As of the 2016 New Year, I have been running consistently for 29 months (since August 2013). Over the last 29 months I have run approximately 3,923 miles and biked another 2,003 miles (combining stationary and outdoor bikes). I also swam a few times last winter. Some of those running miles are actually walking miles, but I lump them together for overall mileage as long as the walking miles are part of a workout (warm-up, cool-down, hiking or long exercise walks) and not just general daily steps.
Here is a look at my running and biking numbers for 2015…
Finally, I decided to look at my running stats for when I lived and in Indiana (through June 3) compared to when I lived and ran in Alabama after that. There was a noticeable difference in my running after I moved. First I gained 20 lbs in just a few weeks during the move, vacation and some rest/low mileage weeks at the beginning of the summer. I have yet to kick that extra weight, so it affected my running the rest of the year. Second this summer in Alabama it felt like I was running on the surface of the sun, regularly running in heat ranging from 90º-108º, with heat indexes sometimes several degrees higher than that due to extreme humidity on top of the heat. This shocked my body and often left me dangerously dehydrated and struggling to breath on runs. My paces and distances never recovered. I also moved to a very hilly town compared to where I lived in Indiana, so this has also slowed down my times. On top of all of this I struggled with an Achilles Tendon injury for awhile that caused me to take lots of extra time off, further setting back whatever progress I may have been making. I knew all these factors drastically altered my running the last few months, but the numbers below are very eye-opening.
My average running pace slowed by 46 seconds. For runs over 10 miles, my average pace slowed by 48 seconds, but it gets much worse at longer distances. For runs over 15 miles, my average pace slowed by 57 seconds. For runs over 20 miles, my average pace slowed by 85 seconds per mile. That is a tough number to swallow, and it fits with the major 41-minute difference in my marathon time from April (3:47) to December (4:29). My best 5K this fall was about a minute slower than in the spring, and my best fall 10K is about 90 seconds slower than the spring. In March I ran a 1:40 Half-Marathon on the treadmill at 2% incline, but running outside in Alabama I struggle to break 2 hours, with my best 13.1 this fall somewhere around 1:53 during a longer run.
HOW CAN I IMPROVE?
So how can I get back to where I was last spring in Indiana? I am not sure that I can completely. The 20 lbs I can lose. That is within my control. The heat, humidity and hills are beyond me, except through prayer. If I have faith the size of a mustard seed, I can call out for a mountain to move and it will listen. Rather than move it, could I just flatten it a little bit? I don’t really want that because I love the scenery here running by beautiful Lake Guntersville everyday, but I think my times will just always be slower with hills. Then there is the heat and humidity, which might just vary from year to year, and I cannot change that. I do think, or at least hope, that over time my body will adjust to the differences in weather and terrain here in Alabama, but it will never be the same as running on cool, flat surfaces.
WHAT DID I LEARN IN 2015?
First and foremost, God is good, and that fully applies to my running life. I had a great distance running streak in Spring 2015 where I was running the best times of my life, and then I had numerous setbacks and struggles later in the year. Fast or slow, healthy or injured, long or short, God was with me on every single mile I ran in 2015. I never start a run without a prayer, and I fully trust that God is always there giving me energy, strength, endurance, speed, patience and safety.
Secondly, I learned to keep things in perspective. It was extremely tough to see my running suffer so drastically after I moved to Alabama, but as much as I love running, it is just running. There are other much more important priorities in my life, and since I am not an elite or professional runner, I know that no one else really cares about how fast or far I run. The most important thing about my running is that I am able to keep doing it, no matter what pace or distance. I want to run as long as God allows me to do so, and there is no point overdoing things to the point where I have overuse injuries that negatively affect my long-term running future.
Finally, I started running 29 months ago to lose weight and get in shape so that I could be a better father and live a longer life. I could not keep up with my own kids or play with them in the yard without getting out of breath. I still run for those reasons, but my running goals and reasons have also transformed over the last year. I could do CrossFit or any number of other things to get in shape, but I keep running because I simply love to run. There is nothing like running next to Lake Guntersville everyday, especially at sunrises and sunsets that often cause me to pause and just take in the beauty of God’s creation that is all around me everyday. It sure beats running on a treadmill or just running through neighborhoods. My love of running and my love of nature have begun to merge, and 2015 put me in a place where I am ready to try some new running adventures in 2016 such as trail running and maybe some long trail races.