Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Looking Back at 2015

Today I ran 4.6 miles on the treadmill.  I don’t plan to run tomorrow, so I’m closing the books on 2015.  Last January, I posted a list of goals for the year.  At the time, I fully expected to reach most, if not all, of these goals.  I got off to a good start.  Then everything changed when I suffered a groin strain in May.

After that injury, I had to make some difficult choices.  I needed six to eight weeks to fully heal.  One of my goal races was the Comrades Marathon, which was only four weeks away.  I skipped one race and bailed out halfway through another, but I started Comrades, knowing I wasn’t healthy.  I finished Comrades, but three weeks later, I had to bail out of the Bighorn Mountain 100 after only 30 miles.

After that, I had to make tougher choices.  I had dozens of races scheduled, and I had already booked flights or other non-refundable expenses for most of them.  Every month from July to November included an international trip.  Even if I just did the international races, I would never have enough time between races to fully heal.  Instead, I chose to tough out all of my remaining races, so I could reach a few of my big goals for the year.  It meant accepting slower times.  I was still racing almost every weekend, but I was no longer training.  That was a compromise.  I got out of shape.  That was something else I had to accept.

When all was said and done, I reached some goals, but had to abandon others.  Here’s how I did on each one.

Training Goals.

Improve Hamstring Flexibility – At the start of 2015, I was recovering from a minor hamstring injury.  Even before that, I had chronically tight hamstrings in both legs.  I healed from that injury, and I was beginning to make some progress on my flexibility.  The first groin injury, in May, forced me to stop doing what had been my most effective hamstring stretch.  I couldn’t stretch my left hamstring, even a little, without aggravating the groin injury in my right leg.  In physical therapy, I learned a different hamstring stretch.  Over the next several months, I started making progress again.  Then I tweaked my left hamstring while carrying my bags through the airport after a nine hour flight, on my way home from Hawaii.  Before long, I was noticing tight hamstrings in both legs.  My groin has finally improved enough that I can once again do the hamstring stretch I abandoned in May.  In the last few days, I’ve noticed significant improvement.  Still, I’m finishing the year pretty close to where I started.  I can’t say I made much progress on this front.

Speed Work – I’ve done almost no speed work for three years now.  I had hoped to resume speed work once I made enough progress on my hamstrings.  Instead, my groin injuries made things worse.  In addition to not doing speed workouts, I’m not even doing race pace workouts.  Also, my races got slower and slower.  I used to consider 8:00 to be race pace and speed work meant 7:00 pace or faster.  Now, I seldom run much faster than 11:00.  I can’t even attempt a fast mile without risking injury.  If I did, it’s unclear whether I could still break 8:00 on an all-out mile.  Clearly I moved backwards on this goal.

Increase My Mileage – I wanted to steadily increase my weekly mileage.  My goal for the year was 3,000 miles.  By the end of April, I already had 1,025 miles under my belt, and I was still ramping my weekly mileage.  Everything changed after the groin injury.  I eventually abandoned training entirely, still doing my races but rarely doing any other running.  I’ll finish the year with 2,298 miles.  Of that total, 1,554 were race miles, and only 744 were training miles.

Individual Races

Comrades Marathon (up) – This race was only four weeks after the first groin injury.  I wasn’t sufficiently healed, but I hadn’t lost too much fitness yet.  I had originally hoped to break nine hours, earing another Bill Rowan medal.  Under the circumstances, I did well to finish.  My time was 10:12.  While that’s not fast enough for a Bill Rowan medal, it still earned me a bronze medal.  I also earned my back-to-back medal.  This was an anniversary year, so they had special editions of both medals.

Bighorn Mountain 100 – If there’s one decision I regret, it my decision to attempt this race.  Had I skipped this race, I might have had time to finish healing before my grueling July schedule.  Surprisingly, my right leg didn’t hurt during the race.  It was my declining fitness and a lack of terrain-specific training that doomed my effort.  I dropped after 30 miles, when I realized it was only a matter of time before I missed a cut-off.  After this race, my right leg took a turn for the worse, and my left leg started to bother me as well.  There were times during the next few months when my left leg seemed worse than my right leg.  I did a lot of damage, and it was all for nothing.  I didn’t even finish that race.

Qualify for Boston – I already had a qualifier for the 2016 Boston Marathon, but I wanted to see if I could run a faster time.  I thought my best shot would be at the Revel Rockies Marathon, which is mostly downhill.  That race was in late July, when both legs were injured, and my fitness was declining.  I started at a good pace, but all the downhill running took a toll on my legs.  Without sufficient downhill training, I suffered in the late miles.  My time in this race was 3:51:50.  That’s my fastest time since the groin injury, but nowhere close to the 3:08:46 that I clocked on the same course in 2014.  My fastest race of the year was 3:23:30 at the Wicked Marathon in March.  I registered for the 2016 Boston Marathon using the 3:21:46 I ran in Philadelphia in October of 2014.  I’ve yet to qualify for the 2017 Boston Marathon.

Total Races

300 Lifetime Marathons – I made this goal an overriding priority.  I wanted to run my 300th marathon at the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon in November.  That meant grinding out marathons week after week for several months, despite two injured legs, declining fitness, and circulation issues in my legs.  As if that wasn’t difficult enough, I had to find ways to make up for races that I missed.  When the Rock ‘n’ Roll Savannah marathon was halted because of hot conditions, I had to fly to Atlanta that afternoon, so I could do a 50K race the next morning.  I did it.  I overcame numerous obstacles to stay on schedule.

52 Marathons in 2015 – This goal was actually a combination of two closely related goals.  First, I wanted do run at least 51 marathons, so I could qualify for the Marathon Maniacs Hall of Fame.  There are four ways to qualify.  I was going for three consecutive years with at least 51 marathons.  I already ran 53 in 2013 and 53 in 2014.  I could qualify by running at least 51 in 2015.  If I did just one more, it would give me 52 for the year, which would make 2015 the fourth straight year that I met at least one of the criteria for Titanium (10 stars).  After running my 300th marathon at Flying Monkey, I did six more in the next three weeks.  That brought my annual total to 51.  By then, I had already reached a different Titanium criterion.  Instead of doing 52 marathons, I ran marathons in at least 30 different states or countries.  While I didn’t actually reach my stated goal of 52 marathons, I reached the two underlying goals that mattered to me.

New Races, New Places

Minnesota Races – I have a lifetime goal of running every marathon in Minnesota.  I wanted to make progress toward this goal by running at least two more of the Minnesota races.  I dropped out of the Med City Marathon and cancelled plans to run the Blue Ox Marathon, but I still reached this goal, finishing the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon and the Dick Beardsley Marathon.

New Countries – I wanted to run marathons in at least two new countries.  I overachieved in this category, running marathons or ultras in Austria, Switzerland, Scotland, Portugal and Turkey.  I also ran marathons or ultras in South Africa and The Bahamas, but those weren’t new countries for me.

Diversify My Races

Trail Races – I challenged myself to move out of my comfort zone by doing more trail races.  Early in the year, I ran the Rocky Raccoon 50 mile race and the Rogue/Yeti Heartbreaker trail marathon.  Between those two races, I fell 11 times, but I rose to the challenge.  I wasn’t able to finish the Bighorn Mountain 100, but went on to finish other trail races, despite my injuries.  In July, I finished the Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon and the Swissalpine K78.  In August, I finished the Yeti Snakebite 50K, although I had originally planned to do the 50 mile version.  I can’t honestly say I made any progress in become a better trail runner, but the point was to go outside my comfort zone.  At that, I definitely succeeded.

Hills – I wanted to get better on hills.  Early in the year, I was making progress.  Then the groin injuries derailed my training.  While I didn’t get more proficient, I still took on some hilly races.  I’m proud to have finished the Swissalpine 78K, which crosses two Alpine passes.  I also chose a particularly hilly road race for my 300th marathon.

Stop and Smell the Roses

Take Pictures – I used to be reluctant to carry a camera during races.  I was afraid the extra weight would slow me down.  I was also afraid stopping to take to pictures would cost me too much time.  When injuries and lack of training ensured I couldn’t run fast anyway, I started carrying a camera in most of my races.  If you look at any of my recent race reports, you’ll see more photos.  I’ve enjoyed being able to share some of the things I’ve seen during races, particularly on the international trips.


Talk to Other Runners – Being forced to slow down also gave me more opportunities to talk to other runners.  On several occasions, I had opportunities to visit briefly with friends I don’t normally see during races.  I also had opportunities to make new friends.  In August, I was able to accompany a first time marathoner for all but the first few miles of the Wausau Marathon.  At the Ghost of Seattle Marathon, I ran several miles with a first time ultrarunner who was doing the 50K, even though I was doing the marathon.  At the St. Jude Memphis Marathon, I ran about 16 miles with my friend Scot.

I had one other significant accomplishment that wasn’t originally a goal for this year.  At the start of the year, I had run two or more marathons in every state except Alaska and Hawaii.  I wasn’t planning to do a race in Alaska this year, but the Moose’s Tooth Marathon fit nicely into my schedule, and I was able to get a free flight and two free hotel nights.  Later, I still needed a race for the second weekend in December.  That’s the weekend of the Honolulu Marathon, and I was able to get another free flight.  As a result, I finished a second circuit of marathons in all 50 states.

In summary, 2015 was hit and miss.  I worked hard to reach some goals, even as they became increasingly difficult.  I had to abandon other goals.  It was definitely a mixed bag.  If could go back and do it over again, I might do a few things differently, but I’d still make many of the same choices.

That said, I miss being able to race fast.  I miss being able to train hard.  I miss being able to just go for a run, without having to worry about hurting myself.  In the next few days, I’ll post my goals for 2016.  They’ll be different than this year’s goals.


  1. A tough year for you, for sure. But congratulations on those big goals that you achieved!

    1. Thanks, Sandy. I'm still working on my goals for 2016. They'll start with getting healthy. Everything else depends on that.