Blue Ridge Parkway, mile 20ish, IRunFar.com
As runners, our stride is our identity. We use it millions of times in a race, and if you’ve ever watched the top runners in various races, they all have various unique things going on while still revolving around a similar theme. On steep, high mountain trails it’s short and fast foot steps to stay in the control on the terrain. On flat trails and roads it’s a long and fluid stride to take advantage of the open and gradual terrain. I’ve been proud of my marked improvements in mountain running, but on Saturday, those improvements were evident in a loss of talent in road running.
The Ultra Race of Champions is an event put on by RD’s Gil and Francesca of Charlottesville, VA. The concept is that a competitive 100k race with a mix of road and trails can help define a champion in the sport in a well-rounded way. When I signed on, I thought of the race being a good opportunity to brush up on my speed for The North Face 50 miler in December in Marin. I’ve felt like I’ve lacked the speed for the past two years at that race, and thought UROC might be a good race to build confidence or inspire more training. The latter turned out to be true.
At 7:00AM we started off down a technical double track. The taper over the past 10 days had made me eager to get out and run and I worked my way to the front and enjoyed galloping down the steep, wet, and technical trail with ease. The lead pack of 15 guys got confused at the un-marked turn around and finally we ran into a volunteer who told us to turn around. Dave Mackey and Dave James held everyone together to have an official restart back up the hill to make things fair. We started back up the hill and I settled into a jog back up to the top of Wintergreen. That was the last I’d see of the front for the day.
I remembered the transition from roads to trails at American River 50 mile was a tough shift a few years ago, but today my biggest challenge was just running on roads in general after 10 miles of pavement. My intuition was to open my stride and extend my back swing like a normal road runner, but this strained my tight hamstrings and hip abductors. I felt like I was wrapped up in rubber bands keeping my stride short and that any effort to open it up was extremely labored.
So, I spent 40+ miles torturing my mountain running legs begging for just a little wider stride. The trail sections were eagerly welcomed, but they eventually became painful too as I was getting more and more beat up by the roads. I was certain I’d be done with the race by mile 40, but my crew of Andy and Molly kept on encouraging me along. So I limped in the last 20 miles, and revisted feelings from an early period in my ultra running career where I felt completely beat up and under trained. The only mercy was in the last 3 miles on the steep UROC trail. It avoided a long paved climb and instead shot up a ridge over looking the resort putting my legs in a hiking position that felt more comfortable than anything else all day. (Unfortunately some runners missed the barely marked turnoff for this great trail, their loss!)
Mile 58, IRunFar.com
So, in the end I suppose I learned some important things:
1) If you run a lot of trails, you’ll lose a lot of road speed
2) I over trained on steeper trails and under trained on flat roads
3) If you can’t bring yourself to mimic the elevation profile for a race, you probably shouldn’t run it.
86 miles, 12,000ft
The Lumineers — The Big Parade from The Sights Of Sounds