My running base is decidedly small, and I've come to believe that in light of that fact, I need to be careful about the amount of training and recovery that I allow for myself. What I mean is, I don't have the base mileage and strength that I think is needed to race strong many times a year. With this in mind I have chosen two races to go for, one early and one late with the emphasis on getting to the date in July in top shape, and more fit than I was this past December. I can't ask too much of the races that I'm not gunning for because I think it would derail my efforts at the latter races. I don't have a super man body that some do, and the mileage would take its toll. I've actually come to see this as a benefit rather than a weakness, I can work hard to attain a certain level of base fitness, but for me there needs to be a focus. Not necessarily formulaic, but determined.
I believe that I am coming closer to the running weight that is optimal for my body type and I've been careful to examine the mileage I incur in a build up to a race. Two years ago I was 185# and built much differently that I am now, to that end I've had to buy new clothes and become accustomed to wearing a medium instead of a large. However, the drop in weight has had a positive effect on my recovery and running as a whole. The pounding on my body is much less now at 160# and I feel much more nimble on the trail. With the drop in weight I have found that I need to eat along with the build up in mileage: run more, eat more.
I've planned a few races out for the year, and due to the coming child, I'll have a front loaded schedule with my racing ending in July. I know for a fact that I won't be in top shape going into Way Too Cool but it will be a good bearing of how my training is coming along. For me 50K is a great race distance because it is a distance that is within my recovery tolerance and I should be ready to go again in April. I plan to have a longer building period going into June and July with my base mileage basically building from now until the last week of June.
All of this folds into some other thoughts I've had about racing ultras. I visualize a lot during my daily runs; perhaps to avoid the monotony of the same paths, but it serves a greater purpose. I go back through my previous races or look forward to upcoming races and see areas of opportunity. Where do you make a move? What are you racing for/against? What do you do when the pain and fatigue sets in? For me it's been hard to decipher these things in the build up to a race and even at times during the run. I've been all over the map, just look at the results off to the side. I think a lot of my inconsistency has just been the immaturity of my running career, I don't have the base to truly run great times over and over, or at least I haven't yet. I think I'm closer, or I'd like to believe that.
Truly, I want to be a strong racer, someone who can compete at least on the regional level for top spots. My two best races to date have taken place no closer than 1400 miles from Denver, but hopefully that will change. It is important for me to view a course with an attacking mind, I want to say, "at mile 23 I will switch from conservation to race mode and go for it." I want to say, "I'm racing against all these other people." These are important things to have, they motivate you before and perhaps during the race, but for me it's not the crux. I think, and I say this lightly due to my inexperience, that the FOCUS is the important part. Focus is the area that answers the question "what do I do when the pain and fatigue set in?" Focus is the place where you go to detach your brain and push your body to do things only an imaginative person would believe.
Two examples from my best two results. At Hellgate, the first half of the race was decidedly loose and talkative. I interacted with other runners and really had no agenda other than to conserve and finish, but at 50K I truly began to focus on the task at hand. I don't remember much of the scenery to be honest, I was so in the moment, transfixed on pushing and pushing harder than I ever had before. It was a moment, or series of moments, that flipped the switch in my brain that I haven't been able to turn off since. How do you continue this focus?
At Sun Mountain, I was focused going into the run, dead set on running a specified pace and hitting a split until the pain really set in and I fell off the pace. I lost focus. I remember being pretty upset those last 10 miles, knowing that my goal was within my reach but I just couldn't get there. While this race was my 50M PR by a long way, I was missing something. Focus.
I know this is long, but stay with me. I'm not sure if this is the same with marathoning but suspect it is, you need to get to a place in the race where you are going hard but able to really dig deep and focus on the task at hand. Mile 20 for a marathon, mile 23 for a 50K, mile 40 for 50 miles... The point is the same, if you are truly racing, you need to be in a position to truly race the crux of the race. My goal for the year is to be in a position to do great things, and to me that means being at the front of a race and maybe even winning one, but to do so I've got to be ready and willing to focus during the crux of the race and not give in to the fickle mind.
Cheyenne Canyon, Big Horn, and North Fork. These are races that I truly believe I can win. Perhaps that's just in my mind when I'm daydreaming through my daily runs, but belief is a major piece of finding that focus. I won't win a race if I don't believe that I can. Perhaps more importantly, I've found some success that I can hopefully build upon. To build upon it, it is the hard work. Squats in the gym, tough mountain runs, tempo runs, and recovery. Diligence in all things to get to the next level. I am working on the focus and the belief that my better days are ahead of me. I look around me and see guys crushing it that are older, more wise, and more experienced than me and I say, "one day I'll run that way, and to get there I'll do the work." No one takes shortcuts and gets better. Time to go to work.