Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Best Runs of 2011 - trails, teams, and marathons

2011 is almost over.  Personally, it was a great year for running: no debilitating injuries that kept me from pounding the pavement and I am getting better at staying the course, keeping my commitment to myself to keep moving, and living the discipline of going the distance and trying to log miles to stay marathon-ready.  I averaged 40 miles per week over the last year.

So, with the end of another year approaching, here it is, the long-awaited, much-anticipated list of this year's best runs according to my own totally subjective opinion!  (If that's not enough of a disclaimer I'll  also note that I am most decidedly not an elite runner and I have the privilege of being sponsored by: no one.)

First of all, let's be clear about the criteria.  To have the audacity to call these the "Best Runs of 2011" is a bit presumptuous, admittedly.  I didn't run every run out there.  But of those road races and trail runs I did have the privilege of participating in this past, here's the ones that I found the most memorable:

5. Chevron Houston Marathon: It's not the cool swag, although medals, mugs, and t-shirts make for a pretty sweet set-up for participants.  The packet pick-up and pre-race seminars are sweet and the post-run support (including chocolate milk) is great.  It also offers a relatively flat course and great crowd support rooting runners of all ages and abilities as we pace through the miles.  For me, though, the satisfaction of this run has more to do with getting out of Nebraska in the brutal mid-January cold and going somewhere it's much more likely to be sunny and 70.  Results at http://www.chevronhoustonmarathon.com/Marathon/Results.cfm

4. XTerra BOLT Trail Run: A brutal, beautiful, and demanding course that is a complementary event to the XTerra Triathlon occurring the same weekend at Nebraska's Branched Oak Lake park.  So while the really crazy-committed athletes do the triathlon, those of us who 'just' run can find satisfaction with this event.  The 5 miles will leave even veteran trail runners and cross country harriers spent. You're in thickly wooded trail for about three of the five miles and to call the path rigorous really doesn't do it justice - you'd better keep your head on a swivel or you'll be picking pine needles out of your butt and wondering how you face-planted so fast.  No need to 'warm up' - the August humidity and demanding terrain will get you heated up right away.  Course map available right here http://www.xterrabolt.com/maps/TrailRunMap.pdf

3. Bohemian Alps 50K Endurance Run: I admit that although I would definitely flag this one as highly memorable, I am ambivalent about ever doing it again.  Brutal.  But for those who say, "26.2?  That just doesn't seem far enough," this run might be for you.  Any race that begins with a pledge recitation / waiver of liability wherein the runners confess to their general stupidity and idiotic intent to "do it anyway" is bound to offer its share of challenges.  The 2011 32 mile stretch had segments of dirt road that, because of moisture and precipitation basically turned it into a churning mud run that left me utterly exhausted and tested my will to keep going.  Anyone naive enough to consider Nebraska "flat" just needs to run the hills outside Brainard for a revelation.  The finisher keepsake plaque is cool.  The camaraderie on the course is slim.  If you are not talking with another runner who happens to be alongside, you are on your own.  The run support consists of a couple guys in a pickup truck with a few coolers of supplies - cookies, bananas, water, Gatorade. They'll meet you at the next aid station a few miles down the road.  Just keep running.  Race info available at http://dalenielsen68626.tripod.com/

2. Lincoln Marathon: Even if it weren't the hometown favorite for hundreds of local Lincoln runners who make the trek religiously every year, this run would be one of the tops. Most participants can attest to the top-quality in-race support from volunteers who staff the aid stations throughout the course.  The crowds cheering runners along, especially on stretches down Sheridan Boulevard and along Highway 2, are simply fantastic and provide a huge motivational burst.  To give you an idea of how popular this run has deservedly become, registration for the May, 2012 run just opened a few weeks back.  The entries are capped at 10,000 and it's nearly full already.

Information and results for the Lincoln National Guard Marathon and Half-Marathon are available at http://www.lincolnrun.org/races/marathon

1. Market To Market Relay: It's about team, it's about unity, it's about the nostalgic thrill revisited of cheering on your teammate as he lifts his knees and pumps his arms, baton in hand, getting ready for the exchange.  It's about rooting one another on.  This Omaha to Lincoln relay is an absolute blast, and a grueling gut-check as well.  It's not the first or second leg that will zap you . . . but by the time that third leg comes up and the combination of dried sweat and post-run stench is threatening to asphyxiate everyone on your team as they ride to the next exchange station in the team Suburban, you're just really, really tired.  Our creatively named "2yearsolder" team finished 5th in Open just in front of the Beer View Mirrors.

Results for M2M are available here http://markettomarketrelay.com/

Here's hoping 2012 brings you success in your running and fitness goals!  Let me know what your "Top Runs" list would consist of and whether you agree with mine.  Happy trails to you -