Self-doubt and the 1,000-mile year – part II

On Christmas Eve 2014, I ran my 1,000th mile of the year.

This year, I had a lot of goals that didn’t pan out. I didn’t run a marathon. I didn’t set PRs in any significant distances. I was on track for both of those things until I had some problems with my right leg in June and July that had me convinced that I had compartment syndrome or some other significant injury. After about a month of very low mileage and physical therapy, I worked through those issues, but my confidence as a runner was completely shot. I had made it for so long without getting injured and finally thought I had it all figured out. The experience really shook me and made me wonder if running was worth it anymore.

But somehow, almost without meaning to, I managed to keep doing it.

Last year, I declared that I wanted to run 1,000 miles in 2014 after finishing with a slightly disappointing 912 in 2013. I’d pretty much given up on that goal until about late October, when I realized it was somehow still possible as long as I ran an average of 22 miles per week until the end of the year. In the absence of other running achievements, that goal became not only a focus but a slight obsession. And yesterday, in the middle of the annual Christmas Eve Harvard Hill run that my friends do every year, I achieved it.

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Group shot after the brutal Harvard Hill run

1,000 miles isn’t a big deal in the grand scheme of things. It’s just a number. I have a lot of friends who run less than that and a lot of friends who run more than that. But regardless, for me, 19-20 miles a week, every week, for an entire year isn’t something that just accidentally happens. It requires a degree of persistence, dedication and commitment. It requires a lot of flexibility in my schedule. It requires a strength-training and stretching routine to prevent injury. It requires somewhat decent nutrition, not to mention a lot of coffee🙂. It requires running when I don’t want to, and finding a way to run when it’s too cold, too hot (not that it’s ever too hot here in Michigan!), too icy, too windy, etc. It forces me to take it easy on myself and slow down the pace for most of my runs.

And this year, I can finally say that I did it! And I’m pretty damn happy about that. I know there are a lot of people out there who are happy for me, too — specifically, the people I run with, because they’re all so sick of me talking about my 1,000-mile goal that they’ll probably bash me in the knees with a pipe if I ever bring it up again.

Now that I’ve reached my goal, it’s time to take a week off from pounding the pavement. In the past couple years, I’ve only taken that much time off when I need to because I’m injured or on the verge of getting injured. This time, I’m doing it because I want to, and because I can. I want to start the new year fresh and ready for a new beginning.

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On winter running: I take that back.

Well. It’s been awhile. But I assure you, not blogging doesn’t mean I haven’t been Pure Michigan running.  It’s just that life has been too crazy lately to do anything extracurricular. Mostly good crazy, with a little bad crazy mixed in.

As I write this, I’m on a plane somewhere over the Rockies for a week -long event in southern California. Needless to say, I brought my running stuff with me this time. Because in case you actually live in southern California, you might have noticed that running this season has been a bit…challenging. Challenging to the point that when I look back over this entry (about my hatred of winter running) I am tempted to laugh. When I wrote that, I was complaining about running in 25-degree weather with a little smattering of snow. And you know how the expression goes: write snarky blog entries about the weather, and god laughs.

Because then, this happened.

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And then, this happened.

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It was the snowiest January on record thus far in my city – as in, ever, in the history of weather.  And also one of the coldest. If you’re lucky enough not to live here, try to imagine a traffic-paralyzing blizzard about every week, sometimes two, followed by temps that have regularly been dropping well below zero, turning all the snow into blocks of ice. Try to imagine snowbanks that get higher and higher with every blizzard and never melt, gradually shrinking parking lots and driveways until they completely disappear. And try to imagine sidewalks and paths that are covered with a thick layer of ice covered by a thick layer of snow, covered with a thick layer of ice, covered with a thick layer of infinity.

So, yeah, my blog in December. LOLZ! Running in a 25-degree snow squall seems kind of like a tropical vacation at this point.

Many days this winter, running outside has been dangerous and even downright impossible. Twice, I bailed halfway through long runs because the sidewalks and roads had become completely impassible.  And the cold is even worse. Yesterday I did an 8-mile run when the temperature ranged between 5 and 7 degrees – the actual temperature, not the windchill. Sure, I was bundled up like a newborn in a snowsuit, but the crazy thing? I’ve gotten so used to the bitter cold that 5 degrees didn’t even feel THAT bad.

Somehow I managed to cover about 85 miles in January, but many of those miles were done on the treadmill (that is, when my gym wasn’t closed for severe weather). I don’t mind the treadmill, but running on the treadmill for the occasional jog-sprint-jog-sprint interval workout and running 20 miles a week on the treadmill because of ice-snow-ice-snow intervals are two different things.

There’s no point in complaining about the weather, but this year I just can’t seem to help it. I am so sick of the treadmill! I am so sick of hiking over piles of snow from unshoveled sidewalks! I am so sick of frozen eyelashes and near-frostbitten skin! I am so sick of winter running, and for the first time in recent history, I’m not alone. Even my most hardcore Michigan running peeps are sick of it as well.

I don’t know what my non-work schedule will look like this week, but I am more than ready to get in some SoCal miles and some fresh air.

And the best part is that I packed all my running essentials, so I don’t ever have to go back home.

(Edited to add: I lied! I’m on my way home. I was right, the weather in SoCal was absolutely stunning. Unfortunately, my meeting schedule was just as stunning, and my only running opportunities were at 5:30 a.m., so I ran on the treadmill for three days straight. I didn’t have a headlamp, and running alongside a San Diego boulevard alone in the dark was a Mercedes vs. Pure Michigan Runner incident waiting to happen.)

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Winter running: Which way is the ski lodge?

You probably can’t tell by the title of this blog, but I live in Michigan. I love my home state, but it has one major problem – and no I’m not talking about the Detroit Lions.

Winters.

Winters here SUCK.

I grew up in the east coast/mid-Atlantic region, and sure, we had winter. But it’s just…different here. Yes, it snowed and sleeted and iced in Baltimore, and I owned a winter coat and gloves and snow pants. But I don’t remember a bitter, biting, windy, frostbite-inducing cold season that lasted from November to March. Maybe it’s the relative lack of civilization to block the elements, but there’s something about the weather here that makes me want to curl up under a blanket with a giant mug of whiskey hot tea until Memorial Day. Or the 4th of July? This year I wore gloves to a Memorial Day parade.

Sometimes I feel like the only person in the upper Midwest who hates winter. And, even more so, the only runner who hates winter. Most of my running friends revel in running through the cold, snow and ice, with their hearty collections of Gore-Tex, Yaktraxx and creepy wind-blocking face masks. They see it as a badge of honor to come back from a long run with icicles hanging from their winter beards. OK…so maybe I just need some female running friends.

But no matter how hard I try, I can’t learn to tolerate it, much less love it. Cold-weather running and I just do not get along. I’d actually prefer to run on a 90-degree day than a 20-degree day. Compounding (or perhaps contributing to) my hatred of the cold is the fact that I have Raynaud’s Phenomenon, a circulation disorder that affects the fingers and toes and increases the chance of frostbite. My hands and feet go numb and purple when the temperature drops below about 50F. It’s really uncomfortable and painful. I’ve seen a few doctors for it and they tell me, “you can take medicine for it that will cause lots of dangerous complications, or you can stop being an idiot and stay inside.”

My friends all say they warm up after 15-20 minutes in the cold. For some reason, that never happens to me.

In the past, I did most of my winter running on the treadmill. Last season I found myself in a situation where my only option for fitting in runs was at lunchtime, and I didn’t have access to a treadmill at work. So I decided I needed to “man up” (OK I definitely need some female running friends) and learn how to run in Michigan. I went to REI and spent a small fortune on a running jacket, tights, shoe treads, a headband, a mask, a headlamp, re-usable hand warmers, and puffy down gloves. Yes, you read that right – I run in freaking SKI GLOVES. I look like a clown.  But the astronaut gloves, combined with the hand warmers, work to keep my fingers from turning black and falling off in the 40 minutes I’m out on the roads.

Needless to say, I have no interest in ever actually going skiing. Unless there’s a ski lodge with a stocked bar that I can sit at while everyone else skis.

Today it was 19F when I started my 9-mile run, and 17F when I finished. I couldn’t run from home because my route is along a wide open field, and there’s nothing to block the wind. So I drove to the gym, parked there, ran 6 miles, stopped at my car for a gel, promptly said “f this” and finished the last 3 miles inside, on the treadmill.

OK, so I’m not quite a cold weather runner just yet.

But at least I got to watch the Detroit Lions game while running – and they have much bigger problems than I do.

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Self-doubt and the 1,000-mile year

On New Year’s Day 2013, I declared that I was going to run 1,000 miles before year’s end.

The problem? I didn’t actually think I could do it.

A 1,000-mile year involves running about 19 miles a week. For a lot of my running friends, that’s a recovery week blindsided by the stomach flu. Not me. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d run anything close to that number in a 7-day span. I was so scared of injury and running on tired legs that I’d rarely, if ever, run two days in a row. I ran 3 or 4 days a week with relative consistency, and did a lot of cross-training to supplement my runs (swimming, cycling, circuit training, yoga). And it was working for me – I had, that fall, set a nice PR in the 10K and run my second-fastest half-marathon ever.

But my weekly mileage usually topped out around…12. So for no apparent reason I decided that 1,000 miles seemed like a reasonable goal. It was like those SMART goals that they tell you to set at work: specific, measurable, and I totally ignored the rest.

A lot of recreational runners complete 1,000 miles in a year, so it’s certainly not an outlandish target. However, I failed to put the work into figuring out how to run that much. I simply made the declaration that I would run 1,000 miles, and continued running as I always had. I tracked all my runs on Dailymile with diligence, but I didn’t complete a single 19-mile week until late February.

Then I had a sucky, but thankfully short bout with plantar fasciitis in the spring. I didn’t run a single step for a week, and upon starting again, I was scared to ramp up too quickly so I took it easy for like…a month and a half. (Note that I wasn’t making excuses. I WANTED to run, and I still cross-trained, but I was just too cautious to run very much).

Coming back slowly after injury: smart. Taking 6 weeks to ramp up after 6 days off: not unlike my great-grandmother.

It wasn’t until July-ish that something clicked in my brain and my legs. I ran a few days in a row and I was fine. Then I took a rest day and ran a few more days in a row. Hey…I COULD run two days in a row, and if I was smart (or SMART?) about it, it actually wasn’t going to kill me. As long as I kept my runs easy, continued to stretch every day, took rest days, and did the appropriate leg and core strength training, I was fully capable of running a 20-mile week.

Then I ran a 22-mile week. Then a 24. Then a 25, a 28…and god forbid, two 30-plus mile weeks in a row.

So now it’s December 6, and my current total for the year is 840 miles. Which means that with little effort and a bit of luck, I’ll easily hit 900+ miles for the year.

When I set my 1,000-mile goal on January 1, deep down in my running soul, I thought I was lying to myself. I did not think I was physically capable of coming anywhere close to 1,000 miles. I certainly didn’t think I’d hit 900 miles. Or even 800.

Which is a little frustrating, because now that I’ve come so close, I know I could have done it. A little more self-confidence and a couple more 30-mile weeks and I’d be closing in on 1,000 as we speak.

But, while a bit disappointing, I can’t look at it as a failure. 2013 has been a learning experience in so many facets of my life, including running. It’s been the strangest of my 33 years on the planet, and the lessons I learned over the past three hundred…something days (OK, clearly I didn’t learn any math lessons) will stay with me for the rest of my life.

I can do this. And, in a few short weeks, the clock is being reset.

2014. 1,000 miles. This time, it’s happening.

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Detroit International Half-Marathon (Race Report) – 1:45:52

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I don’t have any actual pictures from the race, but this is kind of like a race picture because you can see Windsor in the background. But also not, because I’m wearing bike shorts. #wtf

The Detroit Free Press/Talmer Bank international half-marathon is awesome. You start in Detroit, run to Canada and back, and then run through some cool and diverse neighborhoods in downtown Detroit. 2013 was my fifth time running the race, and I’ve never had a bad experience.

Well, except for this:

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There was a small incident during packet pick-up the day before, but all international sanctions against me have now been lifted.

My “A” goal was 1:45, and my “B” goal was a PR (sub-1:49:51, which I set back in 2006). I really wanted that 1:45, but I knew it was going to be close. I had a fantastic training cycle with two of my highest-mileage months ever. But I was also having some issues with my right hamstring cramping up on long runs, which I was almost certain would be a factor in this race.

I also tend to be a head case when it comes to pacing myself during half marathons. I’ve always been more of a short long-distance runner. I can knock out a sub-7 pace for a 5K with no problem, but in halfs I’m always afraid of going out too fast and started way too conservatively. I’ve always negative-split my halfs, starting at a 9:00 pace and ending at a 7:30 pace. Negative splits are great and all, but they were also proof I wasn’t living up to my potential. I tried two times over the past year to break the 1:50 barrier and couldn’t get there.

My training for this race was different. Instead of focusing on speedwork, I focused on miles. As a single parent who works full-time, it’s physically impossible for me to run more than about 35 miles per week, so I targeted that number for my peak weeks and typically hovered between 25-30. Instead of capping out at 12 miles like I’d normally do when training for a half, I did two 13-milers, two 15-milers and a 16-miler. I ran 95% of my miles slow and easy to prevent injury. Two weeks before the race, I began experiencing an issue with my right leg locking up a few miles into each run. It wasn’t painful (more like a tightness than a cramp), but it was uncomfortable and definitely slowed me down.

When it comes to the actual running part of the race, I don’t have much to say. It was mostly a blur, and I don’t have accurate splits because Nike+ on my iPhone stopped working halfway through. Thankfully I wore a stopwatch (1995-style!) as a backup so I could still keep my eye on the time. Sure thing, my leg locked up around mile 7, and I ran through it, keeping my pace pretty consistent but not speeding up as much as I’d have liked to.

In the last few miles of the race, I did more math in my head than I’d done in 12 years of primary school, 4 years of college and 3 years of grad school combined (sorry, mom). Because I was dragging my useless leg behind me like a wounded horse, I didn’t have much of a kick left in me, but somehow I managed to cross the finish line before the 1:46 mark. I was elated and frustrated at the same time, because the second I stopped running the leg loosened up and felt fine.

It was almost as if I hadn’t just run a half-marathon at an 8:05 pace.

The Aftermath
It’s been a couple of weeks since Detroit and I’ve had plenty of time to overanalyze my performance. Overall, I’m pleased with how it all went down. I set a PR of about 4 minutes and I didn’t poop my pants — so I’d call that a success all around.

What I’m struggling with, though, is the “what now.” I trained really, really hard for this race, and I pushed my body to the limit during it. I’d like to say I have a faster 13.1 in me, but probably not much faster. My improvements at this point would be incremental at best; despite what McMillan says (1:38 WHAT?!) I do not think I am capable of breaking the 1:40 barrier at the level I’m currently able to train.

I still have a lot of thinking to do about what’s next. I’m debating a spring marathon (I KNOW!) and, hopefully, a sub-4. But for now, I’m enjoying the off-season.

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