Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Oh what a year!

This time of year it's hard not to reflect back on what is, what has-been and what is still yet to come. While I'll post more on what's-to-come, this post is all about What Has Been in 2011.

In the back of my mind, I want to compare my accomplishments from 2010 to those of the past year but in some ways, it's apples to oranges and not really a fair comparison. 2010 was the 'Year of the Triathlon' - multiple disciplines, more gear and fewer races all culminating with Ironman Arizona. This year's focus was about distilling my focus to a single thing - running. And not just running, but Forrest Gump-like running.

The passion for trail running took me by surprise early in 2011. Combined with inspiration from people like Dean Karnazes, I've been all about pushing the boundaries with my new-found passion and earning my ultra-marathon badge.

So if you've been following these posts at all, you'll know that the "What's Yet to Come" category for 2012 is only going to get bigger and better!

With that, my year in review. Cheers!

PF Chang Marathon
    Coming off Ironman Arizona in November 2010, I was fully focused on running. I was in no mood for cycling and the chlorine from the gym pool had eaten holes in all my trunks. My goal for this race was to be under 4 hours. Call it redemption. Call it unfinished business. My only other marathon was back in 2007 (Portland). I had 4 hours in me but just couldn't execute.
    I had managed to talk my buddy Erik into running it as well. He's a speedster and a fiercely competitive athletic junkie as well so there was plenty of smack-talking going on prior to the race.
    This is the one race I broke the cardinal rule - NOTHING NEW ON RACE DAY. I was swept up in the glamour and hype around compression socks early in the year. So of course I had to wear my new CEP socks on race day and at least look the part of a sub-4 hour marathoner, right?!
    As you can imagine, this was a bad idea. Rubbing and blisters ensued and what could have been closer to 3:30 ended up being a 3:50 time. Damn socks.
    I had still achieved my goal and was happy with my performance.
    Am I satisfied? No.
    Could I do better? Yes.
    Will I try it again? Damn right.
Ragnar Relay
    It's funny how things work. I got recruited through the 'friend-of-a-friend's-friend' network. And so glad that I did. I had done a smaller relay back in the day but never something on this scale and I was intrigued. How could you not be?
    12 people. Packed in 2 vans. 36 hours. 200 miles? Sold.
    I met some great people as part of this event and and happy that I took the plunge. I honestly think that the hardest part about this race wasn't he actual running but rather all the logistics, planning and driving from point to point. My hat is off to April (the biggest "Fool" of them all) for organizing this for the Ragnar Del Sol class of 2011.
    There are too many great memories about this race to re-write them so check out my previous posts if you need the trip down memory lane.

San Tan Mountain 50k
    After PF Chang's, I got this crazy notion that if I could run 26.2 miles, I certainly could handle a few more miles and summarily add the title of "Ultra marathoner" to my resume. How hard could it be?
    Knowing that this race would take me off the road, I started investing time down at San Tan park to ensure I was getting hill-work, elevation and the general feel for running on trails instead of concrete. How was I to know that in those few short weeks of training, my world would change.
    I L-O-V-E trail running. I love the calm. I love the scenery. I love the smell.
    This was a great inaugural 50k run and would prove to be only the beginning of a passion that would carry me through the entire year and beyond.
Black Hills 100 (50 mile race)
    So it would only make sense that after running 50 kilometers, the next logical step is to run 50 miles right? Right.
    I freely admit that I did not do the proper research on the Black Hills 100 before signing up and look back on that as a learning experience that I will carry with me for a very long time. In comparison, the San Tan 50k had almost 4,300 feet of elevation change - by far the toughest challenge of the entire race. So when I realized that that BH100 had almost 18,000 feet of elevation change, I about blew a gasket. I'm sure I shouted some choice words but after a few days, shrugged it off and resolved to deal with it.
    Without going into a ton of details about this day, I can honestly say that this was the most awe-inspiring event I have ever done. Route 89 through the Black Hills of South Dakota is truly a beautiful course and the people, volunteers and aid stations were fantastic. We had a great day to run (though all the creeks were full and swollen).
    I did not imagine that the elevation would be that difficult but that's the deceiving part of the Black Hills - there is a gradual elevation that slowly eats away your endurance. Sure, there are some challenging climbs and steep downhill portions but there are so many up-and-downs that over time, your mind and legs become dull and numb from the slow ascent/descents.
    I've never been as happy to finish a race than I was this day. The last mile to the finish line felt like an eternity (more so than the previous 5). With friends and family there are the finish line, I was overwhelmed to finish this race just under 14 hours.

Cave Creek Thriller 50k
    This race was painful in a different way - I never made it to the finish line due to illness. This was my first race ever that I DNS'ed (did not start).

Pass Mountain 50k
    This race was particularly hard given that I was still very under-trained for the distance and still battling some sinus and ear problems. I guess I am just stubborn that way when it comes to making the most of my pre-paid dollars :) I honestly didn't want to piss away another $50 for a race by sitting on my butt at home...so I did the race anyway.
    This was the same weekend as the 2011 Ironman Arizona so my buddy Erik (registered for IMAZ) and my family came out to the park to see me finish.
    This course has some decent climbs and fairly technical sections that slowed me down pretty significantly. I was cursing the climbs and yelling at the downhills - my legs were screaming enough for both of us too.
    This wasn't my best race according to the clock (close to 8 hours) but overall, I had a really good experience with my feet/shoes and my nutrition. Those have historically been problems for me that typically cascade into other problems.

McDowell Mountain 50k
    Just this past weekend, I had a great time at this race. The course and the weather were great and while I was definitely in better shape, I was still not feeling like I was completely prepared for this distance. I was resolved to give it my all this day however no matter what.
    I ran as much as I could. I forced myself to keep going through all the times I wanted to stop and walk. That doesn't mean I didn't walk - just not as much as the last race :)
    The last 5 miles were painful. As in, want-to-stop-and-fall-on-the-ground-like-a-little-baby painful. I had nothing left. But I kept going.
    I set a personal best this day - 6 hours and 32 minutes. And had fun doing it.
So what's next?

I'll round out the Aravaipa Trail Series in March - I have the PF Chang marathon and Coldwater Rumble 50k in January followed by the San Tan Scramble 50k again in February. Beyond that, I have yet to sign up for something.

Let's just say, there are plans. Crazy plans. I've yet to pull the trigger but keep coming back and I'm sure I'll be writing more about them soon.

Here's to a great 2011 and an even better 2012. Have a happy, healthy and active 2012!


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