2018 Recap, 2019 Goals

Now that we know for sure where I’ll be located this year, I can start to plan out the year a bit more. But first, a quick look back at 2018. The idea of a ‘year in review’ has always seemed a little arbitrary to me, as I view my goals as more of a continual progression, but I do think it’s useful to occasionally pause to take our bearings and appreciate how far we’ve come. And the start of the new year is just as good a time as any!

If you want the really quick overview you can always just head over to the schedule / results page.

2018 Recap

2018 turned out to be a pretty great year. With no Barkley to focus on for the first time in four years, I packed a lot of smaller things into the year, and had a lot of fun doing it. Of my 2018 goals, Kona was undoubtedly the focus, but there was a lot more on the way to that.

I had to of course slip in a winter ultra season, and I had the freedom to hit it a bit harder than I did in 2017. I started off almost immediately with a trip to Texas for Bandera 100K (mostly for a Western States and Spartathlon qualifier), and managed to hold on for a top 10 finish.

One of my favorite pictures of the year. Photo – John Sharpe

I then turned my attention back locally towards some things I had been wanting to do for a while: two FKTs along the Appalachian Trail and a return to the TWOT 100. The first FKT, the AT 4 State Challenge, was through my current home state of Maryland, covering the full 42 miles through Maryland and West Virginia from the Pennsylvania to the Virginia border. The second, the Smokies Challenge Adventure Run (SCAR), ran along the border between my first two home states of Tennessee and North Carolina, going the full length of the Appalachian Trail in Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Hard to beat time on the AT

Then there was TWOT. I ran The Wild Oak Trail 100 in 2017, largely as part of my Barkley training. I loved the course and the atmosphere, and afterwards I felt that sub 24 hours there was a goal that would be incredibly fun, motivating, and right at that edge of what is possible for me. I managed to slip in just under the wire, with a 23:48. I still consider this my 2nd greatest athletic accomplishment ever behind Barkley. I wasn’t actually sure of the outcome until I was about 15 minutes from the finish line.

And for sub 24 I got so many canned fruit products! 
My bagels had delicious toppings for months.

Speaking of Barkley, I got to head there to have some fun this year, crewing and helping with a few other parts of the race. Crewing ain’t easy, though, and in a lot of ways it was tougher for me to be wondering what was going on out there than to be out there in it myself. I think I got the distance and elevation equivalent of at least a loop in just running back and forth between camp and the firetower.

Seriously, where is everyone?

After a quick trip to London to run in a little marathon over there, I turned my attention fully to triathlons and Kona. My first order of business was to actually qualify for Kona. I was able to knock that out of the way with an age group win at a hot IM Boulder.

Nick and I were 1-2 overall amateurs, both punching our tickets to Kona.

With that important piece of business out of the way I had the ITU Long Course World Championship up next in Denmark. Putting on the Team USA kit is something I had been looking forward to for a long time, and was the original reason I planned on sticking around in triathlon for 2018. Taking the age group win (by just 42 seconds!) and getting to climb on top of the podium with a US flag was one of the coolest things I ever have and expect to be able to experience in sports.

Also, yes. If it’s not clear by now, I’m rather short for a triathlete.

With a Kona slot in hand, Jessi and I decided to still go to Mont-Tremblant and enjoy it as a family vacation that happened to have a race. And we’re definitely glad we did. It was an awesome trip and we really enjoyed the area, complete with side trips to Montreal and Ottawa. In the race, I came away with another age group win and got my first ever sub 9 hour iron distance triathlon.

No race photo here… this trip was about the poutine!

After returning from Canada, Kona was straight ahead. I went into it as fit as I’ve ever been, and was confident that I could achieve my goal of getting on the podium. I turned in a sub 9 performance, but it was not good enough to achieve the result I wanted.

It would be easy to look at the year as a failure, falling short of my main goal. But I knew going into it that there was a high probability of failure, just the kind of goal I prefer. By pursuing that goal, I picked up two Ironman age group wins and an age group world championship, and would have been ranked 3rd in the final USAT age group rankings if I hadn’t have gone pro. None of that would probably have been done without Kona driving me forward and providing motivation. I also know that I gave it my all, and I would much rather have that to look back on than to regret never having tried. It’s impossible to achieve big goals without aiming high, and it’s impossible to aim high with falling short sometimes.

Plus, I got a week in Hawaii with my wife and no kids

After Kona there was just one thing left to do: go pro and do one race before retiring from competitive triathlon. I had a great time at Ironman Arizona, and came away as the proud owner of the title “slowest swim ever in a sub 9 hour Ironman.” It was a fitting end to my triathlon career, and a good way to end the year.

Date Race Place* Time
Nov 18 Ironman Arizona 18 8:58
Oct 13 Kona Ironman World Championship 25 8:58
Aug 19 Ironman Mont-Tremblant 1 8:58
Jul 14 ITU Long Course World Championship 1 5:59
Jun 10 Ironman Boulder 1 9:08
May 19 General Smallwood Triathlon 1 2:07
Apr 22 London Marathon 213 2:42
Mar 18 SCAR (unsupported) FKT 15:31
Feb 17 TWOT 100 1 23:48 (CR)
Jan 20 AT 4 State Challenge (supported) FKT 6:39
Jan 6 Bandera 100K 10 9:18

2019 Goals

2019 is shaping up to be a big year, with me taking on a new role in my career and us moving all the way to the UK. As far as racing goes, that means I not only get to plan a full-time ultrarunning schedule for the first time ever, I’ll be doing it on a whole new continent! So the main goals of this year are to explore, continue to find new challenges, and to have fun doing it. It’s not going to be like last year where I pinned so much on a single goal and focused the entire year around it.

I hear there are these things called “fells.” I will be running on them.

And before anyone asks (but people still will), yes I plan on being in Frozen Head this spring. I was there last year too.

I’m excited for my 2019 plans, but the first order of business is to just buckle down and whip myself back into gear after my December of “retirement.” Before moving to the UK I’m starting off the year with the Franklins 200 miler in El Paso. I figured there’s no better way to kick-off my full-time ultrarunning than with my first 200 miler, but I’ve got a tough challenge over the next few weeks to get my mileage base back up high enough for it without rushing and ending up with an injury. Having never run a 200 and having never been in that area, I don’t have a concrete time goal. I just want to get myself ready, run a smart race, and try to put myself in the best spot I can competitively.

How can I not go back to race again in a place that gives out trophies like this?

The Grand Round

I may not have a single big goal, but that definitely doesn’t mean there aren’t things that I’m particularly excited about. Ever since we decided to move to the UK I’ve been formulating “The Grand Round” in my head. It’s evolved a few times, but I think I’m fairly set now on what I want to do. There are still just a few details I need to work out on the how (particularly on the logistics side).

In the UK, there are the Big 3 Rounds: Bob Graham, Charlie Ramsay, and Paddy Buckley. Doing any one of them in sub 24 hours is quite the achievement. But, you know, I don’t know how long we’ll be in the UK so I’ve gotta pack in as much as I can quickly. 🙂 So I want to do all 3 of them, back to back to back. And I don’t want something like driving speed to be a variable in how long it takes me overall, so I’m going to ride my bike between each of them (> 200 miles between each). All forward progress will be powered by nothing but my own two legs.

I can’t find any records of anything like this ever being done, so I’m not sure exactly on the time I want to shoot for. Sub 100 hours sounds like a good number – sufficiently difficult yet achievable while allowing for some sleep and avoiding night-time biking. Or maybe 96 hours – 24 for each round plus 24 for the biking. In any case, I’m going to do it as fast as I can and we’ll see how it turns out.

I’m planning on doing this sometime in May. If anyone wants to be a part of this project or has any suggestions please feel free to contact me.

Summer of ultras

For the first time ever, I’ll be continuing ultrarunning into the summer. And I might have got a bit over-excited and put too much in it. So there’s a chance something gets dropped. The first confirmed race is Lavaredo 120K in June, where I’ll get to explore the Dolomites. In July, I’ll head to the Andorra region of Spain for a race with just the kind of challenging terrain I love: Ronda dels Cims 170K. This is one of the races that I’ll really focus on.

We’ll probably have a trip home to the US sometime in August, and I plan on using that as an opportunity to give another go at the Smokies Challenge Adventure Run. I made some significant mistakes the first time, and with as special of a route as that is to me I want to be sure that I’ve gotten in my best effort on it.

Next up is what I will likely make my main focus race of the year, if I get in. Tor des Geants, a 205 mile race in Italy. This one has been on my list for a long time, and whether this year or another, I’ll be there eventually and ready to give it my all.

And a fall of… marathons?

Once I’m sufficiently toast from a summer of running all over as many mountains as possible, I’ll wrap up the year with at least the Berlin Marathon and possibly the NYC Marathon as well. I’d like to be sure I have things occasionally that force me to maintain my “speed” somewhat, and I do also have the goal of eventually doing the 6 world marathon majors (so far I have Boston and London done).

The higher intensity racing and training should help me fitness-wise, and overall the fall should also give me an important chance to relax and recover, as I already have some 2020 plans in mind too and they could start early!

Date Race
Feb 6 Franklins 200M
Apr 27 Highland Fling 53M
May The Grand Round
Jun 28 Lavaredo 120K
Jul 18 Ronda dels Cims 170K
Aug SCAR supported FKT
Sep 8 Tor des Geants 205M
Sept 29 Berlin Marathon
Nov 4 NYC Marathon

italics = tentative

19 thoughts on “2018 Recap, 2019 Goals

  • 2019-01-03 at 5:19 PM

    Hi John, I suggest you read ‘Feet in the clouds’. Well written book about fell running. Good luck in the UK and with your 2019 goals.

  • 2019-01-03 at 5:47 PM

    Looking forward to your jump across the pond and the ‘Grand Tour’ idea. If time permits I’d love to support in whatever way I can (crewing, running or just the odd recce).

    • 2019-01-03 at 6:38 PM

      Thank you very much. As it gets a bit closer and I really start more detailed planning I’ll send you an email.

  • 2019-01-03 at 9:06 PM

    I am looking at your placement and your times John and I have such an awe and respect. Some people might shine in Ironman, others in road marathons and others in ultras. You are so amazing in all three.

    All the best in the UK, and in your 200 miler before the big move! 🙂

    • 2019-01-04 at 3:17 PM

      Thank you, and I think a large part of it comes down to a willingness / desire to really try all of them. We all do have our strengths, and I definitely do better the longer, steeper, more technical, and in general more miserable something is. So we’ll see how that 200 goes! 😉

  • 2019-01-04 at 7:03 AM

    A pre-emptive welcome to the UK! Can’t wait to see how you do in some of our races.

    I think the Spine Race might be the closest thing we have to the Barkley (https://thespinerace.com/, starting in a week with live tracking if you’re interested). Having seen a Spine Race winner at the Barkley last year (Eoin Keith), any chance we might see a Barkley finisher at the Spine Race in January 2020?

  • 2019-01-04 at 12:28 PM

    the charlie ramsay is over my backyard hills; if you are looking for support runners or anyone for a recce, i’d be happy to help!

    • 2019-01-04 at 3:25 PM

      Thanks, I’ll send you an email once I start planning out the details!

  • 2019-01-04 at 8:59 PM

    Mate – you’re going to get a lot of that of the next year or so. Mate, respect for even contemplating the above. I’m planning already on coming to watch. Check out the reaction Killian got on his “Bob” to glimpse the reaction you’ll get from us. Nice one.

    • 2019-01-04 at 10:30 PM

      I’ve been working with people in the UK and Australia for years now, so I’ve built up my vocabulary a bit already. 🙂 And thank you very much. I don’t think I’ll put in any kind of Killian-like performance but I’ll give it everything I can!

  • 2019-01-05 at 2:46 AM

    I have ran the Lavaredo three times now. Great choise, it’s an incredible race trough some amazing places

    • 2019-01-05 at 10:11 AM

      Thanks, I’m definitely looking forward to that one! That’s a trip my wife is really excited about too – always a bonus. 🙂

  • 2019-01-05 at 7:48 AM

    A warm preemptive welcome to the UK, and congratulations on a pretty impressive year!

    There’s a little bit of a history of self-propelled rounds, so your endeavour will fit right in. For instance, check out Manny Gorman’s round of all the Scottish Corbetts (https://www.walkhighlands.co.uk/news/book-review-the-corbett-round-by-manny-gorman/0010294/).

    The Fling is a really great race, btw, if you’re still on the fence. So is its sister race, Devil o’ the Highlands. And the of course the West Highland Way race, which is both bolted together. All quite runnable on good trails though.

    • 2019-01-05 at 10:15 AM

      Wow thanks for passing along the info on Manny Gorman’s feat; that’s quite impressive! Haha I’m hoping I can be done in a bit fewer than 70 days, though.

      The Fling does look pretty incredible. That one will depend mainly on timing with the move. That and it’s around my son’s birthday, so we’ll have to see if he wants to visit Scotland. 😉

  • 2019-01-05 at 2:20 PM

    Best of luck with your ambitious plans. There is also a Wicklow Round in Ireland, which too is a 24 hour navigational challenge. Joe McConaughy set a FKT on it last year. Further details on http://www.imra.ie Best Regards, Mick

    • 2019-01-05 at 4:05 PM

      Thanks, looks like a great one to add to the to-do list! Or, maybe I can put that swim experience to good use and just tie it together with the 3 in the UK? 😛


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