Thursday, December 31, 2015

Looking Back on 2015 and Finding the Real Runner

This was one of my worst years of running and racing. Low total mileage, very few races, and even those events didn't go well. No injuries, but plenty of illness. Pneumonia, flu, and whatever I have right now to end this year. On the positive side, I did finally break that 100th ultra/marathon barrier I've been eyeing for some time. I stand at 101 ultras or marathons at the end of 2015.

Funny thing about this "poor year of running." I found myself. I tried new things. I know what I like. I know what I don't like. When not running, I had time to think. It was a year of discovery and insights. I can learn from these new-found truths. They'll help me in 2016.

First, I enjoy long distance running and racing. By long distance, I mean 18+ mile long runs and 26+ mile races. At heart, I'm an ultra guy. When Howl at the Moon and Barkley races didn't go well, I re-focused on shorter runs and speed. It was a nice change of pace. Unfortunately, I really only enjoyed it for about 4 weeks. Then I wanted more. More 20 milers. More gels. More walking. More hills. More ultras. I need to unleash the ultrarunner inside of me in 2016. After I focus on the half-marathon in April.

In addition to truly enjoying those longer efforts, I realized how much I hate roads. I'm a trail guy. Heck, I even prefer treadmills to roads. Just don't like that repetitive pounding. The sense of caution at each intersection. Watching for people, cars, dogs, lights. At least treadmills offer a consistent pace and an opportunity to zone-out and pay attention to my breathing, or music, or cadence. Roads suck. Treadmills are OK, and trails rule. Trails are always different. Sometimes wet and muddy, at other times hard an dry. Flat, gentling rolling, or gut-busting hills. Wide and smooth grass to technical single-track filled with rocks and roots. Open meadows and farm-fields to dense forests. I love them all. Roads are pretty similar. Trails are diverse.

Not much surpising in these revelations. But one insight that did surprise me was my keen passion for variety...including speed. I've been a slow-paced ultra runner for too long. Way too easy to settle into easy aerobic runs and leave it there. 3 miles easy. 5 miles easy. 7 miles easy. 20 miles easy. No fartleks. No repeats and intervals. No tempo efforts. No hill bounding. Just easy. And fairly slow. Nothing wrong with that...unless you discover an inclination for speed. The last few weeks of this year I've experimented with fast runs. 1-mile race pace efforts. 400 and 800 meter repeats. 2-mile tempo runs. It's been fun. I need to carry this new-found excitement into 2016. That speed will certainly help with my half-marathon training. It should assist with the marathon and ultras later in the year too.

So, what will 2016 bring for me? A combination of speed, stamina, and endurance. Mostly on trails. And a mix of race distances from 5K to 50 miles. I haven't figured it all out yet, but my overall training and race plans are coming together. I'll progress from shorter road races to longer trail ultras. Training will be structured to incorporate lots of variety and keep building endurance on top of speed. 2015 was not my year...but it taught me lessons that will help make 2016 one of my best years ever. I anticipate great training, fantastic racing, and new personal records. Goodbye 2015. Hello 2016.

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