Bryon, here. I’ll be providing a slightly more personal perspective than I usually do in my non-personal race reports. Why? Because I think the inaugural Trail Runner Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) 1ook was as big a success as it could be. Yes, there was a ton of hype and not everyone will love the course, but I’d say the race went quite smoothly for its first showing.
The Men’s Race
Geoff Roes (post-race video interview)
Roes had more ups and downs in his race than the mountainous course. Here’s a selection of quotes Roes shared en route to his win:
- Mile 30 – “I’m still moving forward, right? I thought I was going backwards on that last climb.”
- Mile 33 – “It’s easier when I have gravity on my side.”
- Mile 41 – “I almost know how to run again.”
- Mile 53 – “This is going to be grind.”
- Finish – (paraphrased) “This was one of the most satisfying races I’ve run.”
In fact, it’s his persistence through the ups and downs that made that last feeling after the race possible. Roes thought that this roller coaster was more difficult than his renowned comeback at last year’s Western States 100, as WS only involved battling back from one down period.
In watching Roes, he ran a smart race. He was a minute behind Gall and Wardian at mile 5, was running in sixth and seventh with Wardian at mile 23, and was in fifth place nearly 16 minutes behind Mackey and Wardian at mile 33. After an 8 mile out-and-back he was in second. He ran that section 14 minutes faster than eventual third place finisher Flaherty, who Roes passed during the section.
(Tune in on Tuesday for an interview with Geoff.)
Michael Wardian (post-race video interview)
Roes had a great and satisfying run… but at mile 48.5 Wardian had nearly 16 minutes on Roes with much more road than trail left on the course. Even at mile 41, I wrote that it was Wardian’s race to lose given his lead, the dominance of roads late in the race, and Wardian’s exuberance at that aid station. Seeing Wardian’s late race push after getting lost, I’m even more convinced that Wardian would have won had he not gotten lost. Wardian is a straight up baller.
Two weeks after running a 6:42 100k PR to win individual silver and team gold at the IAU 100k World Championships, he seeming takes full control of UROC after the midpoint, runs 8.2 miles of trail between miles 33 and 41 just 50 seconds faster than Geoff Roes, and, according to Roes himself, Wardian was climbing stronger than him all day. Unfortunately for Wardian, he took a wrong turn around mile 52, which added on 3-4 trails miles and the better part of a 1,700′ climb. That mistake took away his 15 or so minute lead over Roes and put him back with the next group of racers. Despite that, he fought back. With six miles to go, he and three of the racers – Flaherty, Ian Sharman, and Jon Allen – were all within two minutes battling for second through fifth places with a range of cash prizes from $1,000 down to the final cash spot of $250. Wardian came home with the $1,000… plus another $400 for winning the two primes. He placed second to Gall and, then, Mackey at the two prime locations, but won the cash after the other racers DNFed.
I’m getting sidetracked telling the story of the race, but wanted to share just how exciting this new Michael Wardian could be. He’s been “fast” for a while, but he’s now running nearly as fast as Roes on non-technical (but far from a bike path) trail and out climbing Roes at times. Wardian knows his weaknesses and is willing to address them. He’s been going for hour or two runs with his treadmill set at 10-15%. I don’t even want to think of what pace he’s running. Folks have discounted Wardian on the trails for years. At UROC, he showed why we’d all better stop doing that!
(Regarding Wardian’s wrong turn, you can hear all about it from Iron Mike himself on Wednesday. When he took the wrong turn he knew where he was, remembers the RD explaining that it was tricky before the race, but ended up taking the trail instead of the road at that point.)
The men really took it out hard at UROC. I’m not sure if it was the Ortovox King of the Mountain prime ($200 and a pack) offered at the course’s high point 5.5 miles into the race, the highly variable terrain, or the fact that folks had less to lose stature-wise if they didn’t succeed given that this was a first year event. It also could have been the higher than usual proportion of ultra newbies and road speedsters among the elites (i.e., Scott Gall, Michael Wardian, Matt Flaherty, who were among the top 6 runners at all the aid stations before mile 20). Regardless of the cause, nearly 20 miles into the race Ian Sharman was running in 10th saying, “I think they’re running a 50k up there.” After the race, a few top dogs questioned whether they’d gone out to hard.
I’ve always thought that cash prizes and a deep elite field would make for a more aggressive race, but it’s not always played out that way or, at least, it hasn’t seemed to do so. Witness, the huge groups through the early aid stations at last year’s TNF EC Championships in San Francisco. I’d love to hear from those who competed at both that race and UROC to see if there was an actual difference in feel/tactics at the two races and, if there was a difference, why they think that is the case.
Being an outside observer, two possibilities I could think of for differing appearances of the early stages of TNF EC – SF and UROC are:
- There might be a deeper elite field at the more senior race (TNF EC) allowing for more folks to hang longer, but the early positions of Michael Owen and Ian Sharman through the first 10 miles of UROC (off the lead pack and out of the top 10 through the first 10 miles) suggest a different cause.
- The TNF EC course is more uniform in nature with its trails and unrelenting hills. Those who are likely to win are likely to find success throughout the race, including the beginning. In addition, many who are likely to find success have also raced each other or, at least, can find ways to reasonably compare their relative performances on reasonably similar courses. On the other hand, there’s a crazy amount of variability in the UROC course with runners of many backgrounds that limits common race history. Furthermore, there was no way of knowing what style of runner UROC would end up favoring. As a result, more conservative pack-based racing might take a backseat to a smoke-’em-if-you’ve-got-’em approach whenever the terrain, surface, and energy was favorable for a particular runner.
As with all ultras, there were plenty of DNFs among the elite field, including Dave Mackey, Dave James, Scott Gall, Michael Owen, and Jason Bryant. Two of these, Gall and Mackey, led virtually the entire race past the halfway mark. (James led for the first couple 100 meters and others may have led in the first few miles.) Mackey shared in an iRunFar comment, “Scott and I ran together quite a long stretch of the race and he said he may have gone out too hard. For my part, I just hit a brick wall at mile 30 that I knew I couldn’t overcome.” A couple of the other drops had folks admitting they simply didn’t have it in there bodies that day.
While I admire elites (or anyone) who gut out below-expectation finishes (Carpenter and Meltzer at Leadville and Koerner at UTMB are among my favorite), I’ve got no issue with elites dropping for big races and don’t wish to belabor the issue of DNFs. However, I’ll hypothesize that you’ll see more all-or-nothing performances in the future as more money comes into the sport. I don’t think that’s a dig on the character of the racers, new or veteran, as I think most folks want to finish what they start, but the money could lead folks to (1) toe the line when they’re less certain they’re fully prepared for a race and (2) go out closer to the edge of their capabilities early in a race and just see whether or not they have it on a given day. On the latter point, this could both lead to some tremendous performances when runners’ gambles pay off and make for some damn exciting races. Regardless of the reasons, there were four different leaders between mile 23 and 53 at UROC with huge gaps made up and lost rather than just a pack with a shifting leader.
Top Five Men
- Geoff Roes – 8:58:04
- Michael Wardian – 9:20:01
- Matt Flaherty – 9:22:42
- Ian Sharman – 9:23:46
- Jon Allen – 9:26:33
The Women’s Race
I wished I’d seen more of the women’s race, but the logistics of car rides and extreme difficulty in getting any information out made this impossible. That and the need to travel soon after the race means I don’t have all the details I’d like on this race. Hey, I’d rather be honest about it than pull together a blow-by-blow that I didn’t see. I guess it’s a good thing that I decided to skip a play-by-play of the men’s race after all!
What I do know is that while there were some very strong women at UROC, the women’s elite field was seemingly an order of magnitude smaller than the men’s. In reality, it was probably a quarter of the size… but that meant only five women in the elite start with cash going to five runners. In the end, one of these women dropped. At the time of the writing, only four women are listed as among the “Top Five Women’s Winner.” While I’m reasonably certain the fifth place cash will be awarded to a “non-elite” women, it’s unfortunate that more top women didn’t run.
That leads me to wonder why more top women didn’t run. To steer away from running afoul of gender stereotypes, I’d love to hear from women why a race like UROC wasn’t able to draw in as many top women.
Who would have picked Ragan Petrie for the win? Not me and, if you’re honest, probably not you either…. and you know what? That’s awesome! Congrats to Ragan for a breakthrough performance. She’s been racing ultras for almost a decade with lots of solid results, but this is her first win on a big stage. I’ll forgo listing her previous accomplishments in favor of a plea for those in the know to share what Ragan’s been up to of late that resulted in her great run. I know that she moved from Georgia to the DC metro area in the past year or two, so I’m hoping some of my former clubmates in the VHTRC can hook me up.
(FYI, I tried as best I could to interview Ragan, but the timing didn’t work out for us.)
We’ll have to wait for Devon’s race report to hear the details, but this might have been a bittersweet race for her. I know she ran well and that she was quite excited to have finished the race after her DNF at the IAU 100k World Championships two weeks back. On the other hand, I overheard that she got lost twice… I’m just not sure when, where, and how long she was lost. I hope it wasn’t long so that it wasn’t the sole cause of her second place.
Anne Riddle Lundblad
At the finish line, Anne said that she would have liked to have run faster, but congrats to her on a solid come back to the race scene. She was certainly racing through mid-race, so maybe UROC rekindled some of her competitive spirit.
Top Five Women
- Ragan Petrie – 10:11:05
- Devon Crosby-Helms – 10:25:50
- Anne Riddle Lundblad – 11:01:44
- Stephanie Case – 12:46:54 … or 13:04:08 (she’s listed twice in the results)
- Krystle Martinez – 14:02:43
It’s too early to tell its lasting impression, but I think UROC did a great job of putting on a championship level event as a first time race. As far as I could tell, there weren’t any major organizational mistakes. Yes, there were some wrong turns, but wrong turns are part of trail running and they’ve happened at many other championships. I don’t think there were enough wrong turns made (let me know if you got lost) for this to be a black mark for the race organization.
The race managed to pull together a great men’s field for the race and bring a few top women to Virginia with significantly less prize money than the TNF EC championships. I don’t have any inside scoop, but I can see the prize purse growing as the race grows.
I believe that the course is an awesome championship course. The mix of roads and trails had me thinking that before I ever saw the course and I think it even more after seeing the course and the dynamic racing it created. Following the race, fifth place finisher Jon Allen said the following, “I think Eric Grossman said it best when he said the course exposes everyone’s weakness- the trail/vert guys may struggle with the fast road miles, and the fast road guys get beat up by the vert and fair amount of technical singletrack. You have to be ready for all of it.” Dave Mackey had similar sentiments when he wrote, “[UROC] has pavement for sure … has loads of fine singletrack, and a vertical profile that will expose your weaknesses.”
Most important, elites ran the race and then recommended it. At least Allen and Mackey have. I’d be interested to hear whether other top finishers would recommend the race … and, more important in determining whether this will continue to be a championship level event, whether they plan to come back next year.
I’ll admit that I disagree with two aspects of the race. First, I still don’t think that there should be a separate elite start, as I think an elite corral provides an adequate level of respect for the elites. It also eliminates any issues that derive from ranking runners from different starts. (See next point and lack of depth in the women’s field noted above.) Second, the citizen’s/non-elite’s course differed from the elite start in that it didn’t loop 200(?) meters around a parking lot before heading down the course. That could have been a real issue with only the same number of women’s starters as cash prize spots. It’s not hard to imagine an elite women struggling, but finishing with a time close to the top one or two non-elite women’s starters.
UROC – A Look Back
Just in case you wanted to see how folks were looking at UROC before and during the race, below is our archived live race feed, our men’s and women’s race previews, and our pre-race interviews.
- Live Coverage via CoverItLive
- Men’s preview
- Women’s preview
- Geoff Roes video interview
- Ian Sharman video interview
- Scott Gall video interview
- Michael Owen video interview
As a bonus, here’s a recording of UROC’s pre-race expert panel!
Other UROC Reports and Commentary
We love to spread the love, so we’ll be adding UROC race reports and articles as we see fit.
- Goeff Roes – Men’s Champion
- Devon Crosby-Helms – 2nd woman
- Ian Sharman – 4th
- Michael Owen – DNF
- AJW’s perspective on the weekend
- UROC’s own video coverage
Weekend Racing Roundup
There were a ton of other trail and ultra races out there, including the USATF 50k trail national championships, the XTERRA trail running national championships, the Vermont 50, The Bear 100, and a 24 hour world record from Lizzy Hawker. This week, we’ll share what others had to say about those events and efforts.