Making a Plan for 2019: A Tale of Fire and Ice

Photo by Martina Valmassoi

Photo by Martina Valmassoi

If I’m being honest, I ended 2018 with a pretty severe lack of focus. I wanted to do everything and yet didn’t feel the internal fire burning that hot. Coming off of a 17 minute road marathon PR, I really wanted to roll into another marathon training block to go for an OTQ in early spring. I also felt excited about going longer and racing one of the spring golden ticket races to try to gain entry to The Western States Endurance Run. At the same time, I was excited about the premise of the Salomon Golden Trail race series which features several bucket list mountain races primarily in Europe. I also really wanted to be part of team USA again since my experience last year was so awesome. So many amazing adventures, so little time! I am not the first runner to face this dilemma and I certainly wont be the last. So how does one craft a year of racing - and other adventures - that keeps the fire burning without melting the wax wings? I’d be lying if I said I had a fail safe recipe or had come to my answer to that question for 2019 by myself, but I finally feel the spark has been fully ignited and it took going to a couple wintery, snowy locations for it to truly catch.

The main decision about my plans for 2019 was made for me when I sprained my ankle pretty badly in mid January. I was just starting an 8 week training cycle for the Napa Valley marathon when an errant rock took me down. I After much hemming and hawing, I had decided that the most prudent thing was to build off of the previous road marathon training cycle to go for that OTQ. I am not a runner who can switch between terrain types and distances frequently and perform at a high level and I am not getting any younger, so if I wanted to really explore my potential in the road marathon, now was the time. However, when I dragged my swollen and multi-colored ankle to my PT and she said the words “2 weeks off and 4 weeks building back” I knew that the Napa Marathon was off the table. I immediately looked for that panicked feeling of having to miss out on a goal race and it just wasn’t there. I had almost zero regret which told me I wasn’t actually all that fired up about it. A two week delay to my return to running also pretty quickly took Lake Sonoma 50 miler off the table - which left me with only Zegama 42K that I was actually signed up for. In the three or so years I have been running ultras, I have never had a basically wide open schedule three months into a new year. What would I do with this clean slate?

In many ways, the decision was made for me, but there were still so many directions I could have gone in. Ultimately, the down time that accompanied my ankle sprain ended up being a blessing in disguise. Not only did it give me additional time to rest and recharge my battery after a big 2018, it also gave me the mental space to let my thoughts settle and my true desires float to the surface on their own. I ended up realizing that the idea of really investing in becoming a better mountain runner was what excited me. I also realized that the reduced training time required of the road marathon allowed me to better balance work, relationships, training and recovery. While I would eventually love to find a way to manage the 15-18 plus hour training weeks, the reality of my life right now is that 10-13 hours is the most time I can handle while still doing well at my job, spending time on the relationships that matter to me and actually recovering. My body made this pretty clear with how it responded to peak CCC training - and I was living the single hermit life at the time.

So, for 2019 I am going all in on becoming the best mountain athlete I can be which means scaling back and choosing things that excite and challenge me in ways other than time or distance. There will be plenty of time to get back to CCC and take on Lavaredo, Western States and Tarawera (all long-term goals of mine), but focusing on shorter races this year will allow me to really work on developing the skills required of uphill and downhill running on technical terrain. Since I am training for endurance for 4-5 hours max instead of 10-15 hours, I am able to load up with more intensity which will only build a stronger foundation for future endeavors. While the idea to only do sub-ultra mountain races was the obvious culmination of all the thoughts I have been having since CIM, the full realization of the vision for this year did not occur until last week. I got to spend time with some amazing people at the Salomon North America Summit in Ogden Utah and then travel to the beautiful landscape of Bozeman, Montana to reflect on everything. It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what triggered the burst of inspiration and energy, but as I was climbing up from the M trail head on Monday, trudging through slush and then snow, the flame ignited and it all just fell into place in my head.

When I first thought of this plan, part of me feared I would no longer be relevant in the ultra-running community if I didn’t run any ultras this year. Then part of me said “ who gives a fuck?” With such a pervasive attitude towards longer and longer events - it is called ultra-running after all - I do feel some hesitation going against the grain to run shorter races but the fire I feel about the incremental steps and the ultimate culmination of my plan tells me I am doing the right thing. When the idea of pursuing this first sprouted, it was a spectre, a jumble of unconnected challenges without a common thread. Now, every race or challenging route I take on this year is in service of this bigger goal and I have never had that singularity of vision before, which is really exciting to me.

So, what exactly am I doing? I’ve chosen races that provide challenging terrain, beautiful scenery and exceptional atmosphere and community.I have always felt that climbing was my biggest weakness so I have deliberately chosen races and training runs that push my vert limits. Some I am returning to in order to see if I cam improve on my previous performance, some I am travelling to for the first time. I have my eye on a few California FKTs since I have ever taken that kind of thing on save a few Strava CR attempts. I entered the lottery for a little 5K in Alaska. The beauty of a plan like this is that it is both concrete and fluid. I have the key milestone events in place, but there are still many balls up in the air which leaves a bit of mystery on the table. The reason I am sharing all his is because Ricky told us to write stuff down or we will forget it but more importantly, if sharing this thought process and my goals inspires or helps even one person, it will have been worth the discomfort of putting myself out there. Here’s wishing everyone a year of running that lights their fire.