Friday, November 9, 2012

2012's best runs (so far)

A fall marathon is usually the end of my running season. I'll run some short races for fun - see the Gray Ghost 5K - but I like to give myself a physical and mental break from prescribed training. In the weeks after a marathon (blog or no blog, I promise!) I always get a little bit sentimental and reflect on the months leading up to the marathon. This is the first full year I've maintained Miles and Laurel - the first full year I've maintained any sort of journal, I think - and I'm thrilled that I can look back on the record I kept.

Looking back at the year, a few themes emerge. In many of my races, I had mental breakthroughs in which I definitively trusted myself and my training and the work I'd done. In past years, I've gone into races feeling pumped and confident about goals - but this year felt different because I could grab hold of that feeling more often in the middle of the races, even when the going got tough. It was also the first marathon training session on my own since running with my club last year, so I had to trust myself to navigate a training plan to suit my own body: when I needed to scrounge up a new route, when I needed to go to yoga and when I needed more sleep, that kind of thing.

I wanted to drum up a list of 2012's favorite runs so far. Another sign of a good year? Being able to come up with 10 great runs, no problem, with a few runners-up knocking on the list's door.

1) Despite the heat and humidity that marked the entire summer, I only have the fondest memories of July's Pork Chop Trot, held annually in a small town near my grandma's house. My brother and I ran it, and Wish and Josh came along to spectate. It was the first race I ever won, so of course I remember it happily, but I also just remember a fun drive up to the race and a great time running on a dirt road through a cornfield. (Major change of scenery for me!) And it's the only race I've ever run when I've gotten to have breakfast cooked by my grandma afterward!

2) Exploring Pike Island: My fall marathon training cycle was full of discoveries (more on this later), but one of my favorites was finding Pike Island inside Fort Snelling State Park. It was a perfect cool, sunny fall Saturday afternoon, the leaves were changing, and the dirt path felt great for my tired legs. I'll be including Pike Island in my route-planning in future training cycles for sure.

3) Polar Dash on New Year's Day: I signed up for a discounted four-race package Team Ortho offered for its 2012 series, and a half-marathon on New Year's Day was thrown in there. (Hint: that race was not why I bought the package!) My friends thought I was a total lunatic on New Year's Eve the night before - and I was inclined to agree, especially because the forecast called for windy and freezing.

I ended up having an unexpectedly great race, and you know what? I kind of want to do it again this year. Good race or not, it was kind of sweet to ring in a new year with a race - to reaffirm and kick off the commitment to fitness for another year.

4) Miles in Montreal: During the week before my marathon in October, I got a burst of energy from a change of scenery. I went to Montreal for a conference and got to squeeze in a run on two mornings before the sessions started. You all know how I feel about exploring new cities via running, and this experience was no different. I loved the whole thing.

5) Without my running club coaches creating routes for every long run, I risked falling into the same-old-long-run rut this year. Toward the end of the training cycle, thanks to a race at St. Paul's Harriet Island, I discovered a couple of completely new-to-me trails that opened a huge number of new route options and links. I ran along trails like the Big Rivers Regional Trail and the previously mentioned Pike Island trail, and it reminded me of the payoff that comes from branching out of my comfort zone and finding new places to run. My long runs flew by when they involved these new places, because it felt like I was going out for a novel adventure that just so happened to meander across 18 or 20 miles.

The view from the either the Hwy 55 or Hwy 5 bridge
6) 2012 was also the year of more trail running for me than ever before. My friend Molly recruited me to join her for two 25K trail races this year: the Trail Mix 25K and the Afton Trail Run. We loved both races. I loved that aid stations at trail races include candy and cookies! I will be back for more of these in 2013 and beyond, and I am so grateful to Molly for nudging me to try the trails.

7) One of my favorite races of early 2012 was the Get in Gear 10K in April. I ran the second half faster than the first half, which was a major triumph for me because of my bad habit of running too hard in the first half of shorter races. I hadn't been training too specifically for this race, but I was very happy with the result.

As an added bonus, I got to experience the race with my friend Kate, who was running her first 10K and totally crushed her goal time.

8) The winter of 2011-12 was weird and warm, bringing very little snow and a surprising amount of strange heat waves. I believe that I wore shorts for a run at least once a month all the way through the winter. Here I am on January 6, when the high was 43 degrees:

The next day, my long run route meandered along the open Mississippi River, where I saw people kayaking. It was a rough and disappointing season for snow-sports enthusiasts - I didn't have a single chance to get my skis or snowshoes out - but the weather made dressing for winter running much easier.

9) Despite the unusual weather, winter was still the usual dark and chilly season, so I was very excited to travel to Arizona in March. Running wasn't a big focus for that trip, but I brought my gear and was so glad I did. I went for a run in Tucson's Sabino Canyon that I'll never forget: first, up and up and up a paved path, and then some time spent scampering around, way up above the parking lot at the end of the paved path. It was amazing scenery, and it was an invigorating boost to my spirits.

10) Finally, of course, Mankato Marathon makes the list. Even though the day threw some curveballs at me that I didn't expect, every marathon I can finish is a gift to me, and so many of the earlier runs on this list were made possible because I was training for the marathon. Through my eight marathons, I've grown to appreciate the preparation as much (if not more) than the actual race day itself. I feel fortunate and happy to have had a strong, healthy training cycle with so many different kinds of highlights through the year.

Yes, I'm pumped about what 2013 will bring. I have some ideas and goals hopping around in my head, and although the rest of 2012 will be downtime and easy mileage, I can't wait to get started.

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