Friday, December 30, 2011

Changing Things Up A Bit

It's been an interesting month for me. After the North Face 50 I began running again almost right away. I spent a week in Juneau shortly after that race and ran everyday while I was there, including some pretty long runs. I was feeling good and felt like I had recovered amazingly quickly from the race, especially considering how late in the year this race is. I figured the time that I had taken off in September and October made this more like a typical spring time race than an end of the season race.

And then I came back to Colorado. And almost right away I felt exhausted. I did some really easy slow runs and felt even more tired out. Finally I decided that my body and my mind were both in need of some more serious time off. The entire second half of this year I would respond pretty well to down time, but the "good times" would only last for a few weeks, and then I would feel the need for prolonged rest again. In the past I have had this same cycle, but the "good times" would usually last for 8 or 10 months. The second half of this year they have lasted 3 or 4 weeks at best. When I've rested my body has responded very well, but only for a short period of time. When I've rested for a week I've gotten maybe 2 weeks of feeling good in return. When I've rested for a couple weeks I've gotten about a month (at best) of feeling good. This rate of return on rest has been about 15-20% of what I've typically received in the past.

This experience has led me to the decision that I'm going to take the entire winter off from running. My hope is that 3 or 4 months off will reset things and allow me to get back to a place of being able to get more return on my rest.

Initially I thought I would take the winter completely off from much of any physical activity, including giving up on the plan of tackling The Iditarod Trail Invitational in late February. After sitting with this plan for a few days though, I decided instead that I'm going to take the winter off from everyday running, but I will still plan to get out most everyday doing very low intensity nordic skiing, snowshoeing, hiking, winter camping, or the occasional mellow run (when conditions are not suitable for other activities, or when I'm travelling to warmer places that don't offer these "snowsports" options).

As I thought more about this plan I still found myself thinking a lot about the Iditarod Invitational. In the past I approached this event from a running perspective, thinking of it simply as a really long run. Over time I've come to think that this isn't really the best way to approach this event. Really it is much more of an adventure, a journey, and on some levels a pilgrimage. And thus I've decided that I'm still going to take a shot at the ITI, even in the midst of taking the winter "off" from running. My "training" will be focused much more on the mental and logistical aspects of this event than on the physical aspects. Rather than trying to get myself through the 350 miles by being in the best possible physical shape, I will try to get myself through the 350 miles by being comfortable with my gear, comfortable with the immensity of the journey, and prepared to best be able to deal with any challenge that will arise while out there. Previously I tackled this event with a plan to try to move quickly. I never had time goals in mind, but the mindset that I went into this event with was very much a racing mindset. Once we started my primary goal was to get to McGrath as quickly as possible. This time around my mindset is going to be very much to have the most satisfying journey possible, even if this ends up being several days slower than I feel like I could do this route.

Perhaps this is a crazy approach. I'm not sure there is a whole lot of logic in tackling one of the most difficult physical challenges in my life at somewhere well below my best physical shape. Then again this could all very well be a blessing in disguise. This could be just the dynamic I need to have the journey that I'm hoping to have out there.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Steamboat In September?

I'm sure by now most readers of this blog have read about the new 100 mile race in Steamboat Springs next September. If this is new to you then check out the website here: Run Rabbit Run 100. Also, you might want to check out all the "chatter" about the race over on Irunfar.

To me this race is another obvious and expected step in the evolution of ultramarathon racing that I have talked about numerous times on this blog in the past couple years. I don't need to go into all the nuances of prize money/championships/commercialism in the sport. I have been down all of these roads, and my ideas here aren't really much different than I've expressed in the past.

I will however go into a few of the things that come to mind with the emergence of this race: I have stated numerous times (both here and in other publications) that I think the demand for these types of events (due in large part by the huge growth in the popularity of the sport in the past few years, a growth which has shown no sign of slowing down anytime soon) makes the emergence of these races inevitable. For the better part of two years now the question in my mind has not been, are more prize money/high competition type events coming to the sport, but rather, what are they going to look like when they get here? Even more importantly, what should they look like? To my delight the RRR100 gets just about everything "right." If you look back at this post that I wrote almost a year ago, outlining the things I see as crucial to doing an event like this "right" I think it's easy to see why I'm excited about this new race. To some degree this race satisfies each thing I laid out as important for a race like this to thrive.

With the North Face 50 and UROC, the RRR100 now makes three ultras in this country with $10k or more in prize money. To me the prize money isn't the exciting thing though. The exciting thing to me are the number of races in existence now that are pretty much guaranteed to have very high competition year in and year out. It is now possible, if one desires, to run 5 or 6 races a year in which you can pretty much be certain you are going to be racing against dozens of top runners from around the world. In my mind this is something that is new to the sport. Even just a few years ago there were years when top level runners would end up unintentionally "cherry picking" some of the most "competitive" races in the sport. Often times races would only be 3 or 4 runners deep (in terms of runners who had a legitimate shot at winning the race), and if one or two of them got injured before the race you suddenly had folks winning some of the biggest races in the sport by 2 or 3 hours. Now, if you want to run a high competition race and you choose to line up for WS, UTMB, RRR100, UROC, NF50, etc, you can pretty much be guaranteed that you are going to be running against 10+ legitimate top level runners.

Many might ask, what about the 99% of runners who aren't competing at the very front of these types of races? To me this is the beauty of the current dynamic: there is growth in the options for anyone and everyone right now. Not only do all of these mentioned races have a very specific desire/plan to provide a positive race experience for all runners in the field, but for every one of these higher competition races that is emerging there are dozens of grassroots/low profile events that are emerging. Add to this the number of "old classics" that seem to be very dedicated to keeping things more or less the same as they have been for years, and it all adds up to a terribly exciting time to be involved in this sport, no matter what you're looking to get out of it. If you're looking to kick it old school there are more options than ever, and if you're looking to run against as much competition as possible you can have those options too.

To me the only question I have about RRR100 is whether the timing of it (two weeks before UROC) will be a hindrance to either (or both) of the races? I think there is room in the sport for even more of these types of races, but I'm not sure having 2 of them in the same month is the best scenario. I know that RRR100 didn't want to conflict so directly with an existing race with a somewhat similar vision, but apparently September was pretty much the only time they could make it happen in Steamboat. I for one am hoping to run both races (although UROC will have to be a "wait and see how I feel race"), but I do imagine these two races so close together will be working a little bit against each other. Hopefully going forward after 2012 there can be some scheduling adjustments to one (or both) of these races to space them out a little more optimally.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

One Of Those Perfect Days

I'm back in Colorado now after a week in Juneau. I've written numerous times in the past about how much I love Juneau. This trip did nothing but further reinforce my love for the Juneau community and the land surrounding the area. It's easy for a place to feel like "home" when it is the place you are spending most of your time, but when a place that you are only spending 3 or 4 months a year (as I currently am with Juneau), feels so much like home the minute you fly into town, I think that is a good indication of a more permanent and definitive "home."

My visit was pretty typical for the first 2 days: seeing friends, wandering around town, getting reacquainted with the nuances, heading out onto the quick access trails for short runs, and generally just easing back into the unique experience that is life in Juneau. By my third day in town though I was getting the bug to really re-connect with the mountains. I was feeling pretty much 100% recovered from my recent race effort, and the forecast was for a pretty decent day of weather. Around 9am that day my friend Dan and I started up into the mountains with our snowshoes and enough food/water to be out most of the day. Despite the forecast for some afternoon sun, the morning was typical Juneau December weather: cloudy, drizzly, breezy, and really quite dreary. Things however began to dry up and calm down as we went higher. Eventually, as we rose above 2,500 ft, the air became eerily calm and gradually clear. We had climbed above the clouds into one of the most beautiful landscapes I have ever seen anywhere in the world. This combined with the amazingly firm and stable snow conditions made for one of the most inspiring and satisfying runs I have ever been on. I think I'll just let these photos paint the rest of the picture, lest my words diminish something which felt almost too perfect to be put into words:

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Vegas Baby!

If the idea of a weekend of trail running with a few of the top ultrarunners in the country, likely on dry trails, in warm sunny weather, in the middle of the Winter sounds almost too good to be true, check this out. It might be just what you need to kick start your 2012 season. I know I'm looking forward to it.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pretty Tough End To A Pretty Tough Season

Going into the NF 50 this past weekend I felt quite confident that I was in good shape and would have a great shot at competing near the front of the pack for the entire day. I had no idea if I would actually be able to win this thing, but I felt pretty certain that I would be able to give it a great shot, and be a factor late into the race. And nothing in the first 20 miles made me feel any less confident. I felt very comfortable all the way through Pan Toll. I was climbing really effortlessly and felt very relaxed. My stomach didn't feel great, but I was able to get just enough calories and water in to keep moving with the lead pack without too much concern. The pace was pretty fast, but to me didn't feel much different than the pace at the front each of the previous 3 years in this race. In fact I think the pace at the very front in the first half of the race was a little slower this year than last year.

Despite feeling so comfortable early on though, it didn't last for me. By the half way point of the race I was feeling very low on energy and falling off the pace a bit. I tried to slow enough to be able to get in more calories (25 miles into the race I had only eaten 400 calories) and water without falling too far out of touch with the leaders. I wasn't though ever able to pull it back together enough to get back in contention for the win. I was able to hold things together enough to keep moving at a decent pace and finish pretty strong in 5th place. My time was about the same as it's been each of the past two years, but this is misleading as the course was at least 20 (and perhaps more like 30) minutes faster than last year (due to some course changes which made the course a couple miles shorter, with a bit less vertical gain, and less technical than last year).

In the end it was a fun day of running, and I made the best of not having as much pep in the second half of the race as I had hoped, but it was certainly disappointing to not have the opportunity to battle with the leaders to the very end. It would have been really fun to battle more with Mike, Dakota, Adam, and Tim who all finished well ahead of me. To me there's nothing more enjoyable then being right in the mix of a serious battle for the win in a big race like this... especially if the battle is with folks who I like and respect as much as all 4 of these guys who finished ahead of me.

I can't help but think about the parallel between this race and my entire running season of 2011. They both started out very smooth and comfortable, with me in a very confident place with my running. But suddenly near the midway point things took a pretty distinct downward spin in which I inexplicably just didn't feel very much strength in my body. In both cases I was able to stay positive, and keep having lots of fun, and keep moving forward, but never quite turn things all the way back around to the place I ultimately want to be physically. Despite this though, I certainly relish the challenge of moving forward from here into 2012. For almost 3 years, racing ultras very effectively was something I almost took for granted. I had so much confidence that I felt like I should pretty much win any race I entered (and I almost always did). The second half of this season has flipped that completely around though. Having really effective races every time out almost feels impossible now, but is certainly a place I'm excited to work to try to get back to in 2012 and beyond.