2010 Year End Review

The year in review.

Writing a running blog and having just a few days left in 2010, I’m pretty sure I’m required to write a year-end recap.  I’d like to keep my membership standing in the Writers Writing For An Audience of One Guild (or the WWFAAOOG), so here we go.

2010 was filled with a dizzying array of ups and downs, first time accomplishments, complete failures, and more than anything else: learning.  I learned a ton about myself as a runner, a father, a husband and a friend, and I can attribute a lot of that learning to my dedication to running.

The year started out high hopes and lots of goals.  I had just begun to run in September of 2009 and before that year was done, I had managed to go from sitting on the couch (both literally and figuratively) to running my first 5K, a second 5K and a 10K.  I was hooked, and I was loving every minute of it.  OK, not every minute of it.  December is cold.

By the end of 2009, I had decided to set two running goals for 2010:  complete a half marathon, and if that went well, train for a full marathon.  One of the nice things about the earliest parts of running is that you can set new personal records left and right since there’s no long history to compare.  Run 5 miles today?  New distance PR!

As January bled over into February, I began to ramp up mileage as I prepared for the Flying Pig Half Marathon.  During that same period of time, I learned about YakTrax, how much I hate running on a treadmill, and the need for nutrition during longer runs.  All new things to me.  By February, I had also put together a plan for the year, or at least for the major races.

As February gave way to March, I also got to have my first run in a different country:  the Bahamas.  This was a make-up trip for the one we had to cancel in November of 2009 when my older son got the dreaded H1N1 flu the night before the trip was to start.

This also started a period of time that was personally very difficult.  My father-in-law’s health had begun to decline pretty rapidly and there was a lot of worry about what was going on.  It was very tough for my wife to get good information about what the doctors were saying from 2000 miles away.  As the month came to a close, my wife was in Florida to be with her dad, who passed away on March 28th.  I’m not sure I’ll ever feel good about not making it to be by her side in time.

April was spent learning what the longer runs would feel like, and I even threw in a half marathon distance run to see where I really stood.  I also faced my very first taper leading up to the Flying Pig Half.  I think I can confidently say that I’m not a fan of the taper.  I’m surprised I wasn’t kicked out of my house.

On May 3rd, I ran my very first half marathon.  I completed the race in 1:56:14 which was just over a minute longer than I wanted it to be.  I learned some great lessons on that first big race about pacing, running through pain, the effects weather can have on performance, and, yes, about pride.  This would be the first big race where my sons and wife got to watch me run.  They, too, braved the rainy Sunday to cheer me on and it made a huge difference to me.  Reuniting with them after the race was one of my favorite moments of the year.  Seeing the pride my boys had for what I had worked hard to accomplish was priceless.

Having put together a respectable run at the Flying Pig, I turned my attention to marathon training through the summer.  The summer months went by in a blur of heat, humidity and baseball!  Both of my boys play baseball so we spent the majority of our time going to and from baseball fields all over the Cincinnati area.  My running continued to progress although I had to learn some hard lessons about running in the heat.  I also took some time to work on my form and even went to a sports nutritionist to find out just how badly I was doing fueling my body.

August brought two bright points to what was otherwise a long, hot slog through the summer:  deciding to run the Chicago Marathon for the charity Run For Dom, and my second half marathon, the Spirit of Columbus Half.

September started with my one year of running anniversary and the two 20 mile training runs that preceded the marathon.  I left the month feeling confident that the goals I had set for the marathon were within reach and that my training was right where it needed to be.

October turned out to be an extraordinary month.  It started with the Chicago Marathon on the 10th.  While I did complete the marathon, my performance was hampered by a knee injury that occurred a little past the halfway point.  Having never dealt with any type of training injury, I was thrown pretty hard by this.  I managed to gather myself and push through the final half, but I needed to alternate walking and running to get it done.  The highlight of the year for me was finding my family in the runner reunite area and being tackle-hugged by my boys and my wife.  My sisters, mother and father also surprised me by traveling to Chicago to cheer me on.  While I admit that my first reaction to my race performance was bitter disappointment, it didn’t take long for me to see just how much I gained from the experience and just how much I and my family learned from the road it took to get there.

Having to stop running for 6 weeks to let my knee heal seemed like a prison sentence when the doctor gave me the news.  But I took the opportunity to work on two areas I hadn’t spent any time on before:  cross training and strength training.  The rest of October and the entirety of November were spent improving those areas and staying away from any impact on my knee.  As I’ve been able to get back to running everyday in December, I can already see some positive results.  I’ve never felt better or stronger as a runner.

December 27th was the first day of marathon training for the Flying Pig on May 1, 2011 and I’m feeling good about being back on a plan.  It looks like I’ll finish 2010 having run 1362 miles.

How injury leads to better running

OK, I can’t say that I suggest you go out and injure yourself as a means to becoming a better runner, but I can tell you how it’s helped me.

I’m a pretty stubborn person, just ask my wife.  There are good aspects to being stubborn (like not backing away from a challenge) and bad aspects (like ignoring what’s best for you).  Had I not injured my knee in October, I’m certain that the stubborn side of me would have simply continued doing what I had been doing:  logging miles.  Don’t get me wrong, logging miles is an important part of distance running and something that can’t be skipped.  But, it’s only one part of what it takes to improve as a runner.  And prior to my injury, I pretty much ignored three other very important aspects that could have helped me get better.

  1. Cross training.  Prior to the injury, I did none of it.  I simply ran and ran and ran.  Anyone who has payed attention to running at all knows that cross training is very important.  It works muscles that aren’t used as much during running (even in your legs) and it reduces the amount of wear and tear on the tendons, ligaments and muscles in the hip, knee and foot.  Because I had to go a full month before I was allowed to run again, I was forced to give cross training a chance.  While I didn’t learn to love it, I now know I can put in time on the elliptical, bike and pool and benefit from it.  And maybe enjoy it, just a little bit.  My current training plan now includes cross training every week.
  2. Strength training.  Again, I pretty much ignored this while training for Chicago, and it may have played a part in the knee injury.  Underdeveloped quads (common to for runners) can allow the kneecap to float around too much under stress and cause injury.  And, at the end of long runs, I could feel my form starting to go south as my upper body and core strength were just not up for multiple hour efforts.  When your form deteriorates, you start to compensate  and you become far less less efficient.  Your injury risk  increases too, because compensation usually leads for terrible form.  Which brings me to …
  3. Running form.  This past summer, I attended a seminar on Chi Running, one of the handful of running form methods that attempt to help runners move from heel striking (and the injuries that can result) to midfoot/forefoot striking.  While I loved what I learned there, at the time I felt that I was hip-deep in marathon training and didn’t want to risk making a wholesale form change.  Looking back, maybe I should have.  As I have eased back into running, I’ve given myself the time and focus to change my form.  I wouldn’t say I’m 100% there yet, but it’s feeling more natural every day.

An interesting thing happened on the way back from injury.  Since October, I’ve really spent a lot of time cross training, strength training, and as I’ve eased back into running, getting my form right.  And wouldn’t you know it, my results are already reflecting those changes.  Last week alone, I had two 4 mile runs and a 7 mile run under 8:00 min/mile average pace.  To compare, prior to that, I had only ever had one run in my whole life with a sub 8:00 average.

It shouldn’t have taken an injury layoff to realize these things.  They were there, right in front of me all along, but I bullheadedly kept doing the same thing.  Someday, when up is down, and black is white, and dogs and cats peacefully co-exist, I’ll learn to be less stubborn.  Until then, I’m enjoying the benefits of teaching this old dog some new tricks.

    Ragnar bound

    A running friend on Daily Mile posted this call to arms (legs):

    CALLING ALL SUPER FREAKS!!! Trying to get a Ragnar Del Sol team together …

    While Rick James has nothing to worry about regarding my dancing skills, Arizona better prep for a fun team of Daily Milers running all over her soil. 200 miles from Wickenburg to Tempe, Arizona. There will be hills. And where there are hills, dales must follow. And water. And streets.

    Ragnar Del Sol Course Map
    The 2011 Ragnar Del Sol Course Map

    I’m committed. Or should be committed. Hard to tell.

    The 2011 Ragnar Relay, Del Sol. How soon til February?