Everything hurts and I’m dying

Please remind me again that it’s normal to have an awful long run a few weeks before a half marathon? Because that’s really the only thing that will make me feel better about this disaster of a 12- 10-miler this morning.

If my run were a symbol, it’d be this one. Which I encountered at mile 2.5 (and again on the way back) which, in hindsight, was kind of a bad omen.

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Actually I knew long before I saw the pitchfork that today wasn’t going to be my day. I didn’t feel well when I woke up–that’s common, as I don’t like getting up early–but I wasn’t able to shake it in the early miles like I usually can. I also had some bra-chafing going on, my left ankle hurt a little (ack!), my quads were SO tired, and a couple of times I just wanted to sit down on the curb and cry. I kept thinking how unprepared I felt for 3M and how badly it will suck if I feel like this.

Today’s route was supposed to have a speed workout in the middle–a 2.6-mile loop at HMGP and a one-mile loop at 5K pace, repeated twice–but I could barely get it done once. And not at either of those paces. Whereas Monday’s run went so well I added a mile, today’s was so awful I dropped the second repeat and headed back. Slowly, with quite a bit of walking. ūüė¶

I guess I should have seen this coming. All week I’ve been pushing my pace and feeling strong, so it is not unexpected that I face a little setback. There’s no progress without struggle, right? So next weekend I’ll try 12 again.

Having said all that, there were some good things about today. I love my new Apple Air Pods–I’ve been worried they might fall out easily, but surprisingly, they stay in my ears. They required no setup–I just had to open the case near my phone and everything synced up. For fun, I open it periodically so it can tell me the battery status. I’ve set the left one to track forward and the right one to pause/play, but the only way to control the volume is either with Siri or via the phone itself, which I can do easily using the buttons while it’s in my belt. I used them for about 2.5 hours today and I think they still had 85-90% battery when I got back. And after recharging them (which it does automatically when you put them away) the case is still at 85%.

Another positive is that I tried a new energy gel. Nothing wrong with my Sport Beans, but running nutrition has been a moving target for me over the years and it’s good to find more than one thing I can tolerate.¬†I’m so weird with flavors and textures–viscous gels are not for me; I don’t even like Nuun unless it’s the lemon-lime flavor mixed with carbonated lime water to disguise the taste. So today I tried¬†Skratch Labs’ orange fruit drops, and I liked them. They are small gummies with a mild, almost nonexistent (orange) taste which is good for me, especially later in a distance race when I’m trying to choke down something to get me to the finish line. I’ll have to try them again next week–hopefully when I’m not having such a shitty run–to make sure before I buy a larger quantity, but at least my first attempt with them proved they’re something I can work with.

Okay, now that my pity party is over, I need to focus on resting and trying to feel better. Rest will be made easier because Austin (along with most of the U.S. it appears) is predicted to get hit with a blast of arctic air, I think sometime tomorrow afternoon, so my future includes the couch, college football, my fireplace, and a warm dog. Monday we’re going to attempt the Black-Eyed Pea run downtown (temps are supposed to be in the 20s!) but there’s a possibility of precipitation and ice overnight, so we’ll have to wait until it gets closer to decide for sure. There’s no way these Texas folks are driving on ice.

But seriously, remind me again having a terrible run before a race just means I’m getting it out of the way rather than telling me I’m unprepared? Please?

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Cold weather is my (running) jam

This time last year I was battling a hamstring injury that didn’t really feel 100% until the end of January. I was able to run on it a little, but I missed a lot of Austin’s best running weather.

This year, I’m healthy and LOVING the colder temperatures. Yeah, it was 39 and windy when I left for my 12-miler last Saturday. And a bunch of people bailed on last night’s workout because of the weather–40 and drizzling–but I didn’t even wear a jacket. This time of year I usually wear capris and one top layer, plus gloves. I’ve only busted out full-length tights twice this year–that run in the snow a few weeks ago, and last night. For someone who hates being cold in regular life (it’s 68* in my house right now and I’ve got fleece jammies, a blanket, coffee, and a warm dog) I relish the cold when it’s time to run.

Case in point: this week.

I didn’t run on Sunday–road trip to my mom’s house, then a stop at the Zilker Tree–but we had a quiet Christmas at home on Monday, so mid-afternoon (in itself a luxury I don’t have when it’s hot) I decided I needed to offset the cookies. I also wanted to play with my new Apple Air Pods! My usual Monday run is a three-miler, so that was the plan in the back of my mind when I started. I didn’t look at my watch–I just ran, improvising the route as I went along.¬†It was maybe 50* and overcast, and I was comfortable in a short-sleeved shirt.

When it’s hot, I give myself a few breaks to cool down at various intervals. I have mental waypoints on my routes–an intersection, park, parking lot, whatever, and I can convince myself just to make it to the next one. This can be four or five times on a four-mile run, depending on conditions. But this day, I stopped at two different parks for water and that was it. Not only was the rest of my run continuous, my pace was way faster than I was expecting. Yeah, I knew I was working hard, but I felt strong. My three-mile run turned into four miles, and my last mile was my fastest.

Tuesday night’s workout looked tough before factoring the weather–a 1.5 mile warmup, 1.5 miles of fartlek, 1.5 miles at half-marathon goal pace, and 1.5-mile cooldown. All of it was over some pretty tough hills in the cold drizzle.

With the holiday and the weather, turnout was on the low side. A few folks from the morning group joined us (can’t say I blame them for not wanting to do the 5:30am thing the morning after Christmas) but even then I think we numbered fewer than 10.

The purpose of the workout is to tire your muscles with the (hilly) fartleks, then run HMGP on fatigued legs, much like the way it will feel at the end of a half-marathon. I don’t know that I quite held HMGP the whole way back, but Strava gave me PR badges for SIX segments (which usually only happens when I run a new route–not somewhere I’ve been running for five years) so I think I did okay.

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I wore my long tights (the lighter pair, not the fleece-lined ones), a long-sleeved shirt, plus an ear-covering headband and gloves. For a moment I second-guessed myself on the jacket when I walked outside into the drizzle. But I left it, which was the right call–I didn’t need it.

I say that cold weather is my running jam and it can’t be too cold for me to enjoy running in it, but what I really mean is Austin-cold. That typically means 40s-50s, although I ran my best half-marathon when it was right around 32*.¬†Austin doesn’t usually drop below freezing for very long, and certainly the 20s are rare. But the New Year’s Day Black-Eyed Pea Run will challenge my “it can’t be too cold for me” declaration: currently the forecasted overnight low is 26* and Monday’s weather icon includes a snowflake.

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That’s almost 25* colder than last night–something tells me I’m gonna need the jacket this time. Plus the fleece-lined tights, maybe an extra shirt, more than one pair of socks, and some kind of wrap to cover my face. I don’t think I’ve run in subfreezing temps more than a handful of times, but now that I’m healthy (and 3M will be here before I know it) I’m not going to miss an opportunity just because it’s cold.

Which is a hilarious sentence coming from the girl who wore a windbreaker on a London “summer” day and who thinks anything below 70* is cold.

Unless I’m running.

2017 in Review

And I thought 2016 was an up-and-down year. Turns out, 2017 followed in its footsteps!

For the first time in many years, I didn’t race in January.¬†But my hamstring was recovering and I was attempting to bounce back to run the Austin Half in February, so when it was 17* one Saturday morning, I didn’t hesitate to head out for a few miles. My sweat froze, but I didn’t care because I was running again, sort of.

 

Also in January I ran what has now become a winter tradition–what we’ve named the Asscrack of Dawn 5K in Washington, D.C.. This one was a little different from years past–my NJHS crew traveled to Washington for the Inauguration rather than in February, and our hotel was waaaaay out in suburban Virginia. But J made the drive one morning and we found a great running path nearby. My hamstring was still recovering, so we were slower than usual, but as always it was a great time with one of my favorite people.

 

Because the NJHS trip was the same weekend as the 3M Half Marathon, I missed 3M. So my first race of 2017 was the Austin Half Marathon. K and her recently-dislocated elbow made the trip to Austin and we ran the race together. It was a challenge–both of us were undertrained due to our respective injuries, and someone ran into her elbow not once but twice during the race. But we finished and that’s all that mattered.

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After that, I didn’t race again until April, which gave me some time to train properly. I slogged through¬†Vern’s No Frills 5K as part of my long run, and a week later the Austin 10/20 (its last) went pretty well–I mean, it was humid and warm and I suffered, but I came in under two hours and I was happy with that. And the next week we ran the Cap 10K–another too-warm, unpleasant effort. I don’t understand why this race has migrated to April–it used to be a month earlier, when cooler temps were possible, but the 2017 version was April 23. The 2018 race will be earlier in April, but I’d still like to see it move back to March.

 

At this point I was training for a double race in May–the Cleveland Challenge Series–so I was working on endurance more than speed. I followed my Saturday long runs with 3-5 miles on Sunday to train myself for back-to-back distances. The week before Cleveland, I ran the Tri Doc 5K rather than a long run, though. And of course it was too warm in Cleveland, which seems to be a theme for me these days. The weather for the 8K was actually pretty nice, but it got warmer overnight and the air was thick for the half-marathon. Yuck. But considering I’d run an 8K the day before, I am not displeased with my second race. And the medal haul was impressive.

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From there I kicked my training up a notch. We were traveling to Ireland in June, and I’d found a half-marathon I wanted to run while we were there. Ireland’s climate is typically cool and they advertised the race as “flat and fast” so I thought maybe I could PR this one. Ha! Of course Ireland had a heat wave the first week we were there, so my race plan didn’t quite work out. The first half, I was on pace; but then the sun came out and I couldn’t hold on. It was still a great way to see the Irish countryside and experience a non-touristy local adventure, though.

 

And running aside, we were so active during our two weeks in Ireland, I didn’t feel bad that I didn’t run as much as I had planned–once in Dublin, three times in Kinsale (to Charles Fort, the Scilly Walk, and James Fort) , and once in Kerry. My favorite day was visiting Skellig Michael¬†(AKA Ahch-To from The Last Jedi) and climbing its 600 steps to the eighth-century monastery at the top, but walking along the top of the Cliffs of Moher was fantastic too.

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The rest of the summer was pretty quiet. And then in early August it got even quieter when my left leg started giving me trouble again. I felt some annoying twinges when I ran the Galveston Sand Crab 5K on the beach, and it wasn’t really any better at the Vern’s 100th 5K a week later.

But on the other hand we adopted a dog and took him to the Sand Crab, so that was fun.

 

Then school started, and everything went to hell.

Between the demands of the first weeks of school and my increasingly painful leg (which I am pretty sure was a shin splint situation) I hardly ran at all in September. All sorts of things went wrong–in the space of a couple of weeks¬†I dealt with a¬†hurricane, car trouble, illness, my stupid leg. And then my fluffy cat Rascal died. It all just sucked.

But things started looking up in October. For the first time in four years I wasn’t running the Army Ten-Miler (which turned out to be less disappointing than I expected, considering their weather was disgusting) but some friends and I ran the ’80s 8K. I am pretty sure it was cooler in Austin than D.C., and we had a fantastic time. For the first time in a long time, I felt good and had fun. It was just what I needed.

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So then I started working my way back.

We got some cooler weather as October progressed, and that made a huge difference. I started rebuilding my mileage–wow my endurance was shot–and I finally began to see improvement both physically and mentally. It wasn’t without some setbacks, but overall my leg was almost recovered and I could see a light at the end of the tunnel.

I had a decent race at the Shiner 5K but a disappointing one a few days later at the Austin turkey trot. While I like that race, I haven’t had a successful turkey trot in a long time. So I think next year I’m doing the Georgetown version where my coach is the race director.

 

December has brought me more improvement. I’ve run 10-12 miles a couple of times, I ran in the snow, and I hit 1000 miles for the year. Not bad considering I lost most of January and September to separate injuries. I also ran Vern’s again (plus three miles afterward and another six on Sunday) and a 12-miler in the windy cold to wrap up December.

 

One of my favorite events this year was one I didn’t even run. Some Rogues and I were spectators at our BRFs’ first marathon! It was great fun and I’m so glad I got to be a part of their memorable day.

 

I’ve got four weeks until 3M–as usual, my goal race. My training paces are the same ones I was trying to hit back in June when I thought I could PR the Kildare race. Since then a lot has happened and I don’t know that the same goal is realistic. But it’s not totally unreasonable (or un-achievable) either, so what the hell.

It’s been an interesting year. Here’s to success in 2018!

Training

Have I mentioned that the 3M half-marathon is a month away??

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Back in June I was training for the Kildare Thoroughbred Run in Kildare, Ireland. They promised a “flat, fast course” through the village of Kildare and through the Irish National Stud horse breeding facility. What they did not bargain for, however, was a heat wave that I must have brought with me from Texas. I’d been training in the heat hoping it would translate into faster times during a much-cooler race. But what is normally a 50-degree race-time start was actually in the high 60s, and a mile into the race (which started at 10:30 am to boot) the sun came out and made it worse. And I think there were only two or three water stops the whole distance. It was close to 80 degrees when I finished, nine minutes behind my goal time. Not super-hot for someone from Texas, but not ideal for a PR race, either.

The first half, I’d been on-pace to reach my goal. But the sun and warm temps killed me the second half, and I faded. And then two months later my leg injury interrupted my training, so I lost fitness and endurance. For the last six weeks or so I’ve been improving both, using the training paces I was working on back in June. Although I really don’t know whether that goal time is still appropriate for 3M, I am training under the assumption that it’s not impossible.

To that end, I’m dipping my toes into twice-weekly Rogue workouts, at least between now and the race. I’m a little wary about adding a second quality workout coming off this injury, but I don’t want to be too tentative and miss an opportunity, either. And after one week, so far, so good.

On Tuesday, we ran hill repeats. It was a 1.8-mile warmup run to the bottom of the hill. This one is the toughest hill of the ’80s 8K, and was no picnic this night either. We started at the bottom and ran :30 up, jog back. Then :60 seconds up, jog back. And :90 up, jog back. The two-minute rep was optional. After one set, we got a short water break (it was warm and humid again) before repeating. Marathoners completed three sets; half-marathoners two. Then the 1.8-mile trip back to Rogue. My legs were tired on the run back, but I was running with someone else and she kept me from slacking.

Thursday’s workout was the same 1.8-mile warmup. Runners who didn’t do the hill repeats on Tuesday tackled those, while the rest of us did a goal-pace workout. The marathoners ran two miles at MGP x 2, and half-marathoners ran two miles at HMGP. Then the 1.8 miles back.

Well, there were four of us doing this workout, and we decided to go back down to Brushy Creek Road and take a flatter route. The marathoners were faster and lost us pretty quickly. And we couldn’t decide whether to go out-and-back or make a loop, but when the light turned against us at Brushy Creek and Vista Ridge, we decided to go up VR, down Park Street, then take Gupton back to Brushy Creek and back to Rogue. I was kind of worried that we’d short ourselves mileage somewhere–the plan was 1.8 + 2 + 1.8 but we were winging it so I wasn’t sure. Math, however, is not my strong suit, and by taking the loop route, we actually added¬†almost a mile. We ended up with 6.4 miles total. Oops.

My companion did not allow me to slack, so barring a couple of traffic lights and an inhaler stop, we ran 4.5 miles straight through. I know I would not have pushed myself like that alone, so that’s already a check mark in the positive column for the two-workout thing.

This is supposed to be a down week. But two weeks ago I only ran three miles (shakeout for my friends’ marathon) and last week I split my 12-miler into two 10Ks, so my coach and I agree that I should run 12ish tomorrow. We’re meeting off-site, and one of the route options is roughly the distance I need, so I will make it work.

Gotta keep my eyes on the prize–that spiffy 3M medal.

Vern’s 5K (Jingle Bell edition) and then some

This was my third Vern’s (it’s held the third Saturday of every month) so by now I knew the course pretty well. Even if I didn’t, it’s difficult to mess it up–out and back one way, out and back the other way with clear turnarounds at each end.

I’ve only been running full-strength for about six weeks, and my most recent 5K in Shiner proved that. Also, I really needed 12 miles, so I had vague plans to run the course a second time, then tack on a few more miles. I know that was a disaster the last time I tried it, so I really had no expectations for the day.

My two recent-marathon-finisher friends were volunteering (wearing their matching finishers’ jackets) so I affixed my jingle bells to my shoes and hung out with them until the start. Then they took off the jackets and lined up with me. And wouldn’t you know it, six days removed from a freaking marathon, they both kicked my ass on this race too. Argh! I mean, er, congratulations. ūüėČ

Anyway, as the crowd thinned out after the start, I found myself running just behind an older lady in a Santa costume and a woman wearing a yellow jacket who appeared to be about my age. I let them pace me the first mile. Then on the little hill on the way back, I passed Santa Lady. Although I had my music turned up I recognized that she was trying to chat with me about her costume and bells, but I couldn’t really understand her. I didn’t want to be rude, so I nodded and laughed in (hopefully) the right places, then found myself ahead of her as we reached the top of the incline.

Near the end of mile 2, the path takes breaks into a roundabout–the water stop goes to the left and the route continues right. As we made that right turn, I passed the yellow jacket lady.

She was a pretty even pacer–my first two miles were exactly the same. I sped up for the third mile, and I knew she was on my heels the rest of the race. The second out-and-back’s turnaround gave me a chance to see just how far ahead I was–I don’t think it was more than about ten steps. But that kept me from slacking.

The final quarter-mile, I saw a woman dressed as an elf up ahead. She appeared to be slowing down, so I thought maybe I could catch her. And I came close, but not quite. Still, I stayed ahead of yellow jacket lady. The race is timed by hand so the final results show the exact order of finishers–she came in six seconds after me.

It was my second-best Vern’s time–thirteen seconds behind the best of my three attempts. And I felt really good! So I’m happy with that.

Unfortunately I had more to run. My friends accompanied me for a second trip around the course, for a total of 10K for the day. I was tired (my school’s holiday party had been the night before, so I hadn’t gotten a lot of sleep) so I decided I’d split up the 12 and run another 10K from my house the next morning.

Which I did, in the cool drizzle. I started off strong, slowed down a bit in the middle, and picked it back up the last half-mile or so. But my quads were tired and I was glad to be done.

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This Saturday: 12 for reals.

Marathon spectator

Last weekend I got to watch my Rogue BRFs finish their first full marathon in College Station, Texas. And I have to tell you, spectating was pretty fun!

We drove from Austin to College Station on Saturday morning and went directly to the expo. It amused me that the local medical center is a major race sponsor and the expo was held at the hospital itself. So my friends got their bibs and shirts, and I scored a $10 quarter-zip pullover at one of the booths. IMG_E9013[1]

We spent a lot of time at the Sport Hooks display–I have three medal hangers from them and I helped my friends pick out their “first marathon” medal hangers and 26.2 Christmas ornaments. I got the 13.1 version.

From there we went to lunch–Asian food seemed mild and noodly enough for pre-race food. I ate pad Thai, which I would probably not have chosen if I were running. But damn, it was good.

After we checked in to the hotel and got organized, we decided to head out for a shakeout run. I have only been to College Station once before (that’s a whole ‘nother story… which can be found here) so I consulted Map My Run to find something in the three-mile range. Lo and behold, a route began half a block from our hotel and looped back around.

We headed out at the intersection of University Drive and Texas Avenue at the edge of Texas A&M University (which kills me as a Longhorn–the campus of my school’s archrival begins at University and Texas?) and followed Texas Ave. for a couple of blocks. Then we turned right–there was a bit of a hill here–and right again, through campus.

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We passed a sign for “Bonfire Memorial” and I convinced the others to take a detour.

For most of the UT-A&M rivalry, the Aggies built a bonfire in the weeks leading up to the football game, and they burned it the night before. But in 1999, while still under construction, it collapsed and killed 12 people. M grew up with one of them–I remember going to his funeral–and it was one of the few times the Texas and A&M communities have put aside the rivalry. So we stopped and read each person’s story before continuing our run.

We had dinner at a place across the street from the hotel–it was delicious. And I ate creme brulee even though I had run only three miles. The others promised we’d come back post-race for lunch. And dessert.

Bedtime came pretty quickly, but I don’t think any of us slept well. The race started at 7 so we wanted to leave by 6:15. But it took a while for everyone to get their stuff together, so it was more like 6:30 when we left. Which wasn’t a huge deal–the start line was nine minutes away, but we wanted everyone to have enough time to feel ready. After a porta-potty stop, I collected jackets and whatever else they wanted to discard, and then they were off.

The weather was perfect–high 30s and clear. Well, perfect for running. Less so for spectating! I wore running pants, a fleece-lined shirt, the aforementioned $10 pullover, and gloves–I was cold at first, but it wasn’t too bad. There were four of us altogether, and since the first six miles headed away from us, we knew we had time before trying to catch up with them on the course. So we walked to Starbucks, naturally.

I followed their progress via Garmin live tracking, and we assessed our spectating options while drinking our coffee. Then we headed back to the car and set the GPS for an intersection near mile 9. Turns out there was a convenience store right there, so parking was easy.

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Someone had brought cowbells, including what has to be the world’s most obnoxious one, and I am certain the people living at the adjacent apartment complex didn’t like us much. But the Bryan police officer directing traffic at that intersection loved us–she came over and asked us to take a cowbell selfie!

We were at the top of a hill, so we had fun encouraging runners when they got to the top. And it wasn’t long before our friends appeared, looking strong.

Back in the car, we aimed for an intersection where we could see them twice–around 16 and again at 20. We parked the car, then started walking back toward the 15 marker to catch them.

Unfortunately one of the four had made a tactical error and ended up on the half course instead of the full. There was some logistical juggling to resolve that, see the others at mile 20, and make it back to the finish line in time to see them come in. But we made it work. Our coach had started at the finish and was running back with them, so we saw him too–and we beat the Garmin blue dot to the finish.

As we waited, a marathoner struggled to make it the last 20 yards or so. He stopped, then took a wobbling step, then stopped again. The race director came out and walked him in. It was powerful. IMG_8989[1]

All the while, I was standing on the railing watching the Garmin map, waiting to see the blue dot make the final turn. I only had¬† tracking for one of them, which was fine if they were still together, but I wasn’t sure that was the case. And she was the first to come in, destroying her goal. Then two minutes later S came in, also killing it–and winning third in her age group. Not only that, they’d both run beautiful negative splits. On their first marathon! Finally, a few minutes after that, the third friend finished, also with a PR.

I could not have been happier for them–I think we were all in tears at one point. They have worked SO hard these last few months, put in so much effort, and I am so proud of them. It meant a lot for me to be there at the finish line. The perfect weather, seeing us a couple of times on the course, and having our coach out there running with them–everything came together for a fantastic day.

And yeah, we went back to that restaurant for lunch and dessert.

 

1000 miles

I think it’s safe to say I have returned to full running strength. It’s taken weeks months for me to work my way back–not to the same speed or pace I was running this summer, but at least back to consistent mileage.

This week I joined the Tuesday training group for two reasons. One, I am thinking of adding a second weekday workout to my training schedule, so I wanted to try it out. And two, our Thursday group is meeting for dinner and a celebration instead of the usual workout, so I needed to get in my training on a different day.

We started with a mile warmup to a nearby elementary school. The workout was 1000s–one loop at 5K pace, one loop at half-marathon goal pace, repeat. After four laps I got to take a break, then run one more two-loop set. My paces are a bit ambitious–I based my 5K pace on last year’s 5K PR, not my most recent race time. And my HMGP is the same one I was working on this summer. So it was a stretch, but I was reasonably successful at hitting them.

On the way back, I followed a couple of faster folks, so keeping up with them actually made my “cooldown” the fastest pace of the night. Ooops. When I got back, I was at 5.85 miles and just didn’t feel like running around the parking lot to make it an even six miles.

Guess I should have.

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Even though my team reached its 2017-in 2017 mileage goal months ago, I’ve been continuing to track my own miles to see how many I end up with this year. And Tuesday’s 5.85 miles was 0.08 short of 1000 miles for the year. D’oh.

But I reached the 1000-mile mark on Wednesday night by running a couple of loops around my neighborhood. I won’t come anywhere close to 2017 miles on my own, but considering I’ve dealt with injury twice since we started this challenge, reaching 1000 individual miles makes me happy.

Onward.