I arrived at the start line in the best shape of my life, having completed a fantastic 10 days of training at high elevation in Colorado, as well as enjoying some amazing experiences on trails throughout the Pacific Northwest. When race director Adam Hewey asked about my target in the calm before the start I felt comfortable to tell him about the 21:30 pace chart I was carrying. As a stretch target, I had also worked out a 20-hour pace chart to understand what that would entail in case I was able to pull ahead of plan.
IMTUF is likely to forever hold its position as my craziest spur-of-the-moment, last-minute race signup.
With the difficulty in securing entry to popular and enduring races these days it is important to plan ahead, and I already have most of my key races for 2016 pencilled in. The problem is that you can’t know whether you will be able to secure entry into the race until much later. I will have my name in the November lottery for next year’s Hardrock 100, but if I miss out again (this will be my 3rd attempt) then it will be necessary to complete another qualifying race prior to next November in order to enter the lottery in 2016 for the race in 2017 (I hope you could follow that).
Only 23 races count as qualifiers for Hardrock, of which 10 are outside the US and one of them is Hardrock itself. Wanting to stick to US options gave me a list of 12 races to consider. Further looking into those races uncovered a number of already sold out options and some that didn’t fit in with other races already planned. I was struggling to find a 2016 race that was still available for entry and fit into my schedule. But why did the race have to be in 2016?
Last year my running focussed around two main targets: the 89-km Comrades Marathon in June and the 100-mile Leadville Trail 100 (pre-race information here and race report here) in August. Despite improving on my Comrades 2011 time by over 35 minutes, my Comrades 2012 race was a bit disappointing as I missed out on my target of a silver medal (achieved for running a time under 7:30). Leadville more than made up for my disappointment.
Leadville was my first 100-mile race and I had no idea what to expect from the race or myself. I looked at target paces and they all seemed so slow due to the extreme distance and the extreme challenges (starting and finishing at 3,200 metres of elevation with a total ascent of over 4,800 metres and a single climb of 1,000 metres over a 3,800 metre pass). I set myself a target that appeared realistic but there was no way to really know how my body would feel after equalling my furthest run to date (89 km at Comrades) and still having over 70 km remaining. As it turned out I was so far ahead of my stretch target at the 60-mile mark that I was able to relax and enjoy the remainder of the race. I took extra time at aid stations and walked sections that I definitely could have run if I had been pushed for time. Already by the next day, rather than swearing I would never run 100 miles again, I was already contemplating what time I could run at Leadville if I went all out. I thought about the time I could cut out at aid stations, the sections I could run instead of walking, and the sections where I should lift my running pace. I had a better understanding of what my body could withstand, so it was obvious that for my next 100-mile race I would leave everything out on the course.
Despite the very small percentage of the population willing to consider running such a distance, there is also a limited number of events available, and only a few races that really capture the imagination of the runners wanting to participate. Therefore it is considerably more difficult to secure an entry for a major 100-mile race than it is to secure an entry for a major marathon such as New York or London. I went for a three-pronged strategy in my 100-mile race applications for 2013, with all races taking place in the US.
First up was the Western States Endurance Run, the world’s oldest (and generally considered the most prestigious) 100-mile trail race. As a point-to-point race between Squaw Valley and Auburn in California, the race has a net descent although it still features around 5,500 metres of ascent (but 7,000 metres of descent). The race runs through a protected wilderness designation that would normally forbid the race from taking place, but since the race pre-dates the protection of the area the organisers were given congressional permission to continue running the event with the proviso that they could only allow as many participants as ran in the year the protected designation was declared. As such the race is limited to 369 competitors per year based on a 5-year rolling average. Entry to the race is through a lottery process that is oversubscribed by a factor of around 10 each year. Entrants must have completed one of a select number of qualifying races before being allowed entry into the lottery.