Sunday, January 16, 2022

Race Report: 2022 Daufuskie Island Marathon

On January 15, I ran the Daufuskie Island Marathon.  Daufuskie Island is a coastal island in South Carolina.  It’s just southwest of Hilton Head Island.  There’s more lodging on Hilton Head Island, so that’s where I stayed.

I was originally scheduled to run the Charleston Marathon this weekend.  Nine days before the race, I was notified that the race was cancelled.  Like many cities, Charleston has been experiencing a surge of COVID-19 cases since the arrival of the Omicron variant.  The city felt their resources were already stretched too thin to provide the necessary services to support a large marathon in the city.

As I searched for other marathons, I discovered the Daufuskie Island Marathon was the same day as the Charleston Marathon.  I had already booked flights to Charleston, but the drive time from Charleston to Hilton Head Island was only about two hours.  The Savannah airport would’ve been closer, but keeping my existing flights was less expensive than rebooking to fly into Savannah.

Some people who were originally signed up for the Charleston Marathon opted to do the Jekyll Island Marathon in Georgia.  On Wednesday, I learned that the Jekyll Island Marathon was cancelled, because of severe weather that was going to bring thunderstorms and strong winds.  My race was a day earlier, so it wasn’t going to be threatened by the storms.

I flew into Charleston on Thursday and spent one night at a hotel in North Charleston.  That evening, I got an email from Delta advising me that my flights home might be affected by the storms.  At this point, there wasn’t much I could do about it.  There weren’t any flights I could catch on Saturday that would get me home the same day.  I just had to wait and hope for the best.

I didn’t need to get to Hilton Head Island until Friday afternoon, so I was able to spend Friday morning doing some sightseeing in Charleston.  I started at Waterfront Park.

Next, I went to the Old Exchange and Provost Dungeon.  I walked past Rainbow Row and followed the waterfront down to The Battery.

After that, I gradually circled back.  Along the way, I walked past several historic houses, municipal buildings, and churches.

When I was done with my self-guided walking tour of Charleston, I drove to Hilton Head Island.  Along the way, I stopped for lunch.

After checking into my hotel on Hilton Head Island, I drove to the Haig Point Embarkation Welcome Center to pick up my race packet.  My route took me over the Coligny Beach Bridge.  This brought back memories of running across this bridge when I ran the Hilton Head Island Marathon two years ago.  Thankfully, the race I was doing this year didn’t have any monster climbs.

My race packet included this warm jacket.  The material was more like a sweatshirt, but it has a zipper and pockets.

My race packet also included this blue disk.  I didn’t know what it was at first.  As it turns out, it’s a collapsible drinking cup.  More on that later.

While I was at Haig Point Embarkation, I also bought a round trip ticket for a ferry to Daufuskie Island on race day.

I spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Hilton Head Island and relaxing.  I also organized my race gear and labeled my drop bag.  I wanted to have everything ready before dinner, so I could get to bed early.  I set my alarm for 4:15 AM.

I had dinner at an Italian restaurant that was about a mile from my hotel.  After dinner, I had a beer tasting at Hilton Head Brewery.

The marathon started at 8:30 AM, but I needed to be on a ferry that left at 6:30.  Parking near the ferry terminal was limited, so we were told to get there an hour early to look for parking.  I was planning to get there by 5:30, but I actually got there at 5:20.  The closest parking lots are reserved for members of the Haig Point Club.  I was able find a parking spot in the closest lot available to visitors.

I waited in the car for about 10 minutes.  Then I walked to the Welcome Center, so I could use the bathroom.  People were beginning to board the 6:00 ferry.  Since I was already there, I took that ferry instead of waiting until 6:30.

The ferry ride took about 40 minutes.  I was talking to another runner who had his collapsible drinking cup with him.  I learned from his that this was a cupless race.  We were all supposed to carry our own cup, bottle, or hydration system.  I somehow missed that when I was reading the race information.

The ferry dropped us off at Haig Point on Daufuskie Island.  From there, it was a short walk to the Runners’ Village, where we waited until the race started.  In the Runner’s Village, there was a large canopy with tables, chairs, and several space heaters.  The temperature was in the low 40s, so I was expecting to be cold.  Under the canopy, I was fairly comfortable.

I asked the volunteers if they had any spare drinking cups.  They didn’t.  I was supposed to bring the one in my race packet.  That was back at the hotel.  Then they told me they would have some paper cups at the aid stations.  They want people to bring their own cups, but they made provision for people who didn’t.

Under the canopy, there were tables with coffee, bananas, and cinnamon rolls.  Nearby, they had port-o-potties and a place to check gears bags.  I brought a bag, so I could check my warm-up clothes and have them to wear again after the race.  I waited until about 30 minutes before the race before taking off my warm-ups and checking them.

The course was a 13.1 mile loop.  The half marathon was one loop and the marathon was two loops.  They also had a 39.3 mile race called the triple half.  That was three loops.  If I was in better shape, I might have been tempted to do that race, but I’m barely in marathon shape now.  Ever since injuring my low back in late November, I’ve cut way back on my training.  I ran a marathon four weeks ago, but since then my longest run was six miles.  I was confident I could finish a marathon, but I expected to be slower than usual.

Most of the course was paved.  The start/finish area was paved with brick, but as soon as we got going, we were on asphalt roads.

There aren’t many cars on the island, but I saw several pick-up trucks.  Most people get around the island using golf carts.

I started at a pace that felt easy.  For the first few miles, I was on pace for a four hour marathon.  I didn’t expect to continue at that pace.  It felt easy at first, but I knew it wouldn’t be sustainable for 26.2 miles.

In the third mile, we reached an aid station.  I saw small cups of water and Gatorade on the table.  I drank a cup of Gatorade, but I didn’t discard the cup.  I carried it with me for the rest of the race.  At the other aid stations, I refilled it.  That made me feel less guilty about not bringing a reusable cup.  I wasted a paper cup, but only one.

About halfway through the third mile, we turned onto a dirt road.  At first, the ground was damp enough for the surface to be firm.  As I kept running, I noticed patches where the ground was dry, and the footing wasn’t as firm.  I slowed down on this section.  Earlier, I was averaging about 9:05 per mile.  On this section, I averaged closer to 9:30.

As we approached five miles, we turned onto another paved road.  Now that I had better traction, I picked up the pace a little, but I didn’t get back to the pace I was running in the first few miles.  As I passed the six mile mark, I realized this was already as far as I’ve run in the last four weeks.  I wasn’t inclined to push the pace too much.

Just past seven miles, we turned onto another dirt road.  This was similar to the first dirt road.  It was firm in some places, but soft in others.  On this section, I slowed down even more.  My pace here was about 9:45 per mile.

This section of dirt road wasn’t as long.  At most, it might have been a mile and a half.  When I got back onto pavement, my pace didn’t improve much.

Later in the loop.  We crossed bridges over a couple of streams.  I had to stop to take pictures.

At the end of mile 11, I was dismayed to see I had slowed down to 10:28.  Then I remembered I stopped several times to take pictures.

Next, we ran through a neighborhood with some old homes.  Some of them probably date back to the 1800s.

With less than two miles left in the first loop, we crossed a bridge that took us onto a golf cart path.  This was the only part of the course that wasn’t wide enough for cars.  For more than a mile, we ran along the northern short of the island.

At first the path was paved, but later the surface was crushed rock.  Unlike the dirt roads, this path had a nice firm surface with good traction.

For most of the first loop, I was following the runners ahead of me.  Now, for the first time, I had to pay attention to the course markings.  The course was marked with small pink flags, similar to what you might see in a trail race.  The flags were spaced close enough that you could always see the next one in front of you.  The only way to miss a turn on this course is if you aren’t paying attention.

My 12th mile was also slow, but I could once again attribute that to stopping to take pictures.  In the last mile of the loop, we got back onto paved streets.  As I made the last few turns, I could hear cheering and cowbells from the finish area.

I finished the first loop in roughly 2:05.  I was on pace to finish in 4:10, but I had doubts about sustaining the same pace in the second half. 

As I began my second loop, I knew what to expect.  I couldn’t remember every turn on the course, but I remembered the rough layout.  There was a 2.5 mile section of paved roads.  Then there was a 2.5 mile section of dirt road.  Then there was another two mile section of paved roads.  Then a shorter section of dirt road.  Then a couple more miles of paved road.  Then the golf cart path, leading into about half a mile of paved roads at the finish.

Segmenting the course like this made it seem easier.  I didn’t think about running another 13.1 miles.  Instead, I broke it down into seven sections that each seemed manageable.  I took them one at a time.

As I began the second loop, I picked up my effort a little.  I didn’t know if it was wise, but I was willing to put some effort into picking up my pace.  I started to gain ground on two runners who had passed me earlier, when I was stopping to take pictures.  I wanted to see if I could reel them in.

On the first section of paved roads, I ran a pace that was almost as fast as I ran it in the first loop.  I gained on the two runners ahead of me, but I didn’t catch them yet.

Next, I reached the first section of dirt road.  Inevitably, I slowed on this section, but I didn’t slow down as much as I did the first time.  By the time I finished this section, I caught both of the runners I was chasing.  For the rest of the race, I continually caught and passed the runners who were just ahead of me.

On the second section of paved roads, I ran faster than I did on my first loop.  My pace here was close to my pace in the early miles.  By the time I was halfway through my second loop, I knew I was going at least as fast as I did on the first loop.  I felt, however, like I could hit the wall at any time.  I took it one mile at a time.

I slowed down on the last section of dirt road, but I didn’t slow down nearly as much as I did the first time.  This time, my pace was about 20 second faster than in the first loop.  As I got back onto paved roads, my next two miles were also a little faster than they were o         n the first loop.

I had just over three miles to go.  In my first loop, my 11th and 12th miles were my slowest.  In both of those miles, I made multiple stops to take pictures.  This time, I wasn’t stopping.  I wasn’t going to see anything new, so I just focused on running.

I felt like I was fading, but I kept up my effort.  I knew my next mile would be an easy comparison.  The first time I ran it in 10:28, but only because I stopped a few times.  This time, I ran that mile in nine minutes even.  It was my second fastest mile of the race.

I had just over two miles to go.  I was almost to the golf cart path along the shore.  I slowed a little in that mile, but it was still more than 30 seconds faster than the corresponding mile of my first loop.

Now I knew I would run negative splits.  As I reached the last aid station, I refilled my cup for the last time, drank my Gatorade, and tossed the cup into the trash.  I had roughly one mile to go.  I was struggling, but I did my best to limit the damage.

When I got back onto pavement for the last time, I saw a runner who was beginning to pull away from me.  I tried to catch him, but I couldn’t.  He was finishing strong, and I was just hanging on.  That mile wasn’t as fast in this loop, but I was still going to run negative splits by a wide margin.

I finished in 4:06:57.  I ran negative splits by roughly three minutes.  Most of that was attributable to not taking pictures in the second loop, but I think I also ran a bit faster.

There was a ferry leaving for Hilton Head Island at 12:40.  The next one wouldn’t be until 1:40.  I might be able to catch the 12:40 ferry, but I only had a few minutes to get there.

I rushed through the finish area so quickly, the volunteer with finisher medals had trouble catching me.  It’s a nice medal.  It features a sea turtle.  The shell opens to reveal an image of the Haig Point Lighthouse.

After getting my medal, I walked quickly to where the gear bags were.  The volunteers had arranged them on the ground, so I was able to find my bag quickly.  After picking up my bag, I ran (as best I could) to the landing, and boarded the ferry just seconds before it left.

I would’ve been nice to have time to cool down and have a beer in the finish area, but I didn’t want to wait an hour for the next ferry.  Catching this one was my reward for running hard in the second half of the race.

Had the Charleston Marathon not been cancelled, I probably would never have done this race.  I’m glad I did.  Getting to and from this race takes extra time, but I think the experience was worth it.

After driving back to the hotel and getting cleaned up, I took the time to jot down my recollections of the race, so I wouldn’t forget.  Then I went out for an early dinner.  The restaurant had steps.  Going up the steps, I noticed some discomfort in my right knee.  I also noticed my knee when I walked down the steps as I left.  Most days, I don’t notice my knee, but clearly it’s not fully healed yet.

A storm system moved through during the night.  This is the same storm that caused the cancellation of the Jekyll Island Marathon, which was scheduled to take place on Sunday.  My flight out of Charleston wasn’t until 12:22 PM, but I got up early and started driving right after breakfast.  It’s normally a two hour drive, but I wanted to allow extra time in case the rain caused delays.

The shortest route to Charleston includes roads through low-lying area that are prone to flooding during periods of heavy rain.  I took a longer route that’s farther inland.

As I left Hilton Head Island, I encountered sections of road with standing water.  It was still dark, so I couldn’t see the water until I drove over it.  Each time, it was a bit jarring as the car suddenly slowed down, and I felt the ABS engage for a second or two.

Once I got to I-95, I didn’t have to worry about water on the road.  Freeways are generally designed to have good drainage.  Instead, I had a new concern.  Shortly after I got onto the freeway, I saw one of the dashboard indicator lights come on.  It was a symbol I had never seen before, and I didn’t know what it meant.

Ideally, I would’ve pulled over to get out the owner’s manual and see what that indicator meant.  The road was slick, and visibility was poor, so I didn’t feel like it was safe to pull over.

The indicator turned off after about a minute, but a few minutes later if came on again.  I was two miles from a parking area, but it was for trucks only.  When I got to the exit, it said no cars allowed.  I had to press on until I reached a town.

Over the next 15 minutes, the mysterious dashboard indicator turned on about four more times.  Each time, it turned off again.  By the time I left the freeway, it was no longer coming on again.

The second half of my drive was along local roads.  As soon as I got off the freeway, I started encountering puddles.  By now, there was enough light that I could see them coming.  Where there were two lanes, I drove in the left land, to avoid puddles on the side of the road.

The mysterious dashboard indicator came on one more time.  By then, I was less than 30 miles from the Charleston Airport, so I pressed on.

Before returning my rental car, I needed to fill my tank.  While I was at the gas station, I took a few minutes to get the owner’s manual out of the glove compartment.  The indicator light was a pedestrian warning.  Presumable, there’s a camera on the front of the car, and it’s supposed to warn you if you’re in danger of hitting a pedestrian in the roadway.  I can only assume that the rain was obstructing the camera, so it was giving me false alarms.

I got to the airport three hours before my scheduled flight.  The guy at rental car return was a runner.  He saw my Boston Marathon jacket, and we talked about races for several minutes.  During our conversation, I learned that the 7:30 flight to Atlanta was cancelled.  When I got into the airport, I saw on the departure board that several flights were cancelled.  Mine was still listed as “on time,” but I was making connections in Atlanta, so I had to worry about the weather in both cities.

After sitting in a car for two hours, my lower back was bothering me.  I wanted to check my bag, so I wouldn’t have to hoist it into the overhead bin on my flights.  I chose to carry it onto the plane instead, so I wouldn’t be stuck without my luggage if I had to spend the night in either Charleston or Atlanta.

While I was waiting in the Charleston airport, I saw that my flight was still scheduled to depart, but all the later flights into Atlanta were cancelled.  The problem wasn’t the weather in Charleston.  It was freezing conditions in Atlanta, where it was snowing.  Early and late arrivals into Atlanta were cancelled, but my flight was arriving at the warmest time of the day.  Of course, getting to Atlanta was only half the problem.  I still had to worry about my flight from there to Minneapolis.

When I arrived in Atlanta, I made the mistake of carrying my bag off the plane.  I should've rolled it.  Walking off the plane while carrying that bag seriously aggravated my lower back.  It bothered me for the rest of the day.

I had a two hour layover in Atlanta.  For most of that time it was snowing, but it was warm enough that the snow wasn't accumulating on the runways.  I got in and out of Atlanta during the afternoon, when it was warmest.  Had it been just a few degrees colder, I might have been stuck there overnight.

Race Statistics
Distance:  26.2 miles
Time:  4:06:57
Average Pace:  9:25
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras:  448
South Carolina Marathons:  5

Saturday, January 1, 2022

My Goals for 2022

Last year was a rebuilding year.  This year will also be a rebuilding year.  My goals for this year are so similar to last year that I could’ve reposted last year’s goals and nobody would know the difference.  I took the time to write a new set of goals for 2022, but they’re going to look awfully familiar.

Heal from Injuries

I’m currently healing from two injuries.  The first is a knee injury that’s plagued me for more than a year.  The other is a lower back injury that first started bothering me in late November.

Let’s start with the knee injury.  A year ago, I couldn’t walk up or down stairs without feeling soreness in my right knee.  Running, even for short distances made it worse.

I’ve been rehabbing that knee for more than a knee.  One of the exercises that’s been helping is single-leg leg extensions.  When I starting doing those last summer, I was only using 10 pounds.  Now, I’m using 35 pounds, and I’m continuing to increase the weight in small increments.

Most days, I can walk up and down stairs without any discomfort.  If I run a marathon, I’ll have discomfort in my right knee the next time I walk up steps, but it’ll be back to feeling normal within 24 hours.

Obviously, I’d like to get back to never feeling discomfort in that knee.  I’ve made a lot of progress, but I’m not quite there yet.

The other injury is my lower back.  I haven’t had an MRI, but it’s most likely a disk protrusion in the lumbar region.  It feels similar to an injury I had in the same area last May.  Sometimes, I feel soreness near the site of the injury.  Other times, I’ll feel minor discomfort closer to my hip.  I think the hip discomfort is actually a nerve impingement.

Last summer, I had to take it easy for about a month, but the injury healed with rest and PT.  This time, I’ve tried to take it easy, but I was already signed up for a couple races.  Running two marathons before healing probably set me back.  Going forward, I’ll continue to run the races I’ve already entered, but I won’t sign up for any more races until my back has healed.  Ideally, I like to run about two marathons per month.  For the next four months, I’m signed up for one marathon per month.  For now, I’ll stick to that.

My first goal for 2022 is to heal completely from both of these injuries.  Until I do, I’ll have to hold back on my training.  In the short term, I’ll get out of shape, but if I can get healthy, I can eventually get back in shape.

Get Back in Shape

One of my goals last year was to rebuild my mileage base.  I’d still like to do that, but I know I won’t get back to pre-injury mileage levels in just one year.  Even if I could, building my mileage is just a means to an end.  The end goal is to get back in shape.

Goals should be well-defined.  Ideally, they should have objective criteria, and they should be measurable.  For running, I’m going to define “getting back in shape” as being able to run a marathon fast enough to qualify for Boston, without resorting to running a race with a downhill course.  For race-walking, I, going to define it as finishing a marathon in less than five hours.

Get Back to a Lean Weight

Whenever I’m forced to cut back on training, I gain weight.  These past several weeks have been no exception.  I haven’t gained a lot of weight, but it’s enough to make a difference in my marathon times.  To get back into shape, I’ll need to lose that weight.

Last year, I managed to lose weight, even while I was taking a break from running.  I know that’s possible.  I also know it won’t be easy.  In the short term, my priority will be to stop gaining weight.  Losing the weight I’ve already gained will be more important when I’m back to doing serious marathon training.

Strike a Balance Between Running and Race-walking

Three times I’ve switched to race-walking when an injury forced me to take a break from running.  Each time, I returned to running when I was healthy enough.  This year, I’d like to train for both running and race-walking.  That’s going to mean splitting my training time between the two.  That doesn’t necessarily mean I’ll devote equal time to each.

I’ve found that race-walking is excellent cross-training for running.  I’ve had good results running marathons when most of my training was race-walking.  It doesn’t work the other way.  Running doesn’t prepare you for race-walking.

Getting in shape for running is largely a matter of improving your aerobic fitness.  Technique, for the most part, comes naturally.  Getting in shape for race-walking also requires aerobic fitness, but there’s no substitute for working on technique.  It doesn’t just take fitness.  It takes practice.

I could probably prepare for both running and walking by alternating between running workouts and race-walking workouts.  While that would work, it’s not necessarily optimal.  I’ve learned from experience that race-walking isn’t as hard in your body.  I’ve never built my running mileage beyond 70 miles a week for very long before getting injured.  I’ve built my walking mileage as high as 140 miles per week without getting injured.  For that reason, I suspect the optimal mix involves more walking than running.

I don’t expect to find the optimal mix, but my goal is to develop a training schedule that prepares me for both.

Run Some International Races

In 2020, I was signed up for nine international races, but I only ran one.  I had to cancel all my other trips, because of COVID-19.  I haven’t traveled outside the U.S. since then, but I’m cautiously optimistic I’ll be able to do that this year.  I’ve already book one international trip, and I’m hoping to add more.  That’ll depend not only on my health, but also on the pandemic.  If things get worse, we could see new restrictions on international travel.

Compete at a National Level in Race-Walking

As a runner, I focus almost exclusively on marathons and ultras.  As a race-walker, I sometimes compete at shorter distances.  Last year, I did the 5,000 meter race-walk event at the Minnesota Senior games, and I qualified for nationals.

I’ve already signed up to compete in both the 1,500 and 5,000 meter events at the National Senior Games.  I’ve never done a race as short as 1,500 meters, so I don’t have high expectations for that distance.  In the 5,000 meter race, I want to be competitive.

What does it mean to be competitive?  I don’t think I have any chance of winning the race, but I might have a realistic chance of placing in the top three.  It all depends on how quickly I recover from my lower back injury and how hard I can train without re-injuring my back.  Without knowing, I’m going to set a range of goals.

One of the first running books I ever read was The New Competitive Runner’s Handbook.  The authors of that book advocated setting three goals for each race.  The first goal, which they called the attainable goal, is one that you know is within your abilities, but which would nevertheless take some effort.  The next goal is called the challenging goal.  This is a goal that you may or may not be capable of doing.  The third goal is called the ultimate goal.  This is a “shoot for the moon” goal.  It might not be realistic, but it’s something you can reach for if you’re having a surprisingly good race.

After reviewing results from recent years, it looks like my time from the Minnesota Senior Games would probably be good enough for third or fourth place in the National Senior Games.  If I was healthy and could keep building on last year, I think I would have a realistic chance of placing in the top three.  I’m not currently healthy, so it’s unclear if I can get back to where I was last summer.  Without knowing, I’m making a top three finish my “challenging” goal.

For my “attainable” goal, I’m setting my sights on placing in the top eight.  Why eight?  That how deep the awards go.

For my “ultimate” goal, I’m setting my sights on breaking 30 minutes.  To do that, I’ll have to be faster than last year.  That might not be realistic when you consider that I’m not currently healthy enough to begin training, and I may have to hold back to keep from injuring myself.  It’s worth noting that I’ve broken 30 minutes at this distance once before.  It’s also worth noting that I did that when I was 30 years old.  I’m 60 now.  Can I compete with my 30-year old self?  Maybe, but I doubt it.

Of all of my goals for 2022, this one is the most tenuous.

Make Progress on My 4th (and 5th) Circuit of 50 States

I’ve run (or walked) at least three marathons or ultras in every state.  I’ve completed at least four marathons or ultras in 49 states.  To complete a fourth circuit of 50 states, I need to finish another marathon in 11 states.

My long-term goal is to eventually finish five circuits of 50 states.  I’ve already finished five or more marathons or ultras in 27 of them.  That leaves 23 states when I need at least one more marathon to complete this goal.

There was a time when I raced through goals like this one as quickly as I could.  Now I’m a little more patient.  Running marathons is a lifestyle, and I expect to keep doing it as long as I can.  I’m not in a rush to complete this goal, but I want to keep making progress.  In 2022, I’d like at least one third of my marathons to be in states I need to complete a fourth or fifth circuit.  If, for example, I run 24 marathons in 2022, eight of them should be in states that I still need.

Here’s a map of my progress so far.

Friday, December 31, 2021

How I Did On My 2021 Goals

I always start the year by posting a set of goals for the year.  At the end of the year, I review how I did.  It’s that time of year.

Usually, my goals involve specific races, performance goals, and places I’d like to visit.  This year was different.  I knew going in that 2021 was going to be a rebuilding year, so my goals were to heal from injuries, rebuild my mileage base, and get back to a lean weight.  I had some degree of success with each of those goals, but I also had some degree of backsliding.  It seemed I would take two steps forward and one step back.  Later in the year, it was two steps back.  Here’s how I did in more detail.

Heal from Injuries

In August of 2020, I injured my right knee.  Shortly after that, I ran marathons on 20 consecutive days.  After that, I cut back on my training, but I still ran several other races.  By the end of the year, it was clear I needed to take a break, but I still had one more race scheduled.  That was at the end of January.

On the last day of January, I ran the Big Beach Marathon in Gulf Shores, AL.  That race has some long sections of boardwalk.  The wood planks of the boardwalk were a little bit springy, which forced my knee to absorb extra shock.  After that race, my knee was much worse.  Later that day, I could only climb stairs by leaning on a railing and using my upper body.

In early February, I saw my doctor.  An MRI confirmed that nothing was torn, but after nearly six months of running on an injured knee, it had become chronically inflamed.  My doctor knows how much I ran, and he knows how many marathons I ran since injuring my knee.  I believe his exact words were, “You’ve dug yourself into a deep hole, and it’ll probably take a while to dig back out of it.”  He estimated I would need to take a month off.  I was more pessimistic.  I thought it might take as much as two months.  As it turns out, we were both too optimistic.

February came and went.  I didn’t do any running.  I was doing physical therapy for my knee.  Other than that, my only exercise was walking a mile once or twice a day.  I didn’t plan to try running again until I could walk up and down stairs without discomfort.  My physical therapist gave me some additional exercises to help me maintain strength in my legs until I could run.

March also came and went.  I needed to get more exercise, so I gradually increased my walking to as much as four miles a day.  I also started doing short low-resistance spins on a stationary bike.  I had to be careful not to push with my quads.  Instead, I just pulled on the pedals, but without any pushing.  That limited the intensity of my workouts.  Still, it was the only thing I was doing that actually felt like a workout.

I felt improvement in my knee, but it was much too slow, and I was getting out of shape.  Around the middle of April, I decided to give race-walking a try.  Before that, I was just walking at a casual pace.  It was exercise, but it wasn’t training.  I would’ve tried race-walking sooner, but I didn’t know if it would aggravate my knee.

My first race-walking workout was 2.25 miles.  My average pace was 11:28.  I was pleasantly surprised to be able to go that fast.  I hadn’t done any race-walking since the previous summer, and I hadn’t been serious about it since 2018.  The important thing is that it didn’t bother my knee at all, even though I was going as fast as I could.  That was a relief.

Once I knew I could race-walk without aggravating my knee, I started working on getting back in shape.  My training went well for almost a month.  Then I injured my lower back.

Four years ago, I took up race-walking while recovering from a back injury that required surgery.   That injury was more serious, but it was also much higher in my back.  I found that walking at a fast pace caused a lot of rotation in my lower back, but it didn’t cause any twisting in the middle of my back.  With a lower back injury, I had to be more careful.

I had to cut back to just walking at a casual pace, but only temporarily.  Before long, I was walking at a brisk pace.  Then I was back to race-walking, but holding back a little on the pace.  It took about six weeks, but the back injury eventually healed, and I was able to train hard again.

By now, it was late June.  My knee was improving, but I wasn’t ready to run yet.  I tried a few run/walk workouts where I would run for as much as a quarter of each mile, but I was mostly walking.  At first, even those workouts aggravated my knee.

From February through June, I didn’t have any races.  I was able to race-walk, but I had to rebuild my endurance before I could entertain thoughts of walking a marathon.  I didn’t want to race until I could finish one in six hours or less.

From July through October, I race-walked several marathons, a 5K, a 10K, and a 12-hour race.  I also tried a run/walk mix in one of my marathons, but I didn’t like the way my knee felt afterwards.

I eventually starting doing run/walk workouts more often, and I occasionally did runs on the treadmill, where I could lessen the impact by running uphill the whole way.  Then in late October, I had a big breakthrough.  I race-walked the first 17 miles of the Monkey Marathon, but ran the rest of the way.  The next day, Deb and I toured a castle, and I had to walk up these steps.  It didn’t hurt.  When I could walk up and down a steep staircase like this the day after running nine miles, I knew I was finally ready to try running an entire marathon.

The first marathon where I ran the whole way was the New York City Marathon.  That race has a few big bridges.  Running the downhill sides of the bridges caused some discomfort in my knee, but it didn’t seem to do any lasting damage.  Within a few days, I was back to walking up and down stairs without discomfort.

Two weeks later, I ran the Philadelphia Marathon.  I ran much faster in this race.  Instead of holding back going downhill, I started running downhill with gusto.  I had a little discomfort on stairs the next day, but the day after that my knee felt OK.

I wish the story ended there.  It took me almost all year, but my knee was about 95% healed.  It wasn’t perfect yet, but I could run marathons.

On the morning of the Philadelphia Marathon, I noticed some slight discomfort around me right hip.  At the time, I didn’t think much about it.  In retrospect, it was probably a nerve impingement.  In the days leading up to that race, I had been doing some extremely vigorous walking workouts.  I probably injured a disk in my lower back.  Running hard on the hills made it worse.  The next day, I couldn’t move without pain in my lower back.

I felt much better the next day, but I knew it would take weeks for my back to heal.  Since then, I’ve trained cautiously.  Most days, I put in a few miles, but I hesitate to even call it training.  When I run, I have to go uphill to minimize the impact.  That limits me to running on a treadmill.  When I walk, I have to slow the pace to the point where I don’t feel any rotation in my lower back.  Previously, I had been consistently race-walking at a pace of 11 minutes per mile or faster.  Now, my pace has to be 16 minutes of slower.

I’ve done two other races since the Philadelphia Marathon.  The first one was the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon.  This race had some boardwalk sections.  Wary of the experience I had at the Big Beach Marathon in January, I walked those sections.  Where it was paved, I ran, but at a cautious pace.

More recently, I ran the Hawaii Bird Conservation Marathon, which descends more than 3,700 feet.  When I signed up for this race, I was worried that it would aggravate my knee.  That turned out not to be a big concern.  Instead, I had to worry about my lower back.

After the race, I had discomfort going up steps.  Fortunately, that only lasted for one day.  I feel like I dodge a bullet in that race.  My back didn’t feel any worse after that race than it did after the Rehoboth Seashore Marathon, and it definitely didn’t feel as bad as it did after the Philadelphia Marathon.

Again, I wish the store ended there.  Sunday evening, we had a winter storm.  We got a few inches of snow, followed by freezing rain.  When it was over, our driveway had about an inch of densely packed snow, with an icy crust on top.  I went out to shovel the driveway the next morning.  My back didn’t hurt while I was shoveling, but it started to bother me a few hours later.  By the end of the day, I could barely function.

At first, I thought I injured my lower back in a big way.  Now, I think it was mostly sore muscles.  That said, I was already recovering from a lower back injury, and lifting all that heavy snow didn’t make it better.  I’m still looking at taking it easy for a few more weeks before I can do any real training.

Rebuild My Mileage Base

In 2019 and 2020, I ran an average of 55 miles per week.  On top of that, I was also walking, cycling, and doing weight training.  At the peak of my training in 2020, I doing the equivalent of 19 miles per day.  That’s what prepared me to run marathons on 20 consecutive days.

In the first month of 2021, I only ran 100 miles.  Then I took a break to give my knee a chance to heal.  My goal was to gradually rebuild my mileage base once I got healthy.  I didn’t expect to get back to my previous level this year, but I thought I could get close and then build on that in 2022.

As it turns out, I wouldn’t run again until June.  I put in lots of race-walking miles during the summer months, but I wouldn’t run 100 miles in a month until November.  Since then, I’ve regressed.  I can’t start building my mileage again until my back heals.

I ran a total of 562.7 miles in 2021.  It was the first time since 1987 that I didn’t run at least 1,000 miles.  The good news is that I walked 1,833.6 miles, so my total mileage was closer to 2,400 miles.  That’s not as much as recent years, but it’s in the ballpark.

As I begin the new year, I’ll once again have to wait to heal from an injury before I can pick up my mileage.  At the moment, I’m only doing three or four miles of a day.

Get Back to a Lean Weight

My last major goal for 2021 was to lose weight.  For most of 2020, I had a monster training load, and my eating habits reflected that.  As I was forced to cut back on running, I was slow to adjust my eating habits.  In the last three months of 2020, I started gaining weight.

I expected to continue gaining weight as I took a break from running.  I thought I’d have to get healthy first, then rebuild my mileage base, and then lost the weight.  I really thought it would have to happen in that order.  It turned out to be almost the opposite.

At the beginning of February, I knew it would be at least a month or two before I resumed running.  I was so worried I would keep gaining weight, that I got serious about changing my eating habits.  I began keeping track of everything I ate.  I also kept track of how many calories I ate, and I set a daily limit.  If I didn’t know how many calories were in a food, it was off my diet.  I stuck to these rules rigorously for almost three months.

This approach wouldn’t work for everyone, but it worked for me.  The longer I was able to stick to these rules the easier it got.  Initially, I was just hoping to limit the damage.  When I started losing weight, it gave me the motivation I needed.  Even before I was able to resume running, I was back to my racing weight.

As I picked up my race-walking mileage during the summer, I was able to eat more.  I still kept track of what I ate, but I allowed myself to eat a little bit more.

Eventually, I got complacent.  Even though I was burning more calories, I started to gain weight again.  As long as it was just a pound or two, I didn’t worry too much.  By the end of the summer, I was walking at least 50 miles a week, so I was confident I could easily lose a pound or two if I got serious about it.

Soon, one or two pounds became three or four pounds.  Then it was five pounds.  That was late November.  Then I re-injured my back, and my training load dropped like a rock.  The timing couldn’t have been worse.  It was just before Thanksgiving.  Holiday meals, sweet snacks, and a reduced training load meant more weight gain.  I’m finishing the year pretty close to where I started.

This was a rebuilding year, and 2022 is shaping up to be another rebuilding year.  My goals for next year will probably look familiar.

What About Races?

At the start of the year, I listed some races I was hoping to run.  I didn’t know when I would be ready to race, nor did I know when international travel would be feasible.  At the start of the year, I didn’t even know when I would be eligible to get vaccinated.

Here are the races I identified and whether I got to run them.

New England Challenge – This six-day series is held in May.  By February, I realized I wasn’t going to be ready for anything like this in May.  As it turns out, I wasn’t in shape to finish one marathon, much less six in a row.  Fortunately, I never registered for any of these races.

Firecracker Triple – The last Firecracker Triple was supposed to be held in 2020.  When it was cancelled, I was hoping to run it in 2021.  The 2021 Firecracker Triple also got cancelled.  That’s just as well, since I wouldn’t have been ready to run it.  Now it’s scheduled for 2022.  It’s on my wish list, but we’ll have to see if I’m healthy enough to train properly for it.

Mad Marathon – I was signed up to do this race in July of 2020.  The race was held in 2021, but it was postponed to September.  I’m still interested in doing this race, but it fell on the same weekend as the Tallin Marathon.  I didn’t know if I’d be able to do that race this year, but I wanted to keep my options open.  As it turns out, I didn’t do either race.

Alaska Series – I cancelled a lot of other plans, but I was able to do this series.  I made it a priority as soon as Alaska rescinded its quarantine requirement.  When I realized I wouldn’t be able to run these races, I worked hard to get in shape to race-walk them.  It gave me an opportunity to finally complete a quadzilla in Alaska.

International races – For the first time in more than a decade, I didn’t travel outside the United States.  It would’ve been possible to do the Tallinn Marathon in September, but I would’ve needed to walk it.  Also, I didn’t know if I would be able to do all the same sightseeing I had planned when I was signed up to go to Estonia in 2020.  I decided to put this off for another year, when I can have a better race and travel experience.

Boston Marathon – The race was postponed to October, but I got to do the race in person (rather than virtual) for the first time since 2019.  Returning to Boston for the first time in two and a half years was probably the highlight of my year.  I wasn’t ready to run yet, but I was able to race-walk it in less than five hours.  I also had reunions with a few different running clubs.

New York City Marathon – This race was deferred from 2020.  It’s the largest race I did this year, and it was the closest to a normal (i.e. pre-pandemic) race experience.

Minnesota races – I did six marathons or ultras in Minnesota this year.  I used four of them to get in shape for the Alaska Series.  I also did a 5K race and a 10K race.  I race-walked all of them.

Other Accomplishments

I had five noteworthy accomplishments that weren’t goals at the start of the year.

1) I finished first overall in the 5,000 meter race-walk event at the Minnesota Senior Games.  That qualified me for the National Senior Games in May.

2) I finished first overall in the We Walk Marathon.  It’s not the first time I’ve been the first place walker in this race, but this year I also finished ahead of everyone who was doing a run/walk mix.  I was the first person ever to walk this race in less than five hours.

3) I set a PR for walking a 10K race.  I finished a 10K race-walk event in 1:02:51.  That’s an average pace of 10:07.

4) I qualified for Boston at the Philadelphia Marathon.  I thought I would need to resort to qualifying in a downhill race.  Qualifying on this course was a pleasant surprise, especially when you consider that almost all of my training was race-walking.

5) I also qualified for Boston at the Hawaii Bird Conservation Marathon.  That was noteworthy, because it was the 150th time I’ve qualified for Boston.