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.
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.