Running in 2020 – Quite the Year

My running in 2020 has been a litany of injuries, experimenting, isolation, and even a little running thrown in for good measure.

It certainly was not the year I thought it was going to be on January 7th. The day I ran 7.0 miles on the treadmill, with 6.0 miles under an 8:00 minute mile pace and felt confident that 2020 was going to be the year when I got the marathon monkey off my back and planned to race more than I had in several years.

All those great expectations came crashing down very early in 2020. Then the COVID-19 pandemic came and trashed the year completely. Although, I did learn some important lessons:

My running log spreadsheet from 2020
  1. I focus on controlling what I can control. Getting my arse out the door, watching what goes down the pie-hole a bit more closely, and not getting caught up in the things on social media that cause way too much anxiety are all within my control.
  2. I have to be smarter about my running, give the body the time rest and recuperate a lot more than I have in the past. Yes, this is a concession to getting older.
  3. That I will welcome being able to run with others at some point in 2021, I missed my runs with Jon, Mike, and all the club events that the Central Maine Striders do have.
  4. Running is a part of life and something that I will do and write about until I can’t.
  5. Running shoes are not the problem most of the time. The problem is more Harold being Harold oriented.
  6. I walk a lot more than I thought that I did and when I add it on to mileage totals, I have a reason for feeling like I am running more than I am. Walking is miles too.

Below are month-by-month summaries:

January – 44.06 miles

Walking – 113.8

After that great run on January 7th, I took a day off to rest, and then the next day ran an easy recovery run on the treadmill at Planet Fitness. Just shy of one mile, my left hamstring started complaining, and I ended up bailing on the workout at the 1.0-mile mark. I thought that was the right thing to do. This started an almost three-month-long journey of misery and woe with my left hamstring.

At least 15 days had the dread initials DNR in my running log as a result of the hamstring over the next three months. In addition to several more runs that were shortened or endured because of that left hamstring. The strange part was that even though I couldn’t run due to the discomfort, walking wasn’t nearly as bad, and did well with my walking despite the winter weather.

February – 100.81 miles

Walking – 122.7

The hamstring was still causing a lot of hate and discontent, but I was determined to run despite the discomfort. Lingering hamstring discomfort is not something that is not something new to me. Plus I started seeing Frank – my massage therapist, and he helped break up a lot of scar tissue in the legs and get my leg length discrepancy under control again. Which helped a lot, but was not the complete solution I had hoped for.

Since the hamstring was still balky, I chose to do more treadmill time than I do in the winter. I figured that it was better to be safe than sorry. The only good thing about all these hamstring woes, was I starting to get in a good routine of doing my pre and post-run workouts and lifting weights regularly while at the gym. Doing all the ancillary stuff that I never do consistently. I got over 100 miles running for the month, even though the hamstring was still barking a bit more than I wanted to admit.

March – 131.88 miles

Walking – 146.4

The left hamstring was finally beginning to lighten up and let me just run. Unfortunately, the pandemic took off about that time too. On March 5th, I decided to stop going to the gym for a while. Then on March 10th, I stopped running anywhere but from my front door.

No treadmill running meant dealing with the weather whenever I ran. Luckily, it was March, not Jan/Feb and the coldest weather was behind me. 

April – 130.74

Walking – 148.4

Another pretty solid month of running, although I had to deal with the mud and crap down back to get a lot of my miles in. I was getting tired of running the same courses day after day, but at least I was able to get outside and run. 

The pandemic had started to hit the Country hard, and we were nervous about how it would affect us. Luckily it didn’t affect us health-wise, and I was able to run most of the month. The Good Friday snowstorm that left more than fifteen inches of wet/heavy snow was a two-day clean-up affair that left me so exhausted, I didn’t even think about running. 

May – 142.72 miles

Walking – 169.0

The weather finally cleared up, and I used my running to burn off excess anxiety built up over the COVID-19 pandemic. It was also when my piriformis started to act up and complain towards the end of the month. I looked over my running logs and noticed a pattern. That I usually seem to get injured towards the end of May or the start of June every year, and 2020 was no exception. Going over 300 total miles of running and walking was too much.

Then it hit me, with the better weather in late April and May, I start to increase my running mileage and begin to train for some races that I like. At the same time, Bennie is increasing the length of his walks (he likes the warmer weather), plus I am doing more outside chores like mowing, preparing the garden, cleaning up the winter storm damage in the woods, and am just generally more active. In 2021 I will remember this and adjust my running accordingly. I was still running only in Sidney and getting tired of the same old courses, but at least I was running.

June – 119.73 miles

Walking 165.2

The right piriformis and left hamstring were cranky and my right foot (tailor’s bunionette area) felt like I had a stress reaction starting. So I took off four days, and that seemed to help a lot with the foot issue.

The hamstring and piriformis complaints were not bad enough to take time off but made running more of a chore than a pleasure. Still running only from home meant the courses were more monotonous as the month went on.

July – 118.68 miles

Walking – 140.5

I am beginning to sound like a broken record, still running only from home, but the weather was decent. The right piriformis complained more as the month went on. I was at my wit’s end to get it back under control, but at the same time not willing to stop running. I began re-reading Chi Running and the Pose Method and watching their YouTube videos. To see if I can clean-up my form to alleviate the hamstring, foot, and other issues that always seem to plague me when I start running more than 30 miles per week regularly. 

The longest hair I have had since high school and it got chopped off that night.

Finally, at the end of the month, I decided that my insanity about doing the same things and expecting different results was not working — yet again. My body and mind could only handle so much discomfort from running. 

August – 71.01 miles

Walking – 134.7

As a result of how much discomfort I felt while running, I decided to stop running for August, and focus on improving my running form.  

Then experimented with the Pose Method of running. I watched the videos, read the book, highlighted/tagged important sections, and then attempted to follow the program. 

What I learned is that the Pose Method is not for me. The stretches and jumps bothered my hamstrings so much that I had stopped using it. 

Then I went back to Chi Running and while things were a little better, the video didn’t lie. Even when I believed I was focusing on running with better form. 

63 today

It seems that the form I have is the form I will have going forward. The idea that I can change how I run after running for almost 50 years is not going to happen. Could I have kept working at either one of the programs longer and made more progress? 

Sure.

How I run is too ingrained into my muscle memory after fifty years of running this way. I decided it was time to get back running the way my body wanted to run and let go of the idea of improving my running form.

September – 76.98 miles

Walking – 111.7

I was having a great month and starting to get into a nice running groove. If nothing else using the month of August to experiment with my running form had given the body a chance to heal more than a few of the overuse injuries that had accumulated. I was cranking right along with 25-35 mile weeks and feeling good. 

Can’t go without a photo so some running shoes from 2020

On September 16th, I had run an easy 7.0-mile run, and while taking a shower, I fell cracking 2-3 ribs and messed up my right hip pretty good. 

I learned that it is hard to run when you cannot take a deep breath because the pain is so intense. I did the elliptical toward the end of the month, and as long as I didn’t swing my arms, it was fine. 

Bad timing on my part, but it forced me to shut everything down and focus on letting my body heal, and looking back it had been a long time since I had taken this much time off from running. 

In the short term, it sucked, but in the long-term, it might have been a good thing. This was also the month my sister died, so there was a bit more stress than usual, and my running wasn’t there to help me through the grieving process.

October – 69.39 miles

Walking – 121.9

At the start of October, I was still dealing with the cracked ribs. While I was getting better, the recovery time for them is 6-8 weeks, and this time the body was taking its time to heal. Breathing hard was still an ordeal, so I did not push getting back to running. It took until the middle of October before I was running pretty regularly again.

On October 29th, I ran for the first time someplace other than from my driveway — the same course I had run back in March. 

It was odd seeing things that I hadn’t been around since March, but it was nice at the same time. I was running someplace else than from the end of my driveway. 

The pandemic was better, but storm clouds were on the horizon, and the elections heating up meant a significant increase in my anxiety levels, so running was a necessary coping mechanism to keep things at a decent level. 

Thankfully, I was able to run enough to keep my anxiety about the pandemic and elections under wraps. Slowing down my social media usage helped a lot too.

November – 102.55 miles

Walking – 90.3

The election and its aftermath kept me running to deal with the anxiety I felt over the chaos. Also, the return of colder weather reduced Bennie’s motivation to walk as far, so my walking miles went back to winter totals. 

Running was quite good. Although I lost some time to Bennie being sick and having to put our 17-year-old cat Isabelle down – pets are a part of our family, and we take good care of them. 

November was the best I have felt running in a long time. My times and distances were not great, but the body and mind had a chance to heal during September and October. I never realized how many little lingering little niggles there were on my body when I so focused on getting the miles in. You don’t realize how much discomfort you are actually in until you are not in discomfort. 

December – 100.26 miles

Walking – 118.40

During December, I tend to cut back and not worry about my mileage. My biggest goals are to finish off my mileage total for the year and not train for much of anything. Since that is what I have been doing since March, cutting back hasn’t been all that hard. 

I did want to get 100 miles for the month and over 1,200 miles for the year. 

While I made both of those goals, I cut this a bit closer than I usually do. I blame that on the weather getting worse i.e. more storms and colder. No access to a treadmill meant more DNR days. 

The older I get, the less I enjoy running in winter and running when the probability of falling on my arse or doing a face plant ain’t my idea of fun. However, since I refuse to go to a gym until after the vaccine is in my arm and things settle down a lot more (probably July/August) on the COVID-19 front. Running out in Mother Nature’s playground is just how it is.

What did I learn?

That as I get older, the little nagging overuse injuries that I could ignore in the past are no longer things that I can simply ignore and keep running through. Just part of the deal, but not one I am enjoying either.

That while I didn’t miss racing (not that I raced that much in 2019), I missed having the motivation that believing I am training for a race provides. 

I had planned on racing quite a bit in 2020 and with the pandemic, all live racing went out the window and while I did one virtual race, I didn’t find racing against myself and the clock did a whole lot for me, other than supporting the race. So I didn’t do another one.

Cracked ribs are no fun and took the starch out of my running for about 6 weeks. Not something that I would wish on any runner and yes, there is now a bath mat in the bathtub.

That old 8:30 per mile pace for most training runs is now a 9:00 to 9:30 per mile pace range. I am more in that mode where – it depends on the day, what my pace is. It is a combination of aging and not being in good running shape.

Speaking of the aging part, after pretty close to 50 years of running, you would think I would realize that my muscle memory is pretty much permanent. Would I love to have a great form like Galen Rupp or Eliud Kipchoge — of course? However, it is not happening in this lifetime, so I need to focus on running quietly and enjoying the run.

Yes, I am tired of running only from my driveway, with only two runs someplace else since March 10th. I can pretty much tell you where the hills, bumps, dogs, potholes, cracks, and rocks are within a 4-5 mile radius of the house. However, I know that I am fortunate to be running and not encountering too many people while I am outside doing it. 

Although it seems that the bottom of my feet are becoming a limiting factor in how far I can run. After 3-4 miles, the soles of both forefeet begin to bother, and while it is not incapacitating, it is uncomfortable and makes it so that running past a 10K is not fun at all. Although the Meraki’s have allowed me to do a bit more than other shoes, the feet still betray me too much to do much more than that 10K comfortably. 

2020 showed me how much I enjoy running on the treadmill during the winter. Being able to run in shorts/t-shirt inside without dealing with ice, snow, sand, freezing temps, and howling winds is something that I miss. I will re-join the gym next fall and enjoy the balmy if boring running on the treadmill and think about how lucky I am to be inside running on one.

The Good

I ran over 1,200 miles in 2020, finished the year on a positive note, am as healthy and more pain-free while running than I have been in years. All good things.

Even so, I would not want to go through another year of running like this one again next year. 

Although the first half of 2021 doesn’t look too great to start, there is hope for the second half of the year, being a bit better. Whatever the new normal becomes, I do know that my old running habit will be a big part of it.

Running in 2021 will be better, and I will get to run in a few races. Hopefully, even get back to being a regular at Central Maine Strider events again.

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