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A Promising Return (Half Marathon Recap and Future Training)

Result: 2nd, 1:15:13, PR

The USATF 100k National Championship (Mad City) is my goal race this spring and in returning to training this past week I wanted to know my level of fitness. So I contacted the race director of the Town of Celebration Half Marathon last week in the hopes of entering an already full race. Fortunately, this past Wednesday, I was given permission to sign up and was able to toe the line Sunday morning.

The short story is that I set a PR (I don't run many half marathons -- in fact, this is just the second time that I've lined up for one) and my fitness level is higher than I had thought. My goal here was to set a sustainable pace, not necessarily for the half marathon distance, but suitable for the marathon distance roughly a month from now. In other words, I wanted to run a pace that I should be able to sustain for a marathon on March 1st, provided that training goes well between now and then. The pace wasn't altogether too taxing and the result gives me promise that a 2:32 (or so) marathon is very possible.

The plan going forward is three-fold: a four-loop 50k course on February 8th, in the Manasota Track Club 50k in Sarasota; two marathons in three weekends to start March, in the Woodlands Marathon and a return to the Rock N Roll USA Marathon; then a 44 mile training run about three weeks before the Mad City 100k. That should have me set to perform as well as possible in April.

I was especially pleased with my time in the half because I've only begun really training this week, which means I've had low mileage (40-55 miles per week) and no workouts over the past five or so weeks. This week I ran my first speed workout (20 seconds building up to 3 minute intervals with 40-60 seconds rest) and a progression run (ending with a few sub-5:30 miles). Given that I'm just getting started with training and that I ran a 1:15, things look promising.

And I expect training to go quite well. 'Tis the season to train in Florida, what with lows in the high 40s  and highs in the 60s/70s!  :)


By The Numbers: 2013 Edition

A year ago I used the statistics from UltraRunning Magazine to determine the average age of men and women who ran the fastest times in the country, both in overall times and in terms of Age Graded Performances, from the 50k to the 100 mile distance. The results from 2012 can be accessed here.

Once again, in this year's edition, I'll calculate the average ages of the men and women who accounted for the Top 15 times overall, and the Top 15 Age Graded Performances, from the 50k to the 100 mile distance (I was pleased to account for the 41st and 51st fastest 50 mile times and the 10th fastest 50k time in 2013 -- still have yet to nail a 50 mile!). I will then compare the 2013 results with the 2012 results (all results are taken from the March 2013 and the 2014 January/February issues of UltraRunning Magazine). Without further ado, here goes!

Let us start from the top: there were 69,573 ultramarathon finishers in 755 races in 2013 (up 6,043 and 38 from 2012, respectively). The median age was 40.9 years (down 0.4 years from 2012). Among the extant ultra races, 51.5% were the 50k distance (down 2.4% from 2012), 23.1% the 50 mile distance (down 0.3% from 2012), 2.9% the 100k distance (down 0.2% from 2012), 8.6% the 100 mile distance (up 0.2% from 2012), 6.8% were fixed time (down 0.2% from 2012), and 7.1% were other (up 2.9% from 2012). Now onto the interesting data:

Data Set 1: Consider the breakdown in the average ages of runners who were credited with the Top 15 overall finishing times in the respective distances below (M indicates the average Male age; W indicates the average Women's age):

1. 100 mile: M 37.6^, W 38.6*
2. 100 km: M 34.0, W 37.9
3. 50 mile: M 29.7^^, W 35.2**

4. 50 km: M 31.3^^^, W 32.8***

^Mike Morton accounted for two of the top fifteen. 
^^Zach Bitter accounted for two of the top fifteen; Matt Flaherty also accounted for two.
^^^Michael Wardian accounted for two of the top fifteen. 
*Connie Gardner accounted, amazingly, for four of the top fifteen.
**Cassie Scallon accounted for two of the top fifteen; Pam Smith also accounted for two.
***Kaci Lickteig accounted for two of the top fifteen.

Note that, over the four distances for Top 15 overall times, the average male age was 33.2 (-1.4 years from 2012); over the four distances for Top 15 overall times, the average female age was 36.1 (+0.05 years from 2012).

Data Set 2: Consider the breakdown in the average ages of runners who were credited with the Top 15 Graded Performances in the respective distances below (UltraRunning Magazine says that: "These rankings are determined by using the Comparative Difficulty Ratios developed by Gary Wang at this approach we can make a relative assessment for courses of widely varying difficulty." See UltraRunning Magazine for more information.):

1. 100 mile: M 36.9^, W 36.2*
2. #100 km: M 31.9, W 32.7
3. 50 mile: M 27.4^^, W 33.3**
4. 50 km: M 30.5^^^, W 33.1***

#Only ten Top Graded Performances were provided. 
^Ian Sharman accounted for two of the top fifteen.
^^Rob Krar, Sage Canaday, and Zach Bitter each accounted for two of the top fifteen.
^^^Max King accounted for three of the top fifteen; Chris Vargo accounted for two.
*Nikki Kimball accounted for two of the top fifteen.
**Cassie Scallon accounted, amazingly, for four of the top fifteen; Joelle Vaught accounted for three; Aliza Lapierre and Michele Yates each accounted for two.
***Kaci Lickteig accounted for two of the top fifteen. 

Note that, over the four distances for Top 15 Age Graded Performances, the average male age was 31.7 (-0.15 years from 2012); over the four distances for Top 15 Age Graded Performances, the average female age was 33.8 (-1.5 years from 2012).

At this point it is worth noting two things of interest for anyone seeking to become UltraRunner Of The Year: first, each of the folks who accounted for multiple Top 15 times or performances received at least one vote for UltraRunner of the year (with one surprising exception: Michael Wardian); second, 2013 UltraRunners Of The Year, Rob Krar and Michele Yates, had Age Graded Performances in the Top 4 for the 100 mile, 100k, and 50 mile distances. Interestingly, neither of them had a Top 15 Age Graded Performance for the 50k distance. This suggests, though does not conclusively show, that deference is given to longer distances, at least when it comes to voting for UltraRunner Of The Year. This suggestion is bolstered by the fact that, for example, Mike Morton received 32 UltraRunner Of The Year votes while accounting for two Top 15 Age Graded Performances -- both at the 100 mile distance, while Chris Vargo managed just 2 UltraRunner Of The Year votes while accounting for three Top 15 Age Graded Performances -- one at the 50 mile distance, two at the 50k distance.

How do the Data Sets from 2013 compare to those from 2012? This is how:

Data Set 3: 2013 Top 15 Overall Times as compared to 2012 (difference from 2012 to 2013 in parentheses):

1. 100 mile: M 37.6 (+0.3), W 38.6 (+1.7)
2. 100 km: M 34.0 (-0.5), W 37.9 (+1.2)
3. 50 mile: M 29.7 (-3.0), W 35.2 (-0.5)
4. 50 km: M 31.3 (-2.8), W 32.8 (-2.1)

Data Set 4: 2013 Top 15 Age Graded Performances as compared to 2012 (difference from 2012 to 2013 in parentheses):

1. 100 mile: M 36.9 (+2.4), W 36.2 (-0.4)
2. #100 km: M 31.9 (+0.2), W 32.7 (-5.2)
3. 50 mile: M 27.4 (-3.2), W 33.3 (+0.6)
4. 50 km: M 30.5 (+0.0), W 33.1 (-1.0)

#Only ten Top Graded Performances were provided.

Since the changes are neither uniform nor consistent, it is hard to glean too much from the comparative data; perhaps patterns will develop as I continue to run these numbers over the years. At the very least, this can be said for now:

- As I concluded last year, it seems clear that one's performance in ultramarathons can continue to improve well into one's 30s, if not longer. 
- As was the case in 2012, the average age of women with Top 15 times and performances is almost uniformly and notably older than the average age of the men, suggesting that women's performance in ultramarathons can continue to improve even longer than men's performance. 
- The most significant change in the data sets from 2012 to 2013 occurred at the 50 mile and 50k distances, where the average age of the Top 15 times and performances was down markedly, especially on the men's side at the 50 mile distance, where the average age dropped as much as 3.2 years (a change of more than 10% from 2012). In fact, on the men's side, at the 50 mile distance, the top 7 overall times in the country in 2013 were achieved by gents 28 years or younger. It's not completely clear what to conclude from this: it could be that there are more young runners moving to the ultra distance; it could be that men in their twenties are best suited for top speed at this distance. I am unsure what to conclude, but the data is interesting.

Here's to a fun, and fast, 2014!


2013 In Pictures And 2014 Events

My past year racing had its successes and failures, excitements and disappointments. The most notable achievements included winning an ultra for the third consecutive year, placing second at the American River 50 Mile, and setting a marathon PR. Disappointments included an injury and subsequent DNF at the Ice Age 50 Mile and an end of the season plummet that resulted in a DNF at the Bootlegger 50k and a DNS at the JFK 50. As always, much was learned about both racing and training and 2014 should be a year for vast improvement. Many thanks to RaceReady for the support in 2013 and the continued support in 2014! Before looking at my 2014 racing season, here's a review of 2013 in pictures:

After a 2:18 marathon relay, January 
Off to a 2:36 marathon PR, March
Finishing 2nd at American River, April
Post-AR with winner Matt Flaherty 
The first ultra win of the season at Mad City, April 
Watching David Riddle run to a sub-6 hour finish at Ice Age, May 
Hanging with Michael Wardian after finishing five minutes back in 2nd, June
After setting a 5k PR of 16:36, June 
The final stretch and 5k win at Forest Park, June
Running the Grand Canyon with Brian Condon, July 
Having fun with Condon, Cassie Scallon, and Flaherty, August
Part of the Maroon Bells Four Pass Loop, August
Watching Ian Sharman cruise in Leadville, August 
After a muddy marathon in Michigan, October 
After setting a CR at the Surf the Murph 50k, October 
Post-JFK after crewing Flaherty to a 2nd place finish, November

My racing in 2014 will have a different feel, as I've just moved to Orlando, FL. Conditions are less than optimal for trail running and since I'll be training mostly on roads, I plan to race mostly on roads, focusing on just three ultras races. Here's my 2014 plan*:

January 26, 2014 – Town of Celebration Half Marathon (very tentative)

March 1, 2014 – Woodlands Marathon

March 15, 2014 – Rock N Roll USA Marathon

April 12, 2014 – Mad City 100km

May 17, 2014 – Rim-to-Rim-to-Rim 42 Mile

June 1, 2014 – Rock N Roll San Diego Marathon (very tentative)

July 27, 2014 – San Francisco Marathon

September, 2014 – TNFEC-Georgia 50 Mile

October 26, 2014 – Columbia Gorge Marathon

November 22, 2014 – JFK 50 Mile

*Late addition. For training purposes, I'll be running the Manasot Track Club 50k on February 8.


Joys And Symmetries In Traveling And Running

Before reflecting on 2013 and looking ahead to 2014 (link here), here's a post on my whereabouts as of lately.

I happen to know a good deal about traveling and running, or running while traveling – I do it a lot. During my most recent bout of serial traveling, I bounced around throughout the country: trudging up the foothills in Boulder, snowshoeing from Frisco to Breckenridge, rolling through the hills of San Francisco, gliding along dirt paths in Austin, meandering about the streets of Houston, dancing delicately along iced over streets in Missouri, running a marathon in Orlando, and waking up in Florida to run a few recovery miles before landing in Colorado and catching a few more miles as the sun set.

Chautauqua Park, Boulder 
Along the coast, San Francisco
Views from the Presidio, San Francisco 
Staying warm in Breckenridge 
Snowshoeing, Frisco
More snowshoeing
Good eats in Breckenridge 
Peaks Trail, between Breckenridge and Frisco 
Pre-Disney Marathon with Kevin, Orlando
Views from the back of Flagstaff Mtn, Boulder
Mid-snowy run, Boulder
There is symmetry between the joys that accompany running and traveling. The open road invites a sense of adventure and exploration much like the sight of a trailhead at the edge of the woods. Driving hour after hour through darkness, sunshine, snow, or rain proves a taxing mental challenge as does a long, difficult training run, a hard ultra race, or overnight pacing duties. Both travel and running take you to new and old places, be it in a state of mind or in beautiful surroundings. Days on the road and hours on the trail leave you feeling careless and carefree, alive and invigorated, thoroughly satisfied by the progress made and unduly excited about the miles ahead. Each mile is a challenge, an opportunity to push further, and a possibility waiting to be realized.

These two activities have a central, common element: movement. Movement does not allow for habit but instead demands that improvisation occur, that landscapes are discovered and explored, that challenges arise and be confronted. In movement we find ourselves out: movement takes you away from your comfort zone, teaches you more about yourself, your limits, the world around you and your place in it. Discovery of the world and about oneself occurs in these activities because life on the road and life on the trails is stripped down: tasks are simple and unadorned and nonessentials are easily left behind. It is a joy to discover and the joy is heightened when one discovers oneself truly and sincerely. Such discovery, I have found, takes place easily during mile-after-mile on the road and trails.

Open road

Consider this approbation for traveling and running, or for running while traveling. Travel with people you enjoy spending time with and visit interesting places; roll the windows down on the open road; cruise through the mountains on foot with a group of wild and crazy people. You might find out more than you knew before and you might return home with a new sense of direction.

I couldn’t recommend it more.

Catching some miles with Cassie, Boulder
Hanging with a good friend, Breckenridge
Some special people, Missouri 
Traveling with my favorite all over