My name is Ryan McGrath, and I have an addiction. I am addicted to racing. Often I do it very poorly.
It's true, I really do have a problem. I competed in 30 races this year. Not every one of them was designed to be a real "race," as some were efforts of convenience. But, I donned a number and crossed a start/finish line 30 times this year. If I did a recap of the entire year, it would be really, really long. And all 6 of you would NOT want to read it. So instead, I'm going to go through my 11 highlights, or lowlights, of the year. I'll just call them the 11 Moments That Stand Out (in no particular order):
1. Starting the year on the wrong feet. Alyssa was going to do this PHUNT Run, a no-frills, no-cost trail race, on Sunday, January 2nd, so the four idiots (Pat, Zero, Ed, myself) and Meg D/Pete decided we'd crash the party. We figured the 20k (12.4 miles) shouldn't take us more than 1h45m, because honestly, how hard could trails be? Finding ourselves on the wrong route less than a quarter mile into the race, apparently it was pretty hard. The thickest, sloppiest mud I've ever seen, combined with getting lost a few more times, snow, ice cold water, and hunger, resulted in the worst 2h25m of running I'd ever done. For us, it was at least 16 miles we ended up running. Alyssa somehow stuck it out for the 50k.
2. Party in the City Where the Heat is On. Lebron was man enough to take his talents to South Beach, and so were we, for the third annual trip to the Miami Marathon and Half Marathon. This time it was a small crew, consisting of me, Zero, Barf, Dustin, and my brother. I wasn't sure what to expect from the race, as it was just two months after the IM, and following PHUNT I'd had a lot of knee and foot problems. Somehow I pulled out a 1:21:49, which was faster than I ran there in 2009, when I was in shape to run much faster. My goal had been to run under 1:23:00 so I'd have a guaranteed entry into NYC Marathon if I wanted it. Considering this race was still relatively early in my comeback trail, looking back, it was one of my best of the year.
3. We're getting the band back together. Club Challenge is one of my favorite events, least favorite races, and a rite of passage if you plan on running in Baltimore. The first year I raced (2006), I ran like garbage, going out too hard and coming back in a crawl to run 1:04 something. The next year I was ready for it, but snow canceled the event. 2008 I was running pretty well, and managed to go 59:25. 2009 I was running even better, and went 58:55. Not sure how my body would fare on the knee-jarring downhills on the hilly course, I only thought in my head that I could run close to 6 minute pace. When I actually did it (1:00:12), I was pretty surprised. Somehow I managed to run back-to-back 5 milers faster than any of my actual 5 mile race this year. Go figure.
4. The Race of Truth. 2011 was the year of the Mile for me. I raced this distance more than any other, running 3 road miles and 3 track miles. I had a great (downhill) mile at Westminster Main St Mile in April, running 4:50, and a couple of weeks later I ran 5:00.11 on the track at the Maryland Alumni Mile. I'm still positive it was under 5, but whatever. Then, on Memorial Day, despite 3 days of brutal, monster training, I still managed a 5:07 at the Loudoun St Mile in VA. Then it was downhill, and the effects of IM training seeped in. 5:16 on the track, 5:19 on the track, 5:30 on the road. Ouch. Not a pretty end, but I vow to be back in 2012.
5. Back to the Track. #4 was a good segue into this one, which was a return to track racing. I'm slow as shit, and really have no business being on a track, but I love it. I raced quite a bit on the track this year, even "competing" in the 4x100m relay at one of the BRRC meets. I did two 5000m races (17:46 each) and a 2 mile (11:10). There really is nothing more fun in the summer than to go out to a low key track meet and just see what you can do against some high school kids.
6. Y'all Come Back Now. I love to travel, particularly when I can go with friends, and even moreso when I can find a race that fits in. This year was a perfect storm of activity, as the Peachtree 10k (see also: 60,000 people running down Peachtree Street in Atlanta) fell in line with an Orioles weekend series against the Braves. Alyssa, Arjun, Melissa, Brennan, Ed and I hopped in the ol' family truckster and tackled the 714 mile drive to ATL down Tobacco Rd, stopping along the way in Blacksburg, VA, and Raleigh, NC (on the way home). Brennan got us hooked up with game tickets, and come Monday (July 4, race day), we were toeing the line with the likes of Ryan Hall and Abdi Abdirahman, to run one of the worst races I could have imagined. It was so humid, and after an initial flat/downhill, it was just up, up, up for the back half. Very hard. Even harder was having to run BACK to the hotel. An awesome experience though, I recommend you run the race if you have the opportunity.
7. Always a bridesmaid. The brothers McLoughlin and I headed home to NJ in July to race in our friend's sprint (Randolph Lake). Now, the three of us knows each other quite well, and based on the layout of the race (short swim, longer/harder bike, 5k run) I felt I had my best opportunity to bring my head-to-head record against them up. Our friend Mike was the RD, and it was at his half iron last October that I finished 2nd. Was it finally time to win a race? When we saw Doug Clark show up in the morning, the answer was a resounding: NO. Doug is awesome. My best effort was to make sure he didn't eat up my 4 minute head start. I managed to cross the line first, but he made up all by :30 of the gap, and was the overall winner. Oh well. It was still a good race for me.
8. Luray is for Lovers. The VA Power Couple of Triathlon, the Mighty Palavecinos, owned this year's event. Matias stomped errbody in Saturday's Olympic, and then came back to win again Sunday's sprint (fortunately Mighty Matias has gone "pro" for 2012 from what I hear). KGD, now KGDP, won the Olympic, and took 2nd in the sprint. CTR, Zero, and Pat could only watch as Matias ripped into us, but Alyssa gave KGD a run for her money, as she finished 2nd in the Olympic. Meanwhile I had the most frustrating race I've ever had and just tried to make sure Ben didn't catch me. Luray is one of the highlights of our year, and this year was even more fun as the 6 of us (CTR, Z, Pat, Ben, Alyssa, me) rented a cabin atop some absurd dirt road that only Alyssa's car could get to. Then we rode a very challenging Skyline Drive ride the next day. I'm eyeing this one for a great battle in 2012.
9. A PR at PDR. With my hindered abilities, PRs at this point, while not impossible, are certainly not expected. Particularly not when I decided to race a half marathon just three weeks after IM Louisville. But Philly Distance Run is my jam; it's one of my favorite races on the planet, and I couldn't pass it up. It also happened to be the day before my 30th birthday, and I really just wanted to go out on top, rather than with the sour taste of IM Louisville still lingering. It was a gamble, because it honestly could have gone really poorly. Fortunately for me, it didn't, and I was rewarded with a 4 second PR in what had to have been the best-run race I've ever had. I was also fortunate to have Ed and Pat running near me for a little bit, but before the halfway point, I was on my own, and I was glad. I worked hard, stayed tough, and took a little time out of my best time there.
10. Ironman Failures. A year ago if you had asked me if my 10:40:00 would still be my PR at the end of this year I would have said absolutely not. I thought that was the best I could have done on that day, but I also thought it was the worst I would do. A 3:57 marathon off a 5:32 bike, I was going to wreck that this year. More time to train, more hours, more strength and overall fitness DO NOT MEAN YOU DO BETTER. Louisville I could accept as a fluke. I just got really, really sick at the really, really worst time. If you take my swim into account, it was absolutely the best swim I've had this year, and likely the best swim of my life. This, coming after a summer where I was swimming like shit. Then, even on the bike, despite literally soft pedaling the entire second half, I still managed to split a 5:14. And, even when I felt super duper sick, I managed to run just a little over 7 minute pace, for a few miles at least. Arizona was just sad. I don't know what happened, I don't know why I get sick when I travel to these races, I don't know why I didn't have it that day. It's the most frustrating thing in the world to me, and in order to keep what little sanity I have left, I have no choice but to give up on this distance.
11. A win is a win. I wouldn't end it on a bad note, so the moment I'll remember most from this year is my first triathlon win at the Waterman's Half. Everything was so clutch about this day. I was able to sign up for the race ON race day. C'mon, how great is that? It was in MD, so I didn't have to go far. It was a Saturday race. I mostly did it because it fit into my schedule and I wanted to do another longer distance race before IMAZ, but it worked out that everyone else in the triathlon world must have taken that weekend off. I cruised in the water, coming out in 3rd and onto the bike in 2nd, and made quick work on the bike to assume the lead. After I got passed, I made a wise decision to keep my effort steady and not worry about the guy in front, and just be confident in my run. It was the right move, because within 3 miles on the run, I ate up the 3 minute lead he had, and cruised in for the win. It was a very cool moment, and it was nice to have Alyssa there to see it.
12. WE GOT HIM (bonus moment)
Of course, these are all quite selfish moments, and none of us would be anything without the crews that support us. 2011 was the year of the marathon, and it was awesome to see Ed run 2:36:45 at Chicago. He averaged 10 miles per day (3652 for the year) and raced a zillion times, from the mile to the marathon and everything in between, setting numerous PRs and always working his schedule around others to run. Then Pat ran his first marathon, and to be on hand for that was great. Nothing beats running in your city, especially when your super pregnant wife and baby Megatron can waddle out of the house and walk a block and see you go by. Pat's 2:50:43 at BALTIMORE has to be one of the best marathon debuts I've ever seen. Zero, who will always mystify us as to how he can race so well on seemingly no training, put down massive PRs in the 5k, 10k, 10mi, half, Olympic tri and IRONMAN, where he went 9:49 at Louisville. Incredible. Brennan came off his tough 2010 to renew his passion for running, taking a different approach to racing and training, and helping others get to where they wanted to go. Arjun ran the fastest 5k he's run since he's lived here, and Melissa got herself into some of the best shape I've ever seen her. Ben got lucky and didn't have to swim at his first half iron, and signed up for his first IM this year. Kris took a huge chunk out of his marathon PR at Richmond, training mostly on his own to do it. My tri partners in crime, OJ/Benda/David Lee, helped so much in the first half of the year, and now that we're committed to S.O.S., I'll get to see them more through the spring and summer. CTR exposed himself to the tri community and has become a valuable asset in the fight against crime. My mom and dad made it out to Arizona to check out an unfortunately shitty race, good thing they think that crossing the line is a big accomplishment. And really, not enough can be said about the amazing year Alyssa had - running a hundred mile trail race in Hawaii in January, and then qualifying for Hawaii later in the year. How many people have done that? Or do a 100k trail race 3 weeks after an Ironman? Or do a 100 miler, 2 Ironmans, a 100k, two one mile races, a half marathon, a cross country 5k, PR in most things from the beer mile to Olympic distance, qualify for Hawaii ALL in the same year? Not anybody I know.
So while 2011, all in all, was not my best year, it was for my friends, and I'll take that as a win. And then just cross my fingers that maybe 2012 is a little better for me.