Why we won’t pay: UTMB, ITRA and the “pay for points” racket

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ed note (6/29): The following was submitted as a combined statement from the board/race directors of the following events. Hardrock Hundred, Run, Rabbit, Run 50 and 100 Mile Runs, Speedgoat 50K, Wasatch Front 100, San Diego 100 Mile Run, Cascade Crest 100 Mile Run, Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run, Grindstone 100 Mile Run, Big Horn Trail Runs

Several weeks ago the Hardrock Hundred received an email from Catherine Poletti, who, along with her husband Michel, owns UTMB and ITRA. It stated, in essence, that Kilian Jornet (defending Hardrock champion) wished to run UTMB, but since Hardrock had not paid to join ITRA, Kilian lacked the qualifying UTMB “points.” So, the gist was, won’t Hardrock pay up so that Kilian could run? The answer is no. And here’s why.

For those unfamiliar with the procedure, UTMB requires ultra races to pay an annual fee to ITRA to earn qualifying “points.” The Hardrock Hundred has been clear: UTMB is welcome to use results of the HRH as qualifying for entry, but we have no interest in paying them to do so. Many other races, including Run Rabbit Run, Bighorn, and Wasatch, have also been approached by UTMB/ITRA and asked to pay to qualify for UTMB “points.”

Many of us have also been approached by runners who have been told by UTMB/ITRA to contact race directors to urge them to pony up the fee so that those runners could get “points.” Some runners have asked why many of us have refused.

First, the decision to adopt a qualifying standard based on “points” earned running one of UTMB’s races (as opposed, for example, to a lottery) was UTMB’s. We do not believe we should be required to pay for UTMB’s entry scheme. Secondly, UTMB and ITRA are strictly for-profit enterprises, with revenues estimated in the millions of Euros. It’s difficult to avoid concluding that requiring events to “pay for points” is not just another way to maximize what is already a very profitable enterprise. While we don’t fault UTMB/ITRA for seeking to maximize their profits, their “pay for points” scheme does nothing to contribute to the wellbeing of our sport. They do no inspection of any of the events to whom they award “points,” do no due diligence to ascertain whether those events are safe, well-organized or meet any other minimal standards and, to the best of our knowledge, have never declined to award “points” to any event that is willing to pay. Indeed, with more and more Americans wishing to run UTMB, some new events with little or no track record (or even a poor one) have found that “paying for points” is an easy way to garner entry fees.

Because of various federal, state and local restrictions, American ultras do not have the luxury of putting ten thousand runners on our courses as UTMB may, and thus cannot generate the revenue that UTMB can. Even if American races could, many would choose not to, considering it contrary to the spirit of ultrarunning. We recognize that as our sport grows, increasing commercialization and a desire to monetize the sport’s popularity may be inevitable, and indeed, for better or worse, UTMB and the “Ironmanization” of our great sport might be the unavoidable future. But while we certainly understand why many runners want to run UTMB, these aren’t the values that we think represent the best of our sport or that we wish to further.

We have no problem with UTMB using our races as qualifiers. But no other event – including popular and iconic events such as the Western States 100, the Hardrock Hundred, or the Boston or New York City Marathon – has then attempted to extract fees from those races in exchange for being a qualifier.

So we won’t pay. And we hope runners understand why.

Hardrock Hundred
Run, Rabbit, Run 50 and 100 Mile Runs
Speedgoat 50K
Wasatch Front 100
San Diego 100 Mile Run
Cascade Crest 100 Mile Run
Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run
Grindstone 100 Mile Run
Big Horn Trail Runs

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77 Comments

  1. Hello,
    I’m French and I agree @ 100% your decision. Trail running becomed a real business in France but a lot of big races refused to be implicated in this system.
    I have never run the UTMB unfortunately before this system and I have decided with my friends to boycott it.
    Congratulation and I support you !
    Najib

        • Fred Abramowitz on

          The fee is actually somewhat higher, and varies with the size of the event – the more participants, the higher the fee. If the event is multi distance, the event must pay for each distance. In the past events were also required to provide a complete email list of all participants as well as a link to UTMB on their website, though I’m not sure if this is still required.

  2. Ultra Grumpy on

    This letter should be published in French in a European trail running magazine. Sunshine is the best disinfectant.

    • Source: https://www.facebook.com/unionnoitra/

      Pourquoi nous ne paierons pas: UTMB, ITRA et la raquette “payer pour les points”
       0
      Par l’ auteur invité sur 27/06/2017 En vedette , Nouvelles
      Il y a plusieurs semaines, Hardrock Hundred Endurance Run a reçu un courriel de Catherine Poletti qui, avec son mari Michel, organisateur de UTMB et ITRA.
      Il a déclaré, en substance, que Kilian Jornet (le champion de Hardrock) souhaitait exécuter UTMB, mais comme Hardrock n’avait pas payé pour rejoindre ITRA, kilian se retrouvant sans les “points” de qualification de l’UTMB.
      La question étant de demander si Hardrock pouvais payer. Afin que Kilian puisse courir ? La réponse est non. Et voici pourquoi.
      Pour ceux qui ne connaissent pas la procédure, UTMB exige que les courses ultra paient une cotisation annuelle à ITRA pour gagner des “points” qualifiés. Le Hardrock Hundred a été clair: UTMB est invité à utiliser les résultats de la RHS comme étant admissible à l’entrée, mais nous n’avons pas L’intérêt de les payer pour le faire. De nombreuses autres courses, y compris Run Rabbit Run, Bighorn et Wasatch, ont également été abordées par UTMB / ITRA et ont demandé à payer pour être admissible aux “points” de l’UTMB.
      Beaucoup d’entre nous ont également été contactés par les coureurs qui ont été informés par UTMB / ITRA pour contacter les organisateurs de course pour les inciter à payer les frais afin que ces coureurs puissent obtenir des «points». Certains coureurs ont demandé beaucoup d’entre nous ont refusé.
      Tout d’abord, la décision d’adopter une norme de qualification basée sur les «points» a gagné l’exécution d’une des courses de l’UTMB (par opposition, par exemple, à une loterie) était l’UTMB. Nous ne croyons pas que nous devrions être tenus de payer pour le programme d’entrée de l’UTMB.
      Deuxièmement, UTMB et ITRA sont strictement des entreprises à but lucratif, avec des revenus estimés en millions d’euros. Il est difficile d’éviter de conclure que l’exigence d’événements pour «payer des points» n’est pas seulement une autre façon de maximiser ce qui est déjà une entreprise très rentable. Bien que nous ne fassions pas défaut à UTMB / ITRA pour avoir cherché à maximiser leurs bénéfices, leur programme “payer pour les points” ne contribue pas au bien-être de notre sport. Ils ne font aucune inspection de l’un des événements auxquels ils attribuent des «points», ne font aucune diligence raisonnable pour vérifier si ces événements sont sûrs, bien organisés ou répondent à d’autres normes minimales et, au mieux de nous, n’ont jamais refusé Pour attribuer des «points» à tout événement qui est prêt à payer. En effet, avec de plus en plus d’Américains souhaitant exécuter UTMB, certains nouveaux événements avec peu ou pas de bilan (ou même mauvais) ont constaté que «payer des points» est un moyen facile de générer des frais d’entrée.
      En raison de diverses restrictions fédérales, étatiques et locales, American ultras n’a pas le luxe de mettre dix mille coureurs sur nos cours puisque UTMB peut et ne peut donc pas générer les revenus que UTMB peut. Même si les courses américaines pouvaient, beaucoup choisiraient de ne pas le considérer contrairement à l’esprit d’ultrarunning. Nous reconnaissons que, à mesure que notre sport grandit, une commercialisation croissante et un désir de monétiser la popularité du sport peuvent être inévitables, et en effet, pour le meilleur ou pour le pire, l’UTMB et la «Ironmanisation» de notre grand sport pourraient être l’avenir inévitable. Mais bien que nous comprenions bien pourquoi de nombreux coureurs veulent exécuter UTMB, ce ne sont pas les valeurs que nous pensons représenter le meilleur de notre sport ou que nous souhaitons continuer.
      Nous n’avons aucun problème avec UTMB en utilisant nos courses comme éliminatoires. Mais aucun autre événement – y compris les événements populaires et emblématiques tels que Western States 100, Hardrock Hundred ou Boston ou New York City Marathon – a ensuite tenté d’extraire des frais de ces courses en échange d’un match de qualification.
      Nous ne paierons donc pas. Et nous espérons que les coureurs comprendront pourquoi.
      Hardrock Cent
      Run, Rabbit, Run 50 et 100 Mile Run
      Speedgoat 50K
      Wasatch Front 100
      San Diego 100 Mile Run
      Cascade Crest 100 Mile Run
      Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run
      Grindstone 100 Mile Run
      Les courses de Big Horn Trail

  3. All this fuss for 100 euros??? I doubt it can be considered a racket if it’s so cheap, doesn’t seem much of a profit for the Polettis.

    I’d like to know how they justify that fee, though. Publicity for the qualifying races (they’ll be named and probably linked to on the UTMB site and some other places)? Some sort of paperwork expenses?

    Of course, no one is forcing a race to pay to become a qualifier. Still, it seems like a cheap way to make sure you’ll bring in top talent who wants to qualify for UTMB, they way the WS Golden Ticket races are doing.

    I understand it’s a matter of principle, probably.

    • Ultra Grumpy on

      It’s a levy without any benefit in return. The richest and biggest race taxes smaller feeder races. At the same time UTMB fights with international skyrunning association for the primacy in trail running world. This sort of behavior should be stopped.

      • No it’s not without any benefit in return. If it was, no races would ever pay. It’s advertisement in disguise. The races that feel compelled to pay do it in hopes that a UTMB points sticker on their registration page will steer traffic their way and sell out their race.
        But of course, big races have nothing to gain there as they will sell out anyway.
        Where it gets morally tricky is where small races will start giving in to maximize their profit, causing fear in competing small races that haven’t paid and therefore have to go the extra mile to drag runners, or start paying in turn.

      • “It’s a levy without any benefit in return.”

        Don’t think so. Some races advertise how much their race is worth in terms of UTMB points and will attract some runners that way. Definitely a financial return.

    • What if HRH *and* WS100 *and* every other race that uses qualifiers begins charging for points? That cost will quickly add up, and it will have to be passed onto the runners, many of whom may not even care about the qualification. It’s a racket; UTMB is effectively trying to indirectly extract money from runners who have no interest in running UTMB.

    • Doesn’t seem like much of a profit? Per the UTMB website there are 163 2017 qualifying points races for Jan/Feb alone! Probably the slowest months of the year. Add in 253 from June and you have 416 from just 3 months. Average for the year will be over 1500. Thats approximately 150,000euro(discounts for multi-distance events may affect downwards, but I think the 3month average will be higher..I didn’t feel like counting all that out though) for having races ask and pay to have the privelege of being a qualifier. Small numbers and big volume add up fast. I’d call that one of the easiest profit sources ever.

      I support these races.

  4. Fair points! Us there any public record showing UTMB and ITRA are owned by the same people?

  5. I’ll bet anyone a 100 Euros they find a way to make an exception for Killian so he can run the race 😉

    No points for double everest summit?

  6. Killean should be automatically “qualified” by running Everest twice in 1 week. Have they no shame in asking you to pay money and using Killean as an excuse to maximize their profits? He will bring UTMB much more money through media attention. They could give him wild card or something.

    I completely support your decision!

  7. Hello,

    ITRA is a non profit organization with 3 level of members, organizers, federations and runners, from all around the world. Yes, the president is Michel Poletti but is not alone.

    Everyone can use the ITRA points like a prerequisite entry, not just utmb. Lavaredo also use them.

    ITRA also work for the security and the health of runners. We can find very bad race organizer that risk the life of runners and volunteers.

    The ITRA want to work very close with all the actors of trail running. It is a challenge to sit everyone around the table.

    Finally, the runners ranking is very useful when it’s time to evaluate who is an elite runner or not. Much more, pretty easy to have the runners list of the best runner in your country.

    Sebastien Cote, From Canada, member of the ITRA executive board from 2015 to 2017 and cofounder of Distances.plus magazine, founder of Harricana and cofounder of Grand Trail book.

    • ITRA has unbelievable pointing system. ITRA has to focus on fair point system of runners. As a ultra runner i can see that ITRA can not manage this issue well. I strongly believe that ITRA should have a strong management team.

      There are some races really shouldnt be on itra such as You Yangs Ultra (Melbourne-Australia) as i experienced that race organizers do not take this job seriously and everyone get lost in the race. BUT they give ITRA and UTMB point because they pay money. This is no right and because of itra make money we runners shouldnt be victim of this system.

      UTMB shouldnt be central of Ultra running. but poletti family try to make UTMB ultra runners mecca and sucking their money.

      RUNNERS RANKİNG IS NOT USEFUL AND NOT RIGHT

      We need a BETTER Itra management!!!

    • Thank you for tge clarifucation about itra being non profit.

      The task of itra is not to racket races and my feeling is tgat what they do is highly beneficial to the sport.
      Money goes to itra, not utmb !

      So I think this letter contains à fair amount of”shortcut” that result in a demonization of utmb and thePolett.

      They are goid reasons to criticize utb for its excessive peloton size, enry fée, sponsorship flags and overall arogance.

      But Poletti already made à lottery before setting the point system and today you need points+chance+money to get in !

      Utmb has massive revenues but they put mass if money in the volunteer support chiropracteur and médical support at every aid station, safety etc… This is à volunteer based race that gather goidwill from many valley and the Poletti are the maverick Who kicked it off in 2000’s. One thing they stand for is the mass start without “élite pack” all runer are treated equal all along the race without pacer and no more than one to help runer at aid stations.
      To me thèse rules are just more authentic to the spirit of the sport. No pacer is just more true/fair and I still don’t get the reasonwhy it’s so common in the us.
      All that to say that utmb stands for some great values, they are not for profit and do not deserve such blunt demonization.

      This is contrasting with the “america style” but here in France we are many to favor the rugged wild way that we find in tougher ultras such as Échappée Belle and others. Many of us run off thèse races because the Alps have so many hutts and the path are do tough !
      (especialky compared to what I could runis us Parks). Here the National Parks are free, the path are maintained by tge hiking fédération volunteer and majority of hutt are run by the French Alpine Club.
      So we are quite far from commercialization…

  8. I can see arguments on both sides, but what RD’s need to decide is whether paying a €100 fee will see an increase in participants that makes it worthwhile. Realistically, you only need a couple of extra runners to enter your race because it has UTMB qualifying points to break even.

    I guess that in the US, the vast majority of entrants to an ultra have no intention of applying to run in one of the UTMB races. So the decision not to cough up is entirely justified. But over in Europe, that’s frequently not the case. Here in the UK, there are events that have paid the fee and those that haven’t. The ones that have, have seen a big increase in their entrant numbers as people seek to gain qualifying points. The €100 fee has been repaid many times over.

    From my experience, I was keen to run the Andorra Trail Series races this year, but decided to look elsewhere once I found out that they didn’t offer UTMB points. Simply because I like entering the UTMB races every year (this year will be my 9th) and there are only so many big ultras you can do in a summer if you are a regular runner as opposed to a sponsored pro.

    As it happens, I don’t like the system at all, but with a commercial hat on, it makes perfect sense. The UTMB brand has grown so successfully, and the event is so popular worldwide, that they are making the most of it while they can. It may not be in the “spirit” of ultra-running, but sport, like it or not, is business. And that’s how business works.

    • Austin Baird on

      “what RD’s need to decide is whether paying a €100 fee will see an increase in participants that makes it worthwhile”

      Mehh. HR, Cascade Crest, Angeles Crest, RRR, and Wasatch aren’t hurting for runners. What’s going to happen if HR pays the fee? They’ll get 2,000 “Never” applicants next year instead of 1,950? These races fill up with or without the UTMB points and it’s worth it to the directors to stick to their principles.

  9. Andreas Pettersson on

    I totally agree with your standpoint! I’m racing UTMB this year but i cant see why any other race would pay ITRA or UTMB.

  10. Great decision. Reminds me a bit of the Ironman qualifiers although they had to pay almost $100 per athlete.
    At the end it’s all about supply and demand. As long as the UBTB is getting their races filled up it will work for them.

  11. We decided to “pay up” at Kodiak Ultra Marathons because we had so many of our runners request it. They base the charge on the race revenue, so for a small race like ours the cost for the 100 miler to be a qualifier was around $300. Happy to pay that so we can help our friends get to Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc – UTMB even though we agree it is a racket. Even crazier is the fact we have to pay separate to get points for our 50 miler and 50k! Truley a money grab. They only look at our dnf rate, elevation profile, GPS track to award us points. There are zero qualifications we must meet in terms of support, safety, or rules. For a small, new race it is nice that we may get additional runners just because we are a qualifier but we originally paid retroactively to vet our previous runners points. Cause we love them so much!

    • I am pretty sure you can get an ITRA “Organiser” membership, and the fee is related to your total turnover (self assessed). So for instance I run a bunch of shoestring races in Nepal but few turn over more than $3000, so I pay once as an organiser for a year, and then can register all of my races through the year with GPS tracks, info about checkpoints and support etc and then gain a difficulty rating based on that information after it has been checkout by ITRA.

      If I so desire, then I can show this information to UTMB or any other race that requires runners to have shown they can complete courses of a certain difficulty before permitting entry, but I don’t have to.

      After the race is completed, then I upload the official results in a specified format. Then it is easy for organisers to check runners have the experience they say they have. And this is, in theory, useful. Another race I work on in Europe (UTMR) is wild and every single application is vetted by the race director so she is clear people have the experience to handle themselves if the weather turns bad, at night at altitude. While trusting the applications, sometimes it is good to verify, and the approach taken by the ITRA would seem a logical solution to that.

    • You guys sound like great people. I appreciate that you respect your runners’ desires to run UTMB.

  12. ITRA and UTMB does pretty much nothing for paying races:
    – no promotion (look on the website what in the news – races in… march)
    – no help in organisational area\
    – even no f2f contact with organisers. Race certification is 100% online…

    What’s more, ITRA collects the money for participants not taking the part in certified races, but taking part in the whole event – does not certify short races accompanying main event, but charges organiser for such races (require to show the participation in general, not only in certified races – the more people taking part, the more money organiser have to pay to ITRA).

    Organisers do not want to pay ITRA, but the pay because runners toking part in their events want to collect points. If the race will not pay, it won’t get runners attention.

    ITRA is some kind of mafia, cosa nostra of trail running – it needs to be changed.

    Jarek, trail race organiser from Poland

    • “ITRA collects the money for participants not taking the part in certified races, but taking part in the whole event – does not certify short races accompanying main event, but charges organiser for such races (require to show the participation in general, not only in certified races – the more people taking part, the more money organiser have to pay to ITRA).”

      As far as my last annual registration with ITRA, it is not measured around number of people taking part, but approx turnover of the event you wish to register and you inform them of what that amount it that you would have to pay. Worth checking again.

      ITRA is an open association, and you can stand to be a representative if you want to have your say. Maybe contact Krzysztof GAJDZINSKI who is your Organiser Representative, ask your questions and give your complains and try to ask him for latest information.

  13. As one of the organizers of the biggest Macedonian ultra ‘Krali Marko Trails’ I completely understand and support the Hardrock 100’s decision. Ultra running always differed from the traditional road running in the fact that it was never about profiting. The runners were always the ones that deserved the fullest attention, not the organizers. That is why we aimed for the lowest entry fees, enough to cover only the necessary expenses.
    However, the fact of the matter is that, while the sport is growing rapidly in the last couple of years, every serious trail and ultra runner, especially in Europe, has UTMB in mind when applying for any other race. So, if your reputation allows you to be confident that your race will collect a decent number of racers, you can freely ignore UTMB and ITRA, and still pull out a decent race. But unfortunately, that is not the case here, since, while the number or ultra runners increase every year, new races keep popping out, to the point of having more then one race to chose almost every weekend. And almost all of those races are paying UTMB and ITRA the 100euro fee, so you are kinda forced to do so as well, otherwise you will be left with a race without racers. And, to be honest, 100euro is not that much to pay for the benefit you would get (or should say to avoid the penalty you would be getting from ITRA).
    That being said, we have and we will continue to pay the 100 euros in order to ensure a successful race, even though we’d rather put those money directly in the race budget, to direct benefit of the runners.

  14. Ian Maddieson, US runner's representative ITRA on

    While I thoroughly agree that asking for money to have points awarded for UTMB qualification is despicable, the authors of this letter are wrong to implicate ITRA (International Trail Running Association) in the process. ITRA is a non-profit and, among other things, ranks runners across all relevant races that come to its attention, maintains a good calendar of events worldwide and is working on a quality rating system for races; no fees are involved in any of this. UTMB on the other hand is a big business, and has obviously spotted another significant revenue stream in raising money from race organizers for their race to be included in the points qualifying list. The confusion perhaps arises from the fact that Michel Poletti is President of ITRA and Catherine Poletti is the race director of UTMB and all its spin-offs, so the two organizations are very intertwined at the personal level.

    • Still you have to pay ITRA 😉 100 euro, 200 euro, even more 😉 You get nothing for the money… nothing!

      • In theory it is funding a small organisation that works for the benefit of the future of the sport – doping, security, athlete ranking, world trail championships, negotiations is IAAF etc. There are open elections for representatives from different countries such as Ian above.
        At the very least you get a link on a calendar on their site!

    • Ian, I think it used to be free to get awarded “points” for the UTMB (I think). You just wrote, signed a declaration, and got the badge.
      I think most people haven’t really thought about the management of registrations for an insanely popular race. If you have 5000+ registrations for a serious 100 miles in the mountains, where weather can be changeable, and vehicle access is highly restricted in places, how do you check for a certain standard of experience without having to employ a team of researchers to do it? If you ask for participation in other races of a known standard, how do you build a list like that?
      So as far as I understand, and correct me if I am wrong, just a few years ago this role was handed over to the ITRA so that assessing the experience of entrants might be a bit easier and independent of UTMB. So the sentence “UTMB … is a big business, and has obviously spotted another significant revenue stream in raising money from race organizers for their race to be included in the points qualifying list.” is incorrect. If I pay, I pay the ITRA.

  15. Enrico Pollini on

    ITRA is not an enterprise nor a “strictly profit” entreprise
    ITRA is not “owned” by Poletti or UTMB
    ITRA is a free, non profit, democratic Association, with public statute and budget.

    You do not like Michel Poletti as President? Join in, participate to the voting process and elect somebody else.

  16. Why don’t HardRock removes UTMB from the HardRock qualifiying races ?
    Afterall, Hardrock never asked money from ITRA to accept it as a qualifying race!

  17. The critical point here is whether Hardrock 100 was listed as a UTMB qualifying (point giving) race when Kilian signed up for Hardrock 100. My guess is that UTMB had it listed back then and hence will need to credit Kilian the points. Does anyone have historical data for UTMB listings?

  18. I just checked, and as of today the 2016 Hardrock 100 is listed as a qualifying race on UTMBs website (6 points). I don’t see how UTMB could possibly claim that due to a lack of payment points can not be awarded to Kilian.

  19. Mark Cliggett on

    I’ve helped a few PNW races get their ITRA evaluations done. In addition to incorrectly stating that ITRA is for-profit, the article is also misleading when it states that no other races pay to become qualifiers even for iconic events like the Boston and New York.

    Boston states that courses must be certified by USATF or AIMS (an international version of USATF). AIMS has membership fees of $300-$850/year and on top of that you have to pay someone to measure your course. According to this Chronotrack article (https://www.chronotrack.com/blog/ins-outs-usatf-course-certification), USATF certification costs a minimum of $30 (the paperwork fee) and again possibly hundreds of $ for measurement. In reality, every qualifying race for Boston has paid some money and done some paperwork to get on the USATF list.

    What UTMB and ITRA are doing is trying to shift from the current “every race is different” model to something more similar to what Boston does. ITRA is the equivalent of USATF/AIMS – a 3rd party that evaluates the race. Like Boston, UTMB gets out of the business of having to evaluate races, and runners know that if the 3rd party has blessed their race it will work for qualification. As someone said above, ITRA charges either 100 euros per evaluated course/distance or you can join as a member (based on your total revenue) and have all your races evaluated “for free” after that. Membership costs range from 50 euros for small events to 500 euros. Those fees go to ITRA to support its work, not to UTMB.

    People who like how it works with Boston or New York should be in favor of this change. The status quo is that races like Hardrock and Western States have their own proprietary qualifier lists – each different and each with an opaque process to get on the list. This isn’t great for runners since we have to manage multiple qualifier lists if we hope to ever run the bucket list races. It’s not great for a newer race trying to get on the qualifier lists for multiple different bucket list races. And it’s probably not great for the bucket list races either since there is probably friction every year about who gets on the qualifier list. Imagine a world where most races used something like ITRA points to express qualification standards. Runners could plan their calendar to accumulate enough points to satisfy the most difficult qualification and know that they’ll be covered for any other race as well. Race organizers could get their race evaluated once and know that it will be honored at multiple races that care about qualification. Races with qualifiers could get out of the business of picking Haves and Have Nots, and focus on how hard they want qualification to be.

    All that said, ITRA has its issues. The process is cumbersome, it really needs to separate more from UTMB, and it’s not delivering enough value for the fees it charges.

    On the process, a good indicator is that paying the fee – practically the first step in the process – usually prompts a fraud hold on my credit card. After going through the whole process multiple times I can submit a new race for evaluation in about 15 minutes, but for an ambivalent race director trying to get through the first time, it is pretty slow, confusing, and frustrating.

    With respect to the UTMB relationship, there’s been enough bad press and suspicions – in many cases inaccurate – that the best approach would be for UTMB to support ITRA strongly but sever all obvious connections. Beyond the Poletti connection, this includes things like ensuring that ITRA anti-doping work is done at any race but UTMB. A friend told me ITRA was out testing at UTMB last year. From the Western States press release this year, it looks like anti-doping was done with help from WADA not ITRA even though WS is an ITRA member. Looking at these facts, a reasonable person can easily conclude that ITRA is first and foremost about serving UTMB. I don’t think that’s the intent – UTMB and the individuals were/are just trying to get ITRA off the ground – but at this point both ITRA and UTMB need to make some drastic changes on this to have a chance of changing people’s minds.

    Lastly, in terms of value, the cost and hassle of working through ITRA is pretty high relative to the value races receive, especially a well-established race (like Hardrock) which has no problem filling its openings. For a small race trying to fill its slots, attracting one or two extra runners looking for ITRA points should cover the ITRA fees – it’s a good business decision. For a race that already fills every year, the argument becomes more abstract – a service to a few runners who care about UTMB, a greater good argument (if getting ITRA points means that one runner won’t get on an airplane to fly to a different qualifier race, it will dwarf the environmental benefit of going cupless), a bet on some future world where the qualification process has less friction. Add in the fact that races need to be re-evaluated every year – more $ and time. (I asked ITRA about this and they said that in Europe, where trail racing is newer, the courses tend to change significantly every year… and to be fair that happens some in the US too). If I’m a busy RD with a full race, I don’t see why I mess around with this. This is a chicken-and-egg problem – unless more races use ITRA points to define qualification, the value of points will stay low and people will have little incentive to start using them. ITRA could take some steps to address this cost/value problem and generate momentum, e.g. make evaluations good for more than one year (USATF certification is good for 10 years).

    The status quo may work today (especially for bucket list races, maybe not so much for runners or smaller races) but will fail at some point as more and more races fill up and especially if they each respond with new-and-different qualifier lists. The ITRA alternative should scale, and parallels the process used by the iconic events mentioned above. I don’t think it will be the big races like Hardrock that drive the change though – the current system works well enough for them and those races are busy enough with other real, more urgent problems. It might happen over time if smaller races make the effort (because it’s a good business decision) and races that hit the “full” point choose to use ITRA points to define qualification instead of creating yet another proprietary qualifiers list.

    • You make some great points. I really like the environmental one. I would just like to add that really the only people that lose from the stance that these RDs are taking is the trail runner. They may have to forgo their favorite race because that RD is taking a stance on this, and instead travel to a race that has points.

  20. If Kilian is not allowed to race UTMB this year, it would be nice if other top runners would cancel their participation as a sign of support and to change this practice that i guess not so many runners know about.
    I was considering applying to UTMB next year, not anymore, at least as long as this system will continue.

  21. This is a lose / lose situation, the biggest loser being us participants of these races. This further narrows our opportunities to choose races that will allow us to qualify for these pinnacle events. Our discipline is demanding enough to run one qualifier, let alone a whole other set qualifiers. I will foremost say that this statement is not accurate. Please allow me to explain why below. I also want to preface that race directing can be a thankless job. No matter how flawlessly an event may go, you can’t please everybody. I have the utmost respect for those who take on the sacrifice and challenge to host and manage all the moving parts that goes into these races. I am forever grateful to all race directors for allowing me to have these experiences and challenges that have made me a better person.

    If you search for Big Horn Trail Race on the UTMB site: http://utmbmontblanc.com/en/page/17/Qualifying%20races.html you will see them listed. Why? Because I registered and paid for it. I have all documentation between the race staff and myself spanning from 7+ months of persistence, and they did not once cite this moral conflict. I also registered the Silver State 50 race – paying for the fee out of my own pocket and managing the UTMB registration qualifying process myself. John Trent, the RD, did voice his concerns to me and was passionate about standing up to the ITRA. John told me at one point he no longer wanted to follow through with the UTMB registration process, but extending his compassion to me as a past participant of his race, and allowed me to continue to register the Silver State 50 as a UTMB qualifying event.

    If you would like to hear more of my story, please visit https://ruffrd.com/2017/06/28/utmb-part-1/ . Yes, this is a shameless and handy way for me to promote my startup business. I won’t dilute this any further than I need to. I have a problem with Big Horn being so quick to jump on a band wagon without disclosing why they paid for 2016. AND then to ask me several times for the UTMB qualifier graphic.

    I have openly engaged the IRTA to rethink their structure and even have a proposal to them that would be mutually beneficial for both parties. This has fallen on deaf ears. Our trail community is based on team work. Furthermore, we pride ourselves on going above and beyond to accomplish what most think is crazy. I would urge these races to openly engage and collaborate with the ITRA to find a solution. A boycott like this only hurts your participants in the end. I am more than willing to facilitate this. I care because I have a score to settle with Mt. Blanc. I truly do not want bureaucracy like this to stand in the way of anyone else’s dreams.

    • Steve Gottfredson on

      Tim, this is my opinion exactly. I talked to the RDs and told them I’d pay the $100 for the points. I was told not to do it. If UTMB were smart, they’d allow a participant to pay for points. They’d probably get more money!

  22. Using the UTMB point system is cheap and I can only imagine that it is a good promotion for any race, attracts top level runners and guarantees that the race meets the expected standards.
    The problem as I see it is that the UTMB and ITRA should not be run by the same organisation. The point system should be used for top races around the world and have a unified ranking system for both runners and organizers and make sure that the expected standard are kept.

    • ” good promotion for any race, attracts top level runners and guarantees that the race meets the expected standards”

      Promotion for what? Every year those races have more entries than slots.
      “Attracts top level runners” is important to who?
      Meets expected standards. How, exactly? Its already been stated that those orgs do nothing for the races except gather fees.

  23. Well written article.
    As organiser of the Matterhorn Ultraks in Zermatt we constantly had the same approach as you do and made it clear to runners who ask us about those points.

  24. Sylvain Heklinger on

    I’m French, living in Belgium.
    Here (in Belgium) the entry fees for the races are very low compared to France, and from my point of view I’ve found a better “trail spirit” than in France.
    As an example, I’ve paid 10€ to enrol in a 44K / 1,600m D+. That’s peanuts! And the services provided by the organisation were great.
    I have never been interested by running UTMB. It’s too commercial and far too much crowded for me. That’s not the idea of the trail I have.
    Such actions from UTMB / ITRA owners will only convince me even more never to run the UTMB.
    So…. Let’s try to tun the Hardrock 100in a few years 😉

  25. Paolo Griselli on

    ITRA is not UTMB and UTMB is not ITRA. The problem is if Poletti speaks, speaks as owner of UTMB and as member of the executive board of ITRA. The two roles are evidently incompatible

  26. Troy Shellhamer on

    I applaud these races for not partaking in the scheme… They have no need to, as they are successful in their own and why pay some mafia structure?

  27. The principal of not paying the fee makes plenty of sense to me. On the other hand, races like WS100 are effectively imposing these fees on runners who must enter other races for 6-8 years+ in order to gain entry. Sure, runners get to run all of those races, but I think many would prefer to take a few off but enter anyway in order to keep their lottery streaks. If you figure 2 races per runner just to keep in the lotto, that’s upwards of $1,000 in all race and travel costs, and that’s per runner, not per race. This benefits the small qualifying races just UTMB points do. Rackets abound. I’m going to start running these courses with friends unsupported and outside of race weekends – it’s all getting to be too much.

  28. nikki kimball on

    Thank you for this concise, well-written, well-explained position statement,
    Hardrock Hundred
    Run, Rabbit, Run 50 and 100 Mile Runs
    Speedgoat 50K
    Wasatch Front 100
    San Diego 100 Mile Run
    Cascade Crest 100 Mile Run
    Angeles Crest 100 Mile Run
    Grindstone 100 Mile Run
    Big Horn Trail Runs,
    I’ve been familiar with these races and their RD’s for years (decades for most). I love your understanding of the culture of our sport, and your willingness to take a stand against a profit-driven scheme which does nothing to enhance the sport, its athletes, its volunteers or the millions of dollars ultrarunners and ultra races have raised for a wide range of charities. Thanks also to Black Hills 100 and the Scout Mt races for joining in. I can not overstate my respect for Fred, Karl, Luke and the RD’s of the above races. Thanks for keeping ultra running about running and racing with a hefty dose of good citizenry, be it donations, trail work, cash pay out to winners or simply adding to the economies of your various locales.

  29. Within three years the UTMB will be sold to a Chinese corporation, just like IronMan…I’m hoping the trail running community will see the light and not be part of the big game. I’m all for hard working race directors and small race businesses making a good profit, but we have to draw the line somewhere or loose our trail running souls.

  30. Carsten Quell on

    Good job, race directors! Look at FIFA or the IOC. Is that where we want ultrarunning to go? A sports monopoly enforcing its rules on all while being accountable to none? I do not fault UTMB for trying but I call on all, race organizers and runners, to push back and resist. If we don’t, we only have ourselves to blame for the “Ironmanification” of our sport. I like professionally organized, safe races as much as anyone else but no race director needs a UTMB stamp-of-approval for that. I have always something was suspect since they introduced their points system, now I know why. There are so many beautiful races to race. Shame, the UTMB is no longer one of them!

  31. I checked out the UTMB website and it states that the points needed to run UTMB this year should be counted from ITRA races run between Jan 2015 and Dec 2016. So hardrock 2017 can’t be a qualifying race for this year’s UTMB. I don’t get it…

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