Friday, January 11, 2013

Mike Morton, UROY, UPOY and My Own Awards for 2012

Huge congratulations to Mike Morton and Ellie Greenwood on being named Ultrarunners of the Year by Ultrarunning magazine. Mike and Ellie also earned Performance of the Year honors--Mike for his incredible win at the 24-hour world championship, where he set a new American record with 172.457 miles, and Ellie for her record-setting Western States 100 win. In my book, they both more than earned UROY and UPOY.

Pound for pound and mile for mile, I believe Ellie Greenwood is the best ultrarunner in North America. Period. Women's ultrarunning has achieved new heights and Ellie continues to be a dominant force in a sport with incredible talent. When and if she tackles a hardcore mountain race, like Hardrock, it'll be interesting to see how she does. Personally, I'd love to see her run Leadville.

Now, as for Mike, there are some folks out there who think Timothy Olson, who set a new record at Western States with a blazing 14:46, should have won Ultrarunner of the Year and/or Performance of the Year. I can see how UPOY could have gone either way--Morton or Olson. And Timothy, like Mike, is a compelling figure (Olson's overcome drug addiction and incarceration) and super guy. But, personally, I think Mike's record-setting world championship win trumps everything else, including a new record at Western States. I'm speculating on this, but, because Connie Gardner, who also set a new American record at the world 24-hour championship, didn't get UPOY for the women this year, we can only conclude that the voters gave Mike UPOY for his world championship win, with the new American record being icing on the cake. Also, it's worth noting that Mike became the first American to ever win an ultrarunning world championship.

Mike has an incredible story. As the de facto teller of his story (see March 2012 issue of Ultrarunning magazine), I feel like people need to understand a few things about him. First of all, Mike set the record at Western States in 1997, becoming the first non-Californian to win that race, but didn't earn UROY or even UPOY that year. Not long after that, he effectively disappeared from the sport for 10 years. His disappearance was due largely to two factors. First, he suffered a devastating hip injury that got worse and worse. Second, after 9/11 he found himself quite busy with other, more pressing matters, like defending America. As a member of Special Forces, Mike did multiple tours in Afghanistan, Iraq and other dangerous areas of the world where his life was literally on the line every day. Yes, I believe all of that factored a little into the voting for UROY and UPOY this year, but the ultimate factor was his performance in 2012.

Of course, as we all know, Mike reappeared in the ultrarunning world in 2010, surpassing 150 miles at the Hinson Lake 24-hour race that fall, and then the next year (2011) he racked up an eye-popping 167 miles at the same event, quickly reestablishing himself as one of the sport's best. Since then, he's been on a rampage. In 2012 alone, he set course records at several 100-mile races with times in the 13-hour range, including a very competitive Umstead, and also nearly broke the record at Badwater and surpassed Scott Jurek's American 24-hour record by five miles in the world championship. Just to be fair, he DNF'd at the Javelina Jundred in November--something Ultrarunning magazine overlooked when it said he won all five races he entered.

At the tender age of 41, Mike Morton is perhaps at his very best, and that's saying a lot because he was a dominant force in the mid-1990s. I know many will think I'm crazy for saying this, but I have every reason to believe he'll win Western States this June. Why do I think that? He's super fast. He's super tough. He's incredibly motivated. He trains ridiculously hard. He performs very well in the heat (see Badwater and Hinson Lake). He'll have an A+ crew (Eric Clifton crewed him at Badwater). And he's done Western States before. If Mike wins Western States this year, his two victories will have come 16 years apart.


Here are some of my own awards, and please pardon all the hyphens:
  • Feel-Good-About-Things-Again Award: Anton Krupicka for finishing Leadville fourth overall after an injury-plagued 2011 and early 2012. Note: I'm hoping Geoff Roes wins this award next year.
  • I-Didn't-See-This-Coming Award: Hal Koerner for winning Hardrock, which is kind of ridiculous because we all should have seen Hal coming. The guy is a beast.
  • This-Guy-Is-A-Serious-Badass-on-the-Run-and-Bike Award: Tim "Lucho" Waggoner for his incredible Leadman record.
  • Ages-Like-Fine-Wine Award: Karl "Speedgoat" Meltzer, age 44, for winning a competitive Run, Rabbit Run 100-mile in which lots of guys half his age were nipping at his heels.
  • She's-A-Serious-Badass Award: Connie Gardner for her record-setting performance at the 24-hour world championship. Honorable mention: Lizzie Hawker.
  • Eats-Nothing-But-Fruit-And-Still-Kicks-Everyone's-Asses Award: Michael Arnstein, aka "The Fruitarian."
  • Blows-the-Door-Off Award: Timothy Olson for his new Western States 100 course record.
  • We-Knew-He-Was-Good-But-Not-This-Good Award: Dakota Jones for his impressive win at Transvulcania.

All that said, there were some head-scratchers with the voting this year. Questions that come to mind:
  • Why did Joe Fejes get overlooked for his performances this year, including that insane 329-mile outing he had at Across the Years?
  • Why are only North American runners eligible for UPOY and UROY when ultrarunning is a very international sport? Arguably the best mountain runners in the world, like Kilian Jornet and Anna Frost, aren't even eligible for UROY or UPOY.
  • Also, if we're going to "count" performances for races outside North America, like Comrades, Transvulcania, world championships and Mont Blanc, then why not also make all ultrarunners around the world eligible for UPOY and UROY? There's a lack of consistency here.
  • Why did Max King place third in the UPOY voting this year for his record-breaking JFK 50M run when David Riddle, whose record Max broke, won UPOY last year for his JFK record?
I would love to know more about the voting process. Also, I wish Ultrarunning magazine's website would become more interactive, like, so that we could all have some dialogue on things like UPOY and UROY.


With my marathon in Phoenix a little over a week away, I'm now in the taper stage and very excited. I do think my weekly mileage for the past four months--about 70 a week--has been slightly low. But I also think I've done super solid quality, including intervals, tempos and long runs with fast miles worked in. My quality has been spot on, but I suspect my volume has been a tad low. It'll be interesting to see how things turn out next Sunday. If I turn in a good performance, then I'll know moving forward that my body responds well to quality and that I don't necessarily need huge volume, though in training for 100s I think volume is critical.


  1. Nice post! How did Morton get into Western States? Was it thorough, the lottery, Montrail Ultra Cup, or special veterans consideration? I would love to see him win it again! Chris

  2. Chris: Thanks for your kind words. I believe Mike gain entry into the 2013 Western States race via a sponsorship spot. That's the info that was shared via iRunFar at


  3. I'm trying to break 3 hours in the marathon this year and I only run 40 miles a week. Don't focus on your mileage, focus on how many miles you're doing around your goal pace - trust your training, you are there from what I have seen (although its a long damned race and of course having a good day is never guaranteed).

  4. Also, Mike won Western States before and Masannutten. Apart from how his chronic hip/femur issue deals with vert, there is no reason I see to not include him as one of the top several people who can win.

  5. I heard he got in through that sponsorship slot, but I think any past Western champ can go back anytime. We have a local guy who has won before (Herb Tanzer) and he once said he can get in whenever he wants.

  6. Go time this weekend Wyatt. No cranking out 6:15s to start.