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Regression and Progression

Happy New Year!

At the beginning of last year, I wasn’t done. But after the Hyner 50k, Breakneck Point Marathon, Worlds End 100k, and Eastern States 100 – I found a breaking point. Finishing the PA Triple Crown is an accomplishment that I’m proud of, but it overextended me on trail running, elevation training, and racing in general.

So after Eastern States, I checked out for a bit. No Black Forest 100k. No Blacklist. No Everest Basecamp. I didn’t have to look far to know that my mind was no longer in this journey. The sane thing to do was to stop and re-evaluate.

Stop didn’t imply a full halt to running. It quickly took a new form; mostly on road, and mostly for enjoyment. The only exception was the Rocky 50k in early December. It was a commitment that I made to myself and followed through on – undertrained for sure, but with a strong (for me) 5:30 finish time. A picture of the foggy Rocky-esque start in South Philly is below:

All in, it was a productive year for running. I had a vision, executed on it, finished several difficult races, and I’m still standing. It wouldn’t have been possible without a massive investment in yoga and mobility that occurred in parallel. I’ve recently picked up CrossFit, and the additional diversification has brought much-needed balance. I feel more engaged in each activity, and am working towards being a stronger, healthier runner. I’m even moving faster and enjoying it – which is not me.

At this point it’s a guarantee that if I’m healthy and active, I’m going to run the year in kilometers. This year was no exception, and it just happened to work out that I reached 2023k during Eastern States.

The 2022 pivot to focus on net elevation gain became the foundation of 2023. I can’t help but think that there’s a correlation between the volume of elevation and the successful completion of big distances. I found my running mojo in December and pushed through to well over 1,800 miles and over 300,000 ft of net elevation gain. Which is the equivalent of climbing up Mount Everest (and then back down) ten times!

Around the new year, I’m always thinking about “What’s Next?” What am I going to aim for in the next year? Many good races sell out early. It’s taken a while to find that answer, but I have it.

I’m going to set the tone for the year starting today with The DEF Reset that will conclude with my first CrossFit competition at the end of January.

From there, it will be a quick ramp up into my first Backyard Ultra outside of Greenville, SC. This type of race isn’t my style, but I owe a visit to my best friend that lives and works in the park that is hosting the event.

A Backyard Ultra is new territory for me. Traditional races are tests of self-endurance that are bound to the completion of a specific distance or time. You can definitely get caught up in being competitive with other people in the race, but it’s generally not the point for non-elites. Pacing, not racing, is what gets me to the finish line.

The backyard format rewrites the rules of engagement around a simple concept: runners line up to complete a “yard” (4.167 miles) together at the top of every hour. Anyone who fails to appear at the line in time for the starting gun of the next yard (regardless of the reason) receives a DNF. The winner and end of the race are determined by the last person standing who finishes the yard in under an hour. In the event that nobody finishes a final solo yard, everyone receives a DNF and there’s no winner.

The universal principle of ultrarunning still applies: this is a test of self-endurance. But neither the distance or time are predefined – so you need to have an individual target. Are you there to run a specific number of yards, assuming that the race goes long enough for it to happen? Or are you there to see just how much grit you can generate when there’s no end in sight?

My A-B-C are:
A Goal: to be the last person standing, finishing a yard alone in under an hour. I wouldn’t sign up without that idea renting some space in my head.
B Goal: to run a new longest distance, which would need to be a minimum of 25 yards in order to exceed the 103.1 miles of Eastern States. This implies a 24 hour pace for 100 miles, which I’ve not done since 2017.
C Goal: to have fun, avoid injury, and acquire strategies for the next attempt. There isn’t a minimum distance that I would absolutely need in order to walk away satisfied. But in the event that I enjoy this race format, there’s much for me to learn about self-supporting for potentially a very long time without aid stations to rely on. Which is incidentally something that I need to have dialed in for a return to the KEYS100.

All of that said, this race is less than 90 days away. I haven’t made much progress on my strategy, and the amount of knowledge out on the internet about Backyard Ultras format feels infinitely small compared to traditional ultras.

Time to get planning – hopefully Harvey Lewis doesn’t have his eye on this particular race.