I commented on twitter a few days ago that the summer to fall transition is my favorite change in seasons. I think the actual fall season itself may be my favorite, but that one is a little harder to say for sure. I love the way I feel when running as the temperatures start to drop, the air dries out, and the leaves begin to color. It makes perfect sense then that I would be ready to return to serious ultra racing this fall after laying low for most of the summer.
I've been running consistently since Western States, but my mileage was down for a while and then I focused on regaining some leg speed. In August I ran a 2:06 800m solo time trial on the track, a 15:37 5k on the roads, and then had a solid showing at the Hood to Coast relay. I struggled for a short time as I tried to return to full ultra training too quickly and didn't allow my body enough time to adjust to the different workouts. Much of that had to do with the late summer heat and humidity, but I've run much better the last couple weeks as the weather has moderated. I touched 100 miles the last two weeks including a couple solid speed workouts and fast long runs. Everything seems to be right now track now.
Now I'm doing a quick taper in preparation for the Ultra Race of Champions. The race is a 100k this Saturday (September 29) near Charlottesville, VA. The course has a good mix of trail and road sections, much of it on the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway. I really like the setup of the race which is by design so that no one style of ultra runner if favored by the course. The 100k distance will be a challenge for the faster 50k specialists, but a little short for the 100 mile pros. With 7,500ft of elevation gain, it probably wouldn't be considered a mountain ultra, but it's enough to make it interesting for the mountain guys and gals. The combination of road and technical single track trail will also further balance the field out. I see it as a race that favors no one and it is really wide open.
The competition: I realize I'm starting to sound like a broken record. It seems like every ultra I enter is the new most competitive event that I've been in, and this one is no different. James Russell Gill and Francesca Conte have really worked hard to assemble a stellar field which will be competing for the $5000 first place prize. Allow me a moment to name drop some of the entrants: Dave Mackey, Geoff Roes, Nick Clark, Max King, Sage Canaday, Ian Sharman, Dave James, Jordan McDougall, Jorge Maravilla, Shinji Nakadai, Dominic Grossman, Scott Jaime, Jason Loutitt and Todd Braje. (I hear that Wardian and Adam Campbell are both out due to injury, and I don't believe Roes is healthy either.) I don't know as much about the women's field, but Ellie Greenwood is entered and should be the one to beat. Last year's winner Ragan Petrie, will be returning to defend her title from other contenders like Liza Howard, Joelle Vaught, Verity Breen and Tina Lewis.
I think there are 10 guys on the men's side that have a legitimate chance to win. It just depends on who's in shape and who has their best day. Everyone will have a weakness on this course and the guy who minimizes his losses will come out on top.
I'm excited about returning to racing and looking forward to running in the Appalachians this time of the year. I'm fit and confident, but so is the competition. I'm also happy that our sport is growing and very few races are a foregone conclusion anymore. I think this will make ultra running more exciting for the spectators and more of a challenge for the competitors.
One final note. UROC is setting up some interviews with the elite runners on Friday afternoon and then a panel discussion Friday night. If you have some questions for me or anyone else, you can submit them on UROC's facebook page.