Safety at Events – Barkley and Others

tentJoin Tim and Gary today on Elevation Trail as we chat about Gary’s memorial preparations for Jamil Coury, who selfishly ruined the plans by returning safely from the Barkley course. We also somehow discuss Cabelas, hunting, Geoff Roes, Western States, breaking bones, motorcycling, cricket, xc skiing, and blood. Hope you enjoy it. Oh, and buy a shirt. http://teespring.com/elevationtrail

Safety at Events – Barkley

Geoff Roes – Running, Health, Exploring

GeoffRoes_WinterRunningGeoff Roes joins us today to chat about his transition from being at the top of the ultrarunning world to remaining fully imbedded in the sport through other outlets and how he’s come to terms with health issues over the last couple years.  Hope you enjoy the show because we loved having him on it!

Jill Homer: How Long Distances Lead You Home Podcast

Sit back and enjoy my chat with Jill Homer.  Learn how she moved to Alaska with Geoff Roes, got into extreme endurance events on both her bike and running, capturing it all in beautifully written words, and follow the paths that lead her to her boyfriend, Beat, and the seemingly crazy endurance events he’s done.

et – Jill Homer Podcast

Thanks,
Footfeathers.

Podcsat 1 – Our Introduction

WELCOME!  Ok, maybe that’s a little too exuberant…  But we are really excited to kick off Elevation Trail and our first podcast.  Don’t worry, this first one is on the lighter side and intended to be both an introduction to Elevation Trail (the migration from Inside Trail Commentary) and to us, Tim (Footfeathers) and Matt (needs a nickname).

We are begging for comments, questions, opinions from you.  We’ll address many if not all of your comments in future podcasts because that’s what we’re hoping to create – a forum of discussion where we have fun, open up some new topics, and dig deeper into current topics.  We hope you enjoy the podcast below!

Elevation Trail Podcast et-1

From GZ:  “You can still subscribe to it in itunes using the Subscribe to Podcast menu option and entering in the XML RSS address feed” https://elevationtrail.wordpress.com/feed/

thanks GZ!

Thoughts on The North Face EC Championships 2011

The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile Championship 2011 is in the books.  So, what happened?  As far as my picks were concerned, I didn’t do too shabby.  Although I mentioned D Jones as an outright favorite in SF in a recent post digesting his R2R2R FKT, paired with the rest of his nutty and gutsy 2011, I balked and fell for the ole Geoff Roes will find his big stage big race form once again.  Roes at or near his best has so much appeal, I might spend another year looking for that immaculate into the wild form.

In the aforementioned “recent post” I called Jones the future of  competitive American ultra.  His 2nd and HR100 2011 and his shorter ultra chops make him so dangerous on just about any track.  Only world-class studs (Chorier, M Wolfe, etc.) will be able to run him down on a good day.  Remember the early century K Skaggs and Krupicka?  Welcome to Jonestown.  He’s only 21.

Then there’s Mike Wolfe.  In the discussion that ensued post-race, there was talk of Wolfe for UROY.   His 2nd at WS100, the win at Way Too Cool, strong showing at Miwok among others and, indeed, this guy is right there, especially considering the other candidates.  Granted, I picked Wolfe to possibly win SF50, but I had the wrong dog.  Jason Wolfe finished 8th.

The Endurables’ fantastic portrayal of the day gives us a nice perspective on how things unfolded out there in the Headlands.  Stunning scenery.  The gorgeous landscape was pretty fine too.  Yeah, the scenery to which I refer is the peloton of world-class runners that battled across that dirt roller-coaster consisting of 10k of climbing, forest canopied trail, technical sections and the like.  Jones and Wolfe exchanging blows for what seemed about 20 miles, with some of the literal who’s who of ultra and mountain running in their wake, makes SF50 an instant classic.

Mike Wolfe – the grinder who seems really smart and calculating (I think he’s a lawyer for God’s sake), strong and not someone you want to tangle with even if you do plan to inflict head wounds.

Mike Wardian – how can his race schedule have been auspicious at all going into TNFSF.  I think a lot of people had him winning.  I thought, in the end, he’d implode at the start.   Pretty gutsy to run like that. . . almost every weekend!

Adam Campbell – A classy guy who ran an absolutely classly race.  I am very disappointed that I didn’t see that although we all certainly missed a runner or two due to this incredible depth.  I am really stoked for this Canuck mountain runner.  And will continue to enjoy his stuff.

Jason Schlarb, one of my lucky 7, had a nice race, finishing 10th.

Alex Nichols, a popular pick amongst some Coloradans was apparently running really strong at the front when he twisted his ankle.  Very unfortunate.

What about Laborchet off the front through about 20 miles with another Salomon runner (Vollet?) and then pulling-out?  What was that?

We could go on and on.  The bummer for me is still that Roes didn’t quite have the goods.  I thought he did have unfinished business.  I thought he was ready to crush some demons, salvage 2011 massively.  Hey, top five is still fantastic; I just like his style and wanted to see him carve off the front.  I remember seeing a tweet from iRunFar at about 25 miles, Geoff in about 3-4th place and Bryon saying Geoff looks “chill.”  That sounded perfect.  But it sounds like his energy waned and he just didn’t have the boost to stay with the mad dogs fighting it out for the win (and again, iRunFar’s coverage was great).

Other than those menial thoughts on the men’s race, overall I thought Salomon and mountain running showed-up big-time.  Anna Frost is a huge talent.  The fact that she in very recent times has competed victoriously with the women Skyrunners, and is now doing very well at the ultra distance seems pretty remarkable.  I like Adam’s 3rd for Salomon, as well.  The white suits continue to represent where ever they “lace them up.”

I did get a chance to see Rickey Gates’ race report.  In sum, he was calling for more of these ultra guys to step to some of the shorter, more classic mountain races ala Sierre Zinal and Mt. Washington.  I love to hear that as it seems against the popular train of thought, the one that goes:  “yeah, my grandma got chosen for HR100, so I’ll be pacing her and the whole family is getting involved.”  Long live American mountain running.

What does this race say about 2011 and 2012?  Last year, this race dawned an incredible trend of Salomon dominance that’s well chronicled.  What trends might we see in 2012 hatched from the Headlands of 2011?  Any thoughts on that?

I think last weekend’s race is a kind of coronation for Mike Wolfe who seems like a very legitimate world-class ultra marathoner.  Maybe (other than Kilian) the best in his sport given what he’s done on big stages.  Last Saturday had to be a big pint of confidence.  I’ve heard others talk about him.  I’ve gathered bits and pieces of some of his training that seems utterly world-class (big volume, big hills, blue-collar ballz).  Certainly TNF has a fine leader in Mike Wolfe.

I’ve already waxed about Jones.  He’s the future of the sport if he continues to enjoy it as much as he currently does.  Mad game.  Can run all kinds of tracks.

Adam Campbell is just another reason I want to visit Canada.  That big block of ice, that purports to offer fantastic culture, spits out some pretty classy and down-to-earth athletic talents, specifically of the endurance tribe.  We’re rooting for Adam all the way.  Here’s to a big 2012.

Geoff Roes will be a very compelling athlete to watch in 2012.  I’m sure he will have some superb races and results.  No need to say anything else, really.  Other than we’re rooting for Geoff big time.

Looking forward to it all.  What do you think about 2012? Especially as TNF50 Championships may have produced a couple of trends we can watch develop perhaps over the next year or so?

The North Face Endurance Challenge San Francisco Championship 2011

It’s Friday (well, Thursday night really), the day before the biggest ultra of the year (2011 The North Face Endurance Challenge  San Francisco Championship). There are a few reasons why we should consider this race ultra big, or this ultra race big. That’s what I’ll spend the next hour or so chipping away at, that idea that we’ve reached at last the Marin Headlands and a field of runners will assemble in just a few hours that could absolutely, in the spirit so poetically described by Geoff Roes, explode trail lore. Imagine what’s at stake. We are witnessing a sport get defined, re-defined as its precocious limbs mature before our very eyes.

The North Face Endurance Challenge Championships San Francisco represents the other half of this sport’s split personality. About a month ago, I explored the meaning of UROC and think some of those words apply here to this weekend’s race.

“What is the intent of [UROC]? This is a rhetorical question. The race is about the competitive nature of the sport. Period. Even more interesting: Geoff Roes is at the front of this campaign to create a race where elites are treated like elites and the race is centered around highlighting that competition at the front. Again, this sport is suggestive of two worlds: the down-to-earth just run and have fun and finish vibe, and the world-class Micahael Wardian v Geoff Roes vibe, or Jornet v Wolfe and Clark or Heras v Roes and Mackey vibe. It’s tough to deny this split personality in the sport.”

That is what is happening in San Francisco this weekend.

All year, every weekend, runners gather on myriad national and international trail to “race.” Most of these are friendly battles between friends and family members, or new and familiar faces just enjoying the outdoors. These events might more represent the local endurance challenge. The “race” might be inaugural or it might be 35 years-old. The spirit is better reminiscent of fellowship, of sister or brotherhood, of people of all walks of life sharing in the stewardship of our natural world and getting fit and having fun at the same time. “Winning” might not even be part of the local lexicon. A podium might be replaced by pints of craft beer; but the sweat and the beautiful feelings associated with giving it a go out there circulate like the good vibes of a people engaged in what I would call a new civic duty.

TNFSF50 certainly includes this same kind of friendly praxis, even amongst the elites (perhaps even more amongst the elites). Be that as it may, there’s a race going-on, one of world-class proportions, one so big it’s more germane to the competitions of ancient Greece, where epic battle preceded a celebratory feast.

This race has been well hashed and rehashed by the blogs. The folks at iRunFar produced a fine preview of the men’s and women’s race. The aforementioned renderings of Mr. Roes have people spinning on their bar stools. Adam Chase has been keeping us abreast of the Salomon scene, as well.  Here we are, still in the tryptophanic aftermath of Thanksgiving, and, indeed, we have a lot to be thankful for. I am certainly thankful for the access we are all granted to so many stellar peeks at this sport’s elites (the runners, the managers, race directors, publishers, etc.). I am thankful for the blog as it seems to give us all an opportunity to articulate whatever odd ball single-track idea we’ve developed and hope to share with a few passersby.

The idea that this sport is indeed schizophrenic or of two minds (whatever you want to call it), is supported by this online presence.  As AJW essays on the future of the sport with certain fundamental changes happening all around, in terms of corporate influence, etc., we have to be reminded that the sport is largely defined by the casual, neighborly discourse that exists on these webs, just like it is during those trail runs, at and after those hundreds of weekend races. Significant commercialization of all of that would be a tall order.  Is some of this white-collar share-holder cologne distorting or undermining some of the trail discussions or the competitions? Perhaps. But the positive effects of these dollars are on display, as well: This weekend and any such opportunity we have to watch these elites battle it out on world-class trails has to be welcomed by even the casual fan. Viewing the MUT world in this open-minded way, I think, is imperative at this point. The sport is clearly changing, and Saturday’s race is another such example. But the sport is also staying the same, and every weekend of the year marks occasion for this argument in the abundance of ultra and mountain “races” in which we all get to compete.

Both worlds will be on parade tomorrow in San Francisco.

And this is how I see the men’s race going down: Above, I referenced a passage from an article I wrote about UROC.  I make note of the role Geoff Roes played in that race’s organization (of course he played a pretty big role in the actual race, as well). I referenced that passage to evidence the parallels we see in UROC and TNFEC50. These two are especially similar in that they are geared toward attracting a large field by offering substantial prize money. Looks like we’re building a parallelogram: I see Geoff Roes winning this race, convincingly. He’s definitely had some close-calls at this race in the past. Sure there’s his back-to-back runners-up finishes in ’09 and ’10, but don’t forget about 2008.  He was right there when the shit went down between Steidl and Carpenter.  This is a must read from the event website archives:

At the bottom on the bone-crunching descent, at the seaside hamlet of Stinson Beach, Carpenter met his crew – his wife, Yvonne, and his six-year-old daughter, Kyla. “Last year, I’d come into a station and scrounge around a little bit for my drop bag,” he explains. “I’d lose a few seconds. And at this level you just can’t do that.” Still, Carpenter lost ground as the pack passed by like greyhounds, weaving through the quaint town’s streets before vanishing up the Matt Davis trail, heading 1,700 vertical feet uphill. This is when many runners felt Carpenter, who has built his legendary status running up the steep slopes of Pikes Peak near his home in Manitou Springs, Colorado, made his move and took control of the race. He quickly passed Steidl and soon came upon the others. “By the top I had wheeled everybody in again,” recalls Carpenter. “It was Geoff Roes and Shiloh (Mielke).” Carpenter, unsure of whether there were still some others ahead, turned to them and asked, “Gentlemen, who’s still ahead?” They replied, “Nobody.” And Carpenter pushed on. After a short out-and-back segment, during which runners could measure exactly where they stood (Carpenter, Skaggs, Steidl), they passed through Pantoll once again. Now Steidl had passed Skaggs, who had become somewhat dehydrated. At this point, Mile 30, Carpenter still held a two-minute gap on Steidl, but, entering the stretch run, and heading down into another deep valley, spectators wondered if Steidl could catch Carpenter. And, lurking only a few seconds behind, was Geoff Roes, hanging tough. They all dove 1,000 feet down the famed Bootjack trail, devouring technical trail like Tour de France riders descending the Alpe d’Huez.

Roes finished 5th that year in 7:12:35.  That was the awakening of Geoff Roes if you ask me. His entire 2009 and 2010 were legendary. We all know that’s quite a run, which had already begun in Marin County in 2008 under the no less watchful eye than that of the great Matt Carpenter.

Team Salomon, which includes Rickey Gates, Christophe Malarde, Adam Campell, and the recently signed Matt Flaherty and Jorge Maravilla, look very well represented; and who knows if they might implement some team tactics to break-up what will be a very loaded peloton. Can Gates hang with Roes for 50 fast undulating miles? Can the Frenchman, or the talented Canadian? I don’t see it.  Some see Flaherty as a real dark horse.  If he were to win, that would be a huge upset.  Some are picking Maravilla top 5.

The other runners I like this weekend are Dakota Jones, Michael Wardian, Jason Wolfe, Jason Schlarb, Leigh Schmitt and my big dark horse is Galen Burrell. Jones might have won last year and his 2011 campaign has been really solid. Knowing he can compete really well in such diverse conditions as Hardrock (2nd) and Sierre-Zinal (17th), races really well at this ultra distance, and just nabbed the R2R2R FKT, I really like this guy’s chances. Wardian is there because he’s Wardian. He absolutely could win this thing, but I don’t see him climbing with Geoff. Wolfe is a bit of an unknown to me, but I sense he has gobs of speed and climbing enduranc; he has some nice road and off-road results to his name, namely the Trans Rockies win.  He could be tough.  Schlarb was top five here last year and  is apparently very fit and ready to rumble.  Schmidt seems like a lock for this distance; he should have a solid showing. And, of course, the ultra inexperienced Burrell who can climb with the best of them and just spanked Leor Pantilat at a trail marathon in the bay area (and Pantilat doesn’t lose).  I’m getting really good odds on my Burrell pick.  There’s my lucky 7.

For the women, I’m really going-out on a limb here and picking Frost, Greenwood and Hawker to claim the podium.  Based on recent racing though, how do you not pencil in these ladies.

A quick shout-out to Max King, wishing him luck this weekend going for another win at the Xterra Worlds in Hawaii; and a helpful reminder that TNF SF 50 would also offer some lovely trail travel this time of year, say, in 2012.

But it’s Roes with the huge win this year.  He has unfinished business in Marin, and that is, I’m afraid, the way it is.

North Face 50 Preview: Geoff Roes’ Dreamscape

Corle and Geoff

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

Mt. Masochist 50 Mile Race Preview

Friendly looking course profile...

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 Wildeboer at Leadville. Photo: Alyssa's ultrasignup page

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.

Those nasty green shorts either make Jon faster or the competition blind. Photo: his ultrasignup pic

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.

 

 

Lost In Alaska With Geoff Roes

“The idea for the camps was definitely something that came about gradually over a couple years. The incredible running terrain around Juneau was the first thing that got me thinking about the idea. I’ve run in a lot of places but after a couple years in Juneau I realized that Juneau was the most incredible place I’ve ever run. I began thinking of ways to show this amazing running to other people. My first idea was to guide day runs for visitors that come to town everyday in the summer on the cruise ships. Gradually as I thought about this more and more I came to the idea of doing it as a week long camp instead of a single day thing. And then about a year ago the idea had percolated long enough and I decided to go for it and make the whole thing a reality.”  

This is Geoff Roes’ answer to me when I asked how he came to the idea of his Alaska Running Camps.  I’ve always been intrigued by how great ideas are formed.  There are sparks of ideas that hit you out of the blue and then there are the ones that form over time.  Living in a place as big and awe-inspiring as Alaska, it takes a while and a lot of exploring for the expansive beauty to sink in and be fully appreciated.  It got to a point for Roes where he needed to share a small part of this paradise with people and what better way to do it than through running.  

Geoff has been running trail ultra races since 2006 and, in my opinion, came into the sport’s spotlight in 2008 at the North Face 50 mile championship in San Francisco where he placed 5th racing names like Matt Carpenter, Uli Steidl, and Kyle Skaggs.  He oozed potential and fire at that race and it seemed to catapult him into 2009 that began an incredible string of performances earning him UltraRunning Magazine‘s Ultra Runner of the Year award in 2009 and 2010.

So, you have the best ultrarunner in the country combined with one of the most beautiful natural environments in the world.  What else is there to do than start the Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp.

First things first, and getting sponsors on board help not only with up front costs but also add an air of solidity and clout to something new like a running camp that, in order just to travel to, creates pause for many would-be participants.  I asked him about how sponsors reacted when he presented the idea to them.  “I think everyone I approached about sponsorship was into the idea of being a part of this. I can’t remember anyone who didn’t find it appealing. The sponsors were providing various products so the campers all go home with a whole bunch of great running gear/supplies.”

Speaking of sponsors and money, the pricing of the camp is very reasonable with nearly every detail included from ground transportation to a massage for each participant.  I asked Geoff whether he’s making decent money from them.  There’s nothing wrong with earning money and these camps are unique and a great benefit to the sport.  He responded, “I definitely made a bit of money from the camps, but not as much as you might think. In the end I decided that I needed to raise the price a little bit for 2012 because I probably didn’t end up earning much more than minimum wage for the amount of time I put into the camps in the first year. I’m certainly not going to get rich from these camps, but going forward I think I can do things much more efficiently now that I know what I’m doing.”

Of course, there are intrinsic values to the camps aside from earning money, which Geoff explains when I ask him what he learned from the first year of hosting them.  “I learned that showing something to people that is so important and satisfying to me (running. and specifically running in Alaska) ends up benefiting me as much as it does the campers that i was showing it to. I felt like everyone took a lot of positive things away from these camps, but I also feel like I may have benefited as much from the camps as anyone. There’s just something really satisfying about showing people something that means so much to you and have them respond in such a positive way.”

Geoff’s girlfriend, Corle (Core-Lay) is a big part of the camps too.  The work involved with the AMURC is daunting.  You have do all the pre-work to make sure things are ordered, reservations booked, schedules, routes, and then the cleaning, cooking, run leading, teaching, all while playing the happy host bombarded with questions about everything from black toenails to electrolytes.  Geoff couldn’t do it alone.  When I ask him who, if anyone, helps him, he replies, “Corle and I pretty much do it all. She does the majority of the food and cleanup. She also provides massage for the campers in whatever free time she can come up with. I also have a lot of training partners in Juneau who come out to the runs to help out with shuttling, route finding, and entertaining the campers with their local knowledge and stories.”

With the tremendous amount of  work involved with the camps, I ask Geoff how it affects his training and how he decided on the dates for the camps.  He responds, “I don’t think the camps affect my training much. During the camps we pretty much do a lot of the same runs that I do all the time in training. The dates of the various sessions were determined by taking into account my racing schedule, the weather, and the availability of the cabin we use for lodging.”

Speaking of the training, we then talk about specific races and how he’s feeling physically and mentally for near-future races like the North Face 50 mile championship on December 3rd in San Francisco as well as plans for next year.  He just got in a long run with Dave Mackey last weekend in Marin (same trails the NF50 is held). Let’s just say he’s ready.  As for next year, the most interesting piece of information Geoff provided me is that he is not running Western States in 2012 and says, “I’m not certain whether I’ll ever run it again.”

Geoff is in Nederland Colorado (just west of Boulder) for the school year while Corle attends Naropa University.  He says he’s acclimated much faster this year (altitude on his runs there are 9,000-12,000 ft – Juneau is at 56 ft) and is getting in substantial training.  Regarding his first winter in Colorado last year, he says, “I’m not sure if that was a mental thing or a physical thing but I’ve felt great up to very high altitude this fall. I still really feel it when I get about 12,000, but don’t feel it much at all up to there.

Corle and Geoff

Geoff returns to Alaska in the spring when Corle finish up her classes.  First order of business upon his return will surely be the preparation for the first running camp session to be held the week of May 28 – June 2.  I personally can’t think of many better ways in which to spend a week.

All the Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp information is on the website. Registration is open and spots are filling, so check into it and sign up soon if you’re interested in learning from a very gifted runner in a very gifted place.

UROC: A Step in a New Direction

GEER 100k Start (same location as UROC) Photo: Charlottesville Track Club

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.”

Mike Wardian

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.