Apr 122014
 

The Squak Mountain race that Evergreen Trail Runs puts on every April is one of my favorites.

It has a beautiful hilly mostly-single-track course with a few fast flats and some flowy downhills. It has a wonderful technical section where you can barely see the trail on account of its being overgrown with ferns and moss that hide slippery rocks and bundles of roots with feet-sized holes between them. There are fallen tree trunks that you have to climb over, and tree trunks that you should probably duck under. And the view! Well, this is Seattle, and so there really isn’t any view. But that’s because it’s blocked by a forest of beautiful big fir trees.

The organization and the volunteers are stellar. If you’re reasonable about it, Roger Michel still lets you run his races with your dog. So even if, on race day, you don’t have your dog with you, chances are you’ll encounter someone else’s dog during the race. Running is always better with a dog.

Squak is one of the best trail/mountain races around, and I encourage everyone to try it sometime. There is a 12K, half, full marathon, and 50K, so pick your distance and try not to break your ankle or dislocate anything.

This year I did the half marathon for the second time and finished an unofficial (as of race-day afternoon) 15th. I believe I may have gotten third in my age group. It was a competitive year with 3 or 4 guys running under the old course record (and some guy named Justin Houck did an insane 1:32), so place-wise I’m pretty happy with where I ended up. I felt pretty strong for most of the race. I didn’t fall on my face once. It was, in general, a rousing success. But as after every race, there were a few things I wanted to have done better. My arbitrary goal beforehand was to finish in less than 2 hours, and I finished in 2:04:55.2 which is arbitrarily 4:55.2 too slow. I did the first big climb and all the descents really well, but the climbs near the end had me a bit strung out. You know that feeling you get when your heart rate goes above 200 and you shift over to anaerobic metabolism?  It was like that.

For most of the race I was by myself, except for a spell during the middle when I was running with a guy named Josh. He probably has a bunch of natural talent, because I got the impression he hadn’t been doing a lot of focused training and hadn’t done a trail race since the late George H.W. Bush administration. Anyway, he was great and I hope he continues to race because he’ll probably kick a lot of ass.

Squak was my first race of the year, and I thought it went well. I think I’m a better mountain runner than when I did this race two years ago, and I think the changes I’m making this year in my training are making me faster.  Those changes are primarily 1) greater variety in intensity and distance of my training runs, and 2) occasional group runs with the Rocky Mountain Runners in Boulder (a dog-friendly group of fast motherfuckers). I’m trying to adhere to Matt Carpenter’s advice this season: make your hard days hard and your easy days easy. I think it’s working.

Check back later for some pictures. Until then, my race per the Suunto.

 

Jan 082014
 

WARNING: This post is about my trail running goals for 2014 and contains some musings about how I’m going to achieve them. Most of you are probably not interested, and that’s… healthy.

BUT FOR THOSE WHO ARE (Hi Mom!), here’s the deal. The 2014 season will be my third trail-racing season, and I think that means that I ought to start shooting at some loftier goals. I have two years of trail running behind me. I think this constitutes a reasonable base of fitness from which I can start to try for some race performances that I would consider “good.”

South Table Mtn trail, Nov '13

So how’s that for specificity?  In the past when I’ve started a race, my goal was usually to get in a good workout, not finish last, and learn something about racing. I think these were very appropriate goals for my first two seasons, where the risk was that I wouldn’t be patient enough and would fail to understand that success isn’t built on one or two good training runs, and that you can’t reach your potential in one or two months or even years. Facing my third season, I think the time is right to put that base fitness to work and aim for something else in races.

I’d like to have some really good races this year where I do well against my past performances and against the field in general, depending on the race and on the field. So for example, concerning my two goal races for 2014:

Pikes Peak Marathon: I’d like to finish in under 6 hours. This would improve on my best time of 6:23 back when I was 28 years old (but when I was doing the race rather…. casually). I think this is actually a very modest goal, as it would require me to cut 43 minutes off last year’s time, 20 of which were spent sitting on a bench at Barr Camp trying not to throw up. Considering that my training for last year’s race included only one descent of Barr Trail and only one ascent, I think there’s plenty of room for better race-specific training this year.

The Rut 50K: Another race I’m repeating this year. Last year was a pleasant disaster (I felt miserable the whole time but somehow enjoyed it and finished), so there’s a lot of room to improve. I’m going to spend more time at Big Sky prior to the race and do runs on the course with my dog. The goal is to finish in the middle third of the field. Since the field might be dramatically different from last year on account of the Rut’s inclusion on the Skyrunner world series calendar, there’s a lot of uncertainty about this goal.

Two other races I’m repeating from past years are the Illinois Marathon and the Squak Half Marathon. No specific goals for these other than that I want to run them hard, and that I’m committed to finishing the Illinois Marathon this time (last year I dropped after 18 miles without any regrets, as it was purely a training run).

In order to race better in 2014, I’m going to rely on two major adjustments to the training regimen. First, I’m going to vary the intensity and length of my workouts more. Last season I was doing too many 1.5 -hour runs over similar terrain, without much variation. This year, I plan to run shorter, faster, longer, etc. over the course of each week and month to avoid doing the same workout over and over.

Second, I’m going to increase my volume. I need to do some 5-hour runs in training and not just in races. I’m going to do more Pikes Peak ascents and descents. Maybe a training round-trip or two.

So for the first time, I’m going to be disappointed if I don’t have some substantially better racing performances this season. It’s about time to raise the bar.

Pup licks on Green Mtn