Somehow, this blog managed to knit a number of runners into an electronic community, which then took on life in the real world. I'd head to an ultra and be greeted by people I'd never met, who'd sheepishly say they enjoyed the blog and find others who learned about each other through links on my blog. Being a bit of a teacher by nature, I wrote what I was learning as I tried to run distances most people consider sheer lunacy; after decades of running, it was refreshing to find that there was still a lot to learn, though "rocks are harder than bone" was a lesson that I didn't really want to prove as often as I did.
I never explained how I got started in ultras, but it'd help to explain where I'm headed now.
When I turned 40, it was one of the worst places and times to be a merely good runner, rather than a great one. I made a list of local runners in my new age class and ranked them by recent race performances; it'd been an off year for me, but this was what I faced:
Dan Carlson (1:10:33 1/2-marathon), Pat Billig (32:08 10K, 53:39 10 Mile), Chuck Hubbard (25:18 8K), Kevin Haas, John VanDanacker, Todd Sperling (26:02 8K), Matt Barnard, Chris Fuller, Bob Paxton, Perry Bach, Eric Pierskalla, Scott Niemela, Doug Keller, Todd Sheldon, Paul Giannobile, Tom Zimmerman, Steve Kangas, Rick Taplin, Dan Morse, Kirt Goetzke (34:22 10K, 16:21 5K), Pete Kessler (57:18 10 Mile), Dave Kleingarn, Don Landin, Mike Setter, Chip Cheney, Dave Tappe, Rob Whetham, Dennis Wallach, Craig Yotter, Dennis Henseler, Sean Smith, Dave Peterson, Jeff Heimer, Eric Stich, Mark Myers, Jay Coggins, Tom Pletcher, Wm. Magdalene, Bill Boes, Brian Fendrich, Paul Case, Kevin Osborn, Brian Helm, Gene Niemi, Terry Stewart, Ken Valley, Norm Champ, Derek Hager, James Sylvester, Pat Eastman, Dale Heinen, Jim Ramacier, Brian Pelletier, Mike Januszewski, Brian Fawcett, Bob Glazer, Bruce Schalk, Brian Dixon, Steve Quick (36:40 10K, 17:26 5K), Paul Hasse, Rick Hoska, Jerry Heaps, Mike Niziolek, Mike Kilcoyne, Jack Ankrum, Mike LeDuc, Jared Mondry, Mike Bjornberg, John Hogan, Ward Lenius, Ron Byland, Kurt Heinzerling, Virgil Koski, Mike Connolly.
I could run my best race and not even be in the top 50 old guys!
Carving a niche
Those listed with times were exactly my age. This meant that once every 5 years, I'd have a couple of weeks when I only had to race against half of them. I stuck to small races that weren't on certified courses and then I only had to beat Goetzke, who raced every weekend. I'd crank out a good 5K on a regular basis, pick up my trophy and head home; it felt a bit hollow.
At age 45, looking through the list, there were only a few ultrarunners: Hubbard, Ramacier, Hasse, Heaps. Hubbard had to retire due to injuries, so the field looked to be wide open. It wasn't my thing, but perhaps I could become a big fish in a small pond. I set my sights on the Edmund Fitzgerald 100K. Then it was cancelled. The only other race flat enough for record status was the FANS 24-hour run. Looking at the state records, the easiest would be the 12-hour, followed by the 24-hour, then the 100 Mile (Don Ritchie holds the over-40 record at 100K in Minnesota. It's 6:31. Chew that over for a while!). By 2006, records at these distances were no longer being kept. I was chasing records only I knew or cared about.
At any rate, it turned out to be harder than I thought. That's the thing about ultras: people who don't try them don't realize how hard it is to run 10-minute miles for an entire day (I think I can best help the ultra community now by legitimizing it elsewhere). There being only one flat ultra in Minnesota, I'd have to gain experience either out of state or by running trail races - and I've always enjoyed trails. I spent two years running long races on trails and, other than a win on the relatively flat Trail Mix course, I just got slower and slower, more and more out of shape and less and less happy with the direction I was headed.
180 degree turn
That brings me to the present adventure. Record-keeping has been spotty at best, but the Minnesota state record at 1500 meters for men 45-49 is 4:32.19 by Paul Giannobile, who just turned 50. One source says that the Minnesota mile record at age 47 is 4:52 (aided; probably the downhill Rice Street Mile) or 5:06, unaided, which may be the infrequently run outdoor mile on a track - the 1500m has replaced it. Last year, Billig ran a 4:45. Kessler ran a 4:44 (he also did 4:42 as a 46 year-old on a track). Rob Carney ran 4:53 at age 47 (he ran a 4:09.9 1600m in 1976!); depending on his birthday, I may still have to worry about him. Dan Carlson could easily run 4:45, but he doesn't race at that distance. Goetzke only peaks for a few of the races he runs, but he might be able to crack a good time, if the mood strikes.
There is such a thing as all-American status in track and field for masters. I'd have to run 1500m under 4:35, 1 mile under 5:00 or 3000m under 10:25. The 3000 is the easiest mark and I'm better suited physically to doing it than the mile, but it's infrequently held and no one (and I mean no one) cares about it.
I have 6 months to go from not being able to break 6 minutes to trying to break 5, maybe 4:45. Most people who read this have more of a feeling for the marathon, so the analogy is going from a 3:30 marathon to a 2:45. In 6 months!
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