I used to read 52 books every year, and that always made for a catchy end-of-year blog title. I stopped in 2020, deciding to instead be more productive with my time. Like many others, I ended up with more time than I could possibly find productive uses for. But I started running again and I’ve had a lot of fun with it, so I thought I’d freestyle a post about my return to form.
In 2019, due to a period of prolonged sloth and terrible eating, I was in rough shape. I had so little muscle that I was having trouble getting out of bed. I would be exhausted after walking up stairs or bending over to move household items. I developed spine alignment issues because I was spending so much time in a chair or sitting up in bed.
Though there was a short period where I was effectively immobilized and couldn’t even walk to work, I was treated by a chiropractor who made things tolerable. By late 2019, I felt okay, and, running once per week, I logged some surprisingly fast efforts. Into 2020, not knowing what the year would bring, my main focus was on ski season. After ski season was canceled and my gym was closed, I decided to spend the rest of the year chasing my old running PRs.
The Personal Record Chase
My lifetime PRs before 2020 were 54s for the 400m, 2:04 for the 800m, 4:55 for the 1 mile (road), 17:3X for the 5k, 1:38 for the HM, and 3:20 for the marathon. These might seem fast to the casual runner, but they are mediocre when considering I have a runner’s body and my life in high school revolved around running. In any case, I wanted to take a shot at every one of these times.
It turns out that it’s very difficult to grind out intense track work once you’re no longer in high school. There’s no track even remotely close to me in Chicago and when I was living with my parents in PA, the good tracks were packed with walkers. After an injury that ruined my summer base, I decided that there was no point in chasing the 400m or the 800m, even though I want to break 2:00 for the 800m more than anything.
I took two shots at the mile and, in both cases, I just didn’t have the mental toughness to break my mediocre PR. I ran a road out-and-back around September with decent competition. It was a really humid day and I lost contact around 1000m, so I finished with a 5:04. In November, I ran the virtual Green Ridge Mile on a dirt track. I went out like a maniac with a 66, 3rd lap was awful, and then though I could have gone all-out and closed in a 60, I just didn’t have the wherewithal to pull it off.
My 5K was arguably my most competitive time from high school. By July, I was ready to take a serious shot at it, but I got injured. I tried to tempo a 5k in July but part of the course was closed so I rode an adrenaline rush to what I’d consider one of my best efforts ever. Later, for the Chase Corporate Challenge, I ran down the Montage Mountain access road for what was a 17-flat 5k effort. This doesn’t count as a real 5K, and since I had to extend to 3.5 miles, I pretty much jogged after I hit 3.0.
I made a few other attempts at the 5k but the truth is unless I could get out in a 5:40 mile, the effort is meaningless. Will try again next year.
I never made a 10k attempt. Technically I set a PR in my marathon attempt (~45:20) and again in my half-marathon attempt (42:00). Both are pretty slow. The real shot was when I ran a 5-mile tempo run with my buddy and averaged 6:18 pace. If I had an idea we’d be cruising at such a fast pace, I would have extended and put it all on the line.
My previous HM best was probably when I ran the Steamtown Marathon in 2015. My time through the half isn’t available, but I’d estimate it to to have been somewhere around 1:38. When I ran a marathon time trial with my buddy, we went through in 1:35, which I was really happy with. Yesterday, I ran a HM TT and ran 1:30 high, which is now a somewhat respectable PR.
Originally, I was going to run the Chicago Marathon in October. That was postponed. So I ended up running a marathon time trial with my buddy Corey. He picked the course and did the training and even placed the refreshments, so I was mindful to defer to his attempt and his pace. I wasn’t really in shape in September, having only recently returned from injury, but I promised him that I’d pace him through the half at whatever pace he wanted.
I was having a really good day. Even after my buddy dropped around 17 miles, I toughed out the last 10 miles or so on a desolate country road. Ended with 3:10 which was an absolute maximum performance, and a 10-minute PR!
In 2020, I upgraded my gear in a major way.
My old G-Shock ran out of batteries. I bought a Garmin 42S. My first GPS watch really changed the way I approached and analyzed my running. Unfortunately, the GPS is awful in the city center, but other than that, I have no complaints. I even bought a RoadID in case I die.
I hate running on pavement, one pair of shoes that made pavement running tolerable was the Hoka One One Clifton. I logged some serious mileage in these and also used them for the marathon attempt. Only issue is that a weak foot like mine was never able to flex the shoe, causing all sorts of foot issues with overuse.
I upgraded to the Hoka One One Rincon toward the end of the season. These feel like racing flats compared to the Clifton. Once I wear them out, I’m going to try knifing the bottoms in order to get closer to the flex of a Nike Free. It has to be possible.
I used the Hoka One One Carbon X shoes for a few attempts, notably my Half Marathon. I really just don’t see what’s so good about the shoes compared to the Rincons. I realize it’s not pseudo-science, but running on pavement in these shoes really hurts.
I exclusively ran in the Lululemon Metal Vent Tech Short Sleeve 2.0 ($78). I have one of these shorts for every day of the week. They’re stylish but are also the pinnacle of activewear, in my opinion.
I exclusively ran in Birddogs. I also have a pair for every day of the week. The lined shorts are an incredible one-pair quiver, but they leave a lot to be desired when running fast or when getting wet.
After a nightmare experience with Oakley where they seemed to legitimately not want me to buy one of their $600 pairs of prescription sunglasses, I decided to just wear a hat. WOW, wearing a hat makes such a difference. Keeps the sun out of the eyes and wicks moisture really well. A massive upgrade this year. I always run with a hat now.
I’ve distilled my many years as a runner down to this: aerobic intensity + mental toughness + energy + spin bike. Nothing else matters. Stretching is irrelevant, I’ll maybe spend 30 seconds per day stretching, at most.
What do I mean by aerobic intensity? The point at which my breathing can’t keep up with my muscles’ requirements has been the bottleneck for so much of my running performances. Maybe I mean V02 max. Anyway, I start every run very fast and I end every run very fast. I also keep heart rate pretty high on most runs and would rather take days off than take it easy. This worked really well, and in the early summer, I was crushing it.
Mental toughness is the ability to deal with pain and also to rip a fast kick. I’ve largely lost the ability to close race efforts quickly, but I know I will regain it eventually. My pain tolerance is pretty high. I nearly negative split a marathon effort that I didn’t really train for and also ran a similar-effort half while feeling quite in tune with my body.
Energy. Here’s where I really figured it out. Carb loading the night before? Forget it. I just eat a massive 1000+ calorie breakfast and drink water enhanced by Nuun. Then I run. My body knows how to deal with this and keeps the food down which has been a huge advantage in my longer-distance attempts. I always have the energy available. A typical race breakfast will be steak, fried potatoes, some little cherry tomatoes, an avocado, smoked salmon/cured meat, and a few cookies. Sounds ridiculous, but it worked 100% of the time.
The Keiser M3 spin bike has been miraculous. It allowed me to improve my aerobic threshold by leaps and bounds with no impact on my joints and bones. I also gained significant amounts of muscle in my quads which allowed me to stomp out some really fast times and, for the first time, made me feel like I was conquering hills.
In looking toward 2021, I don’t feel there’s anything for me to change, I just need to maximize each of these aspects and I’ll be exactly where I want to be.
Other Joys of Running
It’s really hard to spend so much time running without thinking about racing! This year, I was able to use my fitness to explore new places and reconnect with old friends.
Among the highlights:
- I ran at more than 10 new state parks in Pennsylvania and gained a new appreciation for the natural beauty of the state
- I ran with some of my high school teammates, turns out they’re all still fast!
- I took my first-ever running vacation through New England, where I ran at Acadia National Park and Franconia Ridge.
- I started at 165lbs and weighed 148 after the marathon, so I’m really feeling the health benefits of running as well.