This all leads to UROC, so stick with it!
Life has not been easy for the Hoegs. The details are not important, but we have spent less time together than apart in the last year, all due to various complicated cimcumstances.
This summer, I have worked in Duluth, while the Girl and our sons have been in Denmark.
I don't want to elaborate on how hard it has been for both of us (maybe all four of us), because thankfully it's over. Our big Duluth plans all failed, and now we are going back to life in good old Næstved, Denmark.
One side effect of living alone in Duluth is that I have gotten into great shape. I run hard every other day, and swim/strength train on my easy days. In the last month before UROC, I have set PRs on all my treadmill speed sessions.
This all leads to UROC, which has gotten me to want to blog again. It may be the most fun I have ever had at a race. Since running it 5 days ago, I have been asking myself how I can find a similar race, anywhere.
Ok, so first of all, I only ran the 50K, and only signed up because the Girl was doing the 100K. I didn't know anything about the race, other than the 100K is very competitive and has big cash prizes. I assumed (rightly so) that the 50K was a comparative fun run.
I didn't realize the altitude of the course (2700 to 3800 meters), nor the simplicity of it. Basically, one climbs from the valley to two different peaks/saddles and runs back down. I didn't realize how much fun that can be.
Climbing to 3800 meters is normally something one does slowly, perhaps with a camera and a backpack full of lunch. In a race, it is different, of course, and for me, complete virgin territory.
The race started with a 5K or so on a golf course and a less challenging section of the Colorado trail. This spread the field out nicely. I started out super slowly, as is my wont. The pros took off very fast. They are pros after all. Tons of women were ahead also.
Slowly, I warmed up and picked up the pace. At 2700m, I never felt super springy, but the legs loosened up as the sun rose, and I started passing people. At this point, I saw the Girl, finishing an out-and-back portion of her race course. She would go on to win her race by a half hour, but had fun competing with the men.
Then the climb began. I was running with two Minnesotans at the time, discussing how Borst had blown up at Superior (although I later learned he took 2nd behind a wiser Adam Schwartz-Lowe). One of the Minnesotans said something like "I can't believe how this altitude feels", and I realized that I felt great. Like, really good.
So I said a (proverbial) "fuck it", and threw caution to the wind. The sun was coming up over the mountains. I took off my jacket and started working. I passed maybe 20 people going up the mountain, and caught up to a woman someone had told me was Cassie Scallon. She turned out to be more of a girl than a woman, though; she was 18, and her name was Ashley Erba.
Ashley ran the whole way up, and after I had caught up with her, she seemed to speed up and re-dropped me, while telling me her life story. I would grunt as much as my breathing allowed, while she spoke full, unlabored sentences. Seriously.
We made it to the top and caught up with Avery Collins. I didn't know him before the race, but he was presented as one of the elites (along with the Girl) the night before. He was doing the 50K, so the fact that I was passing him, made me feel pretty good in my skin. I was simultaneously in denial about getting dropped by an 18-year old girl, of course. Call me a glass-half-full guy.
The three of us ran down the mountain together. I wasn't sure how much to "bomb" the downhill, but I figured Avery must know what he was doing, so I stuck with him.
I felt great and a little high. Running in beautiful weather, at altitude, in perhaps the best long-distance shape of my life. Geoff Roes was suddenly there, cheering on the runners. All enough to make me feel a little loopy.
Up the second mountain we went. I passed only two or three runners up this climb, but of course there were fewer runners to pass. I made it to the top with Ashley and young (also 18-year old) Jack Daly. Ashley and Jack were both starting college in Boulder, so that was interesting to hear about. I wondered how ancient a 39-year old must seem to them. I mean, Natali is only 5 years younger than them.
When we made it to the top, we found out that we were 2nd to 4th in the 50K. Jack said something about not wanting to get chicked, which seemed unwise to say in front of a world-elite junior girl. She has run a 16:18 5000m, which I am sure would be the Danish national junior record.
They took,off down the mountain, whereas I had a plan. Shit, I smile just thinking about it. I took a GU with 40mg of caffeine and drank a cup of Mountain Dew. I turned on my music and felt "so good it oughtta be illegal" as I'm sure they say in Sterling, CO.
I caught up to the two kids and absolutely bombed the downhill. A lot of people on their way up couldn't help smiling; I'm sure they could see how high I was. I don't remember a lot from the long downhill. 1000m+ of descent should take a decent amount of time, but it felt like 5 minutes.
Suddenly, it was over. The Girl, her parents and our boys were there waiting. I was still om such a crazy mountain high that it was almost disappointing that it was over. I was holding back tears, as I was taking it all in. Here we are:
Poor Jack did indeed get chicked, but was a good sport about it. He has a bright future (he just moved to Colorado from Mississippi and was already talking about all the "14'ers" he has "bagged"). Ashley Erba could be the next star of ultra running. For those of you not into regular track, 16:18 is wicked fast for a college freshman. Like, bound for a pro contract fast. It will be fun to see how far she takes it.
Matt Flaherty won easily. I think he was supposed to run the 100K, but dropped down to the amateurs in the 50K. Every time I saw him, he looked like he was out for a jog. We talked for a while, and he seems like a nice guy.
So, yeah, since Saturday I have longed to find a similar race to train for. Ie. at high altitude, with lots of continuous climbing, and not too technical. The latter point is important, because I suck at technical downhills but excel at fast, non-technical downhills. UROC was mostly on gravel roads and mountain bike trails, which made it very runner-friendly.
The worst part is that they are likely to move the course for UROC next year. That sucks, because if they didn't I would totally go for the masters 100K next year (yep, I'll be 40 by then). I still might, if this high continues until the sign-up for 2015 opens up.