I’m all about goals, so no year would be complete without reviewing how I did on my long-term goals for the year. At the beginning of 2019, I posted seven goals. Here’s how I did on each of them.
Run More International Races
This year, I really emphasized international trips. Before this year, I had run marathons or ultras in 32 countries. When I posted my goals last January, I had already booked six international trips for 2019. I didn’t have any long-term target for the number of countries I wanted to visit in my lifetime, but I added a few more international races, so I could get to 40 countries by the end of the year.
In January, Deb and I took a trip to Italy. We split our time between Rome and Florence, with a day trip to Sienna, San Gimignano, and Pisa. During our time in Rome, we visited the Vatican City, and I ran Saint Peter’s Marathon, which started in the Vatican City, and finished in Rome.
In February, I ran the Hong Kong Marathon. I’m really glad I had a chance to visit Hong Kong before the unrest that erupted in June. More and more, I’m learning that you have to take travel opportunity while they’re there, because you never know how the world will change.
In June, I traveled to Belgium to run the Beer Lovers’ Marathon in Liege. I also spent a few days in Brussels, and I did a guided tour of Battle of the Bulge battlefield sites, which included stops in Belgium, Germany, and Luxembourg.
In August, I traveled to Sweden to run the Six Lakes Marathon. The race was in a recreation area near Uppsala, but I also spent a few days in Stockholm.
In September, I traveled to Hungary to run the Budapest Marathon. It was the third time I ran a marathon that crosses the Danube River, having already run the Einstein Marathon in Ulm, Germany, and the Vienna City Marathon in Austria. Next year, I plan to continue that trend by running a marathon in Bratislava.
In October, I traveled to Wales to run the Snowdonia Marathon. This trip also gave me an opportunity to visit Liverpool. I’ve run marathons in England, Scotland, and Wales now. Next year, I plan to complete my touring of the United Kingdom, by running a marathon in Northern Ireland.
I made two international trips in November. First, I traveled to Havana, Cuba to run the Marabana Marathon. United States citizens need a permit to travel to Cuba. Early in the year, I made plans to travel with a group that a permit under the category of Educational: People to People. In June, that category of permit was discontinued. We were still able to travel to Cuba, but we had to get a permit under the category of Support for the Cuban People. It’s still much easier to travel to Cuba now than it was 10 years ago, but this is another example of taking an opportunity while it’s still there. Who knows what additional restrictions there might be a year or two from now?
My second trip in November was a long Asian trip that included six nights in Thailand and five nights in Myanmar. In Thailand, I ran the Bangkok Marathon. In Myanmar, I ran the Bagan Temple Marathon.
In all, I ran marathons in nine new countries in 2019, bringing my lifetime total to 41 countries. I exceeded my goal by one.
Qualify for the 2020 Boston Marathon
To qualify for Boston, I needed a time of 3:35 or better. To actually get in, I knew I would need to be faster, but I didn’t know how much faster. I was thinking to be safe, I needed a cushion of two or three minutes.
At the beginning of the year, I wasn’t in good enough shape to run that fast. I was also carrying about 15 extra pounds, and I knew that was slowing me down. I had a few spring races that were on fairly flat courses, but I knew it would take longer to lose the weight. In the meantime, I did my best to improve my times as much as I could.
In March, I ran the Shamrock Marathon in Virginia Beach in 3:33:24. That was a Boston qualifier with 1:36 to spare, but I didn’t feel safe without a cushion of at least two minutes.
I tried again at the Carmel and Boston Marathons, but I wasn’t fast enough in either of those races. Then I had a breakthrough in the Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon in late April. There, I qualified with 8:01 to spare. I knew that time would get me in, but I continued training, and I also gradually brought my weight down.
Most of my summer races weren’t conducive to fast times. Some of them were trail races, and one had 16 beer tasting stops. At the start of the year, I wasn’t confident that I would be able to qualify in one of my spring races, so I registered for the Tunnel Light Marathon in September. That race has a fast downhill course, and it’s on the last weekend that you can qualify before registration for Boston closes. By the time I ran that race I had already registered for the 2020 Boston Marathon, but I still went all-out for a fast time. I ran it in 3:17:20, which is a Boston qualifier with 17:40 to spare. I was able to submit that time to improve my corral seeding for 2020. In addition, this race was a qualifier for 2021.
With qualifiers for 2020 and 2021, all the pressure was off, but I ran five more qualifying times by the end of the year. I hit this goal out of the park.
Run at Least Four More Minnesota Marathons
I have a long-term goal of running every marathon in Minnesota. New marathons pop up from time to time, so this one is a moving target. At the beginning of the year, I was aware of five marathons that I hadn’t done yet. My goal was to do at least four of them this year. During the year, I became aware of another Minnesota race, bringing the total to six. I ran all six of them.
In August, I ran the Minnesota Brothers Trail Series. This is a series of four trail marathons on four consecutive days. Trail marathons are out of my comfort zone, but these ones weren’t too rugged. I ran all four of them.
In September, I did the We Walk Marathon. This race is primarily for walkers, but they also have a run/walk division. To get into the spirit of the event, I walked it. I haven’t done any race-walk training this year, but I still managed to win the walking division.
Finally, in October, I ran the Surf the Murph Marathon. This is a more rugged trail marathon, and the course was muddy. It was way outside my comfort zone, but I finished.
I ran all six remaining Minnesota Marathons, but I’m still not done. Did I mention this goal was a moving target? Next year, the Minnesota Brothers Trail Series will be expanded to six marathons. They’re also changing the name to the Summer Camp Series. They’ll use some of the same race venues, but they’ll also have some new venues. I might just do the whole series again. I’ll figure that out next year.
Run an “X” Marathon
I’ve run marathons with names starting with every letter of the alphabet except X. One of my goals for 2019 was to finally run an “X” race. I was eying the X-Country Marathon in Florida, but it would have conflicted with the Bagan Temple Marathon. When I saw the opportunity to do the Bangkok and Bagan Temple Marathons on back-to-back weekends, I had to take it. Hopefully, the X-Country Marathon will still be there next year. If not, I might have to fly to China to do the Xiamen International Marathon.
Make Progress Toward My Next Circuit of 50 States
I’ve completed three circuits of marathons or ultras in all 50 states, and I’m working on my fourth circuit. At the beginning of the year, I had already run four or more marathons in 26 states, so I needed 24 more.
The Little Rock Marathon was my fourth marathon for Arkansas. The Carmel Marathon was my fourth for Indiana. The Kentucky Derby Festival Marathon was my fourth for Kentucky. Missoula was my fourth for Montana. Pocatello was my fourth for Idaho. The Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon was my fourth for Mississippi. Finally, I got my fourth marathon for Florida in the Savage Seven series. Now I just need 17 more states to complete my fourth circuit.
I also have my eye on completing a fifth circuit. During 2019, I added my fifth marathon in Virginia, North Dakota, Indiana, Illinois, and Florida.
I posted a map of my progress at the beginning of the year. Here’s the updated map:
Find the Right Balance, Part 1
I used to do so many races that I was away from home too much. I also had problems with injuries. Last year, I cut back to the point where I wasn’t running enough to stay in shape. I rely on my marathons being a critical part of my training. I don’t do any long training runs, other than the marathons, so I can’t afford to space them too far apart.
This year, I think I found the right balance. I ran enough races to stay in shape. In fact, my conditioning has improved steadily throughout the year. I didn’t run so much that it caused injuries. I’ve remained healthy for the last 16 or 17 months.
Deb might still think I’m spending too much time away from home, but I think I’ve improved.
Find the Right Balance, Part 2
I also wanted to find the right balance between running and walking. In 2017 and 2018, I discovered that walking could be a valuable part of my training, allowing me to significantly increase my mileage without significantly increasing my injury risk.
I had hoped to build my running mileage to at least 50 miles per week and then supplement it with walking mileage, so my combined mileage would be at least 100 miles per week.
Since July, I’ve been consistently running at least 50 miles per week. I’ve averaged more than 70 miles per week. Unfortunately, I never added the walking mileage. Every time I was tempted, the same thing held me back. When I walk fast – particularly in hot weather – I develop horrible blisters around the backs of my heels. They’re painful, and once they’re there, they last for weeks. They develop under thick layers of skin, so they’re hard to treat.
Even knowing I was doing the We Walk Marathon, I just couldn’t bring myself to do workouts that would leave me with blisters that would also make running painful. I had other races coming where I was hoping to run fast times, and I didn’t want to do anything to screw that up.
Overall, my training went well, and I stayed healthy. The one time I really regretted not doing more walking was when I did the We Walk Marathon. My time in that race was more than an hour slower than my walking PR, and it took a lot out of me.
I didn’t reach all of my goals, but I had a few unexpected achievements. I’ve won a few fixed-time ultras over the years, but I rarely win marathons. When I do, they're small races that don’t attract any runners who are truly fast. This year, I had seven first place finishes in marathons. Three were during the Minnesota Brothers Trail Series. The other four were during the Savage Seven.
I also ran my 250th lifetime sub 4 hour marathon. This wasn’t a goal at the start of the year. If fact, it wasn’t a goal until about a week ago. I was sorting a spreadsheet with all my marathon results, and I noticed I had broken four hours 246 times. I just needed four more to get to 250. I still had four more marathons this year. The fact that they were on four consecutive days made it more challenging. I knew I could break four hours in the first race. I had my doubts about the other three, but I took it one day at a time. I got it done all four days. In fact, I broke 3:50 all four days.