2016 was an odd year, at least for me. I finished up 2015 having run more miles in one year than ever before and really wanted to step up my game. Even though I did not consider myself a competitive runner (at the time), I still wanted to aim at some extra-long distances and push myself towards a bold goal of running my first 50-miler. I began the month of January with new shoes and plans to run farther than ever before...and then the injuries happened.
Starting in early January, I began falling a lot while out on trail runs, to the tune of 6 bad falls where I landed primarily on my tail bone. By the first week of February I was in terrible pain and was running once a week, stubbornly pressing through it as if it the injury was going to suddenly heal itself. Surprisingly, running through the pain proved to be a bad idea...who knew?! I spent the last half of February and the first half of March in a funk. I began to question whether or not I should keep running. Yes, it got that bad. Then I met a coach.
In mid-March, on a local group run, a guy showed up that I had met a couple of times and we hit it off. We ran together that morning and agreed to run again soon. The next time we ran, I told him about what I had just come through and how I was really feeling sorry for myself. He wasted no time in encouraging me and then challenging me to get back in the game. I told him how I felt about running, how it was more of a community thing for me, how I chose not to really race, but instead to just run for fun. He thought that was cute. He told me to run faster.
After 5 years of running as a hobby, the decision was made to create a training plan, set some running goals for the rest of the year, eat right and run as fast as my mid-40’s body would let me. The decision would be to make 2016 the year of the half marathon and the first one would be in April. In the first 5+ years of running, I had only run 3 halfs; two were on trail and one was a mix of road and trail. The plan was to run a total of 8 by the end of the year. No problem, right?!
My fastest half marathon occurred in my very first half in 2012. In that race, I ran a 1:51:37 on a course I was told was humbling. I remember walking part of the last mile and thinking, ‘this is stupid, why did I sign up for this?’ However, here I was and I was ready to push forward with this new-found desire to run competitively, to push myself like never before, to really get the answer to why I signed up for this…and so I did. The race in April was The Sisters Better Half and was my only road half of the year, but it is now my PR for the distance. How fast? 1:32:12, 4th overall and 1st in my age group. No problem!
Two months later I found myself back at the site of my very first half from 2012; The Dirty Half. It would be my first trail half of the year. I was nervous and worried that the race from April was a fluke. My friend, who had agreed to help train me, told me to keep my head down and just run. I did my best to take his advice, even though I did wipe out once. In the end, I came in 25th overall and 3rd in my age group in 1:33:57. I can clearly remember finishing that race with a huge grin, truly feeling like the training was paying off. I could hear my friend…run faster!
I sprinkled a few more trail halfs in there on very challenging courses with even more challenging conditions, such as the Down & Dirty Half in October. The driving rain and wind never stopped and made the 38 degree temp feel more like 18. Finishing 7th overall and 1st in my age felt good, but I had to wait a few hours to feel anything because my hands and face were so numb! As the end of the year approached, I had my sights set on 2 last halfs. The Silver Falls Half in November and the Canyon Rumble in December. Historically, these are both races that feature tough courses and difficult weather. With one last push, I wanted to challenge my trail half PR from June…run faster!
Silver Falls came first and with it came a suprisingly perfect day for racing. The weather was cool and clear, even though the trail was a muddy mess from an inch of rain the day before. Having studied the course, my goal for the race was 1:33:30, with the aim of setting a new PR. While it is true that nutcracker hill was quite a doozy, my time of 1:33:18 (17th overall, 2nd AG) had me grinning from ear to ear as I drove home. There was still one half to run, but I was ready to run faster again.
This last race, which took place at the beginning of December, was half #8. I was excited for many reasons about this one, especially because my wife would be there running the 10K, but also because so many of my friends would be there too. Like the last race, I set a time goal. 1:33:00 seemed very doable, even with the daunting M hill at the end. All I heard in my ear was “run faster” and run faster is what I did! I finished half #8 in 8th place overall and 1st in my age with a time of 1:32:34…my new trail half PR. I even got a nifty rock!
2016 started out rough but ends on a high note, as I see what hard work and new friendship has brought me. I am encouraged that my joy of running has not diminished but instead has been renewed as I revel in the ability I have been given. Running is a gift, which seems to coincide nicely as we approach the holiday season. I hope you see it as a gift too and that if someone around you is down, you might be there to pick them up and put them back on track. The running community is indeed a great blessing and I am thankful to be part of it. As for 2017? Run faster.