At the start of 2020 I wrote a post called 1000km in which I talked about my running journey throughout 2019 and getting to the goal of 1000km in 12 months.
Two years and a global pandemic later, I thought I’d do an update to that post on where I’m at with my running, and what I’ve learnt over the time.
I won’t go over all the background of “getting into running” in this post, as I covered that last time and I’d encourage you read it to get some more context to what I’ll cover off here.
The raw stats
According to my Strava profile, in 2021 I ran a total of 1,319km over 103 hours and 51 minutes across 160 separate runs. December was my biggest running month at 170km across (I think) 20 activities (I’m finding Strava frustratingly limiting in the way I was to get insights on my data).
This is just shy of 300km more than 2019 but interestingly, in 2019 I did 164 runs, meaning that my average run distance in 2021 was longer (8.2km vs 6.2km). I’d attribute this to the fact that parkrun wasn’t on for a large period of 2021, so I wasn’t restricting myself to 5km runs on Saturdays.
Running more seriously
As I talked about in the last post, I run for fun and fitness, but it’s not something I’ve been serious about; I’m never going to be an elite athlete or anything.
Through 2020 I ran more, mostly out of lockdown boredom, but it was all much of the same, same routes, same times, same, same, same. Towards the end of 2020 I was invited by my running friends to a trial day at a running group they attended, RunLab. This is a coach-led running group at a local park (one that I run around at least once a week anyway!) with a scheduled program. I enjoyed it so ended up signing up and did 3 of the 4 terms in 2021 (I was injured going into a term so sat it out).
This was a rather different approach to running for me though. Up until now the closest to having a program was the Wednesday with friends where we rotated through 1km intervals, hills and tempo, but it was the same three formats and the only person pushing you harder was yourself.
RunLab, while you might loosely categorise in the same three buckets, it was more than that. We’d do speed work, but one week it might be 400m reps and the next it’s fartlek, or we’d do some pacing practice before running hills. We’d also do things like warm up/cool down, which I never do on my own (even before races!).
All of this saw me shift a bit in my mentality towards running, it is not just a case of “throw on the shoes and pound the pavement” but looking more at it as a workout.
The other thing I noticed about my running is being better in tune with what I’m doing. I don’t think I’m that much faster than where I was previously (in fact, my parkrun times have been slower than my 2019 peak), but I now better understand my pace. When I go for a run, I’m less reliant on my watch to tell me what pace I’m running, instead I just know. For the last few weeks, I’ve been running more frequently, so I wanted to hold a slower pace, around 4:45min/km, and I’m able to do that without constant watch checking. I guess it’s a bit hard to describe, but when running I can fairly accurately guess the pace I’m at, confirm with my watch, and adjust accordingly.
Having a better understanding of myself and my pacing makes it easier to plan out what runs I’m going to do and how long I expect them to take (so, whether I’ll need to set an alarm, or I can sleep in 😜).
It’s also helping me estimate where I’ll be when races do come back. I’m hoping for some in person races in 2022, I’m wanting to target a 95min half marathon and a sub-60min City2Surf. Both should be achievable based on what I’m finding I can run comfortably in training, but we’ll see what injuries crop up.
Speaking of injuries, 2021 was the year for them. I’ve not really had major muscle injuries throughout my life, sure there’s been some minor strains here and there, but the only real notable one was in 2019 where I tore my Achilles before City2Surf.
2021 changed that, I had two major injuries. First it was my hamstring, then it was my calf, both on the right side.
On a wet Wednesday at the end of February, we decided to call off the usual group run, and it was everyone’s call as to whether they slept in or did their own thing. I like running in the rain, so I decided to go out on one of my local routes. Since it was a wet morning (think torrential heavy rain), I figured I’d have a crack at a Strava segment I’ve been wanting to reclaim from our former RunLab coach. It’s a 6km segment, pretty much dead flat, and I’d nabbed it from him, to which he countered a few days later (and took 25s/km average off my pace 😭).
Up until this point my training was going well, I was feeling strong but I’d still have to push to my threshold to get it, so I did a 1km warm up before putting the foot down. There was no one on the path, the rain was coming down hard and I was splashing through puddles. It felt good for the first ~3km but coming to the end of the 3rd km, I could feel my hamstring stiffening up. That wasn’t good, so I decided to ditch going for the Strava crown and ease it back a bit, as I’m 4km from home now (it’s an out-and-back loop with a 1km warm up/cool down on the 6km segment). Another km down and it’s not loosening up even at a slower pace, so I keep dropping down until… snap, my hamstring goes.
I’m a little over 3km from home with nothing more than my clothes and watch (I tended not to run with my phone), it’s raining hard and my hamstring has given out on me. I hobbled home, in about the same amount of time it’d taken for me to do the 5.5km and booked into the physio. Thankfully it wasn’t too bad an injury and I was only off running for a few weeks, but it was a setback in keeping on track for my distance goals.
Fast forward to May and it was time for another injury! We were doing 1km intervals at RunLab and I felt my calf get really tight, so I eased back the speed and it felt ok, not perfect, but ok. I thought I might be on the edge of another muscle strain, so I decided to take a week off running, run parkrun the following week but it was still not right. Skipped a long run that week, went out with my Wednesday crew, nope, calf still sore. Another week of rest, went to RunLab and it was clear that things aren’t getting better, so, back to the physio!
What I learnt is that my approach of “oh, might be a strain, let’s do no exercise at all” is a really bad way to tackle recovery. Basically, what was happening was that the muscle was generating scare tissue around the injury site, but since I was doing no exercise (working from home means I wasn’t even getting incidental exercise from walking anywhere) I wasn’t stretching the new tissue out, so as soon as I ran (resulting in a long stride), it would re-tear. Rinse and repeat this for a few weeks and I’d done a huge disservice to my body… and my wallet in getting myself fixed!
Pro tip - unless you actually know what you’re doing, don’t try to self-diagnose and fix a muscle tear!
Returning from injuries and new goals
While I was recovering from the calf tear, I got back into cycling, first on a stationary bike, then out on my road bike. This helped keep a level of fitness and strength up, so when I could run again it would be from an ok base.
But my yearly goal of 1300km was looking unlikely, I’m hundreds of km behind where I should be, so I resided to the fact that it wasn’t to be this year and I should just focus on getting fit and strong again.
Then we went into lockdown for several months in Sydney. I was no longer able to go to the gym and ride the stationary bike, my cycling route was out of bounds due to movement restrictions, but thankfully my calf was on the mend, so I got back into running again. I wasn’t going to be going for any crowns or long distance, but I could still pick it up a bit more.
By the time September rolled around I was feeling towards my peak (at least for 2021!), being comfortable with 15km at 4:30 pace and able to run 35km+ per week. I also saw my yearly goal getting closer and closer. Going with my usual plan, I needed to run 26km per week to make 1300km (with 2-week buffer), but I’d already used more than my 2 week buffer but could commit to nearly 10km over, so maybe it would be possible.
Come the middle of December and I did the maths, I had around 90km left and 15 days to go, so I’d need to average 6km per day to hit it… doable but tough (I’ve never done a streak like that). I did a long run on the 19th and it saw me hit 50km in a week for the first time ever (50.2km to be exact). This meant I’d banked some km and took the 20th and 21st off, then started chipping away again. I ran some overage and by Christmas it was clear that I’d make my distance goal, but I decided to try for something else, 2 weeks of daily running. I hadn’t missed a day since the 22nd of December, so I needed to keep going until the 5th January.
The last week of 2021 (and the first two days of 2022) saw me get a new weekly peak of 52.8km, and pushing it through to the 5th January saw me complete my two week challenge in which I ran 115km across 18 activities (I had a few double up days with parkrun 😜), but I did it and my legs earned a few days rest (ok, they really only got one day off).
For years I’ve used a Fitbit as my tracker when running, but after years of frustration with how they end-of-life their top-end devices after a single generation, I went back to Garmin. I got myself a Fenix 6 Pro, migrated my data and haven’t looked back.
I’ve not really made the most of the device yet, I’m going to do more with the workouts feature in 2022, but it’s a decent device and does the level of tracking that I realistically need.
The other thing I got myself was a massage gun for Christmas, a Theragun Prime. My wife gave me a hard time about it, but after a few goes, she’s a convert. While doing my 14-day challenge, I would use it before and after, especially on my calves and ankles, which are where I’m finding most stiffness.
A bonus of my job is that I’m often watching recordings of meetings, so while sitting and watching, I grab it out and work through whatever is sore at the time!
Strava is still the main place that I track my data, but while preparing for this post, I’ve come to realise that it’s quite frustrating to get insights into your own data in ways you want. It’s really lacking much in the way of reporting and visualisation. Garmin Connect doesn’t seem to be much better, so I might ponder on how to better produce the insights that I’d like myself.
I’ve definitely changed my perspective on running over the past few years, from it being something I do to keep some fitness up, to something I do because I enjoy it and want to get better. I’m by no means an elite runner, nor will I ever be, and while 1300km seems like a lot, it’s all relative (one of the ladies I run with did over 3000km in 2021!). Taking it more seriously has been useful for me to understand my body better with running, learn how to run and hold pace better and I’ll be interested to see that in a race situation.
For 2022 I’m stretching myself with a goal of 1500km. Let’s see what injuries have to say about that!