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.


  1. Whaaa?! I remember you talking about it very briefly but never imagined you'd actually do it. Good luck with the road stuff; at least you'll be able to run right out your door. If you want to unlock some potential then joining track club might too or finding a fast road partner. See ya tomorrow!

  2. Santa Clarita is soul-sucking. Tons of out and backs in industrial parks. Don't go near it. It turns off anyone who runs it.

  3. First congrats again for hard rock amazing run. I hope you get to Chamonix some days to run UTMB it is like running a 100 miler on stereoides :-))) it is a marathon pace run with the hard rock elevation gain.
    For the marathon post, I am a real road runner and as much as I love trails running what better to pr on a 26.2. I had the same conversation with a few friends and my all deal was if I have to run 26 to 30 miles what will I remember in 10 years from now? My best 50 km experience or my pr marathon? I can tell you my marathon pr but I do know remember my best run for a 50 km.
    My advise go for it, you might get below 2:30.

  4. I forgot, a fast marathon the long beach marathon in October it is where I did run my fastest. The course is all flat.

    1. Thanks Fabrice,

      I'll look into Long Beach, I think it's a little too soon though. As far as running sub 2:30, I think that might be a little too fast. I hope I can get in the 2:30's, but 2:20's might be a stretch.

  5. The real question is will the Hoka's be making a transition to the road? Or will you go with a more traditional 0r minimal road shoe? I personally can't deal with Hoka's on the road, but love 'em on the trail!

    Not sure if it's out of your "nearby area", but I've heard good things about the Phoenix Marathon in March, it's a point to point downhill course ( I wanted to run a marathon PR this past winter and was going to run it in 2013, but it filled really quickly.

    1. Hi Cory,

      Hokas on the road, eh... probably not. I haven't tried their road shoes, but I really like the Nike Free's right now. I do train on the road in Hoka's sometimes. I'll look into the Phoenix Marathon, thanks for the suggestion!

  6. Damn.

    First of all, that pic + caption is HILARIOUS.

    Second, I think I get what you're saying. You're in or getting near your prime (scary) and you want to leave your mark in more than one facet of your current abilities. I grapple with this often but it usually comes down to what I love and I love the mountains too much to sacrifice training time in it. So much so that the one road marathon I do every year (LA in March) is in question as is my 7 year streak.

    But good on you. My suggestions: Surf City in Feb, CIM in Dec, Catalina Eco Marathon in Nov (just kidding...kinda).

    1. Hey Billy,

      I am thinking about running things as I am approaching my prime years. I don't really feel like I want to leave a mark of any kind. I'm not going to break any records, or qualify for any teams or even come close. Just want to see what I've got I guess.

      Thanks for the suggestions on which races to check out.

  7. CIM. Great weather, great course, NO VIEWS to distract you. It's made to run fast, and many, many fast runners go there to achieve their best. It's not PR fast, it's not BQ fast, it's "Olympic Trials Qualifier" fast, according to my friends that are capable of such things. Meanwhile, I'm going to enjoy my final few months of having a faster marathon PR than you. Hell, Kate's is only a half minute behind you... LOL

    1. Thanks for rubbing it in that you have a faster marathon time! For your reasons above and others I signed up for CIM =)

  8. Hey Chris - this may be stalkerish but I'm working in la, near Griffith observatory, for the next two months. Not sure where and when u run but if u want to meet up sometime I'd be down. Let me know. - warren davis