Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Something Completely Different: Ultrarunning & The Lost Generation

George Whitman died last week in Paris at age 98.  I'd spoken with him only once - and for just a few minutes - but he and his bookshop in the shadow of Notre Dame - Shakespeare & Co - had a profound impact on me.  Long a devotee of James Joyce, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, and other modernists of the Lost Generation, I'd read much about Shakespeare & Co, so when I found myself in Paris in my early 20's I had to make my way to the store with the storied name, and even though it wasn't Sylvia Beach's original Shakespeare & Co, where Ulysses was first published and a bandaged Hemingway showed off his battle scars from the Spanish Civil War, it was a place that maintained the same ethos and name (with Ms. Beach's blessing, some say) of the original.

On a grey fall day in the early 90s, while buying off-kilter imprints of At-Swim-Two-Birds and Finnegans Wake, I had a chance to chat with Mr. Whitman as he stamped my books with the iconic kilometer zero ink stamp from the store.  The store had just suffered through a fire, and with the smell of damp charcoal in the air, we spoke a bit of Joyce and flame and the literary hostel he maintained in the quarters above the shop.  He was a passionate man who devoted himself to art, to words, to exploration, and to spreading the gospel of all three.

Why write about this here in Run Junkie?  To be honest, I'm not quite sure I can explain it very well.  But laying in bed the other night shortly after Whitman died and Shakespeare & Co was back in the news, I couldn't help thinking about those indelible experiences we all have in life.  Those experiences that really seem to be way points that guide all our future thinking and action.  Shakespeare & Co - and the literature and letters that surround it - is certainly one indelible part of my life - the imagery made even stronger by the literal, indelible stamps from the store in some of my favorite books.

Another indelible part of my life is ultra-running.  I've always run, mind you, and it's been something that has always defined me, but it wasn't until I discovered ultra-running that running seemed to actually tap into the archetype of who I was.  This is crazy talk to some, I know, but there are others out there who know exactly what I'm talking about.

Life is stingy with these indelible experiences, so it's unsurprising that one hearkens to another.  And for me, the death of George Whitman was a reminder that grand moments and experiences in life matter.  Some are made, some are happenstance - but each is a gift to be savored and built upon - something I'll remind myself of the next time I'm out for 8 hours on the trail or on my 8th day trying to get through the Pisan Cantos.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Ultra on Three Runs a Week? Sure.

I sit here writing ensconced in the good life of the off season - "You've gained how many pounds already?" one good running buddy asked the other week.  Yet, with dreams of 2012 starting to dance in my head, it seemed time to do a little post facto analysis of my training in the 2011 high season.

After a disappointing and pretty much non-existent 2010 season because of my too-documented knee injury, I thought I'd take a different approach to 2011 that allowed me to keep the knee happy with low weekly miles but let me do what we all love most - going long.

So, for most of the summer I ran only three times a week, slowly kicking up my long runs until I hit respectable distances of 18 - 20 miles. While it made for some rough runs as my slow-to-develop fat-burning chemistry came online, it worked amazingly well, letting me get out on some of the most memorable training runs I've ever had - documented ad nauseum in images on singletrack:photos.
At Foothills 50k Frenzy.

And as the knee showed some resilience, I took the plunge, setting my sites on a late season 50k (my first ultra since Wasatch Front 2009) and kicking up the training just a bit in September.

For the 20 weeks between early June and race day on October 22, I averaged 30 miles/week; 4,400 vertical feet/week; and 3.5 runs/week.  My biggest week ended September 18, with 52 miles, 10,400 ft vert, and 5 sessions - numbers that in the past passed as a recovery week.  Season details in figure below.

For ultra - even for a 50k - it was meager training, but it worked surprisingly well.  I had a solid race and finished feeling strong in 5:23 and 18th overall.  Not contending but not lagging, either.

As a once and (maybe) future mileage junkie, I'm always hoping for more, but I think this past season serves as a great lesson that low miles, if they're smart, can take you a long way toward your goals.

I'm not sure what 2012 will hold - I'd love to do a 50 miler - but 2011 has been a real gift - allowing me to dip my toes back into the sport I love.