Friday, January 17, 2014

Goals for 2014; What I Think Ultrarunning Should Do in 2014

New Year's resolutions have never really interested me for a few reasons. First, I think we can (and should) make positive changes in our lives any day of the year, not just on January 1. Deferring changes to the new year, to me, reveals shaky resolve.

What I am into is goal-setting. I have a few personal and professional goals for this year, but for the purposes of this blog I'll just talk about my tentative 2014 racing goals. Here goes:

Break 3 hours in the marathon once again. The last time I broke 3 in the marathon was May of 2009 (a month later I won a 100-mile trail race--wow, those were the days). Damn, the years fly by. I tried to break 3 at the Arizona Rock 'n Roll Marathon last January but came up just a little short. This spring, with my 41st birthday nearing, I think I may once again go for sub-3. I have this crazy goal of trying to break 3 in three separate decades: 2000s--done (2008, 2009), 2010s--not yet, 2020s--we'll see. I've written on here before that I believe the road marathon is the hardest distance of all when you're racing with a goal in mind. Every second counts, and success comes down to pacing and having enough in the tank for that grueling final 10 kilometers. Sorry, but trail ultras, while really hard, aren't quite as hard as nailing a fast marathon time (fast being a relative term, depending on your abilities). If indeed I go for a sub-3 this spring, it'll likely be at the very downhill Colorado Marathon in Fort Collins. That will mean I need to start ramping up in the next few weeks, with March and April being pretty heavy. I need to decide really soon if that's what I want to do, because I'm not quite mentally ready to take on big weeks of running (80+) when there's still lots of skiing to be had. (UPDATE AS OF 1/21: I REGISTERED FOR THE COLORADO MARATHON!)

Break 21 hours at the Leadville 100. If you've been following this blog for a few years, you know I've been fixated on breaking 20 hours at Leadville. Last summer, I trained really hard and still came in with a 22-hour time. My problem is that, while I run at sub-20 pace for 80 miles of that course, I tend to lose a lot of time on the ~20-mile Hope Pass section. This year, with the right fueling strategy (going to experiment with GU Roctane), I believe sub 21 is possible. My one hesitation is that I'm pretty well "fat adapted." I try to use calories on runs as little as possible, but at the same time I need to be ready for race-day nutrition.

Stay injury-free. Knock on wood, but I've been free of injury for over a year now, save a foot deal that happened in November of 2012 and carried over into 2013. I think weight training and MAF have really helped me stay healthy. I also think I've found the right shoes for me--Sauconys, especially the Ominis.

Those are the goals for the year. The marathon goal is still rumbling around in my head but I'm feeling pulled to the Colorado Marathon in early May. Deep in my mind, I have this thing where I need to break three hours so I'll feel like a decent runner. Maybe it's an ego thing. When I feel like a decent runner, I have confidence that translates into better performances in ultras.


As a fan of the stop/start/continue tool, here are some things I believe ultrarunning as a sport needs to do in 2014:
  • Stop talking about how the sport is growing by leaps and bounds. It's still a very niche sport that, for the most part, operates in the shadows. We've lost all perspective if we think this sport has gone mainstream.
  • Stop beating on the Leadville 100. It got old fast.
  • Stop saying the sport has gone international. There have been badasses from other nations for years. Ever heard of Bruce Fordyce? Yiannis Kouros? How about Don Ritchie or Oleg Kharitonov? Those guys could run circles around many of us today.
  • Stop with the fixation on arranging the sport around the needs of the "elites." This sport isn't about elites; it's about like-minded folks enjoying the road and/or trail together, within the context of a race, and then enjoying a few beers afterward. I couldn't care less what the elites want, but I will say I enjoy watching them mix it up at races like Western States and Hardrock.
  • Start getting more road ultras into the mix.
  • Stop saying that race X or race Y has "the deepest field ever." That got old a few years ago. There have been many deep fields. I know it's hard for many to imagine anything being bigger or better than what we have today. But I think one could argue, as referenced by the international badasses I listed above, that the sport has been strong for a long time. Whatever.
  • Stop talking about prize money. This will not be a big money sport anytime soon, because ultrarunning has little visibility in the "general" market and it's not spectator-friendly. But if it does one day bring in big bucks (which it won't), the sport will go to ruin. Big money=cheating.
  • Start running and enjoying the gift on a daily basis. As a sport, we've come to talk too much (I've been guilty of this, too). We should run more and talk less. 
  • Stop with the ESPNization of the sport. This isn't the NFL. Enough already.

I'd love to hear what your goals are for 2014. Feel free to share them in the comments.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Dear 2014 Leadville 100 Run Entrant....

Well, you did it--you registered for an epic 100-mile race. If you've been running ultras for a while and this is your first crack at Leadville, you're going to love the experience. Leadville will test what you're made of and force you to "dig deep." "Dig deep" and "You're better than you think you are, and you can do more than you think you can" are the mottos of the race. That may sound cliche, but when you're climbing Powerline in the middle of the night, with the chips down and more than 80 miles on your trashed legs, those words will mean something to you. Trust me.

If you're new to ultras, buckle your chin strap because you're going to be in for quite a ride. Train hard and get up high and on the trails as much as possible. You've accepted a great challenge that will take you to places you've never imagined.

While it's true the 2013 race had some "issues," as we'll call them, many fellow Leadville veterans I talk with seem to agree that the 2014 running will go smoothly. As set by the organizers, the 2014 race will accommodate 800 entrants. Registration opened "last night" at midnight, and not even 16 hours into the sign-up process 700 spots have been claimed. It is very possible that Leadville will reach capacity in 24 hours! In 2010, I signed up for Leadville in April, shortly after my family and I moved to Colorado. Those days are over!

Given my experience with the races in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2013, I think 800 is a good number. About 720 will show up (the other 80 will have gotten injured, changed plans, etc.). About 400 will actually finish. Those are manageable numbers.

In the wake of the 2013 race, lots of people took shots at Leadville. While I wasn't without concern over some of what transpired, I never could understand why people would say horrible things about a race that does so much good for the town of Leadville. Leadville is a unique race on many levels. It's very challenging, but yet it doesn't require a qualifier. It's an all-comers race (like it or not). All are welcome. And with "Born to Run" still getting lots of readers, interest in the race continues to be strong. It could be argued the Leadville 100 is the most famous ultra on planet earth, fair or not.

I think interest in Leadville comes down to a few factors. Thanks to the book and the high-altitude environment in which the race is held, Leadville has a lot of cache in the endurance world. The name "Leadville" is much more than a name--it's a brand with a lot of "holy-shit power." We're talking about a "wild west" 100-mile race, held in and around a "wild west" kind of town, that is between 9,200-12,600 feet and has two legit mountain crossings. Plus, the boom and bust story of the town of Leadville resonates with a lot of people, especially in this day and age when so many folks are searching for greater meaning in life amid a world filled with superficial bullshit. For various reasons, not the least of which is the very essence of the town itself, a lot of people think they can find answers running 100 miles at Leadville. When you're up in those mountains working hard, things start to make sense.

People also yearn for adventure. Adventure can easily be found "out West" in our mountains and canyons. I'm in awe of what the settlers endured making their way westward, over huge mountain ranges with erratic and extreme weather to boot. When you're in Leadville, you're in the heart of the Rockies. When you're at the top of Hope Pass, elevation 12,600 feet, there are few better views of the mountains and God's creation.

These next eight months will bring great adventure that will leave you a different person. The race is the reward. Leadville has always tested my resolve in ways no other race ever has. The altitude wreaks havoc on my appetite and stomach. The Hope Pass double crossing has slowed me down more than it should have. Not until 2013 did I finally break through on the Powerline climb and in the last 20 miles of the race. As always, I'll come to the 2014 race as prepared as I can be. I will put in the miles and try to get to the mountains as much as possible. But I know that regardless of how well-trained I may be, it won't be easy. When you're running at 10,000+ feet, anything and everything can happen. I don't want it to be easy. Leadville was made to kick your ass. And it will!

Further reading, including past race reports, links to other helpful sites and more, can be found here.