Friday, December 25, 2015

Looking back at 2015

I felt like Icarus flying too close to the Sun this year, going after races that were on orders of magnitude much more difficult than anything I have ever attempted in the NUT 100K and Wasatch Front 100 Mile.  The climbing of these races never seemed to end, and the cut-off monster was breathing down my neck every step of the way; Ultras of moderate difficulty and with generous cutoffs can lead you to a false sense of surety in the belief of your abilities to “outlast” these races through stubborn force of will alone, until you run straight into an immovable Mountain that turns your legs into lead.  Outlasting is what I’ve been mainly focusing on for the past 4 years, as I first chased distances to the 100 Mile mark, then focused on races with a lot of climbing, all the way to my first Mountain Hundred at Bryce Canyon; speedwork was always an afterthought as I piled on the miles and vertical during training, but I could no longer simply outlast these difficult races, I had met my physical limit.  Now I have to ask myself, do I want to continue pursuing the most difficult races out there, and could I ever muster the will to put up with all the training that’s necessary to have a chance at the them?

I train hard to be in the mid to back of the pack at Ultras, but at the same time, I’ve never been as dedicated towards it as some people can be.  During peak training weeks, I normally put in 50+ miles of training, with spending long back to back weekends on the trails, it’s hard to see myself doing anymore; yet I see other runners doing the same, while dragging tires, or running in the afternoon heat instead of the morning, or putting in 60-70 Mile weeks, or regularly doing blistering speedwork, or do all manners of weight and cross training, or all of the above...and I just can’t picture myself ever being that dedicated, when it’s all that I can do just to keep up with my own rather modest training regiment.  Of course, those who are doing more advanced levels of training are aiming much higher than my pedestrian goals of merely finishing these tough races, but when it comes to a race like Wasatch, being an Ultra Pedestrian is no longer enough, I need to dial the intensity way up, and for a lot longer periods if I’ll ever have a chance at these races...whether I have the will to do so, is another story.

I believe Willpower is a finite resource, for most of the year I’m in the 30s Mile/Week fitness and sanity maintenance mode, to bump that any higher would require more dedication, and more dedication usually means making more 5am wake-up calls throughout the week, and that’s just not something I can easily maintain for long stretches, unless there’s a huge race ominously around the corner that forces me out of bed.  From four years of pursuing Ultras, I’ve come to the conclusion that there’s only a short several months window where I have the will and drive to really dedicate myself to high level training, and hit those 50+ mileage weeks consistently before a big race.  Afterwards, my training and dedication crashes for months, either due to injuries or burnout, and it’s always a struggle to start up again.  2015 has been a particularly challenging year due to the huge come down I experienced after completing Bryce 100 Mile the previous year, and especially after spending nearly half a year trying to overcome a groin injury that kept me to limited miles; the struggles (including the absolutely horrible weather in the beginning of the year) were just too much to overcome to take on an even more difficult challenge in Wasatch…I couldn’t find the motivation to push myself extra hard to train for that race before it was too late.

Looking back at 2015, I sorta wished I had never gotten into the lottery for Wasatch, I clearly could’ve used a down year after chasing ever longer and higher Ultras so intensely for 3 years prior, but at the same time, even with all the DNFs, I’m glad I got to experience the races that I did.  If I hadn’t gotten into Wasatch, I most likely wouldn’t have entered the highly difficult NUT 100K as a way to challenge myself, and wouldn’t have had that out of body experience of having your mind, body, and soul being absorbed into the moss and fern covered towering old growth forests running alongside the North Umpqua River; also I wouldn’t have had the excuse to drive all over Oregon for a few days and visit the awe-inspiring Crater Lake as well. If I hadn't gotten into Wasatch, I wouldn't have experienced the majesty of the Wasatch Mountain range, climbing them was the highlight of my year by far, and it's kinda hard to say being able to spend 61 glorious miles on those Mountains was a disappointment. Finally, if I hadn't gotten into Wasatch, I wouldn't have tested my limits like never before, and subsequently know it's no longer has to be raised significantly if I'm ever going to return to Wasatch for another attempt.

I’m still undecided on what to really do for 2016, a huge part of me wants to take a step back from chasing Mountain Hundreds (not quite ready to jump back into that meat grinder...), and focus on having fun and exploring other more moderately difficult races in the 50 Mile to 100K distances that I’ve always had my eyes on.  So far I’m already signed up for Big Bend 50 Mile in January and the Sean O’Brien 50 Mile February, training runs for another go at a Hundred Mile at the beautiful Zion 100 in April.  I still desire a race in the Mountains though, and if not a 100 Miler, a 100K at Kat’cina Mosa or the Tushars 93K (both races are pretty much shorter versions of Wasatch) in August sounds great too, at least I know I’m capable of handling the climbing at those distances.  Whatever I end up doing for 2016, I know I have to focus on continual improvement (speedwork, seeking more training partners and groups to hold myself accountable, or maybe even a coach...), because once you’ve experienced the races that I’ve participated in this year, you’ll never want to stop chasing them.