A month or two after our third child was born on August 1, 2010, I was depressed that I had been unable to sustain an exercise regime for nearly four years (since our first child was born in September, 2006). I decided that I wanted to set a goal that was imminently attainable and sustainable. At the time, running once a week seemed to fit the bill. I could still run three miles, although it was a slog, so I decided that running 100 miles before the end of 2011 would be my goal. It wasn’t ambitious, but that was the point. I started immediately, running 2.84 miles in 31:28 on November 23, 2010.
I kept up those weekly runs for months, only missing two due to an unfortunate sequence of events that caused me to miss two different runs in May 2010.1 By that point, though, it was clear that I was going to shatter my original goal, especially when I started running twice a week sometimes during the summer.
So, at some point this summer I came up with a new goal: Each calendar month, I’d run further than I had in the previous month. The goal was inspired by RunKeeper, where I’d been tracking my runs, which notifies you when you set a new monthly distance record. To keep from blasting myself a new unattainable goal though, I’ve sought to increase my record by only one mile each month. In October, I ran 26.3 miles2, and in November, I’ll strive for 27. I’m enjoying it, and I wanted to make a few notes on running.
On my strategy for hitting my monthly goal: At the beginning of each month, I schedule my runs. I count how many I’ve scheduled, subtract one, and compute how far I need to run each outing. I subtract one so that I always have a backup run. My idea was that if I missed a run, I’d know that I already had an extra scheduled. In practice, the result has often been a day off at the end of the month.
On weather: I hate the cold. So, I mostly stuck to the treadmill last winter, although I figured out at some point that I was comfortable down to 50℉ in my usual garb. I’ve already determined this fall that with a long sleeve shirt and a fleece headband, I can push it down to 40℉ with no problems. I think that’s as far as I’ll take it this year, but it should still get me outside more often, especially in the Fall and early Spring.
On racing: I intended to run one or two 5k races this summer, but never got around to it. Oh well. When I first moved to Blacksburg in 2003, I was training for a marathon. I made it pretty far in my training—I think my long run was about 16 miles—when a combination of work, lack of an indoor training facility (non-treadmill), and minor injuries caused me to decide to quit. I’m not sure that I have the marathon bug any more, but I’m already starting to look out 2–3 years into the future and think about a half marathon. I think I’ll be easily up to a 10k next summer, if I can find a good one.
On speed: While I was on the treadmill last year, I was turning in sub-10-minute miles, and I was pretty proud of myself. When I got outside last Spring, though, I found that I was much slower, with a pace of nearly 11-minutes-per-mile.3 As recently as late September, that was still my pace. But suddenly this month my pace has improved dramatically. My last run was 3.39 miles at 8:55 per mile. I have absolutely no idea how or why I have suddenly gotten so much faster. It’s pretty nice, though!4
Both misses were connected to finding my shoes unexpectedly locked in the campus gym around the end of the school year. ↩
Hey! My first marathon-length month! I didn’t notice that until writing this post. ↩
I have since heard that you should really turn the treadmill up to a 1–2% incline if you want a realistic outdoor effort. I don’t know how I never heard that before, except that I didn’t really run on treadmills when I was training before. I will try it this winter. ↩
In graduate school, my usual 5k pace was around 8-minutes-per-mile. So, 8:55 is pretty far off a personal record. But after running 11 minute miles for months, it feels pretty great! ↩