The race is doubling as this year’s Skyrunner World Series Ultra Championship.
The stage is set for the third annual Ultra Race of Champions (UROC), a rugged, 100-kilometer, point-to-point race between the Colorado mountain resort towns of Breckenridge and Vail.
The race, which is open to both elite and recreational runners, is doubling as this year’s Skyrunner World Series Ultra Championship, an international series that also included races in Spain, Andorra, France, and Utah. UROC, now in its third year, has all the makings to be an epic event on the world stage.
A $20,000 prize purse, which includes $5,000 for each 100K winner, and international bragging rights have brought a deep field of American and international runners. At the top of the list is Spaniard Kilian Jornet, arguably the best trail runner in the world. The three-time champion of the Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc, 2011 Western States 100 champion, 2012 Pikes Peak Marathon champion and holder of numerous trail records around the world is arriving on the heels of setting new speed mountaineering records (running, scrambling, climbing) on two of Europe’s most iconic peaks — Mt. Blanc and the Matterhorn — in recent weeks.
Also in the men’s field are Sage Canaday (second at UROC last year and winner of several ultra races this year, including the Speedgoat 50K in Utah), Dakota Jones (the 2012 Transvulcania 52-mile champion) and Rob Krar (second at the 2013 Western States 100, record-setter on Grand Canyon Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim).
“It’s going to be a very good race,” Jornet says. “It’s a good course that’s all very runnable, but there are some flat sections that should make it interesting for some of the guys who are coming from a fast marathon background.”
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The women’s field is also strong, including Sweden’s Emelie Forsberg (winner of The North Face 50-Mile Championship last December near San Francisco and this spring’s 52-mile Transvulcania Ultra in the Canary Islands), American Stephanie Howe (who won the Speedgoat 50K in Utah in July and was second at last December’s North Face Endurance Challenge 50-miler), Italy’s Francesca Canepa (runner-up at the 2012 UTMB), and American Kerrie Bruxvoort (Run Rabbit Run 50-miler winner in Steamboat Springs, Colo., in mid-September)
A few other notable runners have recently had to back out because of injuries, including American Anton Krupicka and Max King, but the field will be stacked with a range of fast runners (sub-2:20 marathon PRs) and 100-mile champions.
“I think this is a race where runners want to be at their best,” says co-race director Russell Gill III. “A really good runner in this race could wind up 10th in the race, given how strong the field is and how challenging the course is.”
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Gill and co-race director Francesca Conte had been thinking about the UROC concept for several years. The longtime ultrarunners, who own a running store and produce trail running and mountain biking events near Charlottesville, Va., saw a need to produce a championship-style ultra-distance event that, contrary to many of the world’s top trail races, wasn’t limited by tight entry restrictions and also offered a big prize purse and strong field to entice some of the world’s top runners.
Aside from the championship aspect of the race, their goal was to create events for all levels of runners and produce a European-style village-to-village festival similar to that of the 104-mile Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc race in Chamonix, France, or the seven-stage, 205-mile Tour des Geants in Italy. The UROC event also includes non-championship 50K and half-marathon races that start and finish in Vail.
The first two UROC championships were held on roads and trails around Wintergreen Resort in the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains near Charlottesville and drew strong fields of domestic runners. But the idea was always to move the race periodically to new locations. Gill and Conte have been working on the Colorado site for two years and are confident it will be a world-class event.
“I always had a plan and ideas for UROC, but I really didn’t think would happen quite this quickly,” Gill says. “I think part of that is that I think we put a lot of work into it and made some good decisions, but the thing that I’m most happy about is the reception from the athletes. Those runners understand there is a need for this event to celebrate the sport on an annual basis. You know you’ve got it when you get the Kilian Jornets and Rob Krars and Sage Canadays — runners who are helping grow the sport and help it go forward.”
The UROC course has an estimated 26,000 feet of vertical gain and descent and will send runners over a 12,400-foot pass. But 19 percent of the course is paved, which will allow faster runners to make up ground on the pure mountain runners. One more factor that could make things interesting is the weather. It snowed this week in Colorado’s high country and it’s expected to snow again on Friday, but clear skies and cool temperatures are predicated for Saturday.
“It’s a hard course and there are some big climbs and it has a few technical sections, but what we wanted to create is a fair test of all abilities across all distances,” Gill says. “We intentionally left some flat and fast sections in the race so we can have a fair course for all runners. It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch.”
The course will connect the mountain towns of Breckenridge, Frisco, Copper Mountain, Minturn, and Vail. The idea is that spectators and runners in the shorter races can enjoy the festival atmosphere along the course and at the finish line.
“By dropping into each of the villages, there will be support and some excitement and some media access, all of which will be huge for an event like this,” Conte says. “Each of the towns are giving us great support. It makes such a big difference to have people cheering you on and having that kind of excitement five or six times during a race.”
Look for race-day coverage provided by UROC and Competitor.com.
2013 Ultra Race Of Champions
Thursday, Sept. 26
UROC festivities kick off with an athlete meet-and-greet, a fun run led by Ian Sharman and Sage Canaday and post-run drinks and snacks at the Vertical Runner store. The event also includes the chance to test ride a pair of Scott eRide shoes. On the same day, Catalan runner Kilian Jornet will be speaking at a Salomon-sponsored event at the Boulder Running Company in Boulder.
Friday, Sept. 27
The UROC Expo and athlete packet pickup will be held at the Mountain Plaza in Vail Village. A mandatory pre-race briefing, “Meet the Elites” panel discussion and Q&A with Ian Sharman about his record-setting victory in this summer’s 2013 Grand Slam of Ultrarunning will take place from 6-8 p.m.
Saturday Sept 28
The 100K championship race starts in Breckenridge at 7 a.m. in front of Vertical Runner. The first runners are expected to reach the finish in Vail at about 3 p.m. The Uber Rock 50K and Cruxy Half Marathon will begin at 8 a.m. from Vail Village. The UROC Expo will run from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., while the 100K awards will be presented at 7 p.m.