Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Ramping Up for the Marathon / Ultrarunner of the Year Thoughts

Now that I've turned the corner in my recovery from a minor surgical procedure I've been putting off for too long, my thoughts are turning to the Rock 'n Roll Arizona Marathon in Pheonix on January 20. I've already registered for the race and booked my hotel room. I still need to get my flight. These are important steps in the mental engagement process.

Of course, the biggest factors in preparing for a race aren't getting a hotel room or even registering (though certainly both are vital). The most important things you can do are dedicate yourself to the goal at hand and do the right training. My goal is to run a 2:55 in Phoenix. I've begun running again, after a full week off as I recovered, and have set October 1 as the official start of my marathon training.

My training is going to be much more strategic than in years past. It used to be that I just ran a bunch of miles, including speedwork, tempo runs and long runs, and showed up at the start hoping for the best. Usually, things worked out well (yeah, those were the good 'ole days). This time around, what most matters to me is peaking on race day and being 100% healthy. I'm re-reading Daniels' Running Formula (which I first read in 2006) and am focusing heavily on the build-up stages I'm going to need to do to get in peak shape. Right now, I'm just trying to re-establish my fitness, as I lost a step or two just from that week off. Plus, I'm still not 100% from the procedure.

Contrary to what Paul Ryan might have us think, breaking three hours in the marathon is a challenge for most of us. I know because I've done it three times (in a row). You have to put in the right kind of training, which includes fast stuff and long stuff. Over the past few years I think I've gotten lazy with my long runs, instead going on lots of outings of 18 or fewer miles and then maybe doing a double later in the day so that I could say, yeah, I did 22 or 23 miles that day. But no matter how you slice it, there's no substitute for a good, quality 20-22-miler when you're training for a marathon--just as 30-35-milers are incredibly important to preparing for a 100-miler. There's no substitute for a focused tempo run. And there's nothing quite like hammering it around a track or doing fast fartleks.

As much as I'm excited about Phoenix, I've had moments where I've felt pulled to do another ultra this year. With my DNF at Leadville, I don't meet the qualification criteria for Western States in 2013. That really sucks because I would have had an extra ticket in the lottery. I thought for a brief moment in time about finding a qualifying 50-miler and gettin' it done, but that would just interfere with my marathon PR goal. So, after doing some soul-searching, I've decided not to do any more ultras this year and instead focus on getting ready for Phoenix, which I think will establish a super-solid base for my Leadville training.

I'm also thinking a little about 2013. I know there's Phoenix on January 20 and the Leadville 100 in August. I'm going to race less and instead use the time to train on the Leadville course and get 100% comfortable with every section, mostly notably the entire Hope Pass section (from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back). But I'd like to do a few races. I'm considering the Lt. JC Stone 50K, a road race in Pittsburgh that's run on the old GNC Ultras course, in March. I did the JC Stone in 2009, finishing fifth overall with a 3:46 despite a hideous upper-respiratory bug, and it's a great race. I'd love to go back to the Mt. Evans Ascent--there's something about that race. Then there's the Leadville Trail Marathon in June. We'll see.


Final note: I don't know about you, but in my mind 40-year-old Mike Morton is a lock for Ultrarunner of the Year. His record-breaking 172.457-mile performance at the 24-hour World Championship in Poland a few weeks ago just sealed the deal. Averaging 8:21 pace for 24 hours--and that includes refueling and bathroom stops--is just insane (even more insane: Yiannis Kouros' world record 188 miles in 24 hours). This year alone, Mike's had three 100-milers all under 14 hours (winning each), a near record-setting win at Badwater and of course that eye-popping performance at the 24-hour worlds. I do think Tim Olson should get consideration, especially for Performance of the Year (though here again I think Mike is the favorite with his 24-hour result), but Mike has clearly had the best year of any ultrarunner out there.

For the women, I think Connie Gardner, who logged 149.368 miles at the 24-hour worlds to set a new American record, should get Performance of the Year. Of course, the venerable Ellie Greenwood, who may one day best many of Ann Trason's records, gets the women's UROY.

I guess some may say I'm crazy for not thinking Ellie and Tim should get Performance of the Year for their incredible Western States records. Those were great results for sure, but let's not forget that the weather that day was insanely cool compared to the norm. In areas of the course where the temp usually hits 100+ degrees, people were wearing jackets.

In summary:
  • Ultrarunner of the Year/Men: Mike Morton (landslide victory)
  • Ultrarunner of the Year/Women: Ellie Greenwood (landslide victory)
  • Performance of the Year/Men: Mike Morton, 24-hour worlds (narrowly edges out Tim Olson, Western States)
  • Performance of the Year/Women: Connie Gardner, 24-hour worlds (very narrowly edges out Ellie Greenwood, Western States)
I can't end this post without also throwing out props to a runner who I've admired for years and recently collected his 31st career win at the 100-mile distance. At the tender age of 44, he beat out some seriously fast dudes nearly half his age, and in the process he earned a five-figure paycheck for yet another great day at the office. Congratulations to one of my heroes, Karl Meltzer, a.k.a. the Wasatch Speedgoat, on winning the inaugural Run Rabbit Run 100-Mile. Karl's mojo is legendary and, yeah, for him, "100 miles isn't that far."

Final thought: Karl's win at Run Rabbit Run, because of his age, was every bit as surprising to me as Hal Koerner's amazing win at Hardrock this year (Hal lives in Ashland, Oregon, which is at a paltry 1,800 feet, but grew up in Colorado). The smart money was on guys like Joe Grant and Dakota "Young Money" Jones to win Hardrock, but ultimately Hal, being a grizzled veteran, got 'er done, just as Karl brought it at Run Rabbit Run.

Let me know what your thoughts are on who gets UROY and Performance of the Year!


  1. I am biased towards Mike and feel he is running the best of anyone this year and that matters.

    But I think a lot of others are biased towards races out West and I bet Olson gets more votes than you would expect.

    At any rate, I hope Mike toes the line next year at Western like he is planning right now. Because it certainly is hard to pick between two people who never raced in the same event and ran two completely different types of races this year.

  2. Also, Mike is registered for two more 100s yet this year (Javelina & Ancient Oaks). Of course a 13h 100 can never be taken for granted for anyone, but he already has 4 (including the 100 mile point in Poland)...could you imagine 6 13h 100s in one year? LOL.

  3. If Morton does not win UROY, it is a crime and Ultrarunning mag sure burn.

  4. Minor technical question ... is Ellie eligible? i know she lives in CA but isn't she a Scot?

  5. I guess I have a more mountain perspective on the whole process. Although I am nothing but impressed by Morton's accomplishments, I view the whole 24/48/72 hour running field to be rather weak. If all the same running talent in the mountain scene were to focus on those records I believe the 24 hour record would be much higher. Fact is very few people care about that distance. Olsen broke the CR at one of the most historic and competitive ultras and overall has been ripping it up.

    POY for women should go to Tina Lewis. 2nd fastest time at LT in a very competitive race.

    As Brett pointed out, still a lot of racing left for the year. It would be awesome if Morton would run NF50 to see where he stands.

    GZ - it seems like only yesterday we were arguing whether KJ could win UROY. I think it was decided that you could win if you were a non-US citizen if your permanent mailing address was somewhere in North America with the exception of Mexico and Quebec. I thought the name had changed to NAUROY. At least soon we can start arguing about how unfair the HR/WS lotteries are!

  6. Well Hog, to your point (kind of) Jurek won WS several times in a row and used to own the 24 hour record. I think one could argue if Ian Sharman, TonyK, and others slowed down just a touch on their 12h45m and 13h 100s and kept going for 24 hours, they could get close.

    But also keep in mind Morton won WS and owned the true original CR for a long time. He also won many other mountain ultras like Massanutten, Masochist, etc.

    Morton has a personal goal of breaking 13h in a 100. Given how many times he's been close...even when a part of a 24 hour event, it wouldn't surprise me to see a sub 13 at one of the last 2 100s he has registered for this year.

    I think a 50 mile race is too short for him. :)

  7. Also, for womeon's performance of the year, whatever Liz Bauer ends up with in her attempt at the single year 100 race finish number. She's currently already finished 26 of them and its not even October.


  8. GZ: I believe Ellie is eligble because she lives in North America (Canada).

    Hogback: I'll have to disagree with you on this one. The fact is that Morton beat an amazing record--actually he shattered it by 5 miles. That record, when Jurek broke it, had stood for over 10 years (and was previously held by a friend of mine, Mark Godale). There are some very strong 24-hour runners around the world and they were basically all there in Poland. Morton became the first American EVER to win an ultra world championship. But, yeah, 24-hour races and mountain ultras are very different sports. We'll ever know how good the mountain guys could be at 24-hour races until they start doing them. Personally, I think it would be crushingly hard mentally and physically for an elite who's used to running 100 miles in 14 or 15 hours to have to go on for another 9 or 10 hours. Morton has the unique ability to do that. Only a few guys cross over. But, to me, no one has approached what Morton's done this year.

    Also, many still hold Morton's CR at Western as the true record because it was on the "old" course. I don't know what to think about that, but it's an interesting viewpoint.


  9. Yeah, I remember now. It was North America. Whatever.

    Ya gotta to wonder what Morton would have done at WS this year had he been in it.

    But that would be a woulda shoulda coulda thing. So it does not count. Nor does it count as to what mountain guys woulda coulda shoulda done on a road circuit.

    Morton did not have one performance this year. He has had a handful. Maybe some of his races were not competitive as others - but 13 hours is SOLID.

    I hesitate to bring this up ... but isn't it known that the times at WS are a bit fast because of the downhill nature of it?