2013 Running Year End Review

With Disney’s Wine & Dine Half Marathon in my rearview mirror, my 2013 racing season has to come to a close. But, there’s little rest for the weary as I’m now turning my attention to the inaugural Dopey Challenge at Walt Disney World in early January 2014. A bit of background for those who aren’t familiar, the Dopey Challenge is four straight days of running; starting with a 5k on Thursday, a 10k on Friday, a half marathon on Saturday and finally, a full marathon on Sunday. I have done a lot of questionable activities in my lifetime, but this may be the most questionable ever (definitely the most insane).  However, there is a place and time to discuss that undertaking and today is not that day.

What I’d like to share today is my 2013 year-end recap, where I recount my road races and significant running events that have impacted me throughout the past year. But giving a quick thought I could say my running performance in 2013 can be summarily expressed in one word.

Lousy.

2013 should really just be thrown out. In 2012, you couldn’t keep me from hitting the road, however my running this year felt like a chore and miles could easily be expressed more as “meh”les. I’m sure it could have been attributed to a lot of things, like new job, new city, etc. But, at the end of the day those are just excuses and my performance is purely a reflection of my motivation. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still enthused about running and have a lot of money on 2014 being a solid rebound year. However, my priorities have shifted from quantity of races to more quality running with form, stretching and nutrition to play a bigger role in my training. With that said, I set out to recap this year and by damn it I’m going to finish it.

January
I should have known this year was going to go straight to ass within the first month of the year. Why? Well, let's just say January wasn't a good month for races. My first race of the year was the Warm Your Heart 5k held completely indoors in Chicago's McCormick Place convention center. The race is billed as one loop, which is correct, it's just one loop. But, the amount of twists and turns along the course would make even the boldest rollercoaster jockey sick.
This is just the first room, too!
I also participated in my first ever Goofy Challenge in Walt Disney World this month, which is a half marathon followed the very next day by a full marathon. You can read the full recap here, but I’ll also give you the brief rundown.

My strategy was to relax for the half marathon and then race the marathon, and I thought I was in pretty good shape. On the Friday before the races, I participated in the Disney MeetUp with about 100 of my fellow runners and had an easy 3 mile shakeout run in Disney MGM (I won’t call it Hollywood) Studios, followed by an amazing meet & greet with Bart Yasso, Jeff Galloway, Joan Benoit-Samuelson, Bill Rodgers, Des Davila and others. 
Running Gods
Who's goofier?
On Saturday, I ran a very relaxed half marathon heeding my wife’s words of not to finish in under two hours, and finished in 1:59:57.  Following the race, I had felt fine with nothing more than the usual aches & pains associated with a half marathon. I even felt well enough to hoof it over to the Magic Kingdom for some much needed corndogs.  However, little did I know Sunday’s marathon was going to blindfold and hog tie me, spin me around 50 times, and then sucker punch me in the junk. 
13.1 done, 26.2 to go
So, come Sunday my race had started like every other long distance race, uneventful. However, at Mile Five my Achilles and Plantar Fascia decided to go their separate ways each taking a piece of my heel bone, splitting right down the middle. After a moment where I thought my eyes were going to pop out of my head, I hobbled to the medical tent at Mile Nine, received some serious medical work (read: ace bandage, Tylenol and a maxi pad, the last one being a cushion in my racing flat), and then continued to limp to the finish in a somewhat impressive time given my injury. The epilogue to this story, I had to be in Boston for a job interview the very next day, meaning I wouldn’t be heading back to Chicago just yet. Therefore, I had to cobble together a makeshift splint as a triage with various items from the local CVS. I made my way to Boston rather broken, rocked the interview and then headed straight to the doctor when I got back to Chicago. 
To the victor go the spoils
March
This month had me sadly waving goodbye to my hometown Chicago for the waaam chowdah of Boston, Massachusetts. But, before I left I had the chance to put in two more races, the St. Paddy’s Day 5k (full recap here) and the ChiTown 10k (full recap here). I love these races since I essentially step out my front door and boom, Start Line. Talk about not wasting energy. The St. Paddy’s Day 5k is fun, because everyone runs and then drinks (although, that seems to be every weekend in the Windy City). Since I was nursing my heel fracture, I took it rather easy and just took in the wonderful sights of Chicago’s running paths. But what I remember the most was how balls out cold and windy it was. Even running couldn’t warm me up. Luckily, the festivities did after. 

So cold
ChiTown 10k was a little different as it was two races in one, a 10k and a half marathon. Although this would be my last race as a Chicago resident, I chose the 10k as my heel was nearly healed. At the beginning of the race 25 or so of us were upfront and in a pretty tight pack when we reached the Mile One marker. However, the race volunteer had accidentally sent us into a parking lot and then it was like the cows had gotten out of the pen. We all kept running, but continued to look at each other to see if anyone had any idea where we were going. After about four miles, we started to see other 10k runners coming directly at us! It turns out, the race director saw the mistake after we had passed, stopped the race, reset the course and restarted the race. We had no idea and ended up essentially running the course backwards. He ended up offering everyone a refund, but since he owned up to immediately (unlike other races, Hot Chocolate) we decided to let it pass.

April
Of course, we all know what happened in April with the Boston bombings (read my initial thoughts here). I had been living alone in Boston for about three weeks and had traveled back to Chicago to get my wife and meet the movers. Honestly, we had no idea what had happened since everything we had was boxed up and ready for the truck. It was only until later that day, I picked up my phone and saw I had about 50 calls, 100 texts and Facebook messages. Nearly everyone I know had reached out thinking I was either running Boston or was in the crowd, and when I didn’t return any messages (I was packing) people panicked. I still think about if I hadn’t gone to Chicago to finish packing where would I have been along the course?

Boston Strong
I also ran my first Boston race in April. The Spring Classic 5k in Cambridge (full recap here) was a few weeks after the bombings so there were a lot of smiles and camaraderie among runners. You could definitely feel relief in the air. Not only was this my first Boston race, it was also the first time I had ever run an organized race in traffic! Seriously! Early into the race I was doing about a 7:18 pace p/mile and all of a sudden, I felt this lingering presence directly behind me. Thinking it was another runner, I picked up my pace hoping to shake the guy over my shoulder. But, when I picked up the pace so did the presence behind me. Finally, I turned around expecting to see some jerk drafting off me, but instead it was some guy in a Nissan. Clearly, the marshals hadn’t paid attention and this guy found himself on the course. If that wasn’t bad enough, he started honking at us to get out of his way. Thankfully, he exited without killing anyone.
Better than any medal
 May
This month was my first serious Boston road race experience with the Boston’s Run to Remember half marathon (full recap here). Since this was the first big race after the bombings it was a pretty emotional run for a lot of people. Even I choked up a little when running past MIT where all of the campus police were out on the road high fiving runners (for those of you who don’t know, the officer who was killed by the bombers, Sean Collier, was an MIT campus police officer). The race took us through Cambridge and the greater Boston area so it was nice for a newbie like me to get a good tour of our new home. Emotions aside, the weather was absolutely terrible with rain, wind and near freezing temperatures. Being new to the area, I didn’t really have any experience in coastal weather and overdressed. Near Mile Nine I was so hot, I had to stop and peel off my warm weather tops so I could breathe. Although, my heel issue was a huge drawback in the offseason, I still put in a near PR-worthy effort. If I would say one race went well this year, this would be it. I also recall having tough time getting to the race, which added to the prerace adrenaline and I think helped my performance. 
A terrific race
June
Okay, so July had nothing to do with running. But, in this month I had the opportunity to see my all time, absolute, all powerful idol, John Williams. JOHN FREAKING WILLIAMS!!!! It was at the Boston Symphony and he played all of his best film scores. It was transcendent to say the least. You must read this recap. Click here

August
Let’s jump to August and my next big race, Disney’s Dumbo Double Dare Challenge in California (Part 1 Part 2 Part 3). The race was held at Disneyland and comprised of a 10k on Saturday and then a half marathon on Sunday. I had never run a west coast race and was happy it was somewhere we could spend a few extra days. The highlights of the trip were plentiful and can be read in my full report here; I’ll just focus on a few for this post. I think the biggest challenge was how to run two competitive races in two days and not kill myself on the first day. A lot my training had been consecutive day runs, but seldom, if ever, were they both at race pace. I figured if I could maintain an easy 9:30 pace for the 10k I’d have plenty of gas in the tank for the half marathon the following day. Not to mention I had been sidelined two weeks up to the race with a terrible ankle pain (which felt strangely like a stress fracture) limiting my training. So on race day, I queued up with my wife and friends in Corral E and set about an easy pace, essentially stopping to smell the roses if you will. The course started out in the surrounding Anaheim area, but quickly moved into California Adventure winding backstage, out past World of Color with its fountains glistening in the brightly hued colors of the show lights ablaze.  Heading through the exit gates of DCA, the course then took us all about the Magic Kingdom of Disneyland, which I really enjoyed since all the east coast Disney races have very limited access to its Magic Kingdom. We even traveled backstage and the castmembers were ready, cheering us on. Some even had signs celebrating us runners. As short as it was, I really enjoyed the race. 
The expo was a marathon in itself
The half marathon was a bit of a different story. Granted, a half marathon is a relatively long distance to cram into Disneyland’s small campus, so I understood it all couldn’t be contained on property. I also applaud the Disney for trying to keep the race fresh by funneling runners through Angels Stadium at the midpoint mark. However, the rest of the course was a mix of industrial complexes and major roadways making the race rather boring once we passed the gates of the magic and into Anaheim proper. Not to mention, the whole weekend was hot, like fry a runner on the sidewalk hot, which really affected my races. 
I have no idea where all of those medals are
While not the greatest races, this was far and away our favorite trip of the year. I participated in the MeetUp on Friday, finally met some great friends face-to-face, saw old friends, experienced Trader Sam’s, and had great experiences all over DLR. We are already talking about plans to go back as soon as possible. 
@SeeSharpRun @ConnieKos @JennRunsDisney

 October
This month was bittersweet as it took me back to my hometown of Chicago for the Chicago Marathon (full recap here), one of my favorite races on the planet. It was bittersweet not just because I miss that city, but also because my wife would be missing the race for the second year in a row due to injury. At the expo (quite possibly the best expo in the country), I ran into some Twitter friends and had a great conversation with Bart Yasso about running motivation. Thanks to the year’s previous performance, I moved all the way to Corral C, which is a huge deal, at least to me it is. Sadly, my training and performance did not meet the expectations for that corral and I finished with a measly four-hour time. Next year. Next year.
Tough to earn

Bart Yasso - the man
Hometown
 November
My final race of the 2013 season is the Wine & Dine Half Marathon in Orlando (full recap here). This race is my absolute favorite race of them all. I love running at night and doing it through the parks is the icing on the cake. This year was extra special since my wife and I had some dear friends running their very first half marathon. I think this is the perfect first half marathon, since being at night, there’s less outside stimuli to distract and you really have to focus on your running to succeed. I’m also a little impartial since this race was my first half marathon back in 2011, some 38 races ago. I love the whole aspect of the race – get a group of crazy runners to run in the dead of night, traipse some of the best sights in the world, and then get wasted until 4am. Win! Sadly, for the third straight year, my wife wasn’t feeling so hot and we had to retire to our room at the Boardwalk before the party ended. Someday we’ll crack the issue. Again, a lack of training put me on the slow path to finish, but no matter since I had such a great trip.
Love this race.
That's a wrap!
I think what’s most evident about my running performance this is due to a lack of training. But, while the lack of training may be the most transparent theme, I think the underlying issue was I didn’t enjoy running as much as I used to. Nearly every time I approached a training run, it was because I had a race in the near future and had to improve my time. Rarely was it because I just wanted to get out there and run. In fact, looking back over the year’s training I had noticed my times were best when I ran after a bad at the office or other stressed related experience. You know, it brings to mind something I’ve heard in reference to fighter pilots. Some get so transfixed on a target, they lose their peripheral vision and end up in a way worse situation than if they just looked at the whole field of battle. I guess that could be said with my running this year. I was so fixed on race after race after race, I missed sight of what’s important and burned out too early.

Therefore in 2014, I’m going to get back to basics, remembering what it’s like to enjoy the run and care less about what place I come in. For races, I’m still going to train hard and you probably won’t see me at as many. But, the ones where you do see me, I’ll be more than ready. I know it will be hard to employ this strategy immediately with Dopey on the horizon, but I’m going to approach that weekend with a different perspective. It will definitely be more about having fun and throwing in some running to even it all out.

So, that was my 2013. Thanks for reading and I hope you all have safe and happy holidays. I'll see you at the Start Line in 2014. 

Run fast, run smart.


Happy Holidays!