Monday, December 31, 2018

2019: looking ahead to another 20 years?!

I realized as the end of year approached that 2019 is not just a new year in running, it will mark (in April) the beginning of my 21st year in running - more or less. In April 1999, my father called me just after his 5th Marathon des Sables telling me that he had signed up me up for the 15th edition in 2000 (he was retiring, was representing Switzerland for the organization, and figured it was as good a way as any for us to spend some time together and get to know each other better). I was living in Los Angeles, smoking, drinking and otherwise partying - and hadn't done much exercise in almost 10 years. But I took it seriously (not enough to stop smoking, drinking and partying completely, however) and completed the MdS in 2000, again in 2001 and in between the now-defunct 100-mile Jordan Desert Cup in November 2000.

But despite offers to go run Badwater, the Diagonale des Fous and a few other now-legendary races, I was unable to believe in myself. While someone like Mark Cockbain who was also at the Desert Cup in 2000 went on to do stuff like double Badwaters, I pretty much stopped running as my dad got sicker with cancer and continued smoking, drinking, partying, logging only one endurance event in 2002, the Patrouille des Glaciers, a ski touring competition…

I picked up again in 2003 when my friend Cyril asked me to do the MdS again with him - which we did in 2006, filming a documentary on cancer in the process as my father had died in 2003.
Since then, I haven't looked back. I did quite a few runs with Cyril, but what is now called "medium ultras", around 40-60 miles. In 2013 I put an end to all the drinking and partying and decided to attempt a 100-miler again. In the mountains: the UT4M, in 2014. I failed, possibly since my training was so haphazard and I was no longer used to really struggling to finish no matter what. In 2016, I failed to finish the Swiss Irontail T201 - timed out with 10mn to spare at 139km. But in this case I do believe that if it had been 160km and not 200, I would have gone through the checkpoint, slept afterwards, then pushed on for the final 20k. But another 60km was too much. Still, shoulda, coulda, woulda - the point is, I failed to finish. And I put it down mainly to being too slow, therefore inadequate training. Or at least that is what emerged during the race, "ah, my training wasn't right, just not good enough, there's no point" - so true or not, it dragged me down mentally either way.

Lessons learned in 2017-2018

For 2017, I decided to end a 10-year love affair with mountains and tackle road races again, which I found somewhat frightening. I chose as my big focus the 145-mile (233-km) GUCR, and -or the first (and so far only) time I turned to a coach to devise a training plan so that I wouldn't at least doubt my training going into the race - or during the race as I did with the Swiss Irontrail. Along the way, I learnt a bit more about how to structure training and work on speed (or "running efficiency") in a more consistent way. I decided to put that to good use in 2018, flush from my success at finishing the GUCR and the Ultra Tour du Léman.

As often, nothing went to plan, or rather I couldn't implement my plans due to a sesamoid stress fracture (in big toe) that laid me off running for almost three months. My main focus was the 100km Bienne, but I was only really able to start training properly in February-March and even then my "speed training" lacked consistency and structure. So while I did ok at Bienne (12h50), the time was far short of what I'd hoped or even what I believe my potential is, based on marathon time (10h30 - 11h15). And then the 2nd goal of 2018 - the Montreux Trail Xtreme, another 100-mile mountain race! - was a complete flop, not so much due to a 2-week family vacation to Japan that ended 5 days before the race, but also because I had little time between Bienne in June and Montreux end July to really ramp up my trail running (and the mileage, which had been a bit on the low side even for Bienne). I think I was really a bit full of myself after completing the GUCR, not realizing that I had essentially stopped training sufficiently since that race and with the foot problems.

Looking ahead to 2019 & beyond

So I did take a few weeks off in October, started up slowly again, and have finally been able to follow a training plan designed to increase speed since mid-November, save for a week off with the flu and just doing maintenance for the week between Xmas and New Year. I have a few more weeks on this plan through January, and then I hope to see some improvement (which would be even more likely if I could just shed the extra kilos!).

Then it's a couple of months to focus on the Annecy marathon early April where I hope for a BQ time, then I will switch to trail running again but this time - lessons learned from 2018! - I have till early September to train for my 4th attempt at a 100-mile mountain race, Swisspeaks. Four months, plenty of time!  With some speed-specific training in the mountains so I'm not just plodding up the hill, and a 50k trail run in June with Cyril and a neighbor who'll be tackling her first ultra, then another 50k with my fast friend Anthony mid-August. Oh, and there are the holidays planned early July in Corsica and a few extended weekends over the summer in the Alps, so there'll really be no excuse if I don't finish. (But if i don't, then I'll definitely have to go back to a coach, but I'd really like to finish this on my own training plan, which I enjoy doing - just need to stick to it!...)

Ultimately the goal - since I looked back 20 years, might as well look forward a few years - is to see what my road form is: can i ever contemplate qualifying for the Spartathlon? Could I perhaps be fast enough at least for the Nove Colli, in 2021 for my 50th birthday? So I'm hoping to do a 24h timed race in 2020 to find out and all this "speedwork" (which was completely alien to me for so long) is hopefully laying the base for that...

As for trails, once I get this 100-mile mountain thingy out of the way, I'd like to see about a 200+km race such as Ronda del Cime or the Grand Raid des Pyrénées (if they maintain the 220km version), perhaps as another 50th birthday present, and then sometime in the next 4-5 years I'd like to look at a 300-400km multi-day race like the Tor des Géants or Swisspeaks 360, or another in the Pyrénées. Oh, and there's a mountain ironman-distance triathlon that intrigues me, like Embrunman or Swissman or Alpsman...

But before all that, in Autumn 2020, I've promised Cyril that we'll head back to the desert, this time in South Africa, with the Augrabies...

Top of Plan du Fou, Nendaz (4 Valley) - ski touring providing a nice change from running over the holidays

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