2018, on a whole, was actually a solid running year. More solid than it’s been in… years.
1,518.92 miles. Which is strange, because Strava thinks I ran exactly 1,500. As far as I can tell, there was some bug in the database tally that mistook my first week of 2018 as some random week in December 2017. Technical wibbly-wobbly aside, the bottom line is that I had my second-best annual mileage, ever.
236,891 calories burned. How many donuts is that? Not nearly enough, I say.
248+ hours. That’s literally over 10 straight days of running/walking/hiking. Not too shabby.
10 out of 12 months with 100+ miles. That’s one better than last year, though interestingly the mileage differential from 100 those two months was almost exactly the same as the total mileage differential over last year’s *three* sub-100 months. So, though I missed fewer times this year, when I did miss, I missed by more.
Weird. But still really, really solid.
What’s especially fantastic is that, by any objective measure, I crushed two of my three goals from last year’s review post:
I’m still reeling from that half marathon. Yeah, it’s still a good four minutes off my PR, but that is literally the closest I’ve gotten since moving to Athens. I couldn’t be happier about it. I had so much fun at that race!
Other accomplishments of note in 2018:
I entered 13 races in 2018. That may not seem like an eye-catcher, but if you check out the Races page (where I keep track of all my race results), you’ll notice the number of races I participated in dropped considerably in 2016-2017 (8 in both years, compared to 14 in 2015 and 16 in 2014). It’s great to be an active racer again (especially since I’m now on the Athens Fleet Feet Racing Team!).
Ran four half-marathons, all under 1:50. I haven’t run four half marathons in one year since 2015, and haven’t delivered a sub-1:50 shutout since… ever!
Set an 8K PR of 35:53. Athens seems to like 8Ks more than Pittsburgh, so we’ve been running them more often, and I went ahead and made them an official category of PRs I’m tracking. And, well–I nailed a PR at the Give Thanks 8K on Thanksgiving morning!
Ran our first trail race ever, and then ran two more for good measure! Technically the first trail race was the 15K in March at Lake Chapman. After that, we ran the Rabun Trail half over the summer, which was brutal but so awesome. We caught the bug, and ran the Helen Holiday trail half in December. We’ll definitely be doing more trail races in the future!
Participated in the annual holiday Beer Mile again! I vastly improved my time, from last year’s 8:55 to this year’s 8:28. Like last year, however, I still came in second place, though I did demolish last year’s winner. This year’s winner was not even in the same category–he beat me by a good 20 seconds or so, and was clearlysandbagging. Dunno if I’ll ever win the event if he keeps coming back, but it was still quite a lot of fun 🙂
Lake Chapman 15K
Rabun Trail Half
Helen Holiday Half
All that makes it sound like 2018 was sunshine and rainbows. It was definitely the best year I’ve had since moving to Athens, hands down. I also–KNOCK ON WOOD–didn’t really suffer a major injury; there was a week in February I took off due to a pull in my knee, and it cleared up immediately. The writing goal–my third goal for 2018–was a fantastic anchor in my work/life balance the first half of the year.
But it kind of came crashing down over the summer. Part of it was absolutely the brutal online summer course I was teaching. Even though it was the third year in a row, it was far and away the most difficult iteration, and the one that convinced me that this wasn’t something I could keep doing.
But the other part, the part that really shook us both for months, was that we had to say goodbye to our dear 18-year old tabby, Lily.
The Lady had adopted Lily as a tiny kitten and known her all her life. I was only introduced when she was 6, but after an initial period of inspection, Lily accepted me. Even though I grew up with cats, Lily was my first cat. All of July went by in a haze, and our running fell off quite a bit.
We started going for a lot of evening walks, a habit which we still pick up here and there. Our trail running picked up a lot (as every road run just felt awful and tedious), and we met a new Athens runner, Laura, who started graduate school at UGA and was game for pretty much any run or workout we could come up with. We kept the racing schedule fun, varying the distances and locations, pushing during training when we wanted to, and pulling back when weren’t feeling it.
I visited the Oiselle shop in Seattle during a December conference 🙂
The variety has helped. It continues to help. It’s something I want to carry into 2019:
1,600 miles. This is no small feat for me: the mighty 2014 running year was just a touch over 1,600 as well. But it speaks of expectations regarding my next goal…
Return of the marathon! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is my fervent hope to participate in some kind of fall marathon! I’ve no idea which one, though I am looking at a couple of regional fulls (Richmond and Chickamauga are at the top of the list), so stay tuned! I don’t really have any goals other than to actually finish… but of course, it’d be great to finally come in under 4 hours.
Daily core/yoga. In doing some experimenting it’s become clear that daily yoga is a bit out of my reach. And core work is that frustrating thing that gets dropped at the first sign of trouble. But so far in 2019 I’ve managed to get 10-15 minutes of core work in each day (except for long runs, because oy), and 2x/week of yoga seems to be working as well.
Fresh off barely 3 hours of sleep and knee-deep in mud, I trudged to the Exchange Tent to await Tim’s arrival. I did have one thing going for me, though: the sun was out, and it was beautiful.
Soon enough, Tim arrived, and my final leg began.
Leg 3: Red Route
The sun was beating down pretty hard. I’d put on sunscreen before entering the Exchange Tent, but I wasn’t fully prepared for how much more exposed this course was relative to Yellow and Green. The other courses had been exclusively through densely-wooded trails; Red crossed a few streets, ran along a golf course, and across a field. There were some densely forested parts too, but there were stretches that had no cover at all. More than anything, I was worried about overheating.
I started at what felt like a reasonably easy pace. Imagine my surprise when I saw that I’d clocked the first two miles in at a 9-flat average. To be fair, the trail up to this point was extremely gentle; in fact, it was mostly double-tracked. After my second leg on the Green Route, I was also thoroughly enjoying being able to see everything in the light of day, so that may have contributed to my surprisingly brisk pace (even with a quick bathroom break; didn’t stop my watch!).
The gentle double-tracked trails ended around mile 2.5, however. I entered into yet another Yellow look-alike: a single-track, winding path through the foliage. I even came upon a hill that was literally too steep and muddy to run up. I recalled The Lady had described this during her last run; she’d even helped someone behind her get up the hill. I employed a similar strategy: I basically climbed from tree to tree alongside the trail, pulling myself up with my upper body. It was certainly an interesting change of pace!
That was probably the worst part; the next mile, while certainly technical, wasn’t any worse than Yellow had been. Around mile 3.6 was a welcome aid station. It was unmanned, but was stocked with plenty of cold water coolers. I arrived at the same time as another runner, and we joked that this aid station may very well have been a mirage.
I was still in good spirits and feeling pretty good, but it was getting oppressively hot out. Topping off my water bottle, I headed out again.
The next part of the trail was actually lovely. It was the smoothest single-track I’d been on, sloping gently up and down as it followed a nearby river. There were still roots and muddy sections to watch out for, but seemingly gone were the near-constant switchbacks and random sharp inclines and downhills. It was well-shaded, too, which I was immensely grateful for.
The good feelings disappeared at mile 4.2, where a climb I called simply the “Stupid Hill” began: 100 feet of elevation in 0.2 miles, according to my GPS data. The first quarter I plugged onward, only to realize that I’d completely wear myself out with a full two miles left to go if I kept trying to “run” up the entire hill. So I slowed to a power walk. It still burned but felt significantly better, as my breathing evened out.
The Stupid Hill now behind me, I kept my feet moving in a slow run. I could feel the fatigue of nearly 24 hours out here, barely 2 hours of sleep, and almost 15 miles creeping up on me. I was still feeling surprisingly good but I knew I didn’t have a whole lot left to draw on, and when I was empty it was going to be a rapid crash and burn. I focused on the next step. And the next. And the next.
Around mile 5, I arrived at the “granite” part of the trail. This was kind of interesting: basically a giant slab of granite protruding from seemingly nowhere. We ran a few times up and over, and while the elevation certainly changed rapidly it was never more than a few feet here and there. I had to watch my footing carefully, but for the most part it was uneventful. Though I did help one runner who accidentally blew past a trail marker get back on the trail.
I was coming up on about a mile left to go when we arrived on the golf course. Amazingly, I was still feeling pretty good, though shade was a bit more sparse in this area. Still, the trail itself was gentle, so I went with it, never pushing too hard but also curious to see how I could finish this final leg.
At mile 6, I was just cresting over 1 hour, which was shockingly fast by comparison; common times for the Red Route were on the order of 70-80 minutes, and it was looking like I’d come in well under that. I checked my watch around mile 6.4, just in time to see that the 0.2-miles-to-go checkpoint was dead ahead!
OMG, ALMOST THERE!
I cranked it. I absolutely cranked it. I mean, as much as one could crank given the 1) trails, 2) mud, and 3) fatigue, but according to my watch I was cruising in around a 7-7:30 pace for the last 0.2 miles. I couldn’t believe how well it was going; finishing the Red Route under 70 minutes, holy crap!
I came flying into the finish, pushing a sub-7 pace, soaking in the crowds and the announcer, unbuckled the team bib…
…and stood there, with nobody to hand it off to. Other teams came in and exchanged, but Ellen–and any of my teammates to speak of–were nowhere to be seen.
I handed my bib to one of the Ragnar staffers in the Exchange Tent, pulled out my phone (which, thankfully, I’d packed for this particular run), and texted some of my teammates. Not a minute or two after, Ellen came sprinting into the tent, apologizing profusely but explaining that she’d JUST WON A SUNNTO GPS WATCH ($450 VALUE HOLY CRAP) but was in the process of picking it up when she got my text–apparently no one had expected me to arrive before the 70-minute mark! Ellen ran into the tent and got on her way, and I started walking back to the team campground. Along the way, I encountered The Lady and Kelly, who were also shocked to see me, likewise saying they’d expected 70 minutes bare minimum.
Oops. At the same time, it was kinda cool 🙂
By my watch, I finished 6.6 miles in 1:07:05 for a 10:10 average pace. I had only 1 more “death” for a grand total of 7, but added another 21 “kills”, bringing my total for the event to 48. A 7:1 kill:death ratio ain’t half bad!
The Final Countdown
We had three runners left: Ellen had already begun her jaunt over the Green Route, and would be followed by Lara over Yellow, and finally the Danimal on Red. It was around 1:15pm, so we predicted a team finishing time of roughly 4pm. In that time, we packed up more of the tents, rolling up everything that was dry and consolidating as much as we could. It kept getting hotter, so we left the shelter standing to provide some much-needed shade. Of course, while the heat was getting pretty oppressive, it did have the added benefit of rapidly drying out all our soaked tents, bedding, and shoes; it certainly made for easier packing.
Right around 3pm, Lara handed off to the Danimal, who galloped out of the gate, intent on beating the 60-minute mark for the final leg!
GO DANIMAL GO.
Dancing to Abba’s “Dancing Queen” while awaiting Lara’s arrival!
With our final runner out on his final leg, we tried to get as much of our stuff packed as we could. Many other teams had already packed up and left, having finished a few hours earlier. Such was the disadvantage of not being terribly fast, but just fast enough: we didn’t have to officially double-up on our runners since we weren’t in danger of not finishing by 6pm, but we certainly weren’t shattering any speed records either. Consequently, all the really slow and really fast teams were already done and gone; the campground was feeling more and more lonely as the minutes passed.
Around 3:50pm, we headed out to the Exchange Tent. The TVs that posted incoming runners were already shut off; many of the shops were closed up. Very few other teams were mingling. If not for the announcer still celebrating the few incoming teams as they arrived and the music playing in the background, it would have felt very ghost-town-like.
We assembled about a hundred feet from the finish, patiently waiting for the Danimal to appear around the corner.
3:55. 4:00. 4:05. 4:10. We passed the 70-minute mark; hope he’s ok?…
Right around the 72-minute mark, his goofy jaunt suddenly appeared.
We had a little bit of time to rest and celebrate, but not much. We had to be out by 6, but given the hour drive back to our staging area in Athens and that it was already nearly 4:30, we wanted to get out quickly. We let the Danimal take a break while the rest of us started schlepping our equipment over to the gear drop area.
The now-empty campground.
Well-deserved team MVP!
Tim and Alys were picked up by Alys’ parents, who live in the Atlanta area. The rest of us packed everything into the two cars we brought, hitting the road sometime around 5:30. Ellen and I rode together, and I know the two of us were having a tough time staying awake. Thankfully, the drive wasn’t too long, and we soon arrived at our house with plenty of time to unpack the vehicles, order some dinner (PIZZA), and enjoy the setting sun with our team.
I can’t describe how delicious the food was. The six of us remaining for that evening–Ellen, Kelly, Lara, Danimal, The Lady, and me–had a blast sitting in the front yard, soaking up the setting sun, drinking beer, and eating some of the most spectacular pizza I think I’ve ever had. Or maybe it was just because we were starving.
We took turns scarfing down food and showering for the first time all weekend; lots of dirt and grime to rinse off. To help with the process, we even laid down a towel along the house floors from the garage to the bathroom, so as to minimize the tracking of dirt through the house. We also got some laundry going, consisting of the most soiled clothes: those that had been in the tent when it flooded, and those that folks had worn out in the monsoon. It was only when we were getting cleaned up that we fully came to realize just how messy we were.
And it was awesome. Just like Everything.
We slept extremely well that night. Sadly, Ellen and Lara hit the road (they DROVE to Athens! From Pittsburgh!) at 7:30 the next morning, and Kelly took her car back to the airport at the same time to catch her flight. Danimal left not too long thereafter, hopping on a taxi service to the Atlanta airport.
By 1pm on Saturday, it was just The Lady and me again. We had a few errands to run, but we first made a stop at the local Starbucks, grabbing some joe to help get our neurons firing. We sat there, sipping our coffee, soaking in the memories of the weekend for nearly two hours.
It goes without saying that it was an awesome event, but I’ll say it anyway: it was an awesome event. The monsoon did its best to dampen our spirits but failed in that regard. It certainly made things interesting, and probably made an already-complicated event nearly impossible for the Ragnar staff to operate, but they did a phenomenal job under the circumstances.
I will say this: it was very different from the road Ragnar we did in 2012. If you’ve done one but not the other, do not assume because both have the name “Ragnar” and both are team relays that the details are inconsequential. If you hate trails, you will hate Ragnar Trails, period. The team aspect will not cancel out trail drudgery, especially if inclement weather decides to rear its head.
Trail running is a very different beast from road running. It takes a wholly different mindset. Gone are any kind of reference points for speed, pacing, and strategies related to road racing; if you hold onto those, you will be frustrated on the trails and, most likely, [mistakenly] despise them for it. I would put forth the argument that trail racing is the purest form of running: you have to let go of everything to successfully navigate highly technical trails and simultaneously enjoy it. 12min/mi pace? You’re right on track. 10min/mi pace? You’re booking it! Ran one mile in 9min? Better slow down–you’re either going to burn out, or you just had an unusually flat mile that likely won’t last much longer.
If you can set aside road racing mindsets, Ragnar Trails will an absolute blast. The Lady and I agree that while Ragnar DC was a boatload of fun, we had even more fun at this event. Being able to hang out with our entire team (instead of splitting into vans), not having to worry about logistics of driving from one checkpoint to the next or waiting on the other van, camping out in one place and basically having a weekend-long tailgate party, and the purity of trail running all came together into an event that was as challenging as it was enjoyable.
It was so quiet and peaceful out on those trails; the silence was deafening. I know that can be unnerving to some, but I find it unbelievably soothing. It helps me let everything, absolutely everything, fall by the wayside. Just me and my surroundings, breathing the fresh outdoor air, listening to vast nothingness for miles in all directions.
And if you got lonely on the trails, you were guaranteed to see plenty of headlamps bobbing through the trees on other portions of the route. Given my 48 kills and 7 deaths over the three legs, that’s a total of 55 other human contacts spread over 15 miles–on average, I encountered another human being roughly every quarter mile. But the density of the surrounding foliage made it feel like it was just you and Mother Nature; if you wanted to embrace it, you could. If you instead wanted to focus on the headlamps visible through the leaves at the next switchback, you could.
I loved the feeling of hearing nothing but my footsteps on the ground, my breathing, and the all-encompassing silence of the forest around me. That is precisely the reason why, after every camping trip I’ve ever been on, I always feel so incredibly zen the first few days after returning. There’s something so settling and comforting about being out in the wilderness without distractions or obligations.
Just me and the trails. And, of course, my wonderful teammates.
They’re troopers, every last one of them. Danimal, Tim, Alys, The Lady, and I are alums from our previous Ragnar team; Ellen, Lara, and Kelly are dear friends of ours from Pittsburgh who have an unhealthy love of running and trails in particular (Kelly’s Twitter handle is, to no one’s surprise who knows her, traiLion). Everyone pitched in to help plan and execute the logistics before our arrival. Everyone stayed calm and collected when the rain we’d been expecting was far, far more intense than we’d anticipated. Everyone went above and beyond helping wherever they could, encouraging teammates who were struggling, asking what returning runners needed.
In no small part, this Ragnar was a reunion of close friends with the side-event of running a few miles. On both counts, it was a spectacular success. In fact, the last week has been marked by flurries of emails among us, many already hunting for our next Ragnar event.
For now, The Lady and I have our sights set on the Big Sur marathon next weekend. But one thing’s certain: we’ll be doing this again! 🙂
Two pretty hard weeks have followed the Run for Gold, and we’re only in the middle of the second one.
In particular, I met up with my parents in Illinois to visit some extended family this past weekend. The trip coincided with a 17-mile long run. Fortunately, I have a few runner friends in the Chicago area who hooked me up with some sweet suggestions.
My Dad was kind enough to drive me out to the park, since the trails themselves were more than sufficient to fulfill my 17 miles. There were a few downsides:
I’d estimate about 10 of the 17 miles were completely unshaded,
Excepting the 9-mile loop on the right, the rest of the trails were fairly technical,
I started at 8am.
However, there were also a few upsides:
Unlike the previous weekend’s long run, I’d had a full night’s rest,
Temperatures were still quite nice,
Nature is always a plus.
Ultimately, this run felt a lot better than the Run for Gold (which is too bad, since it was an awesome race). But it wasn’t without its pain. I had to take things a little easy, considering the cloudless morning and the lack of shade. I felt good, but proceeded with caution nonetheless. I really lucked out with the big loop having two separate water spigots available at some picnic areas, which I made good use of in refilling my handheld. Without them, I would have had a very rough time of things.
It was another learning experience. I go back and forth as to whether or not running blindly on wholly unknown trails is a boon: sometimes I have some really good days, other times it psyches me out. This time around, it was more the beating sun that did me in than any new surroundings (fortunately / amazingly I didn’t get any sunburn). As good as I felt, the single biggest thing I could have done here was to start at least an hour earlier. But hey, I was on vacation with my family!
In addition to this long run, I’ve done both an 8-mile track workout and an 8-mile tempo run. The outcomes, like the 17-miler, were very encouraging, and point towards a continuing physical and mental resurgence from the depths of thesis proposing.
The Lady and I both had a pretty solid showing at the track:
I still want to get my 1-mile splits down to about 6:15-6:20. But this was still an improvement; while I’d hit 6:30 a few weeks ago at the last track session, I wasn’t able to maintain it for all 3×1600 splits, must less the 4 that we did at this session.
I juggled this week’s schedule around a bit, doing my tempo run this morning instead of Thursday to make room for Elite Runners’ Hump Day Run on Wednesday evening, part of their Summer Outdoor Series. It was my best tempo run to date (though still not quite as fast as my current 10K PR, but I suppose without the adrenaline of an actual race environment, one can only expect so much):
My tempo paces have been settling into 7s the last couple of weeks, and this was the first time I consistently broke that threshold. Most notably, this was the first run in quite some time that I experienced the sought-after runner’s high: during tempo mile 5 (split 6 above), things suddenly switched on, and even though I was cruising at a 6:55 pace, I felt as though I was coasting. I was even catching my breath. It’s been so long since that’s happened, it took me by surprise. A very nice surprise!
Of course, the middle 0.5 of the last tempo mile was a constant uphill, so that high very quickly vanished. But it was nice while it lasted.
The Lady and I still have an 18-miler scheduled for Sunday, and then we settle into another [welcome] cutback week. Physically I’m still feeling pretty strong: a few nagging points of pain here and there, but nothing out of the ordinary. I’m still foam-rolling like a madman at least once per day, if not twice per day. I do need to up my cross-training regimen, particularly as the mileage starts spiking, but for now I seem to be in a good position.