High Level week for the "non high level athlete"

Rocking the new sponsor, Moeben. Best sleeves ever. And in Giraffe for the Giraffe.

"I just love ultra (marathon), but there's not a lot of high-level athletes doing it." Those are the words of Josh Cox, elite marathoner who over the weekend attempted to break the (unofficial) World Record in the 50k distance. He did not succeed in that, nor did he even win the marathon that hosted his effort. He did set the American Record, which is great. What I don't think is great is the above quote. I know that there has long since been a which is harder, better, etc between ultras and marathons battle. Marathoners believe that it is merely a matter of desiring to run the extra mileage, but don't since it is not worth it. There is no money in ultras, there is money in marathoning. So stopping at 26.2 is a financially responsible decision, furthermore it IS less distance on your body. Ultrarunners know its much more than just a matter of speed. Completing a competitive ultra takes a lot more (as Josh Cox found in this race as he experienced numerous incidents of stomach trouble).

I believe that there is not one throne, one sport, one distance for the "high level athlete". While the battle between the what distance is harder, better, etc rages on, I know for myself I struggle with finding my own place, my distance, my focus. Marathoning is about pure speed. Especially stepping down to the marathon from the ultra distance, it is a matter of maintaining pure speed. I feel that ultras challenge me more. I feel that it is harder to balance the factors of an ultra than the relative simplicity of a marathon. No, its not simple to run a 2:40, but it is even less simple to successfully run 100 miles. While I find myself trying to focus on the pursuit of a 2:40 marathon time and being fast while I am young, I can't seem to let go of wanting to tackle trail 50s and, yes, run another 100. I have and continue to train like a marathoner for the most part. I do high mileage weeks, with longer long runs. I like to be fast, but I really like to go long. And that brings me back to the original point. "High Level Athletes" Josh Cox? Have you met my friends and teammates Michael Wardian and Kami Semick? Have you tried to keep up with Uli Steidl or tried to wear down Nikki Kimball? Is your VO2Max anywhere close to Matt Carpenter's? Have you gone for a run up a mountain with Scott Jurek? While the talent pool may be smaller in ultras due to the financial draw down to the shorter distances, that does not mean that the sport lacks "high level athletes". We "non-high level athletes" run Olympic Trial Qualifying times as training runs AND at the age of 43 (Kami Semick). We "non-high level athletes" break a different American Record every weekend and win a National Championship at numerous distances and surfaces (Michael Wardian). I guess they are the few "not alot" (but some) Cox is talking about. Cox's comment rubs me strangely because it hits me amongst my own battle of marathon vs. ultra.

Fact of the matter is, I have run all my best marathons as a product of my ultra training. They have either been a training race for an ultra or even more miraculous, as a recovery (as my CIM 2:49) was this year. On top of ultrarunners throwing down crazy marathon times as cheeky training runs or fun sprints (look at Sean Meissner's CIM time this past December), we do it amidst schedules that have us racing marathon or further distance more than a dozen times a year. And that is the elites. The mid and back packers in ultras often run numerous more times per year, per month, sometimes even weekly. And everyone of us does it while holding down full time jobs, having families and lives. Ah the luxury of being a sponsored marathoner!(that is not to say there aren't elite marathoners in the same situation, at all, but the top top are just training).

All this I know and yet I continue to try to make myself focus on the marathon distance. I have been resisting. Jonathan keeps asking me, "are you in for Vermont or not". And I cannot decide. Everyone says, "you are young, be fast. There is plenty of time to go long later". But then I look at the elites of the ultra world, and they are nearly 20 years my senior and not only faster in ultras, but in marathons too. So doesn't that just mean I should just have my cake and eat it too? Do what I have done for the first two years of my ultra running career and just jump in feet first? Should I let my ability to perhaps go fast dictate my goals? Am I only a high level athlete if I am pursuing a sub-ultra goal? That seems to be the sentiment. You are crazy, wacky and hard to understand if you run ultras, but you are high level if you subtract the (minimum) 5 miles and participate in a popularized event. Wasn't it just 20 or so years ago that marathoners were looked upon as being the crazies? Why is it that sports and their participants seem to feel the desire to minimize the other sports and distances in order to assert that they are the best, hardest, etc. I don't see it that way. Which is why I struggle. Why I go back and forth with my finger over the mouse, hovering over the register button for this summer's Vermont 100 or Where's Waldo or Chuckanut or Leona Divide.

I had a phenomenal week this week. I went over 100 miles for the second week in a row and sit here without even a tinge of soreness and an abundance of energy. Am I high level this week because my efforts point towards a successful race at Boston? Or I am not because I will run a 6o mile run this Thursday to promote the Seattle Public Library, Orcas Island 50k and Napa Valley Marathon all before Boston? I averaged mid 6 min/mile pace for all my non recovery runs this week and a week ago got confirmation that I was physically able to train to a 2:40 at this moment, and a 2:30 eventually (marathon). And yet, am I high level since my ultimate goal is not the Boston Marathon, but the World Cup 100k. Sure I am harping on this point, but I am curious to know. My teammates and I represent our country in a World Championship, this year we (women) got 2nd place as a team in the WORLD and yet we are not treated (by funding and by attitude) as if we are as elite, as high level.

There are many factors, many sides to the argument. I think that Josh Cox's comment is arrogant and ignorant. I have absolute faith that someone, such as Michael Wardian, will come along and surpass Cox's record and all while not occupying to privileged position of just "being a runner" that Cox does. Wardian will do it while working a demanding full time job and raising two young (including a newborn) children with his wife, and I am sure he'll do it a week after winning some marathon or national championship. What it comes down to for me is there is nothing lost in respecting others for their achievements. If you could only imagine you could do it better, but don't have the guts to prove it, don't cast down those who HAVE done it. We are all worthy of respect for achieving our own goals.

As for me, I'll keep mulling it over figuring out where I belong. But I am young, I have that luxury. For what it's worth, if focusing on marathoning means I have to buy into Cox like sentiments, than I think I will stick with ultras, where the community is strong, the people genuine and the soup is always warm on the side of a mountain in the middle of the night until the last person has come through. I am an ultramarathoner, I know that now after two years, despite the numerous marathon wins and PRS. And while we may never earn millions for our efforts, while we may only ever earn belt buckles, tshirts and cofffee cups, the one thing we should have WELL earned is the respect of our (shorter) distance peers. And even if we haven't, I am sure any ultrarunner will tell you, that doesn't matter much to them either.

So many new sleeves, not enough arms!

Jonathan rocking the Montrails after a 43 mile weekend.

The bestest everest after a sunny Sunday loop on Cougar.