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January 13, 2011

2010 was a year of failing miserably at my goals, paramount among which was to run the year without injury by investing time in leg-strengthening exercises and cross-training. Not doing either one didn’t seem to hurt me initially, and the year went well until that last long run for the marathon. I ended up spending the last month of the year on the bench, and my mileage for the year, which had been building well for the first ten months, came to a screeching halt well short of my 1500-mile goal.

But January 1 brings us to a new start, and I’m taking it to heart. I welcomed my return to the roads as soon as the calendar turned that new page (in fact, if I’m to be honest, a few hours before), and I’m being careful to stretch, cross-train, and strengthen my legs like a good little recovering runner would. I never again want to spend weeks watching runners glide by effortlessly.

It was painful during those weeks to be unable to identify with the athletes I saw whizzing by me at all times of the day. Without regard for their gender,  size or shape, and regardless of what they choose to wear, I’m the kind of runner that feels a special affinity for anybody else that chooses to tie on running shoes and pound the pavement, no matter the distance they cover. During the difficult weeks that I was under doctor’s orders to do absolutely no impact-bearing exercise, I felt sidelined. I felt like an impostor with that 26.2 sticker on the back of my car.

I wasn’t entirely idle that month. We discovered the Boss’s company has an excellent gym facility on site, so I became a member. The process included being poked and prodded, and their experts even measured my body fat with their fancy calipers. Having established that I was not likely to croak on their machines, I proceeded to visit several times, becoming friends with their stationary bikes and their rowing machine, all the while glancing longingly at the treadmills.

In spite of the excellent results on the fitness tests (18% body fat! 64 resting heart rate!) and my intense work on the machines (I was this close to buying cycling shorts), my return to running has been . . . less smooth than I had hoped. I’m wearing my new Zensah compression calf sleeves on every run, and I’ve had no shin pain. But I have to admit that the endurance I’ve worked so hard to build up feels like it’s absolutely drained. Six miles feels incredibly long to me now. My long run on Saturday was eight. The fact that it felt long was intensely discouraging since eight miles has been my standard easy Wednesday distance for over a year.

I know, Rome wasn’t built in a day, and I’m more likely to hurt myself if I try to rush it than if I’m patient and am willing to just put the miles and the time in, a day at a time.

I’m very deliberately not setting very many goals for this year, either in mileage or race times. Instead, I’m determined to make this the year of all-around fitness. In 2006 I lost a ton of weight. In 2007 I became a runner. In 2008 I ran my first half. In 2009 I ran my first marathon, and in 2010 I discovered arrogance is expensive. I figure this is the year to build up my arms, my abs, and my back. It’s been five years since my Weight Watchers victory, and it’s time to reassess.

My new training schedule includes 15 minutes of abdominal exercises three days a week, one day with 30 to 45 minutes of cross training, and another two days with 15 to 20 minutes of evening Pilates.  Instead of running five days a week, I’m only running four. I dream of adding the fifth day back in, but it’s a long year, and I’m not rushing it.

Two weeks into the new year, I’m nailing this schedule.

However, I do still have that marathoner’s stubborn streak in me, so yes, I’ve already picked out my next race, and yes, it’s a doozy. Remember Gasparilla, where I ran the Bud Lite challenge last year? Well, Little G didn’t run it last year, because she was getting ready for Boston. But this year she can do it, and we’re in! We got a little more ambitious, though, and instead of doing the “light” version of the challenge, we’re going all in and registering for the Michelob Ultra.

The Michelob Ultra Challenge consists of the 15k race at 7am Saturday morning, followed by the 5k at 9:30am. Then on Sunday you run the half marathon at 6am and come back for an 8k race at 9. Totally doable, though I confess I wish my legs felt a little stronger. Last year, to get ready for the races, I ran several key workouts, including different interval lengths designed to prime my legs for my goal paces for each race. I have a different goal this year: to simply finish. Thirty miles in two days is no small feat when you haven’t run in four weeks. I have until February 26th to get ready.

After Gasparilla, I intend to reevaluate. I may still be a poser with that 26.2 sticker, and if you were to ask me today, I’d tell you I’m not sure if I’ll ever run another marathon. I want to be fit, and strong: for now, that is my intense focus. The race goals may come later. That injury still haunts me, and I am  singularly focused on becoming not a better runner, not a faster runner, but a fitter one.

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