A year of running

English: Track and field

Image via Wikipedia

Okay, perhaps it is a bit late for a “year of” review, but with the New Year rung in I feel the call to post a neat little wrap up on something, and a look ahead.

For my ruminating, I’m making the obvious choice, running. More specifically, race running.

2011 was an eventful year. (Well . . . the end of 2010 and 2011 to be specific.) There was a lot of running packed into a very small amount of time, and a lot of firsts.

From October 2010 to November 2011 I ran more distance races than I did for 34 years before.

For a nice little pick me up after running solid distances starting in August 2010, and an ego boost, I ran my first 5K in Oct. 2010. I placed first in my age group and finished at a nice clip. Of course, it was an inaugural race and there were only a few in my age group.  I learn a few things in that first timed race.

  1. I run faster, much faster in a group situation than I do alone in training runs. My competitive nature kicked in race day and I shaved about a minute and ten seconds off of my average practice run time.
  2. The clothes make the runner (well, make the runner more comfortable). After this race I developed an actual skin infection from the rubbing and sweating repeatedly in the cotton t-shirts I ran in. Also, my head boiled wearing baseball caps on runs. All around, running generates a lot of body heat — enough to wear running shorts comfortable when temps are in the 40s – and a definite need for moisture wicking clothing.
  3. And did I mention shoes? No. Well, yeah, they are kind of important as a runner and they better be a pair more suited to your feat and body than the clearance Nike shoes you bought at the discount outlet store. They should also probably have tread on the soles. I’m just saying. Cause when you finally go to the running store and get fitted for running shoes and see what type of shoe you need based on where your foot strike is and find out you are wearing shoes a half size too small and are told to immediately throw away the running shoes you walk into the store wearing . . . well, you’ll feel kind of dumb. And those new shoes? They’ll make you feel as if you are running on puffs of cotton candy, not concrete.
  4. The last thing I learned in this first race that I can never change – I take horrible, horrible running photos. I should wear a bag over my head while running, or punch anyone with a camera I see aimed in my direction.

Reflecting on this first race, all of my races up until May 2011 were training runs.

Later in October 2010 I ran my first half marathon (before my first 10k) and then my 10K on Thanksgiving.

The half marathon was a smallish inaugural affair as well. The group of runners was bigger than the 5K, but the crowd didn’t seem overwhelming with around 1,300 participants.

The start was roughly broken down into pace groups. I was prepared and happy with my time.

It wasn’t until I actually ran the Thanksgiving 10K in 2010 that issues of strategy, knowing my body’s pacing, and just how frustratingly competitive with myself I can be came into play. With 9 thousand participants the crowd felt a little more overwhelming. With no one following pace groups (and myself never really thinking about pacing, just run what felt good) I spent a lot of time bumping elbows and trying to get past walkers walking near the 8:30 pace balloons at the start.

More people also meant faster people once I broke past the starting cluster of run/walkers. I felt like I was going a pretty good clip, but it also felt like a ton of people were passing me. Huffing and puffing I finished my run with a time faster than what I thought, lungs on fire, because I kept telling myself I was running so slow and to push it the entire time.

In part the 10K was a nice way of knowing how far I could push it, in another it convinced me that maybe training with more experienced runners might be a good thing to reach new goals.

It’s here that I have to say I consistently believed I hated goal setting “bucket list” type activities attached to particular events or dates, but running revealed to me that is a lie. After that race I decided to push myself even further with a purpose. I joined a running group and set a goal of completing the 2011 Flying Pig Marathon four days before my 35th birthday.

Between Thanksgiving and May 1 I ran another 10K and a half marathon as part of my running group training. In six months time I would go from running my first 3.2 race to running 26.2 miles. Of course I ran for fitness and some distance (around ten miles at one time once a week) before that first 5K, but wow. In six month’s time that’s a lot of learning and a lot of physical conditioning in such a short span for sport.

So, the first half of 2011 proper became a lesson in perseverance peppered with a lot of braggadocio to my non-running friends. (What can I say on that last part? Training to run 26.2 miles, and eventually completing it, was the most dedicated and toughest goal I ever challenged myself to. Getting up before the sun in the dead of winter, on Saturdays with -2 degree temps still impresses me. I mean who the hell is this guy?)

So, running with the group in winter I found myself getting a little faster over longer distances.

In the second half marathon the lesson was that I am a nervous pee’er before races and that I better hit the port-o-potty early. I missed the gun because I was in line to relieve myself and felt like I was playing catch up to my running group the entire time (a group I never caught up to). Still, the course was tougher (by tougher I mean more hilly) than the first and I finished it faster.

The second 10K was simply about me keeping up with a faster group of runners and dealing with less than ideal conditions. And maybe that’s the biggest lesson out of these two races now that I review the race reports I wrote about them: Never plan anything going according to plan, just be ready to run and be ready for that next hill.

That next hill after my second half was steep. The half was in March and by May 1 I was suited up and ready to run my first full marathon. I could go turn by turn, but I won’t. I wrote about it extensively here.

In the end, I finished my race, missed my lofty time goal by 12 minutes, and probably ran at least the last quarter of the race with stress fractures in both my left and right tibia. I pushed myself so hard something broke basically.

I spent 90 days not running, watching updates about others who were running, and wishing I were. The plan for the last entry on this report was supposed to be the glory of running my second marathon in one year.

Instead I spent the summer mending and swimming and riding a stationary bike, and listening to some folks say I was crazy when I said I was glad I ran my race and that I looked forward to running the next one smarter.

I learned patience and set back are part of the deal. I learned that any goal is also achievable if you have a passion and are dedicated.

I learned that I do love running, because as soon as I felt better and followed my doctor’s suggestions thoroughly I was back out there running, this time with my small band of running friends.

Together we ran that Thanksgiving Day 10K again. I finished a couple of seconds slower than the year before, but I knew what I was doing, my lungs weren’t quite ready to crawl up my throat, and I was in far less physical condition than the year earlier.

So, the year ended on a high note and one that showed me that I’m ready to train for the Pig again, and this time perhaps with a little less braggadocio and a little more laid back resolve to continue to set goals, run faster, but most importantly enjoy the little strolls through the streets on runs I’ve learned to love.


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