Some ultramarathons results in epic tails — overflowing with non-stop highs and lows — like the kind you’ll find in bestselling novels.

Others result in a more humble, disjointed collection of short adventures and mishaps, connected only by the trail and runner who lives it.

My 2017 UROC 100K experience was the latter, so instead of a long race report loaded with lessons or life-altering epiphanies, I take a more simplistic approach to this race report: a collection of short stories from the day.

Draw morals as you please.

11.2 Miles is a Long Way

I pride myself as being comfortable running in the mountains. I love technical descents and can seamlessly transition between a run and a power hike (I’m currently working on more run, less hike). But when doing research on the course — which as you know, I do plenty of — I didn’t anticipate how difficult this course would be.

Actually, I don’t think the organizers did either, considering the website easily low-balled the total elevation gain by a good 4,000 feet.

The first 6.8 miles to Aid Station 1 consist of paved or gravel road, and the miles go by equally smooth for us runners. After grabbing a quick bottle refill, we make a sharp turn onto an 11.2 mile stretch of insanely beautiful singletrack and drop over 1,800 feet to the next aid station. From there it’s a quick turn around and back up those same 11.2 miles from which we came.

As I make that turn, swapping race stories with another runner, only having one aid station for the next 22 miles doesn’t phase me.

“It’s early on in the race,” I think to myself.

“You’re tough. You like mountains. 11.2 miles is easy peasy,” I proudly proclaim in my head.

Well hot damn is 11.2 miles is a long way, especially on this tough trail.

I emerge back at Aid Station 1 (now Aid Station 3) a full five and a half hours later with bottles (and spirits) drained. And that’s when it hits me:

Reading a map is much easier than running a race.

Ring, Ring! Anyone There?

Somewhere around mile nine, I split from a runner (hey Terry!) I’ve spent the last hour chatting with, and start off on my own.

I like running alone. For the most part that’s how I train, and I often long for that inside-my-own-head focus I only find during a long run.

Six and a half hours later, though, I’m still running alone, and my daughter’s favorite song gets stuck playing through my head on repeat.

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring … banana phone.

Ring, ring, ring, ring, ring … banana phoooooooooone.

It’s hard to say if she actually likes the song — at five months she reacts basically the same to all music — but for some reason we keep playing it. And in this moment, as the few lines I can remember of Bananaphone replay in my head for the 67th time, all I can think about is her.

I wonder how she did on the car ride to the race that morning, and how her mother slept after I said goodbye around 4:00 AM. I wonder if she has extra diaper cream I can use on my thighs (I was starting to chafe), and if she’s enjoying the cool mountain morning.

And that’s when it hits me:

Running alone for hours on end is magical … only when you have someone to return home to after.

Every Crew Needs a Mathematician

When it comes to crews and pacers, I’m one lucky dude. Race after race I’ve been fortune enough to rely on a passionate, supportive, and determined bunch to get me across the finish line — often the largest and most vocal at the race.

But I never realized I was missing my brother-in-law, Mike, until UROC.

Mike is a high school math teacher, runner, and all around smart guy. He likes numbers, and isn’t afraid to share it.

Earlier in the day, when it became clear I had no shot at my original goal of 13 hours, I told him I’d be disappointed if I didn’t come in under 15 hours. Fifteen hours means I’ll receive a special black belt buckle that somehow feels way cooler than the over 15 hour buckle.

Unbeknownst to me, he takes that comment to heart.

I pick Mike up at mile 53 to pace me to the finish with just two hours and forty three minutes to cover 10.2 miles and a 1,800 foot climb. Might not sound like much on fresh legs, but it feels like a massive feat in the moment.

He has it calculated out to the minute.

“We can do this. I’ve worked it all out. Do you want to know what you need to do, or should I just keep that to myself?” he asks.

“Break it into sections,” I respond.

“Great, so we need to make it to the climb in … ”

Mike knows mile for mile where we need to be, and it’s just the get-up and go I need to keep moving with intention. We wade across creeks, blast up one steep mountain, and pick off multiple runners along the way. I grunt. I moan. I gnaw on expired citrus CLIF Blocks.

He monitors the clock, silently processing numbers in his head.

And that’s when it hits me:

Math is hard at mile 54. Always have a mathematician on hand.

That Section with like 20 Creek Crossings

Sometime around the 38th mile, as I slowly climb my way up to Bald Mountain for the first time, I’m stopped by a 50K runner about to finish her race. She’s a reader and sounds excited to say hi. I’ve never stopped mid-run before to chat with a stranger, but what the hell, at this point I’m happy to have any distraction (or person other than myself to talk to), and love to hear from readers. We introduce ourselves.

“This course is legit!” As the words come from my mouth, something feels off, but it seems like an appropriate thing to say.

“Yeah, especially those creek crossings!” She responds.

“Creek crossings?”

“That section with like 20 creek crossings!”

I have no idea what she was talking about, and in what I can only imagine is a simultaneous epiphany, we both realize we’ve been running for nearly eight hours but on two totally different courses.

Duh.

The 100K joins with the 50K course around the halfway point, meaning I’m just starting the route she’s a few miles from finishing. Without acknowledging my stupidity, I congratulate her and continue on in the opposite direction.

Not three minutes later, it dawns on me I should have asked the important and totally relevant question of which section had all those creek crossings. But alas, it’s too late, and for the next several hours I keep anticipating that maybe this would be the section.

It wasn’t that one, so it must be this section, right?

Or this one?

Hmm …

Maybe she was exaggerating, delirious, or got lost and there is no section with countless creek crossings?

Turns out the section comes right after I pick up Mike at mile 54, and no shit, there are like twenty, ragging, knee deep creek crossings, with muddy scrambles up the bank and unsure footing.

It’s rugged, wild, and generally badass (and side note, an x-factor in Mike’s careful calculations. Luckily, he padded the numbers anticipating any unforeseen x-factors. Mathematicians win again!).

And that’s when it hits me:

When someone who knows the course offers advice, ask questions.

A post shared by Doug H (@rockcreekrunner) on

That Time I Stole My Wife’s First Mother’s Day

The day after race day is Mother’s Day — a special day to honor the love and sacrifice selfishly given each day by mothers around the world. Or more specifically, a day to celebrate our mothers and the mothers of our children.

The day after race day is my wife’s first Mother’s Day … and she spends it in the car next to a man with swollen feet and a baby who wants to be anywhere but in that car. Unintentionally, I stole my wife’s first Mother’s Day and made the whole weekend about me.

But she never once complains, or even mentions it.

As I lay sprawled out in the back next to the car seat while she drives us home, I realize I did her wrong.

And that’s when it hits me:

Running is one of the most important parts of my life, but it comes nowhere close to the importance of my family.

Author

Doug Hay is the founder of Rock Creek Runner, host of the Trail Talk podcast, and fanatical about everything trail running — beards, plaid shirts, bruised toenails, and all. He and his wife live and run in beautiful Black Mountain, NC.

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6 thoughts on “5 Mini Stories from the UROC 100K

  1. So many good lessons here. I especially loved the appreciation for mathematicians. Not something we usually get on running blogs!

  2. Just finished my first 100K down here in Florida last weekend. The importance of a great crew (as you mention) CANNOT be understated. No doubt they become the brains and common sense of the entire operation as you rack up the time/miles during the event.

    Thanks for a GREAT post, Doug. CHEERS!

  3. Hi Doug,
    How did your training go with your new life with a newborn? I’d love a follow up to that blogpost. I’ve got a 2 week old and I’ve signed up to my first ultra, a 60k in April, and I’m trying to fathom how on earth I get the training in for it.

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