Τρίτη, 1 Σεπτεμβρίου 2015

UTMB 2015: What is happening with the top teams?

Following UTMB from the side lines this year. Been there and did it twice (2009 - 2014). Race coverage is almost perfect with all these online services and information that is available. There was even live video streaming from many major check points. TV-like coverage is going to transform these events.

It was a hot weekend in Chamonix. Heat makes it tougher to achieve fast times, but makes it safer for the main-pack trailers to get to the finish line. Dry terrain, friendly temperatures at night time, more liquid calories. Tough year for the elites, but overall finisher rate (63%) was one of the best for UTMB.

Live Français - UTMB® - Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc® από UltraTrailMontBlanc
This was the first year in the post-TNF era. UTMB was born and grew under the cooperation with "The North Face". This ended last year. Columbia jumped in with all its' branches/brands. Not that it makes any significant difference for the runners!

One quick first remark for 2015 UTMB is the absence of top teams/brands from top finishers. No Salomon Team and no TNF Team runners where in the top 3 for men, while there was Swanson finishing 4th for TNF, but that was it. For women, with the exception of third place Denise Zimmermann of Salomon, it is more or less the same picture.

On the other side I noticed the strong representation of Nike, Adidas, Asics teams in the top finishers especially for men. Hoka also made a strong appearance.

Salomon had two runners that could do well in the men field. Both Tofol Castaner and Ryan Sandes of team Salomon DNFed for different reasons. From The North Face, Rob Krar did not start the race due to injury. But in previous years, both teams had at least 4-5 top runners at the start line of UTMB, and were dominating the podium for men and women. In 2014 it was all top 3 men for Salomon and #1, #4 for TNF for women. But back then there was no runner from Nike or Adidas or Asics!!!

Some explanations I can think of:
  • The real big names in sports equipment are starting to make their presence in the Ultra-trail scene. Nike, Adidas and Asics are top names in the running universe. But the focus was on road, track and XC scenes, which are the most popular - high volume. Ultra-trails are starting to attract more runners. UTMB this year attracted more than 10.000 runners in all events!!! Lakeland 100 in UK got fully booked in 6 hours! There is a trend. And the big fish is starting to pay attention. They are forming their teams.
  • Salomon and TNF decided to downplay UTMB this year due to the change in sponsorship status. Columbia group is not so big among trail runners and they decided to give less publicity to UTMB. 
  • Top runners of TNF and Salomon have been "overused" in the past years. There are several incidents of burnt out elite athletes. The number of popular ultra trail events has increased and professional runners have to perform in more races per year. This has led many of them to physical exhaustion. So UTMB this year was just one more race for these teams and they had to control their resources.
The near future will reveal the real reason. I believe that big brands are starting to look in the direction of trail and ultra-trail running. This scene is creating more "experiences" for the average runner than road and track events. And the numbers are growing.

Interesting reads:

  • http://runtramp.com/niketrailteam/
  • http://www.theclymb.com/stories/out-there/will-ultra-running-sell/

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