Wednesday, October 15, 2014


With 2014 starting to wind down, I've been thinking a lot about what I'm doing running-wise next year. Over the past few weeks, lots of thoughts have swirled through my brain. I've considered taking the year off from racing and doing my own thing, such as running the Hardrock course over three days at a time of my own choosing. In recent weeks, I've become fairly disillusioned with the state of ultrarunning. When I started running ultras in 2005 (not that long ago, mind you), you could register for most races the day of the event. These days, it seems the sport has been over-run, with demand far out-stripping available supply. Some events sell out in a matter of hours; some in a matter of minutes.

I don't mind saying I wish ultrarunning still operated mostly in the shadows. The sport has garnered attention for years, but not like it does today. Admittedly, I could be a hypocrite. On the one hand, I want ultrarunning to be underground. But on the other hand, I'm a runner/blogger.

Soaring demand for limited spots means a lot of things, including the need for ridiculously advance planning when it comes to one's race schedule. I don't like that. I think when one's decision to enter a race has to be made eight or more months in advance, spontaneity is lost. You may not mind registering that early, but I do. I like flexibility.

Of course, what's happening in ultras is just the product of market forces, so it's a waste of time to whine about it. It's been shown that, in down economies, running becomes more popular. With that, you also have a few best-selling books that have driven enormous numbers of runners into ultras. The Western States lottery has never been a gimme, but in 2014 your odds of getting in were, I believe, a mere 8 percent. With tighter entrance criteria for 2015, it'll be interesting to see what the odds are for the approaching Western States lottery, which I'll once again try for. Will the odds get better, get worse or stay about the same?

Then you have Leadville. I'm not even going to go into where I am with that race right now, other than to say it's an estranged relationship after much thought and soul-searching. Which brings me to 2015. After debating giving the middle finger to racing in the coming year, I have decided to once again take part in the madness. But I like to think I'm being much more discriminating with the races I choose to enter in 2015, opting for events I consider high-quality and genuine, along with hopefully a few "fat-asses." As of now, here's what things look like:

April: Cheyenne Mountain 50K
May: Golden Gate Dirty Thirty (50K)
June: Western States Endurance Run or Bighorn 100 (Bighorn registration done!)
August: Pikes Peak Marathon
October: Columbus Marathon

Obviously, Western States is a big question mark. Fortunately, I'll have a few tickets in the lottery (better than the one I had last year), and so I'll be hoping my name is drawn. Western States is a dream of mine. But if it's not meant to be in 2015, then I have a really sweet backup 100-miler that I'll be stoked to run--the Bighorn 100 just north of here, in Wyoming. From what I've heard, Bighorn delivers a genuine ultra experience and is a very challenging race with lots of vertical, lots of mud, an 11am start that has all entrants running through the night, lots of single track and lots of mountain terrain. Oh yeah, and it's a Hardrock qualifier. That's one of the reasons I loved Mohican back in the day--it was genuine and kind of "down home." I miss genuine.

I think the timing of Western States and Bighorn suits me well. I'm one of those runners who gets the bug in early April, when I start ramping up my mileage. By late June, I'm usually in really good shape. As the summer progresses, I start to go stale. A 100-miler in late June would mean I'd go into it in pretty awesome shape. I've never gone into Leadville fresh. But it seems I always run well in June.

The additional silver lining to a June 100 is that I'll be able to line up for the Pikes Peak Marathon later in the summer. I've never run PPM, but I've run the Barr Trail enough times to appreciate the challenge of racing up and back down that glorious 14'er to the south of Parker. I'm guessing by the time Pikes rolls around, I'll still be somewhat compromised by my 100 earlier in the summer, but I'll nonetheless take part in a race that I've dreamed of running for years.

The year would then wrap up with a go at the Columbus Marathon, where it all started for me in 2004. It's impossible to say what my goals for Columbus will be. The last time I ran Columbus (2008), I crossed in 2:59, hampered by a hamstring strain. It would be great to go back after all these years away--awesome course, awesome event, lots of memories.

Life is one big pendulum. Right now, ultrarunning is growing by leaps and bounds. In time, the growth will start to level off and things will become more manageable. For now, it's a race in and of itself just to get an entry in your favorite events.


  1. Not to burst your bubble, but the Bighorn 100 just "ain't what it used to be". I have been there ever year since 2005 and the growth is discouraging. They run four concurrent races; 30K, 50K, 50 mile and 100 mile. This past year, almost 1,200 runners , plus family and friends, crowded into little Dayton, WY, with over 300 runners in the 100 mile alone. This makes it one of the bigger ultra events in the country. On another note, consider HarderRock; doing the Hardrock course on your own, with a time limit of 48 hours, supplying your own crew. My family crewed me at two locations. I believe I enjoyed that more than when I paid for the race and endured all the hype and hoopla.

    1. Dan: No race is perfect. For the 2015 Bighorn, the 100-mile race starts on Friday, with the 50M, 50K and 30K races starting on Saturday. I have talked with a lot of folks about Bighorn and I've never heard a single negative comment (except about the mud, which of course isn't really negative). Also, next to Leadville, almost any 100-miler these days will feel smallish and down home. I am excited to try a new race in 2015, be it Bighorn or Western States. It's past time for a change of scenery (though I do hope to pace someone at Leadville). Thanks for weighing in!


  2. I guess I would have liked to see what Bighorn was like back in the day, but count me as a big fan. I still thought it had a homey feel and it was great hanging with old and new friends in Dayton at the park, waiting for other finishers, in addition to the great course and race itself. Incredibly scenery, real cowboys manning middle-of-nowhere aid stations with campfires in the middle of the night, kids handing out popsicles in the heat of the day -- lots of goodness going on. I was about ready to give up on 100s altogether (like you've been saying) until Bighorn reset my faith. Although the Hardrock dream remains big...
    I hope you get to experience WS (like Pbville, it's still worth the experience), but I was slightly disenchanted after building it up in my mind. There were a few other reasons for that...but, there is a degree of overly (IMHO) intense competitiveness (even among the big-buckle group) as well as elite/royalty special treatment among some good ol' boys and gals. OTOH, I came back this year to crew and got to see first-hand the top-notch volunteers -- probably the best in the business -- and it was pretty cool to hang out at places like Forest Hill that was rockin' all day, then iconic places like Green Gate/river crossing, Hwy 49 river crossing and the town of Cool at night, etc., and then the iconic track....OK, I guess, race hard but let go of all the intense time goals and soak it all in, is my recommendation, for both races.

    If your family is able and willing to see you at Bighorn, keep it simple and focus on the turnaround and Dry Fork -- only seeing you during daylight and not having to dodge deer on windy roads at night.

    If you're interested, keep the Gnar Runner Neversummer 100k in late-July as a possibility. It's going to run like a mini (as in, 6/10ths) Hardrock. It's going to be spectacular with big mountains, yet flashes of community and old-school.
    I'd also strongly suggest that Quad Rock 50 in May is a great (better) well-timed prep for either of your 100s: good vert like Bighorn, hard runnable downhills and tight competition like WS.

    Have a good 2015, Wyatt!

  3. I have just entered my first race for 2015. A 60k in March. I agree 100% with you. The growth here in South Africa is also bad. That is the current trend for all trail running here. The road has always had its masses with all road ultras over here having 10000 to 20000 runners. That's why I went to the trails, to get away from everyone.

  4. I think you will love Big Horn. The mud (as best I can recall) is typically only in one section that is maybe 1 mile long? I can't remember. Beautiful course, feels very remote, and the altitude is not bad at all. And its mostly downhill on the way in. Its an extremely runnable course.

  5. So I've never run an ultra, but I did pace my friend for 34 miles during his first 100 mile footrace this summer at the Bighorn 100. I thought everything was awesome and there really were no big issues. The course is gorgeous and the location is awesome. I would reserve a camping spot early though, I think it fills up. We camped at the community center on the lawn for $10 per night, that included shower use!

    Don't listen to the haters.

    As a side note, I think that Pike's will suit you well and will be a great experience!


  6. Bighorn is fantastic! The fields of wildflowers are breathtaking and the volunteers that camp out in the woods for the entire weekend are amazing. I ran 70 miles of it last year, and I'm looking forward to going back and finishing it properly. Most of the mud was due to a freak storm that blew through around 11pm.

    The 2014 event was a little challenged in terms of lodging because there was also a large country music festival and rodeo on the race weekend. The Dayton/Sheridan area just isn't designed for that many people. In 2013 we had no issues finding a place to stay.

  7. Make sure you register for PPM on the day it opens. I'm sure it's calmed down since I last registered, but I remember servers crashing and it filling up quickly a few years that I ran it. PPM has experienced the same boom you're currently frustrated with in Ultra running in general. I remember mailing registration in and there's was no worrying about whether or not you'd get in.