Total Miles: 5209 (8383 km)
Day’s Run: 339
Avg miles per week: 99.6 (160 km)
Personal Bests: 3 – 5K (14’12), Marathon (2’15’52), 50K (2’56’01)
Race Wins: 5/12
Podium Finishes: 9/12
Course/Meet Records: 3
World Championship Medals: 2
(Full race results at bottom)
With the changing of the calendar comes the inevitable mass of retrospective articles, essays, and blog posts, rehashing the year’s many ups and – as 2016 seems to accruing – maybe even more downs. With that in mind, I won’t try to say what’s already been said about the Neil-Postman-nightmare of an election season or eulogize the celebrities lost in these previous 12 months. Instead, I’ll try just to look at one tiny microcosm of which I have a great deal of first hand knowledge and which – I’m guessing – probably hasn’t been covered in the mainstream media just yet. I am, of course, referring to my own year in running.
Leading up to the Trials (January and February)
For me, 2016 began with a long, winter build-up with the goal of getting myself in the best shape of my life before the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials on February 14. After a disastrous last race of 2015 at the 50K World Championships in Doha, Qatar – a race where I suffered an asthma attack and finished despite barely being able to breathe – I was anxious but cautiously optimistic about my training leading into the Trials. I had some fantastic workouts, running faster and longer than I ever had before in training.
But when race day came, I found myself suffering in a remarkably similar way to how I’d imploded in Qatar. Despite my best efforts to train for a warm race (running in a full sweat suit on the treadmill for the last week or so before leaving for Los Angeles), unseasonably hot temperatures seemed to provoke the same asthmatic reaction I’d experience just a few months earlier.
The race, which had been a dream of mine for eight years, was a disaster; and I finished only because I refused to register my first DNF (“did not finish”) at a race that had been so important to me for so long.
What may have been a cause for depression or defeat a few years ago instead inspired me to reach out, dig into physiology, and try to figure out what was going on with my circulatory systems. Thanks to my fantastic network of runners and coaches, I was able to get an appointment with the Massachusetts General Hospital Elite Sports Performance lab.
Spring Racing (March, April, May)
In the meantime, I spent the month of March rediscovering the joy in running. I realized that the previous months had felt so… serious. There had been so much weight on that race on February 14 (I’d been thinking about it since the moment I’d qualified, nearly two years earlier), that any single run that felt lousy or speed session that didn’t go perfectly seemed catastrophic. But, as I recovered from the Trials – physically and emotionally – and began to run without a clear-cut goal or high-pressure race in mind, I began to subdue the perfectionist inside me and just enjoy being outside and moving through space.
It helped to be surrounded by great friends and running partners. I spent much of March in Quito, Ecuador, a city where I’ve spent a great deal of time over the past decade and developed an amazing circle of friends. Plus, it’s hard to beat the perfect Andean “eternal spring” that blesses Quito with beautiful weather, even at 9,300 feet above sea level. I listened to my body, ran hard when it felt good, and ran easy when it felt tired. I breathed the thin air, hiked around volcanic craters on weekends, and smiled a great deal.
Near the end of my time in Ecuador, and with low expectations, I descended to sea level to race at the Guayaquil 5K. My body and mind both feeling well-rested, fresh, and excited, I surprised myself and ran for a new personal best of 14’12. Ecstatic, I returned to Quito for a few more days before finally heading home.
With only two months or so before I’d leave for a summer in Peru with STRIVE, I decided to do another thing differently than I’d done over the winter: race; race a lot. I didn’t race at all between Worlds on Dec. 4 and the Trials Feb. 14 and while I often enjoy monastic training, I also love getting out to race. And so, Jon and I had lined up a busy schedule, with 7 races in 9 weeks, ranging from 5K to 50K.
My “Welcome Home” was a beautiful Spring day for the Shamrock Virginia Beach Half Marathon, a day that boasted 20mph winds, driving rain and hail, and temperatures in the upper 30s. Despite the most uncomfortable racing conditions I’d ever encountered, I was pleased with my result (3rd place and the top American in a competitive field).
From there, I had what had come to be the most important race of the season: the Mad City 50K. After the nightmare at World’s in December, I decided I needed redemption and would do everything I could to re-qualify for the US World Championship team and get myself on the podium in Doha 2016 and the road to Doha began with the official qualifying race at “Mad CIty”. Despite nursing a mild knee injury and (once again) a brutal “spring” day in Madison, WI (25F, windy, and light snow), I accomplished what I’d set out to do: running 2’56’01 for 50km, winning the race, setting the course record, and, in doing so, earning myself an auto-spot on the 2016 Worlds Team.
At this point, the rest of the season was just icing on the cake. I knew recovering from a 50K could take a while, so I proceeded with low expectations for the next few races, expectations which were confirmed when I ran a 10km at Pike’s Peek in Maryland just two weeks later and with a pedestrian time (31’28) that felt immensely uncomfortable. Yet, the next week, I ran significantly faster for 10 Miles (49’55) at the Broad Street Run in Philadelphia (yet another beautiful spring day, with cold rain and a headwind for the entire 10 mile, point-to-point course). Two weeks later, my body was feeling recovered, but a last-minute chest cold forced my first-ever DNF at the US 25km Championships in Grand Rapids, MI. Bummer.
With one race left, I headed back to the Mid West for the Green Bay Half Marathon. I’d finished 2nd in the full marathon the year before and this year found myself in a much more competitive half marathon field. I ran a great race on a warm day to finish 4th as the top American.
Speaking of warm races – somewhere in those crazy two months, I had also made a trip up to Boston for my appointment with the MGH lab. They did a lot of testing, including a VO2max test where I apparently recorded the highest VO2max ever measured in their lab (at 92 mL/KGs). The physician I saw diagnosed me with exercise-induced bronchospasm (similar to E-I asthma), and recommended I take a low-dose bronchodilator (non-TUE, non-banned) before competitions in warm climates. I mention this now because the Green Bay Half was the first really hot race I’d run since the Trials and, though it was a lot shorter, I made it through without any breathing issues. My fingers were crossed and I was optimistic looking forward.
Summer with STRIVE (June, July, August)
I took my first days off from running in early June, 2016, as I spent two weeks traipsing around the mountains of Bolivia with Mariana, a wonderful vacation before we’d part ways and I’d spend the next 9 weeks as a group leader with STRIVE-Peru.
STRIVE began in mid-June with the arrival of our college interns and my co-leader Alejandro. I quickly fell into a great routine of running my my students, occasionally adding on a few miles here or there, tacking on a second run in the afternoon, etc. I was busy, but somehow managed to fit in the best season of training I’d ever had in these last seven summers in Peru. Many thanks are owed to the college interns and Alejandro who turned out to be the perfect training partners – there to push me when I wanted to run hard and, more importantly, always up at 6am for joyful company on a chilly morning shakeout.
Like my time in Ecuador in March, I found a love for training again in Peru, enjoying the daily grind (made easier by the spectacular mountain views). And I again surprised myself with my fitness, running some incredible sessions on the high-mountain dirt roads, and even coming down to sea level to run a race in Lima. Despite missing nearly a week at the very end of the summer thanks to a brutal chest infection, I arrived back in the US at the end of August fitter than I’d ever been and ready to tackle the last build-up of the year with one goal in mind: The 50km World Championships.
Fall Buildup (September, October, November)
And so, I began my build-up towards Worlds from a starting point higher than I’d ever been before. As soon as I started doing structured workouts, Jon and I could tell I was farther ahead of where we’d planned to be, and every week served as a positive reinforcement that things were progressing better than I could have planned. Workouts continuously shocked me. I knew I was getting ready to do something special.
The first big breakthrough came on October 9 when I ran the Mohawk Hudson River Marathon in Albany, NY. I went into the race without a significant taper (i.e. I wasn’t very well rested) and with a goal to simply run my goal 50K pace for the first half or three-quarters of the race and then try to accelerate after. I was finally blessed with a perfect day for running: cool and no wind; and moreover, I was pushed along by a stellar pack of international and American runners.
Like so many preceding workouts, I was shocked by the time on my watch as I finished the race: 2’15’52 – a new personal best set winning the race and breaking a 20+ year old course record. I could hardly believe it.
With just over a month until Worlds, I dove into the final block of training with newfound confidence. Knowing that I was far ahead of where I thought I’d be fitness-wise, I spent almost all of my energy in that last month preparing only for the conditions of the race.
We knew that it would be hot. Doha has a very predictable climate and the average temperatures in mid-November were in the upper-70s to upper-80s (F) and humid. With that in mind, we realized that it wouldn’t necessarily be the fittest three people in the field on the podium, but rather the three that were most prepared to run in such hot weather.
I began by running one of my daily runs on the treadmill while wearing a full sweat suit, hat, and gloves, and placed a space heater next to me, bringing the air temperature up to close to 90F. This was a great pre-acclimation, but the big advantage came from my arrival in Doha about two weeks before the race. Unlike last year, where I’d flown in just 3 days before the start, I spent those two extra weeks running in the midday, middle eastern sun (still in sweats) and in the early evening humidity (mimicking the time of day the race would be held). By the time race week came, an evening run with a temperature below 80F felt cool. I was ready.
I’ve already written a great deal about the actual race at the 50K World Championship, so I won’t rehash it again here (here’s a link if you’d like to read the recap). In the end, it was worth the many hours of disgusting, sweaty overheating as I boarded the plane home with an individual silver medal and team gold.
Here We Go Again (December)
And so, I ended my year by beginning yet another long build-up. Wanting a break from the ultra-marathon distance, I turned my focus to the half marathon, gaining entry to the super-elite Houston Half Marathon in January as a stepping stone towards a (hopefully) fast marathon in March, 2017.
Looking back on the entire year, it’s striking how poorly I felt about the year after the first two months and how pleased I am now. At the time, the Olympic Trials seemed like the be-all, end-all of my year – even of my running career; but with ten months and a few great races since then, it’s clear that it wasn’t. No one race – fantastic or catastrophic – can define me.
The biggest lesson I’ve learned from this year is the importance of loving what I do. And not just the exciting parts – the racing and traveling around the world – but the sometimes seemingly mundane and monastic daily grind.
A goal of mine for 2017 is to find joy in every day of running – whether that’s nailing a hard session or the simple beauty of a colorful late-afternoon sky in January. If I can do that, then I’m sure I’ll look back on 2017 as a success, no matter the times on the watch.
2016 Race Results
November 11, 2016 – 50km World Championships (Doha, Qatar) – 2nd, 2:56:04 (Individual Silver Medal, Team Gold Medal)
October 9, 2016 – Mohawk Hudson Marathon (Albany, NY) – 1st, 2:15:52 (Course Record, Personal Best)
October 1, 2016 – WW Alexandria (Alexandria, VA) – 1st, 18:23
September 17, 2016 – Rock n Roll Philadelphia 5K (Philadelphia, PA) – 1st, 15:18
July 30, 2016 – STRIVE Mile (Pisaq, Peru) – 1st, 4:09* (Meet Record, *Altitude conversion from 4:32 at 9,700 ft.)
May 22, 2016 – Green Bay Half Marathon (Green Bay, WI) – 4th, 1:06:40
May 1, 2016 – Broad Street Run 10 Miler, Philadelphia, PA – 7th, 49:56
April 23, 2016 – Pike’s Peek 10k, Rockville, MD – 4th, 31:28
April 9, 2016 – Mad City 50K, Madison, WI – 1st, 2:56:01 (Course Record, Personal Best, Auto-Qualify for US World Championship Team)
March 20, 2016 – Shamrock Virginia Beach Half Marathon, Virginia Beach, VA – 3rd, 1:08:26
March 13, 2016 – Guayaquil 5k, Guayaquil, Ecuador – 3rd, 14:12 (PB)
February 13, 2016 – US Olympic Marathon Trials – Los Angeles, CA – 83rd