Sunday, October 25, 2009

The Seven Secrets to Winning a Grand Prix Running Series

This weekend's Jenkinson Lake Fall Trail Runs 50K was the season finale of the grand prix series. The series kicked off with the Pony Express race at the end of February and consisted of 9 races with distances ranging from 20-miles to 12-hour runs.

I am very happy to report that I clinched the series title for the second time!

In 2007, I learned a few lessons about what it takes to win a grand prix series. That year, the series became a mano-y-mano duel with my good friend Scott Dunlap, and I ended up winning the series--and the associated $3000 supersonic mattress grand prize--by just one and a half points (out of 282 total points). In the end it all came down to the last race--if the overall 50-mile winner had run just a few minutes slower, I would taken second place. Way too close!

Jethro Smith Wins Second Place Overall in the Grand Prix

Some people have asked, so at the risk of shooting myself in the foot for a future grand prix series title attempt in 2011 (I am not running the entire series next year), I'll share with you my seven secrets for winning a grand prix running series. Actually, most of these concepts are so basic that they can hardly be called "secrets," but make a few mistakes and your series title hopes can be toast. There is some strategy behind it.

Lainie Callahan-Mattoon Takes Home Hardware for Winning First Place Overall in the GP

Having run quite a few of these series, I know now that it is actually possible for a non-elite runner (like me) to do quite well or even win. You don't have to be a mountain goat or even super fast. A firm aim coupled with some smart strategy and some hard work (and a little luck) is all you really need. It is true--the tortoise can beat the hair.
  1. Go For It!--That is, make the conscious decision to compete in the entire series up front, train for it, and add the races to your schedule. Entering one of the early races with a let's-just-see-what-happens attitude leaves a lot to chance.
  2. Start Out "Guns Blazing"--Once you have decided to really go for it, you want to create the biggest gap on the competition as you can in the shortest amount of time. You want to kick butt and take names starting at race number 1. This doesn't mean that you should show up at the first race and start running like a 10-year old, however. It does mean that you ramp up training well in advance of the first race and taper properly. The first series race is often early in the year and many people will skip running in the cold winter months; instead using the early races to get in shape. It certainly helps if you can be in great shape at the start of the very first race.
  3. Show Up--This, you could argue, is one of my specialties. As I mentioned before, you don't have to be the fastest runner or the best climber. If you're not at the starting line at 7 a.m. all those great strengths won't do you much good.
  4. Finish--David Goggins recently said: "It's not about winning; it's about not quitting." That's true. You really don't have to win every race outright to do well, but you have to actually cross the finish line at some point for your results to count towards your overall points.
  5. Every Minute Counts--While you're in a series race, keep moving forward. In the end, the series could be decided by just a few minutes, so you don't want to think back with regret about that time where you leisurely sat down at an aid station, chatting it up with your friends. For an hour. Also, if you really want to do well, organize a crew that can keep you moving. You can save a huge amount of time with a seasoned crew that is aware of all your preferences. (A huge thank you to Chris, Rebecca, and Troy for coming out to crew for me this year!)
  6. Read--Carefully read the series rules, and the individual race details, including course maps for races that you have not run before and scout out the race course before the race if you can. Your best race time is usually achieved when you run the most even pace throughout the race. Knowing the course will allow you to set specific time goals for a course.
  7. Super-Size It--Sometimes races offer a variety of distances. For example, a 6 or a 12-hour run, offering a series point per mile. Always run the absolute longest distance you can to pick up the most points possible. You never know. Sometimes things come up and you may have to miss one of the races (I missed one due to a nearby forest fire this year). Running the longest possible distance every time you can will put some points in the grand prix bank. Occasionally, however, it may pay off to run a shorter distance for some reason. Again, being familiar with the race details is key here.
And... don't forget the other half: hard work and luck. At some point, competing in series race after series race and always trying to be on top of your game can wear you out and it starts to feel a little bit like a job. You have to grind out some miles here and there on tired legs and isn't always fun. Of course, there is a certain element of luck involved as well. To stay injury free, to pick the right race--you never know how things will work out. Oh, and, try to have some fun while you're out there, too. One thing I really enjoyed during the series was meeting old and new running friends at every race.

Yesterday's Race--The Season Finale
Here's a quick report about yesterday's Jenkinson Lake Trail Run 50K.

The race offers a choice of up to four 8-mile, 95% single-track trail loops around Jenkinson Lake. It uses the same course as the Jenkinson Lake Spring Run, except that it was run in reverse and had an extra half mile.

Adventure Racer Mats Ready to Run (and Win!) the 24-Miler

There were some new faces at the start along with some die-hard grand prix racers trying to get some final points in the final race of the season--Gretchen, Lainie, Jethro, and Matt. The race started out fast, I led for the first 4 miles or so and then let the 16-milers set the pace. I chatted briefly with Swedish adventure racer Mats Jensen (last name?) who was running the 24-miler and then it became pretty quiet.

I cranked up some tunes on lap 2 and 3 and was in first place in the 50K, but slowing down a little bit each lap and walking more of the steep hills. The last month of less than 10 training miles and eating danishes was rapidly catching up to me. I plodded my way through the third lap and then, finally, it was time for the victory lap that I had been envisioning since the beginning of the year! The ultra series title was mine unless I fell into Lake Jenkinson and drowned.

Matt Thau Ran Every Single GP Race this Year and Takes Third Place Overall

Ed Walsh and a friend of his were manning the first aid station and Ed kindly kept me posted on where I was relative to the other 50K runners. A lot of runners dropped down to the 24-mile race and apart from Lainie, who was about five minutes behind me, there was nobody in sight. With the series win in the bag, it was hard to get motivated to pick up the pace significantly.

Ed Walsh (right) Won the 60-69 AG

Lainie, who was running another strong race, passed me at the final aid station of the bell lap--both of us were happy to be done with the race and the series in general. Lainie went on to win the 50K and she also won the female grand prix title, followed by Gretchen and Jennifer Dicus.

Lainie Wins the 50K, and the Overall Grand Prix Title

I just kept running at my own pace until I reached the finish line, where Lainie, Jethro, and their parents, Matt, Robert, and Linda were all cheering. It was great to finish what I had started so long ago. A huge congratulations to all the other grand prix finishers and their support crews. Next year has even more races, including a new race at Bullard's Bar Dam that I will be designing the course for. Stay tuned for more details on that.

We had a short awards ceremony and the top-three winners overall, as well as the age group winners, received a truckload of goodies and prizes. For winning the series overall, I received an all-expense-paid vacation package worth $550 (the real reason my family was so supportive of these monthly races!) and another $200+ worth of useful other running-related goodies, like two pairs of Inov-8 shoes, Hammer gel, a Fuel Belt hydration pack, and more.

Jethro (2nd overall), Matt (3rd overall and only one to run every race), and Yours Truly--Watch Out For These Guys Next Year!

Thanks to Robert and Linda, Ed Walsh, and all the other great volunteers, and to the grand prix sponsors for making this an exciting (and rewarding) series. I'll take a break next year, but I may be back for the hat-trick in 2011! So far, in the series history (since 2004), only Beverly Anderson Abbs and I have won two series titles.

Next up: Relaxing... and a few interesting bike rides around Lake Tahoe and around the Sutter Buttes.


Gretchen said...

Awesome job, Peter, and congrats on the series win! I totally appreciate your dedication to the series. Robert and Linda definitely put on some nice races, and it's pretty cool to show up every time and see some of the same crew competing. Thanks for all your support out there, and nice job on another awesome season! That's nice of you to take next year off from the season and give someone else a chance. ;)

Chris said...

You've had a very good year! I'm impressed with your consistent racing/winning/placing. Nice work!


Will said...

Peter, congrats on another series victory. I have to say that I feel a part of your first series victory as you and I were within steps of each other at the finish of the Helen Klein 50 miler, your final race that year. I've thought about entering the So Cal ultra series and reading your 7 points was very helpful. It appears the 7 ultimately boil down to one thing: commitment. You've definately shown it again. Thanks for the inspiration! Will.

kelly said...

Way to go, Peter!! Wow, what an accomplishment. And the prizes! Good job. Now you can rest up and be proud.

Alan Fletcher said...

Peter - Congrats on the series win! How about spending some time training for some short stuff?
- Alan

Peter Lubbers said...

Thanks, Alan. Yes, I might just do that. I have a 10K race later this year...

slowrunner77 said...

i'm glad you did NOT fall into Lake Jenkinson and drown :)
oh yeah...and congrats on the series win!!

Mats said...

Peter - congratulations! It was nice to meet you - my last name is spelled Jansson. Shoot me an e-mail if you want to keep in touch, I'll be at the Folsom Point race, going for the 50k, which is long for me. (

Jethro said...

Start Out "Guns Blazing" -
From the start I had intentions of winning this series, primarily by following the "Go For It!" and "Show Up" rules. I figured if I completed every race I could win the series even if I didn't win any individual races. Then I saw you cruising so effortlessly through the 100k at the Pony Express, I decided I didn't have a shot. That was a big reason why I dropped from the 50 mile to the 50k at that race, and then didn't bother entering the River City Marathon. So starting strong is definitely a good idea!

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