Sunday, December 27, 2015

Looking Back to Look Forward: Taking My Own Advice

As 2015 comes to a close, it is a good time to reflect on the year of running (and life) and think about goals and plans for 2016. It starts before 2015 though. When I ran my first "Ultra" in 2008 (The Mystery Mountain Marathon put on by the Georgia Ultra Trail Running Society) I never really thought I'd get into running as a thing. I was just there to hang out with Reeve and spend some time on the trails with him. He'd gotten me into distance running as a cool way to see the mountains. We went out for long days together to just explore. It was a lot of fun, but I hadn't considered myself someone who would make running a major part of my life. I was into climbing, kayaking, and riding bikes. But, Reeve wanted to run a lot, and I wanted to hang out with him, so that's what we did.

Fast forward to 2010 when my Marine buddies and I decided to put on 100 Miles for Swisher.  I started running every day and figured I'd run a 100 miles to honor my friend and that would be it. Along the way, I ran my first 50K, 50 miler, and eventually in August of 2011 my first 100. I was hooked.

Even then, though, racing wasn't really on my radar. Running was just a way to get out in the mountains and explore. I never thought I'd be fast enough to really race. The following year, I ran Rocky Raccoon 100 and still I didn't see myself racing. I just didn't think I was "built for racing" and just decided it was a fun way to meet people and challenge myself. I had always seen myself as someone who's just good at enduring. Here's the "life" part. I had gotten in the habit of encouraging people and telling them they could do things they didn't think they could do. But, I wasn't really taking that advice. I was just running and doing things that I liked because they were hard. I didn't think I was capable of going "fast" on those long runs. It really wasn't until Umstead last year that I began to see the potential that I wasn't seeing in myself.

Ginger was a huge part of helping me unlock this and access my own advice. Jordan and Brett were also instrumental in helping me push past the limitations I was placing on myself.

Ginger and I decided to do the "Whole 30" diet in April, and that's when things really started to change for me in terms of running. I wrote about that here. 2015 was an incredible year in terms of racing for me. Here's a little recap of my gradual progression from "happy to finish" to "exploring what's possible" in terms of running.

January- Lakeside Trail Race 15 Miler: 10th Overall 2:21
February- Dirty Double Trail Marathon: 11th Overall 5:11
March- Umstead 100: 55th Overall 22:51 (Over a 2 hour PR)
June- Eastern Divide 50K: 14th Overall 5:23
August- Draper Mile: 5:16 (huge mile PR)
September- Iron Mountain 30 Miler: 7th Overall 4:59
                   Barkley Fall Classic: 22nd Overall 10:49
October-New River Trail 50K: 2nd Overall 4:00 (50K PR)
              Pacing Reggie and to the boys at the Always Brothers 100 (the night after New River)
November: Richmond Marathon: 135th Overall, 11th in AG 3:09 (BQ and 26.2 PR)
December: Frosty 5K 6th Overall, 1st in AG, 19:03 (Fastest 5K since 1999)

Getting a huge PR at Umstead and breaking 24 hours was a big day for me, but the biggest highlight for me in terms of my own running this year was New River Trail 50K.

I never thought I would find myself on the podium at an Ultra. I just didn't think it was possible for me. But, here's the thing about taking your own advice: You gotta do it. Ginger, Brett, and Jordan really helped me see that I'm capable of more than I think. Chris Larson really pushed me that day to run hard, and my friend Pawel has helped me immensely in terms of learning to run smart races. I am grateful for that support. It really carried over at Richmond where I was able to smash my 26.2 PR and run well under my BQ time requirement.

Better than all of those results, though, was watching Ginger have a great year running. She hit a huge Marathon PR at Richmond, and she had a great race at Eastern Divide. She's running so strong and it's been fun to see.

Right along with that was watching my friends achieve their goals. I was able to see Jordan have a great race at San Diego 100 and help Nelson gut out an amazing finish at Eastern States 100.

Sean and Amy ran their first marathons at Richmond, and seeing them accomplish this goal was awesome.  Sharing the trails with my friends all year long was such a gift.

Finishing the Catawba Runaround with Jordan was another major highlight.

Hanging out with Ginger at races and on the trails is just about my favorite thing to do.

Exploring the mountains with Josh, Jordy, Brett, Pawel, Sean, Royce, Robbie, Chris, and the rest of the crew makes living in Blacksburg even better than it would be otherwise (and that's pretty damn good).

So, what did I learn from a year of racing and watching my friends push themselves? We can ALL do more than we think we can. I'll take that lesson with me into 2016.

I've set a few goals for 2016 in terms of racing. I plan to race a little bit less in order to focus on a couple of goal events. #1 will be Umstead 100 in April. I'd like to improve my time there. #2 is Grindstone 100 in October. I'll do Lakeside in January because it's fun. Holiday Lake 50K in February because it's now a fun family tradition, and Eastern Divide 50K in June because it's probably my favorite 50K. But, all of those races will be done with an eye towards my two goal races. Grindstone has been become a special race to me after pacing last year and working an aid station (Reddish Knob Rave Station with Captain Jordan Chang) this year. It's a Hardrock 100 qualifier and that's a serious bucket list race for me. I hope to make to to the starting line of Umstead and Grindstone healthy and well-trained. I plan to take my own advice and believe that I can go faster than I once thought I could.

But, I'll remember the what my friend Doug Geiger said about white water kayaking back in the day: "It's just a hobby. Like model trains or something."

Running is, after all, just a hobby. It doesn't pay any bills. The results don't matter in the grand scheme of things. But it IS an important way to stay healthy and share new experiences with Ginger.

It's also a great way to build relationships with my friends, give back to my community, and challenge myself. So, I'll keep that in mind. Family will always come first, and friends will always be a major priority. Running will just be what it always is: a way to explore and be part of an amazing community.

 So, as 2015 ends I'll go into 2016 grateful for Ginger's support (thanks for encouraging me and helping me be a better person and a better runner).

I'll also be  thankful that I have an amazing group of friends to share the trail with.

Happy Running my friends.