I got some great feedback last week on my post about rest and recovery. I think I could probably write a book long response to the comments on that post. To those of you that didn't check out those comments I highly recommend it as they contained some very insightful perspective from several highly talented endurance athletes.
I won't be too long winded in my response, but I do want to further discuss one of the points that Wynn brought up - namely the idea that (for him at least) it is important to limit the amount of racing done in a season to about 3-5 races. In principal I agree with this completely. I feel like anything more than that likely begins to limit our physical performance potential because sooner or later as you increase your race load you get to the point that you're spending so much time either tapering for or recovering from a race that there just isn't enough time left between races to train.
In 2006 Karl Meltzer won six 100 mile races! That was the first year that I ever ran a race longer than 8 miles and I remember thinking how crazy it seemed that he ran that many 100 mile races in one year. The fact that he won that many just made it that much more insane in my mind. Two years later though and this doesn't seem insane to me anymore. Amazingly impressive yes, but after this year in which I have spent over 280 hours racing (and over 350 hours if I add in sleeping time in the midst of multi day races) a heavy race load doesn't seem insane to me anymore, but rather it seems kind of essential.
So how do I, in my mind, bridge this gap between the idea that more than 3-5 races is "too many" and the fact that I have done way more than that this year and fully intend to do more than that next year? The way I see it is that science is only so much of the equation of achieving our peak performance. As important (or more) as the science is the motivation that we have in our practicing and racing. (i.e. the mental aspect as opposed to the physical)
When I began running ultras a couple years ago I could (and needed to) remain very focused on an upcoming event for at least 2 or 3 months and then take almost a month off after the event before beginning the process again. As I've become more experienced though I find that my fitness baseline is so much higher than it used to be that I can prepare for (and recover from) races in much less time. And this is where the mental aspect comes into play: I have always been one who needs a planned performance ahead of me to enjoy my training and to be consistent in my training. Now that my body has learned to prepare for races in about half the time and to recover from them in just a few days (excluding multi day races) I feel that it is bad for my mind to take more than a couple months (at the absolute most) between races. More time than that is more than my body needs to be ready and is therefore too much time for my mind to stay fully focused on my training.
It's basically a Catch-22 situation in which I know it's not physically ideal to race an ultra once every month or two, but if I race much less than that my mental focus will waver creating a situation in which it will take me twice as long to get into the shape I want to be in on race day. In other words I feel like it's a choice of either racing once every 6 weeks or so, thus remaining physically and mentally sharp, or racing about half that much and therefore losing this sharpness and needing about twice as much time to prepare for each race. Either option puts me at the same place on race day, but the first one allows me to race twice as often so that's the one I'm sticking with for now.