Lofty goals for new world trail run series

The scenic Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc is one of eight races confirmed for the Ultra-Trail World Tour. Jean-Pierre Clatot/AFP/Getty Images

With the establishment of the Ultra-Trail World Tour, leaders around the rapidly-growing sport of ultra-marathon trail running are making efforts towards advancing the legitimacy and accessibility of the sport around the world.

The announcement of the new series was made Sept. 1 by organizers of some of the world’s most renowned trail-running events, in partnership with the International Trail Running Association during post-race festivities following The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc in Chamonix, France.

The series of long-distance trail races will employ a points-based ranking system similar to that used cycling, tennis and skiing to crown annual male and female champions, and will be open to anyone who wants to participate.

Set to launch in 2014, the UTWT will consist of eight to 10 races, spread across the world, with five or six being designated as “majors”.

Each race on the circuit will be 100 kilometers or longer, and will be worth a certain number of points based on size and race designation. Each finisher will be awarded points at the completion of a race, and world rankings will be updated after each race.

According to a UTWT press release, one of the main objectives if the initiative is to “provide the opportunity to anyone to take part, throughout the years, in the most beautiful long distance trail races around the world”, and allow anyone to participate in the same races the world's top runners consistently take part in.

Craig Thornley, Race Director for the Western States 100, said to the crowd on hand in France that “The formation of the Ultra-Trail World Tour provides our sport with a collaborative, collegial and cooperative framework that promises to benefit all runners, of all abilities, in all countries throughout the world.”

Perhaps more significantly for the future of ultra running as a sport, it will create a legitimate competition through established races, allowing top trail runners to meet regularly and test themselves against each other.

“We also believe that the time is right for the sport’s leading races to combine efforts in the crowning of a men’s and women’s Ultra Trail world champions determined through fair, drug-free competition,” Thornley added.

With the crowning of annual champions, the trail-running community may now be able to bestow the “Best Trail Runner in the World” title in any given year without much debate.

To attract elite runners, certain events will be given an Ultra Trail Series status, which will be weighed more heavily in the ranking system. Competitors will be allowed to count three race scores toward their overall ranking, inlcuding two UTS scores. Elite runners who join UTWT may also benefit from insurance, travel assistance and accommodations for races.

This isn’t the first trail racing series with rankings, however. The Skyrunner World Series is an annual international championship organized by the Federations of Sport at Altitude, and is already established in the trail running community of Europe.

There is a key differnce between Skyrunner and UTWT, though. All SWS races are essentially the same (under 100 kilometers, high altitude, technical terrain), while UTWT organizers stress their commitment to promoting "varied races adapted to all runners, proposing several distances, venues and spectacular and diverse environments, with different difficulties and technical challenges.”

From the Tarawera Ultramarathon held at sea level in New Zealand, to the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, which has a total elevation gain of around 30,900 ft, there will be no shortage of variety to set UTWT apart. Even the Marathon des Sables, which is a six-day, 251 km stage race, will provide a different format from anything else on UTWT or the Skyrunner World Series.

Eight established races have been confirmed as part of the inaugural UTWT series in 2014.

  • Jan. 18: Vibram Hong Kong 100 (Hong Kong)

  • March 1: The North Face Transgrancanaria (Spain)

  • March 15: Vibram Tarawera 100km Ultramarathon (New Zealand)

  • April 4-14: Marathon des Sables (Morocco)

  • April 25-26: Ultra-Trail Mt. FujiĀ® (Japan)

  • June 27-29: The North FaceĀ® Lavaredo Ultra Trail (Italy)

  • June 29: The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run (California)

  • August 29: The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc (France, Italy, Switzerland)

According to the organizers, all runners planning to participate in one or more stages of the Ultra-Trail World Tour can order their Ultra Trail World Tour Passport by the end of 2013.

Finishing a race on the circuit will earn a visa in that passport, automatically implying integration in the rankings for elite runners and all others who choose to participate.