2013 recap; 2014 preview

It’s time once again to both take a look back and attempt to peer forward at the year to come. Overall, 2013 was an excellent year for my running. But there were a few major low points as well, to even out the mix. Let’s start with the highs:

Ultras: I think my big story of 2013 was my growth as an ultra-distance runner. I ran four organized events and four ultra-distance runs on my own. Despite some significant setbacks (which I’ll get to in a minute), I’m very proud of what I did this year. One of the highlights was running the Singletrack Maniac 50k a mere seven days after finishing the brutal Promise Land 50k++, and coming in 13th place overall. And even though many of the races didn’t go as well as I would have liked, most of the solo long runs were amazing experiences that I will remember for a very long time.

New friends: As I immersed myself into the ultra world, I made some friendships that have been quite meaningful to me. Ultra people are the friendliest people you’ll meet (if not the sanest), and I’ve really enjoyed being a part of that world this year. As I step away from organized ultra-running in 2014, I am most saddened by the thought of not meeting up with these folks at races.

Fitness: I have been very fortunate to be able to avoid injury this year despite significantly increased mileage. The secret was running most of my runs at an easy pace and not really doing any speedwork. My conservative approach meant I lost top-end speed but was able to run longer and more comfortably than ever before. The most exciting thing for me is that this year of base building has really boosted my overall fitness, and now that I’m starting to play with speed a little more I am returning to levels of fitness that I wasn’t sure I’d see again. 

Easy running: The easy running I mentioned above allowed me to experience two of the most enjoyable and meaningful runs of my life. First, I helped pace the 3:45 group at the Richmond Marathon, and then two weeks later I ran the Turkey Trot 10k with a friend as we represented a veterans group with which we are involved. Neither race was about speed, but I found both to be extremely rewarding because I was running for something beyond myself. There will definitely be more of this in my future.

And now, the lows:

My stomach: Both my biggest highs of the year and my biggest lows were tied to ultra-running. There were three critical moments in which my stomach failed me – at Promise Land (I still finished), during my solo attempt at 50 miles (I stopped at 37) and during the Seashore 50k (I DNF’d). Without rehashing it all here, I’ll just say that it is immensely frustrating as an aspiring ultra-runner to have the fitness to cover the distance but to be cut short repeatedly by a propensity to become severely dehydrated and ill. Every road of inquiry for a solution has led nowhere, and it’s the reason I am pulling back from ultras this year. It’s very difficult to step away from something that generally brings me joy, but the fact that I love it so much makes the continued failures that much harder for me to bear.

And now, here are the goals I laid out for myself at the beginning of the year, and how I fared in each category:

Ultra: My meager goal at the outset of 2013 was to run two ultra-distance events. Having completed 7 runs longer than a marathon this year, I’d say this goal was achieved. I didn’t set a distance PR, though – my longest run this year was 37 miles.

PR: I didn’t set any PRs this year in races that I had run previously. But I only set out to “race” one time in 2013 (at Seashore), and that one didn’t turn out so well. Most of the rest of the year was devoted to easier running.

Race: Looking back now, I just realized that I entered more events this year (9) than I have run in any previous year. So it looks like I met my goal of participating in several races, even if I wasn’t running them hard.

Mileage: This year’s 1,766 miles is 465 more than last year’s 1,301, which was my highest year ever. It’s a full 1,000 miles more than I ran in 2011, which was the first year I started logging my miles and my biggest running year up to that point. Given the general constraints of my family and work life, I am very pleased with my mileage this year. As I’ve said before, I don’t chase numbers, but the miles add up naturally as my training and ability increase.

Run with my daughter: Done. It was wonderful, and we are already talking about which races to do together this year. She says she wants to run every weekend that there’s a race.

With ultras off the table at this point, I don’t have a clear plan for what I’d like to accomplish this year. But here are a few thoughts:

10k PR: Although I’m sad about stepping away from ultras, I’m excited to focus again on shorter road races. It’s a literal change of pace from the past 16 months and I’m looking forward to testing myself again. To that end, I’ve hired a coach to help me train to break the 40-minute barrier at the Monument Avenue 10k in March.

Road racing: An extension of the previous thought, I hope to run several road races this year, and actually try to race them. (Of course I’m nowhere near fast enough to challenge for a top spot, but by “racing” I mean I hope to challenge my own PRs and perhaps vie for age-group placement at smaller races.) I plan to run a 15k in a few weeks and perhaps get in a few more shorter races in the spring. I’m not thinking past the spring season just yet – I’m not sure what the fall will bring.

Long runs: I still have a love for running long, and I am not leaving it behind altogether. I’ve had my coach formulate my 10k training plan to allow me to run the Instant Classic Trail Marathon during the cycle, and I would gladly accept an invitation to pace at the Richmond Marathon again this year. Also, I really can’t foresee making it through the year without running a solo ultra or two. And there’s still the cloud of an incomplete 50-miler that continually hangs over my head . . .

Representing: Whether racing or not, I’d like to participate in a few events this year while representing the veterans group I mentioned above – Operation Enduring Warrior. This will be particularly meaningful for me as my little brother (who’s not so little anymore) heads off to begin his service in the U.S. Army at the beginning of February.

Take the summer off: With the combination of my stomach issues in warmer weather and the fact that my daughter is out of school, I’m allowing myself to step back from running during the summer. It will be my off season, and I’m OK with that. Last summer I even took a lengthy break from DailyMile during the summer so I could allow myself to remove my focus from running, since I wasn’t doing much of it anyway. As a result, I had an amazing summer with my daughters and never regretted the fact that I wasn’t hitting a certain mileage. This is what will happen again this year.

Thanks for reading, and I’m looking forward to a strong and exciting 2014 for myself and all of my running friends!

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