Thursday, August 1, 2013

I am going to run a road marathon.

For the last year or so I have been toiling with the idea of running a road marathon again.  It has been awhile, three years.  In those three years I've fallen in love with trail running, and the more time I spend in bigger mountains the more I am drawn to them.  So why in the world am I starting to train for a road marathon again?

  • In July I ran the Hardrock 100... what better mountain race is there?  Maybe the UTMB, which is on my bucket list, but I probably won't sign up for a couple years.
  • Mike Chamoun and I backpacked the "crown jewel" of the Pacific Crest Trail: the John Muir Trail.  Hard to find more gorgeous mountains than that without venturing far away.
  • I'm not getting any younger, and while my 2:57 at the SF Marathon 3 years ago is a good time, I know I'm capable of something much lower, and I'm at a good age to run my best marathon, so I'm going to give it a whirl.
  • There's something about the structure of road running that I like.  Performance and improvement seem more objective, there are different nuances that create opportunities to challenge oneself.
I also have a counter arguments raging in my head:
  • After experiencing Hardrock and the JMT, I am even MORE drawn to the mountains and wilderness.
  • Who cares if I die with a 2:57 PR for a marathon.  Running in the mountains is more fun than running on the road.
I thought up an analogy the other day:  When I was skiing in high school I was fixated on free skiing - jumping, powder skiing, dropping off cliffs, carving down big open bowls, etc., etc.  But I was on the ski team that trained for hours on groomed runs, turning where I had to based on where all the gates were set, whether slalom or giant slalom.  Don't get me wrong, I had a lot of fun racing, but my heart was in free skiing.  Then one day I was free skiing, bombing down a bowl as fast as I could go, half in control/half out of control and I realized something.  My fundamentals that were honed from bashing through the gates on the race course were keeping me from eating shit.  

Spring skiing back in the day.  Photo by Pat Sheehan.

So how does this apply to running?  I'm hoping that returning to the road for maybe 50% of my training will improve my turnover and efficiency.  Basic running fundamentals will be pounded into me.  It will also be a new arena for me to push myself in.  And I think it's a little more straightforward in some regards than mountain training.  I can go out and see how fast I can run some Yasoo 800's, or a mile, or three miles.  It's harder to test yourself and get such easy to interpret feedback when you're running in the mountains.  With the advent of Strava and new FKT's popping up it is getting a little easier to qualify one's efforts.  Obviously a lot of people run in the mountains to escape from such details, appreciating that one day the trail is smooth and fast, the next it's covered in a foot of snow, the next it's washed out and 100 degrees, stopping to check out wildlife, but I digress.

Am I going to stop running trail races?  No way.  I think that half of the reason I keep running on trails is because they lead me up into the mountains.  Not 100% of me, but some of me does like the competitive side of trail racing, even if it's minimal compared to road races.  I believe that pushing myself to run fast for 26 miles will help unlock a little bit of potential I have yet to tap.  Time will tell.  

I've been toying with this idea, of returning to the roads part-time, for awhile - before the recent rise of Sage Canaday and Max King in the ultra world.  But the recent success that they have had probably helped push me over the edge to start eye balling winter marathons, and contemplate how far out I need to start training for one.

The dichotomy of road running and mountain running is crazy and I'm nervous about how my body is going to handle training for both.  Running a pace that doesn't change much on a flat surface with minimal change in pitch versus hiking slowly up, running fast down on uneven, rocky terrain.  I'm hoping that they will compliment each other in some way.

Regardless of how the training and racing goes, I probably need to update my road running wardrobe and style:

Any suggestions on good, fast winter marathons in the area?  I'm thinking Santa Clarita or R'n'R Vegas might be the ticket.