From early on in the year, UROC was high on the priority race list. I am game for anything new and exciting, and love racing against the best at any distance under 100 miles (with a few 100 mile exceptions here and there). Gill and Francesca, with Geoff Roes as go-fer, wanted to try something cutting edge and sexy in the unsexy sport of ultrarunning. And they got off to a great start in this first year event!
I’d come into the race having been sick the prior two weeks with bronchitis. Okay so I hate to make excuses.. but the reality was I was 50/50 on the morning of the race. Last time I made a split second decision to run at the last minute based on sketchy pre-race circumstances, I set a course record.. For the prior week, my heart rate was in the 60-70 bpm at any given time during the day, even if I usually spend the majority of my days on my butt. I ran 5 days in two weeks before the race, with only one run being an hour. My muscles felt great, but the upper respiratory system was taxed, and I was unsure what the overall effect was on my running ability. I’d had enough rest since Waldo, so normally I would be keyed up and ready to rumble. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, I went for it. My gut said “don’t run”, my wife said “don’t run”, my 3 year old daughter said “run”. Me, I said “run”. Listen to your wife, Mackey.
I arrived Charlottesville late afternoon Friday, getting a ride from up and coming runner and Chicago lawyer Matt Flaherty , who’d won a North Face race the weekend before. We got to the race brief Fri eve just in time to attend the panel discussion and Q and A with AJW as MC. Loads of fun it was, with Scott McCoubrey waxing poetic about ultra teams in the past 20 years and a table panel of running elites 100 feet long.
Race morning; as said, I was on the fence but the kicker was the fact that I wanted to help this race succeed, and my attendance would help the event kick off to a fine first year. The race started with a solid crew of guys, but unfortunately only four or five fast ladies in attendance, a big surprise given that the prize money was there. I felt fantastic for the first 30 miles of the race, and all signs were full steam ahead. Roes, Wardian, Scott Gall, Dave James, Matt Flaherty, Ian Sharman, and tons of other guys went out fast. I was comfortable with the pace, my legs and stomach felt smooth, and on the first long paved downhill coming off the Wintergreen ski are access road, my legs weren’t trashed in the least. Scott Gall and I were pushing the pace up front on the long ridge road out to some nice singletrack lollipop around a little lake, having some good chats. Scott and I have raced each other at 10k snowshoe races in Colorado over the past ten years, and we both raced for the nAtlas snowshoe race team , with him winning handily most every time over me. Ultras are my turf though and I eventually pulled ahead over the nice misty Bald Mt section. But this would not be that last I’d see of Scott, or everyone else for that matter.
I thought I was making time on the runners behind me as we ran a bunch more on the Blue Ridge Park way, when I came into mile 30 aid station and started to suddenly feel as if the light switch to my legs turned off. I had only had this happen in one other race, and it was disconcerting to realize that blood flow was completely and suddenly shunted from my extremities. I knew what protective mechanism my body was pulling on me; it was protecting the core from illness, and I didn’t like it! At that point, Mike Wardian came in yelling “Wardian! Gels, Water!!” behind me, just as I filled my bottle and started out on the single track four mile out and back. I thought this was amusing and shows the passion with which Mike runs. I tried to dig deep and chase him, but after 1.5 miles, I had response. What was odd was that I knew I had gas in the tank! But the fuel line had been protectively cut already.
Over the next ½ mile things just started to get worse. About another mile later, I turned around and started to walk back. Mike passed me again on his out and back about ¼ of a mile before the aid station ,and even then started to yell again, “Wardian, water, gels!!” I laughed again and kept walking. I checked into the aid station, felt fine walking around and chatting, then spent a fun afternoon with the Trailrunner magazine crew in their car stealing their food and beer, and catching up with other runners at the other aid stations as we spectated. I felt fine with my decision and didn’t kick myself over it, as it was out of my control, and made the most of spectating what turned out to be a dramatic finish. (Roes over Wardian, only due to Mike’s wrong turn I reckon. And congrats to dark horse Regan Petrie on the ladie’s side!)
As far as DNF’ing, I probably could have walked the remainder of the race if need be to save a life. But I wanted to race hard another day, and may even do so in the next two weeks if I feel recovered (I feel fine overall now.) I also wanted to function well during the next week and not detract from life outside of running, which is more important than running these days, so even if I could have finished, I am happy with my decision to drop. I hate DNFs, but the only DNF I have ever hated was Zane Grey 50 in 2003, when I’d lost only 12 minutes half way through but felt overly competitive, bitter about it, and wussed out in not trying to regain the lead. That was a poor spineless choice. I went back in the next two years to Zane Grey to run well and redeem myself. I hope I can do the same at UROC next year, which is a fine first year race with more potential and drive at the race-director helm (Bad to the Bone events)than any other ultra I know of. I’ve walked into the finish at ultras and know the satisfaction in the effort to cross the finish line only for the sake of completion. Finishing at all costs may work for some, but it doesn't always work for me. a time for everything though. To each their own in their DNFs; everyone has their reasons and that should be respected.
Next event for me.. It is so local and I am feeling groovy, so FireTrails 50 is this weekend October 8th! Going for my third consecutive win. Not sure I can take down my course record, but may give it a shot if the planets align.