Running During My Off-Season

I’m in-between half marathons currently, which means I haven’t been doing a whole lot of running. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been active, though. My last half marathon was in New Jersey and was my 40th state. Given that my next half marathon isn’t until November, that leaves a big chunk of the summer with no training plan. I’ll start training for my next race in a couple of weeks.

Now that I’m down to the final 10 states on my quest for a half marathon in all 50 states, I’ve gone from running a race every season to a race in three out of four seasons. After my race in November, I won’t have another race until May, which means my off-season will be during the winter months for the most part. Last year, I was training during the winter for my race in Utah in February. I was cursing my decision when I had to run my long runs in the cold last January and February, but I’m sure next summer when I’m training for a half marathon in August and have to do my long runs in the heat and humidity I’ll be cursing my decision to do a summer race.  Oh well!

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Although I haven’t been running a ton, I’ve been having fun biking with my family- here’s my daughter on a recent family ride

OK.  Back to my point, which is it’s kind of different having such a long break off of serious miles. Sure, I’ve still been running here and there, but the longest run I’ve gone on since the race in May is 4 miles. I’ll run 5 miles this weekend, but still, this is what many of you runners are doing for your mid-week runs. I’ve been working on strength training and some other things as well during this time off of race training, so it’s been a good time to do some other things like High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), which I’ll ease off of when I’m in the double digits for my long runs.

There’s also a mental aspect of taking a break from half marathon training. Running is such a big part of my life, when I’m not doing so much of it, I have kind of mixed feelings. I’m enjoying having extra time in my day but I also miss my time out on the roads and trails. I’ve been running my long runs on the same trail for the past couple of years and it’s quite scenic and not crowded, so I feel a sense of peace when I’m running. Even though parts of the trail are close to neighborhoods, there are enough trees and wooded areas that you feel miles away from everything at times.

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I haven’t missed this hill from my long runs!

Until recently I didn’t really have an “off-season” from training. I’ve always taken a solid two week break from every half marathon I run, sometimes a little more if I feel like I need it, but my next race was never more than 2 or 3 months away usually. I suppose I could have ran shorter distance races this summer, but honestly the idea of running a race in the heat and humidity we have here in North Carolina doesn’t appeal to me. That could be an option for next spring during my long break between races, though. I haven’t ran a 5k by myself (I ran one with my daughter a couple of years ago) since I first started running races so it would be interesting to see how I’d do.

How about you guys? Most of the running blogs I follow make me look like a slacker when it comes to running races! Do you guys ever take an off-season from running and/or racing?

My Top 10 Favorite Places in the United States and Why I Love Them

I thought it would be fun to compile a list of my favorite places I’ve been to. At first I wasn’t going to separate out places in the United States from international places, but then I thought there’s no way I could limit them to just ten places. Most of my travels within the United States have been planned with the goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states.  So far I’ve been to 43 states and have ran a half marathon in 40 states.

So here goes, my choice for number 10:  Glacier National Park in Montana. My family and I went here after my half marathon in Missoula. I thought Missoula was beautiful but GNP was even more beautiful.  We hiked many trails and especially loved hiking trails around Lake McDonald. I also enjoyed just driving along the Going-to-the-Sun Road.

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Number 9:  Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. This was another place where my family and I went after I ran a half marathon, only this time in Boulder, undoubtedly one of the hardest races I’ve ever ran because of the high elevation. We drove to RMNP from Boulder and were blown away by the mountains and scenery. Boulder is at the base of the really big mountains such as those in RMNP. Even though we went there in June, there was still quite a bit of snow on the ground at the highest elevations. The park’s tallest mountain, Long’s Peak is stunning with an elevation of 14,259. Similar to the Going-to-the-Sun Road in Montana, the drive along Trail Ridge Road is beautiful.

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Number 8:  Badlands National Park in South Dakota (notice a trend here?). We went here after one of my favorite half marathons, in Spearfish, SD. On this trip we also went to Mount Rushmore but I found the Badlands to be much more beautiful. I absolutely loved the different colored rock formations, the Buttes, and spires. We spotted some big horn sheep, bison, and tons of prairie dogs.

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Number 7: San Juan Islands in Washington. I absolutely loved Seattle, but I loved the San Juan Islands, and the ferry ride there even more than Seattle. We went to Friday Harbour and stayed in a cabin overlooking a beautiful field where deer liked to graze in the mornings and at dusk. I ran a half marathon here, which turned out to be a pretty small but scenic race. We toured a lavender farm and spent a lot of time in the retail section smelling all of the lavender-infused products and tasting the tea. My daughter wanted to buy one of everything.  The lavender tea was delicious. We also went whale-watching just off the coast and saw a bunch of orcas and dolphins. My daughter even got to steer the boat during our tour! Hiking in Lime Kiln State Park was also a highlight of our time on the island.

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Number 6:  Charleston, South Carolina. I wrote a couple of posts about Charleston last summer, so it should be no surprise to see it on my list here. I love so much about this city from the beaches to the architecture to the food. I could go on and on about the food alone. I’ve never had a bad meal here, ever. I’ve been going to Charleston for vacations many times over the years and it just seems to get better every time. There’s so much history here if you’re a history buff you’ll love all of the museums and walking tours. I find Charleston to be the quintessential southern city full of charm, friendly people, and some of the best food you’ll ever eat.

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Number 5:  Bryce Canyon National Park in Utah (can you tell I’m a big fan of national parks?). We went here earlier this year in late winter and I found it to be truly magical. I don’t use that word lightly either. Also, I hate winter. I moved south to get away from the cold weather as an adult. However, the snow on the hoodoos was beautiful and I had so much fun hiking the trails at Bryce Canyon while it was snowing. It snowed off and on but was never a blizzard or anything crazy. The light snowfall just added to the experience and made it even more special. Even though I loved Zion National Park, I loved Bryce Canyon even more, which surprised me, honestly. Plan your next vacation there with the help of my previous posts and this website.

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Number 4:  Acadia National Park in Maine. Before I went to Maine, I had heard great things about the state and hoped that it would live up to the hype. Maine did not disappoint. It was every bit as beautiful as I imagined and the food was every bit as good as you hear it is. We dined on fresh lobster and other fresh fish dishes including clam chowder and had some incredible meals on our trip to Maine. A highlight of the trip was hiking in Acadia National Park and I was glad we had allotted a few days here. We also discovered popovers at Jordan Pond House and that was a real treat. And yes, I also ran a half marathon here.

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Number 3:  Kona, Hawaii. I first went to Hawaii many years ago and ran a half marathon in Kona, which turned out to be my second state for half marathons, even though I didn’t have the goal then of one in every state. I just thought it would be fun (it was) and cool to run along a portion of the same course as the Ironman triathlon. Kona is what I think of when I think of Hawaii:  black sandy beaches, volcanos, palm trees, and incredible snorkeling. Not surprisingly I loved Hawaii Volcanoes National Park. It was like nowhere else in the world and walking through the Thurston Lava Tube was very cool. When I later went back to Kona many years after that first trip, it was every bit as great as I remembered. I’ve since then wanted to go back again but haven’t made it (yet!).

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Number 2:  San Francisco, California. I left my heart in San Francisco. Just kidding. I think that famous song does strike a chord with many people, however. San Francisco is such a fun and vibrant city it’s no surprise it’s become the most expensive city to live in the United States. Where there’s demand, prices will go up accordingly. While I have no desire to live in San Francisco, I love to visit there. In fact, when I was planning my family’s trip to New Zealand, I was happy to include a day-long layover in San Francisco both before and after our flights to New Zealand. I’m always looking for an excuse to go back. Why do I love San Francisco? Well, it’s hard to describe, honestly. There’s so much to do here and the area is beautiful especially around the water. I just love the Golden Gate Bridge and had a blast on the multiple boat tours I took that went around and under the bridge. I love the crazy hilly streets and architecture. The food is great, even the super-touristy chowder in a sourdough bread bowl. Speaking of touristy, I even love the wharf area despite how crowded it can get.

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Number 1:  San Diego, California. If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’ll remember how many posts I wrote about San Diego. In fact, some of you were probably sick of hearing me go on about the city. It’s absolutely stunning, though. You hear about places being called “breathtaking” all the time and I feel that term is completely over-used but I will say San Diego was honestly breathtaking to me. When I first saw Sunset Cliffs, I was speechless, took a second to get my breath, then looked at my daughter (who also had the same reaction), and just said, “Wow!” It was one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. There’s also so much to do in San Diego, from hiking, to the touristy but still interesting Old Town, the world famous zoo, many museums, parks, and shopping. There are several places where you can get some fantastic tacos and Liberty Public Market has some delicious local fresh food and other unique things for sale. Coronado Beach with its golden-flecked sand and the iconic Hotel del Coronado is my favorite beach in the area. I could go on and on about San Diego. I guess I left my heart in San Diego.

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What are some of your favorite places in the United States? Does anyone else love these places as much as I do?

New Shoes!

And when I say new shoes, I mean NEW shoes! I did something I wouldn’t advise anyone else to do and I’ve never done it myself before. I bought a pair of running shoes online in a brand I’ve never ran in before, heck never even put on before.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve been doing my long runs in Asics Nimbus. I remember having Nimbus 9’s and now I have Nimbus 18’s so it’s been at least 10-ish years given that they increase the number each year. These have been my go-to running shoes, my never-give-me-any-problems running shoes. Even though I like to mix up my second pair of running shoes, varying brand but lately sticking to fairly flat ones, I haven’t altered my long run shoes, until now.

So what did I go with? I bought a pair of Newton Fate II’s. I’ll admit I’m a sucker for a good shoe sale, and these were on sale for $69, while the new Fate III shoes are $135 and new Nimbus 19 shoes are $160. I thought why not? If they suck, I can always return them and buy some Nimbus 19’s. Probably the bigger question is why did I switch after all these years?

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After being pretty disappointed with my last two half marathons, the one in Utah but even more so my latest one in New Jersey I decided I need to make some changes. Sure, these courses were crazy hilly, but still, I felt like I should have finished stronger than I did. While I ended up 6th in my age group for the race in Utah, I felt like the one in New Jersey wasn’t representative of what I could really do. I felt like it was time to shake things up a bit.

I decided to do a 30 day plank challenge, but this was in-between the races in Utah and New Jersey and that didn’t help me with the hills in New Jersey. Even though I used to detest squats and lunges, I started doing them to strengthen my glutes and help with Dead Butt Syndrome. I read Runner’s World ‘Train Smart Run Forever’ and was reminded of other exercises I need to be doing, besides squats and lunges, plus other things in general I need to be doing, especially as a “masters” runner. The latest thing I’ve added into the mix is to do a high intensity interval training (HIIT) workout once a week.

So back to the shoes. When I first put them on, I thought, “Wow! These really feel different!” Newton shoes have “Action/Reaction™ Technology” using five lugs across the mid foot that are supposed to provide quicker bounce back and lose less energy than traditional foam-core running shoes. I’ve never had any kind of running shoes with this kind of technology, so it was definitely new to me.

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I didn’t want to over-do it on my first run on them so I decided to just go out for a couple of miles and see how it went. The shoes felt pretty good, with plenty of room in the toe box but not too much, nice fit all-around, but they didn’t feel quite as “springy” as my previous Nimbus shoes, especially in the mid foot. This was a surprise to me, honestly, but not necessarily a bad thing. I’ve felt like I need to strengthen my feet and Achilles a bit anyway, so maybe these Newtons will help me do that.

Let’s do a little comparison of Nimbus 19 versus Newton Fate III shoes (don’t worry, I’ll keep it brief). The Nimbus 19 weighs 9.6 oz (size 8) and has a stack height of 32 mm (heel), 19 mm (forefoot). The Asics Nimbus cushioning system uses a silicone based gel and an injected top layer of lower density cushioning in women’s models. The Newton Fate III weighs 7.7 oz (size 8) and has a stack height of 27 mm (heel), 22 mm (forefoot). The Newton Fate has “Newtonium foam,” lugs as part of their action/reaction technology I mentioned before with P.O.P. 2 technology and air-filled chambers, and a biomechanical metatarsal sensor plate in the forefoot that allows you to feel the ground, for constant sensory feedback.

I think the sensor plate is why I didn’t feel like the Newtons are quite as springy as my Asics, because I definitely could feel the ground more in my new shoes, which I think is a good thing. I’m also interested to see how the difference in stack height effects my running. The Asics Nimbus difference from heel to forefoot is 13 mm but only 5 mm in the Newton, which is a considerable difference.

On my second run, I went slightly further out (about 3 miles) but ran on some trails that have some pretty steep hills. Everything seemed to feel good and I didn’t have any issues, with one minor little thing. One of the trails I ran on had some small rocks and apparently one of the rocks got wedged in-between the lugs. When I got back to a paved trail, I felt something stuck on the bottom of my shoe so I stopped to pull out the rock. Hopefully this won’t be an issue.

So far, I have high hopes for these shoes. Along with all of the other things I’ve been doing, I hope these shoes help me have a better race the next go-around in November!

Have any of you ever bought a new brand of shoes online without trying them on first?

Health Update

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A sunset during my time in Chile because, well, it’s beautiful!

For those of you that don’t recall or haven’t kept up with my blog, I woke up with tinnitus the morning of June 5. The only possible thing I can correlate it to is multiple flights from Chile two days prior (you can read about SantiagoVina del Mar and Valparaiso, and Las Cabras). I felt like my ear was full of pressure or water and I couldn’t hear as well out of my left ear. My doctor prescribed a low-dose steroid (prednisone) and referred me to an ENT specialist.

The ENT doctor prescribed a high-dose steroid, which did nothing for my ear, so he prescribed a diuretic, with the idea that there could be fluid in my middle ear, which apparently is undetectable by exam. If I thought taking high doses of steroid was difficult, it was nothing compared to the side effects of this diuretic. I was exhausted, light-headed, and just felt terrible.

After I tried to go for a bike ride, I almost passed out. I started walking my bike home for the remaining half mile, but when I started to black out, I put down my bike and just laid in someone’s front yard until I felt like I could at least walk again. The next day when I was at work, my third day of taking the diuretic, I felt like I was going to pass out when I was just sitting at my desk, so I went to the health unit and the nurse had me lie down and drink water and eat some crackers. As soon as I got back to my desk, I called my doctor and told the nurse I couldn’t continue taking the diuretic.

An MRI was scheduled as the next step, to rule out things like tumors in my middle or inner ear. Holy crap that MRI sucked! I had to lay on a flat metal gurney-type thing, not much wider than the width of my body (and I’m not a huge person!), and the technician told me to lie absolutely still for the duration of the scan, about 30-40 minutes. The worst part was when they put a metal piece, best described as a baseball pitcher’s mask or hockey goalie mask, over my face, with only a few inches of space from my face. Then they told me to keep my eyes closed for the entire time, and the gurney thing slid back into the tube, and the scan began.

If you’ve never had an MRI, one thing about them is they are LOUD! Even with ear plugs in and padding around my ears, the noises the machine made were so loud, the sound seemed to reverberate through my entire body. At times, the entire metal thing I was lying on was shaking. Half-way through the scan, the technician came out and inserted a dye into my arm, so they could have scans with and without contrast. I tasted a metallic taste in my mouth and my arm hurt where the needle was inserted. Later, I had a massive bruise there and my arm was sore for more than a week.

And then I waited for the results. Waiting for news from your doctor is always the hardest part. Not knowing has always driven me crazy. I tried not to think about it, but it was always in the back of my mind until the nurse finally called.

And…my MRI results were normal! Hooray! No tumor! The bad part, though, is we have no idea what caused the tinnitus. It could have been the flights, or maybe that was just a coincidence and I would have developed it then anyway. Since there’s no obvious cause, I’ll never know. I have a follow-up appointment with my ENT next week, but I have a feeling we’ll discuss my MRI results then he’ll tell me there’s nothing else they can do for me. There’s pretty much no treatment for tinnitus when there’s no obvious cause.

So now what? I learn to live with it. I go on. I tell myself that I’m fortunate to be as healthy as I am and I appreciate all that I do have. I start training for my next half marathon next month, so I’m glad all of this happened when I was in-between training plans.

For those of you that haven’t connected with me through Twitter or Facebook, you can find me at both of those at runningtotravel and on Instagram at runningtotraveltheworld.  I’d love to connect with you there!  Donna

HIIT Me Baby One More Time!

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Sorry, but I couldn’t resist! I’ve been doing a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) workout once a week that I’ve been loving. It kicks my butt, but I feel like it’s a great workout for runners. I know this is nothing new, and I’ve done HIIT workouts before, but this particular HIIT workout feels different from others I’ve done in the past.

Here’s what I do:

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  1. Burpee
  2. Squat
  3. Lateral slide
  4. Reverse lunge
  5. Mountain climber
  6. Scissor kick
  7. Spiderman

I do each exercise for 20 seconds at high intensity then 10 seconds of rest continuously for 4 minutes. After 4 minutes, I rest for 1 minute then start the next exercise. Exercises are only done for 4 minutes, so I don’t cycle through then repeat exercises. It takes about 35 minutes not including the warmup and I am thoroughly wiped-out when I’m done.

I’ve done this workout twice and I was sore for days after the first time. I was only a little sore after the second time. I figure I’ll keep doing this series of exercises until I feel like it’s getting easier, then I’ll change out some of the exercises for others. For example, I could swap out scissor kick for leg lifts or something along those lines.

I feel like this will help me with running hills and just running in general. It should also help with dead butt syndrome. I think this workout is definitely helping to strengthen my core and my glutes. After the first time, it hurt when I would sit down or get out of a chair in particular. I probably would back off of this intense of a workout in the final couple of weeks before a half marathon, but since I’m in-between training plans, it’s the perfect opportunity for something like this.

Here are links that show how to do each exercise:

burpee

squat

lateral slide

reverse lunge

mountain climber

scissor kick

spiderman

How about you all?  Do you have a HIIT workout that you’re loving/hating right now?

How to Raise an Active Child

I have to admit it makes me cringe when I hear parents say things like, “My child isn’t active.  She doesn’t have any interest in sports,” or, “My child doesn’t play sports.  He’d rather do other things.” When I come back with questions like, what activities have they tried, the parent will usually only give one activity. WHAT? Over the years, my eleven-year-old daughter has been in ballet, gymnastics, on multiple soccer teams, volleyball camps, a running camp and after-school running group, and swimming teams. She’s also had tennis lessons and snow skiing lessons. My husband and I decided when she was 4 or 5 that she would be involved in some sort of activity and if we had to try them all until we found one that stuck, then so be it.

So of all of the activities above listed, which one(s) stuck with my daughter? She’s now an avid swimmer and runner but all of the other activities fell to the wayside. My daughter has been on a year-round swim team for several years now and is going to try out for her school track and field team as soon as she is able next spring. That being said, our road to her being an avid runner has not always been easy.

My daughter’s first experience with running came when I signed her up for the kids’ dash at the Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure. She was three years old and ran 50 yards.

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Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure

After the Kids’ Dash at the Race for the Cure, her next major running event didn’t happen for several years later. When she was 8, she ran in a kids’ marathon where she ran with a running group at her school, tracking her miles up to 25.2 and ran the final mile on the adult marathon course. A year later, I ran a half marathon in Branson, Missouri, the Roller Coaster Half Marathon and they offered a one mile run for kids. She ended up finishing in 8:25, despite the extremely hilly course during a cold, rainy morning and she had just turned 9 years old then. Sounds pretty good so far, right? Fast forward a bit from there and things went downhill quickly.

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Gymnastics is really hard if you’re a super-tall kid, like mine is

I am a runner with a goal of running a half marathon in all 50 states. So far I’m up to my 40th state and I’ve been doing this since before my daughter was born. I currently run three races a year, so I’m out running quite a lot throughout the year. A few years ago she asked if she could run with me, to which I replied sure, thinking it would be a great way for us to bond. Then the whining and complaining started. She would say, “This is too hard!” and complain that she was too hot or too thirsty or too tired, and on and on. I told her before we even left the house that she would be setting our pace and if she wanted to take walk breaks that was fine. Quickly, however, I realized it just wasn’t working. She’d only last a few minutes before she was ready to walk and the whole time she would be complaining and whining. I couldn’t take it any longer.

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Running the last mile of the kids’ marathon
Instead of giving up, however, I tried a different approach. I signed her up with Girls on the run, an after-school running group meant to encourage girls to live a healthy active life and help them build up their confidence in themselves over a 10 week period that culminates in a 5k event. This worked even better than I could have imagined.. Not only did she see that she was indeed a good runner but she began to gradually build a love for running. Since that Girls on the Run 5k, she’s gone on to run three other 5k races, one of which she won second place in her age group.

Not only is my daughter a runner, she’s also an avid swimmer, her true love. At a pretty young age (two), I had put her in swimming lessons and she had always taken to the water well. So after ballet and gymnastics didn’t work out, I decided to put her on a swim team during the school months when she was in the second grade. This was the activity for her! She loved her coach and even enjoyed participating in swim meets. Since then she has had multiple coaches and has been on two different swim teams and if anything her love for swimming has only increased.

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First swim meet at the young age of 7

What is the biggest take-away from all of this? Don’t give up! If you put your child in a sports camp and it goes horribly, try another sport. If gymnastics isn’t for your child, try tennis, or basketball, or running, or ice hockey, or volleyball, or pick another sport. Keep trying until something sticks with your child. There are so many activities offered in most areas of the US that surely your child will enjoy one of them. Most of all, though, don’t wait. The younger you get your child active, the more it will become a normal part of their life.

Another piece of advice, don’t push your child too hard. Coaches are there to do their job so don’t try to coach your child or you risk turning your child away from the sport completely because it’s too much pressure. Simply encourage your child and tell them often how proud you are of them no matter what.

For resources in your area, try searching Eventbrite. Among other things such as music, they have a link specifically for sports and wellness and one for classes; both links include activities for children as well as adults. You can even search for specific events or categories or search by dates. I’ve found it to be a great resource for finding things going on in my area and when I’m traveling as well. Check out this tool to help you find events in your area.

How many of you are like me and are proud to have active kids? What activities are your kids involved in? Have you found it to always be easy to keep your kids active or has it also been a struggle at times for you?

My Age Adjusted Half Marathon Times

After reading Runner’s World Train Smart Run Forever by Bill Pierce and Scott Murr (see my review here), I wanted to see how my age adjusted half marathon times looked. One of the main takeaways from the book is that although your race times will inevitably increase as you get older, particularly beginning in your 40’s, your age adjusted times should actually remain the same or decrease if you’re lucky.

Warning: this blog post is full of data and probably only for true data geeks. If it puts you to sleep, don’t say I didn’t warn you. For those of you that are into this kind of thing, you’re in for a treat!

First I plotted all of my half marathons from the very first one in North Carolina to the  one I ran in Utah. I did not include my last race in New Jersey, however. This includes half marathons I ran over an almost 20 year span with 41 half marathons in 39 states, so there are a lot of variables here besides just age to consider. For instance, the terrain and weather varied greatly from one race to the next. Beyond that, I was anemic for a period of years, so there is a spike in my times due to that until I was fully recovered.

You’ll see my race times are in red and my age adjusted times are in black. Initially, the age adjusted times are the exact same as the race times, so you’ll only see a black square for the first few races. Only around my mid-30’s do you even start to see a separation between the red circles and black squares.

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There is also a spike in my times for the race in Colorado. Running at a high elevation really took it out of me so this was definitely one of my slowest finish times. I decided to take out the times when I was anemic and the points from Colorado, since I thought they were outliers from the rest of the data.

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OK. So now I’ve removed the points from when I was anemic and my race in Colorado. With these two graphs, I can get a better idea of the “big picture” of my running.  The obvious outlier in the first one is my first race ever. Even with that point included, however, the general trend for my age adjusted times are decreasing, as shown by the linear fit shown by the blue line. When I throw out my first race time, the trends are more consistent. My race times have averaged around 2 hours and a couple of minutes over the years and have slightly increased. However, and here is the main point of the whole thing, my age adjusted times, again, as shown by the blue line, have definitely decreased over time, which is what I wanted to see.

Another interesting thing is the very large degree of separation between my race times and age adjusted times in my 40’s. For my half marathon in Utah, the difference between these two times is almost 10 minutes!

My plots aren’t anywhere near as “pretty” as the ones in the book, but I think maybe a big reason for that is the author’s age spans over a much longer time than mine do. Perhaps when I’m in my 70’s (as one of the authors is) and I plot my race times versus my age adjusted times, I’ll see something even more linear, rather than what I see. Hopefully even though my race times will (inevitably) increase, my age adjusted times will continue to decrease linearly.

Here’s the link to the Runner’s World website where you can plug in your numbers to see your age-graded race times.