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Unless I get the sudden urge to travel somewhere over the upcoming Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays for a race, I’m done with my big events for 2013. (I was planning to finish the season with a 50 miler earlier this month, but the flooding on the Front Range led to a rescheduled Bear Chase Race and I wasn’t able to run on the rescheduled date.) Since this year is winding up I thought it’d be useful to take a look back at the four events and see if I can learn anything that might help me in 2014.

Although none of my races were particularly far from home, they varied greatly in their atmosphere, their speed and terrain, and especially in their elevation profiles:

(Graph Note: I was willing to sacrifice a bit of accuracy for the sake of getting a clearer picture on a broader level. The graphed data are not precise, but they’re close enough to be useful for my inexact review.)

I noted a few interesting things when thinking about how these races (and my experiences at them) compare to one another:

Terrain Matters (duh!): I’m not talking about the elevation gain/loss, but the nature of the footing. For example, while there were definitely some rough sections on the Breck Crest, those sections were generally quite short. I think the Golden Gate Dirty Thirty had more sections of rough terrain (and that certainly impacted my pacing), but the biggest challenge for me this past year was the unfamiliarity of the off-camber footing on the slickrock trails of the Red Hot 55k. I think my takeaway point is that I should never shy away from the opportunity to run/train on trails with poor or awkward footing.

Fueling Matters (duh! part deux): I got another good reminder of how important fueling is (and the corollary that you’ve gotta take care of yourself!) at the GGDT. I wasn’t able to get carb-gels at the last two aid stations, and felt a little draggy heading up Windy Peak. In contrast, I fueled pretty evenly and steadily at the Greenland 50k, and it kept my energy levels fairly constant. I probably took in about 150 calories per hour at Greenland, but I think my stomach could have handled a bit more, so pushing in the calories a bit more is something to experiment with next year.

Not All Climbing is Created Equal: Perhaps long sustained climbs and descents don’t tax my legs as much as a more frequent up and down. The climbs at the Breck Crest were long, but didn’t seem to tear down my legs as much as the more undulating nature of the GGDT. It’s true that the GGDT has, on average, about 20% more vertical per mile than the Breck Crest (at least according to my GPS watch), but the cumulative stress of the GGDT climbing felt more than 20% harder to me. I think I need to seek out more of that kind of vertical in 2014.

Pacing At the Beginning of a Run is Important (and Uphill Pacing is Doubly Important): Paying attention to uphill pacing (specifically, not pushing it too hard) matters a lot. I certainly know this in the rational part of my brain, but it wasn’t until the Greenland 50k that I was actually able to use that knowledge (rather than just saying “screw it… it’s a race! Go ahead and push yourself on the uphills!”) By shuffling/jogging along in a controlled manner during the first lap uphills, I was able to conserve energy that I was very grateful to have later in the race.

Knowing the Course Helps Me Stay Calm: This was my first year running the Red Hot 55k and the Greenland 50k. I was probably a bit too conservative on the Red Hot 55k, simply not knowing where the tricky parts would be. (For Greenland, since it was a 4 x loop course, I was able to use the first lap to get a sense of the trail, so only 25% of the course was truly unfamiliar). Having previously run the Breck Crest and GGDT I knew what parts had kicked my butt before, so I wasn’t surprised (and didn’t waste too much emotional energy) when the tough parts came. I hopeful that if I can get a spot in the 2014 Tahoe Rim Trail 50m I’ll be able to remember enough about the course that I’ll be able to run it a lot better than I did in 2012. (Although I’ll never forget the climb up Diamond Peak!)

Don’t Get Worried or Excited – Just Learn to Run by Feel. Of these four races, I’m probably happiest with how I ran at the Greenland 50k. I was able to push myself without pushing too hard and crashing. I think a big part of doing that was being able to take an honest assessment of how my body felt as I was running. I had a vague time goal for the race (a 5:30, which I considered to be a bit aggressive, but do-able, based on my 6:53 at the Red Hot 55k), and found myself far ahead of that pace after the first quarter of the race. But rather than get worried try to calculate what pace I should slow to in order to be maintainable, or get excited about how well I was doing, I tried something different. I ignored the numbers and just tried to figure out how I was really feeling. Could I continue run at this effort level for another four hours? And every few minutes (between those wonderful times in a race when your mind floats away in a river of random thoughts) I took a quick status check: Am I going too fast or too slow? Am I letting my posture get lazy? Am I breathing from my belly and not my upper chest? Not worrying about how fast or slow I was running, and instead just paying attention to HOW I was running, was pretty awesome…

Don’t get me wrong, I like my GPS watch, and I often run with a heart rate monitor. I enjoy having the numbers to look at – I rarely do anything particularly useful with those numbers, but I still like having them. But being able to do that race primarily by feel opened my eyes up a bit to what might be possible if I look inside more often than I look at my watch.