Looking Back on Running in 2021, and Ahead to 2022

It’s New Year’s Eve, and that seems like a good reason to look back and reflect on the year in running – and to think ahead to my plans and goals for 2022.

Despite the fact that I’ve run on and off since high school, this is the first time that I’ve consistently run for an entire year. I’m excited about the progress I’ve made through this consistency, and it’s hard to believe how far I’ve come.

At the beginning of 2021, I wrote some goals in Smashrun: In 2021 I will stay healthy; set PRs in the 5k, 10k, and half marathon; and complete a marathon.

I’m happy to say that I reached all of those goals.

My Mileage in 2021

In total, I ran 2,374 miles in 2021. That is way more than the 874 that I ran last year, and by far the most I’ve ever run in a year. In fact, it’s probably more than I’ve run in my lifetime up until the beginning of the year. That’s what consistency does for you.

I slowly but consistently increased my mileage throughout the year. I started out in January running 30-35mpw. From February to April, I trained for a half marathon and increased to 40-45mpw. From June to October, I trained for a marathon and ran 50-55mpw. After recovering from that marathon, I bumped up a little bit more and hit 60mpw in each of the last three weeks of the year.

My longest run of the year was my marathon (26.2 miles), and I had one 20 miler in that build-up. Beyond that, I ran about two dozen long runs between 15 and 17 miles.

I started out running five days a week and quickly progressed to six days a week. For most of the year, I stuck with six days a week except for some peak weeks during marathon training. But in December, I increased to seven days a week, and I think I’m going to stick with running every day for the near future. I don’t feel like I need that day off for recovery anymore. Now, I can run an easy 5-6 miles and still feel fresh the next day.

My Races and Times in 2021

In 2020, I ran some time trials to get some baseline times in the mile (6:41), 5k (24:37), 10k (50:22), and half marathon (1:57:38). I made significant progress on each of those distances, and I finished my first marathon.

The distance I raced / time trialed the most was 5k. In January, after a few weeks of training, I finished a time trial in 22:37. In September, I ran a local charity 5k towards the end of my marathon training and I finished in 21:43. In December, after I recovered from my marathon, I ran the Rutgers Big Chill 5k. I was hoping to get below 21 minutes, but I didn’t quite make it. Finished in 21:07 – still a solid PR.

Throughout the spring, I was training for a half marathon time trial. In the process, I beat my 10k time during a few workouts. Two weeks out, I ran a 10k time trial and managed a 46:10. I haven’t run another 10k race or time trial since April, but I’m positive that I could beat that time easily right now.

In April, I time trialed a half marathon. It didn’t go quite as well as I hoped, and you can read more about it here. But I did manage a huge PR, finishing in 1:47:10. I was hoping for 1:42 or so, but things didn’t work out. This is another time that I’m certain I could go out and beat right now, though. During my marathon, Strava tells me that my half split was 1:43:44… so in an actual half race I could definitely get closer to 1:40.

In October, I ran my first marathon. I followed Jack Daniels 2Q 18/55 training plan, and it was tough. But it got me in marathon shape, and I finished in 3:35. I was hoping for a 3:30, and if I had paced myself better I probably could have gotten there (or gotten closer). But I’m still ecstatic with that time for a first effort – and I look forward to improving on it next year.

Finally, in December I ran a mile time trial to get a new baseline on my short distance speed. I was hoping to break 6 minutes, and I fell a few seconds short – finishing in 6:03. Huge improvement over the 6:41 I started with. In the summer, I also tried a half mile to see what I could do – and I finished in 3:00.

All in all, it’s been a great year in terms of racing and time trials. And I expect to improve on each of these in 2022.

Improving my Easy Pace Throughout 2021

This isn’t a goal, per se. Your easy pace should be easy, and if you start assigning a goal time to it you’ll probably just end up running too hard.

But it’s useful to look back at what pace I can run given a certain effort level to gauge how my fitness has improved.

Back in January, I ran an easy, short run (~3 miles) at a 9:28/mi pace with an average heart rate of 133. Most of my “easy” runs were a little faster than that – closer to 9:00 to 9:15/mi – but my average heart rate was also higher (140-145). So in retrospect, they might not have been all that “easy” and 9:30/mi was probably a more accurate gauge of what was truly easy.

Over the summer, this slowed down a bit. This is probably a mix of weather (which slows your pace at a given heart rate) and being in the middle of marathon training (which means a lot of accumulated fatigue and slower easy runs). But at this point, depending on the day, I’d run “easy” around 9:30 to 10:00/mi.

But now that it’s winter again, I can do an apples to apples comparison to last January and see how much the extra volume has helped. For starters, I can much more easily maintain a pace that keeps my heart rate low (130-135). At the beginning of the year, this was pretty tough, especially on longer runs.

About a week ago, I ran 6.75 miles with an average heart rate of 142 and an average pace of 8:41/mi. If I want to keep my heart rate down below 135 (the low end of my aerobic zone), I’m looking at about 9:00/mi. On the other end, keeping my heart rate below 145 or so, I’m looking at a pace of 8:45/mi. So not a huge difference, but definitely a clear improvement over the course of the year.

Looking Ahead – Goals and Plans for 2022

At the beginning of 2021, I hoped that I would make it through the entire year and complete my marathon. Now that I’ve done that, I feel confident enough to look ahead with some specific goals for 2022.

In the spring, I’m going to focus on my speed over shorter distances. I’m following Jack Daniels 5k/10k 60-70mpw plan. I bumped up my mileage so that I could comfortably start at 60mpw, and I hope to slowly increase and have a few peak weeks at 70mpw. I can always scale it back to 60mpw if I need to, but this will (hopefully) set me up to reach a new peak of 70-75mpw over the summer.

Using this plan, I’m hoping to set PRs in the mile, 5k, 10k, and half marathon. The mile will likely be a time trial, and the 5k might be another time trial or a parkrun. I don’t have a particular race picked out. But I plan to run the Cherry Blossom 10k in Newark on April 3. I’m still waiting to finalize an April half marathon, but I’m hoping that Rutgers hosts its race again this year. If they don’t, I’ll probably end up running the Delaware Half Marathon in Wilmington. There’s also a half marathon in Brooklyn that same day, so I have a few options.

I’ll set some more specific goals when I get closer, but I’m tentatively aiming for 19:00 to 19:30 in the 5k, 40:00 to 41:00 in the 10k, and sub 1:30 in the half marathon.

Regardless of which half marathon I end up in, that’ll be the “end” of that training block. I’ll plan the 5k and mile efforts to happen before then. After the half marathon, I’ll take a couple of easy weeks to recover and then slowly build up my mileage to 75mpw in preparation for marathon training.

I’m planning on running the Philadelphia Marathon in November. I picked this one because it’s about a month later in the year than the marathon I ran this year. This will mean a) better weather on race day (I found out this year it can still be too warm in October), b) less time training hard in the heat of summer (threshold efforts in heat and humidity suck), and c) more time between the half marathon and the marathon training block to build a base.

If I can bump up to 75mpw for a few weeks in the summer, I plan to follow Jack Daniels 2Q 18/70 plan – but with a peak of either 75 or 80mpw. Ultimately, my goal is to run a Boston qualifying time for Boston 2024. I’ll be 40 at that point, so a base qualifying time for me would be 3:10. That should be well within reach, and if things go well throughout the year I hope I can run closer to 3 hours. But a lot can happen between now and November, so I’ll establish a firmer time goal as I get closer. What I really hope to do, though, is run a well-paced race with even or negative splits.

I’m also planning to incorporate some weight lifting next year – hopefully one to two days per week with some basic large lifts (squat, deadlift, bench press, shoulder press), and some other smaller or bodyweight exercises. I also want to try mixing in a little time on my wife’s peloton. While I’m in training, it’ll probably be one or two short, easy rides to go with my weightlifting. But in the early summer, I might do some harder sessions while I’m running easy in base building mode.

Well, that’s what I’ve got planned and what I’m looking forward to. The 5k/10k plan starts this week – with my first track session on Tuesday. Wish me luck!

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