That title got your attention didn’t it? I bet if I called this post what it really is – A look back at 2017 to identify areas of focus for 2018 – you wouldn’t have even clicked on it quite so fast. While maybe not the most attention grabbing topic, I found the process of laying this all out very helpful so I figured I would share it. In many ways, 2017 was my best year of running ever, but I also feel that there is a lot of room for improvement in 2018. So in no particular order I give you the things that worked and what I hope to improve in 2018:
- My Coach. I started 2017 off with a change in coach. I ended 2016 with several months of illness and injury and felt like I had been training beyond my capacity. I wanted to work with someone local who could see me run / run with me on a fairly regular basis and I heard great things about Mario Fraioli. When we chatted on the phone at the end of 2016 he was supportive of my goals but also responsive to my concerns about over-training and injury. His general approach to the long-view and support of extremely varied goals across distances and terrains just seemed to make sense. As our coach-athlete relationship has developed over the course of the year, we have developed a good rapport based on honesty and trust. I don’t feel like I need to hide a niggle or justify when I call an audible mid-workout. It is a good balance of structure and guidance that allows me the autonomy to listen to my body. I have the utmost respect for my previous coach, and he helped me achieve a huge breakthrough in the road marathon, but I just needed to try something different to get my body back on track.
- Running buddies. I cultivated some great running relationships in 2017 – most of which have turned into great friendships outside of running as well. I rarely had to run alone if I didn’t want to and these partnerships were a huge benefit to my training.
- Giving back. I had some great opportunities in 2017 to volunteer at races, crew for friends and help new runners feel more comfortable on the trails.
- Expanding my training partner collection. I believe in training partner polygamy and while I love all of my current training partners dearly, I want to find a way to do more of my workouts with people who are going to push – or in all likelihood – pull me out of my comfort zone. I have several friends who can do this, but aligning training schedules is difficult so having a few more couldn’t hurt. I mean really, how many people can you find to do 20+ Ninjas in one year?!
- Giving back more. I loved doing the trail running workshop with Salomon this year and would love to find ways to help more people get out onto the trails. I’d love to expand my friend support offerings to include pacing this year as well.
- InsideTracker. After several months of being run-down and sick at the end of 2016, I decided to take action and figure out what was going on with my body. I knew iron is important for energy levels but when I asked my doctor for a ferratin test, she dismissed me when I told her I wasn’t a vegetarian. Instead of offering to test other things to find out why I had been tired and sick for over 3 months, she sent me home. I ordered an Ultimate test from InsideTracker and a few days later I had validation and a plan of action. While my iron groups were actually ok, I was really low on B12, vitamin D and my cortisol and creatine were high. I also learned I have high fasting glucose and high cholesterol – thanks Dad. I used the dietary recomendations to adjust my diet, added some supplements and made getting good sleep a priority – more on that later. I prioritized rest days and shifted my attitude so that my easy days were actually easy (so what if I am running a minute per mile slower than the runner I look up to – it’s not a competition and my body clearly doesn’t want to run faster today). I re-tested in September (when I was in peak training and sleeping in an altitude tent) and all of the previously abnormal bio-markers were in the green zone and I was feeling great. I suppose I could have made a guess at why I was so sick and tired and tested remedies through trial and error, but knowing which areas were deficient and having a clear plan of action generated a confidence in what I was doing that was critical to sticking with it and ultimately getting better.
- Fueling. I have tested lots of different nutrition products but I have landed firmly on GU for all of my training and racing needs. Everyone is different, but I have had lots of success with a combination of the liquid roctane and gels so I finally stopped trying every new product out there and settled on my regimen. I have figured out the general approach to fueling that works for me and have successfully navigated all kinds of race environments in 2017 – including 3 races over 7 hours.
- Day-to-day eating. Ok so in the grand scheme of things I eat pretty healthy. I love cooking and know I feel better when I cut out the junk food. That being said, I had a really hard time sticking to my guns during peak training in 2017 and found myself reaching for snacks far more often than I really needed. I consulted a nutritionist who works with endurance athletes and learned some really useful tips. For example, I tend to way over eat in the grain category – even for an ultra-runner – and while snacking is totally necessary when you are running 70+ miles a week, eating a yogurt and some nuts is far more beneficial than eating an entire full-sized bag of sweet and spicy pop-corn (who knew?!). I did implement these tips for some time in 2017, but definitely lost focus as work got really intense right at the same time as training kicked into full gear. I want to step-up my nutrition game in 2018 to optimize training and recovery.
- Listening to my body. The goal for 2017 was overall consistent running and in the first few months of the year especially, this meant being flexible with training plans. I basically started from scratch and had to build fitness while also rehabbing my bum hip. There was a lot of trial and error to identify which exercises made the hip feel better and how much volume and intensity it could handle. As the strength imbalances got better and the muscles got stronger, it could handle more, so the optimal training schedule was a constantly moving target. With very few setbacks, coach and I were able to navigate the first half of the year to get me to a place where we could implement a reliable training plan and start to push fitness and strength. None of this could have happened if I weren’t extremely tuned into my body and backed off when it told me to. I also finally learned the lesson that a single day off to address a niggle or extreme tiredness is far better than pushing through and ending up out of the game for for longer.
- Strength Training. I am not a physical therapist or an athletic trainer or a sports doctor but I know that strength training is absolutely critical to my running. There are people who believe that basically all non-running activities only detract from the time you should be running, but I know that I would not be able to run pain-free without my 1 hour strength sessions twice a week. I know because I just took 6 weeks off strength training and all my hip and hamstring issues came back on run number 1 post TNF. 3 weeks of slowly building deadlifts and other heavy weight exercises back in and I am almost back to pain free running. I have a couple routines of exercises I have found work best for me and I rotate through them. I invested the time and money to have a few sessions with a personal trainer through my PTs office to get the form and posture cues correct which made a huge difference in the effectiveness of the exercises I was doing.
- Getting out of my comfort zone. Heading into 2018 healthy and with a solid base gets me excited to really push my limits. I don’t have to spend the first half of the year building a foundation and I am looking forward to getting out of my comfort zone in terms of speed, distance and terrain. I moved to Marin and have hundreds – if not thousands – of miles of trails at my disposal which I anticipate will provide a big boost to my training.
- Strength training. While I experienced great benefits from strength training in 2017, I was not as consistent with it as I would have liked. Most notably, I dropped off during taper and immediately post race, which resulted in the resurgence of my hamstring tendinitis each time. I’d like to find a way to tailor my strength training so that it can be consistent and tuned to my training and racing.
- Sleep. I started 2017 with serious problems sleeping. I had trouble falling asleep and found myself waking up many times during the night, often in cold sweats with a racing hear rate. I started using an app called calm that was gifted to me at Christmas last year. Through short meditation sessions and nightly “sleep stories”, I significantly improved my sleep. However, good sleep takes work and I fell off the good sleep habit wagon a few months ago and really need to get back on it. I hope to finally figure out the sleep thing and keep it going in 2018.
- Adventure. I had some fun adventures in 2018: Running across Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota for my husband’s birthday, running my first Skyrace on a course that was 90% covered in snow, getting my ass handed to me in Flagstaff, to name a few. These new experiences are what fuel the mundane weekday slogs in the dark that make up so much of my weekly running. I hope to expand on this year’s awesome experiences to include more race and non-race adventures. I’d love to go back to the Grand Canyon. Zion National Park is very high on my list as well – well Utah in general. Hawaii is on the books for the end of January and I can’t wait to make a fool of myself as I attempt ski mountaineering in February. I positively can’t wait to get back to Chamonix and run the final miles from Vallorcine to Chamonix that I didn’t get to run in 2016. I’d also love to get back to Mount Tallac at lake Tahoe and go for the CR up and down.
If you made it this far, I salute you. Thanks for reading through what amounts to my internal self-reflection. It feels great to be heading into 2018, not with a blank slate, but rather with a slate covered in a game plan sitting on top of a solid foundation.