Saturday, January 17, 2015

Ultra Running as the NFL

Lets use our imagination for a bit... lets imagine Ultra-Running was like the NFL.

Ryan Ghelfi and Ian Sharman have blogged and written about the need to introduce team scoring in ultra-running as way to make it more interesting, exciting, and perhaps more followed.  I've enjoyed reading and following the discussion.  While I don't agree with everything being thrown around, I feel lively discussion on any topic is beneficial for the sport.  I love the sport of ultra-running, or should I call it MUT Running (what are we calling it these days in America?), so anything that might add to positive progression I am all for.  So here is my idea's on how to get Ultra-Running to be as good at America's favorite sport, the NFL.

The National Football League (NFL) is the most watched and followed form of sport entertainment in the history of America.  It is crazy to see the ratings of NFL games, especially the Super Bowl.  Whatever people may say about leagues like the NFL, the reason it so popular is exactly because of the NFL.  At some time in the past, a group of people formed the National Football League as a governing body to represent the sport they all loved.  Whatever quarrels we may have with such organizations (especially now with the NCAA), they are the reason those organizations are so successful.  Now I can imagine at the time, people were griping about how money can ruin the sport of football, and make it too big, much like we hear with ultra-running.

The NFL is made up of 32 teams.  Each team is in an American city, with a mascot, colors, and all that fan connection stuff.  Each team has a rich owner, a GM, head coach, assistant coaches, trainers, other support staff members, and then the players.  These players, although they represent their team and city, also have sponsorship's that are not directly part of the NFL, such as Nike, Gatorade, Beats, Cadillac, and so on.

Let's imagine that there were Ultra-Running teams scattered throughout America - they would all be a part of the Ultra-Running League, or the URL.  We would have the Bay Area Bombers, Boulder Flat Ironers, Silverton Hardrockers, Auburn Cougers, Bozeman Bozo's, Bend Slow Twitch Muscles Lynchburg Highlanders, Athens Ridgeateers, Flagstaff Lizards, Ashland Rogue Runners, Bloomington Bloomers, Ithaca Lakers, and many more cities with amazing mascots.  So now there needs to be some rich person in each of these cities to initially finance a team, coach, and others things that are needed, like a few good stretching ropes and maybe a dry place to stretch, but that's not even needed.  All the other companies like Solomon and North Face stay out of the team business; they just work on sponsoring individual athletes, kind of similar to Nike and LeBron in the NBA.  But this is the URL, so Nike isn't the top company, yet.

Once the teams get popular it is all up to the fans to build it up so the URL can have million dollar television contracts on FOX and ESPN.  This way the owners can pay the coaches and the runners huge salaries, but not guaranteed salaries because we wouldn't want to waste money on all the injured runners on the team.  We'd just cut him and tell him to try out the Australian Ultra-Running League.  Things would get real interesting and provide lively discussion on ESPN when international runners like Kilian come over to join the Ashland Rogue Runners.  He went there because the owner wanted to boot Hal Koerner because he was on too many magazine covers and lost sight of the teams goals.

Storylines could be very entertaining for the fans - oh the fans.  These fans are diehard URL fans.  At one time they were even diehard ultra runners, but the URL branded every single ultra in North American and only kept the top-tier races for URL season.  Since there were no more ultra races, the actual rate of ultra runners decreased because those kind folks got tired of running longer than 26.2 miles "just for the fun of it."  Without belt buckles and aid stations, they just went back to spending that time watching Bryon Powell anchor ESPN.  Needless to say, these fans continued to be invested in ultra running by attending all the URL events, and watching it on TV when they couldn't attend.  The fan base was loyal to their local team, the Auburn Cougars so much so, that AJW's singlet was the most purchased singlet in the league even after he was retired from the URL for 10 year!

Here's to the growth of Ultra-Running in America!  I'll join you and sit back and relax on my couch on a Sunday afternoon to watch the last 10 miles of the hotly contested 2040 URL Championship.  If I'm lucky, my kids will be running for my local team, the Athens Ridgeateers.

Happy Trails,

*Note:  I am in no way mocking anyone who is calling for team scoring in ultras, I hope it didn't come across this way!  This is just a humorous bit, mostly mocking the NFL, and imagining a what a crazy world it would be if it was Ultra-Running instead of football.  I realize this would not and could not happen with ultras!  

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Sock Sponsor + Hydration Sponsor!

I'm super stoked to announce that I'll be partnering with a couple brands for the 2015 year!  It is always nice to have the support of trusted companies as I train and race in Mountain Ultra Trail Running and that is exactly what Swiftwick and SOSRehydrate is.  

Swiftwick has the best socks for ultra runners, plain and simple.  I've been supporting Swiftwick long before they started supporting me, so I was super excited that they chose me to be one of their sponsored athletes.  Just a quick story on the sock front: in 2011 I ran my first 100 mile race at the USATF 100 Mile Trail National Championship at Burning River 100.  I did well in the race but my feet did not.  I didn't know much about socks back then so I wore just a plain pair of what I thought were good athletic socks.  100 miles later, my feet were pruney, with blisters, and several black and missing toenails.  Fast forward to 2012 when I won a pair of Swiftwicks at the Mountain Masochist 50 Mile Trail Run.  I've worn Swiftwick during every ultra and for all of my long runs since, and I can't remember the last time I have had a blister or foot issues.  I trust this sock because my feet don't even know they are there.  #beswift #dowhatmovesyou

SOSRehydrate is a newer company that has engineered a fast-acting electrolyte replacement and hydration drink that helps combat dehydration caused by intense physical performance.  SOS was made by elite athletes and engineered by a leading doctor.  I was excited to try this stuff back in December when I first made a contact, and was really impressed with it.  It can sort of be likened to an IV drip, which is good because when running ultras or after intense training, it is vital to get rehydrated and not dehydrated.  An added benefit is that the citrus and blueberry flavors taste good.  Blueberry is my personal favorite.  #SOSRehydration #realhydration #4runnersbyrunners      

Check out Swiftwick for awesome socks and SOSRehydrate for your hydration needs.  Follow their social media sites - click on their logo for their website!

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

2014 In Review

Throwing down at Ice Age, beside Max King (Montrail), #2 Ultra Runner or the Year.  Photo by John Zinzow, former IA50 RD
Statistics is something I am drawn to.  For practical purposes it is a quick way to evaluate something.  In grad school I learned that having measurable outcomes is necessary for all programs.  While I butted heads with this idea at first, I understand its importance.  I still think it is important to just "feel" something however, so in many life endeavors, I don't bother with the measurable's but go with "gut" decisions.  In running, I'm trying to adjust to going on feel more so than being so data and stats driven.  Sometimes, the best is not always the most.  More miles doesn't necessarily mean being more fit or a stronger runner.

As 2014 closes out, I sit and evaluate a years worth of miles, races, and training.  I think it is important to spend time reflecting on the past before moving forward with new endeavors.  It is no different with running.  The end of the year is a good time to reflect on the years training in order to adjust and hopefully improve on the upcoming year.  The constant idea that I've been keen to keep in mind as I begin training for a new years worth of races is, "It is not about how many miles, but what kind of miles."  Staying fresh and sharp with lower volume but more quality miles is going to be important for sustained participation in ultras.  
A DNF at Cayuga Trails doesn't take away the experience had.  photo by Ron Heerkens Jr.
For the most part, 2014 was a successful year.  I could consider this my personal most successful year in terms of competing.  After some time off from running in December of 2013, I started training in the new year with one goal in mind:  qualifying for Western States at the Ice Age 50 MUC race and then running Western States 100.  I started off with a nice win at the Terrapin Mountain 50k and then nailed what is probably my best 50 miler at the Ice Age 50.  I PR'd in the 50k by 30 minutes within the 50 miles and became only the 9th person in the 32 year history of the race to break 6 hours.  Even though I had such a great race, I missed that Western States spot by finishing just 92 seconds behind 3rd place.  This threw off my summer plans but it gave me a chance to run the Grindstone 100 in October, my first mountain 100 miler, where I finished 3rd place.  Two weeks later I gutted out a solid marathon time, all things considered, and that capped my year of racing.  I did't race often, but I had fun at all the races, even the DNF at Cayuga Trail 50 a month after Ice Age.    

2014 also brought lots of other great memories away from competing.  In January I founded Southeastern Ohio Trail Runners (SEOTR), which produced an opportunity for a great memory in April when I directed my first race, the Iron Furnace Trail Run.  Race Directing was so much fun and it is going to be something I continue for a long time, with many plans for future races, including the 2nd annual IFTR in April 2015.  In May, I earned a Masters Degree in Outdoor Recreation and Education from Ohio University.  After graduating, Bobbi and I spend over 5 weeks driving and exploring the American West during the summer, which included stops at the Western States 100 and Hardrock 100, giving a surplus of inspiration to run mountain 100 milers.  Later that summer, Bobbi and I found out we were expecting our first child, which has been the greatest blessing of 2014!  And that blessing will flow into 2015 when we welcome our little girl into the world in late April!  
Bobbi finishing the Iron Furnace Trail Run and me welcoming her to the finish as the Race Director!
I wouldn't have had such a satisfying year without all the support from my family and friends, especially my wife Bobbi who has become quite the ultra crewess in the two and a half years we've been married.  It is truly awesome to have the love and support from everyone around me.  And there is constant inspiration as trail running grows in Southeastern Ohio,especially with the emergence and growth of SEOTR and the Iron Furnace Trail Run and more planned trail races.  I've probably shared more trail runs in 2014 with new people than I had in all past years combined.  Good vibes with good people on good trails.


Stats are still something that I enjoy tracking, so here are some numbers to end the 2014 year:

Yearly Mileages (since I started logging everyday Jan. 1, 2007)
  • 2007:  2,334 miles
  • 2008:  2,884 miles
  • 2009:  3,458 miles
  • 2010:  5,157 miles
  • 2011:  4,530 miles
  • 2012:  2,682 miles
  • 2013:  2,898 miles
  • 2014:  3,968 miles
Total in 8 years = 27,912 miles

Racing Numbers
  • 220.5 miles raced in 2014
  • 1 100 miler, 1 50 miler, 1 50k, 1 marathon, 1 5 miler, 3 5k's
  • 1 50 mile DNF
  • Ultra finishes:  1st place, 4th place, 3rd place, DNF

Other Running Numbers from 2014
  • 238, 396 ft. of elevation gain from May (when I got a GPS watch) to end of year.
  • 580hr. 25min. of time running
  • 10.87 miles average per day
  • 1.59 hours of running per day
  • 54 days of 0 miles
  • 12.75 miles per day of running
  • 1.86 hours per day running
  • 16 weeks of 100+ miles

Lifetime Running Numbers (8 years)
  • 27, 912 miles
  • 9.56 miles per day
  • 419 days of 0 miles
  • 11.16 miles per day running
  • 130 races total (800 meters to 100 miles)
  • 42 5k's
  • 29 8k's
  • 12 ultra marathons

My #Strava Story - a cool video stat recap (May to December)

Onward to 2015 - Happy Trails!

Cayuga Trails 50.  photo by Joe Viger

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Returning to the Forest

Looking West from the top of Copperhead Fire Tower
It's where it all began.  On one Wednesday afternoon in the Fall 6 years ago, Keegan Rathkamp, team captain on the cross country team, introduced me to the trails at the Shawnee State Forest.  In my running log from 9/10/2008, I wrote:
Sweet run today. Keegan and I went out to the forest to get a long run in on trails. It was my first time out there and I loved it. I want to run those trails everyday now. It is so peaceful!
This day was one of the most influential days of my life and the introduction from Keegan to the trails at the Shawnee State Forest easily affects who I am today.  From my sophomore year in college to now, I have visited and revisited this forest dozens and dozens of times for a multitude of reasons - adventure, training, solitude, with friends...  Even now living over 2 hours away from the Shawnee Forest, I make it a point to return as often as possible for re-connection with the land and trails that I grew to know and love so well.

The forest started out as an escape from the city.  The standard 8-mile loop around Portsmouth was getting old.  My back hurt a lot, the streets were littered with trash, people harassed us, sounds and cars everywhere.  The weekly (and sometimes more) drive of just 15 minutes to the Shawnee State Forest was our escape.  Wednesday Trail Tradition.  Running on the trails took the pressure away.  School and even training was an afterthought for the 2-3 hours in the forest.  It was normally a small group of guys, three or four of us at a time.  Miles were slow, the trails are rugged and steep, narrow, often overgrown.  But it was our escape from the city.

The forest became my training grounds.  During the last two years of college, the forest didn't take on a new meaning, but a bigger meaning.  It was still the escape I searched for in the year prior, but now it was where I trained, and it was my thing.  My personal bests improved rapidly my junior year in the 8k and on the track later in the spring.  I spent the summer before my senior year working at the golf course adjacent from the forest, and the 2-3 trail runs per week became 6-7 trail runs per week.  Now after 2 years of consistent training on trails, I saw even larger improvements in cross country races during my last season.

The forest is the source of exploration.  Although I went to the forest to run, I was attracted to the mystery of what was hidden beyond the next bend in the trail.  There was over 63,000 acres of forest, and over 200 miles of singletrack trails, doubletrack trails, bridle trails, and forest roads to discover.  Over the course of three years I drove every car accessible road there was and tried to run as many different routes as I could find.  The forest became a place to connect with the land and trails were a portal for this discovery.  I felt like a part-owner of the land, because I invested time and energy into being with it, engulfed in getting to know it.  Still today, I feel like the Shawnee State Forest is mine.

The forest created a wilderness philosophy.  This single moment of introduction to trail running and the Shawnee Forest is what drove me to go to graduate school and earn a masters in Outdoor Recreation and Education.  Issues such as logging and recreation management was experienced in large part because I ran through it.  I had a daily front-row seat to the devastation of logging taking place in the forest.  A perspective that normally only the workers would see from high on the bulldozer seat.  I remember many evenings, after the smoke cleared from the workday, I could run through the clear-cut areas, feeling the dirt, and feeling the hurt.  I was especially devastated two summers after I graduated from college on a weekend visit to the forest after discovering someone made the management decision to bulldoze the popular 40 mile singletrack backpack trail.  The trail is now slowly healing, but it will never return to how it was.  So the forest became a place that I formed thoughts and ideas.  A desire to protect.

The forest is where I became an ultra trail runner.  Trail running at the forest for the first time impacted my life in many ways but it led to a desire to start ultramarathon running.  It was a natural progression into ultra trail running.  I first fell in love with the trails.  I wanted to see more and more trails and the only logical and most efficient way for me to discover more trails was to run more miles on trails.  So it was fitting that I discovered ultra running as I began to research information online about trails.  That is how I found and started ultra running.  Before I ever ran an official ultra marathon event, I ran a 40 mile trail run with two of my best friends at the Shawnee Forest.  I then started entering ultras immediately after my college cross country competition.
Keegan (right) and I on a 40 mile trail run - overlooking logging affects.

This past weekend I met with a group of 11 guys for a trail run at the Shawnee State Forest.  We ran 20 miles and enjoyed a peaceful winter dusting of snow along the trail.  Trips like these revitalize me and I am always overwhelmed with memories and inspiration by being in the forest again.  It had only been about 3 months since I was last at the forest, but I always feel like it has been too long.  Although my trips aren't as frequent as they were in college, I still feel a connection with the land and trails.  There was a 1 mile section from last Saturday's run where I had run ahead of the group a little and was locked into the sweet rhythm of the trail.  I felt the "flow."  It was like I had ran this trail everyday for the last month, and knew every rock and root and dip.  In some way, I think my subconscious did remember this section of trail to every degree.

The Shawnee State Forest will continue to impact my life.  It has left a permanent mark on my personality and I am grateful for knowing it.

Happy Trails


Looking at the start of a special Bridle Trail #5 in spring.