With 2013 coming quickly to a close it occurred to me yesterday that this will be my last iRunFar column of the year. On the surface, it has been a fairly uneventful year in running for me (due to my health I ran less in 2013 than I have in any year since 2005), but below the surface running was still a huge part of my life and of many of my most fond memories of 2013. Being my last column for the year, I feel drawn to do a ‘year-in-review’ article.
So here it is in the form of my 10 most memorable mountain/ultra/trail running thoughts of the past year. These are simply my personal thoughts. Some of these will be very obscure and personal, and others will be general observations that have nothing to do with me. Simply put, these are the 10 running-related thoughts/ideas/moments which have had the most impact on me and my thoughts in the past 12 months, and in some cases will continue to in the year to come. Here they are (in no particular order):
- There was such a huge resurgence of American road and track ultra racing in 2013, especially noticeable at the highest levels. To name just a few of the top performances: The women’s 24-hour American Record, the men’s 100-mile North American record (twice), the men’s 12-hour track world record, and the women’s 100-mile track world record were all set by American runners this year!
- At the same time, trail and mountain running has continued to grow in popularity at an even faster rate. Once again, the trail racing year was dotted with races that could claim to be the most competitive race ever held on American soil (or in some cases the world) at their particular distance. Sometimes it can become monotonous and silly to make these claims, but in most cases the claims are correct. It’s simply that the depth of top-level runners in long-distance trail racing is so much greater than it has ever been. At some point this trend will level off, but certainly it didn’t show any indication of doing so as 2013 ends.
- Rob Krar. This one is almost not even worth attempting to explain. Simply put, Rob was a complete unknown a year ago and then went on to have the best year of racing of any American male ultrarunner. Impressive stuff from the dude with the impressive beard. He should win 2013 UROY by a fairly wide margin. In a sport where it tends to take a year or two to develop yourself and gain recognition as a top runner, it’s certainly not taking Rob that long. This shows just how great of a year Rob has had. His most impressive race of the year might have been one of only two that he didn’t win. It still blows my mind to think of someone running as strong as he did at Western States in his 100-mile debut. Huge props to Tim Olson for holding him off and winning there for the second straight year, but it’s hard to imagine anyone beating Rob Krar there in 2014. Then again, 100 miles is long enough that it’s never a sure thing.
- Speaking of Western States, I think there is an interesting storyline that will unfold as a result of the Western States and Hardrock lotteries from last week. For the first time in a long time Western States might not be the most competitive 100-mile race in the country in 2014. Western States will still have more depth than any other 100, but if everyone who got drawn into Hardrock actually lines up on race day, the little race in southwestern Colorado that isn’t even supposed to be a race will have the strongest men’s field (at the very front of the pack at least) of any 100 miler in the country. It’ll be interesting over the next several years if this kind of trend will continue or if this was simply a one-year anomaly. More and more of the top trail ultra runners are wanting to do Hardrock above and beyond all other races, but it’s so hard to get into the race that this may not mean a whole lot outside of the occasional ‘freak’ year where so many top runners happen to get drawn in.
- Rob Krar might have run away with things on the men’s side of the sport, but the women’s side has a much more interesting dynamic. Either Pam Smith or Michele Yates is not going to win UROY. Whichever doesn’t win will have had one of the best (if not the best) year ever for a women who did not win UROY. Is it really possible to win Western States and break a 100-mile world record and not win UROY? Before this year I would have said no way, but Michele Yates had an incredible year at every distance and in some of the most competitive races. I think Michele deserves the award, but it’s really easy to make an argument for either of them.
- Rory Bosio, UTMB. Totally brilliant. Enough said.
- Despite not running much at all this year, I was able to lead two more sessions of my Alaska Mountain Ultrarunning Camps. Once again these were a couple of the most enjoyable weeks of running I have ever had. It has continued to amaze me just how good the people are that have come to these camps, and just how much of an open mind everyone is willing to come in to camp with, and subsequently leave as stronger runners and stronger people than they were when they arrived. I’ve got three sessions on tap for 2014 and I couldn’t be more excited about this. Space still remains in each of these sessions (one each in June, July, and August) for anyone that might be interested.
- Before this year I had only ever been to one or two races that I wasn’t running myself. One silver lining of not having raced for nearly 20 months is that I’ve had the opportunity to attend more races as a spectator, crew, pacer, or volunteer. Certainly there is a large part of me that misses racing, but I learned more than ever this year that racing isn’t the only way to be involved in the great community that exists within this sport.
- Despite challenges due to land-management rules and regulations, it became more and more obvious this past year that a large part of American trail running has an urge and momentum moving toward more rugged, steep, and challenging events. Aside from the continued growing popularity of a race like Hardrock, you also had this year the emergence of a handful of legitimate European-style long-distance mountain races. Dakota Jones’ Telluride Mountain Run, and the Montana Mikes’ (Wolfe and Foote) RUT 50k added to the growing trend of high-profile runners (think Karl Meltzer) taking things into their own hands and creating races as a response to how few truly rugged European-style mountain ultras there are in this country. If you build it, they will come. The RUT had one of the largest fields of any first-year ultra ever, and is sure to grow a lot more in 2014. The popularity of these types of events is an indication of where a huge part of this sport is headed, and in my mind this is one of the most exciting things about this sport right now.
- I got married this past summer, and for a few days surrounding the wedding I got to run in the mountains around Juneau, Alaska with dozens of out-of-town and local friends and family. I’ll never forget sharing those hours in the mountains with so many great people from all around the country, many of whom will probably never make the trip to Alaska again. Those were truly some of the most satisfying runs I have ever been on in my life.
I hope you all enjoyed 2013 as much as I did. It was a year that required great patience for me, and certainly one of the most difficult years of my life, but once again I have come to the end of a year where I can look back and find so many ways in which this sport added nourishment and substance to my life. I’m looking forward to another year of great running memories in 2014.