It's the time of the year when many people start looking forward and making plans--travel, vacation, fitness--for the year ahead. Due to the changing seasons, it's a period of both reflection, of what's transpired over the past spring and summer, and anticipation, of all the possibilities of things that may come to fruition. Because our future actions are often directly affected and influenced by our past ones, it is not only a natural tendency but an imperative one to examine where we've been before planning where it is we want to be going. For trail and ultra-runners, this time of the year is especially important as it marks the beginning of the "lottery season" for many popular races (Lottery systems are becoming commonly used due to the amount of runners who want to partake and the limited number of spaces allowed.) The need for planning ahead in your race schedule is becoming increasingly important as most events are filling faster with each passing year.
As it with the principles of proper progression and the natural world, so it is with arranging your calendar--in terms of races, adventures, and most everything (at least in the physical realm.) It would clearly defy logic to have the first race of the year be the longest and most difficult … duh. Instead, as everyone would agree, it should be the opposite. Find your progression … start shorter and a bit easier, let your body warm up into the new season. There will be lots of hard work and physical stress ahead so ease into it. Take time to build your foundation for the year; the bigger and more solid the foundation, the higher you'll be able to build off it. Skipping steps in the early season makes ramping up a tenuous process, fraught with potential injury and over-training because you never fully established a sound base. Pick a logical, conservative progression of race distances over your season to ensure that you don't jump up too quickly. Besides being fun to run races of different lengths, it also keeps things varied and interesting and trains your body to be able to run fast in a 10k but also cruise steadily in a 50-miler.
Here are a few great Pacific Northwest races (increasing in length and difficulty) to consider for the year ahead:
Hagg Lake 25k, Feb 18, 2013
One lap around the lake is a good warm-up for the season for people starting to get up into the longer distances. Just watch out for the mud!
Peterson Ridge Rumble 20 miler, April 15, 2013
A nice, relatively gentle 20 miles on the rolling trails outside of Sisters, OR. It's sunny over on that side, which is another prime selling point.
Trailfactor 50k, May 27, 2013
The awesome, local ultra-event in our awesome, local Forest Park. Cover 31.5 miles of amazing trails right in our backyard and enjoy the feel of this well-organized celebration of the Portland trail community (shorter distances too!)
Mt Hood 50, July 28, 2013
A gorgeous race entirely on the world-famous Pacific Crest Trail. A great, fairly gentle introduction to running 50 miles (if that's possible.)
White River 50, July 27, 2013
Sitting beside the looming Mt. Rainier, this race is a PNW classic. A much tougher, more mountainous option than the Mt. Hood 50.
Waldo 100k, August 18, 2013
One of the best mountain races around. Spectacular scenery and a challenging course not soon forgotten. A must do…so make sure to properly train for it!
Pine to Palm 100, Sept 15, 2013
Currently Oregon's only 100 mile running event and a tough one to boot. An arduous mountain journey through the Siskiyou Mountains from Williams to Ashland. A good one to shoot for … if you ever had an inkling to do something that grueling.
Cascade Crest 100, August 25, 2013
A tough 100 mile mountain loop in the Cascades east of Seattle. Lots of stunning scenery to take your mind off the pain…
This is a selection of some of the PNW's best trail races but, of course, there are many more events of all shapes and sizes to get after. Luckily, besides Cascade Crest 100, none of the races have a lottery system in place although that will quickly be changing due to the drastic increase in interested racers (Many of the races above are part of the Oregon Trail Series. It doesn't matter if 10k is your long distance or 100k, what matters is working to find the progression over the season that suits you. Find the events that excite you and make you want to run them, through beautiful lands that invigorate your senses. Just like the gears in a car or the form of a tree, don't skip steps when laying out the year; build up slowly, make your foundation as big and strong as you can before ramping up to your toughest event--your big dance--whatever that may be. The sturdier the base the higher you'll be able to safely build off it.
Here's some of the most contentious lotteries out there in case you were interested in throwing your name in the hat:
-Western States 100 Mile Endurance Run, Squaw Valley, CA, June 29, 2013 (Application Period Nov 10-24, Drawing on Dec 8)
-Miwok 100k, Marin Headlands, CA, May 4, 2013 (Application Period NOW-Dec 10, Drawing on Dec 12)
-Wasatch 100, Layton, UT, September 6, 2013 (Application Period Dec 1-Jan 6, Drawing in February)
-Hardrock 100, Silverton, CO, July 12, 2013 (Application Period Now-Dec 1, Drawing on Dec 4)
Here's to the holidays and the new year ahead! It will be a good one, filled with running and racing and romping through the hills. Continue concocting ambitious plans--those inspired blueprints for our goals and dreams--just take time to make the foundation strong and the progression safe and sensible. I promise, your patience will allow you to progress further than ever before.
Willie McBride is a native of Chicago, IL but has been living in and exploring the American West since 2000. He attended the Colorado College, majoring in English with a focus on Creative Writing, solidifying his love of writing and his need for mountains. An avid hiker, climber, and trail/ultramarathon runner he now resides in NW Portland, close by the trails of Forest Park. He started a personal/group training and coaching business called Animal Athletics (AnimalAthleticsPDX.com) with fellow ultra runner Yassine Diboun in spring of 2012 and the two provide top-notch services to aspiring outdoor athletes of all abilities.