Friday, February 25, 2011

New 100k "Ultra Race of Champions" Announced - Can $10k Settle It Once and For All?

When the super-elite ultrarunners blog, there are three topics that seem to always come up:
  • Why isn't there a race that can truly decide who is the best ultrarunner? (Western States doesn't allow everyone, North Face races have cash but don't seem to count towards Ultrarunner of the Year, etc, etc.)
  • Why isn't there more money in this sport so I can get P-A-I-D?
  • I win, but Dean Karnazes gets all the press. When will the world focus on the real champions? (Dean is on Regis and Kathy all month - jealous?)
Well, the folks at Trail Runner Magazine and Bad to the Bone Sports have thrown down the gauntlet and created the Ultra Race of Champions, a new 100k race in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with a $10k prize purse (see press release below). Geoff Roes has already signed on as the UROC Elite Athlete Liason, so you know he's in.

Looks like this race could address all of the above issues. It's in September (enough time away from Western States in June, TNF 50 in December, and other big races), Trail Runner Mag will certainly push the press and the UROC title, there's some decent dough-re-me, Roes can help attract a thick roster of top male and female runners, the 100k distance allows both 50-milers and 100-milers to give it a go, and Gill and Francesca at Bad to the Bone Sports certainly knows how to put on a good race.

Let the games begin!!! Can't wait to see who will be toeing the line.


[press release]

Trail Runner Magazine and Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports Announce
First Annual Trail Runner Ultra Race of Champions

February 25, 2011, Carbondale, CO, and Charlottesville, VA—Trail Runner magazine and Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports have joined forces for the first-ever ultrarunning championship race. On September 24th, 2011, the world’s best ultrarunners will race for 100 kilometers and compete for a slice of the $10,000 prize purse in the Trail Runner Ultra Race of Champions (UROC).

“Until now, there has been no definitive ultra championship race,” says current Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run record holder, Geoff Roes, also the Trail Runner UROC Elite Athlete Liaison. “Most elite runners want a race that will guarantee them a chance to run against other top runners, and those I've spoken with say they are willing to change their racing schedule for the opportunity to run the inaugural Trail Runner UROC.”

Directed by Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports, UROC is the creation of J. Russell Gill and Francesca Conte, founders of Charlottesville Running Company and Bad to the Bone. “We want this to be the event,” says Gill. “We’ve been developing the concept for several years, and are doing everything possible to bring the best of the best together for one day, while keeping Trail Runner UROC open to all runners.”

The 2011 race will take place just outside of Charlottesville, within Virginia’s scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. And while the world’s best ultrarunners will contend for a cash purse, UROC encourages runners of all abilities to come out and share the course. Trail Runner UROC strives to support the intimate “family” culture of trail and ultrarunning.

The out-and-back 100K course features 12,948 feet of elevation gain and loss, 32 miles of singletrack, 25 miles of mountain gravel roads and five miles on the picturesque Blue Ridge Parkway. And for runners looking for a shorter challenge, the Great Eastern Endurance Run 50K and Half Marathon Trail Races will take place the same day and share sections of the Trail Runner UROC course.

The goal of UROC is to gather as many elite ultra runners as possible. Elite runners will be invited based on the recommendations of a Trail Runner UROC advisory panel and their performances at events such as: Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, the four Grand Slam 100-mile events (Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run, Vermont 100-Mile Endurance Run, Leadville Trail 100-Mile Run and Wasatch Front 100-Mile Endurance Run) and other select ultra races around the world.

“We’re excited to partner with such experienced and respected trail runners and race directors as Gill and Francesca to promote and grow this unprecedented event,” says Michael Benge, Editor of Trail Runner magazine, the official media sponsor of UROC. “The Trail Runner UROC constitutes the first-ever formal ultrarunning championship, the veritable Superbowl of Ultrarunning.”

Registration opens March 14th, 2011, at If you are an elite runner, email J. Russell Gill at or Geoff Roes at for more information. Visit for race updates.

If you are interested in becoming a sponsor of the Trail Runner UROC, please email J. Russell Gill at or Cynthia Bruggeman at

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

What Really Causes The Runner's High? (NY Times)

This weekend, this blog had an abnormal spike in traffic for a 7-year-old post called "Understanding the Runner's High", something I had written when reading about early research that linked the runner's high to the endocannabinoid system (rather than the oft-quoted source of endorphins). It turns out that the New York Times ran an article this weekend with some updated findings.

 The article is an interesting read. I found the following quote particularly fascinating:
"But perhaps the most telling experiment was published last year by researchers in France who had bred mice with no functioning endocannabinoid receptors. Mice usually love to run, but the genetically modified animals, given free access to running wheels, ran about half as much as usual. Although the full intricacies of the endocannabinoid system’s role in motivating and rewarding exercise is not yet understood, it seems obvious, the researchers say, that the cannabinoid-deprived mice were not getting some necessary internal message. Typically, the endocannabinoid system “is well known to impact onto central reward networks,” the authors write. Without it, exercise seemed to provide less buzz, and the animals didn’t indulge as much."
Man, it sucks to be that mouse! But it's intriguing that a fundamental love of running could be genetically built into all of us. I've been feeling rather mouse-like on my treadmill lately and smiling the whole time. ;-)

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Boston Marathon Announces New Qualifying Standards and Registration Process for 2012/2013

The Boston Athletic Association (BAA) has announced new qualifying standards and a registration process for the 2012 and 2013 races, largely in response to the 2011 race filling up in less than 8 hours. Here's how it's going to work:

For 2012, the qualifying times will remain the same but the registration process will change to a rolling registration to give the "fastest" runners a chance to register the earliest. The more you "beat" your qualifying time, the earlier you get to register. On the first day of registration, those who beat their qualifying times by 20 minutes or more go. The next day it opens to those who bettered their time by 10 minutes or more. After a week of this, registration opens to the general public.

So, for example, I will be a 42-year-old male for the 2012 Boston Marathon qualifying period, so my qualifying time is 3 hours, 20 minutes, and 59 seconds. If I have a great run at the Napa Marathon and run a 2:55, I will be 25 minutes under my qualifying time. So I would get to register on Day 1. It's kind of like an "A" standard. Here is the rolling registration schedule:

Date registration opens for runners with times...
September 12, 2011 20 min., 00sec. or more below their qualifying time (based on age/gender)
September 14, 2011 10 min., 00 sec. or more below their qualifying time (based on age/gender)
September 16, 2011 5 min., 00 sec. or more below their qualifying time (based on age/gender)
Second Week
September 19, 2011 All Qualified Runners
September 23, 2011 Registration closes for qualified applicants
September 28, 2011 (appx) Qualifiers from entry during second week of registration are notified of their acceptance.

For 2013, they will have the same process and also reduce all qualifying times by 5 minutes and 59 seconds, so the previous 3:10:59 qualifying time for Men age 18-34 is now 3:05:00. No surprise here - this is the simplest way to reduce the field of applicants.

I give a Tip-O-The-Hat to the BAA for coming up with a unique system to address the needs of the rather vocal minority of fast runners who didn't get a slot. This could have gone a number of ways, and I like that the one race that has qualifying standards leaned towards honoring the fastest runners. I find myself looking at the new process and realizing I have two BQ goals - the minimum standard, and the "register-on-the-first-day" A standard. It's asking me to push myself harder. So for that, I thank the BAA.

Not all agree, however. Former winner Amby Burfoot is not a fan, pointing out that you can run a Boston qualifying time and still not get into Boston if it fills up with faster runners . Of course that could happen now if you weren't fast enough to register on the first day. But I see his point - this system loses transparency, and there are no guarantees even if you hit a "qualifying" time. I can imagine this could be frustrating for someone who's life goal is to do this race. Amby doesn't provide any suggestions (WHO MOVED MY CHEESE?), but I get the sense that the BAA will continue to tweak the process.

Curious to what you guys think...


Friday, February 11, 2011

Mile Markers Book by Kristin Armstrong (Book Review and Valentine's Day recommendation)

This week I had the great privilege of getting a sneak preview of the book Mile Markers - The 26.2 Most Important Reasons Why Women Run, by Kristin Armstrong, due out March 1st. I've been a big fan of hers for years, both as a friend and as an insanely talented writer, so I was thrilled to see that she had compiled some of her best blog entries into a deep and thoughtful tome full of insights, stories, and quotable moments. I was not disappointed.

This book wastes no time reflecting on the deeper side of running, and how this simplest of sports has helped build her character, a community of close friends, and an appreciation for anything life throws her way (which happens to be a lot). The chapter titles indicate the broad range of emotions of the journey - Friendship, Healing, Play, Body, Freedom, Identity, Confidence, Fear, Burdens, Peace, Purpose, Passion, Clarity, Balance, Roadblocks, Gratitude, and more.

My first thought was "chick book!" - way too many emotions about one subject for a dude. Even a dude like me, who can't possibly read or write enough about the subject of running. But her honest and humble narrative makes each topic approachable, and I found myself realizing I feel similarly, albeit not as openly, about many of the big questions she addresses. Her gift of writing often leaves me speechless, the silence reflecting my gratitude for the sagacity (yes, that's a word).

Her writing also leaves me face-planted on the ground on occasion. The true test of any book is whether it is insightful enough that I am distracted from my steps on my long trail runs, receiving a face full of dirt for my pensiveness (pensivicity?). Mile Markers is a two-digger read, I'm happy to report! The same question got me each time - "do all women runners feel this way?". If so, I feel like apologizing to all of you. I knew we were all in this for some adventure, fun and laughs, and connecting with nature, but my God, I didn't realize the cauldron of emotions that lie within constantly redefining and reexamining who you are. Kristin describes herself as a "mom, writer, and runner", but after reading this, I feel the commas do her (or any women for that matter) an injustice. Perhaps the word "MomWriterRunnerWomanFriendDaughterWarriorConfidantCoachTeammate" is a bit closer (take that,

So if you want an insightful read, go pre-order this book (now available on for $9.89 for a limited time). And if you've forgotten to get a Valentine's Day gift (it's Monday!), there's nothing faster (or cheaper!) than a pre-ordered book to show you understand her sensitive side, be she friend or spouse. Believe me, you can't go wrong with this one.

A pre-ordered book AND a box of chocolates, that is. ;-)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Christopher McDougall (Born To Run author) on TED - 15 minute version

Here's the 15-minute version of the Born to Run argument, presented by author Chris McDougall at the TED Conference in August, 2010.

BTW, if you are ever looking for inspiration, go check out TED. Lots of fascinating people and ideas. I always seem to come back from that site with a sense of possibilities.

Sunday, February 06, 2011

Flat Out Fun at the 2011 Cross Country National Championships

Yesterday I had the pleasure of adding a new off-road running experience to my list - Cross Country - at the 2011 USATF Cross Country National Championships in San Diego, CA. It was a humbling introduction to track and field's world of dirt, where NCAA and Olympic champions compete for the coveted spots on the world championship teams. But oh man, was it fun!

(Junior Men sprint down the first stretch)
I was signed up for the Masters Men 8k, which gave me a chance to watch the Women's Masters 8k while warming up and then hang around for the Juniors 8k and Open 12k after the race. The course was a 2k loop in a beautiful grassy park near Mission Bay, which made for great spectating. I couldn't decide if I was more excited to race or watch, given all the superstars I was seeing in the warm up area. The weather was a balmy 68 degrees, much to the delight of pale-skinned runners from New York, Colorado, and even snow-filled Texas who were dealing with 80-90 degree differences from their home towns.

I jogged around and did some strides, meeting many faces behind the great comments that come in on my blog. When it came time to toe the line, the Fleet Feet Sports Boulder Racing Team let me line up with them, although there was no chance I was going to keep up with the likes of Todd Straka, Jim Robbins, Peter Hagelbach, Marc Bromberg, James Johnson, and George Zack. But we wished each other well, and readied for the start.

(Hanging with former WR holders Jim Ryun and Alberto Salazar)
Masters 8k

The gun went off, and it was like a scene from Braveheart as we shot down the half mile straight away as fast as we could. The flat speed of these runners was SHOCKING. I guessed I was on a 5:30 min/mile pace, and the lead pack had 25 seconds on my by the first corner. Wow! I loved how the spikes threw grass divots around every corner, and it was full contact at all moments.  So very different than an ultra!

I passed a few people in the tight corners, only to have them pass me back on the straights, and soon realized this would be the pattern for the race. These were all gazelles trained on the track, and their strides were long and powerful. It was like they had two gears more than I had! At the end of the first lap, 49-year-old XC Masters star Peter Magill led a pack of four and made it look easy nearly a minute ahead.

By lap 2, there was a bit more elbow room. People were cheering around the entire track, and one would think there was 2,000 spectators here (it turns out it's just the same 250 people running to different points on the course). I heard some coach-like hollering, realizing I was right in the middle of the fight for the M55-60 age group between Jim Howard, Dale Campbell, and Rich Burns. "Catch that 'some bitch!" one would yell, while another would scream "don't let him gap you, stay on his tail!". Very exciting! Clearly this was a team sport.

Lap 2 was slightly faster than Lap 1, and for the most part our positions remained the same while the leaders stretched out in front of us. I kicked it up a bit more, and a group of five of us worked our way through slowing runners. Although I was sub-6 minute on the flat parts, the tight corners made it hard to keep the average speed under 6. Push, push, push!

(Colorado's George Zack cranks through Lap 2 in the Masters race, photo courtesy of Harry White)
Lap 3 was the strategy lap for most, and a lot of positions changed. Guys who held back suddenly came flying through the pack, while others who went out too hard couldn't keep the pace. We started lapping other runners, such as William Smythe, Kenneth Wright, and Bill Turley, the three 81-year-olds from Boulder Road Runners, all within a minute of each other. There's tough competition in every age group!

Lap 4 came, and everyone dug deep. My legs were on fire and my stomach was cursing like a sailor, but the faces of my fellow runners said I was in good company. Every corner got competitive, with elbows flailing wide, surges, and self-motivation grunts. A quick pass was almost an insult, and you can bet they would try and take you on the next turn. There were team points at stake, so every position counted. This was awesome! I pushed harder, letting the tunnel vision creep in for the last 200 meters, and picking up three more spots. Boulder's Stephen Fether heard me coming in the last 50 meters and wasn't about to let me pass, and we sprinted to the finish where he stayed a stride ahead. 30:21, 57th place, just barely in the first half of the pack. Wow. Probably the fastest I have ever gone, but nowhere near what is needed to be competitive here.

I lost my balance at the finish as the tunnel vision caught up with me, and a gentleman helped me up saying "great kick!". Another volunteer laughed while handing me a water and said "if that guy says you had a good kick, then you definitely had a good kick!". As the tunnel vision cleared away, I realized the man who helped me up was Billy Mills, the 1964 10k Olympic Gold Medalist with one of the greatest kicks ever caught on film. Wow! I could care less if I finished 57th - Billy Mills just patted me on the back!

I saw a guy curled up on the ground vomiting his breakfast, and realized it was our winner, Peter Magill, who had extended his XC dynasty with another National Championship (26:17) and topped a podium dominated by Compex Racing. I guess that's how hard you have to go to top this field! Being 49 years old, he had the best age-graded performance too. Spectacular, Peter!

Junior and Open Races

I cooled down, showered, and came back to watch the Junior and Open Races. Stanford was well represented in the Juniors, with favorite Aisling Cuffe (headed to Stanford in the Fall) comfortably winning the Junior Women by 26 seconds, and Stanford Freshman Erik Olson playing his tactics perfectly for a win in the Junior Mens. Colleen de Reuck won the Masters Women, after pulling away in the first 1k to built a comfortable lead.

(UCLA's Dustin Fay led for the first half, but was pulled in by lap 3)

(Erik Olson wins the Junior XC Nationals)
(Stanford's Erik Olson interviewed at the finish)
The Women's Open was a who's who of American track and field. 10k AR holder and Olympic bronze medalist Shalene Flanagan, 5k AR holder Molly Huddle, NCAA 5k/10k champion Lisa Koll, Olympic marathoners Blake Russell and Magdalena Lewy-Boulet, Kara Goucher returning from maternity leave, and at least a dozen more capable of making one of the six coveted World Team slots.

(Shalene Flanagan takes it out fast, photo courtesy of Harry Price)
Shalene Flanagan wasted no time to set a tough pace, pulling away on the first lap and never looking back. Molly Huddle firmly held second, with Lisa Koll catching up to her by the third lap. The others battled it out in a larger pack about 15 seconds back. Shalene crushed the last lap, winning by 44 seconds (25:47), with Molly Huddle (26:31) and Team Oregon teammate Lisa Koll (26:41) taking second and third. The next group was tight, with Magdalena Lewy Boulet, Blake Russell, and Alissa McKaig making the team, and Kara Goucher, Kim Conley, Megan Duwell, and Allison Kieffer finishing up the Top 10. (results)
(Shalene Flanagan leads 1k in, and builds from there)
(Shalene Flanagan, 2011 National Cross Country champion, photo courtesy of Nelvin Sepeda)
(Womens Top 10)

The Men's Open had lots of big names for their 12k as well, including 800-meter Olympian Matt Tagenkamp, XC Champion Jorge Torres, our own Max King, sub-4 minute miler Andrew Bumbalough, 3-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, and 2010 USATF 10k Road Champion Ed Moran. It was definitely going to be a fast race!
(Jeremy Johnson and Ben Bruce lead a tight pack)
The pack stuck close in the first lap, with steeplechaser Ben Bruce and Jeremy Johnson setting the pace. The frontrunners stuck close the next two laps, with Ed Moran coming up to set the pace for Lap 2, and Max King doing the work on Lap 3. At Lap 4, Brent Vaughn made a move to build a 12 second lead, and the pack let him go. Vaughn had dropped out of the Half Marathon Road Championships in Houston recently, so perhaps they thought he wasn't a threat.

(Ed Moran sets the pace on Lap 2)
(Max King leads through Lap 3)
(Brent Vaughn makes his move)
 At Lap 5, Vaughn still had the lead and was looking strong, so Matt Tagenkamp, Ed Moran, and Andrew Bumbalough pushed the pace of the chase pack. By Lap 6, Vaughn was getting reeled in, but he surged again and came to the finish exhilarated for his first national title in 35:44, 8 seconds ahead. Andrew Bumalough (35:53), Ed Moran (35:54), Matt Tagenkamp (36:01), Benjamin True (36:03), Brian Olinger (36:05), Max King (36:11), Andrew Carlsen (36:20), David Jankowski (36:29), and Jorge Torres (36:36) finished the Top 10. To win, you needed a 4:46 min/mile pace on this crazy course - just amazing. (results)

(Max King makes up ground on the final lap)
(Brent Vaughn, 2011 Cross Country National champion, photo courtesy of Daniel Petty)
(3rd place finisher, Ed Moran)
(Men's Open Top 10)
I soaked in the sun and a few brewskies, also having a chance to meet former world record holder Jim Ryun and the legendary Alberto Salazar. Such a great adventure! This may not be my best distance, but I would love to do it again. My thanks to RD's Paul Greer and Thom Hunt, the USATF, and the San Diego-Imperial Association for putting on a great championship. Good luck to the national teams in Punta Umbria, Spain!