Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Not Every Race Has Bling: 8 Lessons Learned from Running 2019

Disclaimer: This is a personal blog and my experiences should not be used for your medical decision making. I would refer you back to your medical provider. 

Coming off 2018, one my highest mileage years ever, the bar was set high. There was no reason to think I couldn't ride the wave through 2019, right? 2019 started off really well for me, with a half marathon in January, followed by an indoor marathon relay. The polar vortex didn't slow me down!

No, but rheumatoid arthritis had other ideas. In February, I received the shingles vaccine after which I had a reaction. For most people, the vaccine reaction is short--about 24-48 hours, but for this RA warrior, the vaccine triggered a prolonged flare of my disease. For the next 4-6 months, I battled severe fatigue, joint pain, and loss of endurance. While the flare slowly resolved, it was frustrating and I received very little support from my rheumatologist, save for multiple rounds of steroids.

Taking charge of my health, I changed my diet, reducing the amount of 'inflammatory' foods and eating mostly plant-based. I also learned about and started a medication that could help with some of the pain I had been experiencing. I sought out a second opinion from a different rheumatologist and switched my care to her. Time will tell if she's 'the one' for me.

As the year winds down, I am back on track and feeling really good. While I continue to have mild symptoms that remind me that yes, I do have RA, this is the best I have felt in a long time. Instead of doing a traditional recap of all my races--you can find all my recaps on my races page--I wanted to share a few highlights along with some of the lessons I learned over the course of the year. Because running is always teaching us old dogs new tricks.

Never take your health for granted.
The year started off with so much promise! In January, I flew to Mobile, Alabama, to run the Mobile Half Marathon with Holly, Teresa, and Karen. It was a fun girls' weekend and I was completely charmed by Mobile. While it wasn't by any means a fast finish time, I was happy to finish under 2:15, especially since we had so much wine fun! I was already looking ahead to running some spring races. Who knew that the proverbial rug would be pulled out from under me in just a few short weeks?

Best.Finish Line.Ever
No matter what happens, always have fun.
The Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle is such a fun race! In 2018, I had a great race, finishing 17th out of 432 women in my age group. This year I had no such expectations. I finished over 3 minutes slower than the previous year. Because of my health issues, I had expected a slower finish but I will admit to feeling disappointed when I crossed the finish line. As I walked back to meet up with my friends, I ran into the iconic Green Guys and got a photo with them! That put a huge smile on my face and reminded me that no matter what the outcome, this was meant to be fun.

My new BGFs (best green friends)
Not every race has bling. And that's ok.
I've said before and I'll say it again: I never expect a medal or an award at a 5k or a 10k. I ran a couple of races this year where I walked away with nothing except the satisfaction of finishing. The Homestretch for Heroes 5k, which had runners finishing on the track at Arlington International Racecourse was a very low frills event at which ALL proceeds go to support veterans and their families. Earlier in the summer,  I placed in my AG at my hometown 5k and received a pint glass as a reward. What are we going to do with all the medals we get anyways?
Running on the race track! I needed horseshoes!
Manage your expectations.
Hands down, my favorite race is the CARA Lakefront 10 miler. I run it almost every year. Love the distance, love the course along Chicago lakefront. The sponsor changes every couple of years, but the race basically remains the same. In 2018, I ran a strong race, finishing in 1:28:xx. This year, after struggling with my training, I knew there was no way I'd be able to complete 10 miles, even if I used run/walk intervals. Friends told me to walk it but I think everyone knows that I'm too competitive for that! I finally called CARA the week before the race and asked to drop down to the 5k. I was so disappointed. Even the 5k was a struggle and as I crossed the finish line, I knew that I did the right thing. I did leave the race with a CARA pint glass as an AG award. Sweet redemption!

There aren't any hills in Chicago, so they made one. 
Try something new.
In May, I went to Alabama again to see Holly and do some waterskiing. Holly suggested we run a 5k trail race. I had never run a trail race, but as she said, "don't we need a Beaver t-shirt"? Plus, it was a 5k. How hard could it be? It was more challenging than a road race but it was fun! I ran another trail race in June in Door County. I enjoyed running on the trails and would like to do more of trail running in 2020. Stay tuned.

I participated in a couple of fun events with my running club. The Petitt indoor marathon relay in January was something new and different. I've never run any sort of relay, so this was a really fun experience for me. Track hack? Not so much.

Just keep moving.
When I started running races, I was in my late 20s-early 30s, and I ran a lot of 5ks and 10ks. This year felt like a return to my roots. Kind of a full circle, if you will. Since I was really having a tough time running any kind of distance, I ran a lot of 5ks this year. As my endurance slowly returned, so did some speed, and I had a lot of fun running fast. My fastest 5k this year was in Alabama in September. I was surprised and elated to find that I could run like that again! Happy Birthday to me!

Never say never.
As fall approached, I worried about 2 races I had planned to run. One was the Hot Chocolate 15k, a race I promised Steph I would do. She kept reminding me that I could drop down to the 5k but I didn't want to do that. As the race day grew closer, my endurance continued to improve. I brought back the 4:1 run/walk intervals, letting go of any sort of expectation that I could run the entire thing without stopping to walk. I wanted to do the 15k and I did, finishing feeling good and finishing with a time I could live with.

Run with gratitude.
I also used the run/walk intervals for the Schaumburg Turkey Trot Half Marathon in November, and I finished faster than I did the year before! It felt great to end the year with a half marathon and I was so grateful to have finished so strong. Earlier in the year, I thought I was done running distance, much less running at all. After struggling so much this year with endurance and exercise tolerance, I now finish every run and every workout with a grateful heart. I get to do this. I am so lucky.

My local BRF, Steph.
Lucky to have her in my life.
In 2019, I ran 724 miles. Not bad, all things considered. My Garmin also provided me with some other fun statistics (you know I love data!):
-average weekly mileage 14 miles/week
-days running: 115
-total calories: 66,791
-time running: 115:31:36
-average pace: 9:26 m/m
-average cadence: 160 spm

This year would not have been possible without the support of my running friends, my coach Sammy Jo, and my blogging friends and readers. I am a very lucky runner to be part of such an awesome, supportive community. I am excited to see what 2020 brings. No matter what limitations my health may cause, I will not stop moving! Thank you, everyone for reading, for commenting, and for all your support.

See you on the road.

How was your year of running? What lessons did you learn? Favorite races? Any funny stories?

I'm linking up with Kim and Zenaida for Tuesday Topics.


  1. I like the way you structured this recap, Wendy. I think I will use that format for next year.
    Isn't it great that you managed to end the year on a high note? Who would have thought in February that you would run a successful 15k and 21k in November?
    I heartily agree with you that we must be grateful for every mile we get to run.
    All the best for 2020!

  2. Over here it's quite rare to get medals for the shorter races -- which is quite frankly fine by me.

    You've had a real roller coaster year, Wendy, but I'm glad that it ended on a higher note. Your perseverance is admirable!

    Activity of any sort is always a gift -- as is our health.

    I am definitely proud of placing in my AG a couple of times this year. There were a few PRs, and not a whole lot of running (no idea what my yearly mileage was, I haven't looked at it & I'd have to add in TM miles too).

    Can't wait to see what you're up to in 2020!

  3. Everyone needs a beaver shirt! Congrats on a great year of running, despite RA. Here's to 2020!

  4. I So Agree With All Of These - However, Try Something New Really Stands Out For Sure - Excellent Post & Righteous Photos - Stay Strong

    P.S. Happy New Years Eve

  5. These are great tips. Thanks for being MY inspiration. And yes, keep running. You never know where it will take you and whom you will meet.

    I had 5 years of zero injuries. Then two in one year... So you never know. But I ran 6 half marathons and one FULL! I have never been more grateful to be able to run pain-free.

    If I am not pain-free again...I will still run. If I'm slower, I'll have to accept it.

    Life is full of challenges.

    Hope 2020 is a good one for you and for me.

  6. You and I, we've sort of lived in parallel this year, haven't we? I'm glad to see the end of 2019 and like you, I'm hoping for a less turbulent 2020.

  7. I really love all the lessons that you shared from this year. The one that really stood out to me was - manage your expectations. This really helped me when it came to marathon training this year.

    1. I finally came to the realization that there are things I just can't do any more! So why set myself up for failure?

  8. ❤️ love hearing about your year! Helps me think about where I want to be and what I want to accomplish in 2020❤️

  9. ❤️ I love hearing about your year. Helps me think about where I want to be and what I want to accomplish in 2010❤️

  10. Although my knee condition was an "over and done" thing (and not an ongoing thing to deal with, like RA), it taught me SO much about gratitude and grit. I totally agree, we GET to run, and each time we GET to lace up and do our sport, we are blessed.

    1. You're very fortunate that you were only sidelined for a relatively short time. Glad you were able to find a positive in it.

  11. It is great to see you finishing the year on a high note. You are right running does teach us a lot and we have to be grateful for the good days. Cheers to a happy and healthy 2020

  12. Great year for you! I love following along and reading about your races and runs. I like to get a medal but am also OK if I don't get one. One of my favorite races, Elmhurst 4 on the 4th, does not give medals but I love the low race cost and how easy it is to get there and find parking.

  13. It's amazing how much you did get done this year, despite RA trying to stand in your way. Glad you finished the year strong. Here's to a great 2020!

  14. I think I've followed your running blog and journey since I started running and blogging in 2017. I've loved your strength, your courage, your determination... your authenticity and ability to share negative aspects of your journey, but still drawing positive lessons. Your year didn't quite go as planned or as envisaged at the start of 2019, but you showed up every week, and so glad you finished the year strong. Wishing you an amazing 2020!

  15. I love your spirit and continue to be inspired by your attitude. Here's to a more stable 2020 with fewer ups and downs.

  16. Like Oprah says, Running is a metaphor for life. One can only plan so much. At the end of the day all we can do is our best with whatever the day brings. I'm glad to see you finish the year strong!

  17. There is so much more to running that medals or even race times! Honestly I've never been someone who cared much about a medal (half of mine are on the floor in my basement). I'm so glad that running was able to give you so much this year, despite RA trying to bring you down. Here's to a healthy 2020!

  18. These are all really great lessons. I've definitely had to manage my expectations being a pregnant runner this year! I think you have done an amazing job this year and I love how honest you are about your experiences with RA. Congrats on all your achievements!

  19. <3 2019 handed you some unfortunate things, but I love how you took back your own health and made it happen on your terms. I only hope I can be as dedicated in my recovery.

    Even with the setback, you had a great year, and it seems like you are having fun again! I love that for you!

  20. This is such a wonderful post and definitely something I needed to read right now. You inspire me. Having fun, being grateful for what we can do, managing expectations and just keep moving forward are key. Happy New Year, Wendy!