A random rainy Tuesday night, lounging on the couch next to Ash, the resident "Tiny Kitten," as he kneads away at a blanket, after a little run in the rain, seems like as good a time and place to do something I've been putting off for a while now, which is a brief retrospective of being 28, and what that entailed (running-wise, anyway).
To put it briefly, this was a year of quite possibly the highest highs and lowest lows that I've ever experienced as a runner, often in close succession. In other words, it was a good year. Let's recap, chronologically:
Hellgate 2009: A big bad DNFing disaster, precipitated by physical and emotional turmoil, I left with the resolution to finish this race someday (as is the resolution I'll be making with all the races where I DNFed).
Club Challenge 2010: Finished in something like 1:06, not at all what I was hoping to do there. To be fair, I had just run 20+ miles the day before, and that didn't go very well, so there was only so much that I could hope for in an all-out 10-mile war.
National Marathon 2010: Kept the completion streak alive (starting with the first-ever National Marathon in 2006), but the "go faster every time" streak ended this year, as I hit the wall around Mile 15, and ended up finishing 3:15ish. Probably the best I've ever done in the context of a "crash," though.
Boston Marathon 2010: Finally, a good race! 2:58:33, which, while not a PR, is only about a minute off from my marathon PR, and ended up being a huge confidence boost, considering how badly the National Marathon went.
Frederick Marathon 2010: In what may have been the last ever running of this race, ironically enough, the heat, which I had been fastidiously training for in anticipation of Badwater, was my downfall at this race, as I hit the wall between mile 14-15, and struggled to come in under 3:50, with cripplingly painful cramps turning the last mile into a deathmarch.
Bel Air Town Run 5K: You know, I could look this up and tell you how I did, but honestly, I don't remember. And the important thing is, I did it again, putting the streak at 15 years straight.
Western States 2010: The goal was to go under 24 hours here. Mission accomplished, in 23 hours and change. It was a hard fight, though; I blew out my quads on the downhills, and the last 20-ish miles were brought to you in part by my angel of a pacer, who endured more loud cursing than anybody navigating the woods at night with a headlamp should ever be subjected to.
Badwater 2010: Perhaps the most high-profile achievement of the year, two weeks after Western States, a solid training effort brought me into Badwater even stronger than I had been for Western States. Although I was plagued by stomach issues, my top-notch crew fought to keep me in the race, and I finished 17th, in about 34 and a half hours, resolved to come back even stronger next year.
Summer Beast of Burden 100 2010: My first ever 100-mile race win, and a PR in 16:19 and change (which I believe is at least two hours "soft"), this was perhaps the pinnacle of my fitness, and arguably my greatest running achievement.
The Ring: This went well for about 30 miles, until I got lost, went about 15 miles off course in nowhere near the right direction, and wound up having to DNF.
North Coast 24-Hour Run: My heart and mind said yes, but my feet said no. Fallen arches made running excruciatingly painful, and after 50 miles in about 8 hours, I decided that was quite enough.
Grindstone 2010: What I had hoped would be a marquee event for me became an unmitigated disaster, as a combination of physical and emotional fatigue caused me to drop out after a little over 20 miles.
Oil Creek 2010: Two weeks after Grindstone, with less of the emotional issue, but more of the physical issue, and ultimately, the same result.
Army 10-Miler: The important thing is, I finished this race in under 7-minute mile pace. My legs were really dead, but the "party" afterwards was worth it.
29th Birthday Run: Okay, not an official race, and technically not run when I was 28, but I completed 29+ miles on my 29th birthday, in the first 3 hours and 50 minutes of being 29. No, not blazingly fast, but hey, I finished!
Both Satchel Paige and Boston have advised against looking back, but considering how much has happened in the past year, I'd be remiss not to look at all of this, and draw some conclusions about where I've been, and where I'd like to go. My top 5, as food for thought:
1. My greatest successes came about as a result of an obsessive level of control over my training schedule. Boston and Beast of Burden, besides being alliterative, were the races where, objectively, my finishing times were the best. I don't think it's a coincidence that, in the month before these races, I developed, and followed to the letter, a rigorous training plan, focused on the race.
2. The focus on "experience" was one major contributing factor to my failures. In every case where I failed to live up to expectations, I went into the race with less of a focus on the training plan (see #1) and more of a focus on "giving it a shot," and "getting some experience." I always got what I bargained for.
3. The high level of activity in my life in general was the other major contributing factor to my failures. Between school, work, and home, there were enough distractions to keep me from being able to focus on (and during) races, to complete training as planned, and to get enough rest to make the training pay off.
4. My best performances most likely would have been better on better rest. I've demonstrated a pretty large capacity for work, even under stressful circumstances. What I haven't had enough of is the opportunity to rest.
5. I have a far deeper understanding of the "tiny details" that are a major part of a successful race. In reflecting on my failures, I could write pages and pages about the things I did wrong that contributed to the outcome. In the past, I've had a fair amount of success, somewhat by accident, and I didn't have as much to consider as I do now. In the coming years, in planning for races, I'll have far more experience to draw from, and I'll be able to take many more steps to increase the probability of a favorable outcome.
So enough of that . . . what's next?
Having reflected on this past year, I've decided that, since school will no longer be a burden on my free time in 2011, my goal will be to systematically set PRs in the following major distances: 5K, 10 mile, marathon, and 100-mile (and at the 100-mile distance, this may well mean winning the race). How I plan to do this is the subject of another post, but I'll be starting with the 5K, and my goal race is the Resolution Run 5K in Patterson Park on New Year's Day, 2011. My 5K PR is something like 18:20, so let's say at least sub-18 for the 5K. In the weeks ahead, I'll be posting about progress towards that goal, and if something else funny or exciting happens, I might post about that, too.