Race calendar 2017: Boston, Bighorn, and Blanc

Baystate Invitational, Franklin Park, Boston, Fall 1997

In March I will turn 36 years-old. Sadly, for a male long-distance runner I am thought to be at the end of my physical prime, if not already beyond it.

Sure, many older runners do phenomenal things. For example, last year 85-year Ed Whitlock ran a sub-4:00 marathon, and 44-year-old Jeff Browning was the second-ranked ultra runner in the country. But I think these still-hard-charging athletes would agree that they could have performed better as a 20-something or in their early-30’s, assuming the same opportunities and personal commitment.

I bring this up because my 2017 race calendar is better explained by my age than by any other factor. For how many more years will my body allow me to flirt with low-2:30’s in the marathon or aim for a top-15 finish at the world’s premier ultra marathon? And, just as important, for how much longer am I willing to run 75 to 100 miles per week during December’s darkest days, and then incorporate 20,000 vertical feet of climbing per week in advance of the summer’s big dances? (Follow my training on Strava.)

I can and want to now, so I’m going for it.

Given the focus and urgency, it may seem odd that I only have three races on the calendar. But I think it needs to be this way. In each race, I’ll be emotionally prepared to dip deeply into the well, which is a prerequisite for peak performances in these longer races. Plus, a limited race calendar keeps down expenses and makes room for a few backpacking trips, notably a yo-yo of the Pfiffner Traverse in July.

Boston Marathon: April 17

As a Massachusetts native and with family throughout the Boston area, this will be a homecoming of sorts. I qualified last spring with the Colorado Marathon, running 2:44:42 at altitude after six weeks of legitimate training (and helped by a net downhill course).

My workouts over the next 12 weeks (as well as race day conditions) will help narrow my goal time, but at this point I’m eyeing low- to mid-2:30’s.

  • 6:00 per mile pace = 2:36:53. Based on current fitness, this already feels manageable.
  • 5:50 per mile pace = 2:32:57. If everything goes right, this seems realistic.
  • 5:45 per mile pace = 2:30:45. Pending a break-through in training, it’s a reach.

So far the biggest training challenge has been re-teaching my body to run fast, after years of running slow. To average 5:50-pace for 2.5 hours, my body systems need to be comfortable at much higher rates of speed — say, 4:30 or 4:45 per mile pace — for shorter periods.

Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc: September 1

Ironically, it was easier for me to gain entry into Europe’s premier 100-mile race, UTMB 100, than Hardrock or Western States. So Amanda and I are going to the Alps.

UTMB normally attracts a very talented field, and 2017 is no exception. But 100-mile races — and competitive ones, in particular — are unpredictable, and normally the final results look very different than pre-race predictions. Injuries and illness cull some of the field before race day, and an unsustainable pace in the early miles causes many to blow up in the latter half.

Based on past years, I believe that a top-15 finish is within reach. (iRunFar, you’re on notice.) In past years it has required a time of 24:30 or less, or an ITRA score in the 790’s. That would be a great race for me, but I’m not flying to France for anything less.

UTMB 2016 route preview

Bighorn 100: June 16

The Boston Marathon and Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc are vastly different races, and my training after April 17 will change accordingly.

To help accelerate and motivate the transition, I’ve registered for Bighorn 100. On its own, it seems like a worthy race: it normally attracts a few elite runners; it’s a Hardrock qualifier; and it passes through a mountain range in which I’ve spent too little time.

But Bighorn will also be useful in taking stock of my ultra fitness and “warming up” for UTMB, since it also has ample vertical (21,000 feet of gain) and races through the night.

Posted in on January 25, 2017
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  1. Jimmy on January 25, 2017 at 3:28 pm

    Good luck! This sounds like an exciting year.

  2. SusanS on January 25, 2017 at 7:11 pm

    I’ve always wondered why you do not try mountaineering since endurance is not an issue for you, nor crossing technical terrain.

  3. Brian M on January 26, 2017 at 7:37 am

    Bighorn is a fantastic race and offers up a scenic chunk of the northern part of the range. Keep an eye on the snowpack; during snowy years it can be a mud fest up high. Also be ready for some heat! I think a lot of runners were caught off guard and suffered accordingly when highs reached the 90’s last year.

    • CJ on January 31, 2017 at 9:43 am

      I live in the foothills of the Bighorns and I love these mountains. I was backpacking that up the Little Horn Canyon that day…there were a lot of very exhausted and dehydrated runners…and those were only the 50 milers It was HOT! It’s a gorgeous trail but it’s tough and rocky, and there are rattlesnakes!

      We are getting nailed with snow this year so the trail could get interesting!

  4. Bob S. on January 26, 2017 at 1:05 pm

    I’ll cheer you on when you come to Boston. You should do a gear talk while you’re here.

  5. CHRIS S on January 31, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    Andrew – Really enjoy the blog. Another first-time UTMB runner here. What I am most looking forward to at UTMB, besides the course, is the atmosphere. Running through small villages and finishing through the winding streets of Chamonix packed with spectators from all over the world
    has to beat the typical ultra experience of crossing a nearly deserted finish line in a city park. That is what sets UTMB apart and makes it a bucket list race worth the byzantine application process – at least I hope.

    Now I just have to figure out how to train for 30,000+ feet of vertical while living in Texas.

    • Andrew Skurka on January 31, 2017 at 2:27 pm

      Sounds like you’ll have to spend some time in CO this summer. I’m not sure there’s 30,000 vertical feet in the state of Texas, never mind in one location where you could train on it regularly.

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