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.

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.

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.

2020 Running Goals

I wrote these goals down on New Year’s Eve, and after ignoring them for three weeks, I haven’t thought of any new ones or decided not to pursue any of them. I still have nothing on my race calendar as of now, and while it’s kind of nice to just plod along running the mileage I feel like running, maybe I’m going to need some structure soon.

  1. Run a distance personal best.
    I’ve been hoping to run 50 miles for the past few years, and I’m inching toward it, but I need to surpass that this year, hopefully by a lot! If I can get it together at FANS, that should be very possible.
  2. Complete more long runs than I did in 2019.
    I only ran 28 runs of 10 miles or more! It’s no wonder I didn’t have a lot of success last year; I wasn’t putting in the work. I’ve decided to set this as a goal instead of trying to beat 2019 mileage (although I’ll strive for that, I’ve found this particular goal has put a lot of stress on me at the end of the year). This will include split runs (say, 5 miles on the treadmill and 5 on the trails), even though those aren’t technically long runs; sometimes in the winter that’s all I can handle.
  3. Do 100 push-ups a day.
    Yes, I have that on here again. I did such a poor job of sticking to that goal last year that I need another crack at it. I need to prioritize strength training, and this is a measurable way to do it that doesn’t eat up a lot of my time.
  4. Start cross-country skiing again.
    I’ve decided in order to facilitate this, I will count x-c skiing mileage in my overall mileage. I set aside my skiing plans because I found I had to choose between running and skiing. Now I can do both and still work toward my goals.
  5. Run a new marathon.
    I’m setting a new multi-year goal for myself, to run every marathon (road and trail) in Minnesota. I’ve done three so far (Moose Mountain Marathon, Eugene Curnow Trail Marathon, and Twin Cities Marathon), but there are so many more! Maybe someday I’ll even enter the canoe division for the Ely Marathon!
  6. Buy a bike.
    This goal will have to wait awhile, as yesterday my vehicle was sideswiped by a truck that drove across the center line of the road, clobbered my poor car, and then drove off without even slowing down, so I will be paying my insurance deductible instead of buying a bike any time soon. I planned to buy one for myself and for my husband last year, but it didn’t make financial sense at the time. I think it will be great for both of us – we can take our bikes for small errands in the neighborhood (coffee runs, short grocery store trips) and we can go on some adventures together. I won’t count cycling miles in my running log or replace running workouts with cycling, though.

In addition to these goals, I’ll still pursue my other multi-year goals of running a mile in every county in Minnesota and visiting every state park in Minnesota. I’ll also continue to set more specific goals for each season, and to build on some of the good habits I set last year (I’m still taking that multi-vitamin, and I’ve only done a handful of treadmill runs so far this year).