Ready or Not - Page 3
THE FINISH LINE
After several more rolling miles on the Parkway, then a one-mile 15-percent-grade descent, the final three miles climbed a sustained 10-percent road grade. Roes ran all alone, with nearly a half hour on the pack, and would not have to be looking over his shoulder. He did not, of course, wait for anyone, and crossed the foggy finish line in 8:58.
“I had to deal with a dozen lows,” he said after catching his breath. “I kept telling myself that I was taking a break [from racing] after this. This race felt longer than some 100s. I felt like I was out there for 20 hours. It was not close to my strongest race physically, but in many ways it was the most satisfying race I’ve done.”
Behind him, with around six miles to go, Wardian, Flaherty, Sharman and Allen were lined out within minutes of one another. “Before the race, I said that I wouldn’t want to have to race that last section,” Sharman would say after the race. “But that’s exactly what happened.”
Fog prevented them from seeing one another, which made chasing down a competitor difficult. On the Parkway section, Wardian was on fire. “I was clicking off 6:20s,” he said. “If I blew up, I didn’t care.” Sure enough, he reeled in Flaherty, and took second in 9:20, followed by Flaherty (9:22), Sharman (9:23) and Allen (9:26).
As Roes recounted his struggles at the finish, an animated Wardian, his arms flying for emphasis, said, “See, that’s what I’m so pissed about! I didn’t have that. I was expecting it and it didn’t happen. I was like: This is my day!”
“What are you going to do with that trophy?” Mackey asked Roes, referring to the large metal figure sitting on a nearby pulpit.
“It won’t fit in my bag, so I may give it to you,” replied Roes, “for being the ‘rabbit’ and wearing those guys out.”
A little over an hour later, a smiling Petrie crossed the line as first woman, in 10:11 and gave her friends Conte and Gill big hugs (the three had met several years ago, when they competed in the Trailwalker UK 100K on the same team). While not a household name in women’s ultrarunning, Petrie, an economics professor at George Mason University, has been racing ultras for a decade. Her many victories include overall wins at Wisconsin’s Kettle Moraine 100K in 2003 and 2004, and she had a strong 2011, with the win at D.C.’s The North Face 50-Mile Endurance Challenge, a second at West Virginia’s Highlands Sky 40-miler and third at Virginia’s Promise Land 50K.
“The course really doesn’t favor any particular runner. On the roads, it’s a nice relief not to have to look down,” she said at the finish. “And just when you tire of the roads, you hit a trail, and they were a nice mix of rocky and smooth. You could get a rhythm.”
This was, by far, her best performance to date.
“I’ve lost 20 pounds since February, which has made it not only easier to exercise but also to recover,” she said. “And I’ve been running faster than I ever have.”
Back at Whetstone (mile 41), Petrie had said to Crosby-Helms, “Let’s go home.” But Crosby-Helms’ hamstrings and quads weren’t responding. Petrie says she never looked back, and during the ensuing miles had no idea what her lead was. “With 16 or so miles to go, I started ‘smelling the barn,’ and thought it was OK to spend whatever I had left,” she recalled. “I was running scared up the final hill, and finally looked back.”
Crosby-Helms was the second woman, in 10:25. At the finish, she exulted, “I didn’t quit! I didn’t quit!” She had started four 100Ks, this year, finishing two of them, and, like Roes, fought off demons for much of the race. “I went to the well, and the well was dry,” she said. “So I got a shovel and dug deeper.”
Riddle-Lundblad was third, in 11:01.
While a few runners bemoaned the brutally steep, road finish, all gave high praise to the course overall, saying it truly did test a wide variety of ultrarunning skills. All that we spoke with said they would return next year.
Says Conte, “What took me off guard was the fact that this gathering of incredible talent felt more like a family reunion than a who’s who of the sport. As Gill said, many of these runners are [even] better people than runners.”
In all, out of 173 starters, 79 runners would finish the Trail Runner UROC 100K, with the last runner, Matt Nelson, 46, of West Palm Beach, Florida, braving inside-of-a-casket dark and fog until nearly 1 a.m., to finish in 17:48.
Gill interviews a victorious Roes. Photo by David Clifford.
While it would be hard to say whether the Trail Runner UROC winners are the best ultrarunners of 2011, the consensus among the elite runners was that the concept is onto something.
Crosby-Helms wholeheartedly supports the race’s championship notion. “[Trail ultrarunning] is not founded in a competitive aspect,” she said, “but competition is what brings out the edge in athletes. It’s also really cool for [recreational] runners in the race to be around the people they look up to.”
Sharman, too, backed the idea: “But it always takes a few years for an event to really establish itself so I was surprised how far this came in year one. There isn’t really a race out there seriously trying to do the same thing, especially in terms of making it more accessible to follow live with videos, etc.”
“In its first year, UROC turned out to be one of the top American ultras in terms of top-level runners gathered in one race, coming in perhaps only behind Western States, at least on the men’s side,” says Roes. “UROC might have really lofty goals, but I think this just means [the organizers] will keep working hard to get closer to those goals.”
Indeed, the wheels are in motion for UROC 2012. “Because of the tremendous support from the athletes and our sponsors, we will double the cash purse for 2012,” says Gill. “And one of our focuses will be to bring over more international runners, both male and female.”
And with a full year for planning, recruiting athletes and fine tuning the course, UROC 2012 (September 29) will be a race to watch.
Michael Benge is the Editor of Trail Runner.