Monday, September 26, 2011

UROC 100k Race Recap

The UROC 100k ended up being quite unlike any race I've ever run. I've had races with a few low points, but never so many as I had in this race. The good thing was that when I would battle through the low points and turn things around I would feel great for a period of time. In this way it felt a lot like 5 or 6 races crammed into one 9 hour run.

I actually felt really good in my training leading up to this race, but being that I basically only trained 2 weeks I certainly wasn't expecting too much on race day. The open mindedness that I took into this race was probably the only thing that kept me plugging along with almost constant focus and determination all day. Had I gone into this expecting more from my body it might have been hard to keep pushing through so many struggles.

Things started pretty typical. A few guys running really hard out front (especially Mackey and Gall) and a "chase group" of 6 or 8 guys including Wardian, Flaherty, Grossman, Sharman, Basham, myself, and others. For the first 20 miles I felt okay. Certainly I wasn't feeling great but I was having fun and I was happy with my position in the race. At this point I was running anywhere between 3rd and 6th, anywhere from 3-6 minutes behind Mackey and Gall. The pace was fast and I was quite certain that no one was going to keep up anything close to this pace, but I felt like maybe I could hold on to something close to this and hope to drop others as the miles built up.

But then we hit the largest climb of the race, just after mile 20. Almost as soon as we started up it became obvious that I was the one that was going to get dropped. Flaherty and Wardian both put some time on me on this climb and I got to the top of it (mile 26) feeling pretty horrible. I knew I was going to keep plugging along and finish the race but I certainly didn't think there was much chance I would be able to do it as a serious competitor near the front. At one point just past the mile 26 aid station I remember doing the math and trying to figure out whether I was even going to be able to finish this thing before dark. It took me about 3:40 to run the first 26 miles and I was pretty sure I was going to be lucky to run the last 36 miles anywhere near this pace. I was thinking sub 12 hours was going to be a challenge.

And thus down the road I went from mile 26. But slowly I started to feel a little bit better. I was running in 5th place and kept looking behind me. Not because I was worried about whether someone was going to catch me from behind, but because I just wanted to run with someone for awhile. I thought if I could just take my mind off of how crappy I was feeling I might be able to turn things around. And then somewhere a little bit before the mile 33 aid station I realized that I was actually feeling really good. I hit the aid station and got a boost from the fact that I was only 6 minutes behind Flaherty and 10 minutes behind the leaders (this turned out to be some good sugar coating from the folks at the aid station as I was actually 16 minutes behind the leaders at that point). The best news I got here though was that I was getting back onto rolling, technical trail for the next 8 miles. All day I was running stronger than anyone whenever we hit the rolling or downhill trail. I just never really had it on the uphills or on the roads. And so I hit this trail and hit it hard. Suddenly out of nowhere I was feeling about as good as I've ever felt in a race. Within minutes I saw Dave who was walking back to the aid station to drop out; passed Scott who was hurting pretty bad (and would eventually drop out); and passed Matt. These 3 had come through the aid station 16, 11, and 7 minutes ahead of me respectively. And I passed all of them within 3 miles! By now Wardian was the only one ahead of me and when I met him (this is an out and back section) on the trail he looked smooth and strong.

When I finished the out and back trail I was 16 minutes behind Wardian (had taken only a minute off his lead in that 8 miles) with just over 20 miles to go in the race. It was clearly going to be a serious battle to try to catch him. And this was when things got really crazy for me. I would feel great for 2 or 3 minutes at a time, become almost certain that I was going to be able to chase down the lead and then almost out of nowhere I would feel horrible again. Just when I would get frustrated with how bad I felt I would start to feel good again without even realizing it. The stretch from mile 41 to mile 48.5 is entirely road. I knew no matter how strong I ran this part I wasn't going to gain too much on Wardian so I just tried to keep moving steady and save as much as I could for the last part of the race that would really cater to my strengths (mile 48.5 - 53.5). When I got to the aid station at mile 48.5 I found out that I had cut another few minutes off his lead. I was now about 14 minutes behind and feeling pretty good (even though I had had about 5 distinct ups and downs in this stretch).

I headed up the dirt road out of the aid station and just began preparing myself mentally and physically for the 3 or 4 miles of downhill technical trail coming up. I knew that if my body responded the way I was hoping it would that I could likely cut his lead in half on this one short stretch of trail. I hit the downhill and my body responded. I was running smoother and faster than I had run all race. I wanted this terrain to continue all the way to the finish, but knowing that it wouldn't (the last 9 miles of the race is all road) made me push even harder to make up as much time as possible. I was cruising down the narrow trail when I came across some folks at a junction in the trail who told me that it seemed quite likely that Wardian had taken the fork to the left (because no one had seen him ahead on the proper trail that went to the right). This was a very easy spot to go off course because earlier in the race we had come up from the trail to the left and the course markings were still there in that direction because there were still a few back of the pack racers coming up that way.

Almost instantly this news took a huge amount of focus and determination out of me. I didn't know for sure if he had in fact made the wrong turn, but I also didn't know if he was out in front of me. Suddenly I had no idea if I was chasing or being chased. And I was low on calories and I was bummed. Bummed for Mike, but also bummed because I was having so much fun trying to chase him down. Eventually I received confirmation that he had gone off course and that I had a large lead. I put it into low gear and just grinded it out to the finish.

In hindsight it seems very unlikely that I could have caught him if he had stayed on course, but I also think that I would have been able to make it very interesting for the last few miles. He was running uphills stronger than me all day and the last 3 miles of the race is all uphill. Even had I somehow found the energy to pull even with him it's hard to imagine that I then would have been able to out race him up that last climb. But it sure would have been fun to try.

In all this was a really satisfying race and great learning experience for me. It was far from my best day physically, but for the first time ever I learned that I'm capable of pushing through so many low points in one run. I got a bit lucky to win the race, but I feel really satisfied with the fact that on pretty much persistence alone I was able to be in the position to finish near the front of this race. In almost all respects I think this race taught me more as a runner (and as a person) than it would have if I had felt great all day and been able to simply run away from the field on physical strength alone.

It was also a really well run event and a great group of folks to run with (many who I've run with a lot in the past, and many I had never met before). I think this first UROC race was a huge success and it was cool to see everyone involved so excited about the event and looking forward to where it goes from here. I know I am. It seems almost certain it'll only get more exciting in the coming years.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Heading out to Virginia this weekend to race the UROC 100k. Should be a fun weekend getting together with a lot of friends and running some fun East Coast trails. Although I much prefer the running in the West I do like to get out to the East for a race once a year or so. It adds some nice variety to the big mountain stuff out West.

One thing that I think could be really exciting (for online spectators) about this race is that they will be doing some race day video coverage of the race! There will be a slight delay in the footage, but this is quite certainly the most ambitious attempt at race day coverage of any existing ultra in North America. This is probably just the tip of the iceberg in terms of what's possible in this regard, but it'll be interesting to see how well they can pull it off and how people respond to it. Check out more info. about it here.

In terms of how I'm feeling about this race, that is pretty hard to say. I'm definitely just heading out there with a very open mind. After UTMB I had decided I wasn't going to race UROC. I knew I needed a bit of a break and I was pretty sure I needed a long enough break that I likely wouldn't be running at all until sometime in October or later. After 10 days completely off after UTMB though I started to go for some short runs and I was feeling really good (both physically and mentally). I spent several days trying to decide whether to race UROC or not. In the end I just felt my intuition pushing me toward doing the race. I have no idea how the race will go for me, and I probably have fewer expectations about this race than most any race I've ever done, but I do feel really excited to race this weekend. Ever since definitively deciding (about one week ago) that I would race I have felt really good about this decision and about this race. I have no idea if this means that I will have a good performance on Saturday from a racing standpoint, but I do feel confident that I will have a worthwhile and satisfying weekend no matter how the race plays out for me.

Some folks have complained about UROC being a bit dramatic and over the top in it's marketing approach, or simply in the approach of calling itself, "The Ultra Race of Champions." Certainly I can understand where these sentiments come from as I have always been a big fan of showing people things rather than telling people things. In the case of a race this would mean simply creating the race, enticing top runners to run, offering some big prize money (optional, but perhaps necessary to getting to where UROC is trying to go), and letting folks decide for themselves that this a "championship" type race. At the same time though UROC's approach makes perfect sense to me. Most races have a vision of where they want to get to. In being really clear and open and active with this vision UROC has gotten very far in one year. Compare this to something like the North Face Endurance Challenge Championship race which has instead gone with the "if you build it they will come" approach. I am not certain if North Face's vision with that event was to create a "championship" type race with dozens of top runners from around the world, but one can only imagine this to be the case due to the huge prize purse they put up and the fact that Championship is part of the name of the race. Assuming that this was their vision all along it's amazing to me that they've done almost nothing to promote or encourage this vision. And I think this is the only reason that it took the NF race 3 or 4 years to develop as strong of a field and as much attention on the race as UROC seems to have in it's first year. I'll be honest, the laid-back approach that the NF has taken is probably a lot more my style than the very active approach that UROC has taken, but it's hard to argue that UROC's approach hasn't been more effective in moving more quickly toward their vision. Ultimately though I guess only time will tell, it will be interesting to see what the sustainability will be of these two races. My guess is we'll see some huge changes (presumably improvements) in the next few years from UROC as they continue to be very active about reaching their "vision." North Face on the other hand has changed almost nothing about their race in 5 years and it'll be interesting to see if this static approach will ultimately be to their benefit or to their detriment.

Monday, September 19, 2011


I recently wrote something to the effect that "this has likely been the most satisfying year of running I have ever had." Based on comments on this blog, emails I have received, and some comments I've read on other blogs it seems as though some people have a hard time believing this. Here's my attempt at explaining it a little more clearly:

The typical confusion seems to come from the idea that satisfaction as a runner is more or less dependent upon race performance. More specifically it seems like many folks can't believe that this could possibly be a satisfying year of running for me because I DNF'ed at Western States and UTMB. I fully accept that for many people race performance and satisfaction as a runner do inherently run hand in hand, but this has never been the case for me. Sure, it's all part of the equation, and performing well at a race can be (and almost always is) really satisfying, but this doesn't (for me) mean that performing poorly is automatically unsatisfying. And more specifically, a couple poor performances certainly don't define an entire year as unsatisfying. I've been on almost 200 runs this year. The vast majority of them have been really wonderful and satisfying, a few of them beyond any satisfaction I've ever gotten from running previously.

For a few years now my primary running goal going into each season has been to be healthy and fit enough to spend huge amounts of time outdoors, in the mountains, exploring my surroundings on the power of my own legs. This year I have done more of this than ever before, and I've been fortunate enough to do this with dozens of really wonderful people. This is why I said that this has likely been the most satisfying year of running I've ever had.

Beyond this though, about 8 or 10 times a year I like to get together with a whole bunch of like minded and capable runners and share the experience of all pushing ourselves as hard as we can over a particular route, each of us looking for a way to do this a little faster than everyone else, or a little faster than we thought possible of ourselves. But again this is 8 or 10 of the 200-300 runs that I go on each year. I'm bummed that I had very little gas in the tank on a few of these runs this year, but in no way do I look at this as reason to feel like this has been an unsatisfying year of running.

Just a bit of food for thought on your Monday afternoon. Hopefully this explains things a little more clearly for those who seemed confused or in disbelief.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Camp Reminder

Wanted to put out a quick reminder that entry is open for the 3 sessions of my Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp for next summer. I have been taking entries for about one month and next year's total space is almost half full already. The good news is that the entries I have received so far have been spread pretty evenly between the three sessions so at least for the time being there are several spaces available for each session. I do plan to do some advertising in magazines and at races in the next several months so if you are interested you might want to move on it before it's too late. It appears in all likelihood that the camps will be filled up by the end of the year, or by the early part of 2012, if not before. Click here to check out the camp website for more info.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The African Attachment

Check out this great little video about UTMB put together by "The African Attachment", a South African film company who is as enjoyable and easy to work with as they are good at making movies. Keep up the good work guys: Check out the film here.

Happy Feet

This has been a very up and down season of running so far for me. It's probably been the most enjoyable year of running I've ever had, but certainly having 2 big dnf's in my top races of the Summer season has been a bit unsatisfying.

One seemingly insignificant (but in fact very important) thing that has been nice to not have to think about all year however has been my feet. Whatever troubles I've had with my body at times this season, foot issues have not been a part of that at all. I haven't had a blister, a black toenail, a numb toe, or any noticeable foot fatigue all year. There are several factors at play here (shoes, continued adaptation, luck, etc), but it's hard not to equate at least some of my "happy feet" to DryMax socks.

I started wearing DryMax socks right around the first of the year and 9 months later my feet are without a doubt in the best shape they have ever been in since I took up ultrarunning. My belief has always been that a sock can only do so much for us. To some degree I of course still feel this way. The perfect sock is only going to do so much to make us better runners, but I can say that DryMax socks are without question the best socks I've ever worn in terms of allowing me to never have to think much about my feet. And really what more can we demand from a sock? If you haven't tried DryMax socks and you ever have any of the above mentioned issues with your feet, I'd highly recommend giving them a try. I was skeptical for years that running socks really varied much at all, but this season has made it really obvious to me that not all socks are created equal.