Friday, January 1, 2021

2021 State of the Run


It's that time again!  Let's review where my running shoes took me this year and where they will go from here.

Before We Get Started

I am not qualified, licensed, or certified to give advice on running or any other subject.   I'm just someone who runs a lot and talks about it even more.

My Plans for Running in 2020 and How They Played Out

 (State of the Run 2019, State of the Run 2020)

  • Run as much or as little as I want to==>achievement unlocked with (another) year of record mileage.  August stands as my highest mileage month ever with 126.85 miles.
  • Run a sub 9 minute mile==>did not happen due to poor planning.  My one and only mile trial of the year clocked in at a record 9:08, and then I got distracted by races and never ran the second one.  Status: deferred to 2021.
  • Run 12 races, including 4 half marathons.  I was so serious about this that I was registered for 7 races as of New Year's Day 2020.  Actual==>10 races, including 3 half marathons and a nice set of PR's
    • 5k 30:41==>30:11
    • 10k 1:08:14==>1:06:28
    • Half 2:38:37==>2:34:25

Other Running/Fitness Stuff from 2020

  • No more fasted cardio.  For years and years and years my shtick was getting up first thing in the morning and hitting the run because I "didn't have time" to eat One day after a string of low energy runs I decided to start fueling before my runs and I have never looked back.
  • Sneaky mileage.  I started adding an extra quarter to half mile to most of my runs (ex: if I plan to run 4 miles I'll run for 4.25 miles instead), resulting in a sneaky extra mile or so per week.
  • I got faster!!!  Look, I know that going from 12 minute miles to 11 minute miles isn't exactly a world record but it's a BFD to me.
  • I have IRL running friends!!!  A random encounter with a stranger led to a booming (and socially distant compliant) social life in 2020.  As far as I know, my IRL running friends "just run" and don't spend endless hours blogging about it, but I still like them very much.
  • History repeats.  I got burned out on running and had to drop my mileage in the last two months of 2019...ditto and carbon copy for 2020.
  • I slacked on strength and it cost me. Getting a trial membership with the Peloton app proved to be my most eye opening fitness experience of the year. I knew I'd let the strength training slide a bit, but following along with their strength workouts showed me that (1) I certainly lost muscle and (2) my range of motion is started to get limited.  That was a abrupt "call to Jesus" to change my ways and get back on the iron.  I ended up going with a different program for my strength work, but I continue to do a few of the yoga moves that I picked up from their classes.
  • The treadmill got the shaft.  Thanks to the pandemic WFH lifestyle, I racked up more miles outside than ever before.  Taking a 3 year look back, no wonder treadmill running is so hard for me right now (and so necessary on days when it's dark/cold/icy).

Race Recappery

Racing looked a bit different this year...this park bench was the start line for many of my races.

  • February 5k.  My first race of the year was a prediction run with no Garmins and no headphones allowed.  It was so cold and icy that day that I seriously questioned my sanity for showing up, I mean there are plenty of races...
  • March Rambling Runner 5k.  First virtual race ever, which I went into knowing that there was no way, no how that I could achieve anything close to "real" race results on my own.  I walked away with a PR.
  • April Rambling Runner 10k.  Finally, finally, after a year and a half I scored an elusive 10k PR.
  • April Half Marathon. A 5k or a 10k is all very well, but I had serious doubts about being able to do 13.1 on my own.  Yes it's very hard and yes it's very rewarding.
  • June 10k ==> my current PR of 1:06:28
  • June 5k. Another PR at the time.
  • September 5k==>my current PR of 30:11.  Best race of the year!
  • September Half Marathon==>my current PR of 2:34:25.  My other best race of the year!
  • October Half Marathon.  This was a real, live race just two weeks after the September half.  I learned the hard way that I need more than 2 weeks between half marathons and ended up with my 2nd slowest half ever.  C'est la vie.
  • November Turkey Trot.  I had big plans to go after the elusive sub 30 but the weather didn't cooperate with my training and I pushed my body into burnout.  Worst race of the year.

In a "normal" year I would have shown up at my local Christmas Eve and New Year's Eve races no matter what and met the goal of 12 races easily.  But I kind of lost my heart for racing after the disaster of the Turkey Trot, so I decided to step back and take it easy until my body tells me that it's ready to race again.

Related==>why I ran 3 halfs and not 4 was due to COVID timing.  Plan A was to run a half in early April and then another half in mid May, with a comfortable 6 weeks between races.  Because of the ol' COVID my first half marathon ended up being in late April and I simply didn't feel ready to tackle 13.1 within the time frame for the second race.

So Do Virtual Races Count?

I am not sure if I ever said it this bluntly before, but I used to think that virtual races were stupid.  And then I ran one and became their biggest fan.  The next question is do virtual PR's count?  And emphatically I say yes.  I won them under "real" race conditions of not stopping with realistic courses for the 5k and half (OK, OK, my 10k virtual course is a bit favorable compared to "real" 10ks that I've run). The next time that I run a half, I'm not going to be trying to beat 2:38, I'm going to be trying to beat 2:34.

Will I Continue to Run Virtual Races?

Let's put it this way, there are certain races that I will always register for, no matter what.  The halfs for my area's two major races, my favorite 5k, and my favorite 10k will always get my dollars.  If those races need to be virtual, then I'm running virtually.

My favorite race distance is 10k, but there aren't a lot of "real" 10ks in my area, so I plan to continue to run virtual 10ks even after "real" racing comes back.

Pairs of shoes purchased in 2020 

3! (Pairs of shoes that I wanted to purchase in 2020: 8 billion.)

  • Best shoe purchase: I found my favorite Brooks Launch 5 on Amazon for $40!  I've found that I can reliably get 500 miles out of a pair of Launch.
  • Worst shoe purchase (disclaimer: worst for me personally, it's not a bad shoe): Brooks Glycerin, which is a very soft, padded shoe.  Something about the cush turned me into a big stomping elephant and made running miserable. Which brings me to my worst decision as a runner in 2020, which was to keep the Glycerin instead of returning local running shoe store and Brooks would have covered the return, so it's not them, it's me.  For some reason I was dead set on adjusting to the shoes.  70 miles later I realized it wasn't going to happen and stopped running in the Glycerin.  They are very nice dog walking shoes.

Best New Gear of 2020

Mission cooling neck gaiters.  You get 'em wet, you snap 'em, and they get cold.  Having something cold on the back of my neck at all times really helped with summer running.

 Most Useful Running Tips of 2020 (that I picked up from other running blogs!)

  • Reset your running records every month via Zenaida (sorry I couldn't find the exact post but just go there and you'll find something good).  I love having a clean slate to work with each month and it's very satisfying when I hit my fastest mile/5k/10k later in the month.  Clearing your records from the watch does not clear them out of the app, and in any case, I think we all know our PRs by heart anyway.
  • 4:1 run/walk via Wendy (again no specific post but go there and you'll get something good).   Adding the structure of run/walk is gold for turning around a bad run, and I've found that it doesn't slow my overall pace by very much.
  • Break it down via Jessie.  When Jessie did a mile time trial, she set it up as 4 x 0.25 miles and I copied her for my own mile time trial.  It really helped me to "focus on the quarter mile that I was in" instead of having to stare down 9 minutes of misery.  I found that when doing longer intervals, like 1.5 miles, that it really helped me to negative split by setting up the interval as 3 x 0.5 miles.

  • For heaven's sake set your heart rate zones properly via Catrina.  Heart rate training is not my focus, but taking literally 5 minutes to set up the heart rate zones on my Garmin at least gives me useful data to look at if I ever did want to do something with it.  Instead of every run being zone 5, my easy runs show in zone 3 and and all out race is a zone 5.

What's in the Forecast for 2021?  Imma keep running.

  • Run as much or as little as I want to!  Between you and me, I feel that I can run more than 1,300 miles next year...but should I?  The goal can't always be "more".
  • Related: take more cutback weeks and see if I can avoid end of the year burnout.
  • Do not, I repeat, do not neglect strength training.
  • Keep pushing the speed.  To that end, I want 2021 to be the year of the sub 9 minute mile and the sub 30 5k.
  • Fewer races.  Races are wonderful, but I've gotten into the trap of too much of a good thing.  I always feel like I'm under pressure to get to the next race and never have time to train properly.  While I will run "as many or as few races as I want to", my loose goal for 2021 is 2 each: 5k, 10k, and half.  I don't know what the schedule will look like yet, but I'd like to carve out time for a dedicated 5k training cycle and a dedicated 10k training cycle.

Happy Running Everyone!



  1. This was such a great synapsis! I can tell a lot of thought went into all the stats, and a lot of lessons as well. In the end, if we're not learning (from the bad as well as the good), we're probably hanging out in stagnant land (or fighting burnout). Congrats on all those PR's, and here's to that upcoming sub 9:00 ;-)

    1. Aw and Happy New Year to you as well! Lots of learning opportunities, that's for sure;-)

  2. You had a really successful year of running and made some great improvements. I am so glad you realized the importance of strength training

    1. Oh Deborah, I realized the importance some time ago...the issue is getting my actions to match up.

  3. I love how you broke everything down and compared the years - so interesting and expected on the increase in running outside for 2020. Also, a one minute improvement on your mile pace is huge! Please don't sell yourself short.

  4. Look at those 2018 to 2020 stats! I especially love how the outdoor ratio improved.
    Well done, Birchie!

    You won't believe it, but I'm doing my first training cycle with a planned cutback week and it's working like a miracle!

    I'm sure you will get that sub-9 mile and sub-30 5k! I'm staying tuned!

    1. Yes! I did a training plan in 2019 that had a cutback every 4 weeks and I benefited hugely. But I never seem to want to actually do them so that's the challenge.

  5. What a year! I also need to up my strength-training game. I'm thinking of doing the 2-month Peloton app might have me a bit scared!

    1. Oh don't be scared, DO IT! Even though I didn't end up keeping it, I got a ton of ideas from it. I'd been fooling myself about the strength work and the app put that front and center.

  6. I found the Smashrun Website (thanks to you) and really loved seeing my improvements over time. You had a great year, lots of miles and an improvement of 1 minute/mile is huge!

  7. Wow! 3 PRs this year!!! That is quite the accomplishment, especially in this crazy year of no racing. Way to go increasing your miles from last year! Strength training is so important as we get older (and we are all getting older!)

    1. Amen, I am firmly in the Church of the Iron, I just need to stay the path. There is so much that we can do with fitness to stave off the negative parts of getting older, so I am all in.

  8. Great recap and thank you for the shout out. I think you know I'm a huge advocate of strength training. I am going to check out those cooling gators for summer on the trails!

    Most of all, thank you for keeping it real this year! We all struggle. What I can't abide by are those people who brush it off and don't learn from it. Here's to 2021!

    1. And thank you for the great blog! Run:walk is just one example of the many great (and real) ideas that I've found there.

  9. I love this post. I had your Glycerin issue with my last pair of New Balance 1080s. They're my new non sandals walk shoes. I love Brooks' return policy as that's what made me willing to give the Ghosts a try.
    Congratulations on a solid year, especially the PRs

    1. It's bizarre how different shoes affect different people. I read somewhere that for people with a heavy footfall that soft shoes just make them stomp harder, which sounds like what I experienced.

  10. I loved reading this post. And OMG- you are my soul sister because I also look yearly at what percentage of my mileage was run on a treadmill vs. outside. It's such a fun metric. Congratulations on a productive year!