Tuesday, November 30, 2010

The Closest I'll Come To Making A Prediction About This Weekend

On the surface the race in Marin this weekend looks a lot like Western States. When you look at most of the pre-race chatter about the men's race the talk is dominated by a "Big 4." The strange thing is how similar the "Big 4" are to what they were at Western States. In each case you have a 2 time former race champion (Koerner and Steidl), a foreign phenom (Jornet and Wyatt), and then Tony and I playing the part of Tony and I.

This is all on the surface though. Below the surface there are 2 major differences between this one and Western States. The largest of these being that it still remains to be seen how many of these "Big 4" actually toe the line on race day. Rumors are flying and it's seeming more and more likely that it will be fewer than 4. The other major difference is the strength of the runners behind these four. To take nothing away from any of the top level runners that ran Western States this year, it was much more clear at Western States that one of "the 4" was almost certain to win the race.

This weekend is much different than that though. Even if these four that are being talked about the most all show up it's not a given that one of us will walk away with the $10k. Mackey, Skaggs, Lundstrom, Heras, Mallarde, Bragg (to name just a few) could all contend for the win.

In my mind Dave should be included with Tony, Uli, Jonathan, and I as part of a big 5. He has probably won more 50 mile trail races than the rest of us combined and has more experience/knowledge on the trails in Marin than any of us. I think some people are uncertain as to what kind of shape he is in right now since he hasn't raced much in the past 18 months. I've run with Dave enough in the past two months to know that his current fitness is not at all in question.

Beyond these guys I've named there are at least a dozen other runners who could have a good day and claw their way onto a podium spot (especially if some of the front guys don't start or don't finish).

Western States was a very competitive race for sure but the depth of the elite runner's in this race is (in my mind) at least double what it was at WS. Many of the top runners will not finish, but there are so many strong runners toeing the line that there are likely to be guys finishing out of the top 10 who are used to battling for the win in most every race they run. It doesn't get any more exciting than that. I just hope that none of the rumors I'm hearing are true and everyone is there and ready to race Saturday.

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Need For Speed?

I ran about one mile fast today. I don't run fast in my training very often but usually in the 10 days or so before races I will do some short tempo stuff to keep my legs turning over as I rest more and more to get ready for a race.

Running fast for a bit got me thinking about speed training and raw speed capability and how or if they apply much at all to ultra running success. I was thinking of the upcoming 50 mile showdown this coming weekend in Marin and was wondering if the eventual winner of the race would finish in the top 10 if the race were a 10k instead of 50 miles? Or even a marathon compared to 50 miles? In each of these cases I am fairly certain there would be a huge shake up in where various front of the pack runners would finish.

The interesting question to me is why is this the case? Is it primarily that each runner has a certain distance or style of running (flat, hilly, technical, etc) that they naturally excel at or do certain runners do a better job of figuring out how to adapt to a certain distance or style of running? I guess in reality it's probably a little bit of both. I've known more than a few runners who would say it's almost entirely the former reason and that the later has almost no relevance. I disagree strongly with this. I think the reason there are dozens of sub 2:30 marathoners out there who have had a hard time finding their groove in 50 and 100 mile trail races isn't simply because they aren't suited for longer distances, but more so because they have too much of an idea of how to train for running marathons. That is to say that they get caught up thinking that training for a 50 or 100 miler is quite similar to training for a marathon. A handful of fast marathoners have been able to fake it up to 50 miles, but for every one of these there are several who get to mile 30 or 35 in their first 50 and are completely fried. At that point all the leg speed in the world aint gonna do much of anything for you.

How then does one prepare their body (and mind) to race well for a full 50 or 100 miles? There are a lot of potential answers to this question, but in my mind the most important answer is to let go of the idea that we need to focus in our training on improving our leg speed. Racing 50 or 100 miles is about strength and endurance. It's about nutrition and hydration. It's about patience, stubbornness, and determination. It's about a lot of things, but it's really not much about leg speed. Sure there are great ultra runners with great shorter distance speed, but there are also great ultra runners with mediocre (at best) shorter distance speed. The fact that Tony K's 5k PR is about 16:30 should be all the proof one needs on this point. In nearly every ultra he runs he beats dozens of runners who would beat him if the race were a 5k. Why? Take a look at his training. He runs a ton and he runs uphill on rugged trails. He does more in training to build his strength and endurance than anyone I've ever known of. And more importantly he does more or less nothing in his training to build his leg speed. Or take me as another example. I'm blessed with a bit more leg speed than Tony, but it was when I stopped thinking that I needed to try to sharpen and hone this leg speed that I began to have the high level of success in ultras that I've had over the past 20 months.

This isn't to say that you can't be successful at ultras if you do speed work in your training, but I do believe that doing speed work in training for 50 and 100 mile races (especially hilly, technical ones) does nothing to make us "faster" on race day, and in most cases probably makes us slower because it uses up time and energy in training that could be better spent increasing our strength and endurance.

This entire conversation reminds me of a run I was on about 5 weeks ago with some folks here in Colorado. We ran from my house and we run up. As we climbed the snow got pretty deep. Eventually we were just trudging through knee deep snow, higher and higher into the mountains. It was a fun group of runners and no one was complaining about the conditions, but I do remember Dakota saying at one point that although he was enjoying the hike up through the snow, he didn't really imagine that any of this was going to be very beneficial come December 4th in Marin. Well Dakota was 19 (a very wise 19) then, and I'm sure he'll figure out soon enough the value in the strength and endurance one builds from moving uphill, at a steady pace, through knee deep snow. Luckily for me most strong runners who come from a road marathon background never take the time or have the patience to figure this out.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Quiet And Dark

Had a great Thanksgiving getaway out to Western Colorado. We spent 3 days at a friend's ranch in middle of nowhere outside of Meeker, CO. The silence and the true darkness at night was wonderful and refreshing. I love where I'm living in Nederland, but our cabin is close to a busy highway and there is always some light pollution from town. I've spent a lot of time in places that are completely silent and completely free of artificial light, but I've never lived anywhere like this. Our trip out to Meeker reminded me of how much I want to live somewhere like this at some point in my life, preferably sometime fairly soon.

I'm not even sure just what it is but there is something that feels really healthy to me about being somewhere out of sight and out of sound of others. I love having a community around me and I value a lot of the benefits of urban and/or populated areas, but when I am fortunate enough to spend some time away from populated areas I almost always feel more comfortable and more able to understand myself and understand the things going on around me.

This coming weekend I will be heading out to San Francisco for The North Face Endurance Challenge race. To get back to Colorado I will be driving a car that a friend wants moved from there to here. My plan was drive the first day to Salt Lake City and the second day to my home here in Nederland. After this weekend though I can't help but think of all the wonderfully quiet and dark places between San Francisco and here that I could spend a night camping rather than a night in Salt Lake City.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Exhausted And Loving It

Had one of those runs today that will make it a lot easier to taper than I was thinking it will be. That is to say I felt absolutely exhausted today as I ran for about 2 hours with Dave. Virtually every step of it felt hard. Not hard in a bad way. Just tired out from 12 hours and 70 miles of running with close to 20k ft. of ascent in 4 days. Now it's time to ease back and let my body strengthen from the solid effort I've put in my training over the past several weeks.

I never train with very much focus. I mostly just go out and run. In the last 3 or 4 weeks though I have made a fairly focused effort at trying to be as fast as possible come December 4th. The last time I did anything like this was with a focus on being as fast as possible on June 26th.... I guess that worked out quite well for me.

I'll be interested to see how my body is able to perform next weekend. It's been an up and down few months for me in terms of how my physical body has felt and I'm kind of curious to see if the confidence from how strong I've felt in the past few weeks will be able to override the doubts I may still have lingering about how weak I've felt for most of the past few months. Kind of a fun little psycho/science experiment.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Tapering Is So Hard To Do

It's gotten to be about that time that I should begin to taper for the NF 50 in San Francisco in 12 days. Problem is that I'm feeling as good as I've felt and enjoying my running as much as I've enjoyed it in quite some time. Each day I keep telling myself that this will be my last long run before December 4th.

Today I actually did a short mellow run, but will probably take advantage of the free time that I have tomorrow and get out for a 2-3 hour run with ~5,000 ft. of climbing. There are just too many runs that interest me right now, and lately I've been having no trouble finding great companions to join me on these runs. It makes it hard to taper when I know I'll really enjoy my day quite a bit more if I get out for 3+ hours.

I spent most of my time on my run today exploring some trails half way between here and Boulder. I was able to find a link that cuts out most of the road that I needed to run the last time I ran from my house to Boulder. I've got a route figured out now that can get me to Boulder on 25+ miles of trail with less than 5 miles of dirt road and less than a 1/4 mile of pavement. It'd be wise of me not to run this route in the next 12 days, but we'll see if I'm actually able to resist the temptation.

Monday, November 15, 2010

It's About Time

Finally for the first time since August I have strung together several weeks of time in which I'm feeling really good in my training. Beyond this it's felt great to feel strong and healthy in my day to day life outside of running.

It's always really hard for me to feel confident and grounded in life when I am struggling in how I feel in my physical body. For all of September and most of October I felt sick, weak, and tired more often than not. That was a hard time for me.

For over 3 weeks now though I have been feeling progressively stronger and stronger. This has allowed me to finally feel excited about being here in Colorado, and for the first time since moving here it really feels like home.

In terms of running the timing couldn't be better. I'm less than 3 weeks removed from the most competitive race I will have ever run, and it feels really good to be developing the kind of confidence that I am right now. I still have about 10 days of really good training that I need to get in before a week long taper, but I feel really good about where I am right now... Hopefully I didn't just jinx myself.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Freaks Of Nature

Was out running in the mountains around Boulder with Tony (and several others) today. We were running down Fern Canyon and began talking a bit about Kilian Jornet and his insane talent running up and/or down steep technical trail. I mentioned to Tony how I had no idea what to really expect from Kilian going into Western States this year, but how obvious it was just a few minutes into the race that he is every bit as gifted of a runner as all the hype would indicate. He has so much capability that I only needed to run with him for a few minutes to realize that we were running in the presence of someone who is one of the best in the world at what he does.

As Tony and I ran down one of the steepest, most technical trails in the Boulder area and talked about this I suddenly had this ironic "ahha" moment in which for maybe the first time I really understood how insanely talented of a runner Tony is. Here was a guy who had run 68 miles yesterday, was 2+ hours into a run in which he hadn't had a sip of water, and was running down Fern Canyon like it was a paved bike path. I was feeling really good today so it was really easy for me to stay right on his heels and admire how gifted he really is. I was shocked at how smooth he was able to run down this trail with his legs as tired as they must have been after his huge effort yesterday. I also had a bit of insight into just how dialed into the local trails he is when we were further down Fern Canyon and in mid sentence he said, "oh, that is new." That being one random rock in the middle of a thousand rocks. Intimate trail knowledge certainly helps with being able to run so smoothly down a steep, technical stretch of trail, but what I saw in Tony today goes way beyond intimate trail knowledge. It speaks rather of the reality that he (like Kilian) is one of the best in the world at what he does. Good stuff.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Ultra Town USA

As much as I have been missing running in Juneau, this past weekend here in Colorado sure went a long way in getting me dialed into my running here.

On Saturday I took the bus down to Boulder to meet up with a few folks for a fun little 4 hour group run. What I expected to be a dozen people or so was actually more like 50. I started behind everyone because I showed up late and eventually I made my way toward the guys running out in front. I've known since moving here that the talent of runners in this area is off the charts but it wasn't until Saturday that this really hit home. Had this been a race it would have been one of the most competitive ultras ever run. Scott Jurek, Tony K., Dave Mackey, Nick Clark, Dakota Jones, Joe Grant... just to name a few of the locals that I would run with most of the day on Saturday. I didn't feel very good that day but it was nice to run with such a large, diverse, and insanely strong group of runners.

On Sunday Tony, Joe, and Dakota drove up to Nederland to join Patrick Garcia (who had driven up from Denver) and I for a fun 5 hour slog up over 11,000 ft. into some pretty serious early season snow. It was mostly clear trail up to about 10k, but once we were to 10,500 there was well over a foot of snow. Stubbornly we pushed on to get a nice view of the Continental Divide before turning back for home and then down to Boulder for some trick-or-treating with the little one and a fun Birthday/Halloween/Housewarming party at Scott Jurek's house.

In all it made for a great weekend in which I felt, for the first time since moving to Colorado, that I found a bit of a rhythm to my running here. I actually felt physically really weak on both of these long runs but it felt really nourishing to get out with several other runners and to be out for over 4 hours for two days in a row. Now I just need to find a way to get my body to come around and catch up with my mind and spirit.