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July 03 2013 / Emily

Race Report: Ultimate Runner 2013

Third time is a charm!

You don’t often think of temperatures in the low 80s being great running weather, but for Ultimate Runner, it sure was a treat.  The high in Winston-Salem on Saturday was only 84° and humidity was moderate.  Compared to the 100° heat last year (2012 Ultimate Runner race report) it felt positively mild.

Can I take a timeout to share how excited I am to find Weather Underground’s history feature?  I’ve been wishing something like this existed and finally was able to locate it.  It shows actual recorded temperatures for dates in the past.  I knew it was mid-80s on Saturday but this site can now confirm the details.  Maybe everyone else already knew about this but I was in the dark.

Anyway.  Saturday was a blast and I was barely even prepared for it.  Naturally that leaves me wishing even more that I had prepared well because I could have improved even more.  I visited the track twice to train for Ultimate Runner (UR).  Both visits were for the Twin City Track Club’s Summer Track Series, which is a weekly practice run for UR, held each Wednesday in June leading up to the race.

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front chest of finisher shirt

These workouts, open to everyone, were divided into two heats for the main events, basically just “fast” and “everyone else.”  It was similar to the actual race day, with 1 mile, 400 meters, 800 meters, and 100 meters.  The main deviation is the Summer Track Series ended with a 2 mile cross-country jaunt instead of the full 5k on race day.  I attended two of these workouts, and didn’t even complete them both as I worked late for the first and didn’t arrive in time for the mile.

Getting back to Ultimate Runner race day.  The 4:30pm start time means food consumption can’t be quite the same as a normal race when I’m eating breakfast in the dark to get out somewhere for sunrise.  I took full advantage of the uncommon opportunity to to nix the alarm and totally sleep in on the day of a race!  By the time I rolled out of bed for good, having lazed horizontally with my book and my iPad for a couple hours, it was after 11:00am.  I opted to eat lunch instead of breakfast, and had a turkey sandwich, carrots and an apple.  I probably could have had more but it felt like enough at the time.

I packed up my things and drove the ~2 miles to the park for the race.  The last two years I was living closer, so this is the first time I remembered I had to worry about parking.  Fortunately I was able to find a space easily.  Set up with Steve from Steve’s House of Running and his girlfriend in a shady spot in the infield of the track.  He had a cooler with water and Gatorade to share, and we all had chairs.  I had a number of other friends participating, and people were spread all over.

Decided on an easy mile to warm up on the track, though warming up almost seems pointless when there are five heats of the mile to wait through before my turn.  There were 103 participants, 101 of whom finished all five events.  The runners are divided into 8 heats of varied sizes based on self-reported mile seed times.  I was in heat 6 of 8 with a projected mile of 6:55.  There were 13 of us in the heat, with times ranging from 6:45-7:15.  I was seeded at 76.

After the traditional opening ceremony, with the National Anthem played and race instructions given, it was time to recite the UR poem and scatter the ashes of last year’s unearned t-shirts.  2012 was a cotton shirt, so the ashes were actually sort of ashy and clumpy, as compared to the 2012 ceremony where 2011’s tech shirt “ashes” were just sort of pellets.  You read that right – they burn the shirts of any participant who fails to complete all five events.

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Opening Ceremony

Time for the mile!  Well… time to watch the first heat of super fasties run the mile, then sit down for 20+ minutes until my heat is called.

1 mile. 6:51.3. 74th place.

I’ll be honest.  Even in my third year of this event, I still don’t really know the proper strategies for running fast.  In most of my running, there is plenty of time to make up for some incorrect pacing.  The 5k is the shortest distance I race, besides these short bits during Ultimate Runner, and there is time to adjust on the fly.

But here I am, toeing the start line with just 12 other people, really wanting not to finish last in the heat.  I keep hoping that the other runners are more experienced in pacing for these short distances, and just follow their lead.  But BAM! when the gun goes off they explode ahead.  I can’t keep up.  I’m not in the back, but I’m close to it.  Suddenly 1 mile, which seems so short during a half or full marathon, is silly long.  FOUR laps?  I just try to maintain for the first 2 laps, then approaching the end of my third lap I’m thinking jeez Em you have to go around another time.  Breathe.  On the last lap I pick a few people off gradually as I’m picking up and they aren’t.  I pass the only other lady in my heat in the final straightaway.  Feel a little bad about that.  Beyond the finish line, she asks me how old I am.  I wonder what she thought?  Does being 28 mean I’m more likely to beat her?  (Results show she is 50.)

As each runner crosses the finish line, the emcee does his best to announce our names.  Some ladies I met during the Summer Track Series workouts are waiting in the finishing area, watching the runners, and they come over to me.  One is concerned.  “Did they pronounce your name wrong???”  Ha.  They did not.  These folks know me a little by now, so the awkwardness of “Hoar” has faded and they say it confidently.  Always a favorite moment at the race though.  Nobody wants to say “whore” because surely that’s not right?

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My heat preparing for one of the events

400 meters. 81.3. 75th place.

400 meters.  Just one loop.  This one is so fun to watch the fastest heats do.  It is also where you can start to see strengths and weaknesses.  Like the guy in my heat, who ran a 7:28 mile, absolutely blitz the rest of us with 56.8 second 400m, good for 10th place overall.  Built for short distance speed.

But yeah that short distance speed.  How does it work?  One guy in an early heat said he was boxed out at the start so he could never find his groove and run his best.  I’m not used to this.  No room for missteps.  Some people say 400 meters is a sprint.  But 100 meters is a sprint.  I can’t run that fast four times.

Again, just trying to hold on.  Our speedster blazes out and I just try not to explode.  Hang with a few people and again pass a fellow runner in the last stretch.  Wait, then I’m passed by the blind runner and his guide runner.  I was surprised to hear so many footsteps behind me but it makes sense since they are tethered together.  Two full size men and I can’t do a darn thing to catch them.   I’m wheezing.  Why did I think mid-80s was pleasant?  I remember that one time in high school field hockey where I had some sort of asthma attack even though I don’t have asthma.

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Approaching the finish line

800 meters. 3:13.2. 73rd place.

Same thing, twice.  At the start of each event, I declare it the worst event.  How do you pace this one?  Again, can’t sprint the whole thing because 100m is a sprint and apparently so is 400m.  So this is less sprint.  I’ll call it a spri.  Spri my way through this one.  Catch the 400m speed demon in the final straight away and expect him to push it when I appear over his shoulder, but he either doesn’t have anything left or just doesn’t care.

This is the only event where I under perform compared to 2012.  Given it was a million degrees that day, I have to wonder what kind of roller skates I managed to sneak in last year.  Funny, I don’t remember.  Somewhere in here, post race of course, I eat a Clif Shot that I’d tossed into my bag before leaving the house.  Needed a few calories.  Having clarified that I didn’t eat a gel during an 800 meter race, I’m now picturing it.  That would be pretty ridiculous.  And to think I raised my eyebrows at the gentleman wearing his iPod during the 800m (no offense, it just seems… unnecessary).

Photo by Robert Hill, race photographer

Photo by Robert Hill, race photographer
… I am clearly still a heel-striker.

100 meters. 17.04. 79th place.

Ah here it is, that all-out sprint.  People change into track spikes.  I’m not that fancy.  This one is split into many more heats, only 6 runners per heat – one per lane.  No fighting for the inside track, just running in a straight line.  Super duper fast, pumping your arms like crazy, being acutely aware of the terrible things the air is doing to your face… fun!  Knowing Usain Bolt could do the worm for 100m and probably still beat me.

Actually it was incredible to watch the fastest guys do this one too.  Winner ran it in 11.45 seconds.  Bolt’s world/Olympic record is 9.58.  Almost two seconds, which is like an eternity in 100m.  And the UR 11.45 guy was just incredible to watch in person.  If I were given the opportunity to see Bolt, I’d probably sneeze at just the wrong time and miss it entirely.  My three-sneeze cycle is probably longer than 9.58 seconds.  Gosh, I’m now absurdly thankful that I didn’t sneeze during the 100m.  I’d probably have broken a leg.

It was fairly incredible this year – I actually beat two people in my heat.  The last two years I was by far the slowest in my heat.  My time was just 0.6 seconds faster but I guess that was significant enough with this year’s competition.

5000 meters. 27:31. 69th place.

At this point I’m laughing at myself for saying I “held on” in previous events.  Itty bitty short events.  It’s funny on a day like this where 5k is crazy distance.  I mean I’m signed up to run 50 miles in the fall – that is a hair over 80 kilometers – and I’m struggling here with 5 kilometers.  But really, it’s getting late, I’ve taken in one gel and half a bottle of Gatorade throughout the day and I’m just really looking forward to the beer waiting for me at the post-race party.  The sooner I finish the 5k, the better.  The course is a double loop on the cross country trail.  The worst part is running under a bridge where the ground is all sand for about 15 feet.  It’s dark under there and footing is terrible in the sand.  Nothing you’re going to fall down on, but still not my fave.  I’m familiar with the course at least.

There are a number of sharp turns along the way.  Not a course built for speed especially when it is like 4 hours after the start of the event and everyone is just tired.  It is well marked and there are plenty of volunteers along the way to keep us from veering off course.  It finishes with a lap and a half on the track, to finish at the same place we’ve been finishing all day.  I pass a runner or two on the track section, and manage to finish below 28 minutes.  Very pleased with that, all things considered.

I am Ultimate!

End of the evening – I am Ultimate!

For the third year in a row, I am an Ultimate Runner.  I like adding qualifiers to my running self.  It’s like letters after your name.  I don’t have an MBA or MD or PhD or anything, so I’ll take what I can get.

I gave myself a quick wipe-down with a washcloth, changed my shirt, and headed over to Bob’s Big Gas Subs and Pub for the after party.  Just a short walk!  Grabbed a table with some friends, and we headed to the food lines.  Great platters of sandwiches, along with fruit salad, pasta salad, potato salad and chocolate chip cookies.  Oh and don’t forget the free-flowing Coors!

Photo by Robert Hill, race photographer.

Photo by Robert Hill, race photographer.

At this event, each finisher is individually called up to receive his or her t-shirt.  It seems to be in approximate reverse finishing order.  There’s a handshake and usually questions about if you’re a first-timer or veteran, and if you will be returning.  I’m finding this a great tradition and see no reason why my third will be my last.  For 2013, they returned to technical t-shirts.  It is a pale gold shirt, which I believe is a unique color in my running wardrobe.  I’ll take it!

I was seeded 76th overall and finished in 76th place.  Good seeding, guys.  Here are my performances as compared to the previous two years.  Mostly moving the right direction.

  2011 2012 2013
1 mile 6:55.0 6:59.9 6:51.3
400 m 81.7 82.1 81.3
800 m 3:18.9 3:12.1 3:13.2
100 m 17.6 17.6 17.04
5k 28:01 28:19 27:31

Ultimate Runner, I’ll be back!  Maybe next time, I’ll be Ultimately Prepared!

back of the shirt

back of the shirt

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9 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. Gene / Jul 3 2013 8:38 PM

    Great job Emily! Those sprint distances are scary! Give me an ultra any day!

    • Emily / Jul 5 2013 9:25 AM

      thank you! the sprints are definitely a whole different ballgame than marathons and ultras!

  2. Paul Starling / Jul 3 2013 9:44 PM

    Another good write-up Emily. Sounds like a very fascinating event! Very grueling especially in the summer heat and humidity.

    • Emily / Jul 5 2013 9:26 AM

      thanks Paul! It is certainly a unique race. The weather adds another layer of challenge. This past winter there was an Indoor Ultimate Runner at a indoor track, which I didn’t participate in, but that would be interesting to see how different times could be at a controlled temperature.

  3. Dana / Jul 4 2013 4:12 PM

    You are hilarious! i was laughing out loud to “bringing roller skates in last year”. awesome post and great times for the races!

    • Emily / Jul 5 2013 9:27 AM

      hehe I’m glad you enjoyed. 🙂 Wish you could have been out there with me this year! and thanks!

  4. Nathan Maxwell / Jul 4 2013 11:50 PM

    Great job girl!!!! This sounds like an excellent event, I’d love to do it one day!

    • Emily / Jul 5 2013 9:27 AM

      thank you! it really is a fun one, you should consider for next summer. It does sell out every year.

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