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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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!)

Bouncing Back From a Demoralizing Run

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This isn’t a how-to. This is a help-please! A desperate plea to the runners of the world.

I have a 10K race coming up a week from today. In fact, by this point I’ll be home and cleaned up and chilling on the couch. I thought I would be ready by now. But I am not ready. Not even close. I’m sure of that now, after this morning’s disaster of a run.

Instead of settling into a comfortable pace for one last long(ish) run, I struggled and had to stop to walk. Eight times. I even cut my distance short. At least by now I know when I’ve had enough.

Instead of feeling primed and powerful and ready to take on this 10K, I’m feeing like a failure. I’m floundering. Flustered.

So I ask you, oh wise ones of the internets, a week from my race, what should I do?

  • Do I hit the roads hard this week to try to make up for my lackluster long run?
  • Do I take the week off and rest up?
  • Do I carry on as planned and shoot for my original goal?
  • Do I pull up the reins and run a slow race, so long as I can actually run the whole thing and maybe even enjoy it?
  • Do I step down to the 5K?

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)”

The Hills Are Alive! My Hillsboro, Oregon, Bald Peak Half Review

The Hills Are Alive! My Hillsboro, Oregon, Bald Peak Half Review

Bald peak Half Marathon-2014

The moment I signed up for this race, it went straight to my head. And not in a good way.

The Bald Peak Half worked out well for a family trip in the area—and oh, when did I turn into the guy who says, “Dear friend, I’ll be in your locality. Perchance I’ll run a 13.1-mile race!”?—and I have to admit, I didn’t look much at the course or other details before I sent in my money.

In my defense, unlike the bigger distance races I’ve run, for this modest little event there wasn’t much detail to be found. With fewer than 300 total finishers in the previous two runnings, the data were sparse. I searched online for anyone who tracked the course, and found at least one. (Thanks, krushgrapz.) It was then my jaw hit my keyboard.

I obsessed over this “hilly half” for the next three months.

The prospect of 1,800 feet of elevation gain (not a typo)800 in the first 2 miles and 300 in the last half-mile (also not typos)had me looking around my flat Phoenix-area surroundings and wondering how I would ever get ready for the hills of Hillsboro.

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Using MapMyRun’s Climb Ratings, I was able to look for local runs of 3-ish miles with crazy elevation gains. A trend emerged: summit hikes. Gulp. It took me weeks to work up the nerve to get out there. My trail of choice was the Quartz Ridge Trail, not too far from Piestewa Peak. I could hit it on my way to work in the morning and clean up at the office. I did it three times (4, 6 and 3 miles) in the three weeks leading up to my Oregon trip.

Continue reading “The Hills Are Alive! My Hillsboro, Oregon, Bald Peak Half Review”

I Had a Dream (About Running)

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This week I had an elaborate dream involving me running a 5k race. (I was getting ready to run one this weekend.) I was late to get there and missed the bib pickup period, so they gave me a 3-year-old’s time chip and sent me on my way. (I have a 3-year-old.) Soon enough, well-meaning volunteers were chasing me through the course to give me a bib, and when they were successful, I struggled mightily, fumbling as I went, to pin said bib to my shirt without slowing down or stopping. The course was in a mall, and because I was so far behind, I never knew where I should be running amid all the shoppers. (Not my first dream where I was running in a mall.) Although my pace was good, I never did catch up with the pack. The end.

OK, psych pros, unpack this one for me.

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