If there were any two completely opposite races in my schedule this summer it was definitely the 50 mile Lake Waramaug and two weeks later the Ultra Race of Champions 100k. Here are those tales...
Jack Briston Lake Waramaug 50 miler - April 29
I've looked at this race in past years and the course and the photos, as well as the speed of the course are always tempting. This year I went for it. The race was supposed to be a quick road 50 as a tune-up for the UROC 100k a couple of weeks later. I signed up for it last minute in the hopes of a fast race and a top finish. The race itself is 6 laps around the mostly flat roads of New Preston, CT. Even the Ultrasignup page says most people do PR's on this course", so I thought "what the hell, what do I have to lose"?
Race day involved about a 3 hour drive to CT for an early 6:30am race start. I packed up as usual the night before, after quickly looking at the weather (30s and some rain). Not too bad I thought, singlet and arm warmers should do the trick. I arrived around 530 and parked then searched around for a good place to set up my self-supported aid station then went to check in. I got my gear set up on my folding table, mostly just my nutrition and extra water bottles to grab as I ran by since there wouldn't be any crew for me. I also set my other extra supplies under the table so it wouldn't get as wet. As the sun began to come up, the rain continued to come down. I was nervous about the temps but thought I would warm up as I started going and it would warm up as the day went on.
Unfortunately it did not warm up and I was freezing from the start. To make matters worse I was having stomach issues which made me have to stop at the port-o-lou multiple times per lap. I didn't even pack the awesome new rain jacket that had served me so well a couple weeks earlier in the torrential downpours of the 2018 Boston Marathon! My hands were so cold that I couldn't even manage to open my applesauce packets or gels to get any nutrition in. It was downright miserable. The counter-clockwise route around the lake was gorgeous but with the pitch of the asphalt sloping toward the lake the whole way it was starting to take a toll on my knee as well with the cold. After completing my 3rd lap I was in 2nd place and kept seeing the leader now and then as he seemed to be having GI issues as well. It didn't matter much because I was too cold and I was shivering as I ran and couldn't feel my fingers or toes. Nearing the end of the 3rd lap I jogged a bit with a local man who was just out for his morning run who even offered me the literal jacket off of his back and I could throw it in his mailbox later. It was a very generous gesture, but it was too late, the damage was done.
After 4 of the laps around the lake I decided to call it a day and turned in my timing chip with around a marathon on the day. It wasn't worth suffering through or risking injury 2 weeks prior to a much bigger focus race. It was the right call and I was happy to crank the heat and seat warmers and nap in the car for a bit. Lived to fight another day. Another day 2 weeks later, to be exact.
UROC - Ultra Race of Champions 100k - May 12
The point to point UROC 100k was recommended by Coach Amy as a good race to go out and compete against some top east coast talent. The race boasts a great payout for the top 5 athletes and an comparable mix of road, trail, and elevation to try to even out the competition and provide a course where the best athlete would come out on top. Woo and I drove down to Virginia from Boston the day before the race with the dogs for a quick weekend trip away. We got to the GORGEOUS race venue on Friday afternoon at the finish line to check in and do the pre-race briefing. This was the first race I've ever been included in the "elite" category which meant I was to be there for photos the day before and a Q&A panel. The race finish line was on top of a giant hill on a private property where you could see almost 360* view panorama's around the Blue Ridge Mountains.
The course, which boasts about 12k of elevation gain is essentially a big out and back followed by a loop (which consists of the 50k course) with the first out and back section being from about miles 4 through 30. This is the gnarliest single track/rock/root portion of the course. To make matters worst it is a gradual down hill until you reach the aid station at mile 18 then a nice grinding 15 mile uphill on the way back to the next aid station.
On the way over to the race course from our B&B we encountered a broken down car on the side of the narrow Blue Ridge Parkway. The driver flagged us down assuming we too were headed to the race. She asked if we could give her a ride as she worked for the company putting on the race and had a flat tire. She hopped in and on we went to the start line.
I knew strategically that I wanted to be more aggressive on this race than I was during the Black Canyon 100k and stick with the front of the pack (albeit conservatively) early on instead of having to try and make up 50+ positions in the last half of the race to get into the top 10. This would mean pushing the red line a bit earlier on and trying to hold onto some reserves at the same time. No easy task. There were a lot of BIG names signed up for this race, but if I've learned anything with ultras it really can be anyone's day out there. Especially today with scorching heat and a lot of elevation to play with. Early on, I was running up with names like Brian Rusiecki and Mike Wardian along with eventual women's champion Amanda Basham as well as women's contender Sarah Keyes. There was some light conversation as a pack of 6-8 of us bounced through the single track trails. I knew in the back of my mind that I didn't belong running with any of these amazing athletes, but part of me wanted to prove to myself that I did belong up there. For the first 20 miles my effort level felt relatively easy as the heat began to set in for the day. I could feel the temps rising and packed in as many fluids as I could. This was the longest stretch of the course between aid stations so I wore my Orange Mud Double Barrel pack which works great and is quick and easy to fill up and go.
As I hit the 18 mile aid-station I caught up to Wardian who was just a little ahead and getting his own aid. I quickly got fresh bottles from Woo and headed back on my way up the course and up the ~15 mile up hill to get back to the next aid station. I was already counting down the miles until I could drop the bigger pack and switch to my handheld bottles due to the shorter segments between aid. I knew I needed to back the effort off a little bit and began to walk up some of the steeper hills to keep my HR manageable. Luckily even for the heat, this section is mostly shaded with beautiful views of the Blue Ridge Mountains peeking through the trees. It was walking up one of these hills that Sarah passed me and cruised onto finishing the 6trh overall and 2nd F. I eventually hit mile 30 where I saw Woo along with Brian Rusiecki who had to drop due to an ongoing back/hip issue. I sat down for a quick couple minutes to refuel and switch hydration bottles out. I was feeling pretty rough but got in some salt, applesauce, and water. There was a little uphill section then some good flat/downhill road running and I knew this was a good section to put in some quick miles. After walking a couple of minutes I started to feel like myself again and cruised along.
As the race went on, I ended up hopping back and forth a couple of times with my new friend Jim Sweeney (who recently ran one of the fastest 100 mile times in the country for the year!!). Coach Amy mentioned before the race that he might be someone of similar pace that I could run some miles with if we synced up at all. It seemed to work out as we were both struggling a bit the last 10 or so miles of the race. The most heinous part of this course is the massive 1600 ft 6 mile climb from miles 53-59 with nearly 1k of that in the last mile. It was switchback hell and I was over it. What kind of narcissist designs a course like this? Better yet, what kind of massochist's pay money to take part in it?
Jim and I hit the last couple of aid stations together and then walk/ran our way to the finish. The downside of panoramic finish line views? The BIG hill to get there. Jim and I decided earlier on that neither of us was in the mood to race it out the last 10k to see who would get the better position, so we decided to finish together and call it a draw. Though, unfortunately (for me) although we crossed the finish line at the same time, our chip times were a second off therefore technically he finished 1 second ahead of me since he hit the start line 1 second after I did.
In a day where more than half of the starters did not finish the race, a 9th place overall and 7th M finish was something I could live with. Especially on a day that my body wasn't performing at 100%.