Of course, the biggest factors in preparing for a race aren't getting a hotel room or even registering (though certainly both are vital). The most important things you can do are dedicate yourself to the goal at hand and do the right training. My goal is to run a 2:55 in Phoenix. I've begun running again, after a full week off as I recovered, and have set October 1 as the official start of my marathon training.
My training is going to be much more strategic than in years past. It used to be that I just ran a bunch of miles, including speedwork, tempo runs and long runs, and showed up at the start hoping for the best. Usually, things worked out well (yeah, those were the good 'ole days). This time around, what most matters to me is peaking on race day and being 100% healthy. I'm re-reading Daniels' Running Formula (which I first read in 2006) and am focusing heavily on the build-up stages I'm going to need to do to get in peak shape. Right now, I'm just trying to re-establish my fitness, as I lost a step or two just from that week off. Plus, I'm still not 100% from the procedure.
Contrary to what Paul Ryan might have us think, breaking three hours in the marathon is a challenge for most of us. I know because I've done it three times (in a row). You have to put in the right kind of training, which includes fast stuff and long stuff. Over the past few years I think I've gotten lazy with my long runs, instead going on lots of outings of 18 or fewer miles and then maybe doing a double later in the day so that I could say, yeah, I did 22 or 23 miles that day. But no matter how you slice it, there's no substitute for a good, quality 20-22-miler when you're training for a marathon--just as 30-35-milers are incredibly important to preparing for a 100-miler. There's no substitute for a focused tempo run. And there's nothing quite like hammering it around a track or doing fast fartleks.
As much as I'm excited about Phoenix, I've had moments where I've felt pulled to do another ultra this year. With my DNF at Leadville, I don't meet the qualification criteria for Western States in 2013. That really sucks because I would have had an extra ticket in the lottery. I thought for a brief moment in time about finding a qualifying 50-miler and gettin' it done, but that would just interfere with my marathon PR goal. So, after doing some soul-searching, I've decided not to do any more ultras this year and instead focus on getting ready for Phoenix, which I think will establish a super-solid base for my Leadville training.
I'm also thinking a little about 2013. I know there's Phoenix on January 20 and the Leadville 100 in August. I'm going to race less and instead use the time to train on the Leadville course and get 100% comfortable with every section, mostly notably the entire Hope Pass section (from Twin Lakes to Winfield and back). But I'd like to do a few races. I'm considering the Lt. JC Stone 50K, a road race in Pittsburgh that's run on the old GNC Ultras course, in March. I did the JC Stone in 2009, finishing fifth overall with a 3:46 despite a hideous upper-respiratory bug, and it's a great race. I'd love to go back to the Mt. Evans Ascent--there's something about that race. Then there's the Leadville Trail Marathon in June. We'll see.
Final note: I don't know about you, but in my mind 40-year-old Mike Morton is a lock for Ultrarunner of the Year. His record-breaking 172.457-mile performance at the 24-hour World Championship in Poland a few weeks ago just sealed the deal. Averaging 8:21 pace for 24 hours--and that includes refueling and bathroom stops--is just insane (even more insane: Yiannis Kouros' world record 188 miles in 24 hours). This year alone, Mike's had three 100-milers all under 14 hours (winning each), a near record-setting win at Badwater and of course that eye-popping performance at the 24-hour worlds. I do think Tim Olson should get consideration, especially for Performance of the Year (though here again I think Mike is the favorite with his 24-hour result), but Mike has clearly had the best year of any ultrarunner out there.
For the women, I think Connie Gardner, who logged 149.368 miles at the 24-hour worlds to set a new American record, should get Performance of the Year. Of course, the venerable Ellie Greenwood, who may one day best many of Ann Trason's records, gets the women's UROY.
I guess some may say I'm crazy for not thinking Ellie and Tim should get Performance of the Year for their incredible Western States records. Those were great results for sure, but let's not forget that the weather that day was insanely cool compared to the norm. In areas of the course where the temp usually hits 100+ degrees, people were wearing jackets.
- Ultrarunner of the Year/Men: Mike Morton (landslide victory)
- Ultrarunner of the Year/Women: Ellie Greenwood (landslide victory)
- Performance of the Year/Men: Mike Morton, 24-hour worlds (narrowly edges out Tim Olson, Western States)
- Performance of the Year/Women: Connie Gardner, 24-hour worlds (very narrowly edges out Ellie Greenwood, Western States)
Final thought: Karl's win at Run Rabbit Run, because of his age, was every bit as surprising to me as Hal Koerner's amazing win at Hardrock this year (Hal lives in Ashland, Oregon, which is at a paltry 1,800 feet, but grew up in Colorado). The smart money was on guys like Joe Grant and Dakota "Young Money" Jones to win Hardrock, but ultimately Hal, being a grizzled veteran, got 'er done, just as Karl brought it at Run Rabbit Run.
Let me know what your thoughts are on who gets UROY and Performance of the Year!