Saturday, January 29, 2011

Spring is Just Around the Corner

I'm still keeping my running super low key for another week or so before gearing back up for a new season. 2011 is looking to be a really fun and really challenging year of running. It has however been really nice taking a bit of time off. Ironically some of the most enjoyable runs I've done in quite some time have been in the past couple weeks. One with Dave and one with Joe. Both runs were satisfying because we had virtually no agenda and in both cases ended up off trail climbing up Green Mountain summit along ridge spines coming in from the South. I really miss this kind of "running." That is to say, the kind of running I do so much of in Juneau. Steep, rugged, off trail, and with no agenda.

Next week when I get back to "normal" training it'll be with my eye on 3 killer spring races to get me ready for another huge summer.

First I'll be heading up to Washington to run Chuckanut on March 19th. I've never run this race and this year's field looks to be as competitive as ever. Should be a great early season test of leg speed. Much like Way Too Cool last year, although this year I have no intention of getting lost on course.

On April 2nd I'll be racing Lake Sonoma 50, another one that has a really good solid field of runners planning to toe the line.

And then on April 29th I'm going to head down to Santa Barbara to run the DRTE 100. This is a new race that has been trying to get off the ground for a few years now. Normally I shy away from races until they have a few years to get the kinks worked out, but this one is just too tempting to pass on. 35,000 ft. of ascent. That's enough to get me interested. I'll definitely be running this one as more of a long hard training race (usually the best way to approach a 100 miler anyway) to get ready for UTMB and WS (and/or Hardrock - lottery pending). It'd be nice to run Hardrock and have it be less vertical than my previous 100. Provided things went well at DRTE that could be a killer confidence boost for either Hardrock or UTMB.

I'm getting more and more excited for the huge races coming up this summer, but right now I'm not even thinking about that a whole lot because I'm really excited for these 3 early season races that are kind of just around the corner now.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

"The Championship Race"

There's been a lot of talk lately about the interest in a true championship race in American Ultrarunning. There have been several attempts at this over the years, but in my opinion no one has gotten it just right. No race has been able to separate itself as the race that all top runners flock to each year to test themselves against the best. Western States has probably come closer to this than any, but really hasn't come to stand alone as an undisputed championship race. In the past few years the North Face Championship race in San Francisco has emerged as another event that comes close to doing this, but they're still coming up short as well. UTMB has come even closer to this than Western States or North Face, but it's in Europe. Until some race becomes "The Championship" race here in The United States there is going to continue to be a demand for this.

Some people express concern about this idea of a championship race. Concern that races which so definitively emphasize elite runners will have a negative effect on the experience of the 99% of ultrarunners who are not elite runners. I think there is some validity in these concerns, but I think it's important to keep in mind that what people are talking about is a desire for there to be ONE true championship race. I don't think anyone wants anything more than this. That means ONE race unlike anything we have now, and hundreds of races which would be the same as they are now.

At any rate, I think the discussion of what effect a true championship race would have on the sport is a moot point. I think that there is such a high demand for this that it is absolutely going to happen within the next couple years. It's a simple aspect of a free market that when you have a large demand for a product/service that is not available someone will provide a product/service to fill that void.

I think we can and have learned some things from the "what effect would this have on the sport" discussion, but I also think it's time to move forward and focus more on the discussion of what a true championship race should and likely will look like. It's been good to see (on blogs) and hear (from other runners or interested parties) a lot of talk about this in the past couple months. I couldn't begin to count the people that I've had quite detailed conversations with about this type of event in the past few months. The surprising thing to me has been how similar people's ideas about this are. There are several things which almost everyone I talk to about this agree on. My purpose of this post is to outline what I see (from conversations with others and from my personal opinion) as the primary aspects that any true championship race should have. I don't think that all of these are necessary for the emergence of a race like this, but I do think that most of them are, simply because any race that tries to emerge that is lacking in too many of these aspects will be replaced by a race that provides more of these things.

Here's the list of the most important things (in my opinion) for a race to include to become a true championship race:
  • Entry guaranteed to any runner who wants to run the race who would have any chance of competing for the win in a race like this. There are many ways to do this. I think the best would be a combined system of invitees and auto qualifiers based on previous race performances
  • 90%+ trail with at much of this as possible singletrack
  • Single loop or point to point course (as compared to multiple loops or out and back)
  • 100 miles - this seems to be the preferred distance among a lot of top runners, but I think a 50 mile or 100k distance could pull this off as well. The shorter distances would just have to put that much more energy into convincing top runners to show up because you will have a few that will not be inclined to take it seriously at first because it's not 100 miles.
  • prize money - not necessarily a lot, but enough to make the race in the very front that much more appealing to the front runners and to spectators
  • 150 to 250 ft/mile of elevation gain - not too little nor too much climbing
  • Average altitude less than 7,000 ft. and high point less than 9,000 - you don't want to eliminate from the race those who don't have the time or money to acclimatize for several weeks before the race.
  • Location within reasonable distance (less than 100 miles) from major airport
  • Location in Western United States - there are places in the East that could work, but probably not any that would be as appealing as something in the West, especially considering that probably 75%+ of the runners who would be competing live and train in the West
  • Race date no earlier than June 1st and no later than October 1st - you want competitors to be in top shape, not early season legs or late season fatigue.
  • Stand alone championship event as opposed to an event which also tries to incorporate a middle/back of pack race at the same time OR permit space to accommodate 500+ runners in one event - probably a race in conjunction with a "standard" race. Maybe a week apart, or maybe just a day apart. I think, as many have said in comments that this would appeal to the masses more if you have non-elites racing the same race with the elites. I agree with this, but I think most places in the United States are hard to get large enough permits to accommodate this. If you have enough space to do both together than that will work fine but if you are ending up not being able to take on all the elites that want to run then you are simply ending up where Western States is now.
  • Start/Finish area with very easy access and space to accommodate thousands of people, preferably in a large population center - opportunity for large amount of spectators
  • Points throughout the race that pass through accessible population centers - same as above point
  • High quality pre, during, and post race online coverage - I mean really high quality. This is where a race like this could stand to bring in the money to pay for all of this. With today's technology it wouldn't be hard at all to do WAY more than any races are currently doing in this regard. If you do it right you could charge viewers a small fee for access to interviews, analysis, race tracking, race footage, etc. A fee which I suspect thousands, if not tens of thousands worldwide would be happy to pay for in depth coverage.
As I said, not all of these things are necessary, but I think the more of them you have the more likely you will have a race that will emerge and remain as "a championship" race. What do you all think? What am I missing? What do you agree/disagree with? I think the most likely scenario is for a new race to emerge in this manner, but are there any races out there that can/do already provide most of these things? Certainly there are some which provide a lot more than others, but I don't know of any who currently provide enough to emerge (and this is why, in my opinion, none have really emerged yet) as The Championship Race.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Thanks all for the congratulatory comments about UROY. Based on a few private emails I received yesterday I wanted to clear up something I said in my previous post. I am not any less proud or honored to receive this award this year as I was last year. If fact I'm probably more proud and honored than I was a year ago. Defending something like this is almost always harder than winning it the first time around. Defending it for another time in 2011 is looking (based on some of the race schedules some of the other top runners are putting out there) to be even more challenging, a challenge I'm getting really excited about. What I was trying to convey in my previous post was simply that the actual announcement of this award didn't have as much of an effect on me this year as it did last year. I'm sorry if this sounds cocky: but I kind of expected to win it. I don't think this was me being cocky, I think this was me being informed and realistic. I think receiving every single first place vote shows that I had reason to expect it.

As to the obnoxious anonymous comments about a whole range of other random things on my previous post, I agree with most of you who responded to those comments: some good entertainment, but not a whole lot of substantive value. I have had these type of "feather ruffling" comments in the past. A few times in the past I've even allowed them to get under my skin a bit. I have however never taken steps to not allow anonymous comments. Despite being sometimes totally out of line, I think there is usually some value in what everyone has to say. I'm a big fan of listening to everyone's opinion. I think sometimes I even learn some valuable things from some of the most obnoxious comments.

This said, I have thought about this a bit in the past day and have decided to no longer allow anonymous comments. I have no desire or intention to limit what people say on my blog, I just no longer am willing to allow them to fire away anonymously. I've tolerated this kind of thing in the past, but I have decided to draw the line at people using my blog to throw inflammatory, anonymous comments in the direction of other people. I think it's really obvious to most everyone reading these comments that this person is obnoxious, ignorant, and likely quite envious of Tony. In trying to define Tony as foolish, they have of course made themselves the ultimate fool. I hope the readers of this blog can be mature enough to avoid making these kinds of comments in the future, but if you feel the need to you will no longer be able to do so anonymously. At least this way we can all know who we are laughing AT.

Sorry to those of you who post constructive and reasonable things anonymously just because it's easier than setting up an account and logging in. I don't want to keep people from sharing their thoughts. The process of setting up an account and logging in each time is really quite simple. Less than 5 minutes of your time.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Ultrarunner Of The Year

Results for Ultrarunning Magazine's Ultrarunner of the Year award were announced today and I was named Male runner of the year for the second year in a row. Finding out about this was a little less exciting for me this year than last year, partly because last year was the first time for me, but mostly because the voting was a lot closer last year. This year I kind of knew that I was going to win it. That said it's still a huge honor and something I am very proud of. It's never easy to defend an award like this and I certainly ran my ass off in 2010 to win this award a second time.

In general I think the voting panel did a pretty good job. Each year there are some surprises in this voting, but I think when you have something as obscure as ultrarunning being measured by a panel of 18 voters you are going to have some weird outcomes.

It still baffles me how little recognition this panel gives to the North Face Championship race in December. Granted I didn't win this race, but I beat more truly world class ultrarunners in that run than any North American ultrarunner has in a long time, if not ever. It certainly wasn't my best race ever, but not good for a single vote in the performance of the year category? Tony's vote tally for his Western States performance, which I think he deserved, shows that the panel is willing to vote for a second place finisher, but my lack of even a single vote for NF race shows just how unwilling the panel is to acknowledge that that race has become, without question, the most competitive ultra in North America.

I think another example that illustrates this is the fact that Dave Mackey got one total vote for runner of the year. Yes, he only ran 2 ultras all year but he won Firetrails and finished 3rd at North Face. Max King (not to take anything away from Max, but just to prove a point) also ran (to my knowledge) 2 ultras this year. He finished 2nd at Way Too Cool and 3rd at American River and finished with 8 total votes and 11 places ahead of Dave in the voting. Perhaps Max picked up some votes due to his dominance at shorter races, but I suspect it has more to do with voters who are unwilling to place as much importance on a new race like NF 50 as they are on some of the old classics like Way Too Cool and American River, even if the new race had a significantly stronger field.

At any rate, this is a pretty minor thing to be my biggest question with the voting. Overall I really do think they do a pretty good job at something which is really not as easy it sounds. The women's side of things was certainly a lot closer and likely will raise a lot more questions, but I think the panel did a good job there too. Personally I think Ellie deserved female runner of the year, but without having run a 100 miler I certainly didn't expect her to win it. She has the talent to dominate the women's side of things for the next several years, I'm excited to see if she's able to stay healthy and turn that potential into a reality.

Sunday, January 16, 2011


I've been a part of the Montrail Ultrarunning Team for two full years and am really excited to be starting another year with them. Also, for almost 3 years before joining the team I wore Montrail shoes most of the time. In the past 5 years I have probably run 95% of my mileage in Montrail shoes. Despite being a big fan of Montrail shoes for half a decade there has never been a time when I've been as excited about the shoes they have on the market, or are bringing to the market soon as I am right now.

I am still doing almost all of my running in the Mountain Masochist (as I have for almost two years). In my mind these are the best running shoes ever made! I think they are a perfect balance of everything that a good trail shoe should be, and they fit my foot perfectly. I would recommend them to anyone for pretty much any type of trail running. At 10.8 ounces I think they are a perfect balance between the traditional 13+ ounce trail shoes that have dominated the history of trail shoes and the minimalist (6-8 ounce shoes) that are the latest trend in trail running. With the Masochist you get the best of both worlds: plenty of support, cushioning, and protection, but still light and flexible enough that you really feel the agility and quick foot speed that you feel in a really light shoe. I could go on and on about these shoes, but I've done that on this blog in the past and I think you get the point: If you haven't worn these shoes, you're missing out.

The one bad thing about having a shoe that I love as much as the Mountain Masochist is that I hardly ever have the patience/interest to try out other shoes. I've dabbled with all of the shoes that Montrail has on the market, as well as those that they'll be bringing to the market this year. I haven't however worn any of them enough to give any kind of in depth review. What I can say is that I like every Montrail shoe that I have worn in the past 3 years, just not any of them as much as I like the Mountain Masochist. Here's a bit about a couple of my favorites that we be available very soon:

The Rogue Racer is Montrail's answer to the minimalist trail shoe trend, and the demand in the marketplace for ultra light trail racing shoes. They will be available retail sometime very soon. I have been fortunate enough to do some running in a pair for the past several months. There are a lot of things I like about this shoe. If I ever raced shorter trail races (anything under 2 hours) I would likely wear these shoes. They fit exceptionally well and feel great under my feet, even on the most technical trails. For my taste they are a bit too minimal for runs over 2 or 3 hours, but for those who like an 8 ounce shoe even for longer runs I think it'd be worth your time to try these out.

The Badrock is another new shoe for spring 2011 that will be available retail very soon. This is a sturdier trail shoe (more in the line of the old Hardrock) that is actually a lot lighter (just a bit over 11 ounces as I recall) than it looks. When I first got a pair of these shoes I didn't think I would like them much, but as I've run in them more and more I'm liking them more on each run. They will be a great shoe for heavier runners or any runners who really like a lot of support and cushioning under their foot. I've been loving them lately for running in the snow. They have great traction on packed snow and the spacious foot box allows me to wear thick socks and still have plenty of room for circulation. I wouldn't be surprised at all to see this shoe end up with a loyal cult-like following similar to the old Hardrock shoes. They will also be available in Montrail's new Outdry waterproof technology which I think is going to be infinitely better than the GoreTex shoes that we've all more or less avoided over the past couple decades.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp - Second Session

I've made it official, I will be doing a second session later in the Summer for my running camp. This second session will be July 28th-August 3rd. The entry form for this session will be available on the camp website by the end of the day tomorrow (Friday). Hope some of you can join me in Juneau in July.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Down Time

I've been enjoying a really relaxing week post Bandera. It feels weird not to have a next race so close that I feel like I need to get back at it as soon as I'm recovered. I feel entirely recovered from my little 50k outing on Saturday, but instead of getting out running right away I'm just hanging out, catching up on some work, changing the look of this website, doing a little skiing, and taking the little one out sledding (when I can actually get her out the door).

My running camp scheduled for June is just about full so I am moving forward with plans for another session later in the summer. I will be announcing the dates of this second session by early next week. Keep an eye on my camp website if you're interested in that.

Also, over the next few weeks I'm hoping to do several posts about some of the products that I prefer to use in my running. Most of these will be companies I am sponsored by and/or receive free or discounted products from. However, this will not just be me plugging my sponsors. I believe strongly in all of the products that I will mention. For each of these products there are several competing products which I've tried that have not been satisfactory to me for one reason or another. Lucky for me I've been able to secure partnerships with most of the companies who make my favorite products for trail running. If I don't care for a product I won't endorse them. I suppose if someone offered me enough money to endorse a product I didn't believe in I might be tempted, but this is ultrarunning we're talking about, nobody is throwing enough money my way to make me even tempted to endorse any product/company that I don't fully trust and believe in. So keep an eye open for some product reviews and recommendations over the next couple weeks... if you're interested in that kind of thing.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Bandera DNF

Well, certainly things didn't go as planned this weekend at Bandera, and I ended up dropping out at the halfway point. I'm still not sure exactly what was going on, but pretty much everything felt "off" right from the start. I've kind of known for awhile that I need a bit a break from racing. I think this past weekend certainly confirmed that. I've done 10 races in 10 months and for the next couple months I'm going to give myself a bit of a break. Probably won't race again until late March and will take the rest of this month off from any kind of focused training.

Anyhow, back to Saturday. I had a nasty head cold last week, but by race day I thought it was more or less gone. And then I slept better on Friday night than I ever have the night before a race. 7:30 am when we started I thought I had everything in line to have a good solid run.

And then we started and within minutes I felt really crappy. My stomach was off, my legs were off, my lungs felt really stressed, and the pace felt way too fast. I should have slowed down right then. Dave James took the pace out really fast, but instead of slowing down I thought I could just push along and get warmed up and start feeling better. This has after all worked for me numerous times in the past when I haven't felt that good at the start of a race.

Not this time though. I felt crappy and kept feeling worse. Eventually I knew I needed to slow down, but by that point we had covered about 15 miles and the damage was done to me. I was in this "No Man's Lan" where I felt like all I could do was hold on and hope for a miracle. Of course slowing down then would have still been wise, but at the time it felt very much like I had already done enough damage by going out too hard (for what my body had on that day) that I may as well just stick with it and see what happened.

And so this is what I did. Dave James, Dave Mackey, and I were running this entire stretch together. I had a few moments where I felt good for a minute or two, but overall it was just bad and getting worse. The most tangible problem was that my stomach wasn't taking in calories. I would eat a gel and it would take 45 minutes or more for my stomach to settle and absorb the calories. By mile 25 I knew I was in serious trouble and I finally slowed way down and let Mackey run out ahead.

Usually when I feel really crappy in a race it's still really fun, and I relish the challenge of trying to manage things back to a point of being able to race again. It never felt this way on Saturday though. The crappy feeling just didn't feel fun at all and the slower I went the worse I felt. By mile 28 I hadn't eaten anything in over an hour and my stomach was feeling even worse. I had only had 300 calories all race and so I slowed even more.

I can't really explain what makes me choose to stop in a moment like this as opposed to pushing on and trying to find a way to turn things around. It's just not a tangible thing that can be explained, but for me in the moment I just know when to stop and I know when to go. My body, my mind, and every other part me was telling me it would be better to stop in this race.

When I struggled for almost 30 miles in the middle of Western States last year, not once did the slightest thought of stopping creep in. And so on Saturday I stopped at the 50k aid station.

As soon as I dropped I walked to my tent and just laid on the ground for an hour. Finally after that I was able to stomach a little water (first water in about 2 hours). About 3 hours after stopping I was finally able to eat some food. Within 6 hours of stopping I felt great, and having dropped out felt really silly. But at the time, and right now, I know that it was the right thing to do. This just wasn't my day. That happens every now and then. The last time this happened for me was Miwok in 2009. I came back a few months later from that race a significantly stronger runner than I was previously. That's what my plan is this time around too.

In the end Mackey had a super solid race and finished in 8:17, taking more than an hour off the previous course record. This was the biggest reason I was bummed to have not had more in me on this day. It would have been fun to battle it out to the end with Dave. Hopefully I get that chance again soon before Dave is retired and in a nursing home. Dave James also had a great run, finishing less than 20 minutes behind Mackey, and also way under the previous course record. Two more great runners with a shot at Western States if they choose to take it.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Racing Again - Gosh This Came Up Fast

I'm heading down to Texas to race Bandera this weekend. It kind of feels like I just raced in San Francisco a week ago. It's actually been 5 weeks. Should be a fun trip though. It looks like it's supposed to rain on race day, but there should be some nice sunny weather tomorrow and Sunday. And this race has $5 camping right at the start area - something every good race should have. I'm excited to spend an entire weekend outside. I'm also excited to run on all day on dirt. It's been nothing but running on snow for me for about 4 weeks now.

The race itself should be a good one too. It's certainly not one of my primary races, but come Saturday morning I'll be running to win. Dave's racing this one too so I really look forward to running all day with him again. There should be some other great competition also. This one aint gonna come easy (not that any of them really do).

Thanks to everyone for the great, informative comments on my post about a UTMB type race here in the States. Good to see that I'm not the only one interested in something like this. Hope everyone is having a great start to 2011.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camp

I've got all the details ironed out for a running camp that I'll be directing in Juneau this summer. Check out all the details here:

Right now I am planning one session (June 6-12), but if there is enough demand I'll be doing another session later in the summer. Please do let me know if the June dates don't work for you, but you'd be interested in a session in late July or August. Each session will be limited to 10 runners so sign up soon if you want to guarantee a space.