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

Dec 022012

Next summer I want to run the Pikes Peak Marathon for the first time since 2001.  This summer I ran up the Barr Trail to the summit for the first time since my last race, and recorded the following splits:

1:01  to top of incline (from soda springs park)
1:58 to barr camp (57 min from incline)
3:03 to aframe (1:05 from barr camp)
4:36 to summit (1:32 from aframe)

This run along with my previous race times told me a lot about what I need to do to record a good time in the marathon.  Here are the most important points.

Run, don’t walk, the portion of the ascent above timberline.  This is the most important single thing that separates the fast racers from the slow ones.  In my ascent this summer I wasn’t acclimated enough to the altitude to run any of the trail above the A-frame (roughly the elevation of timberline).  I watched the top racers this year near the summit, and it’s clear that you don’t necessarily need to run fast once you get that high on the mountain, but you should at least be running.  In 1996, I was working as an EMT on the summit and was able to run the entire trail above the A-frame during the Ascent, so I know I can do it if I’m adapted to the altitude.  Unfortunately, I was in the second wave of the Ascent that year and had to spend all my energy leaping up on rocks at the side of the trail to pass hikers, or my ascent time would have been much better than the 3:35 I recorded in the 1999 Marathon.

Condition my legs to absorb the beating of the downhill half.  My downhill times in my previous races are excessively long compared with my ascent times.  If you look at runners with roughly equivalent uphill times to mine, most of them have much better overall times, because they were able to run the descent much faster.  Most of the profound suffering that I experienced during my marathons was concentrated in the last fourth of the race.  In 2001 especially, I was reduced to walking most of the course below the summit of the incline on the descent, which meant that my downhill time was almost the same as my uphill time!  If I can run the entire downhill, my overall time will be much, much better.

These two goals dictate the kind of training I’ll need to do between now and next August.  Luckily, I’m living in Colorado now so I should be able to do what I need to do.  First, I’ll need to spend a lot of time up high.  Second, I need to do a lot of 5-6 hr trail runs with a lot of descending.  Both of these things sound fun to me, so I shouldn’t fail for lack of motivation.

Trail running is more fun with my dog.  This is my secret weapon that I didn’t have back when I last raced the PPM.  If I had had the kind of dog then that I have now, I would certainly have trained more and raced faster.

Pele waits for me above treeline on Pikes Peak