Monday, December 30, 2013

2013 Year in Review

2013 started off with a lot of promise. I had run very well in the fall of 2012 (sub-52 at Army, a decent showing at Club’s), my injury from 2010-2011 was well behind me, and, due to a hiatus between jobs, I had plenty of time to train. Things were looking up.

But almost immediately into the new ear, in January, I crashed and burned at the Rock n’ Roll Marathon in Phoenix, Arizona. I think I ran a new 18-mile PR, but that’s as cheery as I can be about that performance. Myfailure in Phoenix truly broke me – mentally and physically – for a few weeks. I went into the race with confidence, but also with a healthy respect for the race distance itself. I had run upwards of 100-miles a week in preparation and had cut my pace down to 5:05-5:10 pace on not one, but numerous long runs in the weeks leading up to the race. Indeed, confidence was high. I’ve been told to give up on the marathon, but I think I am capable of running a good one when and if the stars and planets align the right way. I’m also not getting any faster so naturally moving up in distance and tackling an event I have a soft PR in seems like the best course of action. I also actually enjoy training for the marathon, because it really gets you in great shape for almost any distance. I also like the challenges the race presents and the fact it's humbling. 

I took some time off after the marathon, but soon found myself training again during my frequent visits to Los Angeles. Two marathon specialists, Blue Benadum and Ankur Tarneja, were my constant training partners. Together, we explored the valleys of Brentwood, the beaches of Santa Monica and everything in between (is there anything in between?). I am indebted to them for their company.

My training ramped back up and I set my sights on the Cherry Blossom 10-Miler in early April. It was a windy day, so the times were not fast, but I ran pretty good effort wise and recorded the highest place I’d ever done at the race – 17th. A few weeks later, I ran a personal best (30:52) at the Pikes Peek 10k in Rockville. Yes, this is a fast course, but it’s something I try to race every year, so it’s a good measuring stick to use year to year. My previous PR was 30:56 set at the same race in 2010, which is when I was in the best shape of my life. Any PR, but especially a PR in a race distance so “short,” was a huge confidence booster.

One week later, I went, as Red Fox doctrine so eloquently suggests, “all in” at the Broad Street Run. If I had run run 4:58 pace for 10k, why could't I run 5:04 pace for 10 miles…tapered, on a fast course, with a little company? After passing through 5 miles in 25:18, I slowly, then quickly (!), began to fall off the pace. My finish time of 51:41 was nearly a minute off my goal time going into the race. 

I took some time off, but work travel hindered my “return to running” late in the spring and on into the summer. It wasn’t as if I was sitting around idle, but I wasn’t racing nor running any workouts.

By the time fall rolled around, I was in between jobs again and looking for something more stable. After pulling out of a couple of races, including the Twin Cities Marathon, I decided to nix any major fall race plans due to my constantly shifting work schedule. In addition, I developed a nagging/annoying pain in my knee, which waxed and waned from Labor Day to December. Instead, of committing to anything, I played running by ear and ran a series of low-key races throughout the autumn, none of which are worth recalling here. Granted, I wasn’t in shape and I was using these races at workouts, but still, I’m use to running at a certain level and it’s distressing to see 16 in front of a 5k time or 26 in front of an 8k time regardless of how tough (most weren’t!) the course might have been.

With Thanksgiving Turkey Trots behind me, it was evident that my knee pain wasn't getting any better. By the time the first few snowflakes fell in Washington, DC, I had thrown up my hands in defeat and decided it was finally worth getting the knee looked at and taking some time off. 

It's been over 3 weeks since I've run and I'm itching to get back into the swing of things, but I want to do this right. The last thing I want to do is train for a week or two, only to take another 3-4 weeks off. 

As I always do, I try to recall the “good, the bad and the ugly” of 2013 and to note any “lessons learned” from the year.  

THE GOOD: naturally, the 10k road PR was the best running accomplishment for me in 2013. During that race I think I PR'd for 4-miles (19:41), matched my PR for 5 miles (24:46) and ran my fastest 5k since 2010 (15:13). I found myself running great workouts in 2013. I know a workout doesn't "equal" a race performance, but there were times (usually while running long) that I left the run knowing I was in good shape. 

THE BAD: work travel not only prohibits me from training consistently on the road, it also prohibits me from plotting a race season on a calendar, since I never know when I’ll be around. As a result, I believe I've found steady/stable employment for at least the first half of 2014.

THE UGLY: As much as I hate to admit it, 2013 also seemed to be a turning point, for the worse, in my running career. I found it harder and harder to recover after running fast and I accrued various niggles from all the turns associated with running on the track. It’s also harder and harder to run fast by maintaining the same training plan. For instance, in the past A+B = C, but now it’s as if A+B = C-1 (or C-2). I’ve also used the “treading water” analogy – I’m swimming as hard as I can against the current of a river, but I’m simply staying in the same spot. If I relax my training, for just a moment, I’m pushed backwards by the current. It takes all my effort to stay in place. Any effort to make strides against the current is met with fierce resistance and/or niggles/tweaks. It’s frustrating, for sure, by the only option is to keep on swimming.


Running hard on the oval breaks me. I need to either limit the amount of hard running I do (maybe max out at 3-miles of total repeats) on the track or forget the track altogether, which I’ve started to do.

Run hard on hard surfaces – not just tracks and grass.

Run more hills. You can never run enough hills. “Hills,” as Shorter once said, “are speed in disguise.” I run hills as often as I can, but not often enough.

Always have a training plan. Even if the plan is pending or tentative, it’s always good to have a plan.

On a personal (non-running) level, 2013 (actually starting late fall/winter 2012) was also a very tough year for me. I won’t go into any of that here, but there were tough days. But, of course, the year wasn’t all that bad. I field produced for Animal Planet in the backwoods of Maine in the summer, I trekked 60-miles in 5 days through Zion National Park in September and nearly completed the manuscript for my first (and last?) book, which is set to be published by The History Press in June, 2014. You'll be hearing more about this (probably too much) in the coming months. 

It was also good to be (mostly) injury free and use running as a constant source of pick-me-up and escape. Whether I was alone on the trails or with my teammates from GRC or with newfound friends in Santa Monica, CA, I always had running.

To 2014!


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