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Reflecting on a year of racing, looking ahead to new challenges

More trail adventures await in 2024.

By Henry Howard

For many runners, like yours truly, this time of the year is a time to reflect on the past 12 months of running and racing while looking ahead to the future.

My races for 2023 concluded a week ago with the OED Half Marathon in Washington, D.C. As was the theme for many of my races this year, the weather played a role in the half marathon. The canal path was filled with puddles with a side helping of mud.

While I wanted to run a fast time on a flat course, the conditions dictated otherwise. I was able to finish in 1:43:07, 24th overall out of more than 260 runners and second overall masters. But what’s important is I rediscovered my passion for the trails. Instead of commiserating about the conditions, I reveled in them. And that’s inspired me to pursue more trail adventures in 2024.

In fact, I just signed up for my first race of the new year. A trail half marathon, Winter Trail Frosty — WTF, in Indianapolis in two months. There will be more trail races in the new year, which deviates a bit from 2023.

Love (trails), rain o’er me

The canal trail OED mudfest followed the Blue Ridge Marathon in April, when organizers of the road race were forced to cancel midway through due to a serious storm approaching.

I did aim for a real trail race in July, but it too was affected by weather. The Burning River 100 turned into a 50-mile finish, when a combination of a roaring creek fueled by a rainstorm and a complaining belly fueled by an unfortunate food choice cut my day short.

Then I returned to the Hennepin Hundred, a 100-mile race along a canal path. My second attempt at a qualifier for the Western States lottery ended at mile 74, not due to weather per se. But a miscommunication with my crew left me physically cold and mentally drained.

My crew and I before the Burning River 100.

It’s been almost a year since my last “normal” race, a trail marathon in January in Ohio. Weather actually had an impact there, too. As the race director was forced to re-route the course slightly due to an unsafe creek crossing.

Process, not results

But in a year of memorable races, I choose to focus more on the process than the results.

I’m on pace for another high mileage year, even though I don’t set goals for a total number of miles.

Instead I aim for continued progression in my fitness, the ability to stay healthy and the privilege of helping others realize their goals.

My amazing athletes completed an epic year. First-time marathoners and ultra finishers. A 10-year daily run streak achieved. A handful of BQs and PRs.

It’s an honor to be part of their incredible journeys. And I take pride in each goal they check off the list, even though it is their achievement.

At this time of year, of course, I work with them staying healthy during this transition time, engaging them on new goals and — of course — thinking about my own plans for 2024.

A race plan for 2024

Somewhat on a whim, I put in for the Berlin Marathon this year. On Wednesday, I learned that I was not among those selected. And I’m OK with that.

Forecast for this winter: snow and trails.

Now that I know I won’t be visiting Europe in September, I plan to focus on races closer to home like the Indianapolis half marathon.

UTMB’s recent double whammy on beloved North American ultra runners — first stealing a race from Gary Robbins, then dumping announcer Corrine Malcolm — left me determined to focus more of my efforts on smaller, community-oriented races. I’m still reconciling on whether to continue my Western States qualifier quest in 2024.

But what I have decided on is to focus on trail races where I can support race directors who have the community front and center in their minds, and not the almighty dollar.

In pondering what races give me joy, offer challenges and allow me to perform my best, I’ve often thought the marathon/50K distance is my sweet spot. And there’s nothing better than shooting my shot at one of those distances on the trail.

I know I’ll have the support of the RDs in the races I choose. And I’ll return the favor to the race directors, volunteers and others.

Now, if I can just get the support of Mother Nature during these races, I’ll be all set.

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