Sunday, May 22, 2011
Thursday, May 19, 2011
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
For the first point yet this year my mindset has begun to shift toward the looming showdown at Western States coming up at the end of next month. I know for some folks this mindset begins within hours of the end of WS the previous year (think AJW), but this certainly hasn't been the case for me with this race. In fact I don't really like to approach any race where I put much of any time or energy into that race until about 6 weeks before the start. The lone exception for me in this regard has been the 2 times I've tried the Iditarod Invitational and the time I rode the Great Divide Race. My result in those three events: 3 DNFs. For me I think I end up a little burnt out (mentally) before I even start a race when I focus on one specific event for too long. I operate a lot better when my most important run is my next run and not some run several months in the future.
There's been the anonymous troll posting comments on this blog recently about Western States being "the race of my life" and how I'm crazy to be doing other "two-bit" races recently when Western States is only a couple months away. To that I say that my next race is always "the race of my life." No matter how low key and unestablished a race is, the next race I'm running is always where the majority of my focus is going to be. Right now Western States is the most important race to me, but only because it's my next race, and this has me getting more excited and focused on it than I have been all year.
The field this year looks to be even more solid than last year. The top four finishers from last year are all returning; Hal looks to be ready to be a serious factor again this year; Dave is a bit of a wild card at the 100 mile distance but I certainly know that he has the potential to win anything he lines up for; Ian Sharman showed at Rocky Raccoon that he can run with anyone in the world on a good day; Kaburaki and Bragg are both going to be back this year after a year off last year; and among rookies, both Mike Wolfe and Ryan Burch look to be in killer shape right now. Beyond these folks you have most of last year's top 15 returning plus a few other lesser known rookies who could make a little noise (Fanselow, Olmstead, and Loutitt to name a few). It's also worth mentioning that there are no fewer than 3 or 4 women who need to be talked about not just in terms of the women's race, but in terms of potential for very solid overall finishes (Greenwood, Ortiz, Semick - not sure if Kami is actually running - and Garneau to name a few). I think the women's field is so strong at the very top that if a few of them are having good days they could possibly push each other within reach of Ann Trason's "untouchable" course record. In all I think the competition for the top 15-20 places in the race will be significantly deeper than it was last year. Last year you had over a 2.5 hour gap between first and 10th place; a 3 hour gap between first and 15th place; and almost a four hour gap between first and 20th place. My guess is that all of these gaps will be significantly smaller this year. Last year there were about 35 runners who finished under 20 hours. With similar course conditions this year I wouldn't be surprised to see 50 finish under 20 hours. These are of course all hypothetical projections and it's been no secret that there is currently a ton of snow in the Sierras. Depending on what the weather does in the next 6 weeks we could easily end up with the largest amount of snowpack ever at Western States. That could throw a lot of these projections out of whack.
Anyway, back to my place in all of this. Last year I won Western States. This fact has potential to put a huge amount of pressure on me this year. So far I haven't felt too much of that pressure. I'm planning to do everything I can to have a good race, but I think a big part of this will be how relaxed and laid back I remain about the whole thing. In many ways I think my ability to do this has become one of my biggest strengths as a competitive runner. Now that Western States is creeping closer and it now is my next race, I imagine a bit of pressure (both self imposed and through other people's comments/expectations) will slowly creep in over the coming weeks. I think being back in Alaska will help with this. Up here it's really easy to just get out in the mountains and run each day, without having it feel contrived or specific to a purpose of preparing for one particular day that is still almost two months away. Certainly you can "train" in this way no matter where you live, but here in Juneau everything is kind of closed off in an idyllic little bubble, and it's pretty easy to escape the pressure, stress, and anxiety of competitive running (and of many things in life). This combined with the challenging terrain and the thriving running community makes Juneau the perfect place to prepare for a race like Western States. It's so easy here to focus on the next run rather than on a run that is still almost two months away.
As another way of avoiding putting too much focus on Western States I am pretty certain I am going to run the race with no pacer(s) and with minimal or no crew. I think there are benefits to having a pacer and a crew, but I also think that in many cases the extra stress of logistics and preparation that goes into planning all of this can be as much a detriment as it can be a benefit. Especially in a race like Western States where the aid stations or so well stocked and run, and where your crew can really only get to you at 4 or 5 points on the course anyway. I think it was very beneficial to have Dave out there pacing me last year, but that was last year, and that was my experience of that race. This year I want to experience Western States as more of a solo thing and I don't think this will necessarily have a negative effect on my performance potential. It will just be different. And certainly I have had plenty of experience racing long hard races without pacers. Of the eight 100 mile races I've run I've had a pacer with me for about 35 total miles.
At any rate Western States should be a really exciting event to be a part of again this year. It's been fun and exciting to start thinking about it a bit more in the past several days. But it's also really fun and exciting to be back here in Juneau where there are so many enticing places to run that I'm much more excited about where I'm going to run tomorrow than any runs I have planned in the future.
Posted by Geoff at 9:58 AM
Saturday, May 7, 2011
The combination of our first really warm weather here in the front range and the fact that I'm leaving on Monday to head up to Alaska for "the summer" has me feeling for the first time yet this year like Spring is winding up and Summer is just around the corner.
Historically Summer has never been my favorite month. The heat doesn't bother me too much, but certainly I prefer 50 degrees to 90 degrees. In the cold you can always put on more clothes and stay warm, but if it gets too hot out there just isn't much you can do to avoid the heat if you want to be outside.
Since moving to Alaska 6 years ago though my perspective on Summer has changed a lot. In Juneau it rarely gets over 75 degrees. Beginning sometime in April and continuing until sometime in September the high temperature is between 50 and 75 almost every single day. Perfect temperature as far as I'm concerned. Sure it rains a lot, and sure the winter's can be pretty dark and miserable, but there are few places I have ever been where the temperature is as ideal for 6 straight months as it is in Juneau from April to September.
It's a little over 80 in Boulder today and I can't help but feel like I'm getting out of here just in time before the real heat sets in. Sure, it's only supposed to be about 50 and raining when I touch down in Juneau on Monday, but for running 20+ hours of rugged mountain terrain each week I'd take 50 over 80 in a heartbeat. The rain might take a little while to get reacquainted with (it's rained maybe 3 times in the 8+ months that we've been in Colorado), but even the rain this time of year in Juneau has a way of feeling gentle and comforting.
Posted by Geoff at 10:43 AM
Sunday, May 1, 2011
My race report from The Santa Barbara Endurance Race 100 miler this past weekend has more to do with the months, weeks, days, hours, and minutes leading up to the race than it does with the race itself. I decided to run this race a few months ago. Initially I was drawn to it by the course which was supposed to have about 36k of vertical, and by the prize money that the race was offering for a sub 24 hour finish. Potential to get paid good prize money while running in steep rugged mountains all day seemed like a good idea to me.
A little over two weeks ago though I got a call from the race director saying that the recent rains which have been putting stress on races all over California were threatening to end this event. The Forest Service pulled their approval on nearly all the trails in the area and the only options to still have a race would include a lot of road and/or a lot of loops or short out and backs. None of these options sounded too appealing, but I could tell that he really wanted to be able to pull this one off even if it were compromised because of the weather. After talking with the RD I decided that I would trust him to come up with the best course he could and give it a go, hoping that he could come up with something still pretty sweet to run. To his credit, he came up with about the most enjoyable course you could imagine without using hardly any trail. It ended up being almost all road but these were small, hilly, winding roads way up in the mountains. After just a few hours I forgot all together that we were on roads most of the day. In many ways I felt like I was running along mountain ridges up in Juneau, only difference being that instead of a goat trail, there was a small road, or jeep doubletrack running along the ridge. The scenery was as amazing as any I've ever seen for a full 100 miles.
So Friday morning I found myself at the race and ready to roll. This was to be a small race. 25 or so runners in the 100 mile. Before we set off on our journey we all gathered in a circle for a blessing led by a local Chumash Elder. This was one of my favorite parts of a really enjoyable weekend. He spoke of (among other things) running for a cause, for a cause of compassion. Compassion for the land and thus compassion for everyone since we are all part of the land. This compassion is a huge part of why I feel so drawn to running out in the mountains and through beautiful and wild places. I think a lot of us run for these reasons, but it was really cool to have this recognized and encouraged just moments before starting on our journey. This experience alone made this a wonderful and worthwhile event. I remember feeling 5 minutes into the race that I was already fully satisfied, and that I could twist my ankle right then and drop out of the race and it would all still be worth it.
But from here it just kept getting better. I got to run all day. I felt really relaxed and really content pretty much all day. I didn't run very hard, but I never really slowed down either. I took a lot of time at aid stations. Not because I needed to, but because everyone was so friendly and fun to talk with that I didn't want to leave.
There was this guy Scott who ran with me for most of the first half of the race. It was really nice to have the company for the first half and then get to run the second half on my own. I found out later that Scott had to drop at mile 91. Hopefully he's not too bummed about it because he is one of those runners who just seems to understand mountain/ultra running, even though this was his first official ultra. I think he hit the 50 mile turnaround in about 8:25, so watch out if you run up against this guy in a race.
Pretty much the only thing that went wrong for me was that I started to feel a little pain in my left calf at about mile 45. I was able to manage it for the 9 or so hours that it took me to finish from there. It never hurt too bad, but it was always nagging me a bit. It's certainly a little tender today so I might need a little extra recovery time from this race. We'll see.
Overall this event was one of the most enjoyable I have ever taken part in. There were a lot of runners that were skeptical about this race because of some of the difficulties they have had in getting to this point. I think we all started not quite knowing what to expect, but I think every runner I talked to after the race was really stoked to have been a part of this event. Robert Gilcrest (the RD) has a passion for his event and the people that take part in his event that is really rare and really special. He also has a vulnerability and rawness to his personality that makes him really enjoyable to be around. You can't help but want to see him and his event succeed. If you are interested in this event, but have not done it because it's so new and it's had a tough couple years really getting off the ground I highly recommend giving it a try. It's not going to be the most organized event you ever do (although it was actually very well organized in the areas that really matter), but it might just be one of the most enjoyable you ever do. Hopefully the weather will allow for the use of the original course next year, but even with the last minute course changes this was a hidden gem of a race. Not sure yet what my racing schedule will look like next year, but I'm certainly hoping to be able to fit this one into the mix again in the near future.
Posted by Geoff at 11:53 AM