Oct 222012

Kilian Jornet summarized his 2012 season today.  17 trail-running wins in 19 starts, with 2 third-positions, is pretty much the definition of “dominant.”  No one else is even close.

Coincidentally, I completed my first explicit trail-running season yesterday, and so I thought I’d summarize it, because I really do want to be just like Kilian.

Yes, I do think of 2012 as my first trail-racing season.  I’ve been running trails for fun and fitness for a long time, since the late ’90s.  I’ve entered trail races before, primarily the Pikes Peak Ascent (in 1996) and the Pikes Peak Marathon (in 1999, 2000, and 2001), but these races were just something I did as one-offs because I thought they’d be fun — they weren’t part of a conscious attempt to be a trail-running athlete.  I didn’t enter many other races, and I didn’t do any explicit training.  I was primarily a college student, then a medical student, then a law student, then an emergency medicine resident.  I was “in training,” but not as an athlete.

In 2009 I finished my residency and moved from Chicago to Seattle.  I was no longer any kind of a student and had no plans to start any other formal educational program.  Finally, I was just another guy with a job (instead of just another guy going to school).  I had a deep-seated fear of becoming boring, because in my mind, fairly or not, slogging along at a steady job has always sounded profoundly dull.  I was also feeling that I wasn’t working out in the gym or running as much over the past 2-3 years as I had been.  It seemed to me that I was facing a subtle decision point — to begin a slow, gradual decline to a sedentary middle-age, or …

I think it was some combination of little things that led me to make trail running and racing an explicit project.  I was really enjoying running the trails on Cougar Mountain in my free time, especially in comparison to running flat bike paths in Chicago.  I was reading about the career of Kilian Jornet, Dakota Jones, Anton Krupicka, Nick Clark, and other top trail runners, and looking at pictures on their blogs of some of spectacular mountains that they got to race in.  And I was thinking about moving back to my home state of Colorado after a long absence for law school and residency.  Surely it’d be fun to do the Pikes Peak Marathon again?  All of these things led to my decision in late 2011 start doing trail races, and to start training for them.  2012 would be my first explicit trail racing season.

So how did the first season go?  I raced five times.

1) February 26, Lord Hill Trail Run, 10 miles.  1:36:47.7.  Out of 112 runners, finished 19th (top 17%).  A muddy and fun race that I ran with my dog Pele in the rainy Northwest slop.  Thanks to Evergreen Trail Runs for letting me race with my dog.  Started 5 min after the main field by arrangement with the race director and spent all my time passing people.

Start line, Lord Hill trail race (Yumay Chang)

2) April 14, Squak Mountain Half Marathon.  2:13:41.  Out of 99 runners, finished 19th (top 20%).  Again, Evergreen Trail Runs puts on super dog-friendly races.  They let me start 5 minutes after the field and I raced the whole course with Pele.  Best part was hearing comments from other racers under their breath — “look at how fast that dog goes downhill!”

Finishing Squak Mtn Half Marathon, with Pele (Vernhes family)

3) October 6, Cheyenne Mountain Xterra 5k.    26:18.  Out of 48 runners, finished 8th (top 17%).  A fun race that I entered at the last minute.  Went out too hard.  Lesson: must do regular interval training!

4) October 14, Wichita Prairie Fire Marathon.  4:33:42.  Out of 723 runners, finished 409th (top 57%).  I’ve never hurt quite as much as I did during the last five miles of the Prairie Fire marathon, and that includes all three of my Pikes Peak Marathons.  The pain was all musculoskeletal — ankles, knees, hips.  Aerobically I felt great the whole time.  13-mile split was approximately 1:30, so I may have gone out too hard.  I think the pain was more due to lack of road conditioning, though.  I distracted myself by looking at spectators’ pups along the side of the road — there are a lot of beautiful pups in Wichita!

5) October 21, Boulder Half Marathon.  1:47:44.  Out of 1323 runners, finished 141st (top 11%).  Another road race, this time on mostly packed dirt roads.  I kept the stride length short and felt great up until mile 11, when the leg pain slowed me down again.  My halfway split was just over 55 minutes, so I’m real happy with my pacing.  Beautiful autumn day with yellow leaves and golden sunlight.  It was fun to watch the leaders coming back the other way, running fast.

I feel like I gave a pretty good effort in all these races with the exception of the Prairie Fire Marathon, where the wheels came off in the second half and I ended up walking most of the last 13 miles.

Here’s a few things I’ll take away from this season.  First, it’s true about athletic training that “if you need it in the next two weeks, it’s already too late.”  Probably you could say that if you need it in the next six months, where “it” is a major leap in fitness to competitive levels, it is probably too late.  I had hoped for times in the Prairie Fire and Boulder Half that would qualify me for the first field/wave in next year’s Pikes Peak Marathon/Ascent, but unfortunately didn’t achieve either goal.  There will still be opportunities for me to get these qualifying times, but if I end up having to run Pikes Peak in the second wave next year, so be it.  I’m prepared to wait for 2, 3, 4 years in order to get some really good times in that race.

Second, for an equivalent time spent running, I hurt WAY less when running hilly trails than when running roads.  Road running is so painful on the legs, at least when you’re not conditioned for it.  And I am not.

Third, races are more fun with a dog!

I may do another race or two in 2012, but as the Starks say, “Winter is coming!”  That means everything in the remainder of the year will feel like off-season stuff.  It’ll be my first explicit off season.  How to handle it?  Well, I’m thinking about mountain biking, snowshoeing, maybe some xc skiing, slacklining, and hiking with my dog.

Pele descends Lookout Mountain, Golden, CO


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