Reflections on my First Year Back Running

It’s nearing the end of December. That means the end of one year and the beginning of another. It’s a great time for reflection and for planning.

2020 was a strange year in a lot of ways. But when it comes to running, it was a great year. I wanted to take a few minutes and reflect on where I started, how far I came, and what’s in store for the future.

How 2020 Started for Me

I was not in good shape a year ago.

I was overweight – about 210 pounds. I had dropped from 205 to 170 the previous spring, but the weight slowly came back over the summer and fall. I definitely overindulged over the holidays, and I ended up fatter than I started.

My right knee, which has bothered me on and off for years, seemed worse. I had some lower back pain.

I hadn’t done any significant running in 2019, although I did a little hiking. But by the end of the year, I wasn’t doing much of that. Looking at my Endomondo history, I logged all of 37 miles in 2019. It was my worst year, with the exception of 2018 – when I ran a whopping six miles.

All in all, it was clearly time for a change. I resolved to lose the weight and keep it off. I went to a chiropractor to treat my knee and back pain. And I planned to begin exercising regularly – with an eye towards running. You can read more about how I got back into running in this post.

How Much I Ran in 2020

I spent January and February rehabbing, and I only started to slowly incorporate running in March. But by April, I was running regularly. My mileage increased steadily throughout the rest of the year.

I had a simple goal. I wanted to run until the end of the year, consistently, without injury. And I accomplished that.

All told, I ran 862 miles. This is by far the most I’ve ever run. In 2014, when I ran my first marathon and thought I was in great shape, I only ran about 450 miles.

After steadily increasing my volume, I ran approximately 30 miles per week from October through December.

I wanted to increase my long run to 10 miles, and I far exceeded that. I finished a half marathon time trial, and I’ve put in a couple 11 and 12 mile training runnings.

How My Speed Improved Over the Course of 2020

Since I hadn’t run much in years, I was pretty slow to begin with. I could bang out an “easy” mile in 9 to 10 minutes, but in reality some of those early miles were definitely not easy.

During my last good year, I could run a 5k in 24-25 minutes, and I ran a half marathon in 1:54. In my not so good years, a 5k would take 27 to 30 minutes.

This year, I raced a number of time trials.

I didn’t PR in the half marathon, due mostly to overshooting a bit. I went out too fast and I died out early. I finished in 1:57, but that was back in October. I’m positive that if I ran one today I could set a new PR. But that will have to wait until next year.

I did better with everything else. I ran a 5k in 24:40 at the end of August. I beat that time over the 5k distance during a tempo run last week (24), and I’m all set for a new time trial in a couple weeks. I ran a 10k in 50:22 in September, and I finished a mile in 6:41 in November.

My easy pace has dropped as well. Early on, I was pushing it a little too hard and running about 9:30/mile, thinking it was easy. As my mileage increased, I had to drop down to about 10:00 to 10:30/mi. But I noticed in the last few weeks that I’ve been getting faster, and these easy runs are still easy (based on heart rate).

Sunday, I ran a 12 mile long run at an easy pace of 9:00/mi. My average heart rate was 145, which is a little high. But the second half of the run was steadily uphill, and I’m sure I could run 9:00/mi on a flat course with a lower heart rate.

What I Read About Running in 2020

I read several books about running this year.

I started with Jack Daniels Running Formula. It really helped me understand the principles of training better. In retrospect, I did a shitty job training in the past. Although I’m no longer completely sold on Daniels approach to train the system, not the pace, I took away a lot of valuable lessons.

I then read Pete Pfitzinger’s Faster Road Racing. This was another great book about training. I think I like his plans slightly more than Jack’s, and I might lean on them next year.

After that, I switched gears a bit and read Accidental Athlete by John Bingham. This is definitely not a book about training, but I found it funny and interesting. And made me think about my history of running.

Next up was the Science of Running. This was a great book, and I’ll probably re-read parts of it. It was very dense, though, and I’m sure I missed some things. I did take away a few principles that helped me design my half marathon training block for the spring.

I thoroughly enjoyed Good to Go. This is about the recovery industry – and the fact that most recovery products don’t really help. It was well written and interesting, and I will steer clear of the money traps described therein.

Finally, I read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. This was another memoir, a la Accidental Athlete. I really liked this one. I think. I felt more similar to Haruki Murakami than to John Bingham, and I see more of myself in this story. It was short, but it was a great read. I don’t think I’ll make the transition to triathlons, though.

What I Learned About Running in 2020

I think I might write a longer post about this topic tomorrow. This reflection is already getting quite long, and there’s a lot to say. But here are a few things I’ve learned.

  • Consistency is key.
  • What once seemed impossible will one day be possible. It may even feel easy.
  • Easy days need to be easy.
  • Sleep is the most important tool for recovery.
  • Train smart, and you’ll get faster.

What’s Next for 2021

So where to from here?

I’ve been working on a 5k training block, and that will wrap up in two weeks. I’ll do a 5k time trial in mid-January, and I’m hoping to run somewhere between 21 and 22 minutes. I’ll be happy as long as I beat 22 minutes, but I think I can do better than that.

I plan to run a half marathon around April. I’ve sketched out a training plan for this, and I’ll share this in the coming weeks once I’ve firmed it up a bit. I’m not sure about my time goal for this, but I think I’ll definitely aim to beat 1:45. If my 5k goes as well as I’m planning, race equivalent calculators suggest I could run a 1:35 to 1:40, but we’ll see. I don’t want to be over agressive again.

Then comes the big goal. I want to take the summer to train for a full marathon. I’ve been running 30-35 mpw and that will increase to 40-45 during half marathon training. I’ll be able to increase this a bit to 50-60 over the summer, and I’ll have plenty of time to prepare for a full marathon around October.

People often suggest that you have no time goal for your first marathon, but I think in my case I will. I’ll have a solid base of running, and I won’t be struggling to complete it. I was initially hoping for my first marathon to be under 4 hours, but at this point I’m sure I can do much better than that. It’s a bit early to really target a pace, but I think I’ll be able to train and do better than 3:30. Ten months is a long time. Hopefully I don’t eat those words.

After that, I’ll probably spend some time recovering and then put in some easy miles for the remainder of the year. After I’ve had a chance to reflect on all that I will have accomplished, I’ll set some goals for 2022.

I’m sure I’ll write about all this in the months to come, so if you want to know how things turn out you should be sure to check back often. And if you have your own goals, leave a comment below. I’d love to hear them.

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