2021 Running Goals Revisited

Or, rather, re-revisited. In my last post, I wrote that I had given up some of my planned goals in order to preserve my mental health and to make running enjoyable again. It was a great decision! While I am somewhat of a quitter by nature, I don’t think this was one of those times when I gave up on something I should have pushed through, like when I DNFed the Twin Cities Marathon. I think giving up on my distance goals for the year preserved my long-term relationship with running and overall made me a happier person.

Even though I scratched a few of these goals, I’ll still go through the whole list.

  1. Finish St. Paul, Mendota Heights, South St. Paul, and Lilydale; Get to 30% completion in my hometown of St. Louis Park.
    I completed all of these! Technically I have to go back and do another street in South St. Paul that was added after I got to 100%, but it was complete at one point! I will write more about my experience running St. Paul in a separate post. I passed 30% of SLP on Christmas Day (and then went back a couple more times because I thought my goal was 33%, not 30% – it made more sense!) and – spoiler alert – plan to complete it in 2022. I also completed Mendota, which is like 10 streets.
  2. Complete a Myrtl routine at least 50% of the time.
    I blew through this goal, which I figured I would. I set the bar low just in case it took me longer to establish a routine. A few years ago my company set a performance metric that, by the time it was released (in late Q1!), was impossible to attain; we just didn’t have enough work to offset the hole we’d dug ourselves. I didn’t want to end up in that situation. It ended up being easy to remember to complete the routine, I just did it when I did my pushups, like I’d anticipated when I originally wrote about my goal. I ended up hitting an ~81% success rate! It really helped with the hip pain, too.
  3. Do 110 pushups a day.
    I hit this goal after a furious effort in the last 5-6 weeks of the year. I did 200 pushups a day pretty much every day of December in order to make up for some missed days, but I made it! (Edit: I averaged 112.25 pushups/day, which was about 5 better than 2020!)
  4. Increase my mileage 10% over last year.
    I ran less than 1600 1500 miles this year, my lowest total ever. (I was writing this from memory and went back to check after publishing. I ran 1485.35 miles, which is the lowest total in the 6 years I’ve been tracking – I guess not technically the lowest total ever, as there were years I didn’t run much or at all. Technically if you count walks, I made it over the 1500 mile mark.)
  5. Buy a bike.
    I don’t know why this is so hard for me to accomplish, but yet again I have not done it. 2022 will be my year!
  6. Run 5 more long runs than last year.
    I didn’t do too many long runs this year, and haven’t done one in months. Running streets for completion isn’t conducive to long runs, it turns out. I need to get back to trails!

I finished 50% of my goals, which isn’t great, but I get bumped up to 75% completion if I focus only on the goals I didn’t throw out halfway through the year, and that is pretty good! It’s a passing grade, at least, which counts for something in these crazy times.

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.

2021 Running Goals

I have no idea what 2021 will look like in terms of racing, training, or pretty much anything else running or not running related. I’ve decided to keep my year-long running goals limited to what’s entirely in my control, and if things change, if racing becomes more of a feasible option for me, then I’ll set some season-specific goals.

I created the skeleton first draft of this post on January 1st, and here I am over a month later finally getting around to finishing it. I guess that shows how seriously I’m taking my plans for this year. I have been keeping them in mind, though!

  1. Finish St. Paul (54.12% completed as of 12/31/20), Mendota Heights (23.47% completed), South St. Paul (5.6% completed), and Lilydale (42.86% completed); Get to 30% completion in my hometown of St. Louis Park (4.15% completed).
    Since June of 2020, I’ve been working on running every street in St. Paul. It was a great motivator, having something challenging and interesting to work toward, as well as a way to explore all kinds of interesting places in my city. Along the way, I started adding in other cities (I completed all of West St. Paul last year!), and I’m also working on Minneapolis now, although I’m holding off on setting a specific completion goal for Minneapolis until I’ve completed the cities I’m working on now.
  2. Complete a Myrtl routine at least 50% of the time.
    I have dealt off and on with some minor hip issues this year; they go away with rest, but one of my goals for this year is to prevent hip/pelvic pain with a flexibility regimen. I don’t actually do all of the exercises in the routine linked above; I skip 3-4 and 6-9. I don’t have any professional advice that told me what’s necessary and what’s not, so perhaps I’m missing some key benefit by skipping those exercises. I just find it uncomfortable to be in “table position” for so many exercises, and I don’t have a place where I can do the hurdle leg exercises without kicking something. So far I have done a Myrtl routine every day in 2021, and I have found it very effective against the pain I had been experiencing last year.
  3. Do 110 pushups a day.
    In 2019 and 2020, one of my goals was to do 100 pushups a day. I didn’t come close in 2019, but in 2020 I did a much better job and pushups became part of my daily routine. I decided to add 10% to my goal from last year. I’m trying to complete the exercises earlier in the day this year, too; in 2020 I was often doing them before bedtime because I’d forgotten or pushed them off. I’m not bothering to track whether I do my pushups before midnight, so it’s not a formal goal, just a consideration. I think making pushups a habit in 2020 is making it very simple for me to meet my Myrtl goals so far in 2021.
  4. Increase my mileage 10% over last year.
    Since I’m increasing my pushups goal by 10%, I thought increasing my mileage 10% over last year was fitting. In the past I’ve set my sights on just beating the previous year, and that ends up being a very small increase in mileage. Does it matter if I run 1700 miles one year and 1701 the next year? It’s essentially the same thing. I think a 10% increase in yearly mileage is significant enough to challenge me, but won’t be such a great increase that it leads to injury or burnout. This year’s goal will be 1912 miles.
  5. Buy a bike.
    I have money saved (actually, I have money saved for two bikes, one for me and one for my husband). I know where I want to purchase one. I just need to do it.
  6. Run 5 more long runs than last year.
    I found that I did just the bare minimum to reach my goal of “more long runs than last year” in 2020, although I didn’t have any races, so I think that things turned out pretty good. Adding 5 long runs on to last year’s goal will be more of a challenge, especially since so many of my long runs came from my solo FANS effort in August, but I’ll need more long runs if I plan to increase my mileage. Long runs in this case are considered double-digit mileage, and will include days where I do split mileage. Long skis are included, should I actually do a 10 mile ski.

I’ll keep my eyes out for good options for interesting run locations, virtual race options, and maybe an in-person option for a really worthwhile race, and take things as they come this year.

2020 Goals Revisited

It’s incredible to think about my outlook on life when I wrote these goals. It was the absolute height of American privilege for me to think that the COVID-19 pandemic was something that would happen in other countries, not in the US, and something that would be over quickly. The past 4-5 years have shown me how many things I have been taking for granted and it’s a shamefully long list.

I was still able to accomplish some of the goals that I set – that’s one advantage of setting very high-level, general goals. Some of my multi-year goals will have to be put off until 2022, since there’s still so much uncertainty regarding this pandemic and so many people who are committed to prolonging it. There’s also growing violence from insurrectionists and traitors around the country that could make running or traveling unsafe.

  1. Run a distance personal best.
    I could have done this, I guess, by doing FANS on my own or just setting a personal goal to run 50 miles in a day. It seemed like a poor idea to weaken my immune system with such a strenuous effort, and with facilities like restrooms closed at state parks, doing a long FANS day would have been a bad idea.
  2. Complete more long runs than I did in 2019.
    I made it! I did 29 long runs vs. 28 in 2019! That’s pretty good considering I ran no organized races and thus didn’t have any training runs. I also did fewer “split” runs; more of my double digit mileage days in 2020 were from single runs rather than 2 or 3 runs that added up to more than 10 miles.
  3. Do 100 push-ups a day.
    I averaged 107.9 pushups during the year, and the last day that I skipped was August 5th when I wasn’t feeling well. There were only 16 days during the year that I did not complete at least 100 pushups — even though sometimes I was doing them at bedtime. I wish I’d taken a “before” shot to see how buff my arms have gotten over the year.
  4. Start cross-country skiing again.
    It took until Christmas Day to make this happen, but I went skiing 4 times! I need to get better at waxing now. There are so many places to go that aren’t that far away.
  5. Run a new marathon.
    Obviously this was not an option for me this year, but I did run a solo Twin Cities marathon, so that’s kind of a new marathon?
  6. Buy a bike.
    I don’t have a new bike. This is because of my own stupidity. My company “wellness dollars” onto a rewards debit card and I have been hoarding those dollars for years. On the day my husband and I went to purchase new bikes (for his birthday), I discovered that the “special spot” that I had kept my rewards card was not so special, and while I tore my office apart looking to the card, it appeared that the card got swept into the trash at some point. I ordered a replacement but it was a huge rigmarole that took a long time and cost me like $10 and we never got around to ordering the bikes. This year is our year!

I also ran in two new counties and three new state parks. That’s much lower than I’d like in a normal year, but I chose to stay in the metro area, especially during the time when outstate Minnesota was not yet experiencing many cases of COVID-19. Once I start traveling for work again (or for fun!), I’ll be able to catch some new parks and counties and make more progress on those goals. And maybe combine those goals with my new marathon per year goals!

The only goal I feel truly disappointed about missing is the last one, because there was no reason beyond my own disorganization that kept me from making that goal. As a matter of fact, I just went downstairs and verified that the new card is exactly where I placed it for safekeeping, and it was. I’m learning from my mistakes!

The Art of Losing

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

– Elizabeth Bishop

Yesterday I headed out for what I thought would be a short run at Lebanon Hills Park, a place I’ve run a dozen times before. I got started a bit late in the day, but I’d decided to do a short run since my hips have been bothering me and I would only be out there for an hour, so I knew I’d have daylight left. I didn’t take anything besides my car key since I was only going for a short run and I didn’t have any zippered pockets big enough for my phone. The parking lot was a bit full, so I decided I’d run the cross-country ski/horse trails that are normally off-limits to hikers due to either groomed trails or equine traffic, depending on the season. (I realize people still hike those trails despite the rules but I’m a stickler for following trail rules. And I hate horses.) Because I was unfamiliar with the trails, when I turned to add what I thought was just an extra half mile or so, I ended up heading in the wrong direction (you can see on the map below where I turned around and retraced my steps in the center-east section of the park), adding time and mileage to my run.

I realized at this point that I was going to have to get my butt in gear, because the sun was starting to go down, and I started checking the maps at each intersection to make sure I was on the right track. Things were going well until I missed a turn and continued to go south when I wanted to go west. I ended up at a road that dead-ended with private driveways, and I was having a hard time reading the trail maps due to the rapidly disappearing twilight, so I finally decided I’d just take that road and eventually get back to a major street that I could take back to the parking lot.

Except that when I turned onto that road, I thought that I was heading south instead of west. And the road was much longer and lonelier than I thought – there were only a few houses along the way and what I should have done was stopped at one of those houses and asked for help. There was a good opportunity as a group was outside having a fire, but I was feeling stupid and embarrassed and decided to continue with my plan. I thought that I’d come out at what shows up as McAndrews Rd on the map, I’d take a right turn, and then another right turn to end up on Pilot Knob Rd. It would be a long walk, but I’d make it.

When I finally got to the end of the road (I wasn’t really certain it actually went through – I just guessed based on the fact that it ended in a dead end in the opposite direction), I was so shaken up and confused and full of self doubt that I decided to abandon my plan, and ask for help. I heard some kids playing basketball at a house nearby and headed in that direction. I walked through a field of long grasses/prickly-stemmed plants/burrs to get to the house, asked the kids if their parents were home, and the world’s nicest people asked me in (even though I didn’t have a mask!) and drove me back to my car at the trailhead. I was so incredibly grateful and relieved, although I had one final moment of horror as I reached into the zippered pocket in my pants and pulled out only the carabiner that my key is attached to, not the key itself — but the key was in my pocket too, it had just separated itself while I was running.

This morning I woke up and couldn’t stop obsessing over all the things that went wrong and that could have gone even worse. I could have ended up wandering around in the woods. I could have gotten chilled and become hypothermic – I was sweaty but also not dressed in warm clothes. I could have not been at a spot close to a road. I could have been pig-headed and refused to swallow my pride and ask for help, and wandered around and around in an area I wasn’t familiar with. I could have been unable to find a house that had people home to help. (Unlikely, since people are home most of the time.)

There are so many decisions I made that led to my predicament. Putting on my quality engineering hat, I can pinpoint all the mistakes that I made along the way:

  • I started running later in the day than planned. I wanted to start around 3:15 but ended up starting at 3:50, which meant I had less daylight.
  • I got too warm in my car, which meant I was a little bit sweaty to start.
  • I wore clothing that didn’t have a secure pocket large enough for my phone, so I chose not to carry it.
  • I decided not to put on my headlamp (which was in my bag!) because I didn’t think I’d need it, although I did consider bringing it.
  • I ran unfamiliar trails.
  • I got “greedy” and thought I could add another half mile or so to my run because I didn’t think I’d get “enough” mileage.
  • I didn’t start reading trail maps soon enough, once I realized that I needed to start heading back.
  • I assumed more than once that I was heading in a correct direction without verifying that was true.
  • I misread the trail maps a couple times.

Even with all of those mistakes and all the things that went wrong, all of the worry and fear and danger could have been avoided if I’d just carried my phone or my headlamp so I could have read the trail maps. Even if I still made all the wrong turns, I wouldn’t have had to walk all the way down 120th St W if I’d had some source of light and/or method of navigation and/or way to call for help. You can bet that I won’t be going on a run for awhile without my phone on me, even if it’s just a short one.

I’m naturally a more cautious person when it comes to physical risks, so this incident has really thrown me. I try to remind myself that I did end up making some good choices, and that once I got out of the woods I wasn’t in any real danger (I passed some other houses where I could have asked for help, I could have flagged down a motorist, etc.), but the what ifs keep rolling around in my mind. This situation has also caused me to question if I have any business trying to run an ultra that goes into the night. Of course that’s a ridiculous question, because while things can go wrong during a night ultra, I’ll also be going in there more prepared because I will know I’m running at night.

Hopefully writing all this out helps purge this incident from my head, or at least the immediacy that it induces in my brain. I hope it also serves as a reminder to help people in need – I think about all the anecdotes I read about people who don’t answer their doors, don’t answer strange numbers on their phones, don’t talk to strangers, who wall themselves off from anyone they don’t know. I am extremely lucky that the first house I approached was owned by kind, generous, big-hearted people; I will remember that and look for ways in my life to seize opportunities to show the same generosity they did toward me.

The Setting of the Sun

Pour one out for my headlamp.

The other day I picked it up from the tote where I store my running stuff and it wouldn’t turn on. I figured the batteries were dead, that it had accidentally gotten stored with the power button depressed, but when I changed the batteries it still didn’t work (and there was plenty of corrosion product in the battery compartment, ugh). So as we head into the darkest part of the year, I’m left without illumination. Good thing there was a sale at REI so I could order a new one at a discount! Perhaps we could call that… the light at the end of the tunnel? How many metaphors can I use here?

I suppose I should consider myself lucky this year, that I don’t have a commute to tack on at the end of my workday, so I can head out before the sun sets and get part of my run done in the fading daylight. I went out anyway yesterday, sticking to suburban streets that weren’t too busy and wearing a light-colored jacket and a reflective vest. The streetlights did an ok job, I suppose, although there were a few places that weren’t well-lit (and didn’t have sidewalks!) I’m still not really looking forward to running in the dark.

I’ll get used to it, like I do every year, and before I know it, I’ll have some usable daylight at the end of my workday, but it’s getting tough to imagine getting in more than 4-5 miles in the evenings for the next few months, especially when I factor in the cold on top of the darkness. I feel like I can’t recall if the adjustment period is always rocky, or if this year is worse, or if I’m just in a funky mood right now and it’s going to be fine in a couple days. (The weather is warming slightly for the next week so that’s probably a yes, if an impermanent one.)

Now would probably be a good time to revisit some of the well-lit trails in the area that I’ve set aside in favor of my street-running goals. It might also be a good time to reconsider a lunch run — even if it’s just a few short miles with a second run in the evening. Something to get me outside during daylight, since I’m not going to the office, grabbing lunch, taking a walk with colleagues, or bathing in the glow of OSHA-approved foot-candles of light. And of course I’ll have a brand-new, slightly fancier headlamp to test out once it arrives next week! Overall it seems like the best strategy is to find any small thing that I can do to make running slightly easier while the elements conspire to make running significantly harder. Any and all tried-and-true coping suggestions are welcome!

Twin Cities Marathon (Solo) 2020 Goals

Tomorrow, provided I don’t wake up and chicken out, I’m running a solo Twin Cities Marathon. I was planning on doing it last week, the official weekend of the race, but I was feeling kinda crappy due to the colder weather and decided to wait.

I haven’t really done any marathon training and I’ll be running this effort unsupported, so I’m not expecting any miracles here. But I’m fully recovered from my FANS effort and I needed something new to focus on.

I didn’t sign up for the official virtual race, because it was $125, but I am running the race course (provided I don’t take a wrong turn). I’m going to drive myself to the start, park somewhere nearby, and then get my spouse to pick me up at the Capitol when I’ve finished. I’ll probably start around 10:00, which is great for me but also means it’ll consume my entire day. The key here is not farting around at starting at 11:30 or something.

I have to carry a bunch of stuff with me since this is an unsupported run and I’m super slow. I’ll be wearing my hydration pack, carrying gels, my cell phone, sunscreen, probably some money, and a mask, just in case I have to duck in somewhere to use a bathroom. (Are public bathrooms open? I guess I’ll find out.) I’ve done a self-supported long run before (my BTTT 50K back in May), but never a point-to-point one, so I’ll be like a pack mule comparatively speaking.

I don’t really have goals that I’ve been working toward, but I also don’t want to be out there forever, so I’d ideally like to finish in 6 hours. I ran TCM in 2018 in ~5:33, so I guess that would mean I’d be finishing at a pace about a minute slower than I did when I trained and ran the race supported (~13:43 vs 12:43). That’s probably a bit ambitious, but I did a heck of a lot of walking during that race thanks to a side stitch, and I also ran several of my FANS efforts at a faster pace than that. If I finish in less than 6:30 that will be acceptable.

The nice thing is if I fail for some reason, I can go out and try again next weekend, or I can just… not. And if I wake up a bit later than planned, I can just start slightly later. And if I go off course, it’ll just be a Twin Cities Ultramarathon. And if I totally bonk and end up walking it in, there won’t be any SAG wagon chasing me down. I like these low stakes endeavors!