This weekend, Spartan will be hosting their second annual Ultra World Championship in Iceland, and while most eyes will be on Jon Albon to see if he’ll be able to take home the $1 million bonus, who else should we be watching?
But first: what is this race?
The Spartan Ultra World Championship is a race in which athletes have 24 hours to complete as many laps of a 6-mile course as possible, beginning at 12 p.m. local time on Saturday, December 8th, and ending 12 p.m. local time Sunday, December 9th. Obstacles are a mix of mandatory completion, penalty loops, and burpee penalties (to be completed at the end of your lap). As a change from last year’s event, Spartan has made it necessary for athletes to qualify for the World Championship by running a Spartan Ultra event earlier in the year. They have also added a $100,000 bonus for the athlete that wins the race if they run at least 100 miles (to be split if both the male and female winner reach 100 miles).
The Athletes to Watch:
Current reigning champion Joshua Fiore will be returning this year, and he will certainly be one to watch. Last year, he finished 21 minutes ahead of Pavel Paloncy in second place, and 24 minutes ahead of Robert Killian in 5th place. Both Paloncy and Killian will also be competing this year. Fiore has proven his OCR endurance skill both in Iceland and at World’s Toughest Mudder in 2016 where he took third place in the team category with Mark Jones.
Fiore won with 71 miles last year. With Jon Albon’s sights on that $1 million prize though, Fiore will have to aim for 100 or more if he wants to earn the win and make it to the top of the podium this year.
A top OCR athlete, Killian took 5th place in Iceland last year. He’s had a phenomenal season this year, winning Spartan’s Mountain Series and taking third in their US National Championship series. However, it looks as though his focus won’t necessarily be just on the podium in Iceland this year. An Army Ranger captain with an extensive military background, Killian will be running 22 miles of the Ultra with a 22-pound weight vest to raise awareness for mental health and assistance for members of the military.
Killian will certainly be one to watch to see if that weight vest slows him down, or if he’ll still manage to make the podium while also raising awareness.
An experienced endurance OCR athlete, don’t forget about Glenn Racz. A member of the Spartan pro team for years, Racz has shifted his focus lately into longer endurance running, and it has paid off. He has hit the podium at World’s Toughest Mudder, Toughest Mudder, and Spartan Ultra, and he has geared much of his training this year towards the championship in Iceland. The men’s competition will be fierce this year, and it would be no surprise to see Glenn Racz at the top.
This is a man that needs no introduction in the OCR World. Easily one of the best competitors the sport has ever seen, Atkins is coming off his team’s recent win at this year’s World’s Toughest Mudder. Year after year, Atkins has hit the podium and taken the win at that 24-hour event (even pairing up with Albon in 2016), hitting 100 miles or more multiple years.
It would be no surprise if Atkins hits 100 or more in Iceland, even with the harsh terrain. The big question however is, will he win and stop Albon from claiming the $1 million?
Of course, this article can’t be written without mention of Jon Albon. Another experienced top athlete, Albon has been relatively quiet on the OCR scene this year. But when Joe De Sena announced the $1 million trifecta prize, Jon Albon showed up to win the Spartan World Championship race in Tahoe, the Trifecta World Championship in Greece, and has his eye on winning the Ultra World Championship in Iceland. If he can win this race, with 100 miles or more, he will claim the $1 million prize, the largest OCR prize to date. So while there are certainly a number of athletes to watch, most eyes are on Albon and whether or not he can clinch that trifecta prize.
Other notable names to watch for the men’s competition include Czech Republic athlete Pavel Paloncy, a skilled and experienced ultra-distance runner who took second last year, German athlete Chris Lemke who took fourth place last year and 3rd place at this year’s Toughest Mudder in Europe, and Austrian athlete David Dietrich, an experienced ultra-distance runner who took 3rd place in Iceland last year.
The number one female competitor to look out for will certainly be Morgan Mckay, who won for the women with 57 miles last year. Morgan is a well-established OCR endurance athlete who has hit the podium not only in Iceland but also at World’s Toughest Mudder, BFX, and multiple Ultra Beasts. She’ll certainly be the woman to watch out on the course this year, especially if she’s aiming for that $100,000 bonus.
As for the rest of the women’s competition? To be honest, it was tough to figure out who would be competing! Many of the top women of OCR we know either won’t be there, or only running the Iceland Sprint. Neither Vanessa Gebhardt (2nd place last year) nor Allison Tai (3rd) will be competing in the Ultra, but it looks like Katrin Sigrun Tomasdottir (4th place last year) will likely be attending. Finishing only a little over a lap behind McKay last year, if Tomasdottir is there she’ll certainly be one to watch as well.
Some other international names to watch are Slovakian athlete Janka Pepova who won the French Spartan National Series this year, and Norwegian athlete Annette Sande.
While I wasn’t able to track down many names for the Ultra, there will certainly be some recognizable names running the Sprint. Rea Kolbl, the two-time reigning World’s Toughest Mudder champion will be there (according to her social media, she won’t be attending the Ultra because she was unaware of the need to qualify at an Ultra event until October), though it’s unclear at this point if she’s going to compete. Spartan all-stars Nicole Mericle and Alyssa Hawley will be competing, and it will be interesting to see if the Crossfit superstar Katrin Davidsdottir will come back this year after winning 3rd place female last year. There are two Sprint races this year on both Saturday and Sunday, so it will be interesting to see which women run which (or both) days.
Between the Ultra Championship with some big money on the line, and the stiff women’s competition at the Sprint, the Spartan weekend in Iceland will be an exciting weekend for not only Spartan but for OCR as a sport, and certainly one to watch.