Sunday, December 11, 2011

2011 Year in Review

The last 12 months of my running career have been unbelievable. I've accomplished so much this year that I wasn't even dreaming about in 2010. I'd be inclined to classify the past year as "fairy tale" material if it weren't for one bad race. But when I look back at all of my race results, I know that one poor performance can't overshadow everything else I've done. And I couldn't have scripted a better finale to my year of racing.

With that said, I'd like to recap some of the highlights.  Hope you enjoy!

I started off 2011 with a great run at Mtn Mist in Huntsville, AL. Even though I cut my teeth on those trails and knew them well, I blew up in 2010 and barely broke 4 hours. I paced myself much better, finished strong, and took 15 minutes off my time from last year. I also shaved a few minutes off Dave Mackey's course record from 2007. That race gets overshadowed with some of my later accomplishments this year, but I'd really love to see someone go after that time because I think it's pretty tough.

February 19 - Sylamore Trail 50k - 3:31:44 (1st, CR)

This photo is from 2010, but you get the point.
February brought another opportunity to break a solid 50k course record that I missed a year before. Dink Taylor set the course record 11 years ago and the Sylamore race director had put up $2000 for anyone that could take it down. Amazingly Dink himself drove out from Alabama to the middle of nowhere Arkansas to crew for me so I could beat his record. Yeah, he's just that kinda guy. The weather cooperated, I fixed my mistakes from last year, and ran 3:31 on a challenging course. Sylamore is a neat trail and I think you should go run it if you ever have a chance. Just make sure you stay for the post-race bonfire party.

March - I didn't race, but I did go to Colorado.

I did a little cross-training in March, snowboarding out in Colorado for a week and hiking to 13,000 ft from the end of the ski lift in snowboarding boots when I could. But I still ran 65 miles that week with the majority of it above 8,000 ft. Before I left, I got to check out the famous Magnolia Road located just outside of Boulder. That was a tough run after a week of riding.

After my breakthrough race at JFK in 2010, I decided to turn down my auto entry into Western States. Instead, my goal for the year was to make the US 100km team and race at the World Championships in the Netherlands. To qualify for the team I needed to win or run a sufficient qualifying time at the Mad City 100k. I wasn't able to catch Andy Henshaw and win the race, but I did run fast enough to qualify for the team. I ran a very patient race and didn't move into the 2nd place position until 90km. And it was great to run just under my goal of 7 hours in my first attempt at the distance.

May - Flying Pig Marathon - 2:31:14 (2nd)

Only three weeks after Mad City, I wasn't expecting much from this race. Our big local marathon here in Cincinnati, it caters more to recreational runners and rookies than elites which gave me a good shot at stealing the win. It would have been really fun to roll out of bed, drive 15 minutes to the start, then win a pretty big marathon. Unfortunately, I came up a bit short this day. With my fastest race pace over the previous 4 months being 6:45, I was pleased to be able to drop down to 5:47 pace for a marathon. One fast guy too many showed up on this particular day though.

June 4 - Another Dam 50k - 3:34:34 (1st, CR)
AD50k is a local race I did last year on a whim and thought it would make a good long run this year. It's also the easiest trail race I did all year. I ran relaxed the whole day, but with better course conditions than last year, I was able to reset my own course record.

Just for fun, and literally, a little change of pace, I took a few weeks after the 100k to train for a decent 5k effort. I was pleased to run 15:23 even though I got smoked in this stacked, elite-only race. Definitely a cool experience as it was run on a criterium course and had lots of crowd support.

September 10 - IAU World 100k Championships - DNF

The only disappointment of my year came at the 100k World Championships. After fighting a fever and dizzy spells in the week preceding the race, I felt the need to drop out at 34 miles as the nausea and dizziness were preventing me from getting my nutrition down. It was truly bittersweet though, because the US men's team went on to win the gold medal. My wife and I also made a really nice vacation out of the trip. It stinks that my one bad race this year had to come at such an important venue. I vowed to rebound from that race, and I think I made good on that promise.

This was another small, local trail run that I wasn't planning to run because of it's proximity to the World 100k. But I was desperate to race after my DNF to prove (to myself) that my fitness was just fine. Mission accomplished.

October 1 - Rock/Creek StumpJump 50k - 3:49:52 (1st, CR)

This one was just a week after Germantown, but it's a pretty big trail race that I'd had my eye on for a while.  I toed the line praying that I hadn't run too hard the previous weekend in my rush to reassure myself of my conditioning. This was the most elevation gain I'd ever encountered in a race, and I'd trained for a flat road 100k all summer, so I was really rolling the dice. I wasn't sure how my body would handle the technical trails and difficult climbs. Turns out there was nothing to worry about. I had enough strength to survive the climbs and there were enough runnable sections where I was able to use my speed. The course was beautiful and Rock/Creek really puts on a great event as a whole. Germantown gave me some confidence, but being able to shave a significant chunk of time off the course record at a well-established race proved that I was in great shape.

October 23 - Stone Steps 50k - 3:40:56 (1st, CR)

Following the World 100k, my next major focus race was without a doubt JFK. But Stone Steps has become my new "hometown" 50k since I moved to Cincinnati. I couldn't miss out on this one even if it did fall right in what should have been my last really big week of training before beginning the taper for JFK. So I just incorporated it into the training plan. I was super happy to shave over 3 minutes off my CR from 2010 en route to a 120 mile week of training. This was another huge confidence builder heading into JFK.

November 7 - My wife's first half marathon

Stef's in the pink shirt.
This obviously isn't a personal running accomplishment of mine, but it is a highlight from this year that I wanted to share. My wife is not a runner. She has many gifts and talents, but natural running talent was not something that God blessed her with. I have been very careful not to push her into the sport even though running is a huge passion of mine; but I know she sees the joy that it brings me. Needing an exercise program and a stress-relieving outlet, she joined a local half marathon training group. (I did not need to be her coach). Having the company and accountability of the training group, she finally began to see how running can be an enjoyable activity. Her motivation only grew stronger as she relished the sense of accomplishment that came as her long runs increased in distance. Although her work schedule prevented her from completing the half with the training group, she found another half and did it on her own. As we embraced after her finish, I was reminded of the emotion I felt after my first marathon finish when the indescribable combination of utter fatigue and complete satisfaction brought me to tears. Her time is not important. I know how tough it was and what a huge personal accomplishment it was for her, and that's why it ranks as one of my running highlights of the year.

November 19 - JFK 50 Mile - 5:40:45 (1st, CR)

JFK was undoubtedly the crowning race of my 2011 racing season, and probably the most significant running performance of my life. I won't rehash it here in detail since I just wrote the race report a few weeks ago, but it was pretty much the perfect race. It still makes me uncomfortable to discuss the facts. The nation's largest and oldest ultramarathon. 864 finishers this year. It's been run for 49 years. The previous course record was set in 1994. No one else had even run within 4 minutes of Eric Clifton's course record, and I took over 5 minutes off his time. But I'm most proud of the fact that I won the race over an incredibly talented field. I'm still in disbelief. I've been running competitively since the 7th grade but I've never been the best of the best. I think that's why I've had so much trouble wrapping my head around this result. All I've come up with so far is that I'm blessed, truly.

So there you have it. My nearly perfect year of racing. I thought about trying to get into The North Face Endurance Challenge 50 mile a couple weeks after JFK, but decided there was really no way I could top my race at JFK and I would only end up disappointed. Better to close out the season on a huge positive note, I thought. I've got big plans for 2012 and I wanted to give my legs a well-deserved rest before serious training begins.  Here's to 2012.


  1. 7 wins, 7 CR's? Congrats on a great year.

  2. What a fantastic year of running. Looking forward to following you in 2012.

  3. Great year, wow! Your blog is inspiring, keep it up.

  4. Well done. I agree with Steve!