Trails, Trials and Miles – The Year in Review 2020


Ever since I started posting race reports, it’s been a long standing tradition of mine to take stock of the year, goals, metrics and to think about the year ahead. Even though 2020 was a complete and total cluster, from a goals perspective the thought process really wasn’t that different from any other year:
  1. Consider major races or events for the year that would be fun to tackle
  2. Consider how to train for these major events
  3. Consider personal and professional responsibilities & stress
  4. Measure (for fun) and see how we did
  5. Set New Goals  for the new year (rinse & repeat)

Goals


In the fall of 2019, having expanded our family to four, I really wasn’t expecting to be able to train much or sign up for any major events not in the

Confused. With Banana.

immediate geographical area. How little did I know just how much the world would change. Not only would the race calendar slowly unwind during the global pandemic, but safety, health and mental clarity seemed like the only goals worth focusing on.


Still, runners have that itch that needs to be scratched. And before long, I was trying to figure out how to adjust goals for the new year. Even if mass races weren’t a possibility, there were plenty of adventures that could be possible safely; isolated events to help shape training, maintain fitness and build resilience. Resilience, as it turns out, isn’t just something to put on a t-shirt …. it’s essential to survival and you might as well accept that it needs to be cultivated; take it seriously and it will take care of you.

Adjusted Goals


Above all things, building resilience was top of the list. One of the things I realized this year was that putting in a TON of miles doesn’t make you more resilient. You certainly get more EFFICIENT, however, resilience comes from doing different things, things that are HARD, things that challenge you – so this was the focus. I’d expect my running miles to be down but I wanted to have my trail miles, cross-training and strength-training to fill in the time gap. I’ve always neglected these areas and it was the perfect time to try some new things which were hard.

We picked up a peloton bike in 2019 – we did n

Pandemic with guns!

ot know this would be such a vital tool – turns out this was the perfect way to maintain cardiovascular fitness back in March when it was hard to feel safe outside in New York. Running past a temporary morgue in a freezer truck on my local route has a way of putting a touch of dystopian dread in even the most steadfast of strides.


Equally, after dealing with a back strain earlier in the year it was clear I needed to work on strength-training. I did NOT want to do every exercise under the sun – I just wanted to find one exercise I could do consistently that would add to my CORE and upper body strength to supplement all of the cardio and lower body work I’m doing on the roads. Enter: the push-up tracking.

Weight training was also in the cards – however, mostly I was just using two 20lbs & 30lbs dumb-bells in the house. I mean… my children. Having young children is like living with two living, breathing, unbalanced kettle bells; “Hungarian get up” is just another day around here.

With all of this taken into account, the adjusted goals would be as follows:
  • 1,000 running miles (down from 2019)
  • 1,000 spinning miles (no baseline)
  • 10,000 push-ups (no baseline)
  • 2 long-distance projects (consistent baseline)
  • 0 major injuries (above baseline)

Training


Running: Hitting 1000 running miles in one year is mostly about consistency. This works out to roughly 20 miles per week for 52 weeks. That of course assumes you’re not taking any weeks off or you’re not sick, injured, etc. which is saying a lot given we are living in a pandemic. As soon as you start to slip, 20 miles a week turns into 30 miles per week and it only gets worse over time. With a small child, the challenge only goes up because you have to crank these miles before the house stirs: 4am wake-up calls are the order of the day.  I found a reasonable 10 mile loop which allowed me to safely execute 3 running sessions per week and build a buffer ahead of the yearly mileage goal.

Trail running through the summer also impacted the numbers. While I was able to have more FUN, the downside was that the number of miles would, of course, be less. Running on trails just takes longer – in part, due to elevation but mostly due to terraine and building up a strength base. This takes time. Worth it, though.

Spinning: Given I had zero baseline (because the Peloton was new) I had zero clue if the mileage was on par or not. Equally, we knew that 3 months out of the year we’d be away from the bike so that was really a guess in the dark. One thing which surprised me: spinning is HARD. Very hard. I started with powerzone training to make sure I wasn’t burning out – especially ensuring that longer efforts (greater than 45 minutes) were always keeping in the endurance zone to avoid overloading my system. This seemed like a great strategy and a really fun way to mix up my training.

Push-Ups: Inspired by David Goggins, I landed on trying to build my push-up sets over the year. It’s amazing to me how a simple exercise like push-ups (and probably pull-ups) can really increase your overall strength and fitness. I started using a tracking app to challenge myself and not get too far away from a baseline over the year. Again, with zero baseline I had no idea if 10K push-ups was achievable or not. It’s only about 30 push-ups per day but just like the running goal: if you fall behind, you pay for it later.

Worse, it’s not like running – momentum is MANDATORY. I would find one day I could do 100-300 push-ups over the day, take a week off and then not be able to do 50. However, doing the same amount EVERY day meant I never really got stronger – lack of fatigue was a real factor. You need the rest days to get stronger. Consistency. Best effort. Establish a baseline. The proof would be in how this effort translated into CORE and upper body strength for my longer running efforts.

Adventures


The first adventure of 2020 was an all-day trail running adventure. Having landed in northern California for some family support, I knew that a day of miles on the trails would be a great goal for the summer. We took on an out-and-back 5 hour trail run through Big Basin National Park in August. Getting into shape for this effort after 6 months of quarantine and with a new baby proved to be awesome – the right balance of inspiration, motivation and fun.  More details are available in the podcast.

The second adventure was a solo-marathon effort. Having a solid base of fitness is wonderful because as long as injury isn’t showing up, you can pivot this base to another large effort. Instead of running the NY marathon on my birthday this year, I decided to run a kilometer for each year – a 45KM solo effort on the roads of NYC. Turns out that it went pretty well and gave me faith that my best days are NOT behind me in spite of everything. Running an ultra marathon just gives you badass vibes for at least 6-8 months.

Lastly, the 2500. This wasn’t really an adventure but certainly deserves a special mention – with a group of friends, I ran my first “virtual race” – a team sprint from the UK through Europe and we came in FIRST PLACE! Still, it wasn’t only good for a t-shirt and a finishers medal – it’s funny how it f

Muling 50 pounds of cute and 20 pounds of calories

eels to finish something like this and get a medal in the mail. There was something wonderfully nostalgic about receiving a finishers medal – as if it was a relic from a forgotten time when people would gather again to celebrate physical achievement and overcoming obstacles. Those times will be here again one day and my first medal after this pandemic is over – I am 70% sure I will cry like a weeping willow.


Honorable Mention – Stroller running !!! Lots of weekend adventures pushing around 80 pounds of kids & gear is no joke. There really needs to be a mileage handicap for this effort.

Results


Let’s start with the easy numbers: push-ups. While I didn’t quite make it to 10K, I did start to understand what it takes to get there. I closed out the year with 6205 push-ups with a peak month

 

of 1621 in July (before a major trail effort in August). A few interesting points to note: the bigger months (like July) involved MORE breaks in between efforts and the lower months (like April) I tried to be more consistent and couldn’t do larger daily efforts. I think this speaks to my age and my recovery time – basically, it’s terrible. Also, I didn’t really start the effort until March so think if we want to hit 10K in 2021 I’ll need to start on January 1st (wait, that’s today – shit).


The adventures ALL went according to plan – feel free to read about them and other rumination in the other articles here, here and here. The short story is that I was amazed and happy to have really locked in some impressive feats this year in spite of all of the challenges.
Lastly, running.

Running – what can I say about running. I somehow managed to squeak

That is a lot of miles – for me anyway

past the 1000 yearly mileage goal with a final push in the winter. This involved many days waking up at 4am and in sub-below zero temperatures as the winter started to close in. It seems that if you can do difficult things in your physical life, then other challenges should seem easier. Let’s see if that’s true.


Somehow I’ve managed to log and track over 12,000 runn

Graphs are good for anxiety

ing miles since I started taking this hobby somewhat seriously. At this point, the effort feels more like an art project or an expression of life – I’m not going to be setting any FKTs any time soon – an expression of how to grow, how to live & how to move in the world. Funny just how important this expression has become in a year when the mileage is the lowest it’s ever been. It’s ab
out the miles and at the same time it’s not at all.


Addendum

Lastly, when it comes to 2021 goals the jury is still out. While I gave myself a break in other areas of my life, it wasn’t unnoticed – I gained some weight in the summer and my cholesterol jumped. It might have had something to do with all of the bread baking and grilled cheese stealing from the kids. Maybe the ice cream. Maybe all of the bacon. Maybe.

It’s true you can run 1,000 miles in a year but you can’t outrun a bad diet. The new year will surely have to contain some level of diet accountability.

Seen On My Run


Sometimes on a run you see things. They are ordinary things but always seem to look different given the context. Here are a few from this year:
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