Thursday, January 11, 2018

Bandera Post-Mortem: Finish at All Costs?

So, Bandera went very, very badly.

Usually I like to do a pretty detailed race report, but I don't have a lot of details to report from this one other than that it was bad.  I felt bad at the start, I felt bad on the first climb, I pretty much felt bad throughout.  I was hoping to run the first half of the race at about 8:30 pace--similar to what I had run two years ago through the first lap--but struggled to run 9:00/mile pace over the first 16 miles through AS3.  Rather than slow down, I tried speeding up to see if I could run my way out of feeling badly, and hammered the next six miles at just under 8:00 pace, coming through 22 miles at 3:12, within striking distance of the sub-4:30 I wanted to run through the first 50K, but it wasn't working; I started to feel worse and worse.  I finished the first lap in 4:46, about twenty minutes slower than two years go, and spent a few minutes convincing myself to head back out for lap two.  I'd like to report that I found my legs in the second half and had a strong finish, but I didn't.  I ran-walked for the first two hours of the loop before getting a sort-of second wind and running consistent 10-11 minute miles for the next couple of hours, ultimately finishing up in 11:19, nearly two hours slower than my breakthrough run in 2016.

The spoils of mediocrity.
This was my sixth national championship race since turning 40, and despite five top-3 age group finishes (Bandera, Caumsett, and North Coast in 2016, Rocky Raccoon and Cayuga in 2017), I was still searching for my first age group title.  Somehow, in what was easily my worst performance as a masters runner, I was able to secure my first age group national championship. All it took was running a terrible race, having Paul Terranova not show up, and having Chad Lasater age up to the 45-49 group.  What a silver lining.

One sentiment I hear all the time is that you learn more from races that go poorly than races that go well.  This sounds like a very wise thing to say, but I don't think it's true.  I take many lessons out of strong performances: I know what workouts were beneficial in my training, what worked in terms of race strategy and nutrition, and where I can expect to race relative to my competition.  I suppose there are lessons to be learned from failure, if you can attribute a poor race to a mistake you made in strategy, preparation, or fueling.  In this case, though, it's hard to feel like I learned anything that will help me the next time out.  My training for the race had been nearly ideal, and I certainly didn't feel as if there were any aspects of my preparation that were missing; my times in the short prep races were comparable to those I'd run in the previous two years.  I wasn't out too fast, either, actually running a slower pace than planned for the first 16 miles (which was hard to do with a huge field of fast guys hammering at the front).  Maybe I was overtrained; maybe I had pushed some workouts too hard; maybe I was too focused on hitting splits over the first 50K that I got out of my comfort zone too early.  Maybe, maybe, maybe.

Sometimes when people invoke that maxim--that we learn more from defeat than from victory--they are speaking less of concrete lessons that can help us apply changes to future performances, and more about the nebulous idea that we learn about ourselves and our limits when "the going gets tough."  That we have more strength than we think, that we didn't give up, that we can push through the next time we hit a bad patch.  In a way I suppose this is true--you do need to suffer at some point in a race to learn how to deal with that suffering.  Without learning that suffering can be endured, that it passes and gets better, we'd never make it through the rough stretches that define ultra running, and we'd never finish a race when we hit a bad patch.  I'm not someone, though, who believes this is a lesson we need to learn over and over.  I've been running races since I was twelve years old; I don't need to be reminded how to deal with suffering.  I've never subscribed to the finish-at-all-costs mentality.  I know I can finish; I'm not entering races to prove it to myself over and over again.  I run races to challenge myself to perform and to compete against other runners at a high level.  Everyone enters a race with a baseline goal of "just finish," but should we?  What did I get out of walk-running through a 6:30 50K over the second half of that race?  I accomplished none of my goals (other than the aforementioned age group win, which had nothing to do with me).  I didn't learn anything new about myself or my "limits".  I finished a race that I had no doubt I could finish very slowly if I needed to.  I got the same belt buckle I got two years ago.  (It's a very cool buckle, but still.)  Am I any more satisfied with this experience than I would've been if I'd stopped after a single very disappointing lap?  And if I am, should I be?  By any objective measure--my time, my place, my position in the field relative to other runners I know--this was a terrible performance.  Why should the fact that I was able to walk for several hours to avoid a DNF mitigate that in any way?

If you've got a brilliant answer, I'm all for it.  All I can come up with is that I now have four tickets in the lottery for Western States in 2019.  Here's to another opportunity to humiliate myself.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Ultrarunner of the Year: My Ballot

I was honored to be included once again on the voting panel for Ultrarunning magazine's prestigious Ultrarunner of the Year award.  This was my third time voting, and it isn't getting any easier.  I know I complained last year, but at least in 2016 the top spots for both the men and women were pretty obvious.  This year we had no such luck.  I think pretty much everyone will agree on the top two women, although in which order they ultimately wind up is anyone's guess; I spent nearly as much time deciding between the two of them as I did on the rest of the entire ballot.  The remainder of the ballot was pure torture as usual.  I'm thrilled that I get to keep voting, but it really is an excruciating process and by the time I'm done my stomach usually hurts pretty badly.

Posting my ballot has inspired a lot of good-natured (and not-so-good-natured) criticism in the past, and this year with the launch of my new podcast, The Pain Cave, I decided to be a bit proactive in addressing this.  I invited New York ultra stud Jason Mintz, one of my staunchest (if friendliest) critics, on the pod to debate our picks.  Unfortunately Mintz had to cancel at the last minute, but our mutual friend Laura Kline was kind enough to step in and provide the counterpoint to my ballot.  Listen to the episode here; I'll list my ballot below, but Laura and I get into the nitty-gritty a little bit more and really go through our reasoning and justification for some of the decisions we had to make.

I don't yet have the final results tabulated for the Gunksrunner Ultra Rankings for this year, which is unfortunate since I like comparing them to my ballot.  I hope to have the results finished by the time Ultrarunning publishes the UROY results, and we can do a little comparison then.

Just a reminder: FKTs are not to be considered in this voting, not for UROY or Performance of the Year.  A separate committee votes on the top FKTs of the year.  So, feel free to tear apart my ballot, but dear god, don't criticize me for not including FKTs.

Women's UROY
1. Camille Herron
2. Courtney Dauwalter
3. Clare Gallagher
4. Katylyn Gerbin
5. Magdalena Boulet
6. Jacqueline Merritt
7. Kelly Wolf
8. Katalin Nagy
9. Cat Bradley
10. Devon Yanko

I'm not going to delve deep my reasoning for any of these categories; listen to the podcast as we spent nearly an hour doing that and I don't feel like rehashing that here.  The Camille vs. Courtney debate for the top spot was incredibly difficult, but Clare Gallagher was a pretty easy choice, for me at least, at #3.  Spots 4-6 were basically identical and I would've been happy with any order.  Toughest omissions: Keely Henninger, Anna Mae Flynn, Kathleen Cusick, Hillary Allen, Megan Kimmel, Sarah Bard, and Sabrina Little.

Women's Performance of the Year
1. Camille Herron's 100 mile WR at Tunnel Hill
2. Camille's win at Comrades
3. Courtney Dauwalter's 24-hour AR at Soochow
4. Camille (again!) 12-hour WR at Desert Solstice
5. Rory Bosio's overall win and women's CR at Tahoe Rim Trail 50-mile

Tough omissions were Cat Bradley's unexpected come-from-behind win at Western States, Clare Gallagher's win at CCC, Courtney's dominating win at Run Rabbit Run (despite temporary blindness), Katalin Nagy's (transient) 24-hour AR, and Michelle Leduc's Canadian Record at 100 miles (made easier to leave off the list by the fact that Camille ran over two hours faster this year).

Women's Age Group Performance of the Year
1. Liz Bauer (58 years old), first at Across the Years 6-day (418 miles)
2. Meghan (Arbogast) Laws (56), 9th at Western States
3. Sally Brooking (61), 4th at Mountain Mist 50K (5:46--and that's not an easy course)
4. Roxanne Woodhouse (54), first at Tahoe Rim Trail 100-mile
5. Jean Herbert (61), 9:21 at JFK 50

Men's UROY
1. Tim Tollefson
2. Jim Walmsley
3. Alex Nichols
4. Tim Freriks
5. Avery Collins
6. Sage Canaday
7. Mark Hammond
8. Hayden Hawks
9. Max King
10. Patrick Reagan

God, was this an unpleasant task.  Again, listen to the podcast for most of my reasoning; Laura and I discussed if it's fair to grade Jim on a curve, how much a DNF should count against you, why I'm such a Cornell XC homer, and the importance of big international races like CCC, Comrades, and UTMB.  My toughest cuts in this category: Dylan Bowman, Bob Shebest, Olivier Leblond, Jeff Browning, Jason Schlarb, Cody Reed, Brian Rusiecki, Kris Brown, Anthony Kunkel, and Eric Senseman.

Men's Performance of the Year
1. Olivier Leblond's 48-hour AR (262 miles)
2. Geoff Burns' 5:14 at Chicago Lakefront 50-mile
3. Tyler Jermann's 2:48 50K at Caumsett
4. Hayden Hawks' win at CCC
5. Guillame Calmettes' win at Big's Backyard Ultra

I found this category much easier this year than last, for some reason.  Jim had some amazing performances again this year, but nothing that captured the imagination of the ultra world like many of his 2016 exploits.  For some reason Tim Tollefson's third place finish at UTMB was fifth on my ballot last year but not this year.  So much for internal logic.  But I was much happier with this list than with my UROY top 10.  Toughest snubs: Jim's CR runs at Tarawera and Gorge Waterfalls, Tim's aforementioned UTMB race (and Jim, DBo, and Zach at UTMB, for that matter), and Tim Freriks' two huge wins at Transvulcania and North Face.

Men's Age Group Performance of the Year
1. Thomas Devers (60 years old), 3:38 50K (and first place) at the Tallahassee Distance Classic
2. Bob Hearn (51), 151 miles in 24 hours at Run4water
3. Rich Hanna (52), 6:18 at American River 50-mile
4. Jean Pommier (52), 3:19 at Jed Smith 50K
5. Gene Dykes (69), finishing the Triple Crown of 200s

So there you go.  Same rules from last year apply: feel free to rip me apart in the comments, but you have to vote for me for Run Ultra's Blogger of the Year first.  Cast your vote and flame away!