Monday, July 9, 2012

50-50 Foresight

When I completed my goal of running a marathon on all 7 continents last October, naturally many people asked what running challenge would I tackle next.  I hemmed and hawed on that, and I even promised to write up something for the blog when I knew.  However, I did not imagine so many months would pass before I finally brought forth an answer.

And of course, one goal alone cannot satisfy me, so I am setting three - one short term, one medium term and one crazy one.

50 Miles
Ever since I ran my first 50 kilometer (31 mile) race in 2010, I knew I wanted to try for 50 miles.  In ultramarathon running, the standard distances are 50k (considered a short ultra), 50 miles, 100K (63 miles) and 100 miles.  I suspect 100 miles is outside my ability or at least my desire to train for that length.  100K might be doable, and I would love to try the Comrades marathon in South Africa (89K/56 miles).  50 miles in any case is the next step up.

While 50 miles is "standard," I could not find a lot of races at this distance.  Given only a few countries still use imperial measurements, the venues offering this course length comprise only a subset of interesting places to run.  I wanted to pick a new location (ideally a state that I had not completed yet - see lower down why this is important).  Ease of access from Los Angeles had to be right.  And of course, I had to be able to peak my training for the event.  50 miles will likely take me between 8 and 9 hours; this is not a race I can just attempt at the drop of a hat.

The difficulty of the race also needs to be compatible with my ability; few 50 miler races are "easy."  Total elevation and the terrain surfaces of these races vary considerably.  These two elements really define how hard a race feels.  My first 50k, the Pemberton Trail, featured about 1000 feet of elevation gain over 15 miles.  I considered this reasonable given I experience that on my long runs in LA.  Two laps of the course comprised the route, so I had the benefit of the second half being something I had just run.  This past month, I ran my 3rd 50k up in Canada, a lovely out and back run from Lake Ontario to Niagara Falls.  While less elevation gain than Pemberton, 98% of the race featured asphalt.  What the race lacked in altitude, it made up for in pounding.

Happily, the race I selected balances all of these concerns.  On November 17, 2012, I will join a few hundred other runners to attack the JFK 50 - the 50th running of the event which started in 1963 to honor the slain President.  This race is a large horseshoe shaped track with 13 of the 50 miles on the Appalachian Trail single track.  A full 26 miles are on a flat crushed dirt path following a canal.  Fortunately, the single track trail 13 miles (assuredly my slowest section) slot in between miles 2.5 and 15.5.  Unfortunately, rocky and narrow conditions prevail according to the website.  So, I probably will hike-run-walk this section.  1000 feet(!) drop in the last mile with a series of deep switchbacks.  Part of my training will include a lot of single track runs in the Santa Monica Mountains.

Nuts? Sure!  Fun? absolutely!

50 States (the easy way)
My medium term goal is one that many other runners try in their marathon careers; this is the US version of the 7 continent goal.  I want to run a marathon in all 50 states.

And I want to run them before I am 50.  Completed so far are 7:

Arizona, California, Massachusetts, New York, North Dakota, Virginia, Washington

As I will be 45 on Thursday, I have 5 years to run 43 additional state marathons. That means 8-9 new states per year.  And of course, I need to do all of this while staying healthy and fit.  In the past 8+ months, I have run 11 races, and if all goes well, I will complete 17 in 12 months.  So, 8-9 and  accounting for running the LA Marathon annually as well as a few other countries here and there, is doable.  I suspect to do the bulk of the 43 in a few years of intense running and then hopefully coast to the 50th by July 2017.

Some of the challenge will be logistical.  For example, how many marathons a year do smaller states hold?  Rhode Island has only 3 in a year (April, May and October).  As the list of completed states grows, the choices for dates and races will dwindle.  Summer and winter months offer relatively few marathons due to hot and cold weather.

And to do all of this, I will focus on slowing down from about 3:35 average time to 3:55 or so.

If all goes well, I will add 8 more between now and January (Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois, Iowa, South Carolina, Maryland, Delaware and Florida).  That will leave 35 marathons in 4.5 years - just under 8 per year.

Insane? Sure!  Fun? Absolutely!

50 States (the hard way)
Ok, this goal is not really to run in all 50 states but rather to run across the 50 states.  Yes, you read that right.

At some point in the next decade, I would like to run across the United States.  Officially, this is defined as running from New York City Hall to either Los Angeles City Hall or San Francisco City Hall (or the reverse of either).  The routes are about the same in length - 3000 miles.  However, many people define running across the US as ocean to ocean with the shortest distance being San Diego to Jacksonville.  I am a traditionalist, so I will likely go for LA to NY on a southern route.

I know a few things about this crazy goal which is really just forming.

First off, I want this to be done for charity or a cause.  Going that far and beating up my body that much has to be more than just for "fun."  Second, I am going to need a support crew that is awesome.  The record to run across the US is something like 52 days for runners over 40.  This requires running about 60 miles every day for 9 weeks.  I would much prefer to do this slowly and try to keep the average to 35 miles.  That would take around 90 days - or about 3 months.  So, I would have to get a sponsor to foot the bill to pay for the crew and support vehicles for that long.  And hopefully I can recruit a number of my running friends to join me on portions of the attempt to keep me company.

My stepson and about to be medical student wants to make sure we are collecting tons of biometric data on the runs.  I completely agree with that, and it will take research money to capture and process that data.
And then there is the training.  Does one run across California to practice?  Or from Los Angeles to Fort Collins?  Or is it about just training the body to put on the miles and slowly make progress.  Can you imagine how many audiobooks I will get to listen to?  Ok, I rarely run with audio, so the answer is not very many.

Can I do this?  I have no idea.  And that's why it is a fun challenge to figure out.

(By the way, if you are wondering how this works in terms of specifically running the distance, what you do is run in the morning for 20 or so miles.  You then mark where you stopped and rest, deal with email, logistics etc, sleep, eat.  Then in the late day, you return to your marked location and run more.  At the end of the day, you either drive to a nearby hotel or sleep in the RV that you need to rent for this.  The next morning, you return to your last stopping place.)

Off my rocker? Sure x 50!  Fun? To be honest, not so sure!  My kind of goal?  Absolutely.