The world’s best races – as arbitrarily selected by me

On the comedown from last week’s Razorback Endurance Race, I’ve find myself obsessively planning the next big run. Given the reduced mileage during recovery what else would one do?

This is always a fun process for me, starting with the aspirational (yeah, Badwater seems like a good idea) and finally settling on something that actually meshes with my geography, timing and capabilities.

But as I was clicking through the Internets I got so excited about so many races that I figured I’d pass along some of my personal dream runs. Note: This list is pretty stupid. It is totally lacking in insight (you already know about all of these and you also already know that they are awesome) and rigor (I picked randomly and my list will change tomorrow). Still, it’s fun to think through some of the coolest runs you can possibly do.  (Most pictures courtesy of The Internet)

  • 4 Deserts race series – This is too crazy to even contemplate. As highlighted in the awesome Desert Runners (free on Netflix!) the insane freaks who run these races do 150 miles over 5 days in some of the most challenging terrain in the world. The sheer accomplishment is mindboggling but this isn’t for normal people. This is for true masochists who want to spend thousands of dollars to torture themselves in new and bizarre ways. Still…

    "The Final Desert"

    “The Final Desert”

  • Western States – So I’ll obviously never get to run Western States, nor should I be allowed to. This is where the most hard core runners in the US get together to decide who’s really the best. I’m obsessed with this race mainly because it’s where modern trail ultra running was invented in an amazing story highlighting inspiration, perseverance and idiocy. If you don’t know the account of how a cross-country horse race became the World Series of endurance running, read up

    Western States

    Western States

  • Berlin Marathon – So this is a pretty plain vanilla big city European marathon. So why am I so desperate to run it? Well, Berlin is freaking awesome. Location, history, architecture and people make this a great place to spend some time. As importantly, the race takes place during Oktoberfest, making a 10 day trip with a marathon, hiking in the German alps and drinking aggressively in Munich a totally reasonable thing to do. A thing I must do…

    Berlin

    Berlin

  • Relays – I’ve written about the Bourbon Challenge elsewhere, but there are so many options on this one. The Ragnar series seems pretty good. Hood to Coast has the most street cred here, having basically invented the category 34 years ago. An awesome race with top flight runners, this just seems like a great way to spend the day running and commiserating with a bunch of friends

    Hood to Coast

    Hood to Coast

  • NYC marathon – I love the race, if not the organizers. They’ve done a bunch of dumb things over the years, obviously culminating in the Hurricane Sandy nonsense. Having said that, the race itself is great, largely because of the incredible crowd support and spirit. It’s hard as hell to get in via the lottery, but if you’re willing to raise money or run the stupid NYRR series of races designed to line the organization’s pockets, then the race is a fit reward for your efforts.

    Runners and supporters celebrate NYC marathon finish

    Runners and supporters celebrate NYC marathon finish

  • City2Surf – If you happen to be in Australia in August, this 8.7 mile run from downtown Sydney to the beach at Bondi is a great way to spend the day. I love these events that attract massive local support and 80,000 runners line up every year. Since only a very few are taking this race particularly seriously, it feels like a street party as much as a racecity2s
  • Leadville – As detailed in Born to Run and countless articles. While the altitude and elevation changes make this race absolutely brutal, it’s the tight cutoff times that really distinguish it. Most of us can finish an ultra and, given enough time, even one of the true monsters. But finishing Leadville means finishing fast. Wearing one of these belt buckles around really means something. Some of the hardcore out there are saying that Leadville is no longer what it was but that doesn’t mean it’s not still an amazing race and a huge achievement

    Leadville

    Leadville

  • Comrades marathon – It’s pretty bold to call yourself, “The World’s Greatest Ultra Marathon” but who am I to argue? 18,000 people sign up every year to run 56 miles in South Africa. That is so much larger than the biggest US ultras that it boggles the mind. Another cool flourish is that the course switches direction each year so you get to choose if you want to run the uphill or downhill version based on what year you sign upOkhalamba ADP - Comrades Race Day
  • Badwater – They call themselves the world’s hardest footrace and that sounds about right. Extreme temperatures in Death Valley and an extreme climb towards the end of the race (also, they don’t pussyfoot around with 100 miles – this is 135) make this pretty crazy. Running on the Sun highlights the insane dedication that goes into competing in something like this

    Badwater

    Badwater

  • Jersey marathon – no, not that Jersey. Mainly on the list because the Marathon Globetrotters (of which I am proudly a provisional member) are having their annual meeting there this year and I’m trying to convince Awesome Wife Kelly that it’s totally worth flying for a day to run a race on a tiny island we hadn’t previously known existed. There’s a chance

    Not THAT Jersey

    Not THAT Jersey

  • Razorback Endurance Run – Okay, only because I just ran it. But still, pretty freaking awesome

    Razorback sunset

    Razorback sunset

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The Razorback Endurance Race: Amazing race – but no pigs

As I’d mentioned in a previous blog post, I’ve been ramping up for the Razorback Endurance Race (by ramping up, I mean doing one long run after my last marathon and then extending my taper into the race. So actually, what’s the opposite of ramping up?). And as I’d hinted at in the dramatic, climactic cliff-hanger at the end of my last blog post, I decided to up my distance from 50 miles to 100k. There were various reasons for this and I’ll quick hit them now:

Pros for 100k vs. 50 miles

  • I mean, it’s only another 10 miles. Who can’t run another 10 miles?
  • I’d already run 52.5 at last year’s 24 hour run for Cancer. Why do another ultra that covers less mileage than what I did last year? Onward and upward people
  • Running 100k let’s you talk in metric. Talking in metric makes you sound like a serious person
  • The belt buckle

    The Belt Buckle

    Chicks dig belt buckles with angry looking pigs

Cons for 100k vs. 50 miles

  • While running 10 additional miles seem like a reasonable thing to do, it’s unequivocally the last 10 miles you’re adding, not the first ten miles. As such, these will be the 10 hardest miles, almost certainly harder than any miles I’d run in my entire life
  • Awesome Wife Kelly gets really bored sitting around at races all day. And given the weather forecast, she gets cold and wet too
  • I’d started negotiations with AWK at 50k. I’d upped to 50 miles. Upping again to 100k feels a bit mean. Then again, she is Awesome and she gets over these things

So there we have it, 100k it is.

The course from above

The Razorback Endurance Race course from above

Joining Kelly and me were my folks, Maralyn and Jerold, and Kelly’s mother, Jean. I couldn’t pick a better troop to sit around bored all day while I ran in a circle. Okay, kidding aside: knowing that people cared enough to drive great distances, spend hard earned money and waste a weekend sitting around and watching me gimp around a track is an incredible motivator. Obviously I can’t wimp out and disappoint these good people. Mom, Dad, Jean and AWK you made much more of a difference than you know.

The family/crew

The family/crew

As I outlined previously, this is a pretty cool race. Race Director Tracy is a ball of exuberance and her (and that of her awesome volunteers) radical dedication and infectious excitement rub off on all of the participants. This race is unique in that it offers all distances as well as multiple track options – from 13 miles through 72 hours on a paved 2 miler or a hilly ~5 mile trail. About

Dark and stormy is better in drinks than in races

Dark and stormy is better in drinks than in races

100 hardy souls participated and the varying speeds (I mean folks at the tail end of a 72 hour race don’t run/walk, but hobble/crawl) and multiple, but intersecting paths meant that you overlap with everybody in the race at some point.

On one level this was a pretty straightforward race for me. I wasn’t as prepared as I’d like to be, so I started out pretty conservative, running 10 minute miles, then went to the 10 on 2 off run/walk at 10/15 pace and gradually upped the walking over the course of the day. I had some peaks and valleys, but felt pretty good overall, hit my stride after mile 30, came down a bit during a two hour rain storm, then caught a second wind and finished miles 46-62 pretty strong.

IMG_0897

Ultrarunners are very fond of saying “it’s all mental” in 50 different ways.

  • “It’s not how tough you are physically but how tough you are mentally.”
  • “Your mind will quit before your body quits.”
  • “Don’t let your brain convince your body to give in.”

This makes sense on some abstract level. Kind of like it makes sense that Antarctica is cold. I have some vague idea of it, but I’ve never actually had frostbite. I knew that mental toughness was important, but I’ve never really dealt with that. In marathons I run as hard as I can until my muscles wear out and I can’t physically keep up the pace. That’s not mental, that’s physical. Ultras are different, as I learned at Razorback.

  • I’ve run 20+ miles probably 30-40 times in my life. I’ve never run 20 miles more slowly than I ran them on Saturday. Just a month ago I’d run 20 miles at a ~7:45 pace, so I know I’m in shape. Yet after just 22 ~12 minute miles atRazorback I was worn out, in pain, nauseous and a bit lost. There was absolutely zero physical reason for this and the only way I can explain it is that my mind was thinking about 62 miles and messing with my body. The platitudes came home. A few high caffeine Gus and some spirited cheers from my fan club helped me get through it and mile 22 proved to be the nadir of the race. At mile 60 I was running stronger and feeling better than I had just 4 hours into the race. If that’s not a mental situation I don’t know what is

    Costume change with rain incoming

    Costume change with rain incoming

  • We all play mind games in races, trying to psyche ourselves out and find the energy/edge to push harder. Looped races provide an opportunity for a great one of these: every loop you see people laboring and struggling and you feel a bit better about yourself and your troubles (even if you feel guilty about this source of motivation / energy). Sure, I’m hurting, but that guy is really messed up. Don’t get me wrong, you’re cheering for the guy and want him to succeed, but it also makes you feel a little bit less terrible about your own predicament. This is a very dangerous mentality atRazorback. Several times I started to feel pretty good about myself in a relative sense, only to catch up with somesad looking person, chat with him and find out he’s in the 72 hour category. So yeah, I do look better than him. But then again, he had been running for 48 hours before I even got into the game. All things considered, I didn’t really look that much better than him…

    The sun sets on the Razorback Endurance Race

    The sun sets on the Razorback Endurance Race

  • There was so much experience and running wisdom running on that course. I randomly chatted up somehard core looking dude about halfway through the race and got the best piece of running advice I have ever received, “This sport is all about how you recover”. Wow, that’s true. At one point or another every ultra runner is going to hit a low. If things just got inexorably worse, nobody would be able to make it through these things. Because you’re running slow and can rest as needed, your performance, energy and attitude go in waves. At mile 22 I thought I was going to throw up. On-coming rain at mile 44 drove me to a low where I thought I’d be walking or crawling the remaining miles. By mile 50 I was cruising at about a 50/50 run walk that I maintained for the next 12 miles. I finished strong, feeling great and convinced I could crank out a bunch more miles without too much issue. It’s not about how good you feel at any given point. You will crash and it’s all about how you recover. Thank you anonymous stranger for pointing that out

    Hooverville

    Hooverville

So there you go, those are the highlights. Before I sign off from this blog post (and if you’re still reading…) let me share a couple of other thoughts:

  • My folks are the best. Jean too. Thanks for coming, thanks for the enthusiasm. It meant a lot to me and to AWK
  • I didn’t even mention AWK in the prior paragraph because she’s set the bar so high it’s just damn hard to surpass it. And yet she always does
  • It was really fun to say outlandish things to my non-running parents like “Only one more marathon to go, I’ve got this in the bag.” I think they suspected all along that it was simple bravado, but it felt kind of cool at the time.
  • Why is mid-run pizza the best food in the world? I don’t mean the best thing you can eat at the time. I mean that if I had to weigh the Dominoes pizza I had at mile 30 against the fanciest, most expensive meal I’ve ever had, the Dominoes wins every damn time. That pizza was donated by a former runner who couldn’t participate. Thank you for your thought and effort, it was appreciated
  • THERE WERE NO DAMN PIGS. The race was called the Razorback Endurance Race after feral pigs that root around the area. There are pigs on the shirt. The medal is in the shape of a pig. I had been promised (well, no, not technically promised) feral pigs and I got no pigs. This was upsetting to me and crushing to AWK (the cows helped ease some of the pain though)

    image001

    We had to steal this photo from someone else because there were no damn pigs!

  • I can’t emphasize this enough – the Razorback organizers and volunteers were absolutely top notch. Logistics were seamless, there was tons of great food and their enthusiasm and good cheer was contagious. If you ever get the chance to do one of Tracy’s races do it

    Tracy!

    Taking a photo with Tracy at the end of Razorback is like taking a photo with Bono in Ireland.

So there you go, great people, a great course and a hell of a race. Thanks everybody for making the Razorback Endurance Race 2015 such a wonderful event.

UPDATE:  In a fun, surprise twist, I actually placed second in the 100k!  Okay, so it was a very small race and many of the competitors were running the much harder trail loop (lots more elevation), but I’m looking at the big picture here.  On my tombstone it will say “2nd place finisher in the 2015 Razorback Endurance Race 100k.”  No footnotes allowed.