Reflecting on the crux of running season coming to a close, despite my wish to hold on until snow covers the ground, brings a mix of appreciation for all that’s happened and slight frustration over missed opportunities. I was able to run more miles than ever before in previous years and to set personal records in all race distances I attempted. Disappointment comes from a recent feeling of having more left in the tank, a wish for one more wicked race to end the season with fireworks. However, I’ve got nothing planned at this point. Any final races will have to be rather spontaneous and attempted without proper training.

I’ve alternated over the last few weeks between feeling relieved to not have to train for specific events anymore and somewhat depressed from lacking one more proving ground on which to pour out my running heart and soul. Being able to run more freely and explore the area has been enjoyable, but without many trails to rip in the immediate area near home, my love for trail running has been only teased, if not slightly thwarted.

I hear the calling of far off wilderness trails punctuated with mountains, valleys, crags, twists and turns. As of yet this is a call I cannot fully answer. I’ve absolutely realized trail running is what I love most. I’m cool with road running and racing on occasion, but if I don’t get some regular trail runs in my routine I gradually start to feel physically and emotionally beat down. Trail running is truly a rejuvenating endeavor, one which I have to find ways to continue and intensify.

This is why, for the first time in a public forum, I am now announcing that next year I plan to run a 50K as my initial steps into the world of ultramarathons. The distance doesn’t worry me since it’ll only be about 5 miles more than the marathon’s 26.2, a distance I gladly took on twice this year. What will be most challenging is the terrain that most ultras take place on— thoroughly challenging trails, often in the middle of nowhere, with all sorts of elevation change and uneven footing.

Ultras could possibly be a natural fit since another realization was solidly reiterated this year— I am not an elite runner, I am not running to win any races. I’m on the verge of being competitive in my age group in many races, but even that doesn’t excite me all that much compared to a solid run with friends in the woods or a race on trails. Therefore, maybe running long and at a moderate pace is what I’m after. I owe it to myself to give more serious trail running a real go.

My two favorite races of the year were the Walker North Country Marathon, which featured big chunks through the Chippewa National Forest, and the Big Woods Half Marathon, which was almost entirely in Nerstrand-Big Woods State Park. If I consider each as a trail marathon and a trail half marathon, then they were both personal records. The only other trail marathon I’ve done was the Equinox Marathon, which almost completely defeated and soured me on marathon running when I took on the course back in ’07 and ’08. I had never attempted a half-marathon on trails before and Big Woods was an exhilarating good time! With that race I was only about 5 minutes off my current PR for any half marathon. In Walker, where I went out too fast and pushed way too hard through the trails, I nearly bonked and struggled to finish, but the first 17-miles featured some of the most stimulating and satisfying running I’ve experienced in my entire life. I wouldn’t change the experience for anything; I learned a ton about my propensity to outpace my limits for a long race and about my love of long runs in the wilderness.

Let’s look at some numbers:

Total miles run so far this year: 1138
Highest monthly mileage: 174 (May)
Highest weekly mileage: 51 (5/24 to 5/30)

Races:

  • Earth Day Half Marathon (4/17): 1:40:11 (avg. pace: 7:39 mpm) (PR!)
  • SCSU on the Move 5K (4/29): 20:24 (avg. pace: 6:34 mpm) (PR!)
  • Ripley Rock ‘n Run 10K (5/22): 43:45 (avg. pace: 7:04 mpm) (PR!)
  • Lake Placid Marathon (6/13): 3:58:14 (avg. pace: 9:05 mpm) (PR!)
  • Sheels 5K (7/17): 21:52 (avg. pace: 7:00 mpm) (very hot morning)
  • Walker North Country Marathon (9/18): 4:26:42 (avg. pace: 10:05 mpm)
  • Big Woods Half Marathon (10/16): 1:45:01 (avg. pace: 8:00 mpm)

In the end I’m content with all I’ve endured through running and racing this year. I’m especially glad to have made some new running friends, for having connected with the local running club, the St. Cloud River Runners, and for having joined the community of awesome runners on dailymile. Most of all I’m eager to continue and more thoroughly engage myself with all that running has become for me— challenging, rewarding, exhausting, invigorating, thought-provoking, mind-numbing, humbling, inspiring, and most of all: wildly gratifying!

Thanks to all who supported and encouraged my running throughout the year!