There’s a $20,000 prize purse up for grabs.
Ultrarunning has experienced white-hot growth in the last 10 years as more and more marathoners, trail runners and triathletes have sought their next big challenge. But with that evolution has come the need for larger-scale, all-inclusive events and definitive championship races. Just as with the marathon, the most iconic ultrarunning races are hard to get into and sell out fast—situations complicated by the fact that most events have space for 500 runners or less and few give elite runners automatic entries.
Enter veteran ultrarunners and race directors J. Russell Gill and Francesca Conte, who stepped up last year with the creation of the Ultra Race of Champions 100K (UROC) near Charlottesville, Va., By hosting a wide variety of race distances, including a 100K championship race, Gill and Conte were able to bring together many of the country’s top ultra-distance runners and national-class marathoners, as well as age-group competitors and first-time trail runners, all in the same venue.
This year’s UROC festival returns Sept. 29-30 with what appears to be the deepest field of any ultra-distance race this year. The prize purse has been increased to $20,000, with the winners taking home $4,000 apiece.
RELATED VIDEO: UROC Race Preview
Having a moderately challenging, semi-technical course that combines dirt singletrack trails, gravel roads and paved sections levels the playing field, and is the ideal platform for both a championship race for elite runners and challenging courses for age-group runners, Gill says. A half-marathon and a 50K race are also on the schedule for the UROC festival weekend this year, as well as 50K and 100K bike races over a variety of surfaces.
“The idea is that once a year we get as many top runners together as we can and let them race on a course that doesn’t favor any one runner,” Gill says. “It’s not a trail race or a road race, but a true ultra-distance championship. But it’s also a very viable course for passionate age-group runners, and it’s very spectator friendly.”
The championship concept is catching on in a big way. This year’s race has already attracted three dozen elite ultrarunners from around the world. Among the numerous champion runners in this year’s men’s and women’s fields include Todd Braje, Adam Campbell, Nick Clark, Liza Howard, Max King, Tina Lewis, Geoff Roes, Ian Sharman, Dave Mackey, Ellie Greenwood, Sage Canaday, Jordan McDougal, David Riddle, Jason Loutitt and Joelle Vaught.
“The presence of such an outstanding international field at this year’s race is a confirmation that the sport is ready to assemble all the best runners in the world,” Gill says. “Ultrarunning is not an Olympic sport yet, but this year’s UROC will be as close as it gets to an Olympic-caliber competition.”
Along with The North Face Endurance Challenge 50-mile championship in December near San Francisco, the UROC event is helping ultrarunning evolve in the U.S. Other big races, including the Western States 100, Hardrock 100, JFK 50, Run Rabbit Run 50/100 and the series of USATF ultra championships, have drawn a handful of top runners but none have ever had a field as deep as this year’s UROC 100K.
“This is what the sport has needed for a long time,” says Roes, who won the inaugural 100K championship race last year. “There are a lot of good ultra races in the U.S., but UROC is creating a significantly new paradigm.”
Shinji Nakadai, the 100K world champion from Japan, shares his fellow competitor’s regard. “My stay in the USA is limited,” says Nakadai, “so I ‘m very excited to have this chance to run with top runners from around the world.”
The event will once again be hosted by Wintergreen Resort, a four-season mountaintop getaway set on 11,000 acres in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains southwest of Charlottesville. However, Gill and Conte have hinted the event will move to new locations in the U.S. in future years.
“We always want to create a race that has a championship-caliber course but that is also inclusive to everyone who wants to run,” Conte says. “And with the UROC race, we want to make sure we are able to keep the friendly, family atmosphere and community feeling that ultrarunning events have always had.”
As with last year’s race, Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports will activate its media arm, Bad to the Bone Media, in conjunction with Amoeba Films to provide the spectating world with unprecedented race-day coverage of the championship. The goal is to provide the most comprehensive race-day video coverage ever produced for an ultra distance event –as well as the most timely and informative.
In addition to the experienced and professional film crew, Gill will provide authoritative, accurate voice commentary. UROC race video will be posted in chronological segments the same day for spectators to watch online. Alyssa Godesky, a competitive runner and member of the Bad to the Bone Media team will post live updates every 20 minutes to both Twitter (@BTTBEndurance) and Facebook, combining the best in live video coverage with social media “reporting.”
This type of unparalleled coverage is what race director Conte says has been “missing” from the sport. And what is needed to engage and grow a larger audience. “Watching professional footage from the course on race day will make friends, family, and fans who couldn’t attend UROC feel as if they were there—watching the race action unfold and supporting the event.”
“Our sport has reached a new moment in history,” says elite runner Sabrina Morgan. “We have moved beyond the cultic unknown into something that the wider society is excited about and wants to celebrate with us. UROC is a response to this and I’m thrilled to be a part of this race. Let’s see who comes out on top.”