Fall 2020 Running Goals

I have a lot more certainty about my fall running goals than I did about my spring and summer goals. When I started setting my spring goals, I had no idea how long this pandemic would last (and it shouldn’t still be this bad! Ugh!) In the summer, it was clear that there would be long-term impacts to racing and training, but I didn’t re-imagine my approach to running. Now that I’ve made a decision that I’m not going to sign up for any in-person races this fall, and I’m not going to travel too far for any adventures.

  1. Complete 45% of St. Paul streets.
    I got up to 31.74% completion during the summer (I’m currently at 35.38%), so this might seem a bit unambitious. I’m scaling back a bit on this for a couple reasons. It’s getting dark earlier these days, and I don’t want to waste a bunch of waning daylight driving to Como Park to complete some streets. I’m also obsessing a bit over the completion project. I’m barely running any trails (paved or otherwise) because I’m planning out how I can run some boring industrial road instead. Setting a less ambitious goal will give me an opportunity to run more trails, or just run routes I like and haven’t run in awhile.
  2. Complete 25% of West St. Paul streets.
    I’m currently at 16.67% of West St. Paul, which is a little bit harder to complete because so many of the streets are long. St. Paul has a lot of tiny streets that are only a block or two long; West. St. Paul is laid out more like a suburb so the streets are harder to complete. WSP is closer to my home (and easier to drive to) than most of St. Paul, so it’ll be more convenient and will help me maximize daylight. There are a lot of streets without sidewalks, so I’m not thrilled about that.
  3. Run a solo Twin Cities Marathon.
    This might actually turn into a Twin Cities ultramarathon, because part of the course is currently under construction and has a short detour. My current plan is to run it on the proposed marathon day, but that’s weather permitting. I might enlist my mom to meet me at Lake Nokomis to refuel (and maybe one other point along the way?), and I’ll have to figure out how to get to the start (light rail? drive?), but those are logistics for another day. I considered signing up for the official virtual race, but it costs as much as just doing the race, so no thank you. My cousin just ran a virtual Boston Marathon and I was re-inspired by his awesome effort. (Plus he raised like $13K for the Michael J Fox Foundation in memory of his father! Now that’s inspiring.)
  4. Get caught up and ahead on YTD mileage over last year.
    I want to be able to cruise in December, rather than pound out 12 miles on 12/30 in order to barely eke ahead of my previous year’s mileage (as happened in 2019). I don’t need to match 2019’s totals by November (that’s way too ambitious), but I’d like to be like a week (say 40 miles) ahead by 11/30.
  5. Run 3 new trails/parks in the Twin Cities metro area.
    I haven’t done enough exploring around here! I’ve been too focused on new counties and new state parks to check out some of the local options. Since I’m not focusing on traveling outside the Twin Cities right now, this is a great time to find some new urban/suburban trails. Now that summer is over and kids are back in school, perhaps places like Elm Creek won’t be so crowded.

Race Report: FANS Virtual 24 Hour Run

It’s somewhat ironic that when I finally sit down to recap my August adventures at Fort Snelling, it’s about 47F outside compared to the average temperature of 147F (approximately) I suffered through during my race segments. The weather changed on a dime over the weekend, and now I’m huddled in a sweatshirt in my home office, refusing to turn on the heat out of principle, trying to conjure up the misery and fatigue I fought through last month.

My “official” results for my virtual FANS stage race: 100.58 mi in 23 hours, 26 minutes, 50 seconds. I ran all of my segments on the FANS course at Fort Snelling; 100.58 mi translates to 47 2.14 mi loops around Snelling Lake, which I completed in 10 efforts on 9 different days. My friends and family helped raise $1660 for the FANS scholarship fund, part of an overall $27,094.44 raised (as of today) by the race participants. That’s pretty exciting! I’m not sure how it compares to years past, so maybe it’s actually horrible in relative terms.

This race was a HUGE wake-up call for me in terms of my capabilities in a true 24 hour race. At first, I had planned on running one big day and a couple of smaller days; I foolishly thought I could complete this in 3 or 4 days. I mean, I could have, but the results would have looked a lot different. I quickly realized that I could either have a big mileage day or I could get the maximum mileage credit (100 mi), but not both. It was rather humbling to realize just how difficult it would be for me to come close to 100 mi during the actual race. It works out to about 2 loops per hour (bearing in mind that the first FANS loop is longer than 2.14 miles in order to ensure that a runner can reach exactly 100 miles as they’re finishing a loop), and for the first three days, that was about what I was averaging (doing 5-6 loops those first three days).

My 2 loops per hour pace started to break down during the middle of the month, when the weather really started to boil. (Don’t tell me to run in the morning before it gets hot – that’s not going to happen. I’d rather suffer in the heat than get up at 6 AM on a day off.) During my fourth run, everything was going okay until the fourth loop (of six), when it started to get warm. I made it through the fifth loop okay and should have stopped there, because I ended up walking/shuffling my way through most of the sixth loop, and felt pretty yucky when I went home. If that had happened during a race, I’d have been shuffling for hours afterward (just like I did in 2017, although I was also struggling with chaffing and blisters). This happened during a couple other segments – once I quit after four loops, went home to rest, and then returned to do two more; then the next day I did 6 loops and ended up 11 minutes over 3 hours – by far my slowest effort, although at that point I had discovered that I had a small cushion of time, so I wasn’t pushing as hard. Even my final day, I was over that desired pace for the three final loops I needed to reach 100 miles, and I decided not to attempt a fourth loop to get in a bit of extra mileage (for my own purposes only, as I couldn’t get any additional cumulative mileage credit).

Of course there were things that worked against me that wouldn’t be present in a race. I was wearing a 2L hydration pack for most of my efforts, in order to avoid stopping. During a race, I’d be able to refill a water bottle at an aid station and also drink stuff other than water. I’d also have access to more food (beyond the gels I was muling) and I’d have eaten more pre-race (vs. eating a normal amount because I’m trying to shed a few pounds here). There would be a better atmosphere, with other runners to chat with and a big pick-me-up from the lap counters each time I came through. And there would be nice clean biffies to use, instead of… well, just going home. (TMI but the restrooms are closed due to the pandemic, and the existing biffies seemed… shady, and there’s not really a great place to jump off the trail for a minute, especially since there were a lot of other folks on the trail.) And of course in a race, I would be starting in the cooler morning hours, and would be several hours into the race before the heat of the day hit me. I’d have been rested, and I certainly would have put in more training hours.

While that’s all true, so much more would be working against me. The compounding fatigue of hours on the trail. The likely sleepless night beforehand. Mental lows that slow me down. Distractions like crew and aid stations and chairs. Chaffing and blisters and sunburns and upset stomachs. Fear and self-doubt. You know, all the fun stuff. I am telling you, it really sucks to be slow. Everyone deals with all the baggage I just rattled off, but man, it would be like 100000x easier to deal with that if I wasn’t also starting off like 3-4 minutes slower than the average runner.

My friend Jamie posted on her coaching and physical therapy page asking people to consider how their negative thoughts might be impacting them, especially negative thoughts about their own speed. But that’s in relative terms. We all have days when we don’t feel our best, but I wonder what it must feel like to not do your very best and still fall within the middle of the pack. It probably sucks but also it can’t suck as much as not doing your very best and therefore falling off a cliff into the abyss of cutoffs and sag wagons and results that are so many standard deviations from the mean that you’d rather they just didn’t exist.

Trying out a 100 mi/24 hour pace on the actual FANS race course really drove it home how hard it would be for me to actually keep that up during a real live FANS event. And yes, this is ultrarunning, it’s supposed to be hard, and obviously my past results should be evidence that I’m going to struggle mightily to maintain that pace consistently for longer than 3 hours – it still ate away at me. I’m at this point in running where I either need to get serious, like really really serious, or just accept my limitations. It’s probably going to be the latter, because honestly I can’t see myself agonizing over my diet, paying for coaching, and spending even more time running and doing strength workouts, when it’s still likely going to result in marginal gains.

Not training or racing has triggered a descent into nihilism, it appears. I’m at peace with this.

I don’t have anything else on the calendar in 2020, so this plus the Bigger Than The Trail 50K will conclude my racing season, unless another virtual event comes along that promotes a worthy cause and/or is priced appropriately for a virtual event. I know in-person races are starting to crop up again, but I’ll leave those spots for folks who are really hungry to race. I’m not, and I also don’t really feel like it’s worth the risk. These are strange times, and I’ll just let them be strange.

Summer 2020 Running Goals Revisited

Somehow August has ended? There hasn’t been much to say. Without racing, my training has been haphazard and purposeless, so there’s not much to discuss. I did finish FANS over the course of the month, and spent a lot of time circling Snelling Lake pondering my life and my running and why I was doing anything.

My last post was outlining these goals, so reproducing them here seems silly, but I like following this format.

  1. Run a mile in three new counties.
    I ran in Chisago County, so I get 1/3 here. I got wrapped up in FANS during August, and I also didn’t really feel like traveling too far outside of the metro area while facilities are closed. With more people outside these days, it’s so hard to find a place to pee in peace!
  2. Visit three new state parks.
    I ran at Wild River State Park (which was okay, but there was a long section of sandy trail, some overgrown grassy areas, and bugs, so I was miserable – it might be better in spring or fall?) while hitting up Chisago County, and I ran at Minnesota River State Recreation Area, which was also buggy, also overgrown in areas, and also very frustrating. Why don’t I ever remember that I hate trail running in summer? I hate flies so much. Score: 2/3.
  3. Reach 25% completion of the streets of St. Paul
    As of 8/31, I’m at 31.74% completion! I started at 10% and really cruised! I also got my husband hooked on CityStrides and we compare notes when we’re both finished with our workouts (we work out separately).
  4. Fundraise at least $500 for FANS.
    My friends and family helped me raise $1660! And as of this post, the entire event raised over $20k! This is truly exciting. I’m looking forward to fundraising next year for an in-person race! Maybe that’ll be the accountability that I need to get through the night.

Overall, not a bad performance. If grading on a strict completed or not scale, I’m at 50%. If partial credit is allowed, then 62.5%! Either way, not impressive but these are strange times.

Summer 2020 Running Goals

I’m not sure what to put here. There aren’t likely to be any real races this summer, and even if there are, I don’t think I’ll be comfortable participating. So, what to do?

  1. Run a mile in three new counties.
  2. Visit three new state parks.
  3. Reach 25% completion of the streets of St. Paul
    I discovered CityStrides a few weeks ago and since then, I’ve been obsessed with trying to run every street in St. Paul. I was at 10% at the start of June, so I’ll have to complete another 15% during June-August.
  4. Fundraise at least $500 for FANS.
    FANS has been canceled, but the students who depend on the program’s scholarships still need our help. I’m waiting on the options that the race director sends out (a virtual race? some other type of fundraising event?) and then I’ll figure it out. I’m at $175 because I paid my entry fee before the race was canceled; I wanted them to be sure they got my money no matter what.

These might not be super exciting goals, but they are enough to keep me busy without races to run or support.

Spring 2020 Running Goals Revisited

We’re almost a month into June and I have hardly thought about running at all. I mean, I am still running, but without a lot of thought. I just go out and do it, since there’s nothing to train for.

There’s not much to discuss with my spring running goals (they weren’t that exciting to begin with), but I still feel the need to be consistent with my posts. Spring running goal evaluation:

  1. Run two races.
    I ran one race, a virtual 50K. That was the only option; all in-person races were canceled. I didn’t find any other virtual races that were reasonably priced.
  2. Run a mile in two new counties.
    I did my best to stay near home the last few months, so this was tough to do. I think I got in one new county, Anoka County, but I can’t verify that because my counties list is on my desk at work.
  3. Visit two new state parks.
    Again, tough to do without driving quite a bit. I did visit William O’Brien State Park back in March, which was okay. It was still pretty snowy there, so the run wasn’t very entertaining. I will have to go back again and try out the full park now that the snow is gone.

Not a great performance, only 50%, but when I wrote those goals I had no idea what this pandemic would look like. So many race I love have been canceled. So many conveniences I took for granted, like bathrooms at state parks, have changed the way I approach my runs.

As far as my overall 2020 running goals, I am doing okay. I’m right on track with my number of long runs and I am averaging 100 pushups a day (I’ve missed a few days, but made up for them with >100 pushups on other days). I didn’t get any cross-country skiing done – I never took the time to wax and prep my skis. I’ll have to wait til November or December to hit this goal. I’m planning to buy a bike and have a model picked out, thanks to my friend Waylon, but the bike shop in my neighborhood is closed due to the pandemic. They are accepting online orders, but I don’t know anything about what size bike I need, and would like to test ride a few, so I’ll have to call them and see if there’s a test ride option. FANS has been canceled, but if there’s a virtual option, I will go for a distance personal best and fundraise. I don’t think I’ll have the choice to run a new marathon, unless the Mankato Marathon goes through, or some other late fall marathon. (The Fargo Marathon is occurring in August, but I don’t think North Dakota is handling the pandemic very well, and I also don’t want to run a marathon in North Dakota in August.)

It’s kind of nice, saving money on races, spending less time traveling for races and long runs, and doing my own thing, but I do miss the structure of a training plan and the support and atmosphere of a race. Still, it’s a small price to pay to keep hundreds of thousands more people from getting seriously ill or dying.

Race Report: Bigger Than The Trail Block Party (50K)

Virtual Insanity

Watch Results:
Time: 7:53:16
Pace: 15:12
Distance: 31.12 mi
Heart Rate: N/A

Goals:
A: 7:00
B: 7:30

Food:
What I ate the night before: beef curry with rice, Oreo cookies
What I ate on race morning: cereal, nitro vanilla latte
What I carried with me: water with electrolytes, gels

Gear:
What I wore: t-shirt, shorts, trucker hat
Gadgets: GPS watch, fitness tracker

Discussion: That was certainly a new experience. I heard about the Bigger Than The Trail Block Party from my friends Jeff and Amy, and I spent a few weeks hemming and hawwing about which distance to sign up for (they had options from 1 mile to 100 miles), before finally settling on the 50K. I considered doing a marathon and then just continuing if I felt like it, but I decided I would sign up for the ultra distance for accountability. I haven’t run an ultra since last year’s FANS, so it’s been almost a year! Hard to believe.

I didn’t do very much to prepare for this race, which ended up being to my detriment, though all it really affected was the overall time it took to complete the race, and my general attitude during the race. I planned to get going right around 8:00, the “official” start, just so I could get the race over with. I got up at 7:30 or so, and planned to prep two handheld water bottles with electrolyte tabs so I’d easily be able to swap them out. One of them smelled not great, so I filled it with soapy water and left it. I forgot to apply sunscreen before leaving. I also discovered my watch, which I thought I’d charged to 100% the night before, was only at 71% (and then showed up as 95%… and then back to 71% — thank you, Suunto, I think my next watch will be another brand), and had trouble getting a satellite lock when I did try to start. I actually went back inside, plugged it back in, and then re-started. I got going for real at 8:30. The weather was cool-ish, mid-50s F, and a bit humid. I was just hoping the rain would hold off until I was almost done.

I didn’t have a route planned or any planned stops, and while I had time goals, I didn’t do any math as far as what pace I needed to hit to make those goals. I figured I’d just wing it and do whatever it took to finish, even if that meant walking or resting or what. I took my first break after two hours and 8.5 miles, and stopped to use the bathroom (SO much better than peeing in the woods or using a Biffy), rinse off my face (to prevent sweat/sunscreen from getting in my eyes), refill my water bottle, eat half a Clif bar, take off my long-sleeved shirt, re-apply Body Glide, apply sunscreen, and head back out again. I felt pretty strong, and the miles really fell away at first. While my first mile was mostly downhill, I didn’t have an easy course – who knew you could get 2358 feet of vert in the city? I knew, because all my runs seem to be uphill both ways. I chose to walk almost any incline, and it was a nice way to break up the day and give my hips a rest.

I ate half the Clif bar while walking, and then took off again for a longer segment. It took almost 5 minutes for me to get through my rest stop at home, so I wanted to try to limit my stops to when I really needed them. The sun came out a little bit during this section, and I ran through some busier sections where I was dodging people a bit. I felt a little crappy during this section – not quite nauseated, but definitely “off,” and ended up walking a little bit on a flat section just to calm my body down. I started running low on water and started heading for home (this included a long uphill section) – this segment was 11.4 miles, and I did the same bathroom/face wash/water refill/etc. routine, maybe a little bit faster, and then I headed out again for what I thought was going to be my final segment.

I ended up having to return again after 7.5 miles to use the bathroom and get more water one more time. I didn’t have enough water to make it the final 3.7 miles, and I otherwise needed to stop. I did a lot of walking during the third segment, and my running turned into shuffling, which sucked. I probably should have eaten more – I don’t always get typical hunger cues when I’m running, and I don’t always recognize my cranky attitude as a sign of hunger. I should have pre-made a sandwich or grabbed a few cookies or something.

The final 3.7 miles were pretty brutal. My feet were hurting, there was a lot of uphill (my area of St. Paul is VERY hilly, especially near my house), and I checked my watch a few times to see my instantaneous pace and realized I was running so slowly I might as well be walking (so I walked). I got passed by a couple of chatty women out power-walking (can’t avoid gals chatting about domestic stuff even in a solo race!) and then I realized as I was heading into the final stretch that I needed to tack on a little extra in order to be sure that I was going to get 31 miles (Strava sometimes lops off distance, and I noticed that there were some GPS errors during my breaks – I took off my watch during the first two breaks because I was worried going inside my house would mess up my signal, but taking it off caused errors too, for some reason. Why isn’t there a function where you can pause distance but not time?) That was a morale killer, but I was determined to be running when my watch beeped 31 miles, and I was! And I kept running after that for the final tenth of a mile it took to get home.

I finished feeling pretty good! Especially considering there was no finish line energy whatsoever. My heels and toes have blisters, my shoes are toast after my big toes poked through mesh tops (Mizuno — go back to your old fabric), and I have some chafing around the band of my sports bra, but that’s minor. Of course my legs and hips are stiff, but that’ll sort itself out in due time.

I joined a couple of the Zoom events that were part of the BTTT Block Party. They were really fun, there were a lot of really cool people involved in the event. I even got to see someone finishing their 50 mile event live! It seems like a really great organization, and this virtual race raised over $15k! Not bad for a race that only had a $20 entry fee.

I said right after the event that I probably wouldn’t do another virtual race, but that’s not true. I’d do another one if it was inexpensive or if it was a charitable event. This hit both criteria, but I’d do FANS if it ends up being virtual. I just don’t think I’d do a virtual event that cost like $70 (unless I’d already been signed up for the real event).

What didn’t I like about it? Well, it was lonely out there. It was really weird to do an event without any support or any other runners. I missed the energy at the aid stations and the finish lines. I didn’t like not knowing if I really did 50K (thanks to a few bonus tenths from my watch while I was taking breaks), and I hated waiting for traffic and dealing with pedestrians, dogs, skateboarders, cyclists, other runners, etc. I missed aid station food – there’s much more of a variety and it’s so much easier to get in and out. It sucked not to be able to just duck off the trail to pee and get right back on – since I was in a residential area it wasn’t really an option.

What did I like about it? I liked some aspects of choosing my own route – like if I didn’t want to go up a hill right then, I just turned left or right. If I wanted to go back home and refill stuff, I did it when I wanted to, instead of having to wait for the next aid station or having to stop more frequently than I really wanted to. I liked starting from my house, instead of figuring out the logistics of getting to the race start, possibly traveling overnight, or having to drive home after 8 hours of running. I could have done this on a remote trail somewhere, but that would have involved carrying a lot more stuff – it was nice to just have one handheld and not need drop bags or anything.

Overall, I’m glad I did it – who knew when I set my spring race goals two months ago that we’d be in this place, with races canceled left and right, and no expectation for when they might start up again. It was nice to get in a really long run – I can use this formula in the future when I’m doing long training runs – loops around the neighborhood with stops at home, instead of driving somewhere and hauling a pack full of water. It was a reminder that I need to stop fooling around with 10 mile “long runs” and 40 mile weeks if I want to have a successful FANS in August (if it happens, sigh) — I’m not ready.

I’m going to take a week off now. I haven’t taken much time off other than when I was sick in late February. Normally I let races determine my time off, but with nothing on the calendar, there was no “reason” to rest, even though it’s healthy to take time off running even when there are no races on the horizon. I’m really going to enjoy the break!

Running Goals in the Time of Cholera (Spring 2020 Running Goals)

It’s kind of ironic that just as I started to come out of a prolonged running funk (my usual late-winter malaise, plus a sinus/cold situation) just in time for a pandemic and the drastic changes to our everyday lives that have resulted. I’m not complaining about social distancing, I’m very fortunate that it will have a minimal impact on my life, but I do recognize the irony.

I’m also lucky that my reluctance to commit to any races has put me in a position where I haven’t laid out any cash for a race that has been canceled or has the potential to be canceled. I was very close to signing up for Chippewa 50K and/or the Med City Marathon when the new social distancing recommendations started coming out. Even the Boston Marathon has been postponed, I’m not assuming anything about the status of any other races.

So, what is there to work for this season? I’m not sure. Here are my original goals:

  1. Run two races.
  2. Run a mile in two new counties.
  3. Visit two new state parks.

Those goals are pretty weak, but they reflect my mindset the past month or so. I haven’t been able to get any interest in signing up for races. I’m feeling so slow right now, and my workouts feel like a grind. Even racing a 5K seems like a pointless endeavor. Warmer weather, an adjustment for daylight saving time, and better terrain (snow melted, ground dry) should make things feel a bit easier (and if not, I guess I need to seek answers elsewhere), but in the meantime, those are the goals I feel comfortable setting. And even running two races seems like a tough goal considering I don’t know if races I’m interested in will still go on.

So, that’s not an exciting way to start the 2020 racing season, but it could be! There’s plenty of adventure to be had, even with such mundane-seeming goals. And there’s no better way to practice social distancing than by spending time in the woods!