When looking back at 2011, a few things stand out as memorable lessons that I’ll carry into the future. Here are a few thoughts:
Sportsmanship – Last February, the Leadville 100 closed registration in what was an unprecedented early sell out of the event. Since I hadn’t had the opportunity to put my name in the hat, I was immediately struck with panic that I would not be allowed in. I expressed my anxiety to pretty much anyone who would listen and was pretty resigned to the fact that I’d have to find a different late summer race to aim towards. Just as I was beginning to accept that I would not run Leadville 2011, I got copied on an email string between Duncan Callahan and LT100 Registration Manager, Shannon Gibson. Without my asking, the defending champion had reached out to the race organizers to secure me a special consideration entry into the race. Duncan knew I’d be one of his main contenders and still made the unsolicited effort to get me in. I was floored by this exhibition of class and sportsmanship.
Of course, I did run Leadville 2011 and managed to have what was probably the greatest race of my life. Before the shotgun sounded though – when we were all nervously clustered at the start line – I had another very special exchange with Duncan that is one of my greatest memories from my short career in ultramarathon racing. Wearing the #1 and #3 bibs respectively, Duncan and I hugged and he encouraged me to believe that I could win in a short but honest and deliberate pep talk. As simple as it was, coming from the defending champion and a fellow favored competitor, it was quite memorable for me. At the end of the day, these two examples are the perfect encapsulation of our running community as a whole. Supportive, helpful, gracious, and beautiful.
Heart – I never ran competitively growing up. Since I’ve never been coached, my evolution as an athlete has been an intensely personal learning experience. Everyday I run by feel and everyday I get to know myself a little more acutely. One thing that has recently caught my full attention is the feeling of strength or weakness in my physical heart. In ultra racing, muscle fatigue is all too familiar. In the hours and days that follow a race, you often hear endless complaints about painful quads, hammies, feet, etc. without much mention of deeper, more internal fatigue. I’ve found that my heart is an incredible indicator of my body’s relative health during training, racing, and recovery. I’ve never worn a pulse monitor or even measured my resting heart rate, but I feel I’ve developed a vivid awareness of my heart and what it’s prepared to handle. I’ve come to allow this awareness to become the coach I’ve never had, and use it to guide my training everyday. Of course, one’s heart rate is intimately correlated with breathing, so I’ve also been experimenting with my breathing when the perceived effort of my heart seems to be at an imbalance with my pace. Training with awareness to those small details has brought my body and mind into an unprecedented mutual understanding.
Killer Instinct – I don’t have it. Even in the couple races I have managed to win, I never really felt confident in my prospects for victory. Not allowing for the possibility of victory is a mental obstacle that obviously holds back any serious athlete. Developing confidence in my own abilities will be crucial to get where I want to go in this sport.
Winter – I had a conversation with Rickey Gates recently about training through the winter in Aspen. He argued that winter training at 8,000 feet makes you a tougher person but not necessarily a faster runner. I can’t say I disagree. Routes become a lot more contrived as asphalt becomes the most practical surface and the cold, short days don’t illicit a lot of inspiration. Rickey has, at least temporarily, relocated to the Bay Area where he probably gets to shred pristine single track everyday of the year. Still though, I love nothing more than a lonely pre-dawn jog on a frozen, silent Rocky Mountain morning. Winter training in Aspen is amazing even if it means I go through a lot of batteries and have significantly more laundry to do at the end of the week.
Just Jogging - Following the TNF 50 in San Francisco last month was awe inspiring and indicative of the paradigm shift occurring in our sport. Watching Mike Wolfe and Dakota Jones sustain 7:30 miles over 50+ miles with 10,000+ feet of climbing was just silly. It was these performances that convinced me that the “just jogging” training program would no longer be sufficient for races under 100 miles. I don’t know how yet, but I anticipate incorporating at least a little bit more hard/fast running into my routine in 2012.
Farming Fitness – I have a good buddy and coworker who is an avid crossfitter and gym rat. He goes through two cycles in his training: “cultivating mass” and “harvesting mass”. The cultivation involves putting on weight and building serious muscle while the harvest involves leaning down and allowing the cultivated mass to announce its presence (getting ripped). I love this metaphor and find it very applicable to running training cycles. The cultivation of fitness obviously happens during training blocks of massive volume and the harvest becomes the taper for and execution of a goal race. I’ve been cultivating for a couple months now. It’s time to harvest the fitness.
Here’s to a successful 2012! Fire it up.