Saturday, March 7, 2009

What Is My Future With The ITI?

Jeff Oatley has made it into McGrath as this year's ITI winner. Congratulations Jeff. I know there were a lot of people rooting for Jeff to win, especially after he was forced to give up a huge lead while waiting for a couple days for a trail over Rainy Pass.

I've spent a lot of time since Monday thinking about my plans in regard to if/when to try this race again. It's a very difficult thought process for me right now. On one hand I keep thinking that I am not going to pull the plug on this race just because I have now had two horrible attempts at it in a row. On the other hand though lies the fact that this race really isn't a "race" but more of an expedition. Perhaps I would be wise to focus on racing while I'm still able to perform at or near my highest potential and come back and tackle this one in several years when, as Paul Dewitt said, "I'm old and slow." This isn't a new thought to me. I've thought a lot about this for the past year. Last year I took up a huge chunk of my time focused on two multi-day adventure/expedition style "races" (ITI and GDR). I don't regret this at all but I do realize that had I not dropped out of both of those races early I probably would not have been able to run Miwok or Wasatch, at least not with the success that I did. If I continue to do the ITI every year it absolutely will cut into my potential in my "short" races.

The thing though about the ITI is that being out on that trail has a way of making one feel so intensely alive. I get a huge rush from almost all races I run, but only this race gets into my blood in this way. It's more than just the magnificent challenge of it, although that is a huge part of it. Also there is the simplicity of it that is so appealing. There are almost no rules. The course is not contrived to be a certain distance. You have a start point and an end point, you can take whatever path you want to get from A to B. It is certainly one of the most dangerous races in the world and there is always more you can learn about how to make it safer and more efficient. In short, this race is 100% the real deal. There is no pretense. There are no shortcuts. There is no way you will ever make it to McGrath if you don't have your shit 100% together. The fact that a few people each year go all the way to Nome is still too much for me to even comprehend.

I have a few options that I'm throwing around in my mind:

-Keep banging my head against the wall in hopes it'll finally break through.
-Put this one on the back burner until I'm "old and slow" and likely in a much better place mentally to have success in this race.
-Try it on bike next year and see where that takes me. Bikes have proven year after year to be the most efficient means of travel in this race. A successful race on bike could be a great learning experience to help me conquer it on foot.
-Take one year off to really focus on 100 milers (still could run either the susitna 100 or the arrowhead 135 to get a nice snow race in next winter) and then give this one another shot in 2011.

There are pros and cons to each of these options. I've got a lot of time to think about it. I am leaning toward one of these options right now but I'm not going to decide without taking at least several weeks to think about it and talk with some friends and fellow ITI racers about it. I'd be happy to hear some of your thoughts on it. It's of course my decision to make, but it's always helpful to hear what other people, who maybe don't have so much emotion tied up in a decision, might think.

13 comments:

Matt said...

What about racing the ITI on skis? That seems like a logical compromise.

Geoff said...

in some cases that might be a logical compromise, but i am so much stronger of a runner than skier that for me to try it on skis would only make it even less likely that i actually finish.

Evan said...

"I get a huge rush from almost all races I run, but only this race gets into my blood in this way."

Your answer to your question lies in that statement. You could focus on and win every 100 miler out there but will that give you the same sense of accomplishment?

I remember last year when you placed third at Miwok and everyone (including myself) was telling you to bag the GDR and run Western States. You ignored the peer pressure and did what you wanted to do.

Don't wait until you are "old and slow" to run the races that you want. I receive that same advice from 10kers when I tell them I run all distances but prefer ultras.

Plus if you skip the ITI next year and run the SU you will be pissed off when I kick your ass. I hate that race but I have to finish what I started. If you know what I mean.

Jill said...

Do it on a bike! At least that will keep me out of this soul-crushing race for at least one year. Although I reserve the right to use Pugsley in the Su100. My personal 2010 goal is to stay ahead of Evan (Even with the giant mukluk I'm going to have made for my right foot for when temperatures drop below 20 degrees.)

Derrick said...

ITI sounds like an incredible experience, so I can understand how it could get in your blood. Another option might be to take the year off from ITI, but run Rock and Ice Ultra instead. You'd sill get your fix of 'pulk racing' but it shouldn't take as much out of you, which would set you up nicely for the ultra season.

Anonymous said...

You said it, "making one feel so intensely alive," and, "only this race gets into my blood in this way." To me, you have clearly answered the question--Keep at it!!

Anonymous said...

I'd take your ego/goals out of the equation and do whatever is the most fun. If that's the ITI cool....if not do something else....achieving a goal without being joyful won't be a great experience.

Anonymous said...

My vote is for the Arrowhead 135. I wouldn't be surprised if you smashed the course record.

saschasdad said...

Give it a shot on the bike. You obviously are a strong rider, and love riding, plus you said that's where the most success in this race lies. I definitely think it could give you good insight for the future on foot.

Two months til Miwok...get in some good training and rock it!

Kazimer said...

The practical side of my thinking leads me to the response to recommend that you concentrate on your competitive running while you are at -or near- peak in that sport.

The ITI is an event that carries with it the potential for adverse consequences that could impact your ability to run the ultra races.

While some aspects can be anticipated & planned in the ITI, the unpredictability of it casts the danger issue no matter how well prepared.

If something negative occurred to you physically while doing the ITI during your prime racing years, I believe that would be a very tough deal that could leave many "what if's" in your life and cause a high potential for gut wrentching emotional/psychological weight.

The alternative, since there is a draw on the ITI for you, is to do it on a bike for the reason(s) you mentioned.

In addition, this would be a great opportunity to do this event with Jill.

This would serve the purpose of a strong team effort and provide great memories for both you and Jill on such a shared expedition.

Whatever you decide, enjoy the adventure.

Mongold said...

the magnificent challenge, the solitude, the danger -- all the things you love about the ITI -- are at the soul of our sport.

in no way are you wasting your "potential" in a race like this.

it's painful to see a few mainstreamers define what is "important" in the sport. the voters at Ultrarunning might not notice when you win the ITI, but do you really care? run free man.

Fonk said...

Another vote for Arrowhead 135. It's still a tough, brutally cold winter race, so offers a similar type of adventure, but is short enough that you could both:
1.) approach it as an actual race, and
2.) not worry about it taking too much out of you for the other ultra races you want to do.

Plus, finishing it would give you an extra boost of confidence the next time you toe the line at ITI.

That said, I can't even imagine running the distances you do, so who am I to say? :)

-R

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