Archive for the ‘Running’ Category

And So Endeth The Streak

Posted: 2016-05-12 in Running
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483 days. Almost 1100 miles.

That’s how long my running streak lasted before I was forced to give it up.

A little over a month ago, while on one of my normal “1.5 mile minimum a day” runs, I had a stabbing pain in my ankle that shot down my foot and scared the hell out of me. I was able to walk on it, but running felt like someone was driving a nail into the top of my foot with every step. I limp/jogged my way through my last half-mile back to the house and iced my foot, hoping I just twisted something in a funny direction and it would be better a few days later.

As the days progressed, I still limped and I still ran. Nothing improved, and I had to go back out to Texas for work. Three weeks into my work schedule there (where I was on my feet at least 5-6 miles a day on top of whatever I was running), I decided it was time to seek medical attention before I did something really stupid and permanent to my foot/ankle.

The x-rays came back negative for stress fractures (what I feared was likely), but the Doc still was concerned and asked me to treat the injury just like a stress fracture, including 6 weeks of laying off the running, elevating and icing the foot as much as possible, and generally giving it time to heal itself before I screwed it up worse.

At one time, I would have said, “Screw it” to such advice, and kept my almost-16-months-streak alive. But older-and-wiser me started considering how I’d feel if I messed something up to the point where I’d be in agony every time I tried playing soccer with the kids, or hiking with the wife, or any of the million of things that are enjoyable but require you to be active on your feet. I decided, as disappointing as it would be to end my streak, it was a small sacrifice to make to get me back to normal.

So here I sit, icing my ankle & foot in the evenings, binge-watching Netflix and jealously glaring at random folks as they run past my balcony, carefree and happy, not knowing how good they have it. I was one of those people once, and hopefully in about 4 more weeks, I will be again. In the meantime, I’ll just try to make the most of the situation and keep my spirits up. (Sometimes, drinking the spirits down helps in that respect.)

So 483 days. It’s not a bad streak – over a year of running every day. Will I start a new streak when I get back into running? Probably not the same “run every day” type streak – that has proven to be a little too much for my bones to handle. But I’ll still keep running, and I’ll try to remember that each run is a privilage that not everyone gets to enjoy, and treat it as such.

Still, it would have been nice to hit 500.

Happy New Year! Ok, now that we’ve got the obligatory greeting out of the way, I want to address a topic near and dear to every UVA graduate’s heart: streaking.

Don't try this at home

No! Wait, not that kind of streaking, THIS kind of streaking:

Now THIS is how you streak!

That’s right, as of today, I’ve successfully run 1 mile or more, for 370 days in a row. That’s every day of 2015 and then some.  Hooray for me for keeping alive an unbroken chain of an arbitrary action!

Seriously though, I wrote a blog post approximately this time last year, where I discussed where my inspiration for a running streak came from. Since that day, I kept the streak going, and some great things came of it:

  • I managed to run despite a number of work trips (both domestic and international). I also saw some really amazing things because my streak forced me to get out and run where I might not have otherwise.
  • The logistics of travelling to China were one difficult (I ran at 11:00 at night the first night I arrived there, and had to impress air travelers in Dulles Airport with my running prowess on my way back, when I ran the length of C and D terminal until I completed my minimum 1 mile effort the day I returned to the States). But I was determined, and the smog/fog in Chongqing didn’t stop me the two days I was there, where I ran outside along the Yangtze River and even stopped to take a photo of some playful children:

Look, it's a bird, it's a plane - no, it's a statue pointing at a tree!

  • I also managed to have a much better set of runs in beautiful Genoa, Italy, where the weather was perfect and allowed me to explore part of the city. I even found a statue honoring Christopher Columbus in one of the town roundabouts (Columbus was reportedly born in the Republic of Genoa, a fact that the locals take great pride in):

They really like this Columbus dude

  • I certainly can’t forget about the time I ran in Plymouth after a giant snowstorm hit the Northeast. I ended up running laps around a Home Depot parking lot after the plows came through and cleared the snow – it was the only clear path in the area!

Iceberg, Goldberg, what's the difference?

  • A riverfront park in Linz, Austria also provided me with some great scenery. I was “stuck” in Linz for about two weeks, and took advantage of my time there to explore both the city and the surrounding countryside.

Even more comfortable than they look

  • Once you get a streak going, it’s not a matter of if you’re going to run, but when and where you’re going to run. I explored the parks and paths of Bahrain (thankfully, not during their hot season!), waved hello as I ran past a giant Mr. and Mrs. Potato-Head at the Disney Resort my family and I went to for Spring Break, and jogged across cobblestone streets in Savannah on our one night “layover” on the drive home.

How can you NOT wave back?

Of course, it wasn’t all glamorous routes that could belong on the cover of a Runner’s World magazine issue. I had countless days when I slogged through my mile (or more, when I was on a training plan) doing half-mile laps around my neighborhood at 10pm when I realized I had forgotten to get my run in that day (or had just procrastinated doing so). I inhaled a bug on one run that I SWEAR was the size of my pinky-nail, and ended up in a horrific coughing fit for the next 5 minutes. I suffered from most of the typical runner’s annoyances at one time or another (no need to go into detail, this humorous video does just fine). But through it all, I kept the streak alive, which I am inordinately proud of.

I’m also proud of my TWO (that’s right, two!) half-marathons that I ran this past fall. The first was the Charlotte Thunder Road race, and after months of training, I ran a great race and set a new personal record. The second was a month later on Kiawah Island (coincidentally, the day after aforementioned bug-sucking incident). I didn’t do quite so well in that one, possibly due to the 70 degree temperatures near the finish. But finish I did! Two half marathons in one year is another new record for me, and you really can’t complain when you set a record, right? RIGHT?

Some of my coworkers have asked me if I’ll keep the streak going for 2016. After all, I’m already over halfway to 730 days in a row! For now, I’m just giving them a smile and say, “We’ll see.” But between you and me – that streak is calling to me, asking me to extend it, maybe even improve it. And thinking of all the fond memories that came from doing my 2015 challenge, I feel myself caving to the power of the streak. So 2016 will be the year where I do a minimum of 1.5 miles a day, every day. After all, I streaked 365 last year – how hard can it be to keep the streak alive for another year?

half On Saturday, November 12th, I ran my first ever half-marathon at Thunder Road in Charlotte, NC.  It was the culmination of 3+ months of formal dedicated training (the first time I had probably really stuck to a training plan since back in college) and I was rewarded by my hard work with an excellent finish and a fantastic race experience to remember for years to come.

Saturday dawned cool and clear – the cloudless skies the night before had let the temperature drop so that it wasn’t even above freezing when I left my house in the morning to drive down to Charlotte.  I was a little worried about the gear I planned to wear – even though I had run in it before at these temperatures, it was never for this distance and I was also worried about a long standing period prior to the start that would chill me and possibly lead to injury.  I kept my sweats on as long as possible, checking them at the bag check just 20 minutes before the start of the race to try to stay warm as long as possible.

I walked/jogged over to the starting area and felt my first signs of panic.  There were starting corrals for the runners broken out by goal times, but my racing strategy (based on the excellent advice from some fellow Charlotte runners on RunningAhead.com) involved me starting off a bit slower and picking up the pace about halfway through the race if I still felt strong.  I was unsure of which corral to start in, as my goal pace would put me in front of one group but behind another.  I ended up moving up to the 1:45 group and figured it would be easier for people to move around me if I wasn’t going fast enough than for me to fight through a crowd of slower runners to try to stay on pace.  Initially I did move to the sides of the course rather than stay in the middle of the pack, though, to allow people to pass me more easily (this is why my watch ended up reading 13.2 miles total, I believe).

I was surprised at how quickly we got moving after the leaders took off – it was only about 30 seconds after the crowd started shuffling forward to when we crossed the starting line.  The sheer mass of people around me was exhilarating and I could not keep a smile off my face as we wound our way through the streets of Charlotte and headed down our first hill on the way out of downtown.  I was having a blast, and hoped I would feel this good for the remainder of the race.

As expected, a lot of people passed me in the first few miles.  I kept holding myself back, knowing that if I picked up the pace to stay with them, I’d most likely be walking up the hills in the second half of the race.  It was hard enough to restrain myself to 8:15-8:20 pace when I was originally shooting for 8:30s for the first 5 miles.  Still, I felt good and my strides kept chewing up the miles.  Since I was going a little faster than planned, I decided to hold that pace for the first 6 miles (instead of 5) before picking it up.

I loved all the people that were cheering along the roadsides.  I passed high school cheerleaders, marching band drum sections, parents with cowbells and kids in strollers, residents along the route sipping their morning coffee and waving hello, and hundreds of people with signs of encouragement.  I gave a big smile to the lady with the sign that said “Strangers – I Am Proud of You” and laughed out loud at the woman with the sign that said “Worst. Parade. Ever. (Where’s my candy?)” [Mental note: bring candy in a pocket next year to throw at her so she can’t gripe anymore.]

Come mile marker 6, I held true to my word and dropped the pace down to 7:50-8:00 minute miles, after sucking down a GU energy gel (note for next time: those things are a lot harder to eat on the run when you don’t slow down at all – I need to practice that on my long runs).  I figured if I could keep this up until the last 5K, I could “race” that a bit faster (or in this case, since I knew there were some killer hills at the end, I could try to hold steady) and still end up right where I wanted to be.  On one of the downhill stretches of Sharon around mile 8-9 I think I hyper-extended my right knee a bit and had to favor it a little on the downhills for the rest of the race.  While this meant I had to ease off on the downhills a bit, I was determined to make up the time by attacking the uphills and keep my pace.

I did a pretty fair job of this up until about 11.5 miles, when my body finally started to flag and I started wondering whether I had picked up the pace too much too soon.  I started wishing I had brought a second energy gel with me to have around mile 10.  I started wishing I had brought a motor scooter that I could sit down on and ride to the finish.  I started wishing I was still asleep in bed, dreaming about running a half-marathon.  And then I hit the top of the hill, shook my head, and decided to just finish the race, and finish it strong.  I picked up the pace and told myself the only thing standing between me and the finish line was a measly little mile and a half, and pictured the last 1.5 miles of my long runs on the Mallard Creek Greenway, and just pretended I was there. I picked up the pace until I was gunning along at a 7:15 pace, and drove it home with a 150m sprint to the finish.

When I crossed that finish line, I was astonished to see my time. I knew I had been running strong, and had beat my goal of 1:50, but I had no idea that I beat it by almost 5 minutes! I finished with an official chip time of 1:45:18 (8:03 average mile pace) and felt like I was floating.  Actually, I felt like I was limping and wheezing and stumbling and sweating like a pig, but none of that could dissuade me from the euphoria I felt at finishing my first ever half marathon in such an extraordinary (for me) fashion.  I walked out of the finisher’s area with my medal around my neck and a giant grin on my face.

I’m sure this won’t be my last half marathon.  I’m not a one-and-done kind of guy.  But the recovery after the race was pretty rough and I definitely need some time to get back to normal.  In spite of that, though, this was an amazing first race and a great reminder of how hard work and proper training can pay off in a big way.  I’ll be back for another 13.1 sometime soon.  And this time, I have a REAL time goal to shoot for.