Saturday, September 7, 2013

Making the Sport of Ultrarunning Something It's Not

First off, the combined numbers for the months of June, July and August:
  • 1,027 miles
  • 151,000 feet of vertical
I doubt I'll ever rack up that kind of vertical over a single summer again. But you never know....


Last Monday I ran the first annual Highlands Ranch Half Marathon. I entered the race to help raise money for someone we know who is undergoing treatment for a very serious form of cancer. But of course I didn't joy-run it (that's just not in my nature). I finished 11th overall out of 636 starters, crossing the line in 1:25--good for 6:33 pace. This was my first half marathon in more than five years!

Although 1:25 is three minutes off my half-marathon PR, I was pretty pleased with my result, given that I'd run the Leadville 100 two weeks prior and I didn't do much fast stuff over the summer. I passed easily 25 runners along the way and didn't get overtaken a single time except in the first few hundred feet. I definitely felt the 100 at about the mile 7 mark of the half. But fortunately I did a decent job of holding pace and finished strong. It's a downhill, point-to-point course but it gives you a decent climb at mile 12 to keep things honest. Personally, I think point-to-point courses are the best.

Interestingly, my average heart rate for the half was 148, with a max heart rate of 158 on that last climb before the finish. My MAF zone is 136-146, so I was pretty much right in it for the whole race. It seems to me that half-marathon pace should be 10-20 beats/minute above MAF.

For the past few years--and really since I've been running--I feel like there's been an imbalance between my aerobic fitness and strength, despite the fact that I've always done a good job with tempo runs. (Admittedly, this summer I didn't do as many tempo runs as usual since I was on the trail every single day.) My aerobic fitness appears to be very good, but for some reason my legs just can't seem to keep pace. I need to figure out the reasons for this imbalance and correct it. A big part of me thinks my tempo runs have been too hard. Maybe I need to relax the pace a bit and stretch it out longer.

Anyway, the Highlands Ranch half left me pretty sore. I'll probably do a few more races this year. I'm interested in the El Grito 5K next weekend, the Highlands Ranch Backcountry Half Marathon in early October and the Rock 'n Roll Denver Half Marathon in late October. I really enjoy the half-marathon distance and right now I'm just not feeling motivated to do any ultras.


And speaking of the Denver Rock 'n Roll, someone told me that if you drop out of any Rock 'n Roll race they'll give you a ride to the finish and you can get a finisher's medal despite the fact that you really didn't finish. I didn't believe this, since it goes against EVERYTHING I believe in and stand for, but then I heard another person say the same thing. Is that really true? I guess if this is true, then it's probably also true that they give finisher's medals to those who drop. In all seriousness, if it's really true, it's hard to believe a race would do such a thing--and it makes me kind of hesitant to take part in the Rock 'n Roll "trophies for everyone" circus.


That said, I'm not one of those ultrarunners who thinks the world revolves around the "elites." Recently, a new international ultrarunning series with points and sponsors (and lots of question marks, too!) was announced, and the series involves some pretty big races like the Western States 100 and Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc. This appears to be an attempt to bring some structure to the sport. Personally, I'm not a big fan of efforts to organize a sport that for decades has more or less functioned in the shadows. I'd rather ultrarunning remain low key and small enough so that everyone knows everyone and there's love out there on courses. Sadly, I think that's a pipe dream. I think there are folks who are pushing as hard as they can to make ultrarunning something I believe it was never intended to be. It's almost as if we're embarrassed that our sport is so grassroots and down-home. Be that as it may, I think efforts to organize the sport and bring more corporate participation to it will "work" for a few years, but I don't see them being sustainable as there's just not enough money to be made for sponsors and the sport just isn't that spectator-friendly. I believe that in almost every case where corporate interests and money can be found, there is corruption and greed. We'll see. It wouldn't surprise me if ultrarunning eventually implodes and then comes back as it once was.

If at some point I find myself dissatisfied with the direction of things, then I'll turn to other endurance endeavors, like multi-day, self-supported jaunts on the John Muir Trail.


At this point, I'm still undecided about returning to the Leadville 100 in 2014. It all depends on whether or not Lifetime Fitness addresses the problems we saw this year. I am definitely entering the Western States lottery and, if by some miracle I get in, then that would be my focus race in 2014. If I don't get into Western, then I may consider a few other races that would include Leadville. I had thought seriously about Wasatch, but it's pretty late in the summer and this whole debacle left a bad taste in my mouth. We'll see what happens.


  1. Well, you have to understand that there will be several faces of ultrarunning. There can be big time events with money, points, structure and there can be the small gritty events. In just the last three weeks we've (elevation trail) discussed the two extremes from various angles. There are benefits and appeal to both and there are also limitations. Choices, man.

    I love racing my mtb in party atmosphere 12 hour races and I also love to follow highly structured UCI mtb events.

    Leadville is gone. Bye bye.

  2. Tim: What you're saying about Leadville being "gone" might be the case, but how/why are you so certain of that when the race has been around for over 3o years? Why can't we give Lifetime a chance to repair things? Isn't it important to assume the best in each other? It just seems to me that you're always looking for opportunities to put down Leadville. I'm concerned about the state of Leadville for sure, but right now I'm willing to give Lifetime the benefit of the doubt in fixing things.


  3. "Gone" as in it's not going to recede back to the small, gritty mountain race it was. Anyone who thinks it will is naive.

    The benefit of the doubt has been diminished by the utter lack of communication from Lifetime. Several people have reached out to them in a number of ways and instead of responding or even slightly acknowledging the concerns, they've ignored it. That doesn't make me feel any attachment whatsoever to that company or their events. I'm not on a mission to convince people not to participate but I'm not going to gloss over obvious misfires in the sport either. You're welcome to continue embracing Lifetime. I respect people's opinions and beliefs - just like I expect people to respect mine.

    I'm done with the topic of Lifetime and Leadville on the show. The stick beating that dead horse broke a long time ago.

  4. Fair enough. I'm not embracing Lifetime at all--I'm just gonna wait a see what they do, if anything.


  5. Great job on the half marathon!
    "If at some point I find myself dissatisfied with the direction of things, then I'll turn to other endurance endeavors, like multi-day, self-supported jaunts on the John Muir Trail."

    Agreed, but I think there are plenty of other low-key options. Quad Rock, e.g., has thus far struck a great balance -- I question spending money on trails I can run all the time, but it's a great event. Wyoming is as low-key as you can get...and that's just our neighbours, so not to mention other states with plenty of great events.

    I'm more in-line with Tim's assessment of Leadville -- not that I don't understand and continue to support people who have yet to reach a goal of running the race, but mostly it seems hard to repeatedly support that race when there are other alternatives. The negatives, for me, actually supersede "just" Lifetime's involvement (other than allowing for a giant field), because it's also upon aggressive and impatient crews rushing around everywhere. They main fix is to scale it back considerably, but it seems unprecedented for any burgeoning race (including RnR marathons, mud events, mt. biking, etc.) to ever scale back.

    I agree on Wasatch, unfortunately. think WS is a great lifetime goal and worth playing the lottery and checking out once, but a few things left me a little disappointed compared to the hype, so keep your expectations set accordingly for that, too.

    They can't all be Hardrock...but, my G-d, somehow they keep that race awesome!

  6. RnR ... sez it right here:

    If a participant’s pace falls below the course time limit, they have a few options:
    (one listed is)
    Board a “sag wagon” shuttle to move forward on the course, where they may continue to participate in the event, maintaining the minimum pace required;

  7. Yeah, I liked being in the a sport that is. I just have to take a big breath and find shady ultras:)