“UROC” short for Ultra Race of Champions was a self proclaimed world championship 100k race. Certainly there were the kinds of guys in the race that people would want to watch, Rob Krar, Kilian Jornet, Sage Canaday, and the list goes on. There was some depth in the field, but mostly people are interested in the front of the race. In this race the top 5 men and women would make the money so to speak with the winner pulling in $5,000 and fifth place bringing home $500; not a bad purse for an ultra trail race.
My somewhat outlandish goal going into this race was to make the money positions, and why not. 6th place didn’t get anything. I had to do everything I could to get in the top 5. I was not considered one of the favorites. After online voting on Irunfar.com I was picked to finish 12th out of all competitors toeing the line. My internal dialogue before the start was pretty positive. I knew I had spent nearly an entire month living mostly out of my car up at altitude often sleeping above 11,000ft. I figured that no one else had been this ridiculous. I had also been training consistently for 2 months straight after finishing up guiding work on Shasta. I knew my fitness had to be better than it had been going into the other competitive ultra races that I’d run in the last year. At TNF San Francisco 50m I finished 13th and at Lake Sonoma 50m I finished 9th. These were probably similarly competitive races to UROC, so top 5 would be a big improvement. Enough back story.
I am not going to go into the mile by mile replay of the race, but I’ll give some snap shots. I knew I had to go out relatively conservatively. From studying the course I estimated that it would take me at least 10 hours to finish. The longest I had raced before UROC was just over 7 hours. Going out with who ever was in the lead pack just didn’t seem like a smart option. The day started cold as hell, and mostly stayed that way with temps in the 20’s with some wind up high. I only wore a singlet, shorts, gloves, and hat. Am I an idiot? Probably. But I hate trying to race and deal with a bunch of clothing management stuff. By the first aid station I was in 9th place, feeling pretty good. I was trying to stay within myself and not really play into the racing part of the race yet. Running through Frisco (mile 13 ish) with all the crowds was invigorating to say the least.
The longest climb of the day came right after Frisco. The night before the race brought some early season snow to the high country, and from down below it seemed like a decent amount. The climb over the Ten Mile Range took us above 12,500ft, and there was a shit ton of snow for sure. I was stoked. Through this section I realized quickly that my time at altitude had certainly paid off. I passed three guys, all of whom were at least as good if not better runners than me, but I think that maybe the combination of the altitude and foot deep drifts of snow gave me a bit of an advantage this day.
After descending from the heights and the biting fury of the frozen wind things were pretty mellow. I was alone in 6th place. From the aid station at Copper Mountain there was a randomly placed fall line ascent of a ski run and then a quick descent to the bike path. This was a point of discontent for many of the “trail runners”; 10-12 miles of pavement (not really sure exactly how far). I thought this was one of the most awsome bike paths ever! I mean the downhill part was tough for sure, my legs were throttled by the bottom, but whatever. We all had to run it, and for me a race is a race. Honestly they could make a course go just about anywhere and do anything as far as I am concerned and it’d be fine. I think the race directors made a fabulous course through these mountains; logical.
I got this photo from a google image search; so excuse the person. I didn’t bring a camera with me in the race of course. But you can see how sick of a bike path it really was.
At mile 40 there was arguably the roughest climb of the race. 2,500ft and steep. I hiked a bunch, but i think so did the eventual winner of the race. It seems in races this long and this high hiking hard is more efficient and sometimes even faster than trying to run. It was also during this part of the race that it was easiest to lose that competitive edge. I had not seen another racer for quite a while now and I had no idea of how far behind 5th place I was. It was a trudge for sure.
As my luck would have it the guys at the Elk Lodge aid station; top of second to last descent, gave some positive news (for me that is). I learned that two guys; Sage and Kilian, were having a rough go ahead of me. I was somewhat deflated when the 5 minute estimate of their lead turned into 10 minutes in the second telling of the story. It was hard to imagine gaining that much time when I was feeling like I was, on the verge of meltdown. But at least I knew I had a chance.
The drop into MInturn, the final full aid station, was real long. 11,500ft all the way to 7,800ft. Super rough. With about 4 miles left to go down I spotted a yellow jacket below. I will tell you, as soon as I could see someone ahead of me it was like being filled with new life. Running became way easier; like night and day. I caught Sage pretty quick. All the early racing surely took its toll on him. I rolled by and kept cruising towards Minturn, feeling super energized.
Ultimately my plan to make the podium depended on something like this happening. If all 5 guys who were ahead of me had awsome days I would not have had the chance to catch them. At least not in this race. But I knew that with all that battling for so long someone ahead of me was likely to crack.
The last ten miles from Minturn to the finish are blur. My foot was jacked, just stepping on it hurt like a son of bitch. The 2,000ft downhill after the 2,000ft climb was on a mostly firm dirt road; body crushing. But I ran scared which meant I ran hard. I didn’t want to guess at what Sage was doing behind me. All I knew was that maybe he got pissed off and was reeling me in. It’s too bad I was not running aggressive. It turns out I was closing on Kilian, which I didn’t really realize. He was not having a great day for him obviously. 4th would have been a whole lot sweeter than 5th (500 bucks sweeter). The gap was not closed and I finished 5th at the bottom of Vail Ski Resort in 10 hours and 24 minutes.
Needless to say I am psyched with this race. My planning, preparation, and racing all worked out, and I was able to reach the outlandish goal I had set long before the gun went off. But good feelings and contentment are short lived. Now I want to turn this 5th into something better. That’s the beauty of racing. You wake up the next day and always want more.
I would like to thank my Dad and Marilee for ditching their business meetings a day early, getting basically no sleep, driving through a monster snow storm, all to come help me in the race. I figure their crewing saved me minutes of time and way too much thinking I would have done at aid stations. With them all I had to do was stand there and get stuff handed to me. Huge difference maker.
I am super glad to be back in Ashland, off the road back at the old humperdink. After a few days off running it is time to get back to it. Assuming all goes well I’ll be running the Whiskeytown 50k, back in my hometown, Oct 26 (mostly for fun). Then I’ve got two bigger races left this season; Bootlegger 50k, Nov 9 (down near Vegas) and TNF 50m, Dec 8 in San Francisco.