Monday, June 27, 2011

Western States and Geoff Roes

I actually paid a lot of attention to this race, at least early-on. I got up around 6:00 and found myself on the couch, watching Wimbledon, eating home-made granola and refreshing the twitter/WS100 update page, etc. It was too early for anything other than the cereal. I went back to bed and went in and out of consciousness for the next few hours tired and sore from playing tag with a bunch of 6-8 year-olds the night before, I guess.

As the race progressed Saturday morning, any inspiration I'd hoped to get from following WS100 (and subsequently getting excited about getting my day started) failed to materialize. I had a bad feeling about the day and the race. As my last post suggested, I pretty much figured Killian would win, ho hum. Any drama that seemed built-in to last year's show-down (even before the start) wasn't there. Like I said in that previous post, last year was LOADED with hype-worthy energy. And Geoff Roes had an epic come-from-behind win, in CR fashion.

Since getting into trail running a couple of years ago, it has been great watching Geoff Roes ascend to become an elite ultra distance runner and maintain a cool, casual demeanor about the whole thing, despite his success. I really like Roes' style both in terms of racing and training, not to mention his blog (and from what I hear his in-run chatting) can be quite an interesting read.

But he got too interesting this year. That's the critic in me. The arm-chair quarterback/ultra runner (of which i am neither: quarter back or ultra runner). But I am a sports fan. I love the competition. I love the build-up to a race like WS100 2011 like I do the prospects of watching a big tennis match, or basketball game (admittedly, my love for American television sports is waning). The sports fan in me couldn't wait to see the players lay it all on the line. And Roes didn't have it that day. As I said in my previous post and comments, there was a lot of evidence to suggest it wouldn't be his day. To my surprise, Anton graciously contributed to the discussion and said I had it wrong, that Geoff was fine, and in fact Killian was in for some trouble. Fantastic insight. He knows Geoff well. I am very grateful for the insight.

But my gut was right. I didn't feel Roes' competitive juices bubbling for this one. Whether it was illness or over-training, he wasn't there. We could say the same about Mackey. He just didn't seem 100% (hell, if that guy was 100%, and got to mile 70-80 in tact, with cooler temps, perhaps no one could've touched him with a late surge of which he's capable). Although Clark seemed poised, I still had him as a dark horse. A favorite dark horse, sure, but I didn't see him breaking through against Killian.

I mentioned Roes' possible illness or over-training that could have kept him from going big this year at WS100. I didn't mention lack of focus, which many readers may suggest was the problem. Many of us remember "Cloud" making an ass out of himself on Roes' blog. Despite being somewhat validated, s/he is still an ass. More troubling perhaps are Roes' own terribly ominous words regarding his "approach" to this race, which will become part of American ultrarunning lore: (to paraphrase) I'm more interested in my next run, tomorrow, than I am in WS100, which is _______ away (use "X months," "X days"). He finally became interested (focused) when his "next" run was in fact WS100. Many of us are critical of this. Some of us are jerks, and some just let down. We love when these athletes perform. See the recent Lebron James discourse as an example of how fans' enthusiastic support can become vitriolic when reality contradicts their lofty expectations.

I'm not so sure the lack of focus criticism is justified. I think it's pretty natural for an athlete to be somewhat excited for a race (I'm sure he was, but I mentioned this too in my previous post), but since he dominated so the year before (dramatic win and incredible CR), he therefore might have other goals now, such as UTMB, or the newly designed championship coming this fall. Remember, UTMB was canceled last year literally while the athletes stood on the starting line. His thoughts are, perhaps, simply else where. And perhaps they should be.

For those who care, like I, what do we make of this poor showing at WS100? Even though Roes has had a solid year (CR win at Chukanut in a deep field, win at Zane Grey and other solid efforts), for some reason this year I think is a little sub-par (I know, what the hell do I know). The Bandera 100k DNF stands-out because he was not feeling well, and I do remember how there was a period of time when he was not adapting to his move to CO. He wasn't sure what it was. Elevation? Homesickness? All I know is this 2011 is following his move to CO and we all know how much he loves AK and how a big move like that can affect people in a variety of ways. So that caught my eye. Has he just not had the depth of training early on in the year that translates to mid to late season domination we've seen in the past? The early season illness, and the DNF at Bandera just stand-out.

In addition, there's his growth as a human being (sound philosophical enough?). As we grow and mature, we change our focus, find different priorities. Based on how much he talks about his girlfriend now, that relationship naturally and fortunately has become a bigger part of this life (if you're talking sports and athletes, better-halves/significant others/marriage play fairly big roles in how the athlete performs on the field. Other sports, like tennis, have documented the dramatic drop in performance. It's life. The bottom-line is people develop more interests in things away from the sport.

His narrative underscores this change. Go back and read his blog, read/watch interviews.

And along with that kind of relationship absorbing an athlete's time and energy, his/her professional relationships can affect performance. How? Why? We can surmise reasonably on the reputation/results dynamic, but let's just say there are many examples of athlete's struggling for whatever specific reasons once they have found "success." Training is secondary, complacency, etc. etc.

All I know is I have noticed a change in Geoff Roes and I witnessed on Saturday a completely different kind of result.


Nonetheless, I saw it coming. For whatever reason, I'm not surprised. And for that I'm disappointed. But. Who. Really. Cares. Does. It. Really. Matter.

Congrats to Nick Clark. He is a model of consistency and grit. No question. MVP.

AJW is a gamer. He walks the walk. And his pre-race interview while drinking a beer is classic. Another model of consistency. Huge props.

I don't follow the women in the sport and shame on me, but that race was pretty dramatic. I think irunfar tweeted early in the race (mile ~30ish?) that Greenwood was thrashed and the whole scene was "sad." Her comeback is pretty remarkable. Roes does a nice job with some perspective on that.

And Roes finding Killian at the finish is very cool to see. No question about Roes' character.

If only Mackey could have laid the wood to the front and won this thing. That would have been greeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaaat (out-loud in the voice of Tony the Tiger).

And congrats to Mr. Jornet (although that's not even his late name is it?). He's a young giant. Will be fun to watch him grow and dominate the sport.

I can't wait for UTMB. Time to reassert yourself, Mr. Roes.
For what it's worth (I know, nothing) I still think he's the best in the business. When he's on.

Despite this overly interested bullshit on my part, I am in awe of all 100 milers. I am full of aspiration not to mention inspiration (but I'm past that). As one commenter said on a friend's blog, "I have no idea why, but there seems to be something out there you guys/gals find. I'm in."

I would only hope that all you WS100ers are drinkin an ice cold beer right about now (after the several you've already had). Cheers.

I wish every trail/mountain race with that much leverage has that good a coverage. Fantastic.


  1. Well done. If more people blogged like this, the world would be a better (more interesting) place.

    I have to take in what you're saying and, if I have anything remotely interesting or relevant to say, I'll respond. In the meantime, I'll just enjoy thinking about the points you bring up.

    One thing that Mackey wrote back to me today was that he's "still on a 100 mile curve." I wouldn't want to line up with him when he's at the top of that curve, not even if I had Roes' legs.

  2. Yeah, the Mackey angle is overlooked. You dug that up in that great interview you did. He might be turning his attention to 100s. Nice.

  3. I have no doubt Roes gave 100%.

    But as you say, he gave 100% of whatever was left when he was on the starting line. He mentioned doing out of bounds training runs the week before with several thousand vertical feet and that he shouldn't have done it before WS, but then said oh well who cares.

    I got the feeling too he wanted to win at all costs once he got to the line, but wasn't going to sacrifice his own personal time and happiness.

    But I also get the opposite feeling from his interviews about UTMB. I think he has a special fire in his belly about that one.

    WS is a strange animal - so many of the top trail runners say its too flat and too much like just a long road race.

  4. A bit of over analysis on my part for sure, but I love it. I would say in the end there's a some of the ole been there done that for roes. He crushed ws100 last year. If Tony cr'ed leadville would he return? Maybe.

  5. Glad you enjoyed iRunFar's coverage of Western States. Both Meghan and I had a great time providing it. I'm hoping we'll be able to match the effort in two months in Chamonix!

  6. Bryon,
    Thanks again for the work, and nice run. Works well to have the winner you're interviewing congratulate you on a great race. Good stuff.

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  8. Sure it matters. It's the characters (i.e., the elites, the mid-packers, the denizens of blogville) that make the story. And what a story any given ultra makes! Good takes on WS100, Matt.

    Glad you found something in my little quote at Footfeathers; my brother Darren (trains with Tim, and 10th at Buffalo 100 this year) noticed it in your post. The ultra is an individual endeavor, but the cast of characters add inspiration to my chase. Keep going... "over analysis" is fine. And do SD100!

  9. DCraig, thanks. I am thinking of SD100 even though that's so crazy I can't really wrap it. Your brother and you sound like good folk. Keep up the good work. Maybe I'll see you guys next June ;)