Both Alison and I are coaches and competitors; it's our love for the sport and for pinning on a number that makes us want to turn that experience to helping others achieve their own goals in sport. Getting ourselves into challenging race situations is invaluable as a litmus test of our own methods and beliefs; many times we come away having found a new way to do things that will help our clients succeed. So with that in mind, here's my (Sam's) race recap from last weekend (Alison's is forthcoming):
Alison, Fiona, Nikki and I traveled to Big Sky, Montana last week for The Rut trail races, four events over the course of a weekend in a beautiful mountain setting. Alison was signed up for the Vertical Kilometer and the 50km, and I threw my hat in the ring for the VK and the 11km, after I was unable to get in to the 25km owing to my late planning.
These races are EPIC. As the last in the International Skyrunning Series, they hosted a slate of big names from across the pond including Emelie Forsberg, Anna Frost and others. Not to mention the domestic stars on tap; it was a solid field. For me it was the first time I'd been back in a high-energy, national-caliber event since retiring from skiing a few years back, and I was super-jazzed. Over the last several months I'd made a conscious choice to try and become a better runner, after realizing that my competitive thirst could not be slaked by skiing anymore. I jumped into a number of NW Trail Runs over the summer and was psyched to win three of them, helping boost my confidence that I had some gains to be made in running.
Just as we prescribe to the athletes we coach, I knew the biggest challenge for me would be specific strength: teaching my muscles which for so long had moved well on skis to now learn to run fast and for a long time. I'm not there yet but after several months of concerted base training with some targeted interval sessions and races, I'm pretty enthused by the progress.
So on to The Rut. I had been excited about the Vertical Kilometer for most of this year, as running uphill suits me nicely as a skier. 1,000 meters of climbing over barely 3 miles, starting at 7550' and rising to over 11,000' - definitely a burner.
Right out of the start of the VK I tried to hang on the lead group of men and women, both elites and high-caliber runners who had experience in the format. After 5-10 minutes I found myself keeping pace (not easily) with Emelie Forsberg, and figured she was a pretty good draft owing to the fact that she was winning the international series, is super strong, and seems like a pretty nice gal t'boot. She ended up providing a great pace for me to follow and we overtook several racers before she decided to run(!) a section that just wasn't happening for me, so I dropped back and looked to my next move.
After the first couple miles the course simply attains a scree-covered ridge and goes up, steeply. There's not much else you can do but keep the feet moving as fast as possible and try to breathe. In hindsight I recognize that I probably could've gone a bit harder in the earlier stages of the course, knowing that at this point there wasn't a lot of maneuvering available, but live and learn. I crossed the line in 28th, 22nd amongst men, just under one hour which met my goal.
Two days later I toed the line again, this time for the 11km event. This was hardly the signature event of the weekend, that being the 50km; the 11km started two hours after the 50km and while challenging, didn't attain the high altitudes of either the 50km or 25km. Those are events for my future, for sure. The 11km wasn't a cakewalk, though - 2000' of gain over the distance, and still at altitude; out of the start I saw many of the lead guys (and gals) were competent xc runners and set a blistering pace. I figured early on that I should just limpet on to the leaders and see how long I could hang; whether I blew up or maintained I'd learn a ton and the benefit of being an outsider/unknown was that I had nothing to lose. The course served me well with big climbs and technical terrain, and I finished 5th overall, 4th in men. It was another validation of my transition to mountain runner and I'm more motivated than ever to keep on track with the running-specific training and see if I can move that fitness more into the ultra realm with next week's Crystal Mountain SkyMarathon.
What these races and the last year have shown me is that moving between endurance sports, and the cross-polinating benefits of the training across the board is entirely doable and even exciting. Developing your "dumb fitness" (a term my own coach has used to describe that essential base fitness which transfers easily between sports but carries little specific value, i.e. technique) will give you the means to be the well-rounded athlete that we all yearn to be - adaptable to condition and terrain and capable enough to confidently step into new territory.