Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thoughts on race entry fees

I am not a fan of high race entry fees, a sentiment many of you likely share. When it comes to a race, I’m pretty basic in terms of what I expect:

  • A good course (no unsafe road crossings, well-marked, preferably good views, and proper length- though we’ll give a pass on length to trail races, where it’s understood that distances are approximate)
  • Appropriate aid on the course (may range from nothing at a 5k to lots and lots in an ultra)
  • Some food and maybe small awards at the finish (it’s unpleasant to finish an ultra to find no food provided, as happened to me this summer)
  • Sufficient bathrooms at the start
  • Accurate timing with online results

That’s pretty much it. Easy registration and packet pickups are nice, but not necessary. And I love it when races have a “no shirt” option to save me a few bucks.

I know much of the running community now expects more bells and whistles from a race, like bands along the course, huge expo’s, well-stocked goodie bags, big-name sponsors, etc. That’s fine, but it’s not for me. I balk at paying almost $300 for a marathon (NYC), or even $100+ (RnR marathons). And $50 for a 10k or $90 for a half marathon is just as bad. Too much commercialization.

More and more, I find myself avoiding those races like the plague and seeking the low-key races, even if they are further away. Besides the lower entry fees, there’s a special feeling at low-key races… the type where the RD isn’t trying to get rich, the locals playfully banter at the start and argue about how many of them have run it all 17 years, the pre-race instructions are comical and short, the course is sheer enjoyment, and you win a homemade pie at the finish while the RD’s wife cooks brats or buffalo stew for the finishers.

Two races stand out in my mind that epitomize these characteristics. The Garland Wheat & Beet in Garland, UT is a nice road race. The course is a simple out-and-back on a little-traveled country road. After the 10k/5k, all the participants gather to cheer the kids in the 1 mile fun-run. The fee is only $3 for the non-competitive entry (no shirt, not eligible for award), but you are still eligible for an awesome, all-you-can-eat breakfast cooked by the local fire department and for the raffle (which had enough prizes for almost everyone except Paul to win something). And all the money goes to the local library.

The second race is the Iron Mountain 50/30/16 mile in Damascus, VA. Entry is only $25 for any of the distances (if you don’t want a shirt), and it’s obvious the RD loves the race. The course is a beautiful singletrack, with just enough aid stations. They have a quirky challenge at the finish, where they award a prize to whoever can do the most sit-ups and push-ups -I didn’t do any, but unique things like this add to the fun. Everyone was treated to a nice bbq after, and all finishers took home a jar of fruit preserves.

My personal threshold for race entry fees is usually $3 per race mile.  I’ll pay a bit more for short races (you can’t find many $10 5k’s), and like it lower for longer races ($300 for a 100 miler seems high- sorry Western States).

As I look at my races for the year, all of them are under the $3/mile level, with a grand total of 488 miles of races for $645. My next 5 races (SweetH20 50k ($50), Dairy Ridge Fat Ass 50k ($0), Twisted Ankle marathon ($45), Old Dominion 100 ($135), and Iron Mtn 50 ($25)) total 238 race miles for $255, less than the price of New York City marathon.

If huge, commercialized, expensive races with F-16 flyovers, mid-race boy bands, and TV coverage result in more people participating and getting fit, I think that is great. But for me, I’ll keep running my well-priced, low-hype, quirky and friendly local races. Hope you join me for a few.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Run Downtown 5k

After not doing any road races in 15 months and not running a 5k in 18 months, I registered for the Greenville "Run Downtown 5k", which is part of the corporate running competition around town. And I can definitely say I enjoyed myself and am very glad my lunch running buddies talked me into running the race.

My training has been very sub-par since the Bear 100 in September, with only 12 total miles of speedwork (yes, 12 miles in 4 months) and no weekly mileage above 60 until the past few weeks. Needless to say, I was not expecting much, hoping to be 17:30 but thinking 18 was more likely. It's a big race (2000 people) with a fair amount of competition.

The morning dawned cold, about 30 degrees, overcast, and breezy. After a long warmup, I stripped to my brand new GE singlet, green shorts, arm warmers, gloves, and hat. Most racers wore more, but a few wore less. I was appropriately cold for a 5k. The race started with a short downhill, then a gradual, 100 ft elevation climb to the 1 mile marker. I was simply happy to be running fast the first mile, and found myself just behind the chase pack at the 1 mile mark at 5:37. I was working hard, but breathing was relaxed. Mile 2 was almost all downhill, which I loved. I pushed the pace, and began passing several runners, including GE teammate Phil and the Chick-fil-a cow (the cow was a guy wearing a giant cow outfit- he had a 3 minute head start, and anyone who beat him won a free Chick-fil-a sandwich. He finished in 19:32 race time (22:32 his time)- not bad at all). Mile 2 was 5:26, and I started to believe that my legs had enough speed to carry me to a decent finish time.

Mile 3 starts off with a 70 ft climb in .3 mile, then a gradual downhill to the finish. I had 2 runners ahead of me, one of whom was slowing. I focused on him, pulling him closer with each stride. I caught him with maybe 400 meters to go and was surprised to see the other runner just a few meters ahead. I pulled even with him, trying to determine who had more in the tank. I made a move, which he failed to match at first, but then accelerated. My legs were churning as fast as I could the last 200 meters and my head began to float around the street due to lack of oxygen. I'm not sure I had ever felt so close to passing out during a sprint. With one final push, I passed the finish line at 16:58, 2 strides ahead of the runner behind me. Final 1.1 mile in 5:55 (5:22 pace- including the 70 ft climb).

Officially, the timing chip somehow put me at 17:00 and says the runner behind me out-chipped me, placing me in 15th. Oh well- but I'm still claiming the 16:58, since my watch time was exact for me. 11 of the 14 runners ahead of me were young bucks- age 15 to 24. Those guys rock at 5k's. I was exhausted at the finish (like you should be for a 5k), but recovered within 30 seconds to start running around cheering for people. After some cheering and congratulations among the large GE contingent, and a few cool down miles with Barry, I called it a day. And I'll admit, after so many ultras, it was strange to be gone only 2.5 hours for a race.

I really enjoyed this fast race- it seemed to have a lot more downhill than up, even though it was a loop, and was just hilly enough to break up the monotony of running pavement. Plus, there was a steady stream of runners to keep up the challenge- I never felt like I was in no-man's land. I am happy to be within 25 seconds of my PR with low mileage and no speedwork, and enjoyed passing runners the last 2 miles (I think I passed 8-10, while none passed me), and finally had a good kick. I've committed to at least one more corporate race, an off-road 6k cross country race. Should be fun. Then, back to the longer trail races.

Monday, January 10, 2011

2011 goals and races

One big difference I have found from moving across the country is that the races are all new and unfamiliar to me. This gives a bit of suspense and adventure in choosing what races to do. In addition, I haven't firmed up if I want to do some longer ultras (100k or 100m) or keep it shorter. So, I've chosen a few races early this year, and pretty much have a long list of potential races later in the year. Only my first race is firm. The runs later in the year that most interest me are Grindstone 100, Rock/Creek StumpJump, and Mountain Masochist Trail Run.

Goals: Run 3000+ miles, win 2 races, run one 100-miler, and set a PR at any distance

Potential races:
Foothills Drifter 6k (Feb 5)
Dupont Forest 12k (Mar 26)
Sweet H20 50k (Apr 2)
Morris Broadband half marathon (Apr 9)
Dairy Ridge Fat Ass 50k (Apr 16)
Scenic City Trail Marathon (May 21)
Paris Mtn 11k (May 28)
Old Dominion 100 miler (Jun 4)
Paris Mtn 7k (Aug 13)
Iron Mountain 30 or 50 mile (Sept 3)
Grindstone 100 (Sept 30)
Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k (Oct 1)
The North Face challenge (Oct 15)
Mountain Masochist Trail Run (Nov 5)
Paris Mtn 15k (Nov 5)
Upchuck 50k (Nov 12)
Bartram 100s (Dec 10)
Hellgate 100k (Dec 10)
Lookout Mountain 50miler (Dec 17)

So there you have it. I'll probably end up running 7 or 8 races, is my best guess. We'll see- I obviously have a lot to figure out, but it will be fun.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

2010 Year In Review

2010 was my most enjoyable year ever in running, with my focus on trails and trail races. I can probably break the year into a few distinct seasons:

· Jan and Feb- My first 100 mile race, with a bunch of cross training before and after due to injury.

· Mar to Jun- slow build up to get into racing shape, with a few races thrown in (Buffalo Run 25k, Pocatello 50)

· Jun to Aug- peak training with lots of long trail runs, my highest weekly mileage ever (116), and some great races (Logan Peak, Grand Mesa 50, El Vaquero Loco 50k, Iron Mtn 30)

· Sept- The culmination of two years of training at the Bear 100

· Oct to Dec- offseason with few miles and a few enjoyable long runs (Grand Canyon and Shut In Ridge Run), but a general lack of training due to no goals or races planned for 2011

2010 miles

I mostly met my goals set at the start of the year:

· Run 3000 miles- finished with 3104, lower than 2009 but still enough. Easily could have been higher had I put in more effort after the Bear, but I even said at the end of 2009 that I didn’t expect to top my mileage from that year due to decreasing returns.

· Stay injury free- no major injuries once I recovered from my Rocky Raccoon hip issues, but I did have a fair number of minor issues at times that definitely added up and slightly affected performance.

· Top 5 at Pocatello 50 and Bear- I DNF’ed from Pocatello and it was later cancelled due to snow. Kind of a wash. Very happy with my 4th place at the Bear 100.

· Win at least one race- got this one with wins at Grand Mesa 50+ and Iron Mountain 30.

I’ll finish off with a summary of some of my best and worst memories from the year:


· 4th place at the Bear 100. I had been focusing on this race for 2 years, training on the course and building up my long runs. The race went as well as I had hoped, thanks to an awesome crew of David, Cody, and Joe. I can’t help but smile every time I think of Joe running back for my sunscreen and adding up vertical feet remaining, Cody feeding me his shot blocks, taking blurry pictures with his cell phone, and getting way too much enjoyment from our 35 miles, and Dave trying to keep me awake and moving towards the finish before our moonlit finish.

· Focus on trails- every single race and every single long run was on trails.

· My “between jobs” month as a full-time runner. I’m not sure this month can ever be beat. 22 runs, every single one on trails, and 8 of them over 2.5 hrs in length. I carried a camera everywhere and took dozens of pictures to help me remember the experiences. I ran the entire Great Western Trail in Cache Valley, too, by the time I left Utah.

· Dozens of spectacular trail runs with Cody, Joe, and Paul. We crossed lots of new runs off my bucket list (Stump Hollow, Mt. Elmer, Richards Hollow, High Creek Lake, Wellsvilles). Way too much time running with Cody. 10 runs of marathon distance or longer. I could spend hours just remembering the little runs, like when I passed some cross country skiers 4 times as I ran up and down the snow packed Green Canyon during a peaceful snowstorm.

· A good racing season, once I got in shape- all trail races, my first 100 mile race at Rocky Raccoon, a few wins and CR’s, and a perfect culmination at the Bear. The scenery and camaraderie at trail races is awesome- I’m not sure I’ll ever see a more picturesque scene than 4 miles into El Vaquero Loco. Logan Peak, Grand Mesa, El Vaquero Loco, Iron Mountain- all great races. Even my not-in-shape races (Buffalo run, Shut In Ridge) were enjoyable. And Pocatello 50 was just an adventure to laugh at- hypothermic, DNF, locking keys in Cody’s car… I won’t forget that day.

· Finally setting a good record on Jardine Juniper trail.

· Grand Canyon R2R2R with Rob and Cody was a spectacular end to the season.


· Too many minor injuries- always seemed to have a few niggles

· Moving to South Carolina put a real damper on my trail running

I have nothing but good memories from this year. I spent countless hours with my running partners, met so many great people at races, saw some amazing scenery, climbed many mountains, and moved to a new location- thanks to all of you who shared it with me. Special thanks goes to my wife and daughters for their patience and support- my daughters are very used to seeing their “daddy running in the mountains”. Now I just have to figure out what 2011 will bring… but that’s for tomorrow. For now, I’ll just remember what a great year it was.

[Editor's note- I forgot to thank Marci for spending some time doodling on Microsoft Paint, making the new header on my blog page]