This was a strange year in my running career, but ultimately a good one. Over the course of twelve months, I went from unable to run at all to getting back into marathon shape, to setting three personal records. As of the end of my weekly long run this morning, I’ve logged 1332 miles. I’ll probably put in another 14 miles before the end of the year, but who’s counting, right? (Oh yeah… I am.)
The year didn’t get off to a great start. The New Year found me still recovering from a September injury. While I was off my crutches, I was still restricted to pool running only. A couple of weeks into the year, I got cleared to start running little by little, and carefully. The first day, I went out and ran around the block. I waited a day or two, and everything seemed okay, so I did it again. Eventually, I ran two laps, then a few more…
By mid spring, I was ready for the James Joyce Ramble, which is a unique 10K in Dedham where actors in period costume read from Joyce along the course. This year, Nikki joined me for her first 10K, which was awesome! I was feeling good and managed to turn in a 49:20 finish, which is my personal best 10K.
The summer was a mixed bag. On the one hand, I was steadily building my weekly milage and running in some of my favorite spots. On the other, there were a couple of persistent minor injuries that plagued me all summer, slowing me down and making me question whether I was asking for another major problem. Along the way, I also had two close calls with heat exhaustion, which was about as un-fun as it gets.
Fall was better, with a few truly epic runs, and a couple of successful races. In November I returned to the marathon world in Newport. In case you’re wondering, I was NOT one of the people who trampled a sand dune at the starting line. To be fair, it didn’t look like much of a dune; it looked like a berm in a parking lot. And contrary to what the Runner’s World article said, it was mostly spectators, not runners. What runner would risk getting sand in their shoes right before starting a marathon? I was happy with my race. Shin splints bothered me for three miles or so, but after that it was a perfect day for a run. I managed to pull off a 4:00:31 finish time, which was another personal best. Still, I wish I could have found those 31 seconds along the way somewhere.
The winter running season must be underway. I know this, because I’ve already had an icy beard after one early morning run. We haven’t had much snow yet, so all I’ve had to deal with is cold, dark mornings. One cold, dark morning in December, Nikki and I drove up to Gloucester for a cool race. The YuKan Run Half Merrython gave me an opportunity to run a 10th of a marathon race followed by a half marathon. Nikki handed out water at an aid station, while I trucked it up the Rockport coast and back, past lighthouses and the angry winter sea, to a 1:46:54 finish, yet another PR.
No year-end post could be complete without best of lists. So without further ado, here are my best and worst of 2014!
Top 3 Races of 2014
- James Joyce Ramble (April 27, 10K PR)
- Newport Marathon (October 12, Marathon PR)
- YuKan Run Half Merrython (December 7, Half Marathon PR)
Top 5 Running Purchases of 2014
- I replaced my dead Garmin Forerunner with a new Garmin Fenix 2. It maps my runs, tracks my steps, and counts my laps in the pool. If I ever decide to go skiing or skydiving, there are modes for that, too.
- So, I freaked out a little bit after I tried on a pair of Saucony Kinvara 4s for the first time and hated them. At the time, I was on my second pair of Kinvara 3s, and I loved them. Since the 3 was being discontinued, I ran out and bought four pairs of them while I could. I have one fresh pair left at this point, and I hear the Kinvara 5 is supposed to correct the failings of the 4.
- Luckily, I discovered a new shoe to love in the latter part of the year. I first saw the Mizuno Wave Sayonara in the clearance section of DSW and tried them on in hopes of finding a casual sneaker. Well, they were light, with a wide toebox and a responsive sole, so they quickly found their way into my running rotation. Now, they’re my “fast shoes.”
- This year, I discovered the joy of running without wires. I listen to podcasts to help make the miles fly by, and it’s way more convenient without headphone wires flapping around. I didn’t choose these Bluetooth headphones because they have the highest fidelity audio or the greatest build quality. I chose them because they’re $15.
- Until this year, I had been running in basketball shorts, because most running shorts have a sewn in mesh brief liner. Well, that dog won’t hunt. Luckily, this year I discovered Saucony Throttle shorts. They have a boxer-brief style compression liner, plus zippered pockets. I put my keys and phone on one side, my gels on the other, and I’m good to go.
Top 5 Epic Runs of 2014
September 20: On this 26 mile pre-marathon long run, I took a grand tour of Boston’s open spaces, especially the Emerald Necklace. I went through Franklin Park and out the Southwest Corridor Park, then beside the Common and down the Rose Kennedy Greenway. Then I ran over Beacon Hill, back down the other side of the Common, through the Public Garden, and out the Commonwealth Avenue Mall. From there, I went through the Back Bay Fens, the Riverway, Olmstead Park, around Jamaica Pond, and through Arnold Arboretum. On the way home, I went over Bellevue Hill, then through Stony Brook Reservation, and back home.
- November 4: While in San Antonio for work, I had planned to check out a five mile fitness trail around South Texas Medical Center. After work, I headed out for an evening run just as it started raining. Soon, I was in the midst of one of the heaviest downpours I’ve ever seen, much less run in. I had to abandon the planned route in several places, as dry creek beds turned into torrents that were unsafe to walk across. Even the sidewalks were covered in feet of running water in many places!
- September 7: This was another one of those long, long pre-marathon runs, this time on my favorite coastal route. From our house, I follow the Neponset River Trail out to the mouth of the river at Squantum Point, then run all the way down Wollaston Beach. Turning inland, I take Furnace Brook Parkway past John Adams’ house, then cross into the Blue Hills Reservation. Running through the Blue Hills is fun and challenging, and it takes me over a lot of big hills, including Chickatawbut Hill. The variety of scenery and environments makes this a must-do run when I’m preparing for a marathon.
September 28: This was simply a nice morning run around two lovely ponds in Milton when the fall foliage was looking good.
- December 14: On a beautiful, sunny, early winter day, I ran out through Dedham, then up the VFW Parkway through West Roxbury, a long loop through Newton, past Boston College, across Brookline, and back home via Boston’s parkway system and Stony Brook Reservation.
Top 5 Epic Fails of 2014
- June 8: As the summer started to heat up, I went out for a Sunday morning long run. It was a hot and humid day, but the sun is what really got to me. As I ran down the Neponset valley and along Wollaston Beach, there wasn’t much shade to hide in. On the way back home across Milton, I just crashed and burned. I had to sit down in the shade several times, and I know I was close to heat stroke: flushed, shaking, out of breath, dizzy, uncoordinated. Not a good scene.
- August 3: I usually pride myself on being able to finish the run I started, no matter how bad I feel. If I’m hot, sick, injured, or just bored, I’ll still run the distance I set for myself. Well, not on this day. I was just back from a week without running, while I had rested my legs after some minor injuries. After a long loop around Boston’s Emerald Necklace, I got to Forest Hills, took one look at the five miles I had remaining, and I bailed out. Instead of running those last five miles, I took the bus.
- July 20: My left quad had been bothering me for a few weeks at this point, and on my previous long run, favoring my left quad led to shin splints on my right side. So I set out on this run with injuries in both legs, which basically means I was trying to limp on both sides. That doesn’t really work, obviously. I made it almost 20 miles, but it took a looooong time, with several stretch breaks and just a mess for a gait.
- July 30: After the previous week’s disaster with injuries in both legs, I set out for a mid-week 10 mile run. Well, I didn’t even make it a block. Instead of gritting my teeth and potentially making my injuries worse, I just put my head down and walked back home.
- September 1: This run was a lot like the first epic fail I described above. It was a hot, humid day, I was out for a long run in the sun, and I started to crash and burn. Again, I was flushed, dizzy, and uncoordinated. Again, I had to sit down in the shade repeatedly to cool down. I even ended up having to walk the last mile or two home. To make matters worse, I sweated so hard that I killed my Garmin watch, despite being allegedly water resistant with an IPX7 rating.
Top 10 Wildlife Encounters of 2014
- At daybreak just a couple of Fridays ago, an owl flew up from the brush on one side of the trail to a tree on the other.
- Although I avoided confrontations with coyotes while running this year, I did run across three sets of coyote tracks in the cemetery one February morning.
- Of course, Duke and I frequently see deer on our Friday morning trail runs.
- I don’t often get to see a green heron, so this early morning encounter was a treat.
- Duke almost stepped on this little snake without even noticing it.
- I hear that the population of wild turkeys has exploded in New England and around the country in recent years. Based on my increasing encounters with them in recent months, I believe it. In September, we came face to face on Washington Street in West Roxbury one fine morning.
- At the same bridge where I encountered the green heron earlier in the year, I recently came within about ten feet of a fisher (aka fisher cat) right around dawn.
- I had an encounter with an apparently drunk wood duck that I described on Facebook thusly:
I had a hilariously close encounter with a wood duck on my run this morning. Apparently, it was hiding in the reeds just off the trail, and when I got to about five feet away, it suddenly flew up. It did not, however, fly with all the grace one would expect from one of the most beautiful creatures in North America. No, it went careening through the trees at about eye level, barely missing branches, apparently completely out of control. After about 30 feet, it splashed down hard in some flooded timber, paused for about two seconds while it remembered how its wings work, then flew off in a more normal, ducklike way for the nearby river.
- I know you’re not supposed to touch baby animals, but this gosling was in the middle of the street with cars trying to get by on one side and a dog trying to get to it on the other side, and there were no adults in sight. I took it to the bank of the Mother Brook and set it down near the closest goose family.
- The most depressing wild animals I encountered on my runs in 2014 were the satos in Puerto Rico. Sato is the local slang term for the stray dogs I saw roaming all over the neighborhood when I ran through the Santurce barrio early in the morning. Shortly after returning home, Nikki and I began volunteering with the Sato Project rescue while they were still located here in Massachusetts.
Top 5 Podcasts to Pass the Time
- A cerebral show for techies, This Week in Google puts a journalism professor, the founder of Lifehacker, and a professional podcaster together for a weekly conversation about social media, cloud services, and journalism in the internet age.
- Want a four hour lecture on the Spanish American War? Eight hours on the Mongols? Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History may be the podcast for you.
- If you like This American Life, you’ll like Snap Judgement, another NPR storytelling show.
- Regular people allow their petty squabbles be adjudicated by Judge John Hodgman, better known as the PC in the old “I’m a Mac/I’m a PC” commercials.
- The best of NPR comedy, Wait Wait… Don’t Tell Me! is a quiz show for nerds.