Why Hardrock and Other U.S. Races Won’t Pay to Become UTMB Qualifiers

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[Editor’s note] This is an op-ed written by Fred Abramowitz, race director for the Run Rabbit Run 50 and 100, and member of the board of directors for the Hardrock 100. 

Some background: UTMB works off of a points-based entry system. Where many U.S. races use a lottery, UTMB requires runners to acquire points by running  between one and three qualifying races. Each qualifying race comes with a certain number of points, between one and six, and runners need to acquire 15 points in order to apply to enter the race. 

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

UTMB and ITRA issued the following response to the letter (above) written by nine U.S. race directors. 

  1. It is written : “Catherine Poletti, who, along with her husband Michel, owns UTMB and ITRA”

No, Catherine and Michel Poletti don’t own ITRA nor UTMB®. The ITRA is an association and its governance is ensured by a Steering Committee and an Executive Board. Michel Poletti is the association’s current elected President. Catherine Poletti is one of the ITRA’s founder members, and does not have any decision-making power inside the association.

The UTMB® is co-organised by the LLC Autour du Mont Blanc and Association les Trailers du Mont Blanc. Catherine and Michel Poletti are co-managers of the LLC Autour du Mont-Blanc and co-directors of UTMB®.

  1. It is written : “UTMB and ITRA are strictly for-profit enterprises, with revenues estimated in the millions of Euros.”

The ITRA is a non-profit association founded under Swiss law. Its financial statements havebeen published during the General Meeting on 11th June 2017 and have been sent to all the attendees.

For more information on ITRA, including its finances, you can consult the presentation made during the General Meeting by clicking here.

The UTMB® organization’s budget is driven by the LLC Autour du Mont-Blanc whose annual accounts are filed with the French administration.

  1. It is written : “UTMB requires ultra races to pay an annual fee to ITRA to earn qualifying “points.”” [1]

No, the ITRA offers different services to runners and organizers, including a race evaluation system. These services are offered to ITRA members up-to-date with their membership, and for non-member organizers interested in using them.

Each organization decides on the necessary qualification requirements to enter its race.  Each organization can choose the races that will be qualifying for its race, whether or not they are evaluated by ITRA. There is no fee payable to be a race on the UTMB® qualifying list.

  1. It is written : “Kilian lacked the qualifying UTMB “points.”” [2]

The UTMB® organization has ensured that Kilian Jornet had his points. Regarding the performances of the latter and knowing the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run and its limited number of finishers (between 110 and 125), the UTMB® has chosen to add retroactively the race, on an exceptional basis, to the list of races allowing runners to qualify (6 points). Thischoice was approved by Dale Garland, the race director of Hardrock 100 Endurance Run. In fact, Kilian Jornet has his points to run the 2017 UTMB®.

Following the discussions resulting from this article, the ITRA wishes to provide anexplanation regarding its organization and operation in order to respond to the questions as accurately as possible.

The facts

ITRA received an email on 19th March, 2017 from UTMB® indicating that Hardrock 100 Endurance Run accepted the UTMB® proposal to be a qualifying race.

At the same time, the UTMB® proposed to the race director of Hardrock 100 Endurance Run that he be contacted by the ITRA, in order to let the latter present its organization and operation to him. The proposal was agreed.

Three days later, the ITRA contacted the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run as agreed and informed them by email about the general organization and the association’s missions. Since ITRA did not receive any answer to the last email sent, they concluded that the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run was not interested in joining the organization. The discussions stopped there and nothing else was done to follow up.

So far, the Hardrock 100 Endurance Run is not an ITRA member and has not been evaluated by ITRA.

ITRA organization

ITRA is an international non-profit association. Any positive balance of funds is fully reinvested to finance the ITRA’s development and activities.

Its members are runners, organizers, and national athletics federations. Today it counts 14 founding members, 14 institutional members, 874 organizer members, and 3198 runner members from 84 different countries.

Organizers and runners are represented by 86 national representatives elected for 2 years by the runner and organizer members of each country.

ITRA is directed by a Steering Committee elected democratically composed by 2 founding members, 8 institutional members, 8 organizer members and 4 runner members.

The day-to-day work is under the Executive Committee, composed by the president, the 4 vice-presidents, the secretary-general and the treasurer. The Executive Committee is elected by the Steering Committee. Michel Poletti is the current elected president.

All the ITRA elected members are volunteers: they do not receive any salary for their functions inside ITRA. The ITRA has 4 full-time or part-time employees.

The ITRA statutes are available here.

How is ITRA run ?

ITRA brings certain services to its members, but also offers some free services to all organizers or runners. Currently, they count 918 organizer accounts and 29,474 free runner accounts.

ITRA has set up many commissions to work on the different topics related to the sport:

The health commission
It organizes doctors and researchers in order to understand trail-running’s effects on health and to develop a health program for runners.

The security & safety commission
It offers solutions to help organizers by improving the safety measures set up in their races (The security guidelines can be downloaded for free in 6 languages on the ITRA website byclicking here).

The quality commission
It will soon offer to organizers a method to evaluate the international quality of their races.

The ranking and evaluation commission
It brings the ITRA Performance Index and the ITRA points’ calculation.

  • Much works has been carried out to improve the calculation of the Performance Index and other factors could be included in the calculation soon.
  • Race evaluations are requested through the organization’s account on the ITRA website. The account creation is free, the organization can decide to be a member or not. In the case of membership, the annual fees cover the evaluation requests for all the year, otherwise the price for an evaluation is 100€. Only quantifiable factors are used to evaluate races, namely: the distance and the elevation gain.

The World Championships commission
ITRA develops the technical and communication specifications and share them with the IAU and the local organizer. It works jointly with IAU and the local organizer in relation to the World Championships’ organization.

The elite athletes commission
Whenever the Steering Committee must take a strategic decision for ITRA in relation to this subject, it asks the elite athletes commission for their point of view.

For more information about ITRA, including its finances, you can consult the presentation made at the last General Assembly of ITRA, 11th June 2017 in Badia Prataglia, Italy, by clicking here.

Key information to remember

The ITRA evaluates GPS tracks of race organizers who request evaluation.

Points awarded by the ITRA to races allow runners to register on some races that require, in their race regulation, a minimum of points (such as UTMF, Lavaredo Ultra-Trail®, Madeira Island Ultra-Trail®, UTMB®, Trail Verbier Saint Bernard, Mauna to Mauna Ultra,…).

ITRA doesn’t intervene in the organizers’ choices regarding their qualifying races. This is not ITRA’s job, it is the role of the organizers only.

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