In lieu of yet another nerdy list of possible contenders at the NF 50 that we normally try to provide here at Inside Trail, we think Mr. Roes has outdone himself with an obvious uncorking of pent up frustration with the granular over-analyzing of our sport. Of course, he does it in his own dry, insightful sense of humor. Read a classic post here: http://akrunning.blogspot.com/2011/11/north-face-50-race-preview.html
The Dipsea trail race began in 1905 and is still going strong after 106 years (missing only four years due to economy and war). It starts in Mill Valley, CA and finishes at Stinson Beach. With 671 steps leading up the side of Mt. Tamalpais to the highest point of Cardiac Hill, the course is challenging, to say the least. A unique aspect of the race is the ability to choose from a variety of connecting paths to reach the finish, so familiarity with the area trails pays off. Lovers of the event were likely sitting around in November pining for June to roll around and the popular event to take place, so they came up with the Quad Dipsea in 1983, held initially as a fun run in ’83 and ’84. The race is directed by UltraRunning Magazine publisher, John Medinger.
The Quad Dipsea, 28.4 miles, runs the Dipsea course in an out and back fashion, beginning in Mill Valley. If you can believe it, there are 9,276 feet of climb packed into the bloated marathon-ish length course. Imagine bounding down wet, wooden stairs after 4 hours of climbs and descents with your quads humming with fatigue. Three men have run under four hours: Carl Anderson (four times), Erik Skaggs (twice), and just last year Leor Pantilat. Leor’s time of 3:54:29 was good enough to be the fourth fastest time in the event’s history, which has seen big named runners compete throughout the years. Caren Spore, from Davis CA, broke the women’s record in 4:38:33 last year, a year that saw the additional challenges of a muddy, slick course.
This Saturday’s race will see both Leor and Caren returning to defend. Last year’s 2nd place finisher, Gary Gellin, will again be in the mix, likely gunning to strip away the 2 mins 32 secs from last year’s finish to reach the coveted sub four hour time. Consistently fast Leigh Schmitt should keep it interesting but the structure (CLIMB) of the course doesn’t play into his normal strength of fast, rolling courses. Rumor has it that Leigh will pass up Quad Dipsea to be fresh for the North Face 50 the following weekend.
Unlike her “runaway” race last year, Caren Spore should be challenged by fellow Californian, Jennifer Pfeifer, and by midwesterner, Kim Holak, as long as Kim is healthy and fit. She hasn’t raced much this year but is a fierce competitor when she does.
Happy Thanksgiving from Inside Trail to our American readers. I’m thankful my resting month is almost over and I can begin training and racing again! Have a great weekend on the trails.
49 years. Other than some participants, not much is older in our sport of ultrarunning than the JFK 50 miler. The event began as part of a series of challenges created by JFK to… well, you can read the brief history here. The history of this race is remarkable, right down to the legends who loyally return most years for this classic, including Eric Clifton, Ed Ayres (In the 1977 photo left in the back with green singlet and 70 yrs old this year), and Ian Torrence.
Over 1,100 runners will be pounding the pavement, gravel toe path, and Appalachian Trail, starting in Boonsboro and finishing in Williamsport. Weather in Maryland this time of year is unpredictable, at best. Forecast for race morning is a comfortably cool 50 degrees with partly cloudy skies, near perfect conditions for a fast race. Race-addicted Michael Wardian returns this year presumably focused on redeeming himself for last year’s 6th place finish in 6:12. Coming off two quick marathons run within seven days (2:26 and 2:22, both 2nd places), Wardian will toe yet another start line with a self-inflicted handicap, which must scrub at least some of his raw speed off his performance. Poised to take advantage of the situation is last year’s 2nd place JFK finisher, David Riddle. Riddle finished one minute off the win in 5:53, one of only two instances when he’s finished with anything lower than a win in his ultra career. Of course, David will have to contend with several other speedy dudes, including Andrew Henshaw, who handed David his only other 2nd place finish earlier this year at Mad City 100k.
For the ladies, let’s ride the wave of Meghan Arbogast’s impressive season. She’ll have her hands full in the rematch with the Blue Ridge Mountain runner, Annette Bednosky. They did America proud at the 100k world champs, coming in 5th and 6th respectively. The last time they raced JFK in 2009 they duked it out for 2nd and 3rd (behind Devon Crosby-Helms). With the bulk number of participants, there’s always openings for new “unknowns” to break out. One of my dark horse picks is Cassie Scallon. Not an unknown by any stretch, but faded off the scene a bit this year until just last month with her win (overall) at Glacial Trail 50k.
Gook luck to all the runners at this classic!
Finally! Another 100 we can sink our teeth into. With 384 participants, the Javelina Jundred has a solid depth of talent. It’s been two years since Dave James blistered the six-loop course in his course record 14:20. Last year saw Jamie Donaldson set the women’s course record of 17:11, nabbing 2nd overall in the process. I’m not certain about Dave’s record but I feel good about Jamie’s record being eclipsed this year. We’ll get to that in a moment.
Javelina gets under way at 6AM on Saturday November 12th in Fountain Hills, Arizona at the McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The loop course is 15.4 miles, repeated six times reversing directions each lap. A 9 mile loop adds up to the 101.4 mile total. Though the total climb looks to be approximately 4,000 ft, the terrain includes several sandy wash areas, single track, and jeep roads. The loop course lends itself to great spectating and easy crewing. Ample food is on the menu with sub sandwiches, pizza, hamburgers, hot dogs, along with all the staple ultra-fare. Temperatures should remain comfortably between 75 for a high and 50 for a low.
The event website is well laid out, comprehensive, and fun (even if the red on black layout cause your eyes to start twitching). The only thing I noticed that could use some fixing is the outdated “blog/news” page. It’s always a pleasure to be able to obtain all the information you may need directly from the website. I’m always struck by the many event sites that omit important information. It just increases work for the organizers by having to answer email questions. Anyway, the JJ site is good, right down to providing the entrants list, which brings us to a very special treat here at Inside Trail. Liza Howard, if you’ve forgotten about her after her early season injury, is returning to the race scene at the JJ100 and she is healthy, trained, and eager. Bad for the other ladies. Good for us fans! Liza took the time (after some minor pleading on my part) to write up a preview on the women’s race. My only regret is, like I told her, that her writing is so graceful, thorough, and humorous that it’ll be like Lenny (Of Mice and Men) trying to dance with Paula Abdul when I try to match her with my men’s preview. I’ll get that out of the way quickly, so you can enjoy her take on the race.
Hal Koerner – Ashland, OR. Hal has shown both speed (Rocky Racoon) and fortitude (UTMB) this year. Watch for him to show us some speed again to cap off his year with a win.
Jay Aldous – Brighton, UT. Jay is 50 years old. Jay is faster than people half his age. Jay just ran 15:06 at the Pony Express 100 two weeks ago. If he hadn’t just raced the PE, I would pick him for the win here with a 14:45-ish time. I mean, he did just come in a scant 18 mins (2nd place) behind Dave James (JJ course record holder) at the Burning River 100.
Jay Smithberger – Granville, OH. This Jay has some speed too and, like Hal, has had a “character building” run this year as well (his 28:30 Wasatch). He also ran 14:53 at Umstead 100. He knows what he’s doing and could pounce for the win late in the race if Hal and Jay A. aren’t on their games.
Guillermo Medina – Santa Maria, CA. To say Guillermo is a veteran ultrarunner is like saying U2 has played a few concerts. Guillermo has had a prolific ultra career over the last 13 years, approaching 100 ultra races. He’s only 37 years old. I lined up with him (and Leigh Schmitt) in my first 50 mile race in 2007. I bounded along with those two, leading the race for the first 20 miles before I realized that they planned to run that pace for the whole 50 miles. I bonked and finished an hour behind Guillermo. Since then I’ve been a fan of his as he methodically bangs out great races, including winning the Javelina 100 last year. His consistency will pay off again.
Now please welcome Liza Howard, coming on board here at Inside Trail with her preview of the ladies’ race. Note that she is too humble to say that she will win. She’s my obvious pick, anyway. Enjoy.
Javelina Jundred’s Women, Ladies, and Chicks
Tim asked if I would write a short Who’s Who piece about the women who are running well in ultras right now. I agreed in a moment of insanity and then realized it was too big a task for an uneducated sportsperson such as myself. I told him I’d be happy to write something other than “And as for the women running, I have no idea” for any upcoming races he’d like instead. I sent along this Javelina Jundred preview because it was the first race that came to mind – as I’m running it.
So in case you weren’t in Fountain Hills, AZ last year, or following on Twitter, or you haven’t read all the females’ race reports, you should know that Javelina was a pretty darn exciting 100-mile race in 2010. And it looks like it’ll be the same this year. Jamie Donaldson broke the course record in 17:11, and while she won’t be there this year, the next four ladies will be. Take a look at their finishing times.
2. Brenda Carawan, 33, Virginia Beach, VA, 19:56:44
3. Ronda Sundermeier, 43, Tigard, OR, 20:07:14
4. Brenda Corona, 48, Escondido, CA, 20:20:41
5. Katherine Metzger, 30, Phoenix, AZ, 20:30:40
I asked RD Nick Coury about it and he said everyone was biting their nails when the Brendas, Ronda and Katherine left so close together on the last loop. (Javelina’s a 7 loop course. Six 15.4-mile loops and one 9-mile loop. Yes, that’s 101.4 miles.)
It was Brenda Carawan’s first time on the Javelina course and Nick said she started at a moderate pace and was able to maintain it until the end. She actually finished the last loop faster than Jaime did. Brenda wrote afterwards how coach Amanda McIntosh kept her on track for a finishing time of 19:56:44, 2nd place female overall, and 9th runner overall. You can read her race report here if you haven’t already. http://www.brendacarawan.com/race-reports.html
Since JJ, Brenda’s run a the Seashore Nature Trail 50k, the Rocky Raccoon 100 (2nd in 22:31) and her dream race, Badwater.
Ronda Sundermeier came in third and was “never too far behind Brenda” according to Nick. Ronda’s race report begins, “Beating my own expectations doesn’t happen often but Javelina 100M was so much more than I could have imagined… Racing a 100M is often the next step for many beyond just finishing. The word “racing” also has many meanings. It could mean winning, it could mean going for a PR or just simply putting your head down and focusing. That’s what endurance activities have to offer. An array of meaning for each individual and most of the time that personal meaning is respected among peers.” You should read her race report and her blog in general.
Ronda’s been busy becoming a Leadwoman since Javelina. (That’s where you finish five of the following events: Leadville Marathon, Silver Rush 50 bike or run, Leadville Trail 100 run, the Leadville Trail 100 MTB and the 10K run.) Oh, and Ronda also did the Grand Slam back in 2007. Bring your autograph book.
2011 will be Brenda Corona’s fifth Javelina and her times have gotten faster each year. Nick says she “could be going for a sub 20 hour finish this year which would put her in the top ten all time for the race.” Brenda’s run three 50ks and the San Diego 100 (26:38) since Javelina.
And Katherine Metzger, who came in fifth, is a local runner who Nick says has been “training for the race while preparing and taking her medical boards.” (Now I feel like a slacker.) “Javelina was her first 100 last year and she kicked hard on the last loop to catch 25 minutes on 4th place, so look for her to be a competitor.” Since Javelina Katherine’s run two 50-milers and a 50km. She won the Deadman Peaks Trail Run 50-miler in New Mexico on Oct. 22nd in 11:25.
Nick also says Alexa Dickerson has great potential to do well this year. It’s her 3rd time at Javelina and she won the Mohican 100 in June in Ohio. She’s a lot younger than the rest of us, but maybe that won’t be too much of a handicap.
Brenda Carawan adds that Badwater runners Jess Mullen and Cheryl Zwarkowski are both very strong competitors. And Brittany Klimowicz, who also ran Badwater, just won The Gibbet 50-miler going sub-10. AND Jen Vogel is “on fire this year” according to Brenda. She set a new course record for the Double Ironman in March, placed 2nd female at Badwater, and won the Great Floridian last weekend. “Vogel could very easily sweep the field at Javelina.
As for me, I’ve had a broken foot most of the summer, but I’ve been healthy and on the trails since August. I haven’t run 100 miles since February at Rocky Raccoon, but I think I still remember how. And I’ve got all that running in the Texas heat going for me…
I’m thinking floppy-eared rabbit for my costume. Carrot-shaped water bottle? Maybe I’ll just stick to getting these ladies’ autographs.
Please comment if you think I’ve left off anyone. A friend will be tweeting the women’s race at lizahoward1 if you want to see who’s chicking whom on November 12th.
Enjoy more of Liza’s writing about running and daily life at her site, www.lizahoward.com
Like a shark, the Speedgoat must keep moving to stay alive. Even with a bulging disc, suffered during Hardrock this year, he continued to stay active during recovery with long hikes. Karl is back this weekend to run the Pinhoti 100.
In its 4th year, the Pinhoti 100, is one of those secret gems. The point to point course boasts 16,200 ft of climb on mostly (80 miles worth) singletrack trail, gnarled with roots and rocks hidden under fallen leaves. It’s like a day/night-long run in a booby-trapped forest. Karl comments about the race on his site, “It is very well organized to boot. Todd Henderson, the RD does a great job marking and has great aid station personnel.” The race is full with 132 registered runners ready to enjoy the Pinhoti trail as they “make their way over the highest point in Alabama while navigating over rocks, through creeks and across beautiful ridge lines of the Talladega National Forest.” [race website] The high point of the course, Mt Cheaha at 2,413 ft, is also the highest point of Alabama. [Wiki site]
Karl Meltzer set the course record here two years ago with a 17:12. He says, “I feel great. I’ve put in five weeks of training at 10,000′, so I’m ready for sure.” The only person to have come within two hours of that time is John Dove from Georgia, who’s run all three previous installments of the event. John’s best time was en route to his win here last year in 19:01. John will have his hands full trying to fend off Pennsylvanian Angus Repper (past wins at Sawtooth 100 and Virgil Crest 100) and Kentuckian Troy Shellhammer who’s had a nice little season with a 16:12 at Umstead 100 and 7th place at UROC 100k.
For the ladies, Jill Perry from New York looks strong coming off her win last month at Oil Creek 100. Is she recovered enough to muster the power to race hard against young Tennessean Sarah Woerner? Sarah is the defending champion at Pinhoti (24:42) and has put together a solid season filled with sharp performances at a variety of distances.
The weather forecast looks nearly ideal with partly cloudy skies, highs in the 60s and lows around 40. Hope everyone has a safe, fast, and fun race.
Clearly, with the name “Masochist”, the Mt. Masochist 50 must be great for 50 mile beginners. Right? That’s what the website says in it’s intro: “The course itself is a challenging combination of roads, jeep trails, and single track that can cause even the most experienced runner to breathe a sigh of relief at the finish line in Montebello, VA. Ample aid stations and tried and true organization makes the race a perfect first 50 miler.” A point to point course from Lynchburg to Montebello Virginia, climbing 9,200 ft with a cut-off of 12 hours means it would probably be a good idea to cut your teeth on another (maybe a few) easier 50 milers. The Mt. Masochist 50 began in 1983 with David Horton turning over the race direction duties to the capable Clark Zealand in 2007. They work together on a series of events aptly called “The Beast Series“. With over 60,000 combined feet of climb in the 6 events, these races will break your heart and your feet.
Mt. Masochist is one of the unique races where consistency isn’t the norm. It brings out the best in some runners you wouldn’t expect to do well and can cause otherwise speedy runners to sputter. It takes guts, speed, smarts, and patience, just ask Scott Jaime, last year’s winner. Geoff Roes owns the eye-popping course record of 6:27, which he set in 2009, blowing by Mackey’s course record by 21 minutes. To run that time on this “Horton miles” long 50 mile course that starts at near zero feet elevation and climbs and drops continuously to over 4,000 feet is remarkable; a record that should stand for quite a while. The women’s record hasn’t even been within shouting distance for the women’s winners since Nikki Kimball set it in 2006 (7:47). I doubt we’ll see Nikki’s record go down this year but if anyone on the start list has the ability to break it, Sandi Nypaver is the one. However, I’m going with my gut here and picking Alyssa Wildeboer for the women’s win.
Alyssa has vast experience on the MMTR course, having run it six times. More relevant is the fact that she has refined her ability in ultras over the years. She cranked out a 3rd place 8:54 at MMTR last year and carried that momentum into 2011, her best year yet, with a 4th place in a tight women’s race at Leadville, 4th and just out of the money at Cheyenne Mountain 50k, and 1st at Devil Mountain 50k a month ago. Unless either she or Sandi run into trouble, it’ll be a hell of an exciting race.
Eco-X has “seedings” up on their blog but it doesn’t make much sense to me other than the picks for men/women wins. The list has Eric Grossman as the #1 seed but doesn’t even list Ty Draney’s or Josh Finger’s names. Ty hasn’t had much of a season racing in 2011 with just one event (Pocatello) but I know Josh has been active, which I witnessed personally at the Ice Age 50 mile where he took 5th (I was a distant 7th). Josh also just (I mean like last week) cracked out a 6:33 at Tussey Mountainback 50 miler for 5th, which needs to be taken into account, since he takes a while to recover from what I’ve seen. I’m not saying either has a shot at beating Grossman (except maybe a sharp Ty Draney) but those two would be on my top 5 or at worst top 10 picks. To not pick Eric Grossman for the win here is swimming against the tide, going against the grain, going out on a limb, whichever silly cliche you prefer, but I’m going with Jonathan Allen. It’s not that thin of a limb I’m going out on. Allen did run for 5th in 9:26 at UROC, over a half hour faster than 8th place Grossman. Mix in other speedy guys like Brian Rusieki and local favorite, Frank Gonzalez and you’ve got yourself a competitive race for top 5.
Either way, Mt. Masochist is a late season classic that’s sure to please both participants and us fans.
This weekend is the Chicago Lakefront 50/50 fall edition. The current 50 mile World Record of 4:50 was set on the Chicago Lakefront by Bruce Fordyce in 1984. This course is flat. This course is fast. On the current certified course, a 12.5 mile out and back repeated four times on concrete, Oz Pearlman owns the course record of 5:25, set in 2009. In fact, he holds the fastest four finish times run on this course. Ann Heaslett holds the women’s course record of 6:53, which she set in 2006. True mountain runners need not apply; this event is for pure speed and a lust for concrete underfoot.
The only thing that may slow runners in any given year is the weather. This is Chicago after all. That won’t happen this year as the forecast is near perfect with highs in the low 50s and clear. Like last year, Oz Pearlman isn’t on the entrants’ list this year, so the door is open for veteran 50 mile specialist, Mark Lundblad from North Carolina to make waves along the Lakefront. A Browsing of the entrants, nicely provided to me by Race Director, Pat Onines leaves me to believe Lundblad will have his way with a solo effort. He is, in fact, a mountain and trail specialist, to be specific. However, he’s shown great speed on the road and flatter courses with runs at JFK and Tussey Mountainback that illustrate his flatland speed.
For the women… I’m going with Cathy Becker for the outright win and Rachel Arthur from Tennessee in her first ultra nipping at her heels until near the end. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a female write about the female predictions?
This week we began our look at this weekend’s upcoming events on the East Coast with our preview of the Grindstone 100 in Virginia. Then we traveled to Moab, Utah for a preview of the inaugural running of the Slickrock 100. Today we finish this week’s race previews in Lake Chabot, California with the Dick Collins Firetrails 50 miler. The Firetrails 50 is a popular race that sells out just about every year and in this, its 29th running, it is once again full. The biggest change this year is the transfer in race direction. The speedy duo of Ann Trason and her husband, Carl Andersen, had managed the race for several years. It’s among one of the best managed races in the country, right down to the post-race festivities of delicious, abundant food and kegs of micro beer to wash it down. This year will see NorCalUltras, headed by Julie Fingar and Mark Gilligan, taking over the event directing.
The course is an out and back design with a diversion over the last couple of miles taking runners around the opposite side, compared with the start of the race, of Lake Chabot. The course ranges from 200 ft to 2,000 ft of elevation. There’s nothing terribly difficult about the course but it’s still a good recommendation to take the first half easy because one reaches the turn around by descending a bit over 1,200 ft, then having to climb back up on the return trip. The last 20 miles are very runnable with mild trails and a general rolling net descent to the finish. It can be a fast course, if run correctly. One who knows this first hand is Dave Mackey. He’s participated and won for the last two years with the highlight last year of breaking Carl Andersen’s 16 year old course record with a 6:19 effort. The women’s course record is held by, who else, Ann Trason with a 7:31 laid down in 1987 (good luck with that, ladies).
Speaking of speed, here are some contenders to note:
Bree Lambert – San Jose, CA. Bree is a veteran of Firetrails with this being her fourth running. She’s competitive and strong and should win Firetrails this year just cracking the 8 hour mark. She won the Tahoe Rim Trail 100 miler in July in 23:07 and who came charging in just 16 minutes behind her at that race….?
Jennifer Benna – San Francisco, CA. Yep, Jennifer was 2nd at TRT100. She seems to have moved to a new level in terms of racing and will give Bree a run.
Dave Mackey – Novato, CA. Coming off a DNF at UROC due to illness, Dave is the defending champion with the 6:19 course record at Firetrails. His smooth, loping, but fast gait is made for this course. Unless his Hoka Bondi Bs fall off his feet, he should have no problem repeating as champ for the third consecutive year.
Graham Cooper – Piedmont, CA. Graham had a sharp run at Western States, actually nipping Mr. Mackey by a couple minutes there. He hasn’t raced much, at all since, so should show up eager to run well.
Jean Pommier – Cupertino, CA. Jean seems to prefer and excel at the shorter distances. Thankfully, in ultras, 50 miles is a shorter distance. He’s run Firetrails three times with a 7:15 PR.
Chris Calzetta – Monterey, CA. Chris just began running ultras eleven months ago with his first 50k but has racked up some decent results, including an 18:45 at Western States (his first 100 miler) and, most recently, a 3:46 and 2nd place at Skyline 50k, just seconds behind winner, Jean Pommier. If he doesn’t try to hang with big Mack early, he should run well.
Dan Barger – Auburn, CA. Dan has been around the ultra scene longer than many of the participants in this race have been alive. He hasn’t raced much this year but his experience requires respect.
Mark Tanaka – Castro Valley, CA. Mark has had his typical year of 80 races. Seriously, he races a lot and has five 100s in his body this year (again). He has great speed but is probably not as sharp as he could be (this is speaking from my own experience this year of racing so much). Regardless, he’ll be “in the race” and have a huge smile to brighten everyone else’s day, as usual.
Comments are welcome. I would love to hear thoughts on the change in race management. I’m personally sad that Ann and Carl aren’t at the helm any longer. That, frankly, was the main draw for me wanting to run this event. I’m absolutely certain Julie and Mark will do a superb job with it as well. Anyone have any inside information on the participants or picks I’ve not mentioned? Let’s hear it.
Have a great weekend of training runs and races!
Anyone who says East Coast ultras are easier than western ones hasn’t run races like Massanutten 100 or the Grindstone 100. I cut my teeth on ultrarunning in the East, running in NC, SC, VA, WV, DC, and FL and I can attest to the fact that the East offers some of the gnarliest trail and stiff climbs in the country. I wrote an article about East vs West for Ultrarunning magizing a couple years ago that compared and contrasted the two. With a perfect weather forecast of 45-70 degrees and dry, this Friday sees the start of the 4th annual Grindstone in Swoope, VA (139 registrants at this point). The race features a unique 6PM start time that ensures all entrants, including the winner, will run one full night. Karl Meltzer set the standard in 2009 with an 18:46 run that still stands as the course record. Sandi Nypaver set the current women’s record in 2010 with her 23:05 effort.
With 23,200 ft of climb crammed into the out and back 100 mile course, Grindstone stands up with races like Wasatch and Bear 100s as among the US’s most difficult at that distance. Indeed, the event website states it best in its opening description, “Grit, endurance, temporary loss of sanity. You might need all these if you want to finish, well, just keep in mind this is, without a doubt, the hardest 100 miler east of the 100th meridian.”
I asked Karl Meltzer his thoughts and whether there’s anything that stands out in his mind about the Grindstone event, since he’s run most of the big 100s in the country and certainly has run all of the most difficult ones. Karl responded, “The only thing odd is the start time, but the venue is great for that. 12 hours of darkness is alot longer than most races, especially for the front runner. It’s well run and marked extremely well. Clark Zealand the RD does a great job. Also great shirts for finishers from Patagoochi. Rare in this sport.”
If running 12 hours straight through the night over technical singletrack doesn’t give pause to potential applicants, then the elevation profile will do the trick:
Forget about the massive climbs and descents in the middle of the race, that 4,500 ft descent over the last seven miles of the race makes my palms sweaty. If you don’t pamper your quads during the race, you’ll certainly pay the price in the form of agony over the final miles.
There are 15 aid stations and a live webcast updating runners’ progress through those stations. Live updates at www.eco-xsports.com.
As always, we welcome comments and would love to hear readers’ predictions for men’s and women’s contenders, personal experience with this race, opinions on how this stacks up against the tough 100s in the US and/or Canada, and any other thoughts on this event.
Trail Runner’s Ultra Race of Champions 100k (UROC) is getting a lot of coverage on the interwebs. Other than a potentially meaningful race in Bend, Oregon this Saturday, specifically the Flagline 50k, picked for the second year in a row as a USATF Trail National Championships, the gathering near Charlottesville, Virginia on Saturday the 24th seems to be on several people’s radar, for several reasons.
Change is major theme in the current trail and ultra running discourse. This statement might be misleading since people, especially groups and communities of people, are often involved, whether they know it or not, in some phase of their own individual and congregation’s transformation, evolution, renovation, etc. One can call it whatever she wants: there is always change in the air, and we are definitely talking about more than seasonal change (though that’s a nice metaphor).
One of the big topics of change getting volleyed about in this spirited discourse includes the rise of professionalism in the sport (especially in the American version). This includes (among other things) the role of sponsorship. Clearly more money invested in the sport will impact race organization, competition, and the winnings and other bonuses made available to elite athletes. This professionalism will “enhance” races in other ways, such as media coverage, which can only be good given that more people will “see” the sport, including America’s impressionable youth. I was telling my friend the other day, “How cool would it be to have your kid want to be the next Scott Jurek.”
The Comrades Marathon may be the extreme of this embrace of growth and professionalism in ultra running; look what that could do to the “value” of a race. Massive media attention, including full television coverage and winnings that reach six-figures mean there is an example we can certainly target for the elite level of competition. Though sponsorship capital on the European race scene doesn’t seem to reach the levels of Comrades, that off-road running contingent (which really spills into the general population) over there certainly uses another currency that can logically translate into money: Interest. The well-documented international Team Salomon seems to very much exemplify this kind of change going-on in the sport.
Not having a database of race statistics to pull from, we could still safely say the American ultra sport is growing in interest. The sheer number of MUT races that meander across the lands is staggering. Just according to Ultra Running Magazine “There were 554 ultramarathon races held in North America in 2010.” Of course, what about the number of runners signing-up for these 554+ races? There are several hundred examples we could cite with a few clicks. It’s great news. How can we not see this type of individual and group interest very encouraging? Furthermore, who doesn’t have an ultra running blog? This alone may be the best place to look in order to illustrate not just the growth of the sport, but growth’s predecessor (and the point of this paragraph): the interest in the sport. And it’s some of the discussions on these blogs where one will find so many perfect examples of change bouncing around.
A big discussion for some time has been the need for a true national or even world championship trail/mountain race. Having thought at length about this topic, talked with many people and read many different perspectives (including trying to find all of the current sanctioned “championships” that exist), this aspiration seems admittedly plagued with difficulty. Tradition is a very formidable foe to change. The sport of ultra running is traditionally low-key, and almost uneventful. The trail racing elite has emerged over the years, but the larger trail community doesn’t necessarily thrive on fierce competition among other runners; it’s not the driving force. Races are spread-out, happen throughout the year with very little sense of series organization or tournament style (other than a few like the North Face Endurance Challenge and the evolving Montrail((Patagonia?)) Ultra Cup ((?))). Instead, there are simply some classic races, a few with huge followings; most people are well read on these traditions. Races more become opportunities to congregate and run together for several hours with the hopes of just finishing (certainly of PRing), of enduring several degrees of fatigue and pain. Sure, there are different levels of tradition among these hundreds of races and often stemming from these traditions are real races, even among the mid to back of the pack runners. Be that as it may, as it stands, there is no one race or race series to rule them all.
One of the best people to ask about this desire for championship race change is Geoff Roes. The man behind the Alaska Mountain Running Camps has been outspoken on this issue, even writing in January of this year, following his 2010 UROY selection, which he won with the help of winning the hugely traditional Western States 100, “I think the discussion of what effect a true championship race would have on the sport is a moot point. I think that there is such a high demand for this that it is absolutely going to happen within the next couple years. It’s a simple aspect of a free market that when you have a large demand for a product/service that is not available, someone will provide a product/service to fill that void.” This is a definitive stance on an issue to which many industry folk might balk. This is pulled from his blog. The post is brilliantly illustrative of a how one of the top mountain ultra runners in the world feels about the lack of a true MUT national championship. He literally lays it out in this fiery piece.
Jump ahead to September 21, 2011, on the eve of UROC. Geoff is preparing to travel to compete in the first running of a race organized to crown a champion ultra runner. The design follows perhaps that of the North Face Endurance Challenge, which caters, at least more than other “championships,” to the front of the race, the elite runners. What’s remarkable was how the race has received instant credibility and heavy criticism: the classic mixed response to change.
What is worth pointing-out is Roes’ role in the formation of UROC. Back in January he wasn’t just talking the talk of change at the championship level. And remember, this is a guy who has competed in the sport’s most competitive races, namely WS100, several other American classic ultras (Wasatch, Hurt, Bear, Masochist, AR, etc.), including the competitive North Face EC series, culminating in the fiercely competitive San Francisco race. Come to think of it, perhaps Roes sees the NF EC championship and maybe UTMB as legitimate world championships, but what is still in need is a definitive national championship. Hence, he helped the organizers of UROC in recruiting the “champions” for the race on Saturday, in effect “designing” a championship race. What does this mean? Given the idea that organizing such a race faces a lot of difficulty, given the staunch tradition that defines the sport of ultra running, the problem with finding land and permits with which to facilitate, etc., we have to focus instead on the intent of the race, the fact that Roes has become a true ambassador, even steward, of ultra running (in a previous post we suggested he become the Czar of the sport, seriously). Because the sport, as he himself argues (in support, referring to several discussions he’s had with several elite ultra runners), needs this change. This weekend, one could say, is Roes walking the walk.
If the race doesn’t go-off without a hitch, with runners going off-course, with complaints of too much road in a supposed trail championship, with complaints that runners were forced to hurdle Oktoberfest revelers in route to the finish, still we believe that the bigger picture here remains intact, that the sport/community (driven by its leaders and enthusiastic congregation) is in the midst of massive change. And that Geoff Roes is playing a big part in the positive changes occurring in the sport. When we asked him about his thoughts of the race just days from the start-line, he told us,
“I think UROC will be really exciting. I have no real expectations or goals for myself but it’ll be fun to see how the race plays out in terms of the kind of interest it gets in the running media/blogosphere. UROC certainly has some kinks to work out (as all new events do for the first few years), but I do think it’s taken a bold step forward that no other ultra races have been interested in or willing to take at this point. That is they were willing to say here’s a race that will have a primary focus on the race at the front of the pack. So much so that they are actively recruiting top-level runners to take part in their event. To my knowledge they are the only ultra currently doing this. This approach doesn’t appeal to everyone (far from it), but shouldn’t be seen as a problem. There are so many ultras in the world today, any runner interested in racing should have no trouble finding dozens that appeal to them. The lack of diversity in the style of ultrarunning events is sometimes quite shocking, but I think events like UROC (and other new events that actively do things a bit differently) are helping to create a bit of diversity, and a bit of excitement, in an otherwise very homogeneous sport. This isn’t to say that the style of existing events don’t appeal to me (I wouldn’t have run almost 30 ultras in the last 3 years if I didn’t enjoy the existing events), but at some point many races start to feel like they have been designed to be as much like the typical race as possible. I think the trend in the coming years will be events that actively try to be different than the typical ultra. I think UROC is just one example of this and I think this trend is terribly exciting for the sport.”
Enough said? Almost. We just have to highlight the read here on such a seemingly monumental event. Granted, the race may not be perfect or “appeal to everyone (far from it),” but when a runner of Geoff’s caliber talks about a the sport being “very homogeneous,” that he is interested in “helping to create a bit of diversity, and a bit of excitement,” that’s compelling. Hopefully people are thinking big picture here, mind-set, paradigm shift, etc. Traditions are strong and flourish because people care about them and therefore continue to derive a lot of meaning from them. At the same time, change is natural, powerful, and inevitable. UROC is just one of many examples of change happening in the sport today.
And the race itself. Anyone reading this has seen iRunFar’s and Karl Meltzer’s terrific previews. Not much more to be said here other than to reiterate that actually picking a podium seems very difficult with the suspicion of late season fatigue and the ever so probable accompanying cold. Inside Trail does suspect that this race could go be won be any number of dark horses (like a Jon Allen, Scott Gall, and Michael Owen), especially if some of the favorites are not 100%. So, keep your eye on that. And clarification of the 100k course reveals that some 37 miles appear to be either dirt or paved road. Naturally, this may favor a runner like Mike Wardian and other marathoners with that kind of speed. Tis the season, late September, so we just hope that the runners are all there, feeling 100% and ready to rock and roll.