Monday, May 28, 2018

Trail Running Sub-Ultra Distances

One of my favorite pictures from the Bangtail Divide 38K course outside of Bozeman, MT.

I have thought about this idea over the years several times.  Recently it has come back into my thinking as I once again train for a rugged, hilly 25K trail race.  It is something I call Sub Ultra.  Now, let me say this, I'm not necessarily stuck on the name.  I'm willing to change it.  I am also willing to have any of you tell me the idea is stupid.  But let me try to describe it first, and then tell me your thoughts...

Since 2002, I have (it seems like) run just about every distance from the mile to 50K.  Often, my racing year can include races from just a few miles like a 5K or 4 miler to at least a half marathon, and from 2012-2015, several races from from 5K and up to 50K.  While I have run more 5Ks than I can remember, along with half marathons on both the roads and trails, and a couple of trail marathons and ultras, many of the distances I have covered are not what one would call the normal 5K, 10K, 13.1, 26.2, or 50K distances.  They include the Vertical K, Mile, 8K, 13K, 14K, 15K, 10 miler, 20K, 25K, 17 miler, 38K, and several distances from 2-6 miles, as well as 3 hour and 6 hour races.  What I find is that while I enjoyed my 2 trail marathons and my 2 50Ks, my happy place seems to be somewhere in the non-normal range of 10K-38K.  When I look for races even in this range, I don't tend to look for half marathons, but instead, may actually steer away from them.

A pic from one of the bluffs/hills at the 2015 Zumbro 17 Miler in MN.

Yet, all the rage in running of course is the 13.1, 26.2, 50K and beyond sphere.  Ultras are ultra popular, many people are trying to complete a half in every state, and countless others, including famous celebrities and athletes continue to achieve their first marathon finish.  I congratulate them and I'm glad running, both road and trail, mud, mountain, cross country and even OCR are all doing so well.  I would ask this question however, are we losing an appreciation of the shorter distances in trail racing in preference of marathons and ultras?  Some races under 20 miles can be just as hard or harder than some marathons and ultras!!!

For myself, and I'm thinking perhaps many others...I am not sure I want to pursue  putting a sticker on my car that says ___ (you fill in the number) X 26.2 or 13.1.  I have a full-time job, and a family of 8(!) so my time, like many of yours, is limited.  I love that I am getting back my long runs recently, and I have fond memories of training for several of my longest races.  Someday, God willing, I'd even like to try a 12 hour race and/or a 50 miler should that work out.  But again...

Racing on the Continental Divide for 14K outside of Butte, MT.

Since I have run so many different distances on both roads and trails, I have learned that each distance needs to be respected and each distance is trained for in a different way.  My mile on the roads had me training much different than my Vertical K up Killington Mountain.  Long run training for a 50K on the trails is so completely different than intervals on the track pursuing a PR/PB in a 5K on the roads.  

Start of the Hardin Hill Run 5K/15K Trail Race I helped direct, September 2015, IA.

So, what am I really saying?  I am not completely sure.  That's why putting this down in print is a bit difficult.  I guess I am wondering, are there others like me?  Do we form a group within a group?  Is there a trail and/or road running niche for those of us who enjoy racing the non-standard race distances?  Is it Sub Ultra?  Non-Standard?  Anti-Marathon?  (Probably not the last!---I'm not saying we don't race halfs, 5Ks and Marathons, but they aren't my preferences either.)

Is there a group within running, especially trail running, where we are open to all distances as I have been, but prefer the above 5K and less than 26.2 range?  

I would love to:

1)  Have you give me your thoughts and comments.
2) Ask questions so we can further think about this together.
3) Tell me what your past racing history is like and how it connects to this.
4) Do you think that this is a niche within trail running that is getting overlooked?  If so, what do we call this niche?  Is it really a niche, or is this what trail running is/was?


Finishing a trail 5K with one of my daughters, the day after I raced and PRed in the trail marathon, TNF ECS WI, 2014.

Postscript, June 24, 2018:

Originally I wrote this piece at the end of May 2018, just a few days before the Inaugural Frost Town 10K/25K race in Naples, NY and held at the Cummings Nature Center.  While I haven't had a chance yet to formulate my final thoughts on that race and put them down on the blog, I will say, that once again, the 25K is a great distance and just as hard a challenge as many races that are longer than it.  While this one actually ended up being a bit short of 25K, (more like a 22K), it was probably one of the most rugged races I have ever run and that includes the Hardin Hill Run 5K/15K I helped put on in 2015-2016, where we had to cut, carve, and create trail out of the wilderness for one of the hilliest trail races in the area.

As another note, I have a race next week that is described as 5 miles +/-.  Not exactly what you'd find at a USATF Certified race!!!  I have run this race before, Charlie's Old Goat Trail Run, 2016, and had one of the best racing experiences of 2016.  

Yesterday I went out to my local favorite place to run, East Esker Trail, Mendon Ponds Park, and ran a hard 9 miles with over 1300 ft of elevation change.  This route is constantly up and down, lots of tripping hazards in places if you are not careful, (I went down for the first time in several months!).  Then I came home and signed up for another race there, this year's A Midsummer Night's Trail Madness Half Marathon.  (Yeah, I know, it's a half marathon, but that's not important as much as where it's at and what I get to enjoy!)

All this to say, that a month after writing this piece, I am still lingering around the same idea.  My races, my training runs, they still seem to be more geared around this idea of sub-ultra distances.  That said, I am considering, just considering, an 8 hour race in the Fall.  However, if I choose not to do that one, I will probably do my first...30K race!  Yeah, another sub-ultra distance I have certainly run, but never raced!  

Finally, thanks to all of you, especially on Twitter that replied to me posting about this and giving me your input.  I found that several of you shared similar ideas.  Many have become enamored of ultra distances, but there are many others just happy to get out for a few hours and enjoy "shorter" distances.  As one person noted, when thinking of new races, what is the idea distance?  A good question.  I know my thoughts, but what about yours?

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