The World Trail Majors – what’s it really all about?

The World Trail Majors – what’s it really all about?

On 12th November a mysterious reel was released in tandem across the platforms of various races around the world suggesting something new was happening in the trail running world. On 13th November, these same races announced they were launching The World Trail Majors. “A diverse, respectful, sustainable and independent group of trail and ultra races”.

This group comprises:

  • Hong Kong 100 Ultramarathon: 18-21 January 2024
  • Black Canyon Ultra: 10-11 February 2024
  • The North Face Transgrancanaria: 21-25 February 2024
  • Mt. Fuji 100: 26-27 April 2024
  • MIUT Madeira Island Ultra Trail: 27-28 April 2024
  • Swiss Canyon Trail: 7-9 June 2024
  • South Downs Way 100: 8-9 June 2024
  • Quebec Mega Trail: 5-7 July 2024
  • RMB Ultra Trail Cape Town: 22-24 November 2024
The World Trail Majors Hong Kong 100. A line of people are running along a dusty trail with a lake in the distance behind them

Hong Kong 100 – image credit World Trail Majors

The news was received with mostly positive feelings across social media; many people were excited at the thought of a more grounded, less commercial option to UTMB. The question of sustainability was risen for a global race series; how can a series of races around the world encouraging runners to complete them be sustainable?

The first thing RunUltra wanted to do was to talk to the race directors themselves. We wanted to know how it came about and how it started. I reached out to UK race director James Elson who kindly agreed to meet me. Every other director who I emailed requesting more information responded almost immediately, each of them happy to help where they could.

The World Trail Majors Black Canyon Ultra a man is running across a western desert landscape with cacti and scrubby hills

Black Canyon Ultra – image credit World Trail Majors

What’s in it for the runner?

My first question to James was how are the World Trail Majors going to benefit the ordinary runner? 

“We felt as a group that we needed to get this launched for 2024, and ultimately we could have gone on forever trying to get everything in line, and at some point you’ve just got to go for it. So the actual information about the scoring system, what the Series means, what you get by being a participant in it, hasn’t really been shared yet.”

It would indeed have been difficult to share all that information at once – both the concept, the ideas, the rules, is a lot of information to put out in one go.

The World Trail Majors a man running along a dusty trail with pine trees and mountains in the distance behind him

The North Face Transgrancanaria – image credit World Trail Majors

The initial benefits to the runners won’t necessarily been felt immediately, James said. But there will be information passed between a group of Race Directors that share the same passion and more importantly, the same values. They are already sharing resources and knowledge about what the WTM means to them. “The flow of information will improve everything for runners, just not so much in a tangible sense in the short term.”

Going forward there will be an award system for runners taking part in the series and ranking, which is important at the elite end. Encouraging elite runners is something James feels strongly about. He feels the UK doesn’t attract enough elite runners and he really wants to offer an event that is exciting and allows all runners to observe how the elites run first hand.

Sustainability

For the vast majority there will be an award system that recognises a runners participation. James makes it very clear however, that the World Trails Majors is not a Series they expect you to complete, certainly not in one year. The idea is that you run the WTM which is local to you, then you pick one other “bucket list” race to travel to and make that your destination for the year. You cannot score in more than two races (or rather, your best score from two races is used). As James points out, it’s also impossible to attend all 9 events because two of them, Black Canyon Trail and South Downs Way 100 are on the same weekend.

The World Trail Majors. A man is running in front of the camera with Mount Fuji in the distance behind him, covered with snow

Mt Fuji 100 – image credit World Trail Majors

In time, the list of events will expand. It may be tiered, and there will definitely be more events which aren’t so far to travel to. I wonder if perhaps each “Major” race will grow a series of satellite events that runners can participate in before culminating in the “Major” race in the Series?

Runners will get an improved race experience; as far as James is concerned that means a much more substantial offering at the start and the finish. 

“It will be more engaging for family and crew; there’ll be an event village, event partners, event media including live streaming of the event.” James’s aim is to keep the local, ‘you’re a name not a number’ feel, which is why he’s always capped events at a certain number. “But you will also feel you are part of something bigger with international level runners at the front and a global feel for the whole race, lifting it up.”

The World Trail Majors A woman coming towards the camera along a rope bridge

MIUT Madeira Island Ultra Trail – image credit World Trail Majors

Sharing Resources

The Series will become more consistent. A great example of this, and the flow of information and resources between the Race Directors, is SheRACES. Centurion are a member of SheRACES which was set up by Sophie Power to ensure female equality on the start line of any running race. These values will be shared by James to the rest of the Race Directors, so that all the events in the Series can follow the same SheRACES guidelines that the South Downs Way 100 does.

Going forward, there will be no leak into commercialism. They are all independent races and they want to stay that way. They value their independence and this will guide which races join the Series further down the line. 

The World Trail Majors - a large canyon dropping away below the camera, with grassy slopes at the top of the cliff

Swiss Canyon Ultra – image credit World Trail Majors

However, they do hope that in time they will find a sponsor or sponsors that align with their values who can help them financially. That Series sponsor will be democratically selected by the Race Directors and must fit with the sport in a way they all agree on. 

Interestingly, despite recent events at WAM, 13th November was set a long time ago as the date to announce the formation of the World Trail Majors. But it’s clearly been a fortuitous time to announce the concept and gradually, as they are doing now, The World Trail Majors are releasing more information across digital media. James stresses, however, they do not want to be seen as WTM versus UTMB. He has competed in both Ironman and UTMB and they were both great experiences for him; he does not want to take that away from the thousands of runners who wish to experience the same. But it is not the direction he personally wants to take for his events. 

The World Trail Majors - A runner approaches the camera across a flat, grassy plain with a small group of trees on the horizon behind them

South Downs Way 100 – image credit World Trail Majors

History

5 of the founding members of the WTM were in the old Ultra-Trail World Tour, which was taken over by UTMB management in 2019. 

Back in December 2019 Trail Runner, the magazine put together by the American Trail Running Association shared this article and this is a paragraph suggesting the reasons why the UTWT fell apart;

“This aggressive business expansion plan from UTMB into Ultra Trail World Tour SA has inevitably created problems with its original partners, given that many of them were independent races such as Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, Lavaredo Ultra Trail, Transgrancanaria or Mozart 100 to name a few. This explosive growth may be entirely logical in the corporate world when aiming to drive the value of a company, but when applied to the world of ultrarunning, it does raise relevant issues for those who see in ultrarunning a way of life, rather than a corporate enterprise.”

TrailRunner Magazine
A woman running across a rich green field with wild flowers with forested hills beyond her

Quebec Mega Trail – image credit World Trail Majors

It is fascinating to read this paragraph in light of the recent events at Whistler Alpine Meadows. The core beliefs that brought the Ultra-Trail World Tour together are still there. I think this shows that there are many races and people out there who believe in a different direction for our sport of ultra running. Every Director in the World Trail Series wants to be part of something bigger yet remain independent, as the original Ultra-Trail World Tour was before UTMB took control.

“We chose to be part of the association because we had previously been part of the UTWT (Ultra-trail World Tour) and seen or felt the benefit of sharing resources, creating a platform to showcase our events and most importantly steer the sport in a direction which we felt resonates with the community. All the races on the World Tour Majors are independent, community driven, local events who are working collectively to ensure the trail landscape has an independent voice.”

Stuart McConnachie, Ultra Tour Cape Town
A woman running across a sandy beach with a large lumpy mountain behind her, towering above a city

Ultra Trail Cape Town – image credit World Trail Majors

“As to why Hong Kong 100 chose to be part of the World Trail majors – A number of the race directors involved have been talking about forming an alliance of independent races focussed on the best interests of the sport for years now. Once the pandemic was behind us, we decided to go for it.  We want it to be non-hierarchical – every race in the World Trail Majors has an equal say. And we want the focus to be on races that provide the best runner experience and that prioritise sustainability and inclusiveness.  We are really excited to be building something together with the teams from the 8 other fantastic events.”

Steve Brammar, HK100

Graphic courtesy World Trail Majors

“We feel Black Canyon will gain additional international exposure through our association with the series. Although the event is quite well known in the United States and we have seen a rise in attendance overall, it is still fairly unknown on an international level and our overall global attendance is lower than some of the more premiere global races. We hope this ultimately also brings more eyeballs to the athletes runner and elevates the event for all attendees.”

Jamil Coury, Aravaipa Running

It gives both of us at RunUltra a sense of pride that we have a UK race in this global series. Robin and I are excited to see how the World Trail Majors develops and grows and we wish them the very best of luck.

Is the Tide Turning on UTMB’s plans for World Domination?
Is the tide turning on UTMB’s plans for World Domination?

"But you will also feel you are part of something bigger with international level runners at the front and a global feel for the whole race, lifting it up."

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