2021 Running Update

This year has not gone at all as planned. Months ago, I threw many of my running goal out the window. This year, running has caused me more stress and anxiety than it should. I found myself with no interest in completing long runs, finding excuses to push back my running for the day until I had to reduce my planned mileage for the day. At times this manifested itself physically, which scared the hell out of me until I realized it wasn’t some weird or scary illness, it was just physical symptoms of stress (not all running related).

I let go of my distance goals, and allowed myself to run what I felt like running. I took a couple of breaks where I didn’t run or do strength training; I took a couple more breaks due to colds/allergies. I focused on my city completion goals instead – although I think this ended up to my detriment. l ran a lot of entirely joyless routes this year in my quest to complete all the streets of St. Paul (and other cities). I could have been off on trails or running favorite routes instead of running industrial roads or dodging litter. I learned important things about this city while traversing its streets, but the monotony started to wear on me.

I’ll still hit a lot of the goals I set back in February. As of today, I’ve completed Lilydale, Mendota Heights, and South St. Paul, plus I also completed Mendota. I’m at 95.65% of St. Paul, with many other streets close to complete. I have a plan for how I want to finish it out and where I want my last run to take me. I’m also at 18.56% of St. Louis Park, with not a heck of a lot of effort put into it. I even made a little progress on Alfred, Maine while I was on vacation!

I haven’t run any races. I thought about running Wild Duluth and just seeing how it went. I can hike 31 miles if I need to, I figured. I held off and decided not to – my heart wasn’t in it, and I was letting silly externalities get to me, so I knew on race day that would only get worse and make it so easy to DNF. Or DNS. I decided instead to run Icebox 480, the last race I ran before the pandemic hit, but I waffled on signing up and wound up with a cold so I was glad I didn’t run it. I got really anxious to race after seeing everyone having a blast at the Twin Cities Marathon, but I’m just not quite ready yet. It turns out that focusing on completing streets is detrimental to completing long runs, speed workouts, and pretty much everything else related to racing, whether for a 5K or an ultra. Once I’m done with St. Paul, I’m not going to be hyper-focused on completing streets (although I still plan to mix that in) in order to get speed and endurance back, as well as my mental training.

I haven’t felt much like writing about running in months – I’ve been keeping my running journal but I haven’t wanted to write anything on this site (or the hockey fan site I’ve had for almost two decades), partially because there’s not much to say, partially because I haven’t had a lot of mental energy to write. My brainpower was being used up at work and I had nothing left to give creatively; this isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as I have accomplished a lot at work and enjoy what I do, but it really stunk that by the end of the day, I had such severe decision fatigue that I couldn’t handle something as simple as my mom asking me what kind of sauce I wanted for my birthday spaghetti dinner.

There’s a story in here somewhere, or a lesson, or at least a question. Most people talk about how important running is to their mental health; I almost never see anyone talking about running being detrimental to their mental health unless it’s in the context of an eating disorder. I have no external pressures to run; it’s not my profession, I’m not in running groups where people count on me to show up, and I don’t have some large audience here to whom I’m beholden. And yet the internal pressures got to me. This summer I slowed down so much, partially due to the heat, partially due to the routes I was running (like I said, completing streets is counterproductive to speedwork or hills, and it takes a LOT of planning to do a long run), and of course in very large part due to my not giving a crap mental approach to running. Slowing down meant every run took longer, which ate away at me. If you’re a fast or medium-ish runner, I want you to understand how much it sucks that it takes an hour or more to run a simple 5 mile workout, which was true even before this summer’s slowdown. Then add in the time it takes to get to and from wherever I started – running was a total time suck. I really hated it, but I wasn’t in the right headspace to try to get faster, so I just gritted my teeth and got it done. You know those platitudes about how you never regret doing a run, you only regret not running? I can’t say that I regretted any runs but I came out a lot of them not much better, and it the best I can say after a run is that I avoided feeling guilty about not running, that’s not great. I mean once in awhile, yeah, that’s going to happen, but most of the time? That’s bad.

Am I on the other side of this? Maybe. I felt great completing South St. Paul (yesterday) and Mendota Heights (a few weeks ago). I was happy to get back to running and smiling during my runs this past weekend, after I took 9 days off due to a cold plus work obligations. But that’s only a few days, and coincided with a four day weekend, so we’ll see how things go when I return to work (I’m back in the office twice a week, so I’ve got to tack on a commute at the end of the day) and am stuck running in the dark thanks to the time change. My hope is to finish up St. Paul this month (I have a few really awful, long, industrial roads I’m avoiding), and then work on a plan to increase my mileage and get back on trails, so that I can be in race shape once something comes along that interests me.

I still haven’t bought a bike.

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