On Saturday morning, my sisters and I crawled out of bed while it was still dark and outfitted ourselves as best we could to face the Ultra Race of Champions (UROC) half marathon in Auburn, California — an event we all decided to sign up for while drunk during Fourth of July (because that’s how we roll) and for which only one of was in any way prepared for (I’m looking at you, C.).
Although, we all knew it was going to be a hard event (the title included “ultra” and “champions,” afterall), we really had no idea what we were about to face. Warning: Strong language ahead.
We started the event just as first light was filling the sky.
The first 5 miles were joyful. Sister P. and I decided we were going to treat the UROC as a hike rather than a run, due to our lack of training. Near the beginning, we met an adorable young woman who was of the same mind as us and the three of us cavorted over the narrow trails (some only about 1.5 feet wide with a steep dropoff on one side), awed by the beauty of the trail.
Later, we would figure out that our new friend was a lifesaver, in that she had brought a water pack and an extra bottle with her, while we had not.
Although there were a few sketchy spots (such as one turn where the trail was almost entirely eroded away), we were able to keep up a good pace to the mile 5 water station.
It was shortly after this point that we came upon what came to be infamously known as Mile 6, or the Death Hill — a severely steep hill that continued at about the same incline for at least a mile. Just up, up, up and up some more.
None of us could possibly have been prepared for this hill. We suffered up it. Sometimes laughing. Mostly just groaning. Always smiling with barely concealed annoyance at every runner who passed us on the way up.
At the top, we ran into sister C., who had been running most of the event (except for the Death Hill), because she’s a badass (I love-hate her for that). She informed us that what we were participating in was not actually a half marathon. Oh, no. The race organizers changed the course at the last minute, extending it from 13.1 miles to 16.4 miles. Something no one had informed us of until it was figured out mid-race.
You would think those last three miles wouldn’t make that much of a difference, but as we continued the trail to the second water station, then back to the Death Hill and down the Death Hill (which was not really any easier going down than it was up), and on down the road into the final miles with the temperatures reaching above 90°F, I learned those itty bitty three miles made a big fucking difference.
I hit my physical limit at about mile 13.5 and kept walking, putting one foot after another over the same trails we had walked with such joy in the morning. I started to drag and fall behind, but kept going.
My mental limit began to strain at around mile 14. I could feel my exhaustion in not only my muscles, but also in the way I was breathing. I could barely stand, let alone walk.
Having come down it earlier that morning, I knew there was one final, major hill right before the last leg of the race. I was physically done, but knew I had to keep going because the trail was narrow and there was no access to the road until we made it past that final hill.
Every time I saw an incline, I thought it was the last hill and I would mentally bolster myself, thinking, Okay, this is it, just this one last asshole of a hill and then you’re almost home.
And every time, the hill went up for a short span, then leveled off into another long, sun-pounding length of trail.
At around the fifth hill fake-out of this sort, I clung to a tree and wept. My body was done. My emotions and mind were worn out. For an entire minute, I just stood there weeping with the certainty that it would never end.
I was doomed to this trail forever.
With the help of P. and our new friend, both trying to keep my morale up with encouragement and jokes, I was able to foot-by-foot make the trek up the final hill. This was mostly because I had no choice, since there was no one around who would be able to carry me out of there and just laying down in the red dirt and passing out wasn’t an option.
When we reached the tope of the finale hill, we were at about 15.5 miles. We called C., who had already finished, and she drove me to the finish line, where I walked across in order to receive my tiny-ass, crapy completion medal (which was in no way proportional to the effort and pain we just underwent). But at least I had my medal, because I earned that shit.
Sister P. and our friend finished the last mile, cheering themselves through the finish line in a burst of running and energy, because they’re awesome like that.
All told, it took P. and I seven hours to complete an event we thought would not take more than four.
Afterward, C., P., and I hobbled home, where we guzzled water, drank beer, ate some food, and passed out for an hour.
My sisters and I were glad we participated. It was an amazing experience from a sheer endurance and achievement standpoint.
None of us will be doing the UROC again.
Reasons I won’t be doing the UROC again:
- It’s bullshit to extend the mileage of the race at the last minute without notifying people in advance, but via email and at the start of the race. This was the first half marathon for sister P. and I. If we had known about the mileage change, we might not have participated.
- Although manned by smiling, happy, fun people, there were not enough water stations. Especially for the level of heat that was expected and did occur that day. Combined with the mileage extension, I’m surprised no one ended up with heat stroke.
- As far as I could tell, the organizers had no way to keep track of how many runners were still out there, no way to make sure a runner hadn’t passed out, no way to know if a runner had fallen off the side of one of the incredibly narrow trails and broken an ankle.
- It was also just too strenuous, with the combination of hills and heat.
At some point, my sisters and I will try for another half (the badass sister C. has signed up for a full marathon), properly training this time in order to run it. But it won’t be a UROC.
PS. It’s now Wednesday and my muscles are still sore.