2019 had a lot of changes. I moved to a different country to build a team at a new company while switching to full-time ultrarunning and racing on completely unfamiliar terrain. There was some success for sure, and plenty of things to celebrate, but also a number of times I fell short. Any good year should have a combination of those, and the best ratio probably varies by person, but I can’t help but look at the year largely as a stepping stone, a scouting expedition before returning in full force. That could seem like a negative view, but I view it as quite optimistic: the best is yet to come.
|2019 Cheviot Goat Ultra
|Tor Des Geants
|Ronda dels Cims 170K
|The Grand Round
2019 started with my first ever 200 miler, the Franklins 200 in El Paso in early February. It was quite a challenging course, with the rocks absolutely ripping me to shreds. It was a great introduction to the distance, and I’m thrilled to have come away with the win (although just short of my sub 60 hour goal). It would be months before my feet would fully recover, though.
After that it was time to say good-bye to our friends and our home in Rockville. We visited all the Washington, DC landmarks and attractions that we hadn’t bothered to see over the previous 5 years, got ourselves prepared as best we could to move across an ocean with 3 small children, and headed out.
But wait! Why not do Barkley the week that we’re leaving for England? Sounds like a brilliant idea! I was genuinely excited to get out and enjoy some time out there, and to see what I could do with a different perspective on the race. Unfortunately it turns out that that perspective, granted / cursed me with the wisdom to realize after 2 loops, while in the lead with Guillaume, that I did not have the proper mindset to push through what I knew loops 4 and 5 would bring. I felt worst for the people who had supported me in getting back to Barkley, but at that point I accepted what was 100% inevitable and tried to escape with the best outcome I could: valuable lessons learned and at least somewhat preserving my body for the next imminent challenge. It would unfortunately become a theme of mine for the year.
Upon arriving in the UK, my focus turned completely towards that next challenge: The Grand Round. Well, completely except for getting myself and my family situated, dealing with mountains of bureucratic UK paperwork, and building a new team at our startup. I did the best training, planning, and preparing as possible, and gathered an incredible group of support (I really will never be able to say enough about the support I was given for that crazy adventure). Unfortunately it too came up a bit short, but it lit a fire in me that I hadn’t seen since before finishing Barkley.
But there was no time to dwell on it: Lavaredo 120K was in a few weeks! The race covered some incredibly beautiful terrain, and although not as quickly as I would have liked I did manage to make it all the way to the finish line this time! And then I got to take a helicopter ride. 🤦♂️
I had evened the score for the year between finishes and DNFs, but just a few weeks after Lavaredo came Ronda dels Cims. Andorra is an amazing place, and I’m pretty sure there’s not a single flat piece of ground big enough for a football field. The course was perfect for me: steep and technical. Unfortunately I wasn’t prepared for warm temperatures, and found myself dangerously over-heating after pushing a solid pace early on. I ended up dropping out fairly early, in my first ever DNF in a “normal” race. It stung pretty bad, especially at a race I had been so excited about. But again, I had another big challenge right around the corner, and thought it best to only ruin one race instead of two.
The thing with a race like Tor Des Geants is that even if the race part of it doesn’t turn out too well, you still end up with a journey of a lifetime: 205 miles through the Italian Alps circumnavigating the Aosta Valley. I ended up making some poor strategic decisions, gave in to the sleep monster, and tumbled out of the top 5 down to 16th place. But, I finished. And if I get the chance to return I’ll have a huge advantage over the 2019 version of me.
So I ended up 3 for 6 in my planned 2019 ultra events: 50% DNF. But I easily learned more than I ever have and those failures set me up for the future better than a string of mediocre successes ever could have.
I rounded out the year with a couple of marathons: Berlin and New York City I ran Berlin shortly after Tor Des Geants purely for the joy of running it, and then came away with a 2:35 PR at NYC shortly after losing my best friend: our dog Dixie. Not content to finish the year with a 50% ultra DNF rate, I slipped in one last race: the Cheviot Goat Ultra, where I came away with 4th place and learned a thing or to about northern England bogs.
The end of the year was largely the same as 2018: endless work to keep our startup moving forward. Around 80% of contracts in our business start on January 1st, so November and December are just heaps of fun. Fortunately it wasn’t quite as bad and stressful as the year before, with enough revenue to keep the lights on already in the door and an actual team to take a huge amount of the most time-critical work. I even got to stop a few times to enjoy a British Christmas!
In the past, I’ve laid out my goals for the year pretty clearly. This year, things will be a bit more abstract. The start is clear, though: not even two weeks after 2020 starts I’ll be setting off in The Spine Race to cover the full 268 miles of the Penine Way. My experience at the Cheviot Goat Ultra gave me a small taste of what it will be likely navigating that terrain in winter, and fortunately Jasmin Paris just put out her race report from 2019 in time for me to read it about 37 times. There’s really no way to not understate it, so I’ll just say this and leave it at that: it will be challenging, and quite easy to take a quick turn for the worst.
Beyond that, I’m going to keep the details and the timing of my plans a bit closer to the vest this year. As my training progresses and my life evolves, I want to be sure I’m doing things for the right reasons in the right way, and am focused on the goals rather than on the perception of the goals.
I will say that I plan on fully utilizing the lessons learned in 2019, and trying to take care of some unfinished business. My experience isn’t the only thing that puts me in a much better position than I was at this time last year. There’s no pending move to another country. I have the stability, the knowledge, and the objective outside perspective of a coach (David Roche), along with the huge stress relief of not having the burden and time sink of planning and analyzing my own workouts.
Perhaps most importantly, I’m transitioning to CTO of our company. In the world of startups a change in title doesn’t necessarily mean much, but in practical terms it means I’ll be spending less time doing all of the time-critical difficult to estimate technical work, which we’ll be able to distribute across the team instead. If that results in me sleeping properly and consistently it could be the single biggest boost my training has ever seen.
One thing that won’t change in 2020 is the sponsors that I’m working with. As difficult as having a demanding job might sometimes make my ultrarunning “hobby,” it does mean that I’m completely free to work with the companies whose products give me the best chance of success rather than going with the highest bidder. All of these companies have given me great support for years and have been wonderful to work with.
So all in all, 2019 left me with a bit of a bloody chin. But a ship’s not safe in harbor, you’ve gotta break a few eggs, or insert your cliche of choice here. I’ve never been one to go with the whole New Year’s Resolution thing, or new year new you, or whatever, but I really feel like things are going to come together in 2020. Failure can be the shortest path to success, and those shortcomings of the past year will be my springboard for the next.