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Category Archives: No Easy Days

Am I Too Old to Run Cross-Country?

On Saturday I joined the Eastside Runners Club to compete in the Sundodger XC Invitational at Lincoln Park.  The men’s open race was an 8K (about 5 miles) with a lot of local community college runners.  The whole field went out fast and I threw some elbows to maintain my space and position.  Going through the first mile in 5:30 felt good… better than it should have.

Somewhere around 2.5 miles I stepped on something, or took a misstep, and sprained my ankle.  When it happened, I screamed and stopped, and quickly made the executive decision to drop out of the race.  Those of you who’ve read my blog for a while now might know that this is a recurring theme for me.  I hate it.

The answer to my titular question is, of course, no.  I know many strong XC runners who are decades older than me.  But I think I have to  come to terms with some subtle lessons about what I can sustain as a runner at this point in my life.  Important lessons from this sprain include, but are not limited to:

  • Listen to my body – For over two weeks, I’ve been complaining about foot pain.  It didn’t hurt while running, just while flexing it in particular ways (imagine doing calf raises), so I procrastinated every time I thought to call a PT about it. I’m sure that this was a portent about my more catastrophic injury in the race. I should have taken time off and fixed what was wrong before doing a hard race, particularly one that involved running 5 miles on trails with a crowd of (real) athletes a decade my junior.
  • Eat and sleep right – I’m embarrassed to admit the number of nights I ate a peanut butter sandwhich for dinner last week, and I’ve been staying up late to satisfy an eerie obsession with work. The days leading up to the race I felt sluggish, sickish, and generally broken.  Garbage in, garbage out.
  • If I’m not running, don’t race – I’ve been looking forward to XC for so long, and running this race was pretty important to me.  So when I ran out of time for regular running in the last two-weeks, having trouble fitting in runs of even a couple miles, I did not reconsider my race schedule, and I should have.  That 2.5 mile run the night before the race was not enough to get me back in the game for a hard 5-miler.
  • Take a holistic approach to fitness – I’ve always valued a well-rounded approach to exercise…  in principle.  But when I get busy, I prioritize my activities and make cuts.  Maintenance activities like ankle-strengthening drills are the first things to go (haven’t done them for at least a year).  Stretching, weight lifting, form drills, strides – they’re all gone the moment I get busy.  Usually, the actual running is the part I hold onto the longest.  And when the busy time is over, I don’t add the other activities back in.  So I’m left with a 100% running regimen, which is fun, but not sustainable.  I need to hold myself to not running if I don’t have time for proper warm-up and stretching at the minimum.  Even if it means I run less.
These lessons apply to athletes of any age…  I think I’m just too old, or too busy, to get away with skirting around what’s good for me anymore.

 

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Posted by on September 18, 2011 in Garbage In, Garbage Out, No Easy Days

 

Pot Of Gold

I somehow dragged myself out of bed at 6AM on Daylight Savings Day (today) to run the St. Patrick’s Day Dash in Seattle. It’s an odd distance (3.75 mi) but attracts a huge crowd (over 7K people) partially because of the party/beer garden at the finish line.

The weather was chilly – low 40s – with light Seattle rain. As far as long distance racing weather goes it was pretty great. Chilly temps are actually desirable for some races because you can warm up pretty quickly when you’re pushing the pace. I started near the front because I didn’t want to get caught up in the crowd too much, but I committed to going out conservatively. Adrenalin and the crowd make it easy to go out too fast in races like this. I often think “oh man this feels great I’m going to go for it!” and then sorely regret my enthusiasm in about 6 minutes. My conservative start really paid off. After the first mile I felt like I was racing rather than just trying to hang on for dear life. I spent the rest of the course just trying to pick off people one-by-one. My finish wasn’t that strong, but my overall pace seems to have been quicker than the last race I ran, even though this one was 3/4 of a mile longer.

At the finish line I saw a friend from high school who was meeting up with her husband and their running club to do a 6 mile cool down. They invited me to come along. 6 miles! It’s been a decade since I ran a cooldown that was actually longer than my race, let alone hit 11 miles in a single day. I had to try though. We ran around Lake Union, and by the end my whole body was seizing up with the overuse and cold weather. I’m feeling it now, everywhere, but so glad that I went for it. I needed a win this week, and I think I got one.

 
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Posted by on March 13, 2011 in No Easy Days

 

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Sugar Boost Before Running

A couple weeks ago, something strange happened on one of my runs.

I stopped running.

Choice in the matter was seemingly stripped from my grasp. One moment I was running, and the next I was limping along feeling devoid of all energy and motivation to go on.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. I got tired and stopped, so what? The strange part, to me, is that this has never happened before, to my memory. I’ve stopped on runs for various reasons — digestive problems, seeing someone I know on the route, or even for a quick snack at a bread shop. But I cannot remember a time where I had to stop because I was utterly sapped of remaining energy.

Since then I’ve made it through each run successfully, but not without a good deal of wanting to stop.

A few friends suggested the same hypothetical explanations… Diet, sleep, and age. I haven’t had any recent major dietary or sleep changes, and I’m remiss to think that it’s age related (although it’s possible).

I asked a trainer at the gym for some suggestions and she suggested trying to have a ~100 calorie snack before my runs, something like a few pieces of dried fruit. I followed her advice this morning, wolfing down a few pieces of dried apricot before I hit the road, and the difference was immediately noticeable. The run was still hard but I didn’t feel as drained. I finished after 5+ miles with the feeling that I could keep going!

I don’t know if this was the fruit talking, a placebo effect, or something else unrelated, but whatever it is I’ll take it!

Yours In Running,

–Me

 
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Posted by on March 6, 2011 in No Easy Days

 

Seeking Advice on Exercise Logs

For about 8 years, I’ve kept track of my running mileage in an Excel workbook.  Before that, I was logging things in a Claris Works Spreadsheet for a couple years, and before that I had a couple years of paper logs.

The Excel workbook has worked well because it’s functionality has evolved as far as I have been willing to push it.  But for a while I’ve felt that its development has stagnated and it has grown unwieldy.

running log winter spring 09

running log graphical summary

Now that I’ve been benched from running for 4 months (more on that later), I’d like to explore other exercise tracking options that are more amenable to cross training.

Features I’d like:

  • Accessible anywhere (i.e. on the web).
  • Can accommodate different sorts of workouts (running, biking, weight lifting, pickup frisbee, etc.).
  • Exportable to spreadsheets or database files.
  • Nice graphical data and meta-data summaries with easily adjustable parameters.
  • Easy to track peripheral data such as gear (e.g. shoe mileage) and routes (possibly with maps).
  • It would be awesome if there were some kind of API or other method that allowed me to import my running logs from the last 8 years into the system, but I think that may be asking too much.
  • Social networking would be nice, but not necessary.

A couple friends (thanks Z and G) suggested Daily Mile.  I’m happy with that but it would be nice if it could track strength training as well.  Does anyone have other suggestions?

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2009 in No Easy Days

 

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I Would Run 1000 Miles

Early in 2008, I made a New Year’s Resolution to run 1000 miles over the course of the year.  I liked this resolution from the start – it was quantitative, attainable, challenging, and spanned the entire year.  There were ups and downs, but with a few days to spare in December I hit 1000 miles (total mileage: 1013 miles).  I’m left with a really happy trend in my mileage over the last 8 years:

Milage_Per_Year_2008

I’m ecstatic I’ve been able to incorporate running into my life more substatially every year since I started grad school.  I’m not expecting another 30% increase in mileage for 2009, but I do think I can make good things happen by continuing consistent running.

An unexpected feature of the seasonal mileage pattern for the year was that I actually ran more in the winter-spring season than in the summer or fall:

Mileage_per_season_2008

In this chart, “WS” is the Winter-Spring season (January-April), “S” is the Summer season (May-August), and “F” is the Fall season (September-December).   Compare the winter of 2008 to any other winter and the difference is striking.  My mileage drop off in the warmer months is due to a number of factors — injury, illness, meeting my current girlfriend, but I’m really glad I put those hard miles in early.  Those up front miles made the 1000 mile goal possible.

I’ll close now with a collection of all my running posts from the year, but I promise another post with my 2009 resolution soon.

Running posts from 2008:

 
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Posted by on January 6, 2009 in Alchemy, No Easy Days

 

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I Run Natural Twenties

I’ve seen less than consistent running in the first two months of the fall-season, and that’s on top of a random self-inflicted groin injury, and my recent ankle re-injury.  As a consequence, my mileage surplus has morphed into a deficit, and my resolution to run 1000 miles is suddenly in danger of failing.  To hit my goal by December 31st, I have to run 150 more miles, or about 2.5 miles per day.  Assuming I don’t get injured again, 2.5 mile runs are well within my reach, but I rarely run 7 days a week anymore, so (conservatively speaking) my actual goal is more like 20 miles per week, spread out over the days however I choose.

I know I can do this, and I have 60 days to prove myself right.

 
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Posted by on October 31, 2008 in No Easy Days

 

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Ankle Again

Ten days ago, I drove 320 miles to a race in Connecticut.  I had hoped that traveling with the college running club to complete in a NIRCA regional race would help me recapture some of what I had missed by not running competitively in college.

Sadly, I sprained my ankle during the warm-up, thirty minutes before the race started, and all I was able to capture was 640 wasted miles on my car.

Compared to last year’s sprain, this one was minor, and while I haven’t been running I have managed to enjoy the time off via weight lifting, ankle excercises, and excruciating ice-bucket-ankle-soaking.  I’m hoping to come back sometime this week.

 
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Posted by on October 29, 2008 in No Easy Days

 

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Trial of Miles

Let us therefore agree that the idea of eternal return implies a perspective from which things appear other than as we know them: they appear without the mitigating circumstance of their transitory nature. This mitigating circumstance prevents us from coming to a verdict. For how can we condemn something that is ephemeral, in transit?

The Unbearable Lightness of Being

I was being lazy, and maybe rushing at the same time, which isn’t a good idea because lazy and hurried are sort of contradictory efforts. And in my hurried lazy state, I decided to climb over a 7 foot tall chain-link fence to more quickly make my way to the IC track for my Saturday workout. My plan had been to do a simple tune-up for the upcoming track meet. Nothing too complicated, just 4 x 400m at goal mile pace with 400m rest.

Somewhere between vaulting my legs over the top of the fence and finishing the quick descent to the ground, I thought “maybe that wasn’t such a good idea… maybe I should have just walked the extra 200 meters and gone through the gate.” But it was really too late to make any practical changes, and I did my best to make a graceful Terminator-style landing.

Of course, I injured myself, but not in the way I would expect. Something strained in my groin/perineum as soon as I hit the ground, and whatever got pulled referred pain to everywhere in the vicinity. It knocked the wind out of me and I couldn’t walk for a couple minutes. The pain conjured images of brutally torn suspensory ligaments and strangulating hernias. After five minutes I could jog and walk again, and being the stubborn guy I am I decided to work out through the pain.

The plan called for 4x400m at 75 seconds each, and I (barely) pulled it off. Running 4 of those consecutively with no rest seemed a lot less feasible after the workout, but it’s good to know where you stand even when you end up standing somewhere different than you hoped. My 5-minute-mile days were a long time ago anyways.

So I was really, really surprised when I pulled off a 5:02 mile at the track meet last night. There was a part of me that was kicking myself for not pushing just 3 seconds more out of the last lap (I think the last one was actually my slowest). But I’ve only run one sub-5-minute mile in my life, and the fact that I’m even coming close again is really a wonderfully happy thing (I almost want to call it a blessing). Add to all this that various parts of my body were still slightly sore and swollen from that ill-advised fence-jumping, and my race becomes a promise of future improvement as well as a smashing success.

So track season is over, and now I look forward to cross country. I feel like I’m coming into a new phase of my running life, where some PR times may actually be possible for the first time in 10 years. And if not, that’s fine too. Running is a fantastic example of eternal return within a single life. You get so many opportunities to experience that high, and even the lows are productive. I’m running for life and it feels good.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2008 in No Easy Days

 

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Swim, Bike, Run

I’ve been telling people that Sunday I did my first triathlon, but that’s sort of misleading, because I was actually on a triathlon relay team, so as Tony points out, what I did was more of an athlon than anything else.  The Cayuga Lake Triathlon was very cool.  Lots of people, lots of freebies, and well-organized.  I ran the running (anchor) leg on Team Minty Fresh Mice, and despite being inexperienced as a team, our individual performances were good enough to land us first place in the co-ed relays.

 

When I got my body-markings (a first, for me), the volunteer with the marker saw that I was on a relay team, glanced at my arms, and said “not the swimmer, huh?”.

One exciting part of all this is that this Sunday was the triathlon-sprint national championship race, so after winning we made the jump from “we won the relay”, to “we won the relay at the national championships”, and finally to “we are national champions”.  Again, this is a bit misleading, because triathlons are not actually team races, so the elite competitors were not in the relay division.  Still, we were very happy with the performance despite a few mishaps that I am still kicking myself over.

For example, I was trying to keep a vigilant watch for Eric, our cyclist, while waiting for his leg to end in the transition area.  Sadly, when he finally arrived I had taken up a conversation with a nearby runner who was also in the relay.  So I didn’t actually notice when Eric biked up behind me and started trying to get me to help him make the chip-transfer.  I guess Eric was too exhausted to say anything too loud so he just gave up and transferred the velcro anklet to me himself.  When I realized that Eric was grabbing my leg I jumped and helped him finish the job and then I was off, but I felt awful for wasting those precious seconds and for ignoring my exhausted teammate.  Later, at the end of the race I passed a runner who passed me back in the final few meters of the course, and I couldn’t help but wonder how things may have been different if I had been paying attention in the transition.

Overall an awesome day, including an 18:58 5K.  I would definetely do an athlon again.

 
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Posted by on August 5, 2008 in No Easy Days

 

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Boilermaker 2008

The porta-potty line is not where you want to be when the they announce that there are 4 minutes left until the start of a race with 11,000 registered runners.  It’s like one of those scenes in superhero movies where the hero needs to choose between saving their sidekick and their love interest, except also their bladder is also overflowing and it’s really hard to think about anything except Niagara Falls.  Sure, there’s like 75 stalls, but when at least 15 people are ahead of you in your line, some mental math will quickly tell you that the situation is hopeless, that the porta-potty just wasn’t in your horoscope today, and that you might soon be forced to make an executive decision about just how important going to the bathroom before a race is (FYI – it’s pretty frigging important). 

So this morning before running my second Boilermaker race in Utica, NY, I made a mad dash into the woods (where I saw at least two-dozen other men and women), used the spacious facilities of Nature, sprinted to the start (vaulting over one of those ugly plastic mesh fences en route), and had just enough time to re-tie my shoes before the gun went off.

Races with thousands of runners tend to start slowly.  So slowly that it can take several minutes to cross the actual starting line after the gun goes off.  You do a lot of work initially darting into spaces as they open up in the crowd, and you get a lot of mean looks as you frantically cut people off in an effort to actually start racing.  Given the initial crawl, I wasn’t too surprised when I passed the first mile-marker and the humongous digital clock read near 9-minutes.  But after that, the speed picked up pretty fast.

I don’t like wearing watches in road races because I try to just focus on pushing the pace rather than thinking about splits.  I’ve been known to dislike wearing watches so much that if I’m accidentally wearing one at the start, I’ll immediately hand it off to an arbitary person in the crowd (with my fingers crossed that I’ll be able to find them later).  Today, however, every mile of the race had a huge digital clock burning my splits into the back of my brain, and I couldn’t help but calculate how fast each mile was.  I won’t break down the splits here, but I will say that the fourth and fifth miles were both around 6 minutes/mile, which actually frightened me a bit during the race, especially given the course elevation profile.

Boilermaker Elevation

Boilermaker Elevation

I ran these quick miles after a pretty decent starting 5K (22:48).  Yeah, mile five is way downhill, but mile four is the steepest of the race.  After I hit the 10K (42:44), my body started giving up and I struggled through to the finish.  It is totally ridiculous and unbelievable to me that after running 90% of a race like this, thoughts of stopping will creep into the edges of my consciousness.  Why then, when the finish is practically in view?!  But I didn’t stop, and finished in a happy 62:58 (gun time), at least four minutes faster than the last time I ran this race.  The post-race party was awesome (fortuitous, considering it took me over 2 hours to find the people I drove up to Utica with).  I feel sort of tight and tired now, and I’m looking forward to an easy recovery run tomorrow!

(By the way, I’m super glad I got to write a longish blog post on Embrace Your Geekiness Day).

 
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Posted by on July 13, 2008 in No Easy Days

 

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Young Guns

Where I work, I have two options for local group running:

  • The old (my age and older), but really fast, group that meets daily at noon, or,
  • The young (6-10 years younger than me), but really fast, group that meets daily at 6PM.

Both of these options present problems for me. The old group is great, but stuff (usually important stuff involving food) happens at noon, and it’s just not convenient to escape from work for 1-2 hours in the middle of the day, especially when that escape involves a sweaty-nasty return. The young group is also great, but they’re… well, young, and sometimes it feels awkward.

So for the past several seasons I’ve just been going it alone or with the random office mate who is willing to run with me. But I’m sick of it. I’ve been training for a long race, and that means I’ve been doing many long-lonely runs. Pounding the pavement alone is actually cathartic sometimes, but it’s really hard to get myself motivated to do that 5-6 times a week.

So today, I went out with the young group, and it was sweet. They ran fast (within my range, but faster than I would run on my own), they were fun and welcoming, and the run went by *really* quickly. So, I’m going to join them for a few more of their summer runs and see what happens. Worst case scenario, I can imagine that I’m giving them sage running advice that can only come from someone with “experience”.

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2008 in No Easy Days

 

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Sub 40 Minutes in Sub 60 Weather

I’ve been planning to write a post about winter running for a while now. However, last I checked, spring has officially started, so it seems like the time to comment on my winter running experience has passed. Long story short: I ran about 20 miles per week for the whole winter. I also had a bit of success in indoor track meets. Overall, it feels awesome to be entering April having run for the past 5 months, rather than starting from scratch as usual.

Today, I ran a local 10K. Since I didn’t do many runs longer than 4 miles over the winter, I saw the race as a long tempo run. Toeing the line just before 10:30 this morning in beautiful 50 degree weather, I decided to run without my watch, and just see what I could do with a consistent push.

The first 5K was great. I was able to keep a decent pace without tiring myself out too much. Another runner I know caught up to me and we worked off each other a lot. When we came to the 5K turnaround, they called out that my split was 19:46.

19:46 was great, but it also presented a problem. I’ve never run a sub 40-minute 10K (it’s possible that I ran one in high school, but I think I only ran one 10K back then, and I don’t remember the time). In fact, I can’t remember the last time I ran sub 44. So, I was presented with this fortuitous and spur-of-the-moment opportunity to run sub 40 here, and that meant that the second half of the race was going to get pretty hard. Almost immediately I felt like I was hitting a wall. Luckily the way back to the finish was net-(gradual)-downhill. By focusing on taking quick strides and just pushing as much as possible, I was able to get back and finish in 39:01 (a negative split!). This is a good start to the warm season; I normally start the summer with a 2-month period of getting back in shape, but now I get to enjoy working off of a decent base. Woo!

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2008 in No Easy Days

 

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Secret Origin Number One

I had an MRI this morning (two MRIs, technically) to help my doctor figure out why I still get headaches as often, or as easily, as I do. I know the headaches originate in my upper back or neck, and some ergonomic fixes and physical therapy took care of a lot of them about a year ago. However, they still come a couple times a week, and often I wake up with them, or with the neck aches that lead to them, which is almost as bad a start to the day as when the cat is licking your face and telling you you missed the bus. The goal of the MRI was to see if there is anything structurally off that might be predisposing me to neck problems.

If you have never had an MRI, they are very loud, and can tend to be unpleasant, unless you like hearing the sound of a jackhammer right above your head while you’re strapped into a confined space and told to remain absolutely motionless for an hour and a half. The first one this morning wasn’t too bad. I think the repetitive nature of the ear-splitting noises actually put me into a sort of trance. During the second image, however, I started to have a sharp stinging pain at the back of my head, near where the ridge of my skull came in contact with the pad I was laying on. This pain got worse and worse throughout the exam, and a few times I considered calling the technician back in, but decided that would only prolong my discomfort and just toughed it out. I couldn’t ignore the pain, it just hurt too much, so I started trying to figure out what its source was. The best explanation I could think of involved me being secretly tagged with a micro RF transmitter by the shadow government so they could track me quickly, you know, in case I went rogue. That tag was being ripped through my cranial flesh by the powerful magnets in the MRI. If that infernal machine hadn’t been banging so loud I probably could have figured out exactly why they felt I was such a threat.

When I was finally wheeled out of the MRI, I asked the technician if that pain was normal, and she said it was not. We came to the conclusion that it was just due to putting pressure on a pointy part of my head for so long, but I think I like my origin story better.

 
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Posted by on March 25, 2008 in Entertainment, No Easy Days

 

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We Were Only Freshman

Running LogoI’ve been able to keep up my winter running so far this year. I’m hovering around 20 miles per week, and not forcing myself to go out if it just feels like to much. I try to do one speed workout per week, but it’s often not that long (e.g. 4×400, or 5×200).

At the local January Track meet, I ran a surprising 11:33.6 for the 2-mile. My goal had been to run under 12 minutes, and 11:33 was an awesome surprise. Afterwards a 5:30 mile seemed within my grasp and I started mentally prepping for that.

Yesterday was the February track meet, and I ran the mile. I had been trying to run my speed workouts at 5:20 pace to prepare for this race, but they were really hard. Even 200m at that pace felt like I was going all-out. So when I registered for the meet and entered my ‘predicted time’, I thought that my prediction of 5:25 was probably pushing it.

But somehow I did it. During the race I just focused on the huge digital clock at the start line, and made sure that every lap put me under 5:20 pace. Then with 2 laps to go I let all the rest of my gas burn and came through in 5:13!

This puts me in an interesting place going forward. I haven’t run 5:13 since high school, and my first time running that fast was probably my sophomore year (10+ years ago) . It feels like this could be the beginning of some really great racing for me. Or, it could be the beginning of a big downhill slump. In any case, 5:13 puts some new post-high school PRs in range… Eleven minute 2-miles and eighteen minute 5Ks suddenly seem possible again. That would be… That would be incredible.

I’m not too worried about the future though. I’m just going to focus on training frequency like before. I think if I can maintain a consistent schedule until it gets warm again I’m going to have a great running summer.

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2008 in No Easy Days

 

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1152 x 864

Last New Years, I made a resolution that I would stand up to people more consistently, and try to voice my opinion.  I think I’ve been doing a good job with that, but really it’s hard to say for sure.  I certainly tried to meet my resolution, and I guess that counts in this case.

This year’s resolution is going to be more quantitative.  I’m resolving to run 1000 miles in 2008.

This is challenging, and will rely partly on staying injury and illness free (does that mean I’m relying on luck?), but I think it’s achievable given recent statistics from 2007, which was a phenomenal running year for me, at least in terms of consistency.  First, let’s consider my yearly mileage for the last seven years:

Milage_per_year_2007

I’ve definitely upped my mileage over the years, to a total of 740 miles in 2007.  Seeing how I ran almost twice as much in 2007 as in 2006, it’s possible that I may have hit a plateau, and that I won’t be able to run that much more.  So I took a look at the seasonal pattern over the last seven years:

Mileage_per_season_2007

In this chart, “WS” is the Winter-Spring season (January-April), “S” is the Summer season (May-August), and “F” is the Fall season (September-December). It’s immediately clear that I haven’t been running much in the WS seasons relative to the others. So there is definitely a good potential to increase my mileage by a few hundred in 2008.  Step 1 is just to keep running through the winter.

And so far that’s going well too.  In 2006 my final serious run was at the end of November, and I didn’t pick up running consistently again until April of 2007.  I ended 2007 averaging 25 miles per week, with a recent maximum of 30 miles.  I feel good about my training, and I sort of look forward to the runs even when it’s cold.  I’m not going to do anything crazy this season.  Just consistent, frequent, running to build a base for the Spring, and hopefully a foundation from which I can meet my resolution.

OK, maybe I’ll run a couple indoor track meets, too ;-).

 
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Posted by on January 3, 2008 in Garbage In, Garbage Out, No Easy Days

 

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