With the coming and going of the Western States lottery last weekend, my 2018 schedule is just about finalized.  The structure will be very similar to this year with three distinct phases that will each last about four months: Training Buildup, 100-Mile Racing Season, and Post Racing Season.  I would like to say that I’ve carefully crafted this schedule to achieve peak performance in my ultras, however the reality is that it just fell out like this based on the 100-milers I’ve chosen to do next year.

Phase 1: Training Buildup

In the last four months, I’ve only done two runs over 5 miles. While they were 100K and 50M races, this is not the ideal way to maintain endurance as I found out last month at Stone Mill.  This didn’t come as a shock though as I wasn’t necessarily trying to maintain my fitness.  My body felt a little tired after three hundreds in four months this year so this was my newfangled attempt at recovery.  Or taking some time away from training.  I think this was the right decision as I now feel much healthier.  Part of this was due to me realizing that my weak knee needed more than “rest” to get better.  Don’t ask me why it took me three months to figure out that strengthening exercises might be a better option than sitting around on my fanny all weekend long reading IRunFar and Ultrarunner Podcast.  The time away from training was the right decision, however all good things must come to an end as the saying goes.

All of that was a long winded way of saying I have some work cut out for me this winter.  I haven’t actually sat down and worked on my winter training plan, however will probably use some modified version of what I did last winter.  One of the nice things about having a little bit of experience with training for ultras is that I don’t have to keep reinventing the wheel.  I can use a structure that worked well for me in the past and tweak it here and there to hopefully get as good or better results.  I liked the length and periodization of my long runs each month so will stick with that.  The only major change is that I’ll cut back on my back-to-back long runs, which I was doing 2x per month.  I may try and add in some speed work though I really don’t enjoy those training sessions so it’ll likely not happen.

I’ll have the same tuneup races as each of the past two years: Phunt 50k in January and Naked Bavarian 40M in early March.  I used to wonder why people would do the same races year after year.  Wouldn’t you get bored doing the same ones time and time again?  Well, if you live in southeast PA, you’re not exactly spoiled for choices on winter/spring races.  And the truth is that it’s fun to test yourself against the same course as a benchmark of where your fitness is.  There’s a chance I may already be past my peak lifetime fitness though in which case this will likely become less and less “fun” as the years go by.  Regardless, these are enjoyable, low key events that will cost you about what the local 5K does.  And I do love myself a good bargain.

Phase 2: 100-Mile Racing Season

I ended up signing up for my fourth consecutive April 100-miler – NJ Ultra Fest.  I chose this partly because the race is relatively close (2 hours away), but mostly because it’s an April race.  I had already locked into Eastern States again in August and one of two races in June.  I can do only three hundreds per year and while I really wanted to do Grindstone, it’s not until October.  This would leave me waiting around 10 months since my last one and I was already practically climbing the walls without having signed up for another one yet.  NJ also works well because it runs a bunch of shorter races simultaneously so my wife can go and do something while I’m out there.  So I signed up a couple weeks back and it wasn’t until today that I remembered what April weather is like in the Mid-Atlantic: 40s and rain.  I’ve sworn off doing C&O Canal again because that’s atrocious weather to spend a day in yet this is what I have to look forward to again.  You could call me a glutton for punishment.  Or an idiot.  Or an idiotic glutton for punishment, yet the truth is I can sometimes get so focused on a goal (sign up for a 100!) that I’m blind to the consequences (freezing rain and hypothermia – yippee!).  My guess is that I’ll be taking Social Security before I eventually learn this lesson.

My A race was determined last weekend when I failed to gain entry into Western States.  I had all of a 2.3% chance in the lottery this year so I wasn’t expecting to actually get in.  But I waited until I was officially out to sign up for Bighorn 100 in Wyoming.  I’m very excited to finally be heading out west for a 100-miler.  The descriptions of the course sound incredible and I can’t wait to experience a race at altitude.  It will be my first Hardrock qualifier and while I’m still not sure if that’s a race I definitely want to do, I need to have a qualifier to at least have the option of signing up for it.  Bighorn will be the beginning of a family vacation as I hope to hit a couple national parks, while we’re out there.  I have my fingers crossed that the race slash vacation thing works out well for everyone as there are plenty more destination races that I’d love to do (HURT anyone?).

Phase 3: Potential FKT Attempt

Depending on how my race season goes, my fall will be devoted to planning, prepping, and then attempting a Fastest Known Time on the Mason-Dixon Trail.  Actually, that’s not entirely true.  My race season could go awesome and I could come out of it entirely healthy and I still may not follow through on an FKT attempt.  Why?  Because a self-supported attempt at 200 miles scares the living daylights out of me.  I’m fairly comfortable at the 100 mile distance right now, but doubling the distance and removing all support moves me way into the unknown.  The logistical nightmare of trying to plan for everything that could go wrong is almost too much for me to wrap my head around.  Not to mention all the physical issues that I’ll have to deal with (blisters for 150 miles anyone?).  But the difficulty is what draws me to the idea like a kid to a pile of candy.  That and the fact that the trail ends about 10 minutes from my house.  And yes, it’s more than a little ironic that the convenience of where the 200 mile trail ends is one of the major factors in my decision to attempt it.  Who ever said ultra runners were normal?

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