Monday, March 12, 2012

2012 Race Schedule

Earlier this year I had the distinct pleasure of being one of the majority of applicants who struck out at both the Western States and Hardrock lotteries, which completely dictated my racing schedule for the year, a theme that should continue until I stop running these things.  Western States is the grand daddy of them all, and a ticket to that dance pretty much dictates that you take a shot at the Grand Slam.  Hardrock seems to be more of a religious experience than a race, something that seems just out of this world to me at the moment, maybe second to only the Barkley Marathons for 100-mile difficulty in the states, and a must for anyone lucky enough to be selected.  Though, with only 2 or 3 weeks between the Western and Hardrock, depending on the year, the nightmare scenario is getting into both.  The lotteries are so tough now that if you get selected for either of them you HAVE to go, because it may be another 5 years before you're fortunate enough to be selected again.  There are other races like HURT and UTMB that really appeal to me as well, but more as the excuse to travel to Hawaii and Europe than anything else, and I don't have the confidence, let alone the ability, to even think about Barkley yet.  Maybe someday...

A recent scary revelation, though, is that the long winter races like Arrowhead and ITI are starting to look really, really interesting to me.  First, I got completely wrapped up in following Arrowhead this year.  I want to know what that kind of remote struggle feels like.  I want know what a 60 hour finish feels like.  Then, Geoff Roes just spent nearly a week at ITI for his first 350-mile finish, and reading his race report has me wishing I were doing it myself.  But alas, like Barkley, ITI is currently above me.  Again, maybe someday...

As it stands, for 2012, I'm staying home.  Zumbro was always on my mind, no matter the lotteries.  I have to avenge my DNF there from last year.  Sawtooth is another that I strongly want to do again.  Now, knowing that I can finish a hundred-miler gives me the confidence to really push, so I'd really like to see what I can do at Sawtooth when I'm not in the "finish above all else" death-march for the last 60 miles.  At JFK last fall I pushed pretty consistently the entire time, just trying to run comfortably and keep aid stations short.  That was a great race for me.  I don't know what that would feel like for 100 miles, but I do know one sure-fire way to find out.

So, with Zumbro and Sawtooth on the wish list, the rest became easy.  The Gnarly Bandit race series consists of both Zumbro and Sawtooth along with two other 100s (Kettle and Black Hills) and one 100k (Wild Duluth).  Throw in Superior 50k and Voyageur 50 because the dates work well with the other races, and that's my season.  There's always the possibility of avenging my 2011 38-mile 50k pull-out on the 50-mile option at Surf the Murph after Wild Duluth as well.  We'll see.  

2012 Races
Zumbro 100, Zumbro Falls, MN, April 13-14
Superior 50k, Lutsen, MN, May 19
Kettle Moraine 100, Eagle, WI, June 2-3
Black Hills 100, Sturgis, SD, June 23-24
Voyageur 50, Carlton, MN, July 28
Superior Sawtooth 100, Lutsen, MN, September 7-8
Wild Duluth 100k, Duluth, MN, October 20

There's also talk of an informal mix of Ragnar and the Superior Hiking Trail (SHT)--something we've been throwing around as "Ragtooth" (Ragnar crossed with Sawtooth) or possibly "RagSHT" (no explanation or pronunciation guide needed)--where we'd relay some distance of the SHT in pairs (e.g., a team of 3 or 4 pairs of runners, so nobody is ever alone on the trail).   I'm excited about this one.

Sadistic Asphalt Sprints & Such

I started this post in October, right after TC, but didn't finish before Chicago.  Then, after Chicago, I started writing a bit more, but Wild Duluth happened.  Then, after Wild Duluth, Surf the Murph and JFK happened, and I got so far behind that I just sort of gave up.

For what it's worth, here's what I had back in October, and I'm going to at least give it a shot at putting up my 2012 race schedule and maybe even writing a thing or two.

From October...

So LOTS has happened since my last race post (Sawtooth).  I started drafting the below right after TC (which I killed, btw!) on October 2, but since then have run Chicago on October 9 with my beautiful wife, Wild Duluth 100k on October 15, and I scaled back a 50 mile race at Surf the Murph today, October 29, after missing a flag and getting in some bonus miles (you don't even have to pay extra for them!) on the first lap and turned it into a nice 36 mile training run for JFK 50 coming up on November 19.  So, first the marathons, then the trail race.

I am hereby referring to marathons as "Sadistic Asphalt Sprints".

I'm not trying to make a statement about the TC marathon or Chicago so much as marathons in general.  Everyone is just in such a hurry and so much pain during marathons, or any road race, that it just takes some of the fun out of what I know as "running".  Not to mention that no matter how nice the TC and Chicago courses are, the streets and houses and and city and cars can't come close to comparing to the beauty of a trail race, where, if you're lucky, you don't even have to run on anything that resembles a road.  There really is no better running than a peaceful, scenic piece of singletrack.  But to top it off, during a trail race, I never feel like I'm out there competing against the other runners, but rather that somehow we're in this shared journey to the finish together.  In a marathon, the runners have more of a "every man/woman for him/herself" mentality.  One of the most beautiful things about trail running is the sense of community felt between the runners, the crew, the volunteers, the trail.. really, everything and everyone involved.  You don't see people talking too much during a marathon, whereas it's as constant as can be during an ultra.

Steve Quick summed it up really well, saying "If they could find some way to combine the marathon spectators with trails, it'd be a perfect world."  Indeed it would, Steve.  The crowd at TC and Chicago is really, really great.  The energy at both of these races was much better than at Grandmas in June (even though Grandmas is a great race).  I do wish there was some way to harness that energy for trail races.    

Dad, Andy (spectating this year), and Me before TC
For me, my first TC Marathon went great!  I killed it as much as I could have hoped to kill it.  I started at the back of corral 2 with my dad, making this the third race of the year we've started together.  In May, I pulled him along at Fargo for his first marathon finish, just like my brother pulled me along for mine the year prior.  In July, we started Voyageur 50 together, but I left him right before the Jay Cooke aid station and didn't get to see him again until after I turned around.  This one was even more brief.  We slowly walked with the rest of the runners from the back of corral 2 towards the starting line, and when we crossed, I was gone.  I had business to tend to.  I thought I could reach for a 3:30 marathon.

Starting out, the road was tight.  I was weaving in and out trying to keep my splits low.  I got a little worried when my first mile chimed off at 8:17.  It wasn't that I wasn't running fast enough, I just couldn't get through the damn crowd.  Luckily, things opened up on Hennepin Ave. and I got to push a bit.  From there things were a blur.  I was passing waves and waves of runners, even taking to the sidewalk when there was no path through the crowds on the street (not sure if that officially DQs me, but hell, I don't really care).

Ridiculous!  I love it!
Right away, in the first 3 miles, I actually ran into a few familiar faces, finding triathlete and virgin marathoner Brian Behrendt on Hennepin Ave (who, unknown to a lot of people, was carrying an engagement ring for his beautiful, now fiance, Carissa, in the pocket on his shoe at the time!), seeing someone who reminded me of an old high school classmate on Douglas Ave (who turned out to be my old high school classmate Katy Berquam, now Katy or Katherine Vrieze .. small world), Sadly, these were the only runners I recognized, but I saw a ton of familiar spectators.  Thanks to everyone who came out!

4:24!  Not too bad for an old guy!
Well, I was able to hold a pace in the 7:40's or below until mile 18, where I started tapering off, climbing above 8:00 on mile 20, actually walking up a "hill" during mile 21, and just barely holding on to finish with a 7:59 overall pace and a 3:28:47 finish, a 15-minute PR!  I knew I was going to hit the wall somewhere.  I really haven't done enough "marathon" training to know what pace I should be running, or even what I'm capable of, but damn it's fun to find the ends of where you're at!  This was a fantastic run, and I even got to hang around at the finish to watch my Dad finish his second marathon with a new PR of 4:24!

Fast forward a week, and Alicia and I took off to Chicago for her first ever marathon!  She got to run the TC 10 the week before as a nice little warm up, but this was going to be one hell of an adventure!  Even though it was Chicago, and I'd never ran it before, I couldn't pass up the opportunity to run with her and take pictures throughout.  She really did get sick of my endless pointing and shooting of the camera every mile, but I got some great shots of her powering along.

Before the start
One of the fantastic things about Chicago is that we were able to grab a hotel literally across the street from the start line, which made race morning such a breeze.  We didn't leave our room until 15 minutes before the start, and then just walked into the gates and as far up as we could.

Alicia in her "Superhero" outfit!
Wow do they know how to pack them in at the start.

There's no "waves" at Chicago (like Disney, which gives each corral it's own firework-aided start), just one big slow walk once the gun goes off.  Our walk to the start took over 20 minutes, but seemed even longer.  The crowds were amazing throughout, though.  There was never a spot without cheering spectators.  If you feed off a crowd, this is the race for you.

"F---ing golden" indeed

Thrilled to be done!
Big smiles for her first marathon!

Long story short... Alicia had a great first marathon, and I had a blast chasing her around for it.  I can't wait for her next one.
The rest of October brought Wild Duluth 100k in Duluth, and Surf the Murph 50-mile, which I turned into a 38-mile 50k after a wrong turn on lap 1 of 3 and decided to save the legs for JFK 50 mile with my cousin Jim 2-weeks later.  

Below are some pics of Wild Duluth, which I clocked at 15:59.  If I find more time to write about it, I will, but for now just know that this is a fantastically challenging 100k.  If you've run Voyageur 50, please remember that this is nothing like that.  Here, we all start in the dark, and all of us mortals finish in the dark.  It's a long day out there on the trails.  I was ready to give up after mile 40 or so, and literally the only thing that kept me going was there only being 3 miles until the next aid station.  The mental aspect of it getting dark again was really getting me, that and the mental stress of knowing that I had to go another 15 or 20 miles before the finish, but it all got extremely manageable when I just broke it down to making it to the next aid station.  Just 3 more miles.  In fact, I'm thinking that, from now on, I might just have lap distance between aid stations as a display, that and total running time so I know when to force myself to eat.  This just highlights the fact that as you tire, your mental grit goes long before the physical.  Your body can go a lot farther than your brain thinks it can, and that's partly because we turn off the brain long before the body quits.  

Sunrise over Duluth

Nice, smooth trail
Gorgeous singletrack
Yes, this is the race course
Seems easy enough, right?
I'm just happy to be here

Surf the Murph followed Wild Duluth, and JFK followed Surf the Murph, and that closed my 2011.  2012 started with the Goofy Challenge at Disney again, where I ran a 1:38 half and a 3:42 full--making some mistakes during the marathon, including no salt and no calories during the full ("i'm an ultrarunner" arrogance blowing up on me) a day after a decent effort at the half.  But still, I was in the top 4% of Goofy finishers, so I'm happy.  Unfortunately, I left Disney injured, and that slightly set me back for my Zumbro 100 training.

At Zumbro, though, I'm going to avenge my DNF from last year.  I don't know how fast it's going to be, but I know I'll finish.  First goal is to finish.  Second goal is sub-30 hours.  Third goal is to be healthy enough to run by the following Thursday.  It's a long year, and this is not a fast 100 mile race.  I'll save any attempt at speed for the "easier" 100s, which this year, might only be Kettle.  

In any case, I'm going to try and put up a 2012 race schedule, and maybe even write a thing or two in the near future.  In the meantime, see you out there.