Athlete ranking systems are used in nearly every major sport around the world, including Mountain, Ultra, Trail (MUT) Running. Ranking systems are used to analyze and categorize athletes’ performances and rank the top athletes in the sport. In contrast to many other sports, some of the most prominent MUT ranking systems provide rankings for both recreational and elite runners on the same platform.
MUT athlete ranking systems also have varying focuses, such as ranking athletes only in specific regions (US, Europe, Asia, etc.) or specific disciplines (mountain running, ultramarathon running, trail running, skyrunning, etc.).
In this article, I analyze three major MUT ranking systems to help readers better understand how each one functions, specific applications for different user groups, and the pros and cons of each.
The following topics are addressed for each athlete ranking system:
- Benefits For Recreational/Elite Trail Runners, Race Directors and Sponsors/Brands
- How the Ranking is Calculated
- Are All Features Free?
- Pros and Cons
At the end of the article, I briefly describe three additional MUT Running ranking systems. These rankings are less encompassing of MUT Running as a whole, but they are still well respected in their specific discipline or race series.
Founded in 2009, UltraSignup is arguably, the largest online race registration platform for MUT races in the world (although the majority of the 4000 or so races are based in the US) . The platform uses the UltraSignup Runner Rank to rank athletes’ performances. The ranking is an average of an athlete’s past results in the UltraSignup race database. Anytime an athlete participates in races that use the UltraSignup registration platform, these race results will be included in their ranking. The UltraSignup Runner Ranking ranks athletes in all three Mountain, Ultra and Trail running disciplines. The system is a great way for any runner, elite or recreational, to keep track of their race performances over the years.
- Recreational Trail Runners – This ranking system is extremely user-friendly for trail runners. It allows individuals to search race results through different filters such as rank, age, gender and view results from different time periods. For any athlete looking for an easy way to search their own or someone else’s race results, this is an ideal platform.
- Elite Trail Runners – Elite trail runners will enjoy searching their results at major races such as The Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, as well as be able to search their results at smaller, local events. This platform also makes it easy to research course records, a feature that is not as accessible on other ranking platforms.
- Race Directors – The ranking system allows race directors to look up results from their races and keep track of results through the years. The platform keeps detailed records of yearly results and course records that date back further than other ranking platforms in MUT Running.
- Sponsors/Brands – Brands will enjoy the ability to search race results of nearly any American athlete and find their results in chronological order. Another bonus for sponsors is that this is the only ranking system in MUT running that includes results of road ultramarathons.
How The UltraSignup Ranking Is Calculated – For each race, the time for the gender specific winner is divided by each participant’s time in that gender category. The result is a value less than 100% with winners receiving the full 100%. The average of the participant’s past race results in the UltraSignup database is their ranking.
Are All Features Free? – All features of the UltraSignup Runner Rank are free. Simply type an athlete’s name in the search bar at the top of the screen under “Participants” and you can find the athlete’s Runner Rank and race results from the UltraSignup database.
PROS & CONS:
- Pro – Debatably the most user-friendly of any MUT Running Ranking system. With no account or membership required, simply type in the name of the athlete you are searching for and you will see their ranking and race results from the UltraSignup database.
- Pro – UltraSignup Runner Rank is the only ranking system to include results from all three Mountain, Ultra and Trail Running disciplines.
- Pro – Provides the largest history of race results in their database Case in point, the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run has complete results from 1974 to 2021!
- Con – Most races in the UltraSignup database are held in the United States. For elite runners, this means their performances overseas will likely not affect their UltraSignup Runner Ranking.
- Con – There is no overall ranking or years’ end ranking for runners with the highest UltraSignup scores. Also, many athletes can have the same score, which makes it hard to determine which athletes are the top performers in any given year.
- Con – The ranking system does not take into account the competition or prestige of events. For example, an athlete who performs well at a small local race will receive the same ranking as someone who places the same but at a highly competitive race. This makes some athletes’ rankings appear more or less impressive than they really are.
- Con – The system has been known to have made mistakes by combining result profiles from athletes who have the same names. However, this can be easily fixed by contacting UltraSignup and asking to separate the profiles.
International Trail Running Association (ITRA)
Created by the International Trail Running Association, which was founded in 2013, the ITRA Performance Index is a runner ranking tool for trail runners around the world. Users can view ITRA’s top five athlete male and female athletes and create their own personalized search using the ITRA database of more than 1.8 million runner results from over 22,400 different trail races. The ITRA ranking is recognized by World Athletics (WA) as the official ranking system for trail running.
- Recreational Trail Runners – Recreational trail runners can compare their performances with other runners from around the world, without ever having to travel across the world to race against each other. Users can compare regional and age-group rankings.
- Elite Trail Runners – Some ITRA member races use ITRA rankings to award comped elite entries for their events. Elites who travel to race overseas will also find that ITRA partners with races in almost every nation that hosts trail running events.
- Race Directors – Race directors can benefit from knowing the relative level or rank of the runners registered for their races. This allows race directors to better organize runners into appropriate waves or determine cutoff times.
- Sponsors/Brands – Since the ITRA Performance Index ranking is the official trail running ranking system recognized by World Athletics, sponsors seeking to partner with the best trail runners in the world can simply research the athletes with the highest ITRA Performance Index rankings.
How The ITRA Ranking Is Calculated – The ITRA Performance Index score is calculated by taking a “weighted mean” of up to the runner’s five best race results. The scale is built up to a maximum of 1,000 points. The ranking uses a detailed system to determine what performances are truly an athlete’s best race results. For example, winning a local trail race may have less impact on an athlete’s ITRA Performance Index Score than placing in the top twenty at a highly competitive trail race on the world stage. Runner’s scores are also not affected by poor performances or DNFs (Did Not Finish). Only a runner’s best scores are taken into consideration. Still have more questions? Read the frequently asked questions about the ranking system here.
Are All Features Free? – No. Trail runners have access to some statistics on their own free accounts. To search if a free account has already been made for you, type in your name in the search engine here. To join the 1.8 million registered ITRA trail runners the cost is eight euros per year. Memberships include additional services including age group, country, world rankings and personal records in distances such as the half marathon, 50-kilometer, and 100-mile.
PROS & CONS:
- Pro – ITRA partners with more races around the world than any other ranking system. This allows the opportunity for athletes from any part of the world to improve their ITRA Performance Index ranking without having to travel to specific regions where trail running is most popular.
- Pro – Races of all distances from vertical kilometers, 50-kilometers, to 100 miles and beyond are considered in the ranking. This allows athletes from different racing disciplines to compare performances.
- Pro – As the official trail running ranking recognized by World Athletics, National Federations may use the ITRA Performance Index ranking to select teams to compete in international trail running competitions.
- Con – Road or track ultramarathons do not partner with ITRA, only trail races.
- Con – Only ITRA members receive access to fully detailed athlete profile pages.
World Mountain Running Association (WMRA)
Launched by the World Mountain Running Association in 2021, this athlete ranking system is intended to be, “a simple way to determine the top off-road runners in the world who race mountain running events.” In addition to providing a yearly athlete ranking, this service also includes athlete profiles, a directory of eligible mountain running races and calendar of upcoming races.
[Editors Note: Mountain Running, as defined by the WMRA is as follows: “Mountain running is a discipline recognized by World Athletics that is held mostly on trails and involves significant amounts of elevation changes, with distances most often up to the marathon (42.2km).”]
- Recreational Trail Runners – Recreational trail runners who find themselves “fans” of the sport of mountain running will enjoy the ability to look up rankings and race performances of the world’s top mountain runners. This ranking also provides a clear indication of the most prestigious mountain races and gives a full calendar of precise data on these events.
- Elite Trail Runners – This ranking system is centered around an athlete’s performances at the top mountain running races in the world. This ranking system gives elite athletes an accurate representation of the best mountain runners in the world in any given year.
- Race Directors – Race directors can reach out to the WMRA to have their event added to the WMRA ranking system. They can create a free profile with their race pictures, data, website, social media, and historical record of results. There’s no fee to enter the WMRA calendar.
- Sponsors/Brands – The WMRA provides a historical record of top ranked athletes, which can be useful for sponsors when choosing athletes to partner with. The WMRA World Cup races are also some of the most prestigious MUT races in the world and the WMRA ranking tool can help sponsors find and partner with these races.
How The Ranking Is Calculated – The WMRA World Ranking is a point-based ranking system where the greater the points, the higher a runner’s ranking. Points are given for race performances at WMRA associated mountain running events. Races are classified into “Categories” between “A” and “E” where “A” category races will allocate more points to top performing athletes than races in the “B” category, and so on. “A” category races are composed solely of WMRA World Championship races, encouraging athletes to compete at the World Mountain & Trail Running Championships.
Are All Features Free? – All features of the ranking system are free and available on the World Mountain Running Association website. Athlete profiles, which include a list of races and performances by a given athlete, can be searched for free with the website’s search tool here.
PROS & CONS:
- Pro – This is arguably the most important ranking system for elite runners. The WMRA ranking reflects results from many of the MUT runnings top races including World Championship and World Cup events.
- Pro – An athlete’s profile page displays both their “Current World Ranking” as well as “Best Ranking (past 12 months) and “Best Lifetime Ranking.” This provides sponsors and brands a better understanding of a given athlete’s current and historical results.
- Con – The WMRA primarily associates with mountain running events. Only a handful of competitive trail races are included in the ranking.
- Con – Mountain racing is most popular in Europe (the majority of WMRA World Cup events are held in Europe), giving less opportunities for athletes from other parts of the world to improve their ranking.
Additional MUT Running Ranking Systems
International Skyrunning Federation (ISF)
Founded in 1992, Skrunning is a specific discipline of trail running where races must meet certain altitude and elevation gain criteria. This discipline has a ranking system managed by the International Skyrunning Federation (ISF) which determines the world’s top runners in the Skyrunning World Series at the end of each year. An additional ranking was included in 2020 for the Skyrunning VK Open, which ranks athletes in Vertical Kilometer (VK) performances in an open race format. This ranking is useful for elite trail runners who participate within the discipline of skyrunning and are looking to compete for Skyrunning World Champion titles. Although Skyrunning is a “niche” discipline of our sport, many great athletes have competed in regional or world skyrunning circuits including Emelie Forsberg, Stevie Kremer, Matt Carpenter and Kilian Jornet.
See the 2020 Skyrunning World Championship Rankings
Ultra Trail World Tour (UTWT):
The Ultra Trail World Tour, created in 2014, is a race series that includes some of the most prestigious ultramarathon trail races around the world including the Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, Tarawera Ultramarathon Trail Races, Hong Kong 100 Ultra Trail Race, and many others. The Ultra Trail World Tour ranking system records athletes’ performances in the race series and awards points to top performers at each race. Athletes with the most points at the end of the year are crowned Ultra Trail World Tour Champions. This ranking can be useful for elite runners looking to gain exposure and compare themselves to other top ultramarathon trail runners around the world.
See the UTWT Rankings
Golden Trail World and National Series Ranking:
The Golden Trail Series presented by Salomon, founded in 2017, is one of the most competitive race series in trail running. The Golden Trail Series is divided into two series: World and National Series. These series have included many historic and highly competitive sub-ultramarathon distance races such as Sierre-Zinal, the Pikes Peak Marathon, and the Mont Blanc Marathon. At the end of the year, rankings are given to National and World Golden Trail Series performers. Top ranked athletes are given opportunities to travel to National and World Championship races. See our recap of the North American Golden Trail National Series Championship in Azores, Portugal and our interview with Francesco Puppi, winner of this year’s Golden Trail World Series Final race. This ranking is useful for athletes who hope to qualify for Golden Trail Series National or World Championship races and attract sponsorship attention. This series has one of the largest media followings of any race series in the sport.
Are you interested in following the 2022 Golden Trail World Series? Check out the recent series announcement.