Sunday, December 16, 2012

The Return of Running John

As I look back, 2012 was an amazing year for me in terms of my running. Working together with my new coach, Caitlin Smith, I basically achieved (and exceeded) every goal I had set for the year! Some of my highlights included:
  • 1st place at Ruth Anderson 50K (shaving nearly 13 minutes off my 50K PR)
  • 7th place at Ohlone 50K with my fastest time ever on that course
  • 3rd place at North Country 50 Mile (taking 20 minutes off my 50 mile PR)
  • 9th place at Tahoe Rim Trail 100 Mile with a sub 24 hour finish time
  • 1st place at a couple of small, local 10K races
Yet despite all my success, I felt I needed to take a little break this winter as the ultra racing season wrapped up in the fall. While I managed to finish the Bear 100 in October, it was quite a suffer fest and my heart really wasn't in it. Similarly, I pretty much felt the same about Dick Collin's Firetrails 50 mile a couple of weeks later. I ran respectably, but didn't really feel motivated or strong.

After talking with my coach Caitlin I decided to take some time off from structured running and racing, and let my body heal up. I must admit, I hit the beer, ice cream and pizza pretty hard. And I put on a few pounds. I didn't stop working out completely though. I was still running 10 - 20 miles a week. And I was biking 100 - 200 miles a week. But it felt nice, like being on vacation.

However, all that came to an end when Caitlin asked me if I would be willing to pace her for the last 25 miles of her 50 mile race at the The North Face Challenge championship in San Francisco. I was honored! But I was also scared shitless. Caitlin is FAST. She qualified for and ran in the US Olympic marathon trials in 2012. And she won almost every road race and trail race she entered, often setting the course record as well. If I was going to stay with her, much less provide any useful assistance, I needed to get back in shape -- quickly!

Luckily, all the bike riding had kept my cardio fitness in decent shape. I just needed to drop a few pounds and get some leg speed back. I modified my diet, added some track workouts, and did hundreds of push ups and pull ups every day. My life started looking a lot like a Rocky Balboa training montage.

I showed up at the race feeling nervous but hopefully. Caitlin had won this race in 2009 and she was hoping to repeat in 2012 after being away from the sport for the last two years while focusing more on the Olympic trials. I knew it was going to be tough as an elite field from around the world had been assembled in San Francisco this year, all hoping to take home the $10,000 prize for first place.

Pacing Caitlin at The North Face 50
photo courtesy Brett Rivers

I'm not going to write an actual race report since it wasn't my race. Caitlin had a tough day but hung in impressively for 4th place. I was incredibly proud of her for gutting it out. While she didn't win and ended up finishing just off the women's podium, she still ran an amazing race and finished ahead of many of the top names in an international field of elite ultra runners. You can read all about the race on Caitlin's blog here.

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