Wednesday 21 December 2011

Looking forward to 2012

2011 has been a great year for ultra running in general with fantastic races all over the world, amazing performances by so many people and obvious growth in the numbers involved in the sport. Personally, I've had the chance to meet so many runners, including many who I'd only seen in magazines and have had my belief reaffirmed that there's no other sport like it in terms of friendliness and camaraderie. So I'm very thankful to everyone who's helped me do the races and been part of the experience.

In terms of reflections on the year gone by, Rocky Raccoon 100 was obviously a high point and I didn't expect to have such a near-perfect race there, with a 12:44 Course Record and the chance to race against some great runners. In many ways it just made the rest of the season a disappointment as I set my sights so high for Comrades in May that I raced too much in trying to get fast enough. But I still had a lot of fun along the way at some great events. Then I basically only ran trail ultras for the rest of the year but played catch-up on the recovery so am looking forward to a little time off right now that the season has ended.

Next year I'll be racing less but still want some road races in there as I found I really missed them in the last six months. They're also great for providing the speed work that can sometimes be put by the wayside when trail running.

So if I'm racing less I have to be a little more selective, although it means missing out on some great events that I'd love to return to, including Boston, Comrades, Mt Hood 50 and Waldo 100k. Luckily there're lots of top class races left and I had a look at to help me decide (and to make sure I didn't miss out on anything I might not have heard about).

Below is what I've decided on so far, based on what I know I'm able to fit in logistically. I'm looking forward to seeing you all out on the trails and roads, so please say hi if you read this and can recognize me out of a costume. In particular it's difficult to choose which 100-milers to run since these take the largest commitment and Hardrock and UTMB, in particular, will have to wait for another year (maybe never for Hardrock if the lottery odds keep increasing).

4 Feb - Rocky Raccoon 100, TX (including a talk in Austin post-race)
4 Mar - Napa Valley Marathon, CA (Elvis Guinness World Record attempt)
31 Mar - Badger Mt 15k, WA (including a talk the day before at the 100 mile pre-race dinner)
29 Apr - Eugene Half Marathon, OR
5 May - Miwok 100k, CA (no costume this time)
23 Jun - Western States 100, CA
31 Aug - CCC 98k, Italy/Switzerland/France
29 Sep - UROC 100k, VA
Oct - Tri Cities Marathon, WA
Dec - TNFEC Championship, CA

It doesn't look like enough as I prefer to race most weekends, but sensible Ian is prevailing over tired-legs Ian. I'm also really looking forward to the Bad to the Bone All-Star Running Retreats starting in Feb and coaching people to some great results at races that include Western States.

On a lighter note, here are some general ultra predictions for next year:

1. Mike Wardian will win at least one really major trail ultra, finally proving that he can find his way through the woods as well as run fast.
2. Several people will run under 14 hours for 100 miles on various surfaces and at least a couple will break 13 too.
3. Western States will be run on the normal course and won't be as fast as the past two years.
4. Some men you've never heard of will win big ultras in the US but you'll have the same names for the women at the front of the top races.
5. China will join the ultra bandwagon, train up some marathon runners and send them to races to make them the 'Salomon' of 2012. These runners will then run away at the finish line and claim asylum.
6. North Korea will try to copy this 'success' but their runners will run away before the starting gun even goes off.
7. Races in the Euro area will become very cheap (to the rest of the world) as the currency becomes monopoly money.
8. In the quest for lighter and more minimalist shoes, one company will come up with the idea of injecting shoes with helium, which will lead to hilarious accidents on course as people with squeaky voices limp into aid stations.
9. Ultra beards will go out of fashion.
10. A tribe from the Amazon will be discovered who run all day and night in Hoka-like shoes and have done for centuries. A book will be written and Scott Jurek will race them.

Then something that probably won't happen (unlike the things above):

1. Hardrock's RDs will love having a fast field so much they'll change their entry criteria for 2013.

Bring on 2012! Assuming the world doesn't end.

Friday 9 December 2011

All-Star Running Retreats in Vegas

Something I've been working on for a while with Gill and Francesca of Bad to the Bone Events (the Ultra Race of Champions 100k Race Directors) is a new way to do running camps. So we thought about what would make it fun and exciting and came up with 'All-Star Running Retreats'.

For 3-days/4-nights, based in Las Vegas in February (16-19th), I'll be joined by Geoff Roes (barely needs an introduction but if you're reading this blog you certainly know he won and broke the course record at Western States last year, as shown in the new film 'Unbreakable'...which is an incredible watch). And road and trail demon, Devon-Crosby-Helms (current USATF 100k road champion, Olympic Marathon Trials qualifier and course record holder at JFK 50).

Hey, even if it's just those two guys and myself out on the trails, including around Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire, I know it'll be fun. But the whole point, of course, is to offer runners of all abilities the luxury Vegas experience (including the Blue Man Group, the Strip etc) mixed with the great trails out of town and the chance to learn from and socialize with some of the top ultra runners out there (plus me shepherding it all).

Below is the full press release but if you're interested then have a look at the website here. It will be a lot of fun and I can't wait to meet more runners at the retreats.

The press release, is as follows:

December 9, 2011, Charlottesville, VA— From the folks who brought you UROC 100K, the groundbreaking, rule-changing Ultra Race of Champions, Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports founders J. Russell Gill and Dr. Francesca Conte are excited to announce a new concept in running camps for 2012. Not a grueling boot camp for runners, or a dense, pack'em in (runners and miles) seminar, All-Star Running Retreats allows runners to combine the fun of a weekend getaway at a unique destination with running and learning from some of the fastest and knowledgeable elite ultra runners competing today. The February retreat will take place over three days and four nights in Las Vegas, NV. It will feature Ian Sharman (US Trail 100 Mile Record Holder), Geoff Roes (Western States 100 Miler Record Holder) and Devon Crosby-Helms (US 50 Mile Champ; 100K US National Champion and world class chef).

The dates for the 2012 Las Vegas winter retreat will be February 16 through February 19. All training runs will take place on the most scenic trails in and around Las Vegas, including Red Rock Canyon and the Valley of Fire. Each retreat includes all meals and accommodations, two daily training runs focusing on different aspects of running and training, roundtable discussions with the All-Star staff and social activities, including the "must see" Blue Man Group on the strip. 

"The concept of a running camp is not new, but the combination of an All-Star staff with different strengths and knowledge bases, plus a unique destination like Las Vegas certainly is. The retreats will focus not just on the mental and physical aspects of running, but will also include the social aspect of running--Vegas baby!" says Gill. Retreat Leader Ian Sharman adds: "I am very excited about running and spending three days on the trails around Las Vegas. I have been to Las Vegas many times, and I know how much it has to offer."  Lead Runner Geoff Roes, who spends much of his time in Alaska, echoes that sentiment with enthusiasm: "I can't wait to run in Vegas in the winter!" The retreats will also showcase other qualities of the All-Star athletes, including the culinary knowledge of Devon Crosby-Helms who focuses her cooking on the perfect foods for endurance training. Crosby-Helms will offer a cooking masterclass for all the participants. 

Maintaining their "best of the best" motto, Bad to the Bone All-Star Running Retreats will house participants at the Vegas retreat in a luxury mansion, which they will share with the All-Star staff and other participants. "This will foster the close culture already present in the sport of ultra running," says Conte  "while taking advantage of the best that Las Vegas has to offer." While the philosophy of the All-Star Running Retreats is to offer participants an exceptional opportunity to interact with the All-Star staff in a unique environment, the winter retreats in Vegas also represent one of the best, early training opportunities for runners to get ready for any spring or summer race. 

To learn more about Bad to the Bone All-Star Running Retreats and to register for the January or February dates, visit

About Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports
By directing premiere endurance events, Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports strives to motivate athletes of all backgrounds to challenge themselves. For almost 10 years, Bad to the Bone Endurance Sports events have reflected owners' Gill and Francesca's decades-long knowledge and passion for running.  

About Ian Sharman
Ian is a Brit and started running 6 years ago after seeing a TV documentary about a race across the Sahara. He kind of got addicted and started running races most weekends around the world, mainly in Europe. Then he moved to the US in 2009 to get married and found the ultra culture to be even more fun this side of the pond and makes it his mission to race the most interesting courses and most competitive fields he can find globally. Ian is also a coach. 

About Geoff Roes
Geoff grew up running cross country and track in school and then after nearly 10 years without running much at all he found his way back to running because of his desire to get out into the mountains and explore his surroundings. He considers ultra running to be the perfect blend of mountain exploration, high level competition with some of the best athletes in the world, and plenty of time for personal introspection. He can't think of anything he'd rather be doing with his life right now.

About Devon Crosby-Helms
Devon is a certified personal chef specializing in organic, natural cooking as well as special diets. She runs her own personal chef company, Fast Foodie, in San Francisco. Also, she absolutely loves to run and enjoys trails, roads, and every surface in between from distances of a marathon up to 100 miles.

Sunday 4 December 2011

TNF Endurance Challenge Championship Season Finale

The main chase pack with the eventual contenders soon after dawn. Photo from the TNFEC Facebook page.

Yesterday was the big 50-mile showdown of the year in San Francisco, courtesy of The North Face. We had almost the entire team there for TNF Endurance Challenge Championship and runners came from all around the globe to see who was the fastest (and to win some prize money, ideally).

Marin County is the perfect race course and hosts numerous great races, including the Miwok 100k. And on top of that we had summer-like weather for the area which led to a beautiful red sunrise, views of the Golden Gate Bridge, blah, blah. Basically it would have been great for a fun run, but I think everyone just ran so hard we probably appreciated it most after the race.

irunfar covered the race in detail before, during and after and posted a round-up of results here. No doubt it was a whole load of fun for everyone and there's only so many races where you get to race such a quality field, so everyone was visibly buzzing at the prospect.

In advance of the race it looked like any number of men could take the title if they ran a perfect race and probably around five women had a shot at the win in the ladies' race. But one thing was certain - nobody would be near the front if they only had an ok day, or even a good day.

As most people thought, it started off with a huge pack of maybe 25 men together at a fast pace against a gusty wind, plus the lead women stuck very close together as well. However, two of the Salomon guys flew off even faster, Gregory Vollet and Christophe Malarde, although they later dropped. The pack just flew along and within an hour I had dropped a couple of minutes off the pace from choosing to run a more sensible pace...although still pushing hard (I had a 5:24 mile in there).

Sunrise came and the headlamps were dropped off at Muir Beach aid station, 12.7 miles into the race. A flatter section followed and we could see each other properly now. That was a nice change as I'm not an experienced night runner and my headlamp was like a floodlight so when I ran behind anyone wearing white I got blinded by the reflected shine - Lizzy Hawker unintentionally dazzled me a couple of times (in more ways than one!) as she surged along at the front of the women.

Jason Loutitt from TNF Canada ran up the long, gentle climb to the Cardiac aid station at 18 miles just ahead of me then I latched on to have someone to talk to for a while. It was kind of surreal to be running this race since I found that each runner I approached turned from being a skinny anonymous guy to someone I either knew or had heard of and admired. It made Western States seem relatively uncompetitive even though there were a few notable exceptions from the start list who I won't list out (but Bryon Powell did here).

By the 22.8 mile turnaround the leaders had spread out slightly but there were still a lot of guys looking strong, as well as a few who looked burnt out. I was 11 minutes off the lead and knew I'd have to kick it up a notch to have a chance. I tried but couldn't speed up as planned so suspected I'd be in for a hard day and was right. I've spent the whole year trying to fit my training around a race calendar I selected without much concern for recovery and it's kept me the wrong side of the fine line every runner tries to maintain, although I had a longer rest before this race to try to correct that. Lesson learned for 2012, but I still had almost 30 miles to push through and if I blew up then a whole load of guys would take advantage and zoom past. It's pressure, but it's a hell of a lot of fun and one of the biggest draws of racing for me and many others. Just because the day wasn't going to plan, it merely meant moving the bullseye to doing as well as I could.

I can generally judge my fitness off my marathon times and at the moment I'd struggle to go much below 2:45 (as shown by the 1:21 half marathon as Elvis which wasn't particularly comfortable six days earlier) so knew I was lacking pace compared to the guys I had to race. In comparison, back in February when I felt great I reckon I'd have run under 2:30.

So each part of the course was now broken down into running aid station to aid station, based on running bits of it in other races and vague snap-shots in my memory from looking at the course map. Then I was concentrating so much on power-hiking up from Stinson Beach aid station (mile 28.2 at sea level) that I found myself on a path with no markers. I couldn't remember the last time I'd seen a marker but had recently seen a couple of runners ahead, so wasn't sure if I'd gone wrong. Then a couple of minutes later I see the markers coming from the side as my path reconnected with the correct path. Not a good sign and it mentally knocked me off whack so much that I thought I'd have to disqualify myself for not running the course (I mentioned this to people at the end but my Garmin showed I basically ran parallel to the course for about 5 minutes and may have even added a minuscule amount of distance).

The rest of the day was bright and the wind had died down to make for perfect running conditions and barely any mud. I had no idea what position I was in but at least I was moving up the field gradually as some of the early leaders faded back. It's hard to see talented guys having a bad day but on the trail isn't the time for too much sympathy as it's a race after all and there's always post-race to dissect the day in detail. All you can do is try to avoid bonking yourself, managing nutrition, liquids and pace. But as I passed super fast youngsters, Matt Flaherty and Jordan McDougal (my new team-mate who I only met just before the race) at Cardiac 2 (32.9 miles), I could tell I was hitting the carnage amongst some of the genuine contenders.

Around 25 miles in. Photo from Drymax Socks.

Black and white always looks better even though I was barely moving. Photo from Brett Rivers.

After a few more miles and catching a couple more 50-milers amongst the 50k runners who were now running the same route to the finish, the remaining climbs and descents were smaller and less technical with less than 1,000ft each time. The pace had slowed down at just the point that it should have been increasing  and nobody looked comfortable.

Miles went by without injury or incident but I felt rough until around the 38.9 mile aid station. At least I was moving through the field and nobody passed me until new TNF team member, Mike Foote, caught me at Muir Beach 2 (42.6 miles) and looked really strong as he powered uphill. At the same point we caught Mike Wardian who had a rare bad day and felt sick.

On the final climb after Tennessee Valley 2 (45.5 miles) my efforts were rewarded by catching a couple more guys but then I heard grunting behind me and saw Anna Frost and her pacer moving up the hill. She was as unstoppable as a glacier, but considerably faster and seemed to be red-lining even though she didn't look like she was going to need to slow down. My power-hike/run combo up the hill lost me a little time but I was with her at the high point and with just three miles of downhill and flat to the finish. I wondered what had happened to Lizzy Hawker, who'd led earlier and looked unbeatable, but later found out she'd had to drop due to an achilles pain.

Anna was on a mission and even a 5:20 mile downhill from me barely gapped her. Although I obviously wanted to avoid being chicked, my main focus was to chase down any remaining men who were just ahead but there were only marathoners and 50k runners within reach. I virtually collapsed on the finish, knowing I couldn't have tried harder on the day. 6:55 was my time but Anna was just a minute behind, running one of the most impressive 50-mile trail runs I'm aware of to beat the world's best female trail ultra runners. But maybe not as impressive as a blood-stained Mike Wolfe who crushed the course record and the competition in 6:19 to place him in strong contention for Ultra Runner of the Year. Amazing stuff, although I can't help thinking that there seems to be a TNF policy to have the whole team named Mike.

Mike Wolfe after his win. Photo from TNFEC's Facebook page.

Also, don't miss this video from the Endurables covering the race at the front:

Or this video from Salomon covering their athletes at the race:

irunfar covers the whole event in more detail and shows off the variety of great performances out there in Marin, but I'll also mention Ellie Greenwood who added this race on at the last minute because it looked fun even though her season was meant to be over...and still almost won, running 7:07 for 2nd and 16th overall. Full results are here. And congratulations to everyone who ran. A truly great day and inspiring to everyone there.

So goodbye to the 2011 season. It's been fun and exciting for me as a runner and a fan, but there's some improvement to target for 2012.