Saturday 31 March 2012

Badger Mt 50k and Some More Charitable Fundraising

Top: Photo used with permission. Copyright Glenn Tachiyama.
Bottom: From Miwok 100k last year.

Badger Mt 50k in the Tri Cities, WA, has an exposed course with around 6,000ft of climb. It was only six days after I trashed my legs at the Gorge Waterfalls 50k and I thought it'd be a good idea at the last moment to try to take it easier  and switch my mind-set by making it a charity run for my local Humane Society of Central Oregon and run it as Elvis (donate here if you think my silliness is worth a few dollars).

The Elvis costume, especially the wig, is now is pretty bad shape after four marathons, one 100k and a half marathon. This 50k pretty much finished it off and I was not Elvis at his perfectly coiffeured best. I was kind of like Elvis in his final days but much skinnier.

The plan made sense and I tried to take it a little easier than last weekend, but Justin Yates from Missoula, MT, zoomed up the climbs and I decided to try to keep him in sight. Last year's winner set the CR in 4:51 so I thought something around 4:20 would be around the front. Justin had other ideas and I chased him all day, losing ground on each climb and gaining some back downhill.

It's basically an out and back with three big(ish) climbs each way:

But it wasn't well marked and we both went off course multiple times. The 100 milers who started 24 hours previously must have struggled to navigate, especially in the dark.

I had a fun day and couldn't keep Justin in sight for the final climb but felt much better than last weekend. However, I didn't really take it easy at all and ended up finishing in 3:56. Justin was a few minutes ahead, smashing the CR with 3:53 and both of us were a lot quicker than I expected anyone to be running. These past couple of weeks are starting to show a benefit in my training so summer should be fun. Results will be here when they're posted. Bend had another good day after last week's Gorge Waterfalls 50k as Darla Askew set a new CR in 4:46 (she qualified for WS100 at Waldo last year so will be running there too).

One consolation I had every time I struggled up a climb or got almost blown over (the wig mainly stayed on by itself) in the high gales around the turnaround, was that I was doing something much more fun than the Barkley 100, which started about the same time. Those poor b@stards going through misery and getting their legs torn to shreds by the bracken as they do somewhere between 10,000 and 12,000ft of climb for every 20 mile loop. I feel very smug right now, but good luck to everyone out there. They have a couple of days left at most so could maybe catch this blog while they're stumbling along (I'm talking to you, James Adams, who will undoubtedly be playing with your phone if it has any reception).

Monday 26 March 2012

Gorge Waterfalls 50k

Photo from the Gorge Waterfalls Facebook page

Yesterday I went up to northern Oregon for what I though would be a beautifully scenic warm-up race to kick-start my season after a bit of downtime to recover from Rocky Raccoon then a road marathon three weeks ago for a bit of speed and fun.

Then I saw the entrants' list included a lot of the fastest runners in Oregon so it looked like being even more enjoyable, both for socializing and running hard. Fast men and women like Max King, Eric Skaggs, Jenn Shelton and my North Face team-mate from Bend, Stephanie Howe.

I mainly entered because the RD, James Varner, has a great reputation for tough courses with great views and this one promised 24 waterfalls along the Columbia River valley. Snow higher up meant course changes and the final course had a few less waterfalls and less climbing, but still was scenic and tough - 5,800ft of ascent and around 29 a little short, but that couldn't be helped.

James had car issues on the morning (a flat tire, I heard) so we ended up starting half an hour late but nobody cared and the course didn't disappoint. It's one of the more technical races I've run in recent years and I found myself feeling tired way too early, after just the first climb at about six miles. Definitely time to start racking up the climbing miles as I only really got into hill work two weeks ago and the course beat me down - this was a tough one.

The revised course was an out-and-back so I could see the leaders as I headed to the turn around - Max was leading as expected, getting redemption for his lost lead the previous week at Chuckanut 50k when he went off course and added 4 miles. I was about a mile back at this point and feeling sluggish.

I had Jace Ives (who won the race the previous year) and Nick Triolo ahead so spent the return trip trying to chase them down, getting ahead, going the wrong way for a minute at the Lord of the Rings-style Multnomah Falls (see photo below) then having to chase Nick and Jace again. I just about managed to stay ahead of them until the finish but was running scared for the last two miles.

Multnomah Falls, Oregon

A great event and one that shows off how beautiful Oregon is. Max won in a blistering 3:19 and Stephanie won the ladies' race in 4:07 (watch out for her this year as she moves up from 50ks to longer ultras!). Multiple Garmins told us it was around 26 miles, but they lost signal for a lot of the course so I'm willing to go with the official measurement of 29 miles. Full results here and I was a fair bit back from Max in 3:46...only the 3rd Bend runner to finish, but Bend had a good day with the mens' and womens' wins plus four of the top ten overall.

Also, a whole load of photos of the course are here if you're thinking of running this. But if you are, it'll sell out in hours so make sure you find out the day entries go on sale for 2013.

Saturday 17 March 2012

What's the Ultimate Distance for an Ultra?

With this month having a lot of high profile 50ks like Way Too Cool and Chuckanut (both with around 700 runners and high quality fields), I wondered what people think the true test of ultrarunning is, in terms of distance. Obviously it's harder to finish a 100 miler than to finish a 50k, but running a 50k really fast seems to get punished in the general consensus of what's the most 'impressive'. Leor Pantilat is a good example as he is almost unbeatable at 50k and showed last year he can run a 50 miler with a 6:00 CR at Quicksilver 50 with something like 7,000ft of climb (probably the most impressive ultra performance of the year but sadly overlooked in general).

So I've added a poll to my site - what's the true test of an ultrarunner? Running any ultra distance hard and fast is tough but I personally think the shorter distances deserve more respect. There's no time to walk or go easy for a few miles in races under 100 miles for the fastest guys and girls, but in a 100-miler you can slow down for a bit and recover with it barely affecting your result.

UPDATE: Here are the results of the poll:

What's the true test of an ultrarunner (not just finishing, but finishing well)?

131 votes

- Over 100 miles 9%
- 100 miles 38%
- 100k 17%
- 50 miles/double marathon 32%
- 50k 1%
(percentages don't add up to 100% due to rounding)

I expected 100 miles to win it by more. But I think it shows that any distance for ultras can be considered the ultimate test if you give it your all.

Sunday 11 March 2012

Pricing Popular Races

Yesterday I was looking up a few races I thought I could maybe fit into my calendar this year and was looking at the New York City Marathon, which is a great excuse to go back to NYC and re-run that event. I checked on their website to see if entries were still available and was gobsmacked to see the entry price (entries are still available, btw). A non-refundable $11 to enter the lottery (all other race lotteries I'm aware of are free if you lose out) plus the entry cost of $216 (NYRR members), $255 (other US residents) and a whopping $347 for non-residents. That means entry for a 26.2 mile race for someone outside the country is $358!

In comparison, the London Marathon, which is the nearest comparator in terms of size and scale, costs just a fraction (the last time I entered in 2009, I think I paid the equivalent of under $50 as a resident and I understand this hasn't changed significantly). Admittedly, the London marathon charges more for foreigners with the ballot for them costing the equivalent of about $158, but that's still a big difference of $200 with NYC.

In single-stage ultras (multi-days are a different breed with accommodation and other costs coming into the entry fee) there's less discrepancy between race costs bewteen the US and Europe, but the most popular still cost a lot in the US, with Western States 100 costing $370. UTMB is biggest 100-miler in Europe and costs the equivalent of about $203. Both have lotteries that cost you nothing if you lose out.

Every race has specific costs, but I'm an economist and I wondered how much of the price differences were based on cost differences and how much was supply and demand. All of these races mentioned above are hugely oversubscribed and could charge a lot more and still fill their entry spots due to high demand, so I'd argue that the price must come down to costs and potentially milking people for a profit.

Yet the organizers of NYC (NYRR) are a charity, London's profits all go to charity, WS does the same (including towards trail work and maintenance) and I can't find information on whether UTMB is run for private profit or not (anybody know?).

So does this mean that the only difference is costs if they aren't making money for shareholders? Well, even within the scope of a charity, the costs can be subjective (such as wages for the staff) and the profit that goes to charity can still be maximized (especially if the charity is the race itself). For the ultras, most people who know about WS are aware that a significant portion of the costs is for the belt buckles, especially the silver ones. The organizers of virtually every ultra I know aren't grabbing every penny they can and do it largely for the love of the sport, wanting to cover their costs and make a living providing a great product to people.

But marathons are certainly much more corporate, even if they're a charity. Competitor Group organizes the Rock 'n' Roll series of marathons for profit and charges fees that seem excessive to many I've spoken to (including myself) but if you enter for really early bird discounts they are often not much more than $100 - well shy of the NYC costs. The major city marathons have huge prize purses and much of the entry fee goes on that, but sponsors also contribute heavily and TV coverage provides more revenue.

So it comes down to one question that's still not answered for me. Why does NYC cost so much more than London? They both offer a lot of prize money and try to attract the best marathon field in the world, which London arguably manages to do better, possibly due to the course being faster. NYC also had an increase in policing costs for 2012 which resulted in them charging $60 more than the previous year for an entry. But London and NYC should surely be at least a similar price unless there's some bad management of the budgets or a lot more money going to the NYRR charity. Does anyone know if this is their cash cow that then subsidizes their other races and events? I'm not suggesting there's anything sinister, just that there's a significant price differential between US and European marathons which is highlighted most between London and NYC.

I'd appreciate any more information that people can provide as this has caught my interest. Are insurance costs for races a lot higher in the US? Is there something significant I missed? I'm not a race director but I am a certified accountant as well as an economist so I'd like to find out more about the numbers. I couldn't find any financials for any of these races online - let me know if you have any links. [update - here are some numbers on the NYRR. In 2010 they made $8.5m in profit (tax exempt); revenues and costs aren't all split out for just the marathon but it looks like most of the revenue of $50.1m was NYC marathon related but only $22.2m was for marathon costs].

Also, for clarification, I don't mean to imply that organizing races for profit is wrong in any way - people deserve to get a return for creating something others want. It's just the discrepancy in pricing that I'm wondering about. If people want to pay huge entry fees then they can and there are races at all ends of the pricing spectrum. Also, the entry fee is often only a small part of the cost of doing a race, especially if it's far from home.

Friday 9 March 2012

Public speaking and talks

Given a talk in Austin, TX, with Liza Howard. Photo: Drymax Socks

Talking at a running store in Oregon. Photo: Amy Sharman

I've been doing talks for a while now and so thought I should formalize it more. I've given talks to running stores, running clubs and the next talk I'm giving is to the Canadian Military. I can cover a variety of motivational, running and ultra related topics, so if you want to find out more, click here.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

Elvis’ Adventures in Wine Country

The finishing straight. Photo: Rick Gaston

Running with Devon. Photo: Rick Gaston

Last Sunday I couldn’t turn down the opportunity to run one of the prettiest road marathons around at the Napa Valley Marathon in California. I ran it last year as Spiderman as a good tune-up race but it rained so I hoped to get the proper California treatment of sun all day this time and wasn’t disappointed.

After almost missing the start (I got there literally as the gun went off), I caught up to a few of the local ultrarunners heading out for a bit of speed work – Nathan Yanko, Devon Crosby-Helms (my new The North Face team-mate after she left Salomon at the end of last year) and Victor Ballesteros. I hadn’t seen any of them for a while, so we naturally chatted, as ultraruners do. I think the rest of the field must have though it odd that we were talking as it’s just not the done thing in road races…but neither is wearing a costume.

Our little group had one other running with us and we stuck together to go through 6 miles before Nathan realized that 6 minute miling was way too easy for him and he sprinted off. We spread out of the next few miles but I ran with Devon and really enjoyed having company for 18 miles of the race with her. I don’t think I’ve ever run more than about 13 miles of a road marathon with anyone before and certainly not chatting the whole way, so it was something I’d like to repeat.

We went through half-way in under 1:19 and both had target times which looked very achievable (Devon had a shiny new marathon best of 2:38:55 from January and a course record of just under 2:40 to aim for; I had the 2:42:52 Elvis time from Seattle 2009). Devon seemed stronger and had clearly done more road work which was really paying off – she’ll hit some great times through this year, I guarantee.

By 18 miles it was heating up and I started to feel my lack of road miles in training so that 6 minute miles suddenly became harder. Devon gradually pulled away and went on to knock 7 seconds off the old course record in 2:39:37 to win her weight in wine (and 6th overall - see here report here) while I slowed down to finish in 2:40:49. Great course and a rewarding return to marathoning after a long break of almost a year.

Nathan was 4th in 2:37:15 after a bit of a slow-down and Victor was 5th in 2:37:51 so the ultrarunners had a good day around the front of the field. Full results here.

This weekend I couldn’t avoid mentioning Mike Wardian’s races again since he ran a 2:22 marathon for 2nd on the Saturday then the USATF road 50k championships on Sunday in 3:02 for 2nd too. 5:24ish for 57.3 miles over 2 days is just ridiculous!