Monday, November 17, 2014

The year (or at least 88% of it) in review


I won’t be running any more races this year, so it seems like a good time to do a recap. Yeah, I know, I’m rushing through the rest of the year like someone who puts up Christmas lights before the Halloween pumpkins even have faces, but since I’m doing this before probably every other recap-of-the-year you’ll see from now until mid-January, at least I’m ahead of the pack in something.

I ran 14 races or race-type events this year. Of these, 6 were ultras (2 of which were DNFs in which I still managed to do ultra distance), 3 were marathons (2 road, 1 trail), with the rest ranging from 1 mile to 25k. This would seem like a pretty good year in a lot of ways, but actually I consider this a pretty lousy year. Of those 14 races, there were only 2 that I would consider great (interestingly, the longest and the shortest—40 miles and 1 mile). Another 2 races I consider OK in that I didn’t PR but I wasn’t really that much off my goal. The rest I would prefer not to consider at all. They sucked, and none worse than this last one.

Fun fact: over the five years I have been running marathons and ultras, I have never gotten the same running injury twice. First it was shin splints, inner left. Then a strained iliopsoas on the right. Plantar fasciitis, left. Bruised knee, right. Achilles tendonitis that turned into major deep-vein thrombosis, left. Hematoma, right (arm, that is—gave me that badass scar I’m so proud of). Near as I can figure out, this time it seems to be tendonosis of the peroneal brevis. (Say it out loud—it’s fun!) That just means there’s a roughly postage-stamp-size spot above the knobby outside part of my ankle that is swollen and tender and hurts when I roll or twist the foot, though not when I put weight on it. This last part is good; since I won’t be running for a couple weeks, I’ll probably be putting ever-increasing amounts of weight on it with the ever-increasing consumption of holiday goodies.

Unlike before the marathon two weeks ago, I felt very confident and ready to take on my 50 miler. Because of this, it’s tempting to say that if I had not gotten injured, I know I could have finished the 50, and finished strong. Thing is, that’s a bit like saying if the Titanic had not hit the iceberg, it would have had a splendid maiden voyage. Sure, that’s possible, but it’s kind of a stupid and pointless thing to say. There was an iceberg. I did get injured. Hmm, maybe I can get Kate Winslet to play me in the movie.

Every runner I know—every runner—has had a bad race. Not just a race where they were short of their goal, but a bad race. A race where they didn’t finish, where they got injured, where they were last or damn near last, a race they were looking forward to for months only to be crushed by a disappointing performance. It happens—a lot. The worst thing about this, though, isn’t just that I had a bad race but that it will probably be another year before I take on another 50. For spring, I’m focusing on trying to BQ. For summer there are a couple of just-for-fun races I’d like to do (an ultra relay in Wisconsin, the 8-hour moving picnic known as Howl). It won’t be until next fall that I can focus on a long trail ultra again, and that’s so far in the future who the hell knows what shape I’ll be in or whether one of the many types of apocalypse will have happened by then. Small children often think that a year is an insanely long amount of time; if you want to see pouting, just tell a kid next year they can do something really fun. Well, there are some things we never grow out of, and while a year is a small fraction of my life compared to the life of a child, it can still be a long, long time to get through. Don’t believe me? Think about the last bad job you had, the last bad relationship you were in, the last place you lived that really sucked. Now imagine on the day you were going to get out, someone told you that you needed to wait a year. Yeah. That’s the feeling.

I will admit something right now that makes me look a bit petty (but there’s plenty more pettiness where that came from): part of the reason I wanted this 50 so bad was because I wanted to get it right right off the bat. I wanted to be someone who seemed like she was born to do long distances. I wanted my first marathon to be great, my first ultra to be great, my first 50 to be great. Well, none of the above happened. My first marathon was a hobbling, shin-splinted disaster. My first ultra wrecked my Achilles and took me out of running for a month. And my first 50 has already resulted in not one but two DNFs, plus an injured thingamabob.  

Of course I still love running regardless of how fast, slow, long, or short I run. I still enjoy it even when I’m the last person in my group to finish a particular run—which is good, because this happens quite a lot. And in spite of everything that’s happened this year, I still can’t wait to get back to it. At the same time, as with a lot of people who become physically fit later in life—and become obsessive about keeping that way—I’ve often felt like I have to make up for lost time by going extreme. I don’t just want to be in shape; I want to be in phenomenal shape. I don’t just want to be a healthy weight; I want to exercise so much I can eat any damn thing I want—in fact, I almost have to eat any damn thing I want because I just burned off 2000 calories on an ordinary weekday training run. And so it was with ultra running. I wanted this to be my thing that I was good at. Kind and encouraging people will no doubt tell me that I am good at it, yet just because you do something a lot doesn’t necessarily mean you excel at it. I do a lot of running. I have not, at least this year, done it particularly well.

Funny thing about that, though: the runners I admire the most are never the most talented, skilled, or naturally able. They are, in fact, the most persistent. I don’t mean that they keep running even when they’re injured or that they go around bragging about how they run in sub-zero or triple-digit temperatures, through tornadoes, up active volcanoes, dodging lightning strikes, snipers, and ninjas the whole way. When I say “persistent,” I mean that they keep doing what they do because they’ve found something worth doing. These are people worth emulating. I hope, once the new year rolls around, I’ll still find running to be something worth doing. And if you’re a regular reader of this blog, thank you; I hope to find writing about running worth doing as well.