Sunday, September 20, 2009

Run Rabbit Run 50 Miler, Steamboat - the art of mediocrity

Donnie and I went to Steamboat to do the Run Rabbit Run 50 Mile. It was beautiful - sparkling. If you wanted to film a commercial that would make people want to come to Steamboat Springs, yesterday was the day. Blue sky and drifting white clouds with the Aspens just starting to turn. There was a big climb at the beginning (up Steamboat ski area) and then lots of singletrack to the Rabbit Ears, then back. The aid stations were quite good - uncrowded and with helpful volunteers. I carried a Flip video camera along and put some of the better videos here.

The race reminded me of the beloved SoCal runs I used to do - more like local 10K's, but held in areas with a population of serious runners. The community singles out an outgoing person (in this case Fred) who can be duped into the thankless task of organizing a race, and a bunch of folks show up to run. There's a dinner, some hokey awards, and the race is more or less for the middle-aged middle-pack runners looking for personal achievement rather than to actually win something.

Donnie had just run the Leadville 100, and I hardly ever run at all, so we weren't there to win. He came in at 10:29 and I was 10:39, 35th and 39th respectively (out of 115).

At this point, when I tell friends or family that I'm doing another race, the response is no longer, "That's an incredible distance!" but instead, "I thought you have stopped doing those things?" I gave up ultrarunning in 2002 - I finished the Wasatch 100 in good time and figured it was also a good time to give up beating up my joints. But I had always wanted to do the San Juan Solstice 50, so I did that in 2004. The Solstice started a pattern for me. When I was actually "running" ultras, I'd train like crazy, would be practically twitching at the start, but I'm not that great of a runner so I'd come in from fifth to tenth (lower in the 100's). When I was just showing up, I'd maybe do one or two runs a few weeks before the race to make sure I could still physically run, and then show up to have a good time, finishing mid-pack.

Surprisingly, the latter approach turns out to be much more fun. It's also proven more sustainable. I ran ultras "seriously" from 1999 to 2002, but have been doing random races off an on for the seven years since. This despite the greatly increased post-race soreness derived from never training. Why is this?

1. The base never really goes away. This is counter-intuitive, but you see it all the time. A guy was a pretty good high school baseball player, and shows up to the after-work softball game. He takes a few practice swings and then, bam!, hits it past everyone.

2. The law of diminishing returns. If I can not run at all and get 39th out of 115, why would I train hundreds of hours to move up to 15th? This point is related to the next.

3. Ultras aren't run for the winners. They're run for all the middle-aged people looking for age-group medals and P.R.'s. The first two or three guys get awards, but then the next ten are all in the same age category and get nothing. They did all this training but just sit anonymously through the awards ceremony. It starts getting fun again when runners get to their late 40's and realize how fortunate they are just to be doing something so crazy as an ultra - they're heroes to all their sedentary friends. They run along with beatific smiles, admiring the shining sun and swaying trees. They form social networks and travel the country to try various events with the money saved from having the kids move out of the house. The ultras are all built for these people, and I'm just joining them early.

4. It's more fun. When I was trying to go fast, it was a battle with the clock. Now I get to look around, see the scenery, talk to people, etc. Donnie adds to this, bringing his fun-loving-yet-aggro perspective to these races.

I don't know how far this goes - I'm only going to put up with torn quads so many times. After the Solstice run in 2004, I let it go until Peter made me do the Mt. Sopris Fun Run in 2007, which then quickly led to the Denver Marathon. I qualified in Denver for the Boston Marathon, and then decided to really give it up after Boston in 2008. Then Donnie started doing ultras, so I did the HMI 50K (Leadville)with him and now this 50 miler. On one hand, most ultras are similar in terms of the crowd, course, and experience. On the other hand, that experience links me to a unique and beautiful expression of the human spirit.

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