September 30, 2012

Ultra Race of Champions 100km

Virginia.  Well, it's not a place that I had imagined that I would ever go to.  It was pretty much one of those US states that I had of course heard of and knew kinda, roughly, approximately where it was, but when I booked my flight to Charlottesville I did have to pull out the map to check more precisely where it was.  I'm a Brit, US geography is not my forte.  It's not that I didn't want to go to Virginia but it's just not one of those places that I can see I would have ended up going to unless there was a reason.  And Ultra Race of Champions 100km (UROC) was definitely a good reason to go; in it's 2nd year the event aims to pull together a competitive feild of ultra runners with a good cash purse, invites going out and the 'elites' all being accommodated and hosted on our stay there.

So I arrived at Charlottesville at 1030pm on Thursday and was met my Rosemary who would be driving us to the race venue of Wintergreen Resort in the Blue Ridge Mountains, about an hour away.  Nick Clarke was due in on another flight 30mins later, perfect - a chance to stretch my legs and then we'd be on our way.  Well, except Nick's flight was a little delayed but this did mean that he managed to find the MIA Jorge Maravilia along the way, along with Scott Jaime's bag, and Scott was found wandering around the airport looking for us.  So by just after 1am out merry little ultra band was fully assembled complete with all luggage and high tailing it off to Wintergreen, all pretty tired after a long journey from our various locations.  Scott had managed to shop for groceries so I begged a bottle of water and Nick stole some food.  Let's just say that the food services at tiny Charlottesville airport are not all that extensive at 1am.  There are 2 vending machines.

Fortunately Friday was a pretty chilled day - packet pick up, little interviews, pre-race briefing etc and lots of time to chill, nap and get ready for race day.  By part way through the day I had figured that I was one of the guys for the weekend - I knew Ragan Petrie, the 2011 winner, would be arriving later in the evening but otherwise the womens field was looking pretty thin on the ground.  Various women who had planned to race had had to drop out due to injuries or other race commitments which was too bad.  This, combined with Bryon of iRunFar asking me about the lack of women, got me thinking that I'd simply have to push my own pace and also try to pick my way up the mens field to keep focused on racing rather than just running.

Early race morning I was escorted by VIP chaffeur service (aka the trunk of David Horton's car) to the race start.  The elites were to start 15 minutes before the rest of the field so there was no crush to get to the front of the pack; at about 90 seconds before race start Montrail teamie Max King suggested we should line up, we wandered over and with a few final words from RD Gill we were off.

The 7am start.  Photo- iRunFar

The lead pack of guys hung together a little but soon they were whizzing down a rocky trail ahead of me.  There were a couple of local guys around me as we continued down the technical descent and I hoped they might provide some company for the early miles.  The downhill was fun though I was already doubting my shoe choice (Montrail Fairhavens) as I slipped a little on the wet leaves and rocks. In reality they performed great as the day progressed with about 50% of the course being tarmac and the trails being drier as the sun came out.  As we hit the stream at the bottom of the descent Scott and I hoped through and both my feet got soaked, oh well - it's a trail race :)  But immediately after we didn't know whether to turn right or left until we saw the lead pack of 20 or so men coming back towards us.  Oops, guess we had been a little too fast for the vollies who had just come out to say this was a turn around point and back up the hill we were to head.  As ever, I was first to switch into a power hike but still kept up with the men who were running next to me and was encouraged to see Ian Sharman (who ended up in an impressive 4th) power hiking too.

We soon came onto the first road section of the day and it seemed like it was going to be a very lonely day.  I had ended up in no-mans and no-womans land which I never find too bad on a trail but on rolling country roads it seemed decidedly lonely.  I appreciated the short conversation with Meghan of iRunFar as she drove by, and felt a little like Kilian on his start at WS100 where he was seen looking around for buddies to run with.  Don't get me wrong, I run plenty on my own but it was going to be a long day if it was all like this, and hard to push myself too.

But I needn't have worried, David Horton had appointed himself as my much appreciated crew and would whizz by on his bike and be at every aid station throughout the day.  This is pretty much like having Paula Radcliffe showing up to help you at a marathon; thank you so much Doc. Horton, you made my day so much more fun (and fast)!  The aid stations were never more than 10km apart which was great to break the race up, especially as my hamstrings began to hurt after only about 35km - hmm, this might be a long and not overly comfortable day so aid station encouragement would definitely help pull me through, and the locals were great.

The course is in many ways an out an back with a few deviations, but it turns around after a 4 mile section on the Dragon's Back trail.  This was probably my favourite section of the day as it rolled along a forested ridge, gentle ups and downs and then the train of lead men came charging towards me.  It was great to see Max (King) and Sage (Canaday) in top 2 after an earlier hiccup of going off course (they would end in 1st and 2nd, both in their debut at the 100km distance).  I kept count of the men as they zipped by and calculated that I was in 12th overall, and when I saw Ragan I figured she was about 20 to 25 minutes behind me.  Although this put me in a comfortable lead I knew I still couldn't totally falter as there was still time for her to catch me if I did.

Pretty fall colours in Virginia.  Photo -

Back onto the road and my stomach didn't feel great.  David had driven past me before calling something out of his car window about french fries.  To be honest this had totally confused me as I had no idea where he was going to buy them from on this rural road.  But there he was at the aid station with some french fries and ketchup!  I ungratefully said I was feeling a little queasy and didn't want any.  So instead, down another gel went and not too happily off onto the trail I continued.  Little Miss Grouchy.

Thankfully I was then buoyed along by Alistair who had gone off track and had just got himself back en route.  Another Brit living in Canada it was good to chat (he'd also just run CCC 4 weeks prior) and he helped pull me up the little inclines that I might have otherwise have been tempted to walk.  As we hit the next aid station I was all cheery and moved quickly back onto the road, keen to catch and overtake Alistair who had remarked that I was faster than him on roads.  Little  Miss Sunshine was back.  At the same time I passed Shinji Nakadai from Japan, the 2010 World 100km Champion (same year as I won) and I was impressed with his perseverance given he'd never run on trails and was clearly used to much flatter roads.  It was great to see him come in 10th overall with a smile on his face.

Now we had about 15km to go and it was a case of hunkering down, counting down the kms one by one on my Garmin and knowing that soon the hamstrings could stop yelping at me.  With 4 miles to go there was an awesome road descent and I pin-wheeled my arms round to get me going as fast as I could.  Well, I'd saved my quads by going a little easier on the road descents earlier on so now I might as well trash them :)   I like to think that John Hill, my coach at VFAC, who regularly shakes his head at my ultra exploits would be smiling that he's taught me how to pin-wheel my arms and now I was using his tips in an ultra :)  I then hit what has to be the most brutal race course finish I've ever had the pain to run; 3 miles uphill on a road with a reasonable flow of traffic.  It was downright disgusting.  There was no way I was running most of this so I focused on powerhiking to keep below a 10min km (woo hoo - speedy!) and when I hit the slightly flatter sections I hit a tin-man shuffle (as inspired by my training buddy Mike who recently perfected the tin-man shuffle at his debut Ironman).

Soon the final few hundred metres of wheeeee-downhill to the finish and I pulled a Mr. Marvellous (patented by the one and only Jorge Maravilla) to jump over the finish line.  9:04:19.  Good for 1st female and 8th overall.

Thanks guys for an awesome weekend, but next time I hope a few more ladies come join the party.  It's a lot of fun.
At the finish with Dave Mackey.  Photo -
Happy to be done another fun day on the trails & road.  Photo -


  1. Thanks for sharing your adventure. I'd have never guessed about questionalbe choice of shoes, french-fries, pin-wheeling arms, tin-man shuffle, 10min/km power-walking, or spacing of the aid-stations. I'm new to endurance running but I see you and your gang of champions and I'm sure that I'm on the right road. Great job!

  2. Love reading your race recaps. I followed part of it on Twitter. Awesome and congrats!

  3. Congrats on another win, Ellie. Another well earned finish to an impressive season. And top 8 overall!

    Yeah, they told Gil after last year's to put the finish at the entrance to Wintergreen, but he really wanted to keep that last uphill. Maybe the vail course next year will have a less-painful finish. :)

  4. Sounds like lots of fun in Virginia! I know you know I was not recommending the tin man shuffle but I am glad to know that you have it in your toolbox now and you are able to use it if ever needed, albeit at a pretty smokin' tin woman pace :) Pretty proud of the way you rocked.

  5. Congrats Ellie! So the Maravilla finish line jump is now an Ultra Meme? Whoda thunk it?

  6. ellie.. yOU ROck!! you Inspire me!
    one day..soon, I hope to get the chance to play alongside Little Miss Sunshine, and Im sure Little Miss Grouchy is a great gal too..

    happy trails.

  7. Congrats Ellie! And glad you finally got to run in Virginia. I've never run that course but I know I'd miss the trails of this fine state if I were to move away.