Saturday, January 14, 2012

2011 Open Male Runner Of The Year

I’ve already announced the individual Open Women’s Runner Of The Year (Sarah Graves); but, we’ll do the first full category with the Open Men’s Runner Of The Year.

As with the last two years, there were some hard choices to make.  But, this year, there was a whole new twist – how to compare runners in “traditional” road distances mostly within the state boundaries versus trail/ultra specialists whose major competitions were outside of the Big Sky State.  There has been some wringing of the wings and gnashing of the beak; but, for better or worse, the Buzzard has made his picks.

Number 1 – Repeating on his ranking of last year is Alan King of Billings (that gives him rankings of 3, 1, 1).  He had another stellar year at a wide range of distances.  Here are some of the highlights:

Shamrock Run   16:35 – 5K – 1st Place
Ice Breaker         26:02 – 5-mile – 3rd Place
                                           15:27 – 3-mile – 1st Place
                                           4:23 – 1-mile – 1st Place
                Purple 5K           14:57 (PR) – 5K – 1st Place
  Big Sky State Games
                                            16:15 – 5K – 1st Place (6:00 p.m. Friday)
                                            1:14:49 – ½ Marathon – 1st Place (7:00 a.m. Saturday)
 Quality of Life Run  24:24 – 5-Mile – 1st Place (net downhill)
 Fargo                   1:11:07 – ½ Marathon – 1st Place
 Chicago                  2:37:48 – Marathon
 MT Cup                   2nd Place (just a couple of weeks after Chicago Marathon)

He had a number of other fast runs at smaller races in the Billings area.  But, Alan is clearly not afraid to race against big or small field at just about any distance.  When he shows up at a race, it’s pretty clear that he’s going to be in the hunt for the win.  He made some valiant attempts to qualify for the Olympic Marathon Trials in the past year – and, just to show how well he’s running – 2:37 was not a good day.  Alan’s high quality record, fast times, range of distances and total number of races gives him the nod to rise to the top of the list.

Number 2 – And here is where the dilemma comes in.  Mike Wolfe of Helena (moving up from #4 in 2010) is without a doubt one of the nation’s top ultra/trail runners (if not numero uno).  The Buzzard’s challenge was to try to figure out how Alan and Mike would compare head to head.  It’s hard to argue against Mike’s record in ultra events – could almost have gone either way and/or called them “co-winners”.  But, this isn’t youth soccer where everyone gets a prize to feel good; and, the Buzzard had to make a choice.  So, in the end, his lack of racing against other Montanan’s hurts his ability to get to the top of this podium. 

 But, all the same, let’s revel in some of the great races that Mike put together. 

              HURL Fat Ass 50K – 3:40 Course Record and 26:00 win
              Way To Cool 50K – CA – 3:28:01 – 1st Place
              Western States 100 Mile – 15:38:29 – 2nd Place (and only 5:00 behind the great Killian Jornet)
              North Face Endurance Challenge  50 Mile – 6:18:57 – 1st Place
              Huffing For Stuffing 10K – 36:32 – 3rd Place

Can Wolfe – a full time attorney – find the extra little bit necessary to take down Jornet and the other top Europeans?  Even without racing against Montanan’s that would clearly push him to the top of the list.

Number 3Jimmy Grant of Missoula.  The 2009 ROY and # 3 in 2010 continues to run fast.  This year he added a few new events (Wulfman and MT Cup) to his calendar; and, his performances across the board helped keep him in the top 3 (rankings of 1,3,3).

             Snow Joke ½ Marathon – 1:14:56 – 1st Place
             Run For The Luck Of It 5K – 15:39 – 1st Place
             Riverbank Run 10K – 31:39 – 1st Place
             Wulfman CDT 14K Trail – 55:05 – 2nd Place
             Missoula Marathon – 2:36:32 – 2nd Place
             MT Cup – 7.2K – 23:22 – 3rd Place

Would love to see Jimmy finally hit the sweet spot in the marathon and get that elusive sub-2:30.

Number 4Goes to the two-time #2 ranker – Thomas “Big Bird” Jodoin of Helena.  It looked like Big Bird’s season may have been over after his quick race at the AOH St. Patrick’s Run in Anaconda and an apparent hamstring injury.  But, he recovered well and had a strong season.  But, with the competition as it was this year, even the performance below couldn’t get him ranked any higher.

AOH St. Pat’s Day – 3-mile – 15:13 – 1st Place
               Don’t Fence Me In 12K – 49:29 – 1st Place
               Governor’s Cup 5K – 16:16 – 2nd Place
               Wulfman CDT 14K Trail – 56:50 – 3rd Place
               Montana Mile  - 4:31.95 – 3rd Place
               August Road Race – Helena – 3.8 miles – 19:35 – 1st Place
               MT Cup – 7.2K – 24:57 – 19th Place

If Big Bird can go injury free through 2012, he may be poised to finally claim the top spot.

Number 5Mike Foote (matching his # 5 in 2010) - Missoula.  Another ultra/trail specialist, Footie fell into the same dilemma as Mike Wolfe.  How to compare his longer, off-road events to the other top runners from Montana?  Mike made a huge jump in his performances and reached the national level in his specialty. 

              UTMB (France) 166 K – 24:25:12 – 11th overall and 1st American
              North Face Endurance Challenge 50 Mile – 6:52:30 – 9th Place
              Pocatello 50 Mile – 8:40:30 – 3rd Place
              Antelope Island 50K – 4:03:09 – 4th Place
              Don’t Fence Me In 30K – 2:19:56 – 4th Place
              Huffing For Stuffing 10K – 36:28 – 2nd Place
              MT Cup 7.2 K – 23:31 – 4th Place

With his new affiliation with North Face, will Mike make another jump in performance and form Montana’s very own Mike & Mike show on the US Ultra/Trail scene?

As always, there was a whole bunch of deserving runners who couldn’t crack the Top 5.  Guys like Jesse Zentz, Devin Cowan, Zach Strong, Lyle Weese, Andy Drobek, Michael Fisher, Hunter Nelson and Graydon Curry.

In 2011, we maybe didn’t see quite as much head to head racing as the last couple of years.  Would love to see the top guys bang heads at some of the events like Wulfman, Ice Breaker, Riverbank, Roots Festival, Big Sky State Games and Governor’s Cup.  That would give us some great, great ability to really, truly be able to best define the ROY.  Unlikely that we'll be quite that fortunate; but, here's to hoping.

On top of the Runner Of The Year – The Muddy Buzzard wants to also make note of the Performance Of The Year.  And, for the Open Men, that goes to Elliot Welder’s 2:26:25 at the Missoula Marathon.  After having company (from Jimmy Grant) through a 1:12:52 Half, Welder then went on to a solo 2nd Half in 1:13:33.  I may be wrong; but, I believe that this was the first sub-2:30 since the Hatcher, Zezotarski, Wold, Rothermel days of the 1980’s.  Spectacular run by Elliot.

That would definitely be followed by Mike Wolfe’s close 2nd place finish at Western States and Mike Foote’s 11th place at UTMB.

What a great year we had in 2011.  Perhaps the Olympic spirit will rub off in 2012 and we’ll see even more Big Sky magic.

 See you on the roads, tracks and trails.

 The Muddy Buzzard.

No comments: