Trail Runner UROC 100k Race Report

I had a bit of a rough day down in the Blue Ridge Mountains, but managed to come away with a third place finish in the inaugural Trail Runner UROC 100k this past weekend, with a final time of 9:22:42 in my 100k debut (results here).  Overall, I'm satisfied with the performance, as I managed to give it some fight all the way through the final climb, even though I really felt pretty awful from 25 miles on.  No way was I beating Geoff Roes or Michael Wardian on Saturday (or Dave Mackey for that matter, if lingering illness hadn't led him to drop), but that's alright, as I know I have a lot of room for improvement.  I'm looking forward to facing many of the same guys (and more) at The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 in December.  I think I can be a lot more competitive in 10 weeks time, and the 50 mile distance is more in my range as well. 

I flew into Charlottesville late Friday afternoon, rented a car, and ended up car pooling with Dave Mackey to Wintergreen Resort, the host venue.  We got in a little late for all the pre-race interviews, so we just went straight to our condo, where a number of the elite runners were staying.  Then we grabbed a quick dinner and got down to the pre-race panel discussion, hosted by Andy Jones-Wilkins.  I took some (good-natured) shit from people about my 50 mile win last week in Wisconsin.  Most seemed to think it was an unwise move, but I still think it did me more good than harm.  (My favorite was Eric Grossman, who asked, as we ran down the long descent out of Wintergreen early in the race, "You're the guy who ran the 50 miler last week, right?"  Me: "Yeah."  Eric: "You're f*cked."  Me: "Eh, we'll see... I feel recovered."  Eric: "Nah, you're f*cked.")  I think the panel (and really, all of the media coverage) was a nice touch to the race.  I know my parents and sister enjoyed checking it out back home. 

Saturday morning I felt ready to roll, and we got things underway just past 7 a.m.  Dave James took it out from the start  (characteristically, I gather), along with Scott Gall, as I tucked into fourth behind Ian Sharman.  After a quick descent, we climbed to the 5.5 mile point and the "King of the Mountain" $200 bonus.  I happened to be in second here, rather unintentionally, until Wardian blasted by chasing the bonus (which he got after Gall DNFed).  We started descending from there, and I took a fall on the very set of stairs Geoff had warned me about the day before.  It was a flight of 7 or so pretty narrow stairs.  I stepped on the second stair from the top and my foot just went straight out from under me as I sailed through the air.  I ended up landing on my ass/lower back on the bottom step, which did not feel so great.  Mackey and Geoff were right behind me at the time, and it reminded me of TNF 50 SF last December, where I tripped on a root and fell on my chest about 25 miles into the race, while running right behind those two.  My lower back/glutes would tighten up on me some during the race, but I don't think it negatively affected me in the end.  I took a minute to kind of shake things out and then settled in behind Eric Grossman. 

Eric and I pushed the road sections a bit in the coming miles, and I ended up in third again (now behind Gall and Mackey) as we headed into a single track descent to Sherando Lake.  Geoff caught me as we neared the lake and we ran together for a few miles here.  As we headed back up however, I found myself pulling away a bit.  Geoff seemed to be having a rough time at the moment, so I gradually distanced myself as we ascended nearly 2,000 feet on Bald Mountain.  This was all single track, with some pretty steep and technical sections, especially near the top.  I didn't really try to push this section, just maintain a solid effort, but I must have put some distance on everyone else (except Wardian, who came whooping – literally – down the descent from Bald Mountain after me), as it would be another 12 miles before anyone passed me.  And that was just Geoff.  I managed to hold off everyone else until mile 60 without really running all that well, so I'm thankful for the cushion I seem to have built on that climb. 

Whereas Wardian was just getting rolling, my legs were toast as we left the Bald Mountain Overlook aid station.  I still managed to run 7:10 pace along the road section, but I felt like I couldn't get moving at all.  Wardian was quickly out of sight.  I was now in fourth place, and managed to stay there until the entrance to the Dragon's Back section of trail at mile 33.  Neal Gorman helped me out with my bag and getting a bit of food, I changed shoes to help alleviate my blistered feet, and was off.  I quickly ran into Scott Gall, who was standing on the trail.  I think he started running a bit again, but eventually dropped.  Ten minutes later, I ran into Mackey, walking back toward the aid station.  He was out too.  All of a sudden I was in second place.  Still feeling like crap, but in second place.  That didn't last too long as Geoff had started to feel a little better.  He passed me just before the turnaround at mile 37.  I was crawling along this section of trail.  It wasn't so much the technical nature of it (as it wasn't overly technical), I was just in a bad spot.  I timed my gap over the next competitors after I turned around.  I had 15:00 on Ian Sharman, whom I guessed would present the biggest challenge.  But to be honest, at this point, I wasn't really thinking about maintaining position.  I was just worried about finishing.  I spent a while in the aid station at 41, maybe 3 or 4 minutes, drank a ton of water, grabbed a couple PB & Js for the road, and got back at it.

Another long stretch of road came next, which included some walking here and there on the steep sections, and a bee sting on my right calf, which was unpleasant.  Scott McCoubrey told me, as I refilled my water bottle, that one time he was having a bad day at Western States, got stung by a bee, and managed to turn it around.  I can't say I did that exactly, but I was able to finish stronger that I thought I could.  When I finally got to the 48.5 mile aid station, still in third place, I started to think maybe I could hold on.  I was feeling a bit better as I entered the single track of Bald Mountain again.  After a bit of technical descent, I crossed a parking lot and Dave James (who had dropped earlier in the day) told me that Wardian had taken a wrong turn and I was in second place.  He also said Ian wasn't far back.  I tried to get things moving on the few remaining miles of single track. 

I hit the White Rock Gap aid station with Wardian maybe a minute behind me.  He reeled me in over the next three miles of climbing and rolling road.  Major props to him for staying focused and rallying for second after a wrong turn so late in the race.  Tough thing to do.  I wasn't going to give anything away, but part of me was still glad he passed me, as he clearly would have beaten me without the wrong turn.  At the last aid station, 58.5 miles in, I refilled my water bottle one last time, and asked if anyone knew how far back Ian was.  Someone guessed maybe two minutes, but then someone else said "oh, here he comes now!"  Great. 

I headed down the last descent, ~700 feet on roads, with a small gap.  Ian made it up rather quickly.  As he blew by me, I tried to run his pace, but I just couldn't do it.  My quads were gone.  By the time we got to the bottom of the hill, he had maybe 30 seconds on me.  We had a brutal 1500 foot climb over a couple of miles, then one last, maybe quarter mile descent to the finish line.  As Ian had just destroyed me on the descent, I knew I had to open up at least a small gap on him by the top of the climb to prevail.  We were both alternately power hiking and running up the hill, but I was slowly closing.  The hill was so steep, I figured that running the whole thing would be less efficient.  To keep your heart rate under control and still be running, you'd have to go so slow, you might as well be walking.  And walking is more efficient if you're going about the same pace.  So I would run for a minute or two, walk for 30 seconds to get my heart rate and breathing under control, and then go again.  I managed to catch Ian and put a small gap on by the time we got to the top.  I painfully bombed down the last little descent, worried that Ian was on my heels, and looped into the finish area. 

Dead at the Line
(Photo: iRunFar)
In the end, it was a very painful and trying race, but a good experience all the same.  Gill and Francesca did a great job with this first time event.  I really enjoyed meeting many of the other competitors, hanging out with them some, hearing them talk about ultra running, their race experiences, etc.  I was lucky enough to stay with Mackey, Roes, and Devon Crosby-Helms; and I enjoyed a nice lunch at Devil's Backbone Brewery with Dave James and Ian Sharman on Sunday. 

Up next, I'm shooting for a fast half marathon at Big Sur on November 20.  I'll definitely take an easy week this week, and then have 7 weeks to try to sharpen for that.  The ideal goal there is sub-1:05 and a Trials qualifier, but I think that might be a bridge too far.  Either way, hoping to set a big PR.  Along the way, I'll target a fast time in another 50 mile race, the Lakefront 50 on October 29 here in Chicago.  Flat as can be.  If all goes well, I'm hoping to crack the North American Top 10 List that's up on ultrarunning.com.  It looks like no American has run faster than 5:14 in 30 years.  Then on to TNF EC 50 in San Francisco on December 3.

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