Happy New Year’s!
It’s once again time to look back at how I did on my goals for the year. At the start of the year, I was recovering from a broken rib. Other than that, I was getting back in shape after a bumpy 2016, and I was feeling optimistic about the new year. Early in the year, I reached a couple of my goals, and I was making good progress toward others. Then everything changed. During the Coeur d’Alene Marathon, I noticed some weird chest pains that I eventually learned were symptoms of a herniated disc. I didn’t do much running after that, yet I still did surprisingly well at hitting most of my goals.
Bighorn Mountain 100
This was my biggest goal for the year. It was going to be my third try at this race. In 2014, I was pacing myself well and feeling good when I fell into a mountain stream during the night. I got hypothermic and had to drop out after 48 miles. In 2015, I returned, but I was still recovering from a groin strain. It was a bad idea to start the race that year. I stopped after 30 miles. I made my injury worse.
They say the third time’s the charm, right? Well, apparently not for me. This year, I didn’t even make it to the starting line. It was three days before this race that I learned I needed to have back surgery. I didn’t even make the trip to Wyoming. While other runners were lining up to start the race, I was in the operating room.
My biggest goal of the year turned out to be my biggest disappointment. Surprisingly, it was the only goal I didn’t reach.
Rocky Raccoon 100
Before taking on the Bighorn Mountain 100 again, I wanted to get an “easier” 100 under my belt. I chose the Rocky Raccoon 100. I found the roots to be a challenge, but I finished with only two falls. That’s a big improvement over the six falls I suffered when I did the Rocky 50 in 2015.
My time wasn’t particularly impressive. After walking most of the nighttime hours, I finished in 28½ hours. That’s good enough. I got my buckle. I also got a Western States qualifier.
I set a goal of running marathons in at least two new countries. That seemed like a pretty soft goal, since I had already booked trips to three countries. It turned out to be more difficult than I thought. I ran the Barcelona Marathon in March. I was scheduled to run the Helsinki City Marathon and Solidarity Marathon in August. It was in June that I learned that I needed surgery and wouldn’t be able to run for 12 weeks. The Helsinki City Marathon was only eight weeks away, and I had already paid for my flight.
Two weeks after surgery, I was already walking seven miles a day. I began to wonder if I could still finish these races by walking them. The Helsinki City Marathon had a time limit of six hours, which works out to an average pace of 13:44 per mile. That’s a brisk pace, but I still had six weeks to train. It seemed like an attainable goal. The Solidarity Marathon had a time limit of 5:30. That’s an average pace of 12:35. That seemed like wishful thinking, but I was determined to try.
I trained hard for those races. I was walking farther every day and constantly pushing to go faster. It paid off. I finished the Helsinki City Marathon in 5:21:57. Three days later, I finished the Solidarity Marathon in 5:23:26. For a good portion of the race, I was being followed by the sweepers, but I finished within the time limit.
I went on to do two more international races this year. I did the Amsterdam Marathon in October and the Singapore Marathon in December.
I have a long-term goal of doing every marathon in Minnesota. This year, I wanted to continue making progress toward that goal by doing three more. This goal also turned out to be more difficult than I thought. In July, I did the first race of the Mainly Marathons Prairie Series. That race starts in North Dakota and finishes in Minnesota, so it counts as a Minnesota marathon. It was only four weeks after my surgery, so I had to walk, but there wasn’t any time limit.
My next Minnesota race was the Moose Mountain Marathon. This race is run on the Superior Hiking Trail. It’s by far the most difficult marathon in Minnesota, and it may be as difficult as any that I’ve done. It was one day after I was allowed to start running again. I did a mixture of running and walking. I probably did too much running, but I finished.
Two weeks later, I did the Ely Marathon. I race-walked that one. Rain, hills, and cambered dirt roads combined to give me some horrible blisters.
Qualify for the 2018 Boston Marathon
To get a qualifying time, I had to run a race that was almost all downhill. I ran the Mt. Charleston Marathon in 3:21:57. That’s a BQ with 18:03 to spare. That’s the good news. The bad news is that this race probably contributed to my back injury. I’ll never know for sure, but I can’t think of anything I’ve done that would have subjected my spine to more impact.
In September, I registered for Boston. There wasn’t any suspense this year. With a BQ-18:03, I was able to register on the third day, so I knew I would get in.
I overachieved on this goal. In my last race of the year, I got a BQ-11:47 for 2019.
Finish a Second Circuit of 50sub4
At the start of the year, I had at least two sub-4 hour marathons in every state except Hawaii. I’ve been close to this goal since early in 2015, so I wanted to finally get this done.
In January, I did the Aloha Series. That was a series of marathons on four consecutive days on the island of Kaua’i. To have any chance of breaking four hours, I had to do it on day one. After that, I would have tired legs. At the time, I was just barely in good enough shape to break four hours. It was questionable whether I could do it in Hawaii’s heat and humidity.
As it turns out, the humidity was unusually high that morning. The air was so saturated, I had to run my windshield wipers as I drove to the race. The windshield kept fogging up. I started the race on pace to break four hours, but it only took a few miles to realize that pace was unsustainable under the conditions. I had to back off and postpone that goal to another day.
That other day finally arrived in December, when I ran the Hawaii Bird Conservation Marathon. This was another downhill race, which made me nervous. I didn’t know if my back could handle it, but I really wanted to finally reach this goal. I did it. I finished in 3:28:13, and my back seems none the worse for wear.
Establish a Good Mileage Base
For most of my life, I’ve been a low-mileage runner. I’ve tended to emphasize quality workouts over quantity. I’ve always wondered if I could get into better shape, particularly for ultramarathons, with a high mileage regimen. In recent years, I’ve tried to take my mileage to the next level, but to avoid injury, I ramped up gradually. I never got much farther than 70 miles per week before having some type of setback that forced me to take time off and start over.
I started the year with 247 miles in January. In February, I increased to 269 miles. I wanted to keep ramping up by about 10% each month, but I had two minor setbacks. In March, I cut back temporarily because of an inflamed tendon where my left hamstring connects to my pelvis. In April, I was held back by a lower back injury. In May, I got back on track with 268 miles. I had every intention of resuming my gradual ramp-up. Then, on Memorial Day weekend, I experienced the first symptoms of my herniated disc.
It took about two more weeks before I knew what the problem was. Once I knew, I stopped running. I didn’t run again until September. You would think that would totally derail this goal. Well, it did and it didn’t.
Here’s a graph of my running mileage for each month. Note that this doesn’t include walking. The second half of the year looks pretty dismal.
While I was recovering from surgery, I couldn’t run, but I could walk. In fact, the doctors and nurses were encouraging me to do lots of walking. OK. That’s what I did. In addition to tracking my running, I also keep track of various forms of cross-training, including walking. I track walking mileage the same way I track running mileage. I don’t use a Fitbit or any other type of step counter. I either walk premeasured routes, or I use a GPS watch. I don’t count anything less than one mile of continuous walking. With those stipulations, here’s a graph of my walking mileage for each month.
Here’s what it looks like when I count the running and walking together. June was disappointing, but then … whoa! I’m right where I wanted to be.
I learned something. Walking is much easier on your body than running. I can do twice as much mileage and it’s feels like there’s little or no wear and tear. It’s great cross-training, and I can ramp up to much higher mileage levels without much risk of injury. Right now, I’m still focused on walking. When I post my goals for 2018, expect to see some walking goals. Eventually, I want to shift my focus back to running, but I’ll probably continue to include walking in the mix.
That’s how my year went. The Bighorn Mountain 100 is still an elusive goal, but overall, I’m pretty happy with how I salvaged the year after my back surgery.