This Saturday marks the inaugural running of the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) 100k at the Wintergreen Resort outside of Charlottesville, Virginia. As the name would suggest, the race organizers aimed and succeeded at bringing together a solid group of America’s top ultrarunners even in the race’s first year, which I’ll be covering live on Twitter (follow us).
Let’s start with the big five for this weekend: (click on runner to jump to interview) Geoff Roes (pre-race video interview), Dave Mackey, Ian Sharman (pre-race video interview), Mike Wardian, and Dave James. There are more than a few big ultra wins and blazing times from that crowd over the past couple years. (Here’s our UROC women’s preview)
Behind those guys, a slew of other guys could challenge for the top spots including:
- Eric Grossman – He won the Miwok 100k in 2009, but has stayed closer to home this year. That doesn’t mean he’s taken a step back as he ran a solid personal best at the Promised Land 50k in April and set a course record at the Iron Mountain 50 mile a few weeks ago. He’s primed to race the East’s mountains.
- Scott Gall (pre-race video interview) – One of two huge wildcards in the field. He’s a Olympics trials marathon qualifier and a former fifth place finisher at the World Mountain Running Championships. However, he’s only run two ultras, both of which were 50ks. He did run a 3:18 trail 50k at Ice Age this May.
- Michael Owen – Ran an impressive 9th at the TNF EC Championships in San Fransisco last December and, at 22 years old, just ran a 16:26 at his 100 mile debut at Burning River.
- Matt Flaherty – A 2:26 marathoner and a 5:59 trail ultra guy should make him the third big wildcard, but he just ran that course record 5:59 at the Wisconsin TNF EC race this past weekend. He admits that could be a bit close to UROC. TNF EC was only his second 50 mile or longer race.
- Jason Bryant – This year Bryant’s blown away our preconceptions of him as a technical trail specialist with third places finishes at the USATF championship Bandera 100k and Nueces 50 mile. Still, few run rocky Appalachian trails better than he does.
- Chris Reed – He’s long been a steady runner out east, but has improved of late with a second at last year’s Mountain Masochist 50 mile and a speedy 18:12 at Western States this summer. A good choice for the second half of the top 10.
- Jake Reed – A 23 year old with only four 50ks under his belt, but with three wins and a third.
- Jon Allen – A 2:35 marathoner with half a dozen small ultra wins. Aside from a fourth at The Bear 100 last year, it’s hard to stack him up against other top ultrarunners.
Other top men mentioned on the UROC website: Jordan Whitlock, Jeremy Pade, Troy Shellhamer, Todd Falker, Bran Hinton, Matt Wilson, Michael Oliva, and Eric Buckley. The youngster Whitlock could be the dark horse out of that group.
A few entrants won’t be racing, including Karl Metlzer, Duncan Callahan, and Andy Jones-Wilkins. While we wish AJW wasn’t battling plantar fasciitis, we’re psyched that he’ll be helping out with iRunFar’s coverage of the race. We’ve yet to receive confirm, but Andy Henshaw doesn’t have UROC on his blog’s racing calendar.
Here are a few links to additional commentary before we get into our interviews:
iRunFar: After UTMB you said that you needed to take a break and, impliedly, that you wouldn’t be racing UROC. Now, less than three weeks later you’re back in the game. Why the change of heart
Geoff Roes: I took 10 days completely off after UTMB. When I started to do some light runs again I felt good and decided to stick to my commitment to run UROC. I’ve been feeling better each day for almost 10 days now so I’ve built a little bit of confidence back up, but really I’m just running to take a nice trip out East, see some friends and family, and have a good time. I like racing and I think this is going to be a fun one. I’ll still be taking some nice rest after this one.
iRF: What have you done the past three weeks to “reset” your body and mind? Do you think these steps would help others collect themselves after possibly overdoing it running-wise?
Roes: For me resetting is all about having no plan of what things will look like after a period of time away from running. I just knew I needed some time away after UTMB. I really didn’t think that would lead to still running UROC, but when I came back to running that was were my cleared mind and body took me. The key is to just come back totally fresh in your mind and just let that take you where it will.
iRF: Compared to many of the ultras you compete in, the UROC field is heavier with the flat and fast crowd as compared to more mountain trail oriented runners. How do you think that will influence the race? How do you feel your mixed skill set of mountains and road (5:49 at AR 50 last year) matches up against the field and the course?
Roes: Honestly, I haven’t even thought about any of this. It’s going to be a solid field for sure and I look forward to just getting out there on race day and see what I have and how it all plays out.
iRunFar: You’ve been running great this year with a USATF championship at 100k, wins at American River 50 and Miwok 100k, and a course record at the Waldo 100k. What do you think your best race of the year has been and why?
Dave Mackey: Miwok was by far the toughest race of the year. I had never raced a long ultra like that where there was a road marathon style pack stuck together for such a long duration of the race, with the same surges and tactics which play into road racing. I had won Miwok a couple times before and, historically, I’d come into the Randall turnaround with nobody nearby. This year there were six of us and I was on the edge the whole time. Going into mile 60 into Tennessee Valley, Mike Wolfe and Hal were running super hard and I knew it would take an extra effort to get that win. Lucky I had it in me. I found it one of the most inspiring trail ultras I have ever run, as most of the guys were seemingly on the edge too and running one of their best races at the same time. Even a few years ago, Mike’s and Hal’s times would easily be performance of the year. It’s fantastic to see an evolution of the sport, and in many other aspects in addition to performance.
iRF: You were unable to run over at The North Face Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc races because your school semester restarted. How did your training go over the summer before heading back to class? Since school started?
Mackey: Our program runs all spring, summer and now so I haven’t had time to focus training in the summer. I took the last fall and winter off from school so I did get in some focused training at that time. But I have actually had an even season of training and racing all year, with not too many 100 mile weeks. In May I was recovering from Miwok and American River and trying to taper for Western States 100 at the same time, but probably ended up training too much anyway in the form of 75 mile weeks. After Western States until now I haven’t run over 3 hours besides Waldo 100k, with a focus on quality hill climbing in July and some leg turnover. This general formula works well and has hugely contributed to my consistency in the long term. Since Waldo my longest run has been 2.5 hours, and a few quality runs as well. I have needed to take extra days off due to school, which I am not very worried about as the 5 weeks between Waldo and UROC are all recovery anyways; just gotta try to stay peppy and not gain too much weight! On the latter point I think I have gained a couple pounds, which is nice. I have had a bit of bronchitis the past week, so I hope that clears by Saturday.
iRF: You’ve literally been unbeatable at 50 miles and 100k this year. Who do you think will be your biggest challengers at UROC and why? How have you prepared for the significant amount of paved road running?
Mackey: Wow. I actually don’t like to think about the competition at UROC as it may give me nightmares this week! Really any guy on the list can win this. This race is the most stacked non-100 non-international in the US as far as I know. Man, I don’t like this question as I know there are a bunch of guys I will be missing. Geoff emailed me and said he is racing, which I think is way cool as he has had a tough year in some races, but raced well in others, and I hope this time he busts out a solid performance. But, of course, I want a better one than him at the same time. Scott Gall is a wild card; under 50 miles he could possibly be the fastest out there. Mike Wardian is … wel,l he is Mike Wardian! He just podiumed at the World 100k so I can’t see him being recovered from that. Dave James goes out fast and if he can keep his pace he will be right up there. Ian Sharman has the greatest potential of anyone out there, but he may race hard ultras too often to peak at the right times. Andy Henshaw just raced worlds, too, and podiumed, so otherwise I’d see him in the action. On paper ,Michael Owen and Jordan Whitlock look fast, too.
As far as pavement, I haven’t been hitting it too hard the past month or two, but I am not worried in the least. My Hoka Bondi B will prevent me from getting too trashed. Those shoes have been a big part of my success this season.
iRunFar: You’ve already raced quite a bit this year with at least 540 miles of racing from eight ultras alone. How are your legs feeling at this point in the year?
Ian Sharman: That question got me thinking and I looked up how much I have raced this year and the total is around 900 miles, which seems like a lot to me and definitely took a toll around Spring that I still don’t think I’ve recovered from. Races are just too much fun and I’ve found it very difficult to say no to ones I know will be excellent (and there’s a lot of them). I’m more worried about a nasty head cold that just hit me 10 days before the race, but the enforced lack of running may help. Like I said to you before UTMB, over-tapering is better than over-training.
iRF: You ran the sixth fastest time in Waldo 100k history last month, but fellow UROC competitor Dave Mackey bested you by 36 minutes. Do you think Waldo was indicative of your fitness? Do you think the extra road sections at UROC can help you reel in Mackey?
Sharman: Dave is having a great year and is a difficult man to beat over 100k of trails at any time, but I was disappointed to be nowhere near him at Waldo – he just ran every mile 30 seconds quicker than me and I was never in touch, feeling off my game all day. The road sections at UROC should make it faster for everyone and will mix things up a bit, but Dave isn’t exactly slow on roads either. Neither’s Mike Wardian and he’ll be the one who benefits most from the roads.
iRF: You’ve obviously got road speed, but you also suggest that you’re a solid technical descender. How do you think the highly varied terrain of UROC will suit you?
Sharman: All I’ve seen is the course profile and have no idea how technical the course gets but I do love steep descents, especially with big rocks to jump around on, so some of that would be great. After all, trail running in the UK often means fell running which involves no path to follow on descents, just hell-for-leather bounding downhill. And I like a course with variety since it gives the legs a break from just using the same muscles in the same way for the entire distance.
iRunFar: To start, you just won individual silver and team gold while running a PR at the 100k World Championships. What are your thoughts on that race?
Michael Wardian: I am so so excited with our team race at the 100K Worlds, everyone laid it down and let it hang out and really went for it and that was impressive and I was just glad to be in the mix. I don’t like to lose, so coming in second while my best finish ever and a PR was not the Goal, so I need to work harder to get to the top of the podium and I will for next year in Italy.
iRF: You’ve had a great season on the roads with a USATF 50k championship, your best effort at the Comrades Marathon (11th overall), a solid Badwater debut (3rd), and, now, the 100k World Championships. Are you excited for the significant amount of road at UROC?
Wardian: Thank you about my season. It has been incredible. I have been working really hard and doing lots to try and improve, so it is nice to see some good results. Comrades was big deal as think it was the second best time ever from a male USA runner behind Alberto Salazar and I know I can improve next year. Badwater was amazing. Super glad I was able to podium at Badwater and run longer and farther than I have before. I don’t know if you caught it but I also finished pretty high (believe 16th) at the super competitive Two Oceans Marathon, and would like another crack at that course.
In addition to the above also winning a bunch of marathons (National Marathon, Delaware Marathon, San Francisco Marathon, Grant Pierce Indoor Marathon, Lower Potomac Marathon-as Spiderman setting a Guinness World Record) and getting my Olympic Trials Qualifier and a new PR by running 2:17:49 at the Grandma’s Marathon, just a few weeks after Comrades and The North Face Endurance Challenge, DC. I also won the first ever The North Face Endurance Challenge 50K & 1/2 marathon road races in Kansas City, that was a great tough race and lots of fun too. In addition, I have set personal best at 10 Miles, 10K, so seems like things are going really well and jazzed to keep improving and keep mixing it up with the best of the best.
As far as if I am excited about “road running” at UROC, I don’t really care if it is road or trails. I will run any surface/terrain, anywhere, anytime. If there are people racing and I can make it, then I would like to be there. I don’t consider myself a “road guy,” just a runner and whatever you put in front of me I will accept the challenge and do my best and mix it up.
iRF: On the flip side, how have you incorporated trails into your summer training?
Wardian: I always run trails, so not really doing anything different. As mentioned, I run everything and I love road, bike path, dirt, gravel, snow, wet surfaces, sand, treadmills, I don’t care, as long as I can run it, I will.
iRunFar: You had a great early season placing second at two USATF championships behind Dave Mackey at the Bandera 100k and Jason Schlarb at the Nueces 50 mile. You also won The Coast Challenge as well as the Coldwater Rumble and American Canyon 50ks. You’ve had some ups and downs since then. What have you been up to?
Dave James: When I got back from Costa Rica, I started working tons of OT as an EMT out here in Phoenix at my new job. I was on 3 month new hire probation and the extra money was nice. I was on nights working about 60 hours a week in 12 hours shifts. My running and health suffered. There were some awesome life moment’s too: I got married! We got a puppy! They both run.
The “slump” started when I decided not to go race Way Too Cool 50K. I had just gotten beat and I also took an OT shift instead of racing the road 100K championships and Zane Grey. When I got selected for the US Team for the IAU World Trail Championships in Ireland, I tried to up my training but the cold rain and hills in Ireland took their toll on me and although I helped the USA take 6th as a team, my 50th place finish was a huge personal disappointment.
The experience was amazing though and motivated me to run the USATF 100 Mile National Championships in Ohio at the end of July. I started Western States with no real intent of finishing just 2 weeks before Ireland, but was shocked at how sluggish and slow I felt after just a slow 50K. The longest run I had done before that 50K on the States course was in April at Leona Divide when I DNFed around the same distance when James and Jorge and Josh dropped me like the old married working man I felt like that day.
iRF: You won the USATF Championships at Burning River. Can you tell us a little more about that?
James: I won, but I had a horrible race. I couldn’t pull away until about mile 33 due to early stomach issues and multiple bathroom breaks. I was still under Todd’s CR pace and building a solid lead but about halfway through I was tired and drained and knew it would be a long day. There was a young kid that was chasing me and he was close, about a mile back through 80 miles. Eric Grossman was also running strong but I think I got into his head at a little out and back section when he was coming down a hill with one of the volunteers marking the course and I was on my way back out. I pulled the same move I used at Javelina in 2009, turned on the smile and cheered him on and told him he looked good as I kicked it up a gear. In the end, I finished just under 16 hours at Burning River, about an hour slower than I would have liked but I guess with only deciding about 2 weeks before the race to go for it, I was right where I was suppose to be that day.
iRF: What are your thoughts heading into UROC?
James: For me to be racing at my potential I need the rest of my life to be “right” first. When I ran that 13:06 100 miler and made it another 20 miles, when I set the CR at Javelina, when I ran the streak of USATF Championship seconds: the 5:52 50 2nd place finish to Todd, and the two you mentioned everything outside of running was great! Today, I am working a job that tires me out, where I am not appreciated, and have to interact with people on their worst day. Still, while Dave Mackey has to be the UROC favorite you know I won’t be shy out there. ;)
Call for Comments
How do you think the men’s race will play out at UROC? Who’s the man to beat? Who are the long shots that will surprise us?