year in review: the oregano project at two

This time last year, I wrote my first annual reflection and summary of my training regime dubbed ‘the oregano project’. Just for laughs, nothing serious, but serious enough in terms of me wanting to find out more about my long distance running and how I could possibly learn more about how my body performs. Twelve months ago it was a joy to write the summary. Despite not achieving the two primary goals (marathon sub-3:20 and half sub-1:30), I got closer than ever before. My confidence grew to new levels. Man, I wish I could write a similar summary this year!

the oregano project at two – original image © https://pixabay.com/photos/cupcake-cake-birthday-candles-4528016/
the oregano project’s second birthday!

the oregano project by quarters

first quarter

January started in earnest, following a very successful year. My sights set on the Tralee Marathon in March and greater confidence than ever following my experience in Dublin and the Waterford AC Half that the 3:20 would fall in Tralee. A leisurely 170-mile month in January was the perfect base for a ramp-up to 240 miles in February. I even squeezed in a Leap Day marathon for laughs at a casually run 3:40 – something I never thought I could do. The Oregano Project had hit the ground running in 2020, following on perfectly from last year. Then March hit us and so too did COVID-19 hit Ireland; we went into lockdown. As best I tried, ending March with ~190 miles, it was all over for the year even though I didn’t know it.

second quarter

After the cancellation of the Tralee Marathon, the situation for the country in the pandemic worsened greatly. People were dying, infections rising rapidly. Life had changed incredibly and wasn’t due to reset for the foreseeable future. I tried to keep myself going, spending a total of 9 weeks on the treadmill as I wouldn’t leave the house. Sucking up 35/40-mile weeks on the treadmill is physically doable but the psychological toll is huge. Made harder by knowing that everything you trained for over the last 18 months is quickly disappearing.

The spring series of road races cancelled. The summer marathons, all cancelled. Restrictions that kept people 2km/5km from their homes severely limited preferred routes and didn’t do much for the will to run 20 miles by way of 20 x 1-mile laps of the block. As much as knew and feared what would be lost, the Oregano Project was in trouble with doors closing everywhere in my mind.

We tried to keep spirits high. The #BVSC virtual time trial series got everybody out their doors in both solitude and solidarity, to post mile PBs and 5km PBs too. Lots of fun and games and some very interesting certificates of achievement. As good as it was, I already succumbed to the knowledge that training would be in vane this year. I started to unravel.

third quarter

As I was unraveling July hit, adding fuel to the raging fire. Out for a walk one day and casually trying to socially distance, I broke my foot after a fall. An avulsion fracture of my right cuboid. The next six weeks would be wiped from existence. That break saw me post my lowest monthly mileage in nearly four years. There was nothing I could do about it. In the aftermath, there was nothing I wanted to do about it.

In August I decided I needed to do something and hopped on the ‘failed runner machine’ for a few spins. I returned from each of them spent and anxious. Little good came of it – I was spiralling into a bad place. The Oregano Project – what project? No motivation, no activities, no will, no results – just nothing.

In September, I had a chat to myself and tried to shake back into action. The #BVSC organised another time trial for 5km and it was my target for 22/09. Posting a 21:29 for 5k was both the most comforting and the most devastating thing that has happened to me running-wise in years. Yes, I had just returned from a broken foot but 21+ over that distance. It might as well have been 10 minutes off-pace in my mind. I sank again.

fourth quarter

October disappeared. In the final week of the month, I forced myself to run. I ran 3 times, registering less than 8 miles in total. It felt awful – I felt mentally obliterated. I told myself that this was a make or break moment. Part of me never wanted to run again, I was dusting off golf clubs and contemplating new horizons for basic fitness. Another part of me would give in to a good tale from another runner or accidentally drift into a fond memory of a past race. I made a call: 3 times per week, no less than 20 minutes each time, get back on that damn horse!

Throughout November I kept to my newfound routine – 3 times per week wasn’t exactly asking much. The interest grew again. I started adding interesting twists to the short runs like a few minutes barefoot or slightly faster finishes. My hopes of running anything serious were a dot on the horizon. However, by the end of the month, I started enjoying my sessions on the treadmill. Dare I say, I started looking forward to them. A glimmer of hope emerged for the Oregano Project; perhaps some scraps from a last minute salvage operation?

December was a busy month, some weeks saw a little ebb and flow with a missed session or two. Christmas time is always going to be somewhat chaotic and after the year that was, downtime was screaming at me to meet up. However, I kept it together more or less. While missing only a session or two, the distance and pace had increased from the end of October. It wasn’t all bad. I even maintained tradition with my Christmas Eve hill sprints – the madness of it all!

the highs and lows

highlights

Last year I had a photograph of seven medals, six of which represented significant PBs for me during the year in distances ranging from 7.5 miles to 50km. It was the greatest endorsement of the Oregano Project madness that I could ever have hoped for. There is no such photograph this year. There are no highlights to report.

Perhaps I’m being a bit harsh here? I don’t believe that I am. However, it is the end of the year, we await 2021 and should walk/run forward with positive vibes. As such, maybe there are a few positives that I can take from the year. The photo below is one – a little bit of #BVSC fun. Commissioned by Jason, a special medal for a marathon that will only be run every four years.

#BVSC Leap Day Marathon medal 2020
BVSC Leap Year Marathon medal 2020

I look at this medal with positivity. It’s a bit of fun, a bit of madness, and in no way official. However, it represents other things. In terms of just running, this is the first time I ever ran a sub-3:40 just for shits and giggles. A few years ago, I couldn’t do that all out after a full training plan and taper for a race. That’s got to be a good thing, right?

At the end of June, after a far from good spell of training, I joined the gang and ran a sub-1:35 half with two guys half my age. I only turned up that morning because my county was at zero COVID levels for weeks. There was a point in the run when I could have just dropped off and cruised home but I didn’t and kept my foot on the gas. It was the high point of the summer. Again, simply running a time that would have been a big PB only 12 months previous. Again, running for a little challenge and some fun.

the oregano project may have been shelved but it was good to meet in a socially distant way at a time of zero COVID
the oregano project may have been shelved but it was good to meet in a socially distant way at a time of zero COVID

These unofficial medals and arbitrary target times also represent running with friends and having a laugh doing the sport we love. That fundamental thing underpinned all infrequent hopes this year. It’s the sole reason I keep returning to positive thoughts and wanting to run again. I’ll never be a professional/competitive runner; this is my reason for being who I am.

low points

There are too many low points to detail for this year. Some within my control and some outside of it. Most of all, I’m greatly disappointed that I lost my own mental battle. I spiralled away to more troubled places of negative thoughts. I’m returning slowly but it has taken a huge toll on me. My weekly mileage even after two months of good behaviour is still less than I would normally post in a single run. That’s not what’s important though. It’s all about regaining focus and establishing positive patterns of productive action.

Breaking my foot by doing the ‘right thing’ was a low point too. Whatever hope I had of fighting demons throughout the summer, finding myself off my feet for 6 weeks threw the towel into the ring. I found it incredibly difficult to bounce back from that (I still haven’t fully). Sure, I made positive comments in company and online but in reality my head was well and truly messed up. Constant thoughts of 18 months training gone down the drain. Negative thoughts regarding my health. Spiral after spiral of unproductive thinking and battles with anxiety in tandem. It’s something I’m still working on and at least now I know that it’s something I can address even if there is a long way to go.

There are so few highlights that I really don’t want to dwell on the bountiful lows of this year. They dominate my thoughts as is without writing them down. My final acknowledgment of a low is that I am now at my lowest point in many years and that’s positive. Why? Simply, it means that every day from here is a step forward and back toward where I know I can be. Onwards!

the mileage

Roughly 1300 miles for the year spread over 175 runs. That is some way short of my 2400 miles from last year and far short of my 2020 miles planned for this year. I’m not sure if it’s comforting or devastating that on deeper analysis, nearly all that mileage came before the first week of July. I’ve pretty much stopped running for the last 5/6 months. That was not part of the Oregano Project plan for 2020!

the oregano project fell off a cliff in July – mileage, what mileage?
the oregano project fell off a cliff in July – mileage, what mileage?

I could look at that and think, “crikey, I could have managed 2300 again, easily” but I can only look at it, knowing that I lost the battle in the past six months of doing nothing. That right there is motivation enough to never want to reflect on a training calendar again in such a way. It will never again be my choice to turn my back on training. I will be stronger.

With only one month above 200 miles (exactly when it should have been) the rest of the year is very tame. Just looking at the first six months, I failed to breach 150 miles in two of those months. That really wasn’t that hard to achieve given the condition I was in at the time. My head drove the figures, my body took a back seat.

Breaking down the runs, there’s not much in the way of analysis. A few memorable long runs in the middle of storm-force winds with James and good training camaraderie but no real time for experiments or learning like last year. I publish my weekly training summaries on this blog every week. You can view the collection here.

the summary

A year of lows and not many highs but hey, there are worse things happening in the world right now. 18-24 months of intense, focussed training and capitalising on lessons learned washed down the drain – gone. However, what may be gone physically leaves a psychological trace. That shadow reminds me that I got there once and I can get there again.

There is no doubt in my mind that I would have dipped under 3:20 for the marathon this year. Equally, no doubt that I would have picked a flat half marathon course and finally claimed my sub-1:30. Those achievements will now have to wait – I don’t know for how long.

Strength training is another issue. With the onset of the pandemic, my gym sessions ceased in March. In addition to fitness lost by not running, there is an immense amount of strength and conditioning missing also. It doesn’t look like I will see the gym again until the end of next summer because of the ongoing situation. That shouldn’t be an excuse though and I’ll have to be more innovative and seek what I can achieve without large weights to make things simple. It won’t be the same but if it’s more than zero, it will be something.

The Oregano Project is designed around highs and lows and despite this year taking the lows to an extreme, there is always learning to absorb. I look forward to writing this reflection again in 12 months and having greater, more positive things to say. Even if the first half of 2021 looks like it will be without traditional races. Twenty 1-mile laps is still 20 miles and this time around, I will choose not to decline that option. When I was at the peak of my training, I was brimming with confidence and embraced any challenge. There is much work to be done but I sincerely hope that such feelings will return in time. It will be great to get back running with the gang again, whenever it happens. Never underestimate the positives of running with a bunch of complete messers. The Oregano Project will return!

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