Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Getting Started

With temperatures in the minus numbers, a pair of sore knees and a heavy week of running just completed, I have decided to take this moment to get a blog up and running. I am doing this primarily as a means of maintaining a record of my runs, something I used to do religiously, but after a six-month, injury-induced running hiatus between August 2007 and February 2008, I decided to quit logging my runs. This was mainly because I attributed my injury, in part, to an obsession with hitting weekly numbers (regardless of how my body felt).

The injury was especially unfortunate as it came two weeks before the Leadville 100, an event for which I had been logging big miles for over 12 months. I ended up toeing the line, despite barely being able to walk, and dropping 25 miles later at the Fish Hatchery. I mean to race Leadville again in 2009, and am shooting for a sub-20-hour, top-ten finish. This being my primary focus, I am sure it will be referenced frequently in the coming months.

Since coming back from injury, my running philosophy has become much more relaxed, and I have assumed a 'run by feel' approach to my training. That is to say, I run on a regular basis, but am no longer a slave to schedules, numbers or times. With that said, I am beginning to realize that record keeping is still a useful and necessary training tool; hence the blog.

A quick primer on my running career: it began as a mission to complete a marathon, which once completed (Detroit 2004, 3:28) became a mission to qualify for Boston (New York 2005, 3:07), which in turn became a mission to go under three hours (Marine Corps, D.C. 2006, 2:54).

Following our move to Fort Collins, CO, my focus changed to longer distances and a preoccupation with the 100-mile distance in particular. I trained well for Leadville, and was posting some competitive trail times and finishes before succumbing to a debilitating lower-back injury which appeared to be linked to a stress fracture in my pelvic bone, an injury that had been bugging me for months but not enough to slow me down. Lesson learned. Pay attention to pain.

Anyway, I was finally forced to follow the doctor's advice and took time to let things heal. Fast forward six months and 20 pounds of weight gain, and I was horribly out of shape and finding it very hard to get motivated to run again.

Being out of shape, with nothing but steep mountain trails to train on, made getting out the door to run on a regular basis very difficult, to say the least. I finally re-found my rhythm after a friend from the Fort Collins Running Club asked me if I would pace her at the Badwater 135 ultramarathon through Death Valley. This really got me motivated to run again as it is an event that has intrigued me for quite some time, and I really wanted to be able to help Alene achieve her goal. The training paid off and I was able to pace Alene through the last 45 miles of the course, helping her hit the tape in under 48 hours for a belt-buckle finish. We mostly walked, and it was a very long walk for sure, but it was a truly memorable experience, and one that I use as a motivator on a regular basis. Alene's pictures and reports from Badwater are available from her blog.

Training for Badwater was just what I needed to get back in the groove, and soon after returning to Fort Collins I was on the interwebs looking for a late-season challenge, which quickly centered on Steamboat in September. My ambition to race in the Run Rabbit Run 50 was the final tool I needed to reinvigorate my running obsession (obsessions can be good).

By September and Steamboat, with some encouraging shorter races along the way, I felt like I was back in decent shape and ready to lay it down. Steamboat went well, all things considered. I was edged into a third-place finish after tracking Ryan Burch, who ran almost pillar to post in first, for approximately 40 miles. He was never any more than three or four minutes ahead of me and frequently within eyesight. I finally reeled him in at the penultimate aid station after working with Todd Trapp to do so. Between the last two aid stations, I decided to make a move for the win, and quickly gapped Todd and Ryan, both of whom I thought were done for the day. Turns out I was the one who was done and a few miles later Ryan came storming back to pass me and he was soon followed by Todd. I was satisfied to put it in neutral back down Mount Werner to the finish (6 miles and 3,000 feet of descent) for a third-place finish, and a goal of running sub-nine hours met (8:42).

Since then, I have set shorter-distance PRs (37:29 10K, 18:02 5k, 23:24 4 mile) and definitely feel like I am ready to train through the winter for a strong start to 2009. My first major test leading up to Leadville will be the Spring Desert Ultra 50 mile in April, an event I dropped out of at the 25 mile turnaround in 2007 after experiencing severe groin pain from about the 12 mile point. Turns out this was the beginning of the end with regards to Leadville that year.

I am also planning some epic runs through Rocky Mountain National Park and the surrounding area with Chad Johnson, another recent transplant to Northern Colorado, and someone who shares my affinity for running up steep mountain trails. Chad was a mountain rescue volunteer in Washington state before moving with his family to Loveland, so he is the perfect running partner for a mountain neophyte from Southeast England, such as myself. We're already tossing around some planned routes, and I simply can't wait for spring to get here.

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