Thursday, December 31, 2020

2020 Year in Review

Happy New Year's Eve!! We're hours from exiting this dumpster fire and you know what that means--a recap of the year of running. 

As always, big picture stats are first up. 

Total 2020 Miles: 1,516
I ran more than I drove my car, and I ran more than any previous year. 🤯🤯

Cross-Training: About 60 workouts. I count 55 classes in my MindBody app, plus I did training with Robin pre-pandemic and a few times (distanced!) during. Probably about half of this was yoga and half weights or HIIT classes. By far this is the most I've ever cross-trained in a year! 

Shiny New PRs: The full marathon distance. 3:39:17, for the Detroit Virtual Marathon on October 18 (recap here). 

The Year in Pictures

2020 was a year of few races due to COVID. But before the world went insane, I did get in the 2020 Polar Prediction Run with these lovely ladies. For this event, you win if you come closest to predicting your finishing time for a 3.65 mile course. I placed this year--second or third I think. It was a lot of fun! Plus it's hosted out of a brewery. With bagels. 

January was also the month I registered for the Detroit Marathon, which I described here. I registered with glee and with dreams.

On March 13, my older son and I bought everything Giant Eagle would sell us, grabbed a pizza from a local place, and went home to hunker down for what I thought would be a few weeks. At that point in the pandemic, I stopped running with groups, but tried to keep running the paths I knew and loved. This is a picture I took from under a bridge while waiting out the rain one Sunday. It was too muddy to step off-path at many spots, but this did not stop groups, usually 2 or 3, usually white women, from walking or running side by side. You couldn't get away from them or around them, and they did not want to hear about it. Finally I gave up and turned exclusively to roads. 

After a few weeks, the gyms and yoga studios got up to speed with Livestream classes, and I joined in. No human could purchase free weights for a long time, so I was left with resistance bands, bricks and gallons of water (or fabric softener, apparently) for a while. 

I also quickly learned that my basement is too cold for yoga, and my first floor is too noisy after about 7am, so early morning was where it was at for yoga. In a year where I was running record mileage, I needed yoga more than ever. 

This was also the month where, for the first time in my entire life, I got hot during a run and just took off my shirt. I've been managing a healthy diet for a few years now and it felt good to feel good. I took this picture after the run, still feeling fierce. 

Without commuting in the mix, and with the academic year over, I had more time to relax on the patio after morning runs. I was meeting up with runners for socially distanced coffee, but that was it. My family went to a very remote part of WV for 5 days, which was truly a highlight of the year. Training started as soon as we got home. 

As advertised--hot! But a lot of gorgeous mornings and happy miles.  

Training had started July 1 for my marathon. This was probably a pace run or a tempo run with a warm-up and a cool-down. It started the long process of training my body to run 26.2 miles at a pace that sounded insane. 

My training plan called for hill workouts which, while it's hilly here, there aren't a lot of hills long enough for this. Friendship is texting someone and asking if they'll meet you the next morning (distanced!) at a hill you don't know the name or location of but know you ran together like 3 year ago and they say yes. The workout was exactly what I needed, both seeing Candice and finding the hill. 

We have arrived at the peak of my mileage graph by month, building up to the Detroit Marathon. I ran 186 miles this month. 

Kids were engaged in remote school. Parents had become teachers' aids. Work was remote. Everything was remote. Everyone was home. All the time. Still. But running was not canceled. 

We had some beautiful, warm days in October. My friend Robin and I took advantage of one of them to meet for a short yoga practice at the park over lunch one day. I loved this. I loved that she thought of it, and invited me, and had the Down Dog app all ready to roll for it. And seeing a friend in person had by then become an infrequent, delightful thing. 

And then, it was race day! I've documented the day here. My virtual race was a clear highlight of the year, and, honestly, a silver lining. It was perfect. I will probably never have another marathon like this one and it's an experience I'm glad I had and got to share with friends and family. 

We continued to have warm days into November. I took advantage and got the kids outside when I could. I brought the Thanksgiving festivities to running. I really do love a festive headband. 

Ok so I mean it's Cleveland, the warm weather wasn't going to last forever. We had two big storms, but not a whole lot in between. My husband shoveled this path out for me during the first storm. That's love!

I hit two pretty big milestones in December. The first was the day (12/15) I hit 10,000 miles. I'm sure I've run more than this in my lifetime, but not that I kept track of. I started tracking mileage January 1, 2010. When I realized 10k was within sights, I made it a goal to hit by the end of the year. My new friend Sharon came along with me (distanced!) on this morning to capture the moment. The X was her idea, for ten. So clever! I loved it. Her enthusiasm for my achievement was so uplifting! I was grateful for her company and support. It was a fun run. 

Then this past Sunday somewhere in my long run I hit 1500 miles for the year. I thought I'd stop when I hit that number, but I kept running through the week. Yoga today, and I'll get 2021 started right with some miles tomorrow. 

There you have it, friends! My 2020 Run in Review. 2020 was so messed up. It made the gifts running gives us even sweeter. As always, running has taught me about myself, and probably more this year than before, for a variety of reasons. Running offered a reprieve from the chaos, and goals I could still work to achieve. Running gave me a race day I will never forget, and has been the basis for some wonderful friendships. I always love the run, but extra this year. 

Monday, December 28, 2020

On Running Friendships

I've long appreciated that running introduces me to a lot of people I would not otherwise meet because our lives are too different. Running groups introduce you to people outside your neighborhood, outside your profession, outside your faith community, outside your family, outside the network of people you grew up with. Sometimes you meet people a lot like you. Take my friend Meg. We were both children of academics, in grad school ourselves, both looking for something non-academic to keep us lucid during difficult degree programs. 

But this is not as common as you might think. In fact, it's unusual. More often, I've gotten to know people I had relatively little in common with. Running has that power, to forge unlikely friendships. 

This witchy magic happens largely through the amount of time runners spend together, and through the sometimes raw physical effort of it. There is something about hearing another runner's goals and watching them work their ass off to reach those goals that brings closeness to relationships. It teaches us to cheer for each other, and to share the agony of each other's injuries and setbacks. We don't even have to speak the same language for me to cheer for you in this way. I could make a silent movie about marathon training and you'd cry with me at the finish.

I got to talking about this recently with a new-to-Cleveland runner. We've both had experiences where the magic of runner friendships didn't work out. The run does have this magic to forge friendships, and the run does change people in the long term, but the run doesn't change the person who shows up on a Tuesday morning. You're going to meet people who just aren't a match for your style. You're going to meet people who throw any number of red flags, and you're going to learn one way or another whether those flags are serious for a friendship or not. Some of them will be. Sometimes, you're going to be too much for some people, and as the saying goes, those are not your people. 

Sometimes, things just don't work out.

I wasn't sure for a long time why this felt like a big discovery to me--that running friendships don't always work. In all of life, relationships have highs and lows and don't always work. Why did it feel like I was pulling back the curtain on a running secret? 

I began endurance running in 2007, three states ago. It took all four states before I saw running friendships that didn't work. True story: I once went for a run with a total stranger through a largely abandoned warehouse district in St. Louis. And it was lovely. Magic! My Utah BRF is not very much like me! We used our differences to learn. We asked questions and respected each other's choices. Magic! I'd had about a decade of incredibly diverse running groups and friendships that had never required question. 

I'd just never seen the witchy magic run out. Until I did.  

The first time I saw it, it had nothing to do with me. A local run squad internally combusted while traveling for a race. I knew most of them but wasn't there and never got involved. Then, maybe a year later, one of the women involved in that explosion said some profoundly unkind things to me--too unkind, too unnecessary, and too relentless. She was the third person I'd ever unfriended on social media. Here in 2020, a handful of red flags I'd been seeing for a while became impossible to ignore or address, and I extracted myself from a group. 

Maybe I just got lucky for the first decade. Maybe I was in places where I had much less interaction with a large group (SRTT/MRTT here is huge!) and thus with as many people. I don't know. What I do know is this: running creates an opportunity for friendship. Strong, deep friendships. Friendships that share celebration, determination, experiences, hardship. Friendships that survive time, distance, and the pandemic. It is a witchy magic. I'd forgotten that magic had an edge, but of course it does. But isn't it incredible that it exists? 

Sunday, December 20, 2020

The Race that Lived

My last post covered through Week 9 of training for the virtual Detroit Marathon. In the weeks that followed, I learned how to create a workout in Garmin Connect and use it on my Forerunner. I did some workouts that intimidated me. I took the training plan one week at a time. The moment the long-range forecast included October 18, I was checking it constantly. My friend Dan and I discussed everything from music preferences to packing lists to logistics. 

Welcome to the (belated) race summary of what turned out to be a silver lining of 2020.

I'll start about a week before the race, when a mysterious box showed up with our mail. I stalked it on the kitchen counter for a while before remembering that my friend Robin had randomly asked for my address about a week before. Robin was one of the first people I met when I moved to Cleveland. My epic injury (long form here), finally taught my stubborn runner brain that cross-training is my friend. When I wanted to start strength training, I turned to Robin. She was amazingly gracious about meeting me where I was, which was step 1. Ground level. Not only clueless about what I was doing, but also...just weak. She cheered me at every step, worked within my limitations and goals, and has been a huge part of my recovery and a damn good friend. With this gift, she cheered me on remotely in the best possible way. <3

Two and a half days pre-race, carb loading started. A very few of you might remember the saga of the day I learned about fueling the hard way. Ever since, I've used a fueling plan I found in Runner's World. You eat more calories than usual, and about 85% of it is carbs. While that sounds like fun, it's hard on digestion. This is what breakfast looks like. You better believe that is the sugary yogurt, too. 

My friend Dan, who had agreed to bike Sherpa my race, was hard at work taking account of his storage capacity for water, food, gear, etc. He asked if I wanted music and I told him I hadn't run with music in years--too many cars, too many dogs. Same for him. But, I told him, if he wanted to play music, I was good with any era of rock other than the song "Blinded by the Light," which I hate powerfully. We talked Gu (so hard to choose!) and figured out how we'd handle water stops. He knows the trail toward Akron well, where I do not. He made sure we picked a starting point that avoided construction and traffic, and that local knowledge is worth its weight in gold.

I checked the weather 583 more times. 

Had it been in person, the race would have started at 7am, so we planned to start at 7am. I had all these jokes ready for the start line, about how like downtown Detroit the Towpath Trail outside Akron is. All that relevant early 20th century commercial architecture! That radial street network! But when I arrived about 6:45am, we were focused on stowing gear and using the bathroom (A REAL BATHROOM!). 

I'm pretty sure Dan had purchased a bigger bag to store gear/supplies/etc for the race, and when I handed him my *actual* handful of stuff to carry, probably either wanted to laugh or cry a little. It consisted of: 
  • 2 Gu packets (I had the other 2 in my water bottle)
  • 3 baggies of folded up TP (to which he said, "no dude would ever have done this")
  • A very small bottle of liquid band aid
  • My driver's license, credit card, and med insurance all rubber banded together
  • My phone (maybe? not even sure I took it?) and car key
He had packed water for both of us. In the 60-ish seconds he went into the restroom and I was standing alone in the pitch black parking lot, a Jeep came flying into the parking lot, and two guys jumped out of it. I was definitely gauging my distance to my car door for a second, but they took off toward the trail. Dan came back, we took our start line selfie, and headed down toward the trail too. 

It turned out the two guys were cheering for a friend doing a virtual marathon! Chicago, I think. Somewhere else along the way we met someone running the New York marathon. I'd hesitated about wearing the bib the race organizers had sent me because it felt like of cheesy, but in the end, I'm glad I did. It helped create this spirit of community, because the people who are on that path every weekend could ID and support people who were racing. 

I hesitated to start for a moment because...well, it's sort of strange to just start a marathon. No fanfare, no anthem, no gun, no corrals. Just hitting the start button on your Garmin like any Tuesday morning. And we were off! 

Our pre-race discussions about pace had made us realize that cycling and running use different vocabularies. Dan had asked if I anticipated our pace would be over 10mph. I explained that this was not the Olympics, so no, but also that I'd need to do some math to figure out what mph I run. So a lot of our conversation focused on math of where we were, what time we'd be someplace else, and how overall pacing was going. I recognized the spot where a friend had taken a picture the previous day by accident. 

But Dan and I have known each other since 1998 (when I joined the Experience Learning family), so we talked about all sorts of things, too. And that path! Oh man! I don't have any pictures from the path itself, but what a knockout! I really think we got the best possible morning for race day. The foliage was spectacular and, while 5 degrees cooler than ideal for Dan, it was pretty great for running, at about 48 degrees. The path parallels a river and train tracks for long stretches, and forest. Gorgeous. 

When you're training, it sounds INSANE that you are going to run 26.2 miles at an 8:24/mile pace. INSANE. But then, you put in the work, and while you taper, it's like winding up a Jack in the Box, and you carb load, and it fills those glycogen stores, and then, your body really can do precisely the thing you trained it to do. I ran super, super even splits. My first mile was the slowest, at 8:28, as it should be. After that, every mile was between an 8:15 and 8:23 except one a few seconds faster (after which I 100% said what Shalane Flanagan said in New York that day). And for 24 miles it was all just smooth. 

At one point we passed a herd of middle aged guys, a few of whom wore Boston jackets. I told Dan how it was called "chicking." The herd was jovial. We saw a handful of other smaller groups and single runners out. Everyone in good spirits. We passed a spot where a woman had been attacked last year while running. I was incredibly thankful for Dan's company.

At about mile 23.5, we passed the Canal Exploration Center, which was also the planned finish line. I'd invited a small group of folks, mostly runners, to a socially distanced finish line party. Many of them were there when we passed at 23.5. My husband and kids had made signs--a first--and I might have gotten a little choked up about it. 

When my Garmin hit mile 24, I was ready for it to be over. I'd warned Dan that things get dark late in a marathon. Deals are made with devils. Self talk gets desperate. I tried reeeeeeally hard not to verbalize those thoughts, but I had a decidedly grumpy, but on-pace mile. At mile 25 I asked if he would stay behind me, because the bike in my peripheral vision was going to make me motion sick. Then I told him I needed to stop talking, and just "go inside" my head. I needed to put my head down and focus on grinding out the last 1.2. It had always been inevitable--I could feel it coming around mile 17--and it was much better than it usually is, but I was tired.

Know what else isn't easy? Math when you're that tired. So I misjudged our turn-around by a few hundredths of a mile. Coming back toward the finish line, first I saw my friend Laurie standing at the bridge with her cow bell. A welcome sight for sure. I could just see my kids up ahead holding up the finisher ribbon the race organizers had sent. Garmin hit 26.2. I just stopped. My brain couldn't process what to do. Laurie said, "You can't stop. They're waiting for you." I said, "Right!" and clicked it back on and kept going. Four one-hundredths on up and through the finisher tape. 

Then my knees buckled, and I stopped and put my hands on my knees for a minute and tried to calm my breathing and not sob wildly. It was over! My goal was 3:40 and I ran a 3:39:17. My boys were ready with the race medal and the wrap the organizers had sent. Sidebar here: I was crazy impressed with the Detroit Marathon throughout this whole process. They canceled my hotel, contacted me about shipping my race packet, and the social media game was strong. 

My husband was a rock star who ordered this amazing cake, brought every conceivable thing I might want post-race, and made sure we were all fed and happy. Dan's wife and son came, and they brought me flowers. Flowers! I was beyond blown away by all the love and support of my family and friends. That picture above--I am glowing! That's how it all felt. I had a dream, and my friends and family came out, on a bike, at the finish line, and remote, to cheer me on. Masks and all. 

The most bananas part of this is that, because there was no prize money, I won my Detroit Marathon age group. That's crazy. 

In a year where so many races did not happen, this was the day the Towpath turned into Detroit, Chicago, and New York. This was--to borrow from Harry Potter--the race that lived. Was I bummed not to visit Detroit? Not to experience the magic of a big race? Sure. But the race I had was incredible, and probably once in a lifetime. A real highlight, and silver living, of 2020.