I thought I would take advantage of a bit of down-time today to reflect on my 2011 ultra season. Without question this was my most ‘up-and-down’ season to date. (Out of five). I spent much of 2011 loving being in the mountains and seeking solitude and solidarity above 12000′, but there were also times when all I wanted to do was sleep. I had races and performances that were PRs and classify as fantastic efforts. I battled a negative mental game at Hardrock where I contemplated dropping out. I gave serious consideration to not starting the last three of my season’s races. I sought refuge in the routine of daily Signal Peak summits but ‘slept-in’ way more frequently.
Turning the page back to last autumn, I cultivated a deep passion for altitude and peak summits. Throughout December, I built goal sheets and the training outline and planned my gear and nutrition better than ever. I also furthered my love of daily physical exertion. During the winter and the ski coaching season, I stayed lighter, fitter, and healthier than I have been in each of the past three winters. Throughout much of the spring I logged good, consistent mileage and raced some great races; both familiar and new. Then the end of May came and my body has not been the same since. So, what went wrong?
I felt the change over Memorial Day weekend. We had friends in town and a few events happening so I had planned on taking it really easy with regards to training. All I needed to do was wake up fairly early on all three days and get in a 1 hour (or so) easy run. Rather than get up and get to it though, it felt like I was fighting a battle just to wake up. I should have read the warning signs. I mean; I’ve gone through this before, ‘learned from it’, balanced my training, and moved on to a fantastic summer of racing. Maybe I am getting less intelligent as I age, but instead I spent the next week putting in more and harder miles than I had so far in 2011. I felt myself muscling through each run but chalked it up to racing four 50 mile races in the span of 8 weeks. I thought I was just ‘stagnant’ and ‘stale’ because of all the racing. I thought the stimulus of bigger training would ‘wake me up’. Instead of giving myself the rest I needed, I pummeled myself into submission. Yikes.
The end of this 130-mile week binge of hard vertical running happened to be when I was leaving for an xc ski camp in Bend, OR with two of the athletes I coach. I love training camps (particularly in amazing places like Bend, OR) (Jeff Browning… you are one lucky dude) and in addition to coaching these guys, I put in some fairly big miles of my own. I did not recover, and the 3000 miles of driving only served to enhance the fatigue. I could feel myself ‘slowing down’; felt fat, flat, irritable, and exhausted. One day I would have no appetite and the next day I never felt full. Sleep came hard, but only every other night. What did I do? What was my response? Quad and 5-shot Americanos got me through this low point and I came back to Colorado just 2 days prior to racing the San Juan Solstice 50 mile. I love this race and I did not even think about skipping it, but it turned out to be my worst day ever as a runner. I was exhausted, puked at mile 3, pooped all day long, and walked over 25 miles in total. Ouch. The puking and pooping all day long seemed like the result of my body being in ‘hyper-stress’ mode. After the fact, I rationalized that this event was exactly what I needed; a long, ‘fat-burning’ day at altitude.
With three weeks to go before Hardrock I knew I might be in a ‘spot of trouble‘. (As Nick Clark might say). I spent the next week feeling wasted and beat up after my 5th 50 mile race in 12 weeks and headed to California to pace my buddy Adam St. Pierre to his first 100 mile finish at the Western States 100. This trip, two weeks prior to Hardrock, seemed to refresh my head and my heart but left me still questioning my body. I had a few really cool runs with Scott Drum, Tim Parr, and Ryan Burch in Nevada and California prior to the Western States 100, and during these runs I felt pretty good. I was eating well, hydrated, and dialed as I started pacing Adam at Foresthill mile 62 but there were times when he was putting me in distress on the climbs, even though he had 62 miles already under his belt. This unnerved me a bit but I regrouped and headed home.
July came, and with it, a renewed sense of purpose as Annie (my wife) and I were expecting the birth of our first child. We were super excited and I felt my energy level rise as we expected Jordan any day. Basically, I felt undertrained and under-recovered at the same time. A unique combo to be sure as it is tough to do anything while in this state. I had debated, pretty significantly, not racing Hardrock and instead putting all my eggs in the one basket of training for the Leadville 100. I tried to justify a DNS at Hardrock as best as I could, but in the end I decided to race. The thought of giving up my spot in the race made me sick. Hardrock went poorly from a performance and result standpoint as I felt tired and wiped out for much of the day and night, but I PROFOUNDLY enjoyed my time at Hardrock. In fact, I came away from Hardrock with an incredible sense of awe, a deep passion for all things ultra, and a deeper appreciation for ‘real’ mountains. Armed with this energy and a ‘good feeling’ in my legs, I had a solid remainder of July. Despite going as hard as I could at Hardrock, my legs were not that beat up due to my overall slow pace. I bounced back pretty quickly and enjoyed a 3 week push of ‘summit fever’ in which I systematically picked off 12,000′ – 14,000′ peaks in and around the Gunnison/Crested Butte area.
Jordan Elizabeth Callahan was born on July 30, 2011 and Annie and I launched into the greatest adventure in the world: parenthood. We are so excited to be raising this incredible baby girl. Wish us luck! As July turned to August, I stopped fighting. I was so ludicrously wiped-out that I just could not muster the strength of mind or body to ‘train’ anymore. I rested, ran fairly easy for three weeks, ate pretty well, stretched, and generally put in an awesome 3 week taper prior to the Leadville 100; my first ‘real deal’, ‘textbook’ taper in a number of seasons. I had no other choice due to my fatigue levels with another big 100 mile race coming up. Leadville presented its own set of fatigue-amplifying challenges. I tried to deal and cope as best I could, but in the end I was no match for the Leadville 100 and the assembled field of racers this year. I fought as hard as I could until mile 93, but when I lost my stomach again that was that. I had nothing left in the tank and I was more ‘spent’ than I have ever been during an ultra race or season.
That brings us to today. After two weeks away from running and training, I feel more rested than I have in months. This brings me great joy as well as a heightened state of productivity in other facets of my life. The body finally feels like it is ‘re-setting’ and ‘re-calibrating’. As for my head? My brain is just starting to process the highs and lows from the 2011 ultra season. Shifting through this stuff is important and will help to mold my character, training, and commitment for the future. I look forward to planning many ultra-endeavors for the future even though at this point I am not sure what those endeavors will be exactly. Thanks for reading the ramblings. Here’s to endurance. Think well. Live well. Be well. DC