The Mumblings of an Old Man

Well, it’s the new year and if you’re like me, you’ve had an inkling of what your 2016 race/run calendar will look like for a couple of months now.

Many of you will be embarking on your first venture into ultrarunning territory.  Just remember, if you do that, you will never be the same…….and that’s a good thing.  On the other hand, many of you have been at this for a few years, or like me, many years.

For me, I start looking at the New Year just after my annual dance with the Wasatch 100.  By the end of the year, I have a pretty good idea of what I am hoping to run for the next year.  It’s like Christmas for me, the anticipation, the planning, scheduling vacation days from work, asking for my wife’s permission to do this run or that race.  Asking her to come along on my adventures.

So how do you pick the races/adventure runs you want to do for the year?  For some of us, we need to know well in advance so we can plan the time off, family activities, etc.  Others of us are more spur of the moment.  For the last few years, I’ve been kind of stuck doing races here in Utah.  Most of this has to do with my job situation (or lack of a job situation), but now that I have a job and actual paid vacation days, I’m looking further afield for events and places to run.  I actually signed up for my first international race, Squamish 50 in British Columbia.

If you’re wondering about what to run/race this year, here are some criteria that I use to evaluate what I do.

  1. Where.  Do you want to run outside the country, across the country, stay local?  I encourage you to try running in new places, try new races, try new adventure runs.  There are now over 1500 ultrarunning events in this country alone.  While that’s far fewer than shorter distance road races, you still have a huge selection.  There are also a mess load of places to do your adventure runs.
  2. Size.  Size does matter, at least to me regarding the race field size.  I do prefer smaller events, like less than a couple hundred.  Having said that, I have had the privilege of running some of the iconic ultrarunning events in the country, Western States, Leadville, Vermont, Wasatch.  Believe it or not, these (except for Leadville) are actually pretty small events, and once you’re out on the trail, you can go miles without seeing another soul.  Some people really like larger events and all the hoopla that attends.  JFK 50 mile is the largest ultra in the US with around 1000 runners.  UTMB?  2500 runners.  Comrades?  Something like 12,000 runners.
  3. Reputation.  Does the race, and race director, have a good reputation.  Believe it or not, there are a couple of race directors whose events I will not run again due to how they handled the event that I ran.  Also, just because an elite ultrarunner directs a race doesn’t mean that they do a good job.  Talk to others who have run various events, get their take before you pull the ultrasignup trigger.
  4. Convenience.  Going on that family vacation?  Maybe combine it with a race or adventure run, especially if it’s one you would otherwise not go to.  Make sure the family is ok with this though.  You don’t want to create any discord if you can help it.
  5. Schedule.  Limited vacation, or only certain days?  Sometimes that will dictate what you do.
  6. Spur of the moment.  This is most always some of the best times running out there.  You and your friends decide on a Thursday that you’re going to go do an epic run on Saturday.
  7. Type of race/run.  Epic adventure runs don’t have to always be in the mountains or really remote places full of wild animals that will eat you.   They also don’t have to be on some trail that everyone else is doing (Grand Canyon, Zion, etc.).  Look at some of the stuff Davy Crockett does.  Running from Saratoga Springs out to Heber for a family Christmas party?  41 miles through town?  Crazy stuff, but don’t dismiss it.  I’ve done a couple of epic runs across town before.  Races don’t always have to be trail, or point to point.  Ever think about doing a timed event?  Contrary to what you might think, timed events on a short loop course can be a lot of fun and not boring at all.
  8. And lastly, distance.  What’s your favorite race distance, or epic long run distance?  For me I like 100K’s, long enough to be epic in time and distance, short enough to hopefully finish before dark and get that beer.  I also like timed races, no pressure to complete a specific distance, you can quit anytime.  For epic adventure runs, I like to go anywhere from 25-50 miles.  Long enough to cover some serious ground and see some wonderful sights.  Short enough to rehash the day’s run with your friends over dinner and have that sense of accomplishment.

But Jim, where do I find all of these races or places to run?  Ultrarunning  and Trail Runner magazines have great race calendars on their websites.  Here in Utah you can check out utahrunning.com, the Moellmer calendar on wasatch100.com, the Wasatch Wrangler facebook page is always a great source on where to run, plus you can get together and meet some new people, or just ask your ultrarunning friends.  Chances are your circle of crazy friends has an idea or two about where to run.  Maybe I can talk Mr. Trailmanners to putting up a Utah race calendar on his site.

So, plan your running year.  Try something new, run in a different place, run with different people, push your limits.  But most of all, enjoy the journey.

(Photo Credit: Lori Burlison)

Jim Skaggs

Jim Skaggs

Race director for Buffalo Run, Logan Peak, and Antelope Island Fall Classic.
Jim Skaggs

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