decide to carry other items to make the week in the desert. However, for every gram carried, this is additional weight to add a burden to ones body and slow you down – it is a fine balancing act. To put this into perspective the heaviest pack weight recorded today was 12kg.

At admin check, medical forms are scrutinised, compulsory items are checked, packs are weighed and the runner is asked to provide an excel doc of food contents to make sure they have enough for the 6-days ahead.

A small number of select runners, those most likely to make the top-10, are also asked to contribute to the ITRA health passport system by providing a blood sample. At the 2017 edition of the race, this is not compulsory.

To conclude the day, a dance by locals was performed and then a compulsory briefing was given outline the week ahead.

Once dinner is concluded, the runners are then self-sufficient.

Race Day 1 has an 0730 start in Cahuachi with 37.2km yo cover before the finish in Coyungo. It is a day of pretty much all downhill starting at an altitude of just over 350m and concluding a little higher than sea level.

You can read a preview of the 2017 MDS Peru HERE