Trail Runner to Sponsor Ultra Race of Champions

Trail Runner Ultra Race of ChampionsBad to the Bone Endurance Sports is partnering with Trail Runner Magazine to put on the Trail Runner Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) on September 24 in the Blue Ridge Mountains outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. Those lining up for the 100k race with nearly 13,000′ of total climbing will have a shot at the $10,000 in prize money that goes 5 deep to both men and women. While the goal of the event is to bring together the world’s best ultramarathoners, the event will be open to all runners. Registration will open on March 14 at 8 a.m. EST.

The Race and Course
Although the Trail Runner UROC is new, organizers J. Russell Gill and Francesca Conte of Bad to the Bone and the Charlottesville Running Company have long put on great trail ultras (and other races), including the Bel Monte 50 and Great Eastern Endurance Run (GEER). In fact, the Trail Runner UROC replaces the GEER 100k, while the GEER 50k and GEER Half Marathon remain and will be run the same day as the Trail Runner UROC. All three races will be held on new courses. Field sizes will be large enough to accommodate a championship event. Entry fees will be posted the first week of March.

The out-and-back UROC will be primarily singletrack (32 miles) with 25 miles of gravel road and 5 miles of pavement. The mixed course, near sea level altitude, and moderate amount of climb should make this course suitable to a mix of runners… which makes it all that more exciting for us ultra fans!

Trail Runner Ultra Race of Champions elevation profile

Trail Runner Ultra Race of Champions elevation profile.

Elite Runners
There’s been lots of chatter about a championship trail ultra with the main goal to bring together as many top ultrarunners as possible. That’s the goal of this race. To help make that a reality, the race will be inviting the current four Grand Slam of Ultrarunning winners, UTMB champions, the top 10 for the previous year’s Ultrarunning Magazine’s Ultrarunner of the Year voting, and winners of other top ultras (Hardrock, White River, American River, Davas, etc.). Per the race website,

The goal of Trail Runner UROC is to gather as many elite ultra runners as possible. If you are interested in competing for the cash purse, don’t be shy, please contact Gill or Geoff Roes.

Aside from competition, cash talks, so here’s the breakdown of the prize money for both the top men and women.

  1. $2,500
  2. $1,000
  3. $750
  4. $500
  5. $250

As a side note, the UROC Runner Advisory Panel includes elite runners Geoff Roes, we’ll presume you know who he is, and Neal Gorman, the Grand Slam record holder, who can give insight into what might draw the world’s top runners (other than the circular draw – competition). Geoff is also acting as the Elite Runner Liaison.

Call for Comments
Who’s in for this race? Know of any big dogs talking about it? Any thoughts on the course? What about the race as an/the trail ultra championship?

There are 43 comments

  1. footfeathers

    Good for them for trying to meet the needs of some. 25% of the NF prize money probably won't lure everyone to the race (2nd place won't cover travel expenses unless you're Mark Lundblad or Sean Andrish who could drive there). Labeling a race a "championship" doesn't necessarily make is so. Just some first impressions from a mid-pack guy.

  2. Matt

    It looks like a first good attempt. I think to have any real championship race instead of just inviting all the top runners you need to pay (in part) for their travel. That alone would get all the top guys to show up for the chance to win money that would be more icing on the cake rather than money to make the trip worthwhile.

    As far as the course itself. 100k is a nice compromise distance as is the 13k elevation changes. Having the race at sea level seems to be a must for a true championship race as all the elites can't necessarily live at altitude since they have day jobs.

  3. Kevin

    Sounds like an awesome race race and being practically in my backyard I may just try to get out to rub elbows (I know, only a possibility at pre-race meeting/dinner but still!) with some of the greats of the sport!

    Seems to me (more mid-pack guy talk here) like they could probably bring in some more cash and make everything that more appealing to the elites by signing on a couple more major sponsors. I'm sure if they get some early commitments from a few of the bigger names it wouldn't be too hard to lure some extra cash, even if only to pay the way for some more elites.

    Matt's comments about the location make sense although I was thinking the exact opposite initially. Always seemed to me that if it happened it would be somewhere more epic then anything on the East coast. That said, I'm certainly not complaining about the location nearby since the west coast is a bit out of reach for me anytime soon.

  4. mylesmyles

    Agree with the above, and although an active participant in this sport as a middle of the packer, it's hard to not feel a little bad for the guys that are out there killing it throughout the year, when this is the most prize money sponsors can put up. Outside the fact that numerous high profile ultras won't budge on their entry process to let in elite runners to create a "stacked field", the fact that many of these guys (including sposored athletes like Krupicka) have to pay their own entry fees for events (I'm prett ysure NB could have splurged for the $300 for WS for him) is preposterous.

    To truly have a Championship race, the prize money has to be significant, and the money above simply is not. In addition, the elite runners should all be getting some sort of negotiated appearance fee, to ensure ALL the top guys show up.

    Rumor has it that NYRR wrote a $700k check to Haile for this past years NYC marathon, and he only got to mile 16.

    Yes ultrarunning is a niche of the larger running world, but one that is gaining popularity. I find it hard to believe that the powers that be can't find some way to create a high level race that doesn't lose money, attracts all the right people and serves to increase both the profile and the competition level of the sport.

  5. Jacob

    I think this rocks. Good job guys. Everyone can always find ways to make something better. This is a first huge step. Western States did not be come what it is today after just one race. I wish I could make it to this one this year.

  6. James Madson

    "The out-and-back UROC will be primarily singletrack (32 miles) with 25 miles of gravel road and 5 miles of pavement. "… 30 miles is on roads leaves 2 miles of singletrack. I'm not very good at math but how is that primarily single track?

  7. Anonymous

    It's not enough prize money to gather everyone, unfortunately, but it could be the first step to bring ALOT more next year and further on down the line.

    Course is yet to be determined as far as how good it is, but it sounds like it does cater to everyone, which is good, it can't be too hard to favor a mountain guy, or too easy to favor the road runner. A good balance is fair.

    Distance is good, but I'd rather see it be 100 miles….or maybe 2176 miles…..100k is fair.

    "It's not a championship yet" :-)

    NBC exec, "what is the show about"

    George, "nothing"

    NBC exec, "why do people watch it?"

    George, "cuz it's on TV"

    NBC exec, "not yet"

    That's my scenario. It'll take a few years and 10g's to get em' all there, along with comp, a ride, and a sleeping pad. :-) It took NF a few, same here. I like it.

  8. Alex

    For some reason I now think that maybe Geoff Roes had a little bit of an agenda when he wrote his blog post about the lack of a championship/marquee race like UTMB….

  9. James Brennan

    I can't drink the Hatorade on big purses and $ making the world go round. Geoff Roes is Ultrarunner of the Year and should deserve to be big pimpin'. He was a cook, now he's an icon. Who wants to go work in a kitchen after getting worlwide praise.

    Here's his North Face Atlanta Race Report:
    http://akrunning.blogspot.com/2010/10/fine-day-at

    Writing was on the wall for Geoff to spearhead a movement. He, Francesca Conte, Karl Meltzer will be the Pioneers for profitability. Irunfar will get more advertisement revenue. Races will raise purses to compete for top-talent attention. Bigger dollars bring more eyeballs.

  10. Dubious

    This is not a new race….it's been around for years and if it was all that, wouldn't one expect for it to become more popular with time, rather than have fewer participants each year? So many races in the area fill–why not this one? 24 participants last year? Can you make a race a "championship" race just by renaming it and offering up a meager purse?

    1. Agree with Dubious

      Have to agree with Dubious. This is a blatant attempt by the GEER 100K RDs Conte and Gill to fix their 100K which was sorely lacking in support and participants, even though all other races in the area were filling at record speed. Ask anyone who has done a Bad to The Bone race and they will tell you that their events are expensive and poorly organized and poorly supported. I wonder if Geoff Roes had any clue about this before he signed on with those two? I think the elites of our sport already know about their reputation. If it weren't for Geoff's name on the masthead, they would likely stay away. They may still.

  11. Brett

    I agree 100% with Karl:

    a) You gotta start somwhere

    b) Good first initial purse to dip toe in water

    c) Fair mix of elevation, elevation gain, and distance

    d) Seemingly open to competitive entries

    Just because they say its a championship (there are already national and world championships for ultra road and trail) won't make it so. But seems like someone finally is able to get something off the ground. If they can get a lot of people to show they can get more sponsors and raise the purse. I hope it works and takes off.

  12. James Brennan

    As the famous bank robber said, Why do you rob banks, Willy (Sutton)? “Cause that's where the money is”.

    How do countries stimulate foreign direct investment when they have no activity? They lower tax rates and increase incentives.

    If you put $100,000 as prize money in a parking lot you'd have the parking lot championship.

    think about it, ultrarunning rocks, but it appears the lawnmower racing association is kicking ultrarunning's butt in stimulating $:
    http://www.letsmow.com/sponsorship/uslmra-sponsor

  13. james varner

    i think it's a step in the right direction but not a very big one because it's not very much money and the course is not very hard and in this country we have much more beautiful places to host championship races. to me this doesn't seem any different than all the other races out there right now with prize money. plus being only 1 month after UTMB a race that is quickly becoming the world championship for trail 100m runners it seems like right away you you're gonna lose a lot of the u.s. and world elites to that race.

    one race(either already existing or new) needs to take the bull by the horns and create this true championship setting by offering way more money than any other race other there. and ideally that race is extremely difficult and scenic but really money, if it's a large enough purse, is all that'll take. oh that and making it 100% open to all runners.

    good try geoff and trail runner but in my opinion not good enough to be crowned champ!

    1. Bryon Powell

      James, isn't every race just as hard as a runner and his or her competition make it. While we may love the toughies, I feel that a championship should either mix strengths or be held on a middle ground course. That's make a course like Hardrock outside the realm of championships debate unless it's the tough-ass trail 100 miler championship… and then you'd have give the title to UTMB.

  14. Speedgoat Karl

    I do think we're missing one thing here, and that's me included. I just thought of it while out on my run.

    "ultra race of champions" is not the same thing as a "championship". It may become that in the future, but this is entirely two different things. Bringing all the big dogs was the idea in the first place right? Hmmmm

    We should sit on that for a second. :-) I think of weird shit while running.

    Money isn't supposed to be part of the topic….. :-)

  15. Speedgoat Karl

    sorry bout this being off topic. how can it be a lawnmower races if they don't have blades? You gotta read James' link to understand that one. I'm in the wrong sport..

  16. Randall

    Personally, I don't like the idea of commercializing the sport of ultrarunning to include appearance fees and larger prize money. I think it will eventually detract from the spirit of ultrarunning. There will be more crossover runners from other disciplines into ultras simply for the opportunity to chase prize money, which will lead to more and more events being filled by lottery or qualifying standards.

    This will push out more of the regular, middle-to-rear of the pack runners who compete in ultras because they love the concept and aren't worried about being sponsored or making a living from it. There's already some prestigious ultra events that many of us may never have a chance to run. Why try to create more?

    I quit running road marathons because of pressure to get a certain time and the commercialism. Ultra trail running appeals to me for the atmosphere, comraderie and spirit of the other runners. I'd hate to see that atmosphere become more like a road marathon event.

    1. mylesmyles

      Randall – I cannot disagree more. For a sport to grow and prosper it needs to incentivize people to come out and compete. If it stays a fringe sport people will have less motivation to compete at a high level.

      As for it pushing out the middle/ back of the pack runners by attracting a larger audience, the result will simply be more races and larger races, both of which I think are a good thing.

      Marathons are far more popular today than they were 10 or 20 years ago, and as a result fields are larger and there are more races. I run both and I'm always trying for a better time, no matter the distance or course. If I want to go out for a long run I don't ned a race, just a camelback and a trail.

  17. Ian Sharman

    Scheduling will always be an issue for any new race, but I can't see this one really attracting much of an international field, at least in the first year, due to the low prize money (compared to TNFEC for trail ultras or especially to Comrades for roads) and it's very soon after 2 major international ultras for elites: 4 weeks after UTMB and 2 weeks after the World Championship (road) 100k.

    I'm not sure (yet) that this really fills the gap in the market that Geoff is aiming for, which I understand to be something that pays well and attracts the best ultra runners in the world. Not that I want it to fail, I just don't think it's quite got the potential to succeed in its worthy and lofty aims.

    Is the answer not TNFEC but with a little more cash on offer? Or does it have to be longer than a 50 miler to get enough respect?

    1. Speedgoat Karl

      TNF has to be longer. It is true that it's the most competitive, but 100s really are alot different. Just my two cents. Good point on Comrades, that's a tough one to compete with internationally. Late June is the best for a competitive race with money. Yah, it interferes with WS and HR, but both of those races aren't interested in making them elite races, and don't let in qualified runners unless they run one of their shorter qualifiers (WS only that is). It is what it is. I"m still thinking of that damn 12:44, that was awesome man!

  18. Anonymous

    Is there any concern that the out and back on mostly single track will create too much traffic for the front runners on the return trip?

    1. Michael Owen

      I've thought about that as well. I wonder how wide the trail will be. If its 5 feet wide or more it won't be a problem. And hopefully the single-track trails wont get too congested.

      But, how many races are out and back and you really never hear anyone complaining about getting in the way or being slowed down. People are nice to get out of the way.

  19. Michael Owen

    Gill, are the sponsors listed assuming exclusivity in their package. If not, is there still a chance to add another big-name sponsor? This seems to already be getting a lot of attention (aka, a lot of viewers, consumers, larger market segment, etc.). Maybe if not this year, next year there could be more sponsors and more money.

    *This is to note that I have no clue how much Trail Runner, Black Diamond, and the other sponsors have contributed. I am assuming Trail Runner has did something?

    1. Gill

      Hi Michael,

      As you can probably imagine, we are in talks with many corporate sponsors who want to be part of UROC. Relationships will be determined throughout this year and the upcoming years.

      We really want long term partners who GET what we're creating with UROC.

      All the best

  20. Michael Owen

    Good Point! If this does turn into an actual "race of champions" and not even a "championship", I think it will satisfy a lot. Of course, the champions have to come first.

    As an up-and-coming ultra wanna-be, I would much rather enjoy being in a race with 30 or more of the best ultra-runners then to be in a race "just for the money." That is what Geoffs initial idea and lengthy blog posts were about (and much more) I think.

    I will be in this race for sure if I start find out the all the big guys will be in it.

    Karl, that includes you! Whats an extra 62 miles on your 2011 race schedule!?

    1. Speedgoat Karl

      Bear 100 is the same weekend….I like 100s, and I haven't done the Bear on this course. Believe me it's a tough one to commit to right now, with UTMB and Wasatch also before Bear, I'm not gonna be fresh any way you look at it, but I would still like to be there. We'll see.

    1. Pat

      I ran the GEER 50K a bunch of years ago and the single track portion of the course was pretty rocky. I'm guessing the UROC course will be similar.

  21. Happy Golfer

    1.Cool idea. Somebody had to step up.

    2.Not thrilled that ~48% of race is on roads (even though I think this helps me).

    3.Not thrilled with out and back. Didn't care for the short section at TNF50 in SF either.

    4.Decent distance – better than 50. An off distance like 75 would be cooler.

    5.Like the concept that it is open to everyone. Causal runners mixing with elite is key to keeping our sport humble and keeping interest high.

    6.What does this mean (from ultraroc.com):

    "The UROC Advisory panel will invite the winners of the races listed below"

    Specifically what does the word "invite" mean? A card in the mail? Free entry? Travel expenses? Based on results from previous years or this year? Dependent on who starts begging first until pot is empty?

  22. Speedgoat Karl

    I think what we'll find is pretty much all elite runners will enter at the last minute, like a week out. The field should be determined about a month out, then if any stragglers want to enter at the end and take the "elite entry" route, they get in too, but pay a much higher plan fare..:-)

  23. Geoff Roes

    alex, it would seem that way, but truth be told, i was contacted by UROC well after these posts you mention. UROC (as it stands now and will be run this year) is nothing even close to what i was daydreaming about in those posts, but it's a nice step in this direction and it has ambitions to become much more than it will likely be in this first year.

  24. Geoff Roes

    a step in the right direction… and this is exactly what UROC sees itself as. if this is a big enough step to continue to grow and gain more and more traction remains to be seen. i think the fact that there is now an ultramarathon in this country that has the guts to advertise itself as a race focused primarily on the race at the front of the pack is really where the big step is here. even NF with their large prize purse has never really done much of anything to try to promote that aspect of the race.

    1. Geoff Roes

      one more thing james, i love your lofty thinking, and i think there is a chance that the current UROC prize purse will seem quite small in a few years, but let's keep in mind that this is the now the second largest purse in the sport (trail ultrarunning) in this country and significantly more than whatever the third most would be (maybe the NF regional races??). in my mind it's not specifically about the money, but simply about getting as many top runners as possible to toe the line on the same day. sure, more money would increase the chances of doing that, but it's not the only way. it'd be great if money grew on trees, but in the meantime i think this will be a fun race, with a stout field of runners, which will hopefully help pave the way to this or some other race(s) taking it up several more notches in the next few years.

  25. Geoff Roes

    good catch karl… yeah, ultra race of champions, not ultra race championship. that is, a race focused on trying to get as many champions as possible from top races around the country/world to all race together on one day. a different name probably would have been less confusing, but if you figured it out then everyone else should be able to eventually :)

  26. Eric Grossman

    Like many race directors, Russ and Frannie have committed themselves to providing venues for people to explore natural areas, test personal fitness, and engage in lifelong activity. I commend them, especially because they have managed to turn this into a living. I have run many of their races and have always been impressed by their professional organization. They know firsthand the needs of runners at all levels, and they take a personal stake in the performance of all participants. The joy they exhibit toward competition should be an inspiration to all of us. If my health and schedule allow it, I look forward to competing at UROC!

Post Your Thoughts