Saturday, December 31, 2016

Looking Back at 2016

At the beginning of the year, I posted my goals for 2016.  It’s time to take a look back at how I did. 

I often characterized 2016 as a “rebuilding” year.  At the beginning of the year, I couldn’t run without discomfort, and I couldn’t even walk normally.  I also had circulation issues in my legs.  Accordingly, my first five goals were in the category of getting healthy.

My first goal was to heal from the groin strain that started my downward spiral in 2015.  For most of January and February, I didn’t run at all.  In early February, I started physical therapy.  By then, I had healed from the original injury, but I had other problems.  Tendinopathy was preventing me from using my glutes, causing them to become weak.  Months of running and walking with my hips locked caused other muscles around my hips to become weak as well.  Finally, after months of neglecting my core muscles, I couldn’t maintain my balance if I tried to stand on one leg.  I had to rebuild everything.

By the last day of February, I had made enough progress in physical therapy that I could begin running.  It took concentration to run with proper mechanics.  I felt like a toddler learning to walk.  I also had no power in my stride.  I couldn’t run anywhere close to my old marathon pace – even for a few minutes.

After months of physical therapy, I finally got back to the point where I could run and walk normally.  By late summer, I could finally run and have it feel normal.  It took time, but I made a full recovery.

My second goal was to improve the circulation in my legs.  My legs got usually stiff whenever I was inactive.  At night, I also experienced cramps after waking up and trying to move my legs.  At first, it seemed mysterious.  I eventually came to realize it was a circulation issue.  My symptoms began after I was no longer able to train.  I was fine when I was running regularly, but without that daily exercise, I became much more sensitive to temperature and inactivity.

After running about a dozen blood tests to rule out other possible causes, my doctor came to the same conclusion.  It was most likely a worsening of the Raynaud’s Syndrome that I’ve had since childhood.  He gave me a prescription.  It helped.  I no longer had cramps at night, but I still got stiff after a period of inactivity.  I had to have faith that my legs would get better when I could get enough exercise.  First, I had to get healthy.  It wasn’t until summer that I was finally running enough for my circulation to improve.  Since then, I’ve felt OK.  That’s a huge relief.

My next goal was to wean myself off of Benadryl.  For years I took one every night to help me get to sleep.  When traveling, I took two.  Having already weaned myself off of prescription medications to cope with my insomnia, I wanted to see if I could stop taking Benadryl too.  Early in the year, I wasn’t traveling to any races, so it seemed like a good time.

It was rough at first.  I had more than a few restless nights, but I gradually got to the point where I could sleep OK without it.  I still sometimes take Benadryl when I’m traveling, but I rarely take it at home.

My last two health-related goals for 2016 were interrelated.  I wanted to lose weight, and I wanted to get back in the habit of eating healthier foods.  When I couldn’t run, I sometimes got depressed.  It’s tough to get serious about a diet when you’re not getting any exercise.  I felt like it was hopeless.  I kept telling myself I’d get serious about the diet once I was running enough to have a fighting chance.  By late spring I was making progress on my weight.  Then I hit a plateau.

During all the months that I was racing with injuries, I gave up on most forms of training.  Almost anything I did seemed to aggravate the groin injury.  That included weight training.  For the first time since college, I wasn’t doing any weight training.  By the time I was finally healthy enough to resume my weight training, I had lost a great deal of upper body strength.  That meant I also lost some of my lean mass.

I haven’t had a body composition analysis since my 20s, so I have no way of knowing how much lean mass I lost.  As I started regaining lean mass, it offset the fat I was losing, so I was no longer seeing much change in my total mass, despite my best efforts to lose the fat.  I was actually making progress, but I got discouraged again.  The realization that I actually put on much more fat than I initially realized was hard to take.  After that, I still made a half-hearted effort to watch what I ate, but I was basically treading water.  I didn’t gain much weight, but I also didn’t lose any.  I’m still about seven pounds above my goal weight, and I probably haven’t regained all of the lean mass I lost.

I do best at dieting when I keep a log of everything I eat.  I also keep track of total calories, and how much is from fat, carbohydrates, and protein.  It’s a fair amount of work to come up with the numbers, and it forces me to forgo eating most restaurant foods.  I can do it, but I have to be highly motivated.  Keeping track of everything keeps me honest.  I’m less apt to have that extra snack.  I’m more apt to make better food choices.  Unfortunately, I lacked sufficient motivation to continue keeping track.

Eating healthy means different things to different people.  To me, it means limiting saturated fats, avoiding trans fats, eating more fruits and vegetables, and favoring whole grains over refined flour and sugar.  When I’m logging everything I eat, I not only limit my total calories, but also eat healthier foods.  When I don’t, I tend to fall back into old habits.

I think I improved my eating habits in one or two areas.  For example, I eat more salads.  Overall, however, I think I fell short in this goal as well.

Once I was healthy enough, I wanted to get back in shape.  I had four goals in this category.  The first was to get back into a regular training habit.  Before the groin injury, I used to run five days a week, and most of my runs were at least 10 miles.  It took me until early summer before I could run10 miles without it feeling like a really big deal.  It took until late summer before I could run 10 miles and have it feel easy.  After another month or two, I finally got back to 10 miles being routine.

It took almost all year to get back to running five days a week.  At first, I alternated between running days and PT days.  When my legs were strong enough, I switched to running two days and doing PT and/or weight training every third day.  Now, finally, I run most days.  In December, I finally logged a 50 mile week that didn’t include a marathon.  I hope to keep that going into the new year.

Next, I wanted to pick up the pace of my runs.  I used to all my training at an eight minutes/mile pace or faster.  Speed workouts were much faster.  When I resumed training last March, I couldn’t run an eight minute mile to save my life.  After making enough progress with PT, I was eventually able to run a single eight minute mile on the treadmill, but it felt like an all-out sprint. 

I’m still not to the point where I can run eight minute miles for long distances, unless it’s downhill.  Before breaking my rib, I was doing 10 mile runs at an 8:45 pace.  After that injury, I had to slow down, but I’m back to running 10 miles at a 9:30 pace.  I’ll get there eventually.

During the summer, I was doing occasional speed workouts.  After doing a couple downhill races, I had to back off from speed workouts.  Since then, I’ve put more emphasis on building my mileage base.  I’ll refocus on speed work when I have a better base.

My last two goals for getting in shape were more specific.  First, I wanted to bring my marathon time back under four hours.  Then, if possible, I wanted to qualify for the 2017 Boston Marathon.  I broke four hours at the Frank Maier Marathon in late July.  That turned out to be the first of five consecutive sub-4 hour marathons.  I’ve had a few slower races since then, but consistency will come when I have a better training base.

Qualifying for Boston was much tougher.  Last April, I dragged myself through the Boston Marathon in 5:09 with barely more than 100 miles of training.  I only had four months until registration would begin for next year’s race.  I needed a time of 3:40 to qualify.  To actually get into the race, I needed to be a few minutes faster.  In April, it seemed like a real long shot.  By June, it seemed possible.  I scheduled two downhill races to give myself a better chance.  In September, I qualified at the Super Tunnel Marathon with a time of 3:36:39.  That alone makes me feel like 2016 was a successful year.

My next goal was to finish the World Marathon Majors by running the Berlin Marathon in September and the Chicago Marathon in October.  Ideally, I wanted to qualify for Boston in both races, since I was able to do that in the other four majors.  I’m not yet to the point where I can qualify on a flat course, much less do it consistently, but I did manage to break four hours in both races.

Finally, I had two goals in the “New Races, New Places” category.  First I wanted to do at least two Minnesota races that I had never done before.  I ended up with three.  I ran the Med City Marathon in Rochester, day seven of the Heartland Series in Albert Lea, and the Minnesota Indoor Marathon in St. Michael.

My other “New Races, New Places” goal was to run marathons in at least two new countries.  I’ve raced in Germany before, so the Berlin Marathon didn’t give me a new country, but I also ran the Prague Marathon in the Czech Republic and the Auckland Marathon in New Zealand.

I fell short in a few of my goals, but I’m still pleased with the progress I made.  Simply being able to go out for a run and have running feel natural is something you take for granted until you find yourself unable to do it.  I can run again.  I’m not as fast as I used to be, but I’m improving.  That makes 2016 a success.

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