|Nick Clark - definitely bearded|
At the end of last year I made a few light-hearted predictions about ultrarunning in 2012, including that ultra beards would go out of fashion. From what I've seen so far this year the men with beards still have beards. But for anyone trying to emulate their achievements, the important question is...do beards make you run faster in the mountains?
Using rigorous scientific methods which I'm unwilling to disclose, I've decided that the secret to success does not lie in some kind of Samson-like ability from not cutting your hair anywhere. Western States and Hardrock will put this to the test in the US but here's a sample comparison for interest's sake:
Tony Krupicka (injured)
Geoff Roes (taking time off to get back his mojo)
Nick Clark (see photo above which I'm posting again - clearly there are some issues)
Joe Grant (calls everything 'douche grade' and wears racing flats to do muddy, technical, Spanish mountain races)
Timothy Olson (seems to be winning a lot of stuff and providing a ray of hope for pogonophiles)
Kilian Journet and all the Europeans (they seem to do well in general)
Dakota Jones (pretty sure he couldn't grow a grizzly beard yet but this isn't holding him back)
Mike Wolfe (with a name like that you might expect a beard, but it would just get in the way of him Tweeting)
Dave Mackey (Ultrarunner of the Year 2011 with zero beard)
Adam Campbell (on fire, so it's lucky he doesn't have a beard to burn)
Anna Frost (unstoppable and definitely beard-less)
Clearly beards are not benefiting runners in 2012 as much as, say, in 2010. My own accidental experiment with a pathetic beard while I forgot my razor in Chamonix did seem to suggest I was improving...but that could well have been down to training rather than mystical beard-related powers. The beard has gone and I haven't slowed down, so I believe it was either too weak a beard or just didn't help anyway.
I'm also fairly confident that beards don't make women faster. I'm yet to see a woman with a beard win a race, although I'll admit there may be a few further back in the pack.
The predictions in full and how they're panning out:
1. Mike Wardian will win at least one really major trail ultra, finally proving that he can find his way through the woods as well as run fast. It's only mid-season so Mike has at least 30 ultras left this year and I'm confident he'll win plenty.
2. Several people will run under 14 hours for 100 miles on various surfaces and at least a couple will break 13 too. Mike Morton is making this true all by himself with three already in 2012, plus Hal Koerner knocked out a 13:24 at Rocky Raccoon. I think there's still scope for some sub-13h action this year.
3. Western States will be run on the normal course and won't be as fast as the past two years. Looking like a safe bet, but with such a classy field they may well run the fastest full course time to break the 15:40 best by Mike Morton.
4. Some men you've never heard of will win big ultras in the US but you'll have the same names for the women at the front of the top races. Ok, this hasn't really happened yet but it's only the start of the main summer season.
5. China will join the ultra bandwagon, train up some marathon runners and send them to races to make them the 'Salomon' of 2012. These runners will then run away at the finish line and claim asylum. I've heard there's a secret program and these Chinese runners will be at the Olympics then will become British citizens.
6. North Korea will try to copy this 'success' but their runners will run away before the starting gun even goes off. I think they're too messed up to know what the Chinese are up to right now.
7. Races in the Euro area will become very cheap (to the rest of the world) as the currency becomes monopoly money. This is happening to an alarming degree and if Greece leaves the Euro, as it looks like they may, then plan to do some cheap trips to Europe.
8. In the quest for lighter and more minimalist shoes, one company will come up with the idea of injecting shoes with helium, which will lead to hilarious accidents on course as people with squeaky voices limp into aid stations. If anyone does this I'm suing as it's my idea and I'm in America so I'd probably win.
9. Ultra beards will go out of fashion. See above.
10. A tribe from the Amazon will be discovered who run all day and night in Hoka-like shoes and have done for centuries. A book will be written and Scott Jurek will race them. I'm really hoping there's an explorer down in the Amazon who'll find a lost tribe who run all day with dead leopards stuck to their feet and that these large, cushioned shoes allow them to achieve untapped levels of running. If so, I'll let Scott know and he can take a break from his book tour.