Monday, December 31, 2012

2012 Year in Review

I knew it would be nearly impossible to repeat the breakout season I had in 2011 again this year.  Last year I made the US 100k team for the first time and set several course records.  Of course, breaking the course record that had stood at JFK 50 Mile for 17 years was the most notable and won me Ultra Performance of the Year honors.  Now all I can do is laugh after Max King shaved six minutes off my record this year.  It's clear the sport is growing at a rapid pace, and I'm just glad to be a part of it.

Even if it doesn't quite stack up to last year,  I still think that 2012 was a very successful year for me.  I attempted some new distances and trail types that were a little outside of my strengths.  These were challenging experiences, but I learned much from each race.  I also looked for very competitive races this year.  That's not all that hard considering the trajectory of the sport, but that made the wins a little harder to come by.  But maybe I'm most proud that I was able to make it through another year running mostly injury free while still competing at a high level.

Here are a few highlights from the past 12 months:

Mtn Mist 50k
My hometown 50k was one of those special races last year where I broke the course record.  I knew it would be tough to repeat the feat in 2012 from the start because the course was wet and muddy, not the frozen trail that ran so fast the year before.  I gave it a shot anyway and was running well through the halfway point.  But around mile 20 I slipped on a rock and fell really hard.  At that point, I decided it was too risky to force the issue and try to chase down my own course record.  I knew I had some bigger goals later in the year.  Even so, I won the race and was only 3 minutes of my course record.

Land Between the Lakes 50 Mile
LBL50 was more of a long, hard training run for me, but it was still a strong effort and a fun race.  It's run in Kentucky and within driving distance of my house which made it particularly attractive.  Being relatively flat, I felt like it would serve as a good tune-up race before the 100k World Champs.  Although I got a little excited early and went out faster than planned, I still was able to easily win the race and set a new course record.  I left the race with a list of things to work on, but I also knew my fitness was in a really good place.

IAU World 100km Championship - Seregno, Italy
My best performance of the year is likely my most overlooked race as well.  After a DNF in 2011 due to some sort of illness in the Netherlands, I was determined to avenge my drop when I was selected for the 2012 team. While my training had been great, a work trip to France immediately prior to the race, unfamiliar accommodations, and logistical headaches in Italy all left me little time to worry about the road race. So I arrived at the starting line oddly relaxed and just ready to do something that felt

A slew of slower runners who felt they were entitled to have their toes pressed against the starting line got me fired up and the adrenaline coursing through my vanes as I snowplowed through them as soon as the gun went off.  That got me off to a quicker than normal start where I soon found my rhythm at 6:20 pace - a little faster than planned.  But I felt comfortable and just hung on for as long as I could.  I made to 50 miles or so before I really started to die, and that last 20k loop was really tough.  But I held it together well enough to finish 5th overall, the first American to cross the line, and with a new 100k PR of 6:45:19.  The top 10 finish at the World Championship qualified me for the 2013 US Team and we'll be racing in South Korea next fall.  (I just received word that the 100k in South Korea has been cancelled and race organizers are looking for a replacement venue.)

My training for Western States began immediately after the 100k.  I'm not sure what I was expecting to do at Quad Rock just 3 weeks after Italy.  From an incredible effort at a pancake flat, road ultra to the most elevation change I've ever run before, and my first ultra at altitude as well.  No surprise now that I have the benefit of 20/20 vision.  It was a tough day in the mountains outside of Fort Collins.  I wasn't fully recovered, the altitude bothered me, I wasn't eating nearly enough, and I just wasn't prepared for that much climbing.  No regrets on that last point; I had to pick training focus for the spring and I chose the 100k.  I nearly quit around mile 32, but I just sat at the aid station for 10 minutes until I was able to eat.  Once I got some calories in me I was able to pull on my big boy britches and finish the race.  Although far from perfect, Quad Rock was a great learning experience and really gave me an appreciation and respect for what I would be up against in just six weeks at Western States 100.

Elevation profile of QR50 compared to my toughest race to date.

Western States Endurance Run
My first 100 mile race wasn't perfect, but it was about all I could ask for.  Well, maybe I could ask for one spot better.  I finished in 11th place with a time of 16:42:55 on one of the coolest days in the history of the race.  A top 10 finish would have earned me a spot in the 2013 WS100 race, but it wasn't to be.  Check out my race report if you want all the details, but the short version is this:  I felt off for the first 30 miles struggling with the cold and altitude.  The next 30 miles climbing through the canyons should have been my weak point, but I finally started feeling normal and ran this portion really well.  But then I crashed hard on the flat Cal Street section when I should have been able to roll.  I struggled for about 20 miles, but ran really well the last 7 miles or so and had a strong finish.  There so much energy and attention surrounding Western States that it's tempting to make every effort to get back in, but I'm taking the "when one door closes, another one opens" approach and will look to race more to my strengths this spring.

During my offseason I ran a 15:37 road 5k and also participated in the Hood to Coast relay.  Both were very fun events and added a little variety to my schedule.  Although I hope to be involved in ultras for a long time, I will continue running the short, fast stuff occasionally.

Ultra Race of Champions
The UROC 100k was my mulligan for the year.  I went out too fast, got a sour stomach, and wasn't prepared for the elevation change that was much higher than advertised.  I dropped around mile 44 after eating almost nothing since getting sick at mile 18.

The following weekend I jumped in a very small, local 6/12 hr race on a 1.4 mile paved loop.  I put in 51 miles in 5:50.  I proved to myself that my fitness was fine, but it also proved to be too much for my body to handle. I struggled with minor injuries for the next month that prevented my normal training regimen leading into JFK.

JFK 50 Mile
JFK wasn't a bad race, but it wasn't great either.  Unfortunately, it would have taken a great race on my part to run with Max King or Trent Briney.  Max broke 5:35 shaving a considerable amount of time off the course record of 5:40:45 that I set last year.  Max and I came off the Appalachian Trail section around mile 16 together, but he just had too much leg speed for me to run with him on the tow path.  The nagging injuries I struggled with following UROC kept me from being in top form, but I don't think I would have been able to run with him regardless.  Trent Briney came off the AT several minutes behind me, but showed off his 2:12 marathon speed as he came rolling past me somewhere around mile 30.  It was mostly just a lonely grind the rest of the day for me, but I am proud of myself for staying mentally strong and finishing the race well.  My time of 5:45:13 is still the 5th fastest time ever run on the JFK course in its 50 year history.

I haven't finalized all the race details for 2013 yet, but I'm exploring my options.  Mtn Mist 50k is the only race I'm certain I'll be doing in the next 3 months.  I'd like to take some time and really focus on my training for the next few months and not worry too much about racing.  December's training went really well, and it seems as though I have my nagging injuries ironed out now.  The last full week of 2012 I put in 110 miles in singles with two hard workouts and averaged 6:44 pace.  Right now, I have a strong desire to work on my road marathon speed again.  We'll just have to see where that takes me.

Happy New Year to all my friends!  Best of luck achieving your goals in 2013.