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.