Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Super Bowl Will Feel Different This Year

The Super Bowl won’t be the same this year.  For the fans in the stadium, it’ll be different because they’ll be outnumbered by cardboard cut-outs.  For many others, it’ll be different because they’ll be watching at home, instead of going to a sports bar or Super Bowl Party.  For me it’ll be different because I won’t be going out of town for a race.

In 2012, I ran the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA.  The race was on the same day as the Super Bowl, so I watched the game in the hotel lounge, along with several other people who were staying there.  Giants fans sat around one table, and Patriots fans sat around another table.  It was an exciting game, with New York winning on a late field goal.

That was the start of a tradition.  Since then, I’ve done the Surf City Marathon five more times.  It’s one of my favorite races, but that’s not the only reason.  The race is always on Super Bowl Sunday, and I realized I enjoy watching the game in the Pacific Time Zone, because the game starts earlier there.

Even when I didn’t run the Surf City Marathon, I was usually running a race that day.  In 2014, Deb and I traveled to New Orleans, and I ran the Rock N Roll New Orleans Marathon.  That was the year the Seattle Seahawks won.  That game was exciting because Deb is a big Seahawks fan.

In 2017, I ran the Rocky Raccoon 100.  That’s the year the game was in Houston, and Houston happened to be the closest airport to where I ran running.  It was the first time I’ve ever seen cheerleaders in an airport.

The only recent year I wasn’t doing a race that weekend was 2016.  That year, I was recovering from injuries.  At the time, I couldn’t even walk normally, much less run.  I didn’t get clearance to start running until three weeks later.

This year I’m also recovering from injuries, but that’s not the only reason I’m home.  Even if I was healthy, I wouldn’t be at the Surf City Marathon.  It’s been postponed to September, because of the pandemic.

There’s one other reason the Super Bowl will feel different this year.  The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are playing in their home stadium.  No team has ever had home field advantage in the Super Bowl before.  That’s all the reason I need to root for Kansas City.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

It's Time to Take a Break

If you’ve read any of my recent race reports, you know that I’ve been coping with a knee injury since August.  Here’s a brief recap.

I first noticed it after falling three times during a trail marathon.  None of them seemed like hard landings, but on the third fall, I scraped my knee badly enough that it was bleeding.  The next day, I had a vague sensation that my right knee didn’t feel right.  It didn’t actually hurt, but something felt like it was off.

Over the next two weeks, I didn’t make any changes to my training.  In retrospect, that was a mistake.  I think I aggravated it doing weight training exercises, which included leg extensions and deadlifts.

It wasn’t until the day after the Millennium Meadows Marathon that I realized the discomfort was getting to be more persistent.  Then I saw a doctor.  The injury wasn’t serious, but I needed to cut back in my training.  The timing was unfortunately.  In less than two weeks, I was scheduled to start a series of 20 marathons on 20 consecutive days.  Before that, I also needed to do my virtual Boston Marathon.

I did my virtual Boston Marathon wearing a knee support, but I still had persistent discomfort in my knee.  Then I took a week off from running to prepare for the 20in20 series.

When I started that series, I fully expected the knee to get worse.  I didn’t know if I could finish all 20 races, but I was determined to try, even if I had to walk most of the way.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well my knee held up during that series.  On the first day, it didn’t bother me nearly as much as I thought it would.  By the end of the series, I had developed other minor injuries, but my knee didn’t feel any worse than it did at the start of the series.

Because I race so frequently, I rarely finish a race without having several others already scheduled.  At the beginning of March, I had races scheduled all the way out to the beginning of November.  Most of those races got cancelled, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.  I saw the 20in20 series as a way to do something truly memorable, after all my international trips got cancelled.  When I finished that series, I wasn’t registered for any other races.  There were several races I planned to do, but I held off on making any commitments until I knew how I felt after the series.

After the series, I had a rare opportunity to take a break and let my injuries heal.  In addition to my knee, I also had an inflamed tendon at the top of my left leg, and both of my Achilles tendons were acting up.

From March to July, almost all races of any size were cancelled.  Then race directors adapted and found ways to put on races during the pandemic.  To do so, they had to limit the size of the races.  As a result, races filled quickly.  If you wanted to do a race, you couldn’t wait too long to make a commitment.

There were races in October and November that sounded appealing, but I knew I needed more than a few weeks to heal.  At the time, I was actually much more concerned about my left leg than my right knee.  Looking farther ahead, I really wanted to do the Texas Quad over Thanksgiving weekend.

Ideally, I would’ve waited until I was fully recovered before committing to another race.  I didn’t want to risk the Texas Quad filling up, so I signed up for it.  It was still seven weeks away, and I thought that would be enough time to heal.  It probably would’ve been enough if I didn’t need to keep training.

I took one full week off from running.  That helped a lot.  My next two runs were less than two miles.  Then I gradually worked up to running seven miles every other day.  While I limited most of my runs to seven miles or less, I also did a 10-mile run and a 12-mile run.  I don’t like to go too long without a long training run.  The 12-mile run was supposed to be 14 miles, but I started having knee discomfort, so I stopped.

For the first three or four weeks after the 20in20 series, all of my injuries seemed to be healing nicely.  Then I reached a plateau.  I was trying to strike a balance.  On one hand, I wanted to give my legs enough rest so they could heal.  On the other hand, I wanted to retain enough of my fitness that I could still run marathons on four straight days.  I succeeded in retaining enough of my fitness to be ready for the Texas Quad, but I still wasn’t fully healed.

I don’t have any regrets about doing the Texas Quad.  It’s something I’ve wanted to do for three or four years, and my results exceeded my expectations.  I placed in the top three all four days and had the fastest combined time for the four races.  I’ve won triples before, but this was the first time I won a quadzilla.

Even before the Texas Quad, I signed up for two other races.  The first was the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon.  The second was the Big Beach Marathon.  I wanted to do the New Year’s Double too, but I held off on signing up for those races.

The Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon was important because it was my first opportunity to qualify for the 2022 Boston Marathon.  I didn’t know how many other opportunities I would get, so I wanted to knock that off while I was still in good in enough shape.

After that race, I decided not to sign up for the New Year’s Double.  I took another week off from running.  Since then, I’ve been running every two or three days.  Most of those runs were about five miles.  The longest run I did before the Big Beach Marathon was seven miles.

For the first three or four weeks after the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, my knee seemed to be improving.  I thought I found the right balance.  The two daily activities that are most apt to cause knee discomfort are stairs and planks.  On my better days, I could sometimes g up and down stairs without discomfort.  On my best days, I was able to do a plank without my knee bothering me.

I thought I was turning a corner.  Then, after one of my runs, my knee felt unusually sore.  The next morning, it still felt sore.  After that, I only did one more training run before the Big Beach Marathon.

I had more knee discomfort during the Big Beach Marathon than I’ve had during any race since September.  I think that’s mostly because of long sections of boardwalk.  The boards may have been a bit springy, causing my knee to absorb more shock with each stride.  I realized even before this race that my knee was no longer improving.  For the first time, I had to acknowledge that it probably wouldn’t get better if I kept running, even at a reduced level.  I had already decided to take a break after this race, but this put an exclamation point on that decision. 

I have a physical therapy appointment next week.  Until then, I won’t run at all.  I’ll continue to go for daily walks with Deb, but I won’t attempt to do any other form of cross-training.  I’m just going to rest.

I’ll seek the advice of my physical therapist about when I should resume running.  I fully expect it’ll be at least a few weeks.  In the past, I was reluctant to stop running completely for more than a week.  I didn’t want to risk losing too much fitness when I still had races on my calendar.  That’s no longer a concern.  I’m not signed up for any races, and I don’t plan to commit to anything until my knee is completely healthy.

When I finished the 20in20 series, it was the first time in many years that I didn’t have another race scheduled.  Now I’m in that some position again.  I know taking a break from running will cause me to lose fitness in the short term.  I know how much work it takes to get back in marathon shape, but I also know I can do it.  It can’t be any harder this year this it was in 2016.  Then, I couldn’t even walk normally.  At least this time, I’m able to walk and run with sound mechanics.  I’ll just have to get back in shape.

That’s the reason it was so important for me to get a Boston qualifier at the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon in December.  Now I don’t have to worry about getting back in shape in time to qualify for 2022.  I bought enough time that I can afford to be patient.

Monday, February 1, 2021

Race Report: 2021 Big Beach Marathon

On January 31, I ran the Big Beach Marathon in Gulf Shores, AL This was my first marathon in seven weeks. I signed up for it months ago. At the time, I thought I would be healthy by now. Actually, I thought I would be healthy before the Texas Quad in November. When I wasn’t, I realized that the seven weeks between the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon and this one probably wouldn’t be enough.

After the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, I took a week off from running.  Since then, I’ve been doing short runs every other day.  I’ve been trying to give my right knee some rest, while still keeping up some level of fitness.  While my knee still isn’t 100 percent, all my other injuries have healed.  That’s a start.

Gulf Shores is about halfway between Mobile, AL and Pensacola, FL.  I flew to Pensacola on Saturday, and drove from there.  As I reached the Gulf Shores city limits, I saw a sign that read, “Gulf Shores - Small Town, Big Beach.”  I guess that’s where the name of the race comes from.

Packet pickup was at the same hotel where I was staying.  In a normal year, they would’ve had an expo.  This year, they set up a drive-through lane for packet pickup in the parking lot.

The race packet included a T-shirt, medal, and various goodies.  It’s unusual to give runners their finisher medals before they actually run the race, but I understand why they did it that way.  They wanted to minimize contact between runners and volunteers.  What’s also notable is what wasn’t in the race packet.  It didn’t include a race bib.  I wouldn’t get that until I checked in on the morning of the race.

My hotel was right next to the beach.  It’s a white sand beach that stretches far in either direction.  It reminds me of the beach in Biloxi, MS.

This race was selected by the 50 States Marathon Club for their first quarter reunion.  Normally, there would’ve been a club meeting the day before the race.  Because of the pandemic, there wasn’t any meeting.  Instead, we were all encouraged to wear our club gear and look for each other.

I didn’t sleep well Friday night, so I was feeling tired all day on Saturday.  I explored the hotel property, but I never explored the town at all.  I just didn’t feel like going anywhere.  I had dinner at the hotel with my friends Kasey and Heather who were also staying there for the race.

I never sleep well the night before a race, but I think I got more sleep Saturday night than I did Friday night.  I felt better in the morning than I did on Saturday.

The course was a double loop, which made race day logistics easy.  The start and finish were near a venue called The Hangout, which is the site of an annual music festival. The Hangout was about a mile and a half from my hotel.  That was just far enough that I chose to drive there, rather than walking.  I left a little early, so I could get a close parking spot.

To keep the start area from getting crowded, the race was divided into eight waves, with 15 minutes between waves.  I was in the first non-elite wave, which started at 7:30  The earliest I could check in was 7:10.  At check-in, I needed to turn in a COVID-19 waiver form.

The temperature was in the 60s, with coastal humidity, but the forecast called for morning showers.  It was raining lightly as I drove to the start, but I didn’t expect it to rain for the whole race.  I would’ve been too hot if I wore a rain poncho, so I tied a light jacket around my waist, just in case I got cold.  As it turned out, the rain stopped just as I started running.

We were required to wear masks in the start area, but we could take them off after we started running.  I’m getting used to that.  All of the other races I’ve done recently had the same policy.

In contrast to my last race, I didn’t have any time goal today.  I’ve already qualified for the 2022 Boston Marathon, so I didn’t have to worry if I was no longer in peak shape.  My only goals were to finish the race and enjoy the experience.  I wanted to carry a camera with me, but I made a last-minute decision to leave it in the car, so it wouldn’t get wet.  It looked like it was going to be a gray day, so I didn’t think it would be  good day for pictures.

My friend Michelle was in the same wave, so I decided to start the race with her.  I didn’t think I could run at her pace for the whole race, but I thought I could run with her in the early miles.  I was wrong.  Within half a mile, I could tell the pace was too fast, so I eased up and fell behind.

I started out running with short rapid strides.  I’ve also been doing that in my recent training runs.  I’ve found that’s more comfortable for my injured knee.  It’s tiring, so I can’t keep it up for very long, but I can do it until I get warmed up.

In the first mile, we were on city streets, running away from the coast.  We had a light headwind.  Throughout that mile, I was noticing some discomfort in my knee, but I expected that.

I reached the first mile marker in 8:40, even though I was no longer trying to keep up with Michelle.  I knew that was too fast, so I eased up a bit more.

Early in the second mile, we turned onto a paved path that took us into Gulf State Park.  At first, we were running near the northern edge of the park.  I no longer noticed the wind.  Aside from the fact that we were running in a different direction, we were also surrounded by trees.  Here, we were sheltered from the wind.  I also noticed that my knee felt better.  I think I just needed a mile to get warmed up.

I didn’t check my time at two miles.  When I finished my third mile, I looked at my watch.  I was averaging nine minutes per mile.  That was still too fast.  Over the next few miles, I eased up some more.  I also stopped looking at my watch.

I needed to run by feel.  I was willing to put some effort into my pace, but only if the pace was sustainable for 26.2 miles.  I didn’t know what pace that would be.  It’s been seven weeks since my last race.  During that time, I never ran farther than seven miles.  I didn’t know how much that would affect my ability to run a marathon.  I rarely go that long without a long training run.

We gradually turned and ran into the interior of the park.  After about five miles, I started to notice my knee again.  It wasn’t a big deal, but it confirmed what I already knew.  I needed to take a break from racing, so my knee can get better.  Around six miles, I met a runner who noticed I was wearing a “50 States Finisher” shirt.  He had seen other runners wearing similar shirts, and he was curious about it.  I ran with him for the next two miles.  Then I realized his pace was too fast for me, so I had to slow down.

Aid stations were more limited than they would be in a normal year.  Every few miles, there were tables with water bottles, but we were expected to bring any other nutrition we needed.  I wore a fuel belt that holds one bottle.  I started the race with a 20 oz. bottle of Powerade that I bought at the hotel.  That was enough to get through the first eight miles.  When I ran out of Powerade, I was already past the first two aid stations, but the next one was only a mile away.  When I got there, I discarded my empty bottle and grabbed a bottle of water.  For the rest of the race, I just drank water.

Most of the route was paved, but there were sections of boardwalk, where we crossed marshy areas.  Most of them were fairly short.  Just past nine miles, we began a longer section of boardwalk.  It was about a mile and a half long.  It was during this section, that I noticed much more discomfort in my knee.  It was the worst it has felt during a run since September.  I wasn’t sure if it had something to do with the surface I was running on or if that was just a coincidence.

Toward the end of this long section of boardwalk, I saw a tall pedestrian bridge in the distance.  To climb up to the bridge would’ve been a huge hill.  I recognized that bridge as one that crosses Beach Boulevard.  I saw it while driving to my hotel.  I was pretty sure we wouldn’t be going that way.

The rest of the loop was more exposed to the wind.  At times, the wind was tiring, but it also kept me from overheating.

I reached a junction.  There was one section of boardwalk that continued straight ahead.  There was another one branching off to the left.  That one led to the pedestrian bridge.  There wasn’t any sign indicating which way we should go, but I saw two other runners go straight, so I followed them.  I was already pretty sure that was the correct way to go.

In general, this course was well-marked, and they also had course marshals in several spots.  This was the only unmarked junction that I thought really needed a sign.  I suspect there wasn’t any easy way to put signs up on this part of the course.  I’m pretty sure I passed the 10-mile mark on this boardwalk, but I never saw a sign for it.

As I neared the end of the longest section of boardwalk, I crossed a stream.  To my right, I had a view of a small lake.  The clouds no longer looked gray, and I was seeing some patches of blue sky.  I briefly regretted not having a camera with me.

After that section of boardwalk, we ran through an RV park and then ran on a path that led to another section of boardwalk.  This one wasn’t as long.  When it ended, I reached a road.  There was an aid station there, and a volunteer said to follow the bike lane and then cross the street at the intersection.  This intersection was one of the entrances to my hotel.  I really need to make a list of all the times I ran past my hotel during a marathon.

From here, there was about a mile and half to the end of the first loop.  The rest was on city streets.  Here, I could feel the wind again.  It was a headwind.  The wind direction had shifted since the start of the race.

As I neared the end of the first loop, I started to notice some soreness in my legs.  It was the type of soreness you might expect to feel in the last few miles of a race.  I wasn’t even half done.  I knew the second half would be difficult, mostly because of going seven weeks without any long training runs.  I’m not in marathon shape any more.

I’ve cut way back on my training so my knee would have a chance to heal.  My hope was that I could run just enough to maintain a minimal level of fitness, but not so much that it would aggravate my knee.  I seem to have done just the opposite.  I was running just enough to aggravate my knee, but not enough to stay in shape.

I finished the first half in 2:07.  I ran the first half at the pace I expected to run for the whole race, but I knew the second half would be slower.  I could already feel a difference in my mechanics.  My motion wasn’t as fluid.  I wasn’t running efficiently.  I could feel that I was going slower.

As I started the second half, I was once again running away from the coast.  For the first time in the race, I started to feel hot and sticky.  That only lasted a few minutes.  Then it started to rain lightly.  It was just enough to cool me off, and it only lasted for a mile or two.

By the time I entered Gulf State Park again, I realized my knee was feeling better.  Apparently, it really was the boardwalk that made my knee hurt.  It’s possible the boards were a little bit springy, and that put more strain on my knee.

When I reach the 15-mile mark, I told myself I only had 11 miles to go.  Physically, I was struggling, but 11 miles just didn’t sound like anything intimidating.  I thought back to the Running Ragged 20in20 series.  That series was intimidating before I started, but after a week or so, running marathons every day felt normal.  It was a long time on my feet, but on any given day, if I only had 11 miles to go, that seemed manageable.  That’s something that stays with you.

A few minutes later, my friend Tom caught up to me.  He started in the same wave, but he started at a more conservative pace.  Tom said he was now hoping to finish in 4:30.  At the halfway mark, I was on pace for 4:14, but when I considered how much I was slowing down, 4:30 seemed like a reasonable goal for me too.  I ran the rest of the race with Tom.

I let Tom set the pace,  Sometimes, I had to work hard to keep up with him.  At other times, the pace felt easy.  On average, it was sustainable, but just barely.  Running together, however, made the last 11 miles more manageable for both of us.

Just before the long section of boardwalk, we passed an aid station.  I didn’t need a new water bottle, so I kept running.  I noticed Tom was no longer with me.  He must’ve stopped at the aid station.

As I started onto the boardwalk, I knew Tom would catch up with me.  I had to slow down for two reasons.  First, this boardwalk starts with a long gradual uphill section.  It’s really the only significant hill in an otherwise flat race.  My second reason for slowing down was to reduce the wear and tear on my knee.

Tom caught up to me, and then started to pull ahead.  I had to pick up my pace to keep up with him.  Eventually, I picked up my pace even more to try to catch up again after falling behind.  Then I caught my foot on the edge of one of the boards.  I tripped and stumbled forward, but I avoided falling.  That made my knee hurt, but only briefly.  Overall, it still felt better than it did in the first lap.

As we got off the boardwalk and into the last two miles of the race, Tom started running with more confidence.  I was working harder and harder to keep up with him.  With less than a mile to go, I tripped again.  This time it was on pavement.  Something solid was sticking up from the pavement, but I never saw what it was.  Again, I was able to keep from falling.

Each time Tom accelerated, I did my best to match it.  With about five blocks to go, I almost gave up, but then I dug deep and caught up again.

At 26 miles, Tom looked at his watch and said we could break 4:26.  He took off.  This time, I didn’t try to keep up.  I was already at my limit.  Before we finished, Tom was already half a block ahead of me.  He finished in 4:25:57.  I followed at my own pace and finished in 4:26:19.

We bumped into several friends in the finish area.  One was Michelle, who had a disappointing finish after missing a turn and running more than a mile out of her way.

This race had excellent post-race food.  Each of our race bibs had a food coupon and two beer coupons.  To redeem them, we walked over to The Hangout.  I was expecting the beer to be Bud Light or Miller Lite, but they had a selection of craft beers.  The food was a boxed lunch.  We had our choice of a turkey wrap, a ham and cheese wrap, or a veggie wrap.  The boxed lunch also included chips and cookies.  It was a filling post-race meal.

The Hangout also proved to be a great place to hang out after the race.  The had lots of tables, included several that were outside.  By now, the sun was out.  We had running weather that was reasonable, if not ideal, followed by warmer weather for hanging out afterwards.

After having lunch with Tom, I bumped into Kasey and Heather.  Then we bumped into Michelle, along with a few other runners we knew.  I stayed in town much longer than I normally would after a race.

Eventually, I went back to the hotel, so I could get cleaned up.  I spent way too much time in sweaty clothes and shoes.  Kasey and Heather had the foresight to bring their finished medals to The Hangout.  I didn’t take my medal out of the packaging until I got back to the hotel.  It has a cool design.  The beach depicted on the medal has sand embedded in it.

I had dinner with Kasey and Heather again.  This time we went to a place that we heard was the best restaurant in Gulf Shores.  It didn’t look like much, but the food was great.

When I woke up on Monday, my legs were so stiff I could barely move.  It’s amazing how quickly I lost my fitness.  In September, I was running marathons day after day, and they felt like they were just my daily training runs.  Now, I feel like this was the first marathon I ever ran.

Race Statistics

Distance: 26.2 miles
Time: 4:26:19
Average Pace: 10:10
Lifetime Marathons/Ultras: 431
Alabama Marathons: 4

Friday, January 29, 2021

I Have 17 More BQs Than I Thought

One of my signature accomplishments as a runner is qualifying for the Boston Marathon in all 50 states.  Qualifying for Boston has always been a standard of excellence, so it’s something I often shoot for, even if I already have a qualifying time that will get me into the race.

At the end of my race reports, I usually list a few statistics.  In my most recent race report, I indicated I had qualified for Boston in 131 races.  I was wrong.  I’ve actually qualified in 148 races.  How could I be off my so much?  To understand that, you need to understand the subtle details of qualifying.

To qualify for the Boston Marathon, you need to finish a marathon within a certain time.  How fast you need to run it depends on your age and gender.  For runners who are over 35, they have different qualifying times for each 5-year age group, but it’s not based on your age on the day you run your qualifying race.  It’s based on how old you’ll be on the day of the Boston Marathon.

Each Boston Marathon has a qualifying period.  It generally starts about one year before registration will open and continues until registration closes.  For example, the registration period for the 2020 Boston Marathon started on September 15, 2018 and continued until the race filled, roughly one year later.

Because of COVID-19, the 2020 Boston Marathon was initially postponed from April until September, and was later cancelled.  Getting into the Boston Marathon isn’t easy.  Some runners get in by running qualifying times.  Others get in by raising money for a charity.  A limited number of foreign entrants can get into the race by buying a travel package from an international tour operator.

Whether you spent years training hard to qualify or raised thousands of dollars of donations, it’s a big commitment.  Naturally, when the race was cancelled, the runners who were signed up hoped that they would get guaranteed entry into the 2021 race.  Unfortunately, the Boston Athletic Association wasn’t in any position to do that.  They couldn’t know for sure if they would be able to accommodate the same number of runners.  There’s a limit to how many runners you can fit on the narrow two-lane road leading out of Hopkinton, and there’s a limit to how long the various cities and towns along the route will tolerate having the roads closed.  During a pandemic, they might insist on a smaller race.

The BAA gave refunds to everyone who was signed up for 2020 and said the runners who ran qualifying times would be able to use those same qualifying times to register for the 2021 race.  The easiest way to do that was to extend the qualifying period for the 2021 race.  Ordinarily, it would’ve started on September 14, 2019.  Instead, it started on September 15, 2018, which is the same day qualifying for the 2020 race started.  By adding a year to the qualifying period, they effectively allowed people who had already qualified to use those qualifying times again.

The Boston Marathon is normally held on the third Monday in April.  Last September, when registration for 2021 would normally have started, it wasn’t clear if that would be possible.  The BAA postponed registration for 2021.  Later in the year, they announced that the race wouldn’t be held in April.  They promised a follow-up announcement when they chose a new date.  Finally, in January, the made this announcement:

They also made a subtle change to the page on their website that explains how to qualify.  Until a few days ago, it said your age group was based on your age on April 19, 2021.  Now, it says your age group is based on your age on October 11, 2021.  The rule didn’t change.  It’s still based on your age on the day of the race, but that date changed.

As it happens, I’ll be 59 years old on April 19, but I’ll be 60 years old on October 11.  The change in the race date cause me to move into a new age group.  That means instead of needing a time of 3:35 or better to qualify, I just need a time of 3:50 or better.

I’ve kept track of my race results for every marathon or ultramarathon I’ve ever finished.  One thing I keep track of is whether I qualified for Boston in that race.  The qualifying rules have changed many times over the years.  If I say I qualified for Boston, I mean I met the qualifying standards that were in place at the time.  There are lots of races where I beat the qualifying time, but for other reasons it wasn’t a qualifying race.  I don’t count races that didn’t have certified courses, since I couldn’t actually qualify in those races, regardless of how fast I ran.  Likewise, I don’t count races that don’t report race results to the BAA.  There’s also a rule that seems odd to me.  You can’t qualify for Boston in an indoor marathon.

While the qualifying rules can change from year to year, I can’t think of any other cases where they have changed retroactively.  Usually, when you line up for a race, you know if it’s a qualifying race, and you know exactly how fast you need to run to qualify.  Until this year.

Registration for the 2021 Boston Marathon hasn’t started yet.  When it does, I can register using my race result from any race on or after September 15, 2018.  During that span, I ran 75 marathons (excluding ultras).  Excluding races that weren’t qualifying events, there were 17 races where I ran times between 3:35 and 3:50.  At the time I ran them, I didn’t I was fast enough to qualify.  Because I moved into a different age group, I actually did run fast enough to qualify.  Here are my 17 new Boston Qualifiers:

2018 Chicago Marathon (3:47:05)

2018 New York City Marathon (3:48:44)

2019 Surf City Marathon (3:48:02)

2019 Hong Kong Marathon (3:45:17)

2019 Little Rock Marathon (3:43:38)

2019 Carmel Marathon (3:45:09)

2019 Boston Marathon (3:39:20)

2019 Fargo Marathon (3:42:37)

2019 Pocatello Marathon (3:37:38)

2019 Savage Seven, Day 2 (3:46:47)

2019 Savage Seven, Day 3 (3:48:34)

2019 Savage Seven, Day 4 (3:49:33)

2019 Savage Seven, Day 5 (3:46:54)

2020 Surf City Marathon (3:35:28)

2020 Atlanta Marathon (3:41:15)

2020 Xenia Avenue Marathon (3:46:00)

2020 Millennium Meadows Marathon (3:42:27)

In some of these races I was trying to qualify, thinking I needed 3:35, and I was disappointed that I couldn’t do it.  In others, I knew I wouldn’t break 3:35, but I still did the best I could.  That effort made a difference.  I’m tickled pick to know that I qualified for Boston four days in a row at the Savage Seven.  My goal at the time was to break four hours each day, but I put in just enough extra effort that I ended up breaking 3:50.

It's worth noting that there were also races where I would have qualified even if I was still in the 55-59 age group.  When registration for 2021 eventually opens, I'll use my fastest qualifying time, which would've been a BQ anyway.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

I moved up on the Mega Marathon List.

There’s a running club in Japan that maintains something called the Mega Marathon List.  It’s a ranking worldwide ranking of the runners who have completed the most marathons and ultramarathons in their lifetimes.

To get onto the list, you need to finish at least 300 marathons.  I qualified for the list in 2015, when I ran my 300th marathon at the Harpeth Hills Flying Monkey Marathon in Tennessee.

Getting on the list was one of my lifetime goals.  Since then, I haven’t paid that much attention to my ranking.  I usually rank somewhere around 500, but that varies from one year to the next.  In addition to the worldwide list, there’s also a North American list.  My ranking on this list is usually close to 100.

From 2013 through 2015, I was running more than 50 marathons a year.  Since then, I’ve cut back.  In some years, I wasn’t running as many marathons as the other runners on this list, so I had no expectation of climbing in the rankings.

The lists are usually updated twice a year, but there wasn’t any midyear update last year.  At the time, nearly all marathons were cancelled, so there didn’t seem to be much point in updating the lists.  Since then, small races have started to come back, but it varies widely, depending on where you live.

I just received a copy of the North American list, which was updated at the end of 2020.  I haven’t seen the worldwide list yet, but I was surprised to learn that I’ve climbed all the way to 68 on the North American list.  That’s up 21 spots from a year ago.  Here’s a link to it, if you’re interested:

It seems that most of the runners on this list did few, if any, races last year.  I actually ran more races than I planned, mostly because of two multi-day series of races.  Because of that, I expected to move up a few spots, but I was still shocked to move up as much as I did.

I expect 2020 to be an aberration.  I probably won’t move up at all this year.  I only have one race scheduled.  After that, I plan to take a break, so I can heal from a lingering knee injury.  I may yet have a normal race schedule in the second half of the year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t run any other races before the summer.

One thing about this list still amuses me.  Although I moved up quite a bit in the North American rankings, I haven’t moved up at all within my home state.  I still rank 7th in Minnesota.

Friday, January 1, 2021

My Goals for 2021

I was unsure if I should even bother to publish a list of goals for 2021.  Most of my goals tend to focus on races, and I have no idea what races I might do this year.  I usually plan my race schedule several months in advance, but that won’t work in the current environment.  The types of races I usually do aren’t happening right now.  Now that COVID-19 vaccines are available, there’s hope for the second half of the year, but there’s still too much uncertainty to plan anything. 

Last year, I had to adapt.  I looked for opportunities to do small races, but I wouldn’t book anything too far in advance.  My outlook for 2021 can best be described by a line from a George Harrison song: 


I don’t know what races I’ll do or what travel opportunities I might have, but I do have a few goals that don’t revolve around races.  I’ll start with those. 

Heal from Injuries 

In August, I injured my right knee at a trail marathon where I fell a few times.  It wasn’t too bad at first, but I think I aggravated it doing weight training.  Before long, I couldn’t go up or down stairs without pain. 

The good news is that nothing was torn.  The bad news is that I was about to start a series of 20 marathons in 20 days.  Amazingly, I made it through that series without making my knee worse.  I did, however, develop new injuries, including Achilles tendonitis in both ankles and an inflamed tendon at the top of my left hamstring. 

When I signed up for the Texas Quad, I assumed I could recover in time.  It was still seven weeks away.  I recovered from the Achilles tendonitis.  The other injuries improved, but they weren’t completely healed. 

After the Texas Quad, I had a new injury.  On the last two days of that series, I felt some discomfort on the outside of my left knee.  Thankfully, the other injuries didn’t get any worse. 

I took it easy for the next two weeks.  Then I ran the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, which was my final race of the year.  I went all out, so I could get a qualifying time for the 2022 Boston Marathon.  Having done that, I don’t have to worry if I temporarily get out of shape.  I have a good long time before I need to think about qualifying again. 

After the Mississippi Gulf Coast Marathon, I took a week off from running.  Since then, I’ve been doing easy runs every other day.  My right knee is improving, but I still sometimes notice it walking up and down stairs.  The other injuries are doing much better. 

Because of all these races, my knee hasn’t had sufficient rest to heal.  I only have one race scheduled in 2021.  That’s at the end of January.  I’m not really going to train for that.  I’ll go easy in that race, and then I’ll take a break from racing.  I’ll keep doing easy runs every other day, but nothing long or strenuous.  I’ll take it easy for as long as it takes for my knee to heal.  I won’t enter any races or do any serious training until I’m 100 percent healthy. 

Rebuild My Mileage Base 

In the second half of 2019, I was running at least 50 miles every week.  I maintained a similar mileage base through the first nine months of 2020.  Then my mileage dropped off significantly as I tried to give injuries a chance to heal.  I expect to keep my mileage low for the first few months of 2021.  Once my knee is healthy enough, I’ll want to rebuild my mileage base. 

If experience has taught me anything, it’s that you can’t ramp up too quickly, or it leads to injuries.  The human body can adapt to almost any training load, but it can only adapt so fast.  It may take me until the end of the year to get back to where I was last summer.  I see this year as a rebuilding year.  Hopefully, I’ll establish a good foundation for 2022. 

Get Back to a Lean Weight 

I’ve gained seven pounds since the beginning of October.  That’s not a lot, but I worked hard to lose weight last summer, and I wanted to keep it off. 

I’ve never been able to lose weight through diet alone.  I rely heavily on exercise.  In the short term, I may struggle just to keep from gaining more weight.  Once I’m able to ramp up my training, I hope to lose the weight again. 

Last year, I supplemented my running with cross-training.  From May through August, I was doing two workouts every day.  Usually, one of them was a run, and the other one was either cycling or weight training.  I also went for walks two or three times a day.  I’ll probably do something similar this year, since my running will initially be limited. 

What About Races? 

I currently only have firm plans for one race.  I’m signed up for a marathon in Alabama at the end of January.  I have deferred registration for several races that were cancelled last year, but I don’t know if they’ll go forward this year.  Even if they do, I don’t know if I can travel to them.  Some of them are in countries or regions with travel restrictions. 

Rather than making any firm plans, I have a wish list.  These are races I’d like to run under the right circumstances.  It’s too soon to know which, if any, of these races I’ll run this year.  Some are more likely than others, but none are certain. 

New England Challenge – This is a series of marathons in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island.  To complete my 4th and 5th circuits of marathons in every state, I’ll eventually need to do at least one more marathon in five of these states.  This series is in May.  Currently most, if not all, of these states have travel restrictions or quarantine requirements.  This series will only happen if the pandemic is under control by May.  That seems unlikely.  I also don’t know if I’ll recover from my knee injury in time to train for a series like this.  May seems optimistic.  I’d love to do this series if I could, but it’s more likely it’ll have to wait another year. 

Firecracker Triple – This is a series of three marathons in or near Portland, OR.  I’ve done this triple a few times before, winning it in 2011 and again in 2014.  2020 was slated to be the last year for the triple, but it had to be cancelled.  Instead, 2021 will be the final year.  These races are held over the July 4th weekend, so the odds of them happening are better than the New England Challenge. 

Mad Marathon – This is a small race in Vermont.  I was signed up for it last year, but the race was cancelled.  I’m automatically signed up for this year’s race, if it happens.  On one hand, small races are more likely to happen that large races.  On the other hand, Vermont is more restrictive than most states. 

Alaska Series – This is a series of four marathons in Juneau, AK.  I was signed up for this last year.  When it was cancelled, I deferred my registration to this year.  This series isn’t until August, so there’s a better chance that it can happen this year. 

International Races – Last year, I had to cancel my travel plans for marathons in eight countries in Europe or South America.  Six of them were scheduled to take place in April, May, or June.  I doubt if those races will take place this spring.  A few have already announced plans to delay until later in the year.  Even of they take place, I wouldn’t be able to run all of them.  They’re all piled into a span of just a couple months, so scheduling conflicts would make it difficult for me to do more than one or two.  It’s far more likely that I won’t do any of them this year.  International travel is expensive, and overseas flights are unpleasant.  I’m not going to fly overseas for a race unless I can go sightseeing, dine in restaurants, and socialize with friends.  That might not be possible this year. 

Boston Marathon – The Boston Athletic Association has already decided that they can’t hold the race in April.  They’re tentatively planning to hold the race later in the year, but they haven’t picked a date yet.  They need to be reasonably confident that the race can take place.  If not, I’m sure they’ll hold another virtual race.  I will definitely do this race, even if it’s a virtual race.  One way or another, it’ll be my 10th consecutive Boston Marathon finish.  When you have an active streak of at least 10 years, you can register early, which makes it much easier to get into the race. 

New York City Marathon – I was registered for this race in 2020.  When it was cancelled, I was given the choice of a refund or deferred entry to 2021, 2022, or 2023.  I chose to defer my entry.  I don’t know yet which year it will be.  Sometime soon, everyone with deferred entry will have a chance to indicate their preference.  There’s no guarantee I’ll get my first choice.  I’ll just have to wait and see. 

Minnesota races – In Minnesota, there aren’t any outdoor marathons before the last weekend of April.  By then I might be ready to start looking for races.  Until the pandemic is over, local races are preferable to races that involve travel.  I love to travel, but it forces you to come into contact with more people.  When I traveled to races last year, I spent most of the time in my hotel room, leaving only for the races and to get food.

Thursday, December 31, 2020

My Year-End Review for 2020

 For as long as I’ve had this blog, I’ve been posting a list of goals at the beginning of the year, and then revisiting them at the end of the year.  In a typical year, I’ll accomplish all but one of two of the things I set out to do.  By the middle of March, it was already obvious that 2020 was not going to be a typical year.

Several of my goals for this year revolved around specific races or destinations.  Most of the races I signed up for got cancelled, making some of my goals either difficult or impossible.  The year started out normally, but after March 1st, my next nine marathons got cancelled.  By the middle of June, I was wondering if I would look back on 2020 as the year that got cancelled. 

In the second half of the year, I adapted.  Most of the races I signed up for were cancelled, but I found other races.  I also found new ways to challenge myself.  2020 wasn’t cancelled.  In some ways, it was a good year.  It just wasn’t the year I planned. 

I’m dividing this post into two parts.  First, I’ll look back at how I did on my original goals.  Then I’ll write about some successes I had that weren’t part of the original plan. 

Part 1:  The Year I Planned

Run Marathons or Ultras in 50 Countries

By the end of 2019, I had finished marathons or ultras in 41 countries.  I wanted to run marathons in nine new countries this year, to reach a total of 50.  By the end of February, I was registered for the races and had all of my travel reservations in place. 

In January, I ran a marathon in the Turks & Caicos Islands.  Several members of Marathon Globetrotters and the Country Marathon Club traveled to this race to make sure there would be enough runners for it to count as an official race.  That turned out to be my only international race this year. 

In April, I was planning to run the Bratislava Marathon and make a side trip to Vienna.  I even had tickets for a Mozart opera, as well as dinner and a concert at the Schönbrunn Palace.  That was the first international trip I had to cancel.  First it was postponed to September.  Then I had to cancel my plans altogether because of travel bans.  Eventually, this year’s race was cancelled altogether. 

That pattern repeated itself for my other international trips.  By the time the dust settled, I also cancelled plans to run marathons in Northern Ireland, Latvia, Luxembourg, Brazil, Russia, Estonia, and Romania.  The only good news is that I was able to get refunds or credits for most of my travel expenses. 

Since running my first two international races in 2010, I’ve visited at least two new countries each year.  That streak ended this year.  The Turks & Caicos Islands turned out to be the only new country I visited this year. 

Finish All the Minnesota Marathons (Again)

Last year, I completed a long-term goal of running or walking every marathon in Minnesota.  This goal was on my list again, because there were some new races. 

Last year, I did a four-day series called the Minnesota Brothers Trail Series.  This year, it was going to expand to six days, and it was being rebranded at the Summer Camp Series.  The new series included three of the races from the old series, plus three new ones.  I was planning, at a minimum, to do the three new races, and I was seriously considering doing all six. 

The Summer Camp Series was part of a longer series called Running Ragged 20in20.  That series include the Summer Camp races, plus fourteen other races, spread out across 13 different states.  When COVID-19 made it impossible to hold these races at their original venues, the entire series was reorganized with all 20 races being held at venues in Minnesota.  I ended up doing all 20.  My goal of doing every Minnesota marathon was a big part of my motivation to do this series. 

Besides the Running Ragged 20in20 Series, I also ran an inaugural race in Champlin, MN called the Xenia Avenue Marathon.  I first learned about this race in March.  At the time, it conflicted with other travel plans.  When those plans got cancelled, I had an opportunity to add this one to my schedule. 

Despite doing these 21 Minnesota marathons, I still haven’t done all the new ones.  While I was at the Running Ragged 20in20 Series, I learned there was another new race in Minnesota.  I no longer recall the name of the race or the city where it was taking place.  I never looked into that one, because it was right after the Running Ragged 20in20 Series, and I desperately needed to take a break, so injuries could heal. 

Run My 400th Marathon or Ultra

At the beginning of the year, I had already finished 398 marathons or ultras.  I ran my 400th at the Surf City Marathon in Huntington Beach, CA.  Of all of my goals for this year, this was the only one that went exactly as planned.  That’s because it was early in the year. 

Run a Quadzilla in At Least One More State

The word “quadzilla” was coined many years ago by runners who ran the Tahoe Triple and then ran another marathon the next day to make it four in a row.  At the time, that was the only way North American runners could run marathons on four consecutive days.  One of my long-term goals is to run a quadzilla in as many states as I can.  By the end of 2019, I had run quadzillas in Oregon, Washington, New Mexico, Hawaii, Minnesota, and Florida. 

I was originally planning to run the four-day Alaska Series, to add Alaska to this list.  That series was cancelled, but I later added the Texas Quad to my schedule, giving me quadzillas in seven states. 

Make Progress on My Fourth (and Fifth) Circuits of 50 States

At the beginning of the year, I needed 17 more states to complete my fourth circuit of marathons or ultras in all 50 states.  I also had the first 22 states for an eventual fifth circuit.  I didn’t expect to make much progress on this goal, since my race schedule was dominated by international races.  As it turns out, I made even less progress than I thought I would. 

Early in the year, I ran my fourth marathon in South Carolina.  I had to cancel plans for races in North Carolina, Vermont, Alaska, and New York.  I was still able to do my fourth marathon in Michigan, and added my fifth as well.  Finally, I added my fourth Mississippi race.  It wasn’t much progress, but I did what I could. 

Keep the Weight Off

For more than half of 2019, I was working hard to lose weight.  By September, I got down to a nice lean racing weight, and the weight loss contributed to a string of good race results.  One of my goals for 2020, was to keep from regaining any weight.  That was one of the few goals that was entirely within my control, yet it didn’t go well. 

During March and April, as the news about COVID-19 seemed to get worse by the day, I was doing a lot of stress eating.  I also wasn’t getting as much exercise as usual.  Races are usually a big component of my training, and all of my spring races got cancelled. 

By the beginning of May, I realized I needed to do something.  I couldn’t ramp up my running mileage yet, because I was still recovering from an Achilles injury.  Instead, I started adding cross-training to the mix in the form of weight training and stationary cycling.  I doubled my training volume overnight, which made a huge difference. 

The was enough to stop gaining weight, but I still wasn’t losing weight.  By June, I was finally healthy enough to start ramping up my running mileage.  Then the weight gradually came off.  By the end of the summer, I was down to a lean weight.  During the Running Ragged 20in20 Series, I weighed myself every day.  I was careful to make sure I neither gained nor lost weight. 

I wish the story ended there.  Since the Running Ragged 20in20 Series, I’ve had to cut way back on training, so an assortment of injuries could heal.  Most of them have, but my right knee will still take a while.  In the meantime, I’m gaining weight again.  So far, it’s only about seven pounds, but the trendline is moving in the wrong direction. 

Keep Up My Mileage

In 2019, I got off to a slow start, but really ramped up my mileage by summer.  Then I kept it going.  In the last six months of 2019, I ran at least 250 miles every month.  I also ran at least 50 miles every week.  This year, I was hoping to keep both of those streaks going.  If I did that, my total for the year would be more than 3,000 miles.  That’s something I’ve never done before.

This was an ambitious goal.  To do it, I had to stay healthy all year.  That seemed unlikely, since I didn’t even start the year healthy.  In late December, I started having soreness on the back of my left heel.  Running four days of the Savage Seven didn’t help.

I managed to meet my mileage goals in January, but I realized my heel wasn’t going to get any better unless I cut back a little.  In February, I revised my goals.  Instead of 250 miles a month, I ran 200.  Instead of 50 miles a week, I lowered the bar to 40. 

That worked out well.  By the end of May, I was healthy, and ready to pick up my mileage again.  I ran 250 miles in June.  In July and August, I ran more than 300 miles.  Running 3,000 total miles in 2020 was once again a realistic goal. 

In September, I ran more than 500 miles, largely because of the Running Ragged 20in20 Series.  After that, I needed to cut back drastically.  I went into that series with a knee injury and came out of it with multiple injuries. 

In October, I barely ran 100 miles.  I ran 200 miles in November, but the Texas Quad accounted for more than half of that.  December was another low mileage month.  I won’t begin to ramp up again until my right knee is healthy again. 

I finished the year with 2,890 miles.  That’s well short of 3,000, but it’s still the most I’ve run in a year.  Running 3,000 miles is something I can shoot for in a future year. 

While I didn’t hit either of my mileage goals, I still set the following personal records: 

1)      Consecutive weeks running at least 40 miles (65)

2)      Consecutive weeks running at least 50 miles (31)

3)      Consecutive months running at least 200 miles (17)

4)      Consecutive months running at least 250 miles (7)

5)      Consecutive months running at least 300 miles (3)

6)      Most miles in a calendar week (183.4)

7)      Most miles in a calendar month (527.5)

8)      Most miles in a calendar year (2890).

That’s not bad.

Part 2:  Unexpected Accomplishments

Finishing the Alphabet

After running the Zoom! Yah! Yah! Indoor Marathon in 2012, I set a long-term goal of running marathons for every letter of the alphabet.  I chipped away at this goal over the next two and a half years.  After I ran the Quad Cities Marathon in 2014, I just needed a race that started with “X.”

After that, I was stuck.  There aren’t many races that start with X.  One option was the Xiamen International Marathon in China.  While I would’ve loved to do that race, Xiamen isn’t really a tourist destination, and I most likely wouldn’t find many people who spoke English.  Traveling there by myself wouldn’t be easy.

The easier option was a cross-country race in Florida called the X-Country Marathon.  I wasn’t excited about this race.  I’m not a fan of cross-country races, and the name seemed kind of weak.  Besides, it always fell on the same weekend as something else that was more important to me.  I didn’t even put this on my list of goals for this year, because I didn’t think I could fit it in.

In March, my friend Sandy sent me information about the Xenia Avenue Marathon.  This race is in Minnesota, so I would’ve wanted to run it even if it didn’t start with X.  Unfortunately, it was the same day that I was scheduled to fly to Juneau for the Alaska Series.  At first, I wondered if there was any way to do this race and still catch my flight.  It was possible, but I would have to drive straight to the airport without showering.  Then Delta changed their flight schedule, making it impossible.

Eventually, the Alaska Series had to be cancelled because of Alaska’s travel restrictions for COVID-19.  The silver lining is that there was no longer any reason why I couldn’t run the Xenia Avenue Marathon.

Excluding virtual races, this was my first race in more than four months.  That alone made it exciting.  Finishing another Minnesota marathon was also a plus.  Most exciting was finally running an X race, so I could finish the alphabet.  Taking third place was just icing on the cake.

Photo credit: Heather Zeigler

Running Marathon for 20 Consecutive Days

Before this year, I had run marathons on as many as five consecutive days.  I knew there were longer series, but I didn’t think I could handle the wear and tear of anything longer than five days.

The Running Ragged 20in20 Series was originally composed of three different series that took place back-to-back.  The Heartland Series was going to be a seven-day series, with races in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota.  The Summer Camp Series was going to be a six-day series of trail marathons, with every race taking place within 15 miles of St. Cloud, MN.  The Prairie Series was going to be a seven-day series, with races in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, and Missouri.  If you did all three series, you could run marathons for 20 consecutive days.

I had no intention of doing that.  At most, I planned to do the Summer Camp Series, plus the Minnesota races of the other series.  Even that seemed intimidating.

Mainly Marathons had to cancel most of their multi-day, multi-state series this year.  Every state had different restrictions regarding public events, and some had travel restrictions or quarantine requirements.  Holding a series entirely in Minnesota was much more manageable, as they only had to comply with one state’s rules.  Mainly Marathons salvaged the Running Ragged 20in20 Series by moving all the races to Minnesota.

By then, all of the races I originally planned for September and October had been cancelled.  I had the best mileage base I’ve ever had.  In an average day, I was running 10 miles, doing an hour of cross-training, and going for a few long walks.  I was doing the equivalent of 20 miles of running per day, seven days a week.  Running marathon on 20 consecutive days still seemed intimidating, but it was a way to salvage the year by doing something truly epic.

I went in with low expectations.  I planned to pace myself like I would in a 24-hour race.  I was expecting most of my times to be between five and six hours.  On the first day, I alternated between running for a mile and then walking for a couple minutes.  I didn’t have any time goal.  It wasn’t until I had just over a mile to go that I realized I could break five hours if I skipped my last walking break and just kept running.

I finished that first race in 4:59.  That was my slowest race of the series.  With each day, I got a better feel for how fast I could run without leaving myself sore or fatigued for the next day.  On the first eight days of that series, I got faster each day.

I also got more competitive.  On the first two days, there were runners who were clearly much faster than me, so I didn’t try to compete.  On days three and four, I let a faster runner go ahead in the first half, but caught up to him in the second half.  After two unexpected come-from-behind victories, I started competing for the win whenever I saw the opportunity.  I ended up winning 13 of the 20 races.  I also kept my times under five hours every day, averaging 4:40.

Very few people have run marathons on 20 consecutive days.  Even fewer have done it with the kind of times I was averaging.  I’m proud of my results in this series, and I’m really glad I took on this challenge.  Instead of 2020 being the year that was cancelled, it became the year I accomplished something huge.

I Ran More Marathons Than I Originally Planned

I usually plan my race schedule several months in advance.  Before the pandemic started, I had already planned all my races through the middle of August, plus one race each in September, October and November.  My fall schedule still had a few holes, but I was expecting to run somewhere between 25 and 30 marathons in 2020.

My first four races went as planned.  All but one of my remaining races got cancelled.  Excluding virtual races, I didn’t have any races between March 1 and July 19.  By the time I ran the Xenia Avenue Marathon, I had already missed nine races.

By then, the organizers of smaller races were figuring out how to hold races during the pandemic.  I only ran four marathons in the first half of 2020, but I went on to run 28 more in the second half of the year.  Most of those races came in two multi-day series.  Those made it possible for me to run that many races, while only travelling outside of Minnesota four times.

Since 2010, I’ve been a member of a club called Marathon Maniacs.  They used to have “Maniac of the Year” awards for the runners who finished the most marathons each year.  The winners would typically have well over 100 marathons.

Marathon Maniacs no longer has those awards, but they’ve since added a feature to their website called the “leader board.”  The leader board can be sorted in different ways, including by state.  That effectively created separate Maniac of the Year competitions in each state.

In a normal year, I wouldn’t even try to compete for this.  Minnesota has a surprising number of prolific marathoners.  There’s a running club in Japan that maintains a list of every runner in the world who has completed at least 300 marathons or ultras.  The rankings are updated every six months.  I typically rank roughly 500th in the world and 100th in North America, yet I’ve never  ranked any higher than 7th in Minnesota.

After the Running Ragged 20in20 Series, I shot up on the leader board.  Until this week, I was in the top 10 on the leader board for all club members.  More significantly, I finished the year with more marathons than anyone in Minnesota.

Winning Almost Half of My Races

As I mentioned above, I won 13 of the 20 races of the Running Ragged 20in20 Series.  I was also the first-place male on the first day of the Texas Quad.  That’s 14 wins out of 32 races, for a “batting average” of 438.

I’ve never been an elite athlete.  In a large race, I don’t expect to be anywhere close to competitive, except in my age group.  Where I get competitive is in a multi-day series.  When I race frequently, I don’t slow down as much as most of the other runners.  Bouncing back quickly from marathons is one of my strengths.

Winning the Texas Quad

When I started the Texas Quad, I didn’t even know they had awards for the fastest combined times.  I took it one day at a time.  On the first day, I made an impulsive decision to race for the win.  On the next two days, I pushed hard enough to get into the top three.  It wasn’t until the morning of the fourth race that I learned there was an overall award for the quad.  By then, I had all but clinched it.

Placing in the Top Three in 26 of 32 Races

My first race of the year was a small race in a tropical climate.  I do well in hot races.  There were two runners who were out of my league, but I easily placed third.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but that set the tone for the rest of the year.  I went on to place in the top three 26 times this year.  That included all 20 days of the Running Ragged 20in20 Series and all four days of the Texas Quad.  At one point, I had a streak of 24 consecutive podium finishes.

Virtual Races

A review of 2020 wouldn’t be complete without mentioning virtual races.  This is a concept that really took off in 2020, as race organizers who were forced to cancel their races weren’t in a position to offer refunds and wanted to provide something.  It was also a way for them to make use of race T-shirts and finisher medals that had already been procured.

I’m not a fan of virtual races.  They’re not a substitute for the experience of racing face-to-face, and I don’t do races just to get a T-shirt or medal.  I nevertheless ran three virtual races this year.

The first one was called the Quarantine Backyard Ultra.  This was a “last man standing” race.  I did this race because I was intrigued by the format and wanted to see what it felt like.  In a last man standing race, you run a 4.167 mile lap each hour.  If you finish in less than an hour, you can do whatever you want with the remaining time, but you can’t start the next lap until the beginning of the next hour.  You must start the next lap on time, or you’re eliminated.  The race continues until only one runner completes a lap.

I knew I wasn’t going to be competitive.  I was still recovering from a case of Achilles tendonitis in my left leg.  It no longer bothered me on shorter runs, but running for hour after hour was bound to eventually cause a flare-up.  I lasted only eight hours.

My second virtual race was for a marathon that got cancelled.  I did that one mostly because I was overdue for a long training run.  Getting ready to run a marathon forced me to do other long runs in preparation.  Ultimately, it was a glorified training run, but it was a training run I needed after a few months of only doing shorter runs.

My last virtual race was the virtual Boston Marathon.  I did this one even though I knew it would aggravate a knee injury.  I did it so I could extend my streak of consecutive Boston Marathon finishes.  Also, it’s always cool to get a Boston Marathon medal, even if it’s for a virtual race.

In summary, 2020 wasn’t the year I planned.  Most of the races I planned got cancelled.  In spite of that, it turned out to be a pretty good year.