Top 7 Running Experiences of 2017

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It’s hard to look back on a year—whether it’s running or anything else—and not measure it.

(How many miles did you run? How many books did you read? How many pounds did you lose?) That’s how many of my annual reviews have gone. (OK, so I ran 1,202 miles and averaged 8:02 minutes per mile, I read about 1,096 books if you count the children’s variety, and I actually gained a little weight—can we talk about something else, please?)

But running, like life, is so much more than numbers. It’s what happens between the GPS data points—the people you talk to, the scenery you take in, the deep places you dig to find the extra oomph you need to get where you want to go.

Here are my top seven running experiences in 2017. Were you there for any of them?

7. Instagramming.

Instagram is, well, Instagram. If you’re reading this, you probably you have an account and know what it is for you. For me, it’s an outlet for relatively safe, running-focused expression—a place that I can put my too many selfies and actually get support for running at 4:30 a.m. instead of getting eye rolls. (Well, maybe the eye rolls are happening, too.)

I’m proud to have extended my reach in Instagram in 2017,  connecting with some super-interesting people and growing my account by about 30%.

6. Running Ragnar Chicago.

Well, the actual running part of this was awful—I had GI issues the whole time. But the overall experience was memorable, as always. Plus, I ran with TEAM PAWS Chicago, my charity running group, and got to know some pet-loving people better.

5. Cheering on friends at the Chicago Marathon.

I planned to spectate this race instead of run it, and doing so surpassed my expectations! What an amazing feeling supporting my TEAM PAWS Chicago teammates and other friends among the 45,000 participants. I did stand in one spot and yelled for five hours, which might have been as exhausting as running! Plus, I still have PTSD from the cowbell I continuously clanged near my ear. Worth it.

4. Rocking an ice beard at the Frozen Gnome 10K (Crystal Lake, Illinois).

I’m only partly kidding when I say I grew a beard for this express purpose. I’m still not sure why the ice beard was so glorious when the conditions were similar to what I’ve run in before. I haven’t been able to duplicate it since.

I’m glad a race organizer was around to take the picture (and later send it to me), because my phone had died from the extreme cold. (I joke that my phone is acclimated to Arizona.)

3. Running Ragnar Michigan.

I owe my presence at this event to an unserious comment to a runner who lives 1,700 miles away. I’d already run Ragnar Chicago a few months before (see #6 above) and scratched my Ragnar itch for the year. But I wanted the Double Medal for running a second relay around the Great Lakes. I heard that a friend from Arizona was captaining a team going to Michigan, and I asked about an opening. Sorry, it just filled. Then, not long after that, she said a spot opened up, and, after some leaning, my wife was gracious enough to let me go.

I have experience jumping on Ragnar teams with strangers. I’ve heard from others that doing so can be a crapshoot, that one bad seed can spoil it for everyone. I’ve been lucky to avoid that in all of my Ragnars so far. (It helps to not be the bad seed, just sayin’.)

What I loved most about this one was our van. Cool people! The six of us were from five different states, yet we fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

2. Crushing a PR at the Phoenix Marathon half (Mesa, Arizona).

I’m calling this my best. race. ever.* I ran my fastest half-marathon by more than two minutes. I felt I could have gone even faster, but I’m not upset about it. Shoot, it was just plain fun. Shouldn’t it always be like this? I trained hard, and it paid off.

I remember carefully managing my pace throughout, then getting to the final miles and accelerating. I didn’t worry about burning out, because I knew I had enough left to get me to the end. Heck, I pulled my phone out and took a selfie, which I definitely don’t do when I’m struggling or worried that I might. After the race, I felt great, like I could have run another half (or something like it). Perhaps that meant I could have gone faster. Well, I can test that another time. The bar has been raised.

The *asterisk* here is my gross underestimation of waiting in the cold before the start. They had lots of heat lamps, which was fantastic. But it wasn’t enough to keep me comfy in my singlet and shorts. Why the guy who moved from Arizona to Chicago to come back to Arizona unprepared for the cold is beyond me. I spent 45 grueling minutes in 35 degrees, standing in one spot, clenching my arms around my body, gritting my teeth. No joke, I was worried all that time spent shivering would drain my energy. Thankfully, it didn’t.

1. Running the New York City Marathon.

How could this, the largest marathon in the world, not be on the top of the list for everyone who ran it? It was epic on so many levels.

First, it was my first trip to the city. First romp around Central Park. First trek to Times Square. First skyline view from Top of the Rock. First look at Lady Liberty. First (and, ahem, second and third) time getting lost in the subway system. That’s all before race day!

Race day’s epic needs no explanation.

I saw a shirt that said “Took a train to a boat to a bus to run 26.2 miles.” Just getting to the start line on Staten Island from my apartment in Manhattan was an accomplishment! (I’m glad I’d gotten lost earlier so this key commute went smoothly.)

The race moved me more than I ever thought it would. Through every borough—Staten Island, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, Manhattan—people lined the streets in droves to support us. People of all abilities, nationalities and ethnicities cheering on runners who were equally as diverse. All in an amazing pursuit of human achievement. It’s overwhelming in the best of ways.

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I can’t stop thinking about this race—and really, this moment. I enjoyed my strongest 20 miles ever at the @nycmarathon and felt as though I unraveled so much in the last 10K. To see this strong, composed runner crossing the finish line, after all of that, boosts my confidence greatly. . . . BTW, a PSA: This is one of my fave race photos ever, and I almost missed out. It wasn’t in my original official shots from the race—it was in the miscellaneous bin! Peeps, always check the misc bin. There might be a gem in there … . . . #running #run #runner #runchicago #runchi #marathon #marathoner #marathonrunner #training #igrunners #runstrong #werunsocial #instarunners #instarunner #instarun #runnersonig #runnersofig #runnersofinstagram #runitfast #runalways #gorun #runitfast #monthlymiles #novembermiles #tcsnycmarathon #nycmarathon #nycmarathon2017 #gomattmorgan

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This Is Big (Sur)

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Bixby Creek Bridge

“If we were told we could only run one marathon in our lifetime, Big Sur would have to be it.” —Bart Yasso, chief running officer, Runner’s World

I don’t recall exactly when the Big Sur Marathon first entered my head. But I know that when I read Bart Yasso’s quote about it last year, Big Sur burrowed there.

The marathon, with its breathtaking California coastal views and epic climbs (perhaps as payment for those views), is on a lot of people’s bucket lists. It’s on mine. And I’m fortunate enough to not wait long to cross it off.

Search for “Big Sur Marathon” online, and you’ll find no shortage of amazing photos of the ragged edge of the Western world, most notably of Bixby Creek Bridge, complete with ant-size people running across for a humbling juxtaposition.

Oh, what an experience it will be! But if it were only about photo ops, my family and I could have purchased plane tickets and booked a hotel room for a few nights on the Monterey Peninsula. (Although we’re doing that, too.)

No, this is about the Big Sur Marathon, 26.2 miles of exhilaration and pain along northbound Highway 1. This is about 16 weeks of training—starting in January, in Chicago, in subzero wind chill—logging up to 35 miles each week (yes, only 35 miles, but that’s another blog post), subjecting my glutes and quads and calves and lungs to grueling hill work. This is about eating well (OK, eating like a horse), nursing nagging injuries, and avoiding illness or shaking them quickly. About keeping an eye on the prize. This is about being on the cusp of shattering my marathon PR in the grandest way I can think of.

There are a lot of superlatives in this post. The risk in building up something so much in your mind is having the experience not go as you envisioned or things not play out as planned. When you’ve worked so hard for something, and when every account you hear about it only boosts your already high expectations, it’s hard not to make more out of than you should.

I need to try to keep those feelings in check, but also allow myself to be moved in the moment.

As I write this, with less than 24 hours to go before the race, my nerves are good. Butterflies are minimal. Taper madness, even that’s not so bad! All that’s about to change, I know, when I head to the expo this morning to check in, and when I board the bus (at OMG-early) to the start line.

This is Big.

Change of Pace: My 2015 Running Recap

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When this year began, one question I never thought I’d ask myself is, how do I keep wind-driven snow from stinging my eyeballs?* Yet here we are.

Holed up in my new Chicago suburb home, I’m writing this running retrospective 1,750 miles from where I wrote the last one (Scottsdale, Ariz.). I felt every bit of that distance, literally and figuratively, on the morning of the eyeball-stinging snow, considering about this time last year I was enjoying some fairly fantastic runs in the sun (though the temps in the two places were similar!).

I could make more out of the distance between my two homes, but I won’t. Truth is, I’m doing OK in my short time in Chicagoland. And I have running to thank for it. Not long after I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post about running streaks, I started a streak for real. Logging at least a mile a day—for 97 days, as of this morning—has been one constant to get me through the turbulence of a cross-country relocation.

Whereas 2014 was perfectly “fine,” 2015 was the best year of my running life. Here are a few reasons why.

Change 1. After years of dedicated work toward half-marathons and full marathons, I trained exclusively for a 5K, in May. Following a speedwork-heavy regimen, I blew away my goal (hello, 21:10 PR!). The delightful byproduct was a base of strength and speed that transformed my running ever since.

Change 2. I joined a running club, RunEatTweetAZ. The people I met on the group runs and online added a social dimension to running that I was missing. My only regret was not being involved longer. (Unless they’re interested in chartering a club in Chicago’s northern suburbs.)

Change 3. I switched training plans. A cross-promotional email from Runkeeper prompted me to try out MyAsics. Initially the program struck me as soft—it wasn’t nearly as intense as my previous plan. But therein lies the beauty! After following three programs (one 5K and two halfs), I had three shattered PRs to show for it. Best of all, the absence of all-out intensity inherent in MyAsics got me to fall in love with running.

So yeah, 2015 offered upticks in almost every facet of my running. Here’s a look at the numbers.


1,239

Total miles run (more than double last year)


167

Miles run in October (most)


97

Consecutive days with at least a mile run (current streak)


91

Degrees F of hottest run (several in June–August in Arizona)


50

Miles run in March (least)


23

Degrees F of coldest run (Dec. 19 in Illinois)


8:14

Average pace per mile (38 seconds faster than last year)


8

5K races run


6

States with at least a mile run (Arizona, Florida, Illinois, Missouri, New Mexico, Oregon)


4

Race PRs (13.1m, 15K, 4.2m, 5K)


3

Half-marathon PRs (January, July, November)
Virtual races run


2

Ragnars run (Del Sol Relay in February, McDowell Mountain Trail in November)


0

Injuries (again!)


*Seriously, if you know how to keep wind-driven snow from stinging your eyeballs, do tell.

Doing Fine: My 2014 Running Recap

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In this 2014 retrospective, I celebrate all things fine.

If you’ve been in a romantic relationship longer than a Bachelorette courtship, you know not to use the word “fine.” It gets you into trouble. Never mind that fine is defined by words like “superior,” “best quality,” “admirable, “excellent.” (You have probably also learned not to justify your use of “fine.”)

I would use those nice-sounding words to describe My Year in Running 2013.

My Year in Running 2014? It was fine. And I’m OK with that.

Like using the word fine in a relationship, comparing how you’re running year over year can get you into trouble—or it can provide valuable insight, if you learn from it.

So here’s what I learned from My Year in Running 2014:

  • Not every year is going to be a banner year.
  • I’m getting faster.
  • I can run hills and not die (and maybe even enjoy it).
  • It’s time to change things up—different distances, new races.
  • I still love running.

Check out my 2014 stats.

573

  • Total miles run (54 less than last year)

74

  • Miles run in May (most)

22

  • Miles run in March (least)

8:52

  • Average pace per mile (6 seconds faster than last year!)

7

  • 5Ks run

4

  • Medals earned

3

  • 10Ks run (new focus)

2

  • Half-marathons run

1

  • PR set: 10K
  • “Double stack” run (5K followed by 10K)

0

  • Injuries (again!)

I’m Not Very Fast (So Say ‘Serious’ Runners)

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This month I finished my second 5K summer series. In the last race, I missed a PR by 36 seconds! So you could say I was feeling pretty good about myself. Oh, but not today.

No, today, because I was feeling so good about myself, I searched for what people consider a “serious” 5K time. I had in my head 25 minutes, which I can do (I hesitate to say easily) just about every time I toe the starting line these days. Boy, was I wrong, according to “serious” runners on the internets.

The “serious” runners think that any 5K over 20 minutes is not serious. That serious runners could cover 5,000 meters in 20 minutes as a warm-up nursing an injury on an off month. Never mind that I may never get to that easiest of thresholdshealthy, in the best shape of my lifeno matter how much I train.

I’m sure these “serious” runners would prefer that I join the Clydesdales.

See, there is talk among these “serious” runners that seriousness is a result of effort. Because I haven’t broken 20 minutes, naturally I’m just not trying hard enough. Maybe that’s it, “serious” runners. Or maybe it’s genetics.

At 6-foot-4, 210 pounds on a good day, I’m not built like a runner. I’m more like Jimmy Graham than Galen Rupp. I would venture to say the Saints tight end can’t run a 5K in 20 minutes, either.

Look, guy, let’s not be so negative.

Deep breath. After grinding my teeth a bit, I turned my frown upside down by thinking about how far I’ve come in 5K Land. In 2004 I finished my first one in 28:20, after kinda-sorta training on the treadmill for all of eight days. I remember feeling this monumental sense of accomplishmentand also rewarding myself with utter laziness for the rest of the weekend. I ran another race in 2007 (29:26) and another in 2008 (33:49) before finally cracking the 25-minute mark in 2010, when I caught the running bug.

Continue reading “I’m Not Very Fast (So Say ‘Serious’ Runners)”

9 Numbers That Defined My Year in Running

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This is my 2013 retrospective. There are many like it, but this one is mine.

Oh, 2013, you were a beauty. My family and I were tremendously blessed with health, stability and security. I loved watching my toddler start to turn into a little man. My wife and I found out that our family would grow again, by one, in 2014.

2013, you were also one for the record books. I ran hundreds of miles training for races in five different distances, and I was surprised to realize I bested my time in all of them in the last 12 months!

To see my number of PRs, and other stats, check out my list below.

627

  • Total miles run

98

  • Miles run in January (most)

17

  • Miles run in September (least)

8:58

  • Average pace per mile (Nike+ calls it “fast & furious”)

7

  • Medals earned

5

2

1

  • Marathon run
  • 15k race run
  • 4.2m race run (third consecutive Pat’s Run)
  • 4m race run

0

  • Injuries

With 2013 in the books, I hope you have a happy new (running) year!

» What About You?
Do you have any 2013 numbers you’re particularly proud of? Do you have any running goals for 2014?

Maybe My Half-Marathon Goal Is Too Aggressive

Maybe My Half-Marathon Goal Is Too Aggressive

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What is this parasitic blob that has taken up residence in my head?

Ooooh, yeah. It’s doubt. Hello, old friend.

I’d been riding my runner’s high for about seven months, right up until week 1 of my new half-marathon training regimen. In March, I turned in a fantastic race in Washington, D.C., finishing the half in 1:55 after training to break 2:00. I wanted more.

Heck, if I could break 2:00 by five minutes, why couldn’t I break 1:55 by five minutes?

I’ll tell you why: To shave 10 minutes off a half-marathon is to shave 46 seconds off each mile. And lemme tell you, it’s hard. At least for these legs.

Finish time Pace per mile
2:00 9:10
1:55 8:47
1:50 8:24

It took me two years to break 2:00, and that whole time I trained for right around 9:00 miles. These days, to get in under 1:50, I’m training for 8:30 miles—I know 8:30 gives me a 1:51 finish, not 1:50, but I’m expecting to surprise myself.

Well, here’s a surprise: 8:30, at least so far, has proved nearly impossible.

Continue reading “Maybe My Half-Marathon Goal Is Too Aggressive”