Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Finding a 'W' amongst the Autumn Leaves

I wrote a blog back in June called 'Searching for a 'W'', centred on my experience of running here in the States and the relative weakness of races. At the time I had finished second or third overall 7 times in 17 races. Fast forward to last weekend and that record became 9 from 26, with the last two races, second places, both around 30 seconds behind the winner. During that time I've been setting personal bests in 10k, 15k, 21k and also a couple of sub 3 marathons, so although the races ARE weaker I have been running well enough. 

This weekend was the Autumn Leaves 50k, a 'trail' race in Champoeg State Park (pronounced Shampooey!) with 8k of cycle paths and 2k of trail on the 10k loops. Last year's winner Joe Uhan (3,18) was out, and with second place 3,58, this looked like a genuine 'W' chance. It may look like I'm targetting races, but it was local, I had the generous offer of a lift to the race, and the entry fee wasn't outrageous. A 50 miler was also taking place, and this had 2013 Western States winner Pam Smith gunning for the fastest 50 mile time in the US this year.

Flat, 5 loops, mostly cycle paths
It was dark at the start and I'd forgotten my headlamp so ran with Pam and another speedster in the 50 miler. Soon enough it was clear that the 50k wasn't that competitive and I was in the lead, but oddly with two 50 milers close. When one of those has won this year's most prestigious ultra, and the other is a previous sub 4 minute miler, you don't feel so bad. But, to 'win' the 50k and finish behind a 50 mile runner didn't seem the real deal, so I pushed on and made sure I at least had a gap. As this was an out and back type loop I could see gaps and work out what my pace had to be. Through the marathon in 3,07 and finished in 3,43 and change was enough to earn the 'W' a shield, shoe voucher for $120 and oddly a T-shirt voucher. So after months of busting my balls trying to hang with twentysomethings in shorter races, the W came easier than I'd thought. It's only the 8th fastest time on the course since 2006 (but seems to be a Masters/Vets course record) and I got lucky with the strength of the field, but it's still a good feeling to cross the line first, and have a race to go back to next year to 'defend'. Again, given that my mantra this year has been 'hills, hills and more hills' it's ironic that it came in probably the flattest trail race in America. 

My Otter Trail race top and K-Way 3/4's still doing great service!
It was fun, but I also know that my times would put me way down the field in most South African races. For example my recent 15k PB 53,46 (and 2nd place) would have only been good enough for 38th in a competitive Cape Town race, likewise, my half marathon PB of 80,38 (2nd again) would have put me 17th in last months CT 21.1km Classic. Like most running though, it's about doing it for yourself, your personal physical and mental wellbeing and also trying to improve your times and performances regardless of the field. I'm not sure that I was in either a good physical or mental place given a 30 mile training run last weekend and waking up with an overactive mind. 

But, theres rarely a time when going for a run puts you in a worse mood or frame of mind, so again it was cathartic, and nailing the 'W' a fillip for my soul.

June's 'searching for a W' blog HERE
Garmin file HERE

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Finding Inspiration

I've struggled to get truely motivated by any road running images. Even watching the big city marathons, with world records being set, doesn't really make me want to go out and run. Watching Mo Farah win two Olympic golds at 5000m and 10000m did set the pulse racing, but it didn't make me want to go and blast around a track.

Only trail running does that. Watching Kilian Jornet set a Matterhorn FKT (fastest known time) even via twitter was inspiring. Pacing at Western States, being at Leadville, following UROC via irunfar's excellent web coverage all does that. It's knowing that it isn't just a case of clicking off the miles, that you will be running in God's country with all the challenges that brings that inspires.

Everyone who comes and runs in Portland, and back home in Cape Town, understands the draw of the trails and mountains. I'm pretty conservative (substitute boring) but even I want to run arouns Mount St Helens and Mt Hood, run Western States, be part of the races here.  The variety and the number means you really don't have to run the same race twice.

Sunset from Council Crest, Portland
BUT, given all that, my inspiration is still waking up and running up high enough to see a sunrise or a sunset. After a week of cloud we are now having a proper Fall and it's my new mission to see either a sunrise or sunset every day, preferably both. Today I achieved a sunrise, a sunset from the wrong side of the mountain and a bonus moon rising. I'll take that.

I don't want to be rich or even to really have an amazing career. I'd much rather see every morning from above a city, across a pass, or wherever it enriches the soul. Ok, so you have to work to be able to have some means to be in beautiful places, but I won't ever sacrifice time outside for chasing the money. What's the point of 8a-7p and the bucks if you don't see the autumn leaves, feel the season's chill or watch the day come alive.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Inferiority Complex

"100 miles isn't a long way" Karl Meltzer

It's the gold standard distance here in the States, the race by which all ultra runners are judged. Until you've raced 100 miles, you are just playing. It's when your body and mind are tested to the limit. It's like no other 'normal' race distance. Having never run beyond 90km (55 miles) I don't know this for sure, but having paced and watched, and followed a few hundred milers now, I still find it impossible to comprehend how you run for 17-30 hours without a break. How you manage your body, stop it falling apart and feed and hydrate it for that long.

Change to 70, 80, 90 and 100 miles and it makes sense too I'm sure
I see-saw between a desire to try it and the thought that it would be just too hard to try and fail. And of course the training for it. A lot of runners will say it changes you, how you live the rest of your life, and your perspective. That's appealing, to see how far you can push your mind and body and the future consequences of that.

If you aren't a 100 miler here, you do tend to stop talking about your marathon and shorter distance exploits, as they seem pretty inconsequential to runners who have maybe seen two sunset in one race! That's a good thing. What we do isn't special, most of us don't have any special talent and have turned to running to lose weight, get fitter, purely as a recreation. Maybe we've found, with training, we can run in races and enjoy a competitive aspect. And it IS a physical and mental test, but generally, at least up to 50k it doesn't require a massive amount of planning, or training over a maximum of 3-4 hours in one session. I know this might sound a lot IF you don't run but its a morning's activity.

So right now I'm doing the 'pretend it's not there' game. Ignore something that is so obviously in your face. Unlike SA, its 'easy' to find a 100 miler here, there are races every week within a drive or a short flight, but right now I'm in denial and will probably stay that way til I'm at Western States or Leadville again, and then the wondering will start again...

Friday, October 4, 2013

A Winter of Discontent and a distant Odyssey

This is my second winter in the US, but somehow seems like the first. It's the first time here when I've transitioned from summer to winter, and it's been a quick transition. Having a week off where I didn't have to run early before work made it seem more sudden, but the fading light, heavy rain and less sunshine makes running the trails harder and less fun.
Running over the many Portland bridges, in the dark, is fun. Once in a while!
Before this year my percentage of trail running was probably between 10-20% of mileage, maybe lower. This year its at about 70%, so the prospect of running back on the lit streets of Portland is really not very appealling. There are plenty of streets, but at the end of the day they dont have the variety and beauty of the trails here. They also don't have the hills, which is something else I've increased this year, from an average of 5000m a month in 2012 to over 9000m in 2013. I can't say I LOVE hills yet, but I do hate not knowing they'll be any climbing on a run. It seems cheating, on a training run.

So how to keep motivated during winter? I seem to race more out of summer time, and I'll do more track session if I can fit them in around races. A decent headtorch is on the shopping list, as are lightweight gloves. More weekends on different trails, and try and keep my hill metres up.

There's also a joy to be out there in mucky weather when the trails are quieter and you can come back with evidence that you've run off road. The muddy shoes and legs, the sweaty Buff, steam sometimes rising from your body.

Odyssey Buff still giving good service
A post from an SA running friend with a picture of a route marker from the Cape Odyssey trail race in 2007 brought back lots of great memories. The Odyssey was pretty much the first multi day stage race aimed at the 'normal' runner (ie you didn't have to carry your supplies on your back for multiple days). Even so the first year it was pretty brutal for those of us used to one day races. Five days of, according to my logbook 32k, 60k, 42k, 39k and 37k, with those last two days taking us a combined time of over 11 hours! Add in heat, climbs over mountains and big gaps between aid stations, and it still remains the toughest race I've done. The first year, with my partner Moyra, we won the first 4 stages, but I blew on both the long day (60k and 6 hours 40 mins) and the last day, and shuffled to the finish. The second year I only blew on the last day when we managed to almost lose over an hour lead. Only really being saved by shortening of the last day's stage and re-routing it onto road!

This route marker made it to someones garage
The Odyssey (as with other Kevin Vermaak events) was ahead of it's time and maybe a bit TOO tough, as it only lasted two years. Now we have African X, Southern Cross, and many other multi day stage races, which by virtue of their distances are even more accessible to runners. The pace is definitely quicker and the competition hotter than when it all started in 2007. Trail running was always a community, and it feels more so then ever, both here in the US and back in SA.