Tuesday, January 14, 2014

2014 Racing Plans: Further and Farther

Where will 2014 take me?
2013 was an amazing year for me. I set new personal records at the 5K, half marathon, marathon, 50 mile, and 100 mile! I had an amazing performance at Western States bringing home the coveted silver belt buckle on the second hottest year ever in the history of the race. And I had a breakthrough race at the Ohlone 50K where I finished 2nd overall and ran 30 minutes faster than any of my previous efforts on that course. And then there was my crowning achievement -- first place at the Silicon Valley Beer 2 Mile Championships!

“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before” -- Edgar Allen Poe, The Raven

Perhaps I should be happy? Perhaps I should be content? Yet something deep inside of me knows that I am capable of more; that all of these accomplishments are just precursors and stepping stones to something greater.  Right now I am running faster and stronger than I have ever before; but who knows how much longer it will last. I desperately want to take advantage of this fitness and test myself.

“Sometimes I’m terrified of my heart; of its constant hunger for whatever it is it wants. The way it stops and starts.” -- Poe, "Terrified Heart"

Let's not call it a mid-life crisis, at least not officially, not yet anyway. It's not like I came home one day unannounced with a new Porsche or anything. But I want 2014 to be the year I seize the moment and attempt something majestic, something seemingly impossible, something unspeakable.

Hardrock 100

There's this little race in Colorado called Hardrock. As far as 100 mile races go, it's the hardest, highest, and baddest. It has nearly twice as much elevation gain as either Western States or Leadville, and it is run at an average elevation of 11,000 feet with numerous mountain passes above 13,000 and 14,000 feet. And as if that wasn't hard enough, while most of the course is run on mountain rugged trails, some of the course isn't even on trails at all! Rather, runners just run "cross country" up and down the sides of mountains over steep fields of scree and snow.

I've always dreamed of running Hardrock. It's a big part of the reason why I convinced my wife that we should buy, and sleep in, an altitude tent. She's a good sport, I might add. Not a lot of spouses would tolerate being asked to go "camping" on a nightly basis in a hot, humid tent hooked up via a long plastic tube to a loud rumbling contraption. But I digress...

Much to my surprise, this year I was selected 7th on the waitlist for Hardrock in the category for people who have never run the race before. What this basically means is that if 7 or more of the original 35 runners selected ahead of me in the lottery decide not to run the race their year (due to injuries, work/family commitments, financial hardship, or whatever) I will be allowed into the race. Last year 9 people from the waitlist eventually made it into the race. So I am optimistic that I may get in. In fact, I've already moved up to 5th on the waitlist.

I may not actually find out until race week or race morning whether I will be allowed to run. So basically that means I will need to train for the race and make my travel arrangements as if I am already in. This requires a bit of faith and dash of luck. But if there's even a one in a hundred chance, I'm going to take it. This is Hardrock, and nothing about it is easy.

“The depth lies in the valleys where we seek her, and not upon the mountain-tops where she is found.”  -- Edgar Allen Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue

Everything about Hardrock is difficult -- from just getting into the race, to finding a hotel room, to following the sparse course marking (which usually get eaten by the marmots anyway). And then there are the legions of biting black flies harassing you as you are stumbling up the mountain. And once you are on top of the mountain, struggling to breathe at 14,000 feet, you have to survive the hail and lightening storms that roll in each afternoon. Welcome to Hardrock... my dream race!

Lake Tahoe 200

Most people would say that you'd have to be insane to run 100 miles through the mountains around Lake Tahoe. But speaking from experience, as both my wife and I have done it, it's definitely hard... but it's not crazy hard. But just in case I don't get into Hardrock -- or perhaps even if I do -- for reasons that I still not completely clear to me I put my name into the hat for the inaugural Lake Tahoe 200 Miler. Yes, that's right. Two hundred miles around Lake Tahoe over rugged mountain trails.

"I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity." -- Edgar Allen Poe, a letter to an admirer

I still can't decide which sounds like more fun, Hardrock or Tahoe 200. Both should be glorious sufferfests. The Hardrock course is definitely harder, but Tahoe is longer -- twice as long in fact. It's difficult to pick a winner. Either one could kill you. But no one's died -- at least not yet -- at either race. Though in fairness to Tahoe 200, no one's actually run it yet. And I guess that's part of the potential attraction for me.

I know that I have absolutely no chance to win Hardrock with several returning champions and a deep field of international stars including Killian Jornet and two-time Western States champion Timothy Olsen. But Tahoe 200 on the other hand... Well, a lot can happen over 200 miles. There are very few people in the world who have ever run that far. Being fast doesn't necessarily ensure victory.

“And I fell violently on my face.”   -- Edgar Allen Poe, The Pit and the Pendulum

At the end of 200 miles the victory may very well go to whoever is just able to keep eating, stay (at least partially) awake, and keep plodding forward -- no matter how slowly. It might come down to an ugly, bloody street brawl. And if that's the case, I like to think I may have a decent shot at winning.

At this point, I still need to wait and see what happens. For example, will I actually get into Hardrock? And if so, will I survive it? And if I do survive, will I really feel like racing 200 miles just a couple of months later? Heck, for that matter, will I even be able to walk, much less run, two months later. There are still a lot of questions. I'll need to sit down with my wife and discuss as a family.

But whatever happens, I'm definitely going to be doing at least one of these two races. And I am going to be all-in, going for broke. I might not win. I may not even finish. But it's not going to be for lack of training or want of effort. I plan to approach 2014 as if it might be my last.

And some other normal races that are less likely to kill me:
  • Jan 18, Pacifica Foothills 50K -- A small local race that I enjoy running
  • Feb 23, Limekiln Overgrown Fat Ass 50K -- Fun team training run; Ohlone tune up
  • Mar 8, Way too Cool 50K -- Fast race with elite field; hoping for sub 4 hours
  • Mar 23, Oakland marathon -- Tune-up for Boston
  • Apr 21, Boston marathon -- Shooting for PR and sub 3 hr
  • May 3, Miwok 100K -- Hilly! Hoping for top 10 finish
  • May 18, Ohlone 50K -- After 2nd place last year, I want to win it this year!
  • Jul 11, Hardrock 100 *
  • Sep 5, Tahoe 200 *

Note: it was brought to my attention by a friend that a runner named Joel Zucker did indeed die after the 1998 running of Hardrock from complications arising from a cerebral hemorrhage. I was not aware of this when I wrote my blog post above, and I certainly would never make light of such a tragedy. I did not know Joel, but I certainly feel for his family and friends.


Lorenski said...

Is it too early to claim a portion of your 2014 success based on the fun run I organized and you attended recently? Well, I guess at least I can say, "I train with that guy. But I do not wear the America outfit nor sleep in the tent." Kill it homey. We will be cheering you on. And I will be at the Tahoe City AS.

Keith said...

If you don't win the Tahoe 200, you can combine it with the beer 2 mile to create the worlds first beer 200.

Big Johnny Burton said...

Loren, that training run was a blast. Hopefully you can organize a few more of those? I'm racing this Saturday though at Pacifica 50K.

Keith, I love it! Beer 200 miler. One beer per mile. I wonder if that is even possible? Only one way to find out I guess :)