Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Desire to Run Faster

For any of us, regardless of our passion or profession, I believe it is in our nature to try and better ourselves. With what effort we can we try and throw out those negatives that might hold us back from bettering our best; growing older, lack of time, no resources, the list goes on. And even when we are progressing, I think (and hope for that matter) that most of us - at least those of us who actually care about the things we do - still want to make that big jump up to another significant level instead of having to take baby steps.

I'm trying not to be overly specific here since this way of thinking applies not just to running (which is what I'm obviously going to be talking about), but may also applies to a persons career, family life, and other recreational endeavors. As for me though, this is of course about running.

Like any competitive person I want to get better at running because it is what I love and I want to compete at my absolute best level. However, as an ultra-runner I believe it is considerably more difficult than the average road marathoner for a few reasons:
  • While many people experience a mental and/or physical low during a marathon, ultra-runners often experience several. Managing through multiple lows can have a major impact on ones overall race time.
  • Time at one or two aid stations during a road half or full marathon might impact your overall time by up to a couple of minutes. In an ultra the same delays at the up-to a dozen or more aid stations can impact your overall time by an hour or more.
  • While many people in marathons have to stop for a bio-break, ultra runners have to do it many times (hopefully, if not they are in trouble). Again, a big impact on overall time.
There are more, but I'll just leave those as a simple example. It boils down to this, if I want to make a significant jump in my ultra-running ability, I have to be prepared to make a few major changes. Until 2011 my previous best 50 mile time was just over 9 hours. I set a goal going into the Antelope Island 50 Miler of 8 hours, a full hour faster than my previous best. That 9 hour 50 was run during the first half of the Pony Express 100 miler last fall, on a very flat course. Antelope Island 50 has three times as much vert and much of it was run on technical single-track instead of wide open dirt road. I knew that to accomplish my goal I'd have to run faster and spend less time at aid stations. Sticking to my race strategy I was able to run a 8:02, accomplishing my goal. I think it's pretty impressive considering I had a real low-point for about 15 miles during the race and almost dropped.

I've been reading reports of elite runners going sub-20 hours on tough courses and much faster on the flatter ones. While I know that's well out of my league right now I do have the desire to at least go sub-20 hours on a flat, faster course. It's my goal to go under 20 hours this year at Pony Express 100. To do that I will have to knock off more than 2.5 hours from last year's time. And my only basis of comparison in a 100 miler since was at Laramie where I ran 23:21. While it was 40 min slower than my first 100 miler, the course was significantly harder, was run at elevation, and I was really not feeling it that day. So to add only 40 minutes onto a course that had 10,000 ft more vert and was run on a slightly technical course (a few of the miles on the loop were technical) is a huge jump in performance, at least that is how I'm viewing it.

So how do I go sub-20 this year at Pony Express? Well, the reasons are numerous:
  • First and foremost, I can't bonk at mile 18 and then continue to flail until mile 31. I was a wreck at mile 20, sitting on the back of the car bumper with ice on my legs. I lost 40 minutes over the several times I spent just sitting there icing my legs.
  • Avoid any kind of allergic reaction. Ha. If you need to know what I'm talking about, read last year's race report.
  • Shorten my longer aid stops. In a 100 miler I expect to have 2 - 3 longer stops (upwards of 10 min). However, last year I had at least two stops that were in the 20 min range. My goal this year will be to keep all stops under 5 min. It might be hard to do, but it's a goal.
  • Run more consistently the last 40 miles. I just need to run more and walk less, it's simple math.
  • Finally, fuel better. I have a much better understanding of fueling this year and plan to take full advantage of it. If I can keep my energy up then I can run faster, longer. 
So that's the plan. Will it result in a less than 20 hour finish? We'll see. I have one last long run while I pace my friend Scott for the last 47 miles miles of the Wasatch 100, then run a couple of additional good weeks before a nice taper. If all goes well I'll be more physically ready for this year's race than anything I've ever done before. Time will tell.

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