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2018: Trails, Trials, and a little Trust

As I write this listening to a 1990’s rock station broadcast through my kitchen by an Amazon Echo, the ironic and constant tension between the past and present is quite literally reverberating around me.

Runners are keenly aware of this tension.

In many ways, I don’t feel much different from the college kid who listened to the same songs on an AM/FM radio (and recorded mixed-tapes off PXY 102.7 – The North Country’s Alternative Radio). The passage of time is both so slow and so damn quick that I am not certain when 24 year-old me became 37 year-old me. Sure there were the major milestones: jobs, marriage, first home, child births, etc. But nowhere along the line did I look in the mirror and realize the decades had past. I still don’t.

In many respects, runners resist this passage of time better than most. In fact, according to a recent study published in the Journal of Applied Physiology, runners may have hearts that are equivalent to individuals thirty years younger. However, this very real physical benefit may be a bit of a psychological curse. Sure, our hearts may be “young”, but that doesn’t mean all the other systems necessary for peak performance remain immune to the turn of the calendar pages.

Without the cliche signs of aging – no (ok, few) gray hairs, limited injuries, etc. – I have found myself for the past decade chasing and racing a ghost. In the default goal-setting mode of “PR or bust”, I would end nearly every year grasping at straws for glimmers of hope as personal bests drifted further and further into the annals of the calendars.

Despite consistently coaching my athletes to avoid only setting goals that are outside their complete control (PR’s being the most common of these), I entered every year circling a single race on the calendar and challenging myself to perform better on that one day than I ever have…not a sustainable recipe for success. But just as teachers are often the worst students, coaches are often the last to heed their own advice. Until this year.

As 2018 dawned, I decided to hedge my bets and guarantee myself a year of running I would be proud and happy of (something I recommend everyone does). In January I set three goals that were completely within my control:

  1. Race! – I had become a habitual “one-and-done” racer. Placing all my hopes into one race and often avoiding others that sounded fun at the expense of focusing on one minute goal.
  2. Get dirty – I cut my teeth as a young runner in the trails behind my childhood home in the southern Adirondacks but had not ventured into the woods in years due to my PR obsession.
  3. Be scared – We only grow under stress, and if my goal for 2018 was growth, I needed some fear. I needed to step outside the races and environment I was comfortable in and embrace some of the unknown.

Spoiler alert – I did achieve all these modest goals and am ending 2018 looking back on it as both one of my most successful and happiest years of running in recent memory. So as we look toward 2019, consider whether you too are chasing a ghost and how you can breathe life into your running for the next 365.

For a more brief race recap, read below:

2-18-18: “Eye of the Dragon – Tail of the Lizard 10k/2mi” Melbourne, FL

An impromptu trip to see my grandparents resulted in jumping in this unique format race which offered the scenic but sadistic chance to run over Florida causeways 4 times. Challenge runners tackled the 10k first and then the 2 mile race less than 20:00 later. Lacking conditioning to the 85-degrees, I managed 3rd place in the 10K and then toed the line against some high school tracksters and held off a late charge in the 2 mile to win, taking the combined title in the race.

3-17-18 – “Johnny’s Running o’ the Green – 5 miles – Rochester, NY”

A rough day, but I remained committed to racing more often regardless of the results and trying to enjoy the competitions more. As one of Rochester’s pinnacle running events, this festive atmosphere certainly dampened my disappointment with a 13th place finish.

4-7-18 – “English’s Ridge Rumble – 50k – Syracuse, NY”

Stepping WAY outside my comfort zone, this race tested every bit of me both physically and mentally, and as race director and namesake Scott English would predict, this set a trail racing fire in me as I captured the overall male title in my first attempt past 26.2. Read my full race recap here.

5-6-18 – “Medved Madness Trail Race – 15 miles – Mendon Ponds, Rochester, NY”

Back into the mud (and madness), I feel like this race was my true trail-racing baptism. Race designer Mort made sure to include as much mud as humanly possible in the 3 five-mile circuits. Despite novice navigation errors, I managed a 6th place finish and entered the low period of track coaching already feeling good about my 2018 goals. Read my full recap here.

6-17-18 – “Stache Dash – 5k – Canandaigua, NY”

This is a great race for a great cause, and despite a pulled hamstring for the second year in a row, running the kids race with my daughter on father’s day somehow makes all the pain disappear. Managed a 2nd place finish in the 5k with quite a “hitch in my giddy-up.”

7-8-18 – “Utica Boilermaker – 15k – Utica, NY”

No matter how many trail, ultra, or marathon races I run, I will always return to the Boilermaker. As my consecutive streak enters its second decade, I still believe this is one of the greatest events in the running world. Despite running on a weakened hamstring and holding back quite a bit, I managed a respectable 57:28 to extend my sub-60 streak on this challenging course. While I felt like my lungs and legs were in PR-shape, my hamstring and head knew better…next year perhaps.

7-14-18 – “0spf Trail Half-Marathon(ish) – Pittsford, NY”

I’ll have this race take the Pepsi challenge as one of the mile-for-mile toughest trail races out there. The 1,500 feet of elevation gain over the 13.1 miles on mostly single-track trail make this a beautifully challenging race for the mind and body (full-disclosure, it’s also one of my favorite races ever!). Despite still nursing my right hammy, I managed a 2nd place finish on a very warm day.

8-12-18 – “Dam Good Trail Race – 14 miles – Letchworth State Park, NY”

I am ashamed to say I had never run in the “Grand Canyon of the East” and recommend everyone do it immediately. Both a beautiful and awe-inspiring setting and an equally tremendous race. Feeling a bit better overall, I managed a 4th place finish in a strong field.

9-8-18 – “Webster Trail Classic – 10 miles – Webster, NY”

Despite the start of cross country coaching season and being up well past 2:00am at a night invitational, I closed out my Rochester Trail Runner of the Year series races with a first-place finish to secure the runner-up position. This race capped off a blissful year jumping feet-first into the trail running world. In addition to the beautiful races, the family of trail runners in the Rochester area and beyond has been more welcoming than I could imagine or deserve. Spending time doing something you love with truly wonderful people is a joy rarely matched.

BONUS – 12-8-18 – “0 wtf Trail Race – 15 miles – Pittsford, NY”

With limited base, and building for 2019, I figured the best way to end 2018 was to embrace the unknown with the great people who I had traveled through the year alongside. Over snow-covered trails, up muddy root-infested inclines, and down ice-caked descents, 2018 ended with great miles shared with friends, a warm fire, and a newfound love of pursuing something other than PR’s.

For those that have stuck around through all this…Thank You! To my newfound mileage companions…Thank You! May 2019 bless you with the same rejuvenating love and enthusiasm to chase your passions!

And for those wondering…2019 is already filled with more dirt-covered adventures and a goal to report back more frequently 🙂

One comment on “2018: Trails, Trials, and a little Trust

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