Every year I set a lot of goals for myself in what I want to accomplish, or experience in the coming year. It's usually tied to specific races or adventures planned, and without any formal training or planning involved. It almost never works out, and whatever comes out at the end of the year is what comes out. But it’s fun to start out a year with big dreams, find new adventures think about the world of possibilities in that perfect world of free time, disposable income, and a responsibility free life. Since none of that has lined up in over a decade now a I usually spend most of my time reading books to children and falling asleep in bunk beds, I’ve fallen a bit short on my January goals for some time.
This year was getting dangerously close to not even hitting 1000 miles or 175K in climbing, so come December I actually started running and with some intention on where I went and how often. I still barely ran a dozen times in the 31 days, but got in some bigger runs and got back to a steady streak of 4 straight 5am long runs. On the final day of the year I summited Cadillac Mountain one final time to push it over the 200K climbing mark on the year, making 6 of the 7 last years over that mark, but with the least amount of miles run since 2011. I raced a bit more this year (3 “official ultra races, 48K-60K) but had a whole lot of 10 mile weeks, and piled it on with big runs whenever the scheduled permitted. I rarely ran more than twice a week, and a 30 mile week was usually a 6 mile group run on Tuesday night and a 24 mile long run on Saturday. That’s pretty much my standard training plan since W was President.
I’ve run injury free for the better part of a decade but this year was different. This was my first full year in Acadia National Park and my first full winter of running.
It was rough on my body.
I think I was hurt a lot more this year due to pushing through the winter on spikes, ice, and falling about 1.3 million times through the winter. Microspikes on the ice isn’t exactly easy on your joints, with all the space in between where the granite rock is exposed but still covered in ice, it lends to miles and miles of running on granite with 1/2 metal spikes between your foot and the ground. It’s a jarring motion only saved by what snow you can find. And when I found the snow, I was without snowshoes and was post holing and climbing up these huge ice walls and knee deep snow that almost nobody else was even taking, or would be taking for much of the winter. It was slow going. It took its toll on me and I was barely able to run come spring time.
I flew out to Arizona in February to run the Black Canyon 60K with my brother Noah and Jay Danek. I was signed up for the 100K version the year I moved to Maine. I was actually supposed to race it the weekend I was packing up my house, my wife crying in the corner still in wild disbelief that we were leaving the sunshine of the desert for the far corner of the US...
I was but six miles into the race when my left calf started crawling up the back of my kneecap with so much pain I almost quit at the first aid station. I could barely run, I could barely walk, and these two are waiting for me around every corner, wondering when I was going to lock it up and stop my whining. With each ridgeline laying out a single track begging for easy, fast and fun miles, it was a form of torture to not be able to run this, after suffering through so many freezing cold, difficult, and abusive winter runs to get ready for this race.
It was all I could do to muster a 11 minute downhill mile before I even hit the 10K mark. I literally wanted to cry it was so painful. That’s a threshold I rarely enter.
I had run a 20 miler three weeks prior in Acadia after a big snow storm. It took me 7.5 hours. I fell so many times on the inches of solid ice under the foot of snow, I’d pulled my calf muscle somewhere along the way. With the race already booked, and vacation back to Arizona a definite, I was hoping it wouldn’t bother me and it had healed.
It had not. So I kept running.
By the time I got to the first aid station I was miserable, depressed that this race the three of us were going to run together was already unraveling and I couldn’t keep up, and furious all at the same time. I got to the aid station, filled my water and took off down the trail without Jay & Noah. I was determined to punish my calf into cooperating. I was going to open it up on this downhill and stop bitching about it. It wasn’t going to cooperate on its own, I was going to make it cooperate.
It never went away, I just buried the pain and after enough miles, I generally just forgot that it was an issue the first 30 miles. When we got to the finish at 40 something miles I’d forgotten it was bothering me. I’d wanted/needed to quit at every single aid station along the way it was so painful. But I know my body and I know what is long term detrimental and what is temporary misery. I can manage temporary misery long enough to finish a race. That day I was glad I finished and wondered just how many people that quit that day really gave it their all before deciding to give up. My guess is quite few, a group I never want to be included in.
Come May it was time for our now annual cross island adventure with Tom St. Germain. Twenty nine miles, just under 11K in climbing starting on the west side of Mount Desert Island (home of Acadia National Park and where I live) and traversing the entire Acadia National Park and almost all the peaks until finishing at the end of Gorham Mountain along the shore of the Atlantic. I was a day out from running across the island staring at my phone and thinking if I should call Tom and bail. My left shin was throbbing in pain sitting there holding my phone, a large welt was visable on my left shin and painful to the touch. A few days prior I sat on the north ridge of Dorr mountain unable to run downhill from that shin injury. I just sat there on the rocks, staring down at the town below, devastated at the thought that I’d broken my leg and I’m going to be out the entire summer in a cast. It took me over an hour to get down the final mile off Dorr, hobbling my way over the boulders back to my truck. I crawled into my truck that night thinking there was no way I was running this summer, let alone running a very challenging, physically abusive run in the park in under a week.
I really don’t like to bail on a committment. I showed up.
We hit the trail at 0400 the next morning and finished a bit over 9 hours later. With each passing mile my confidence grew and my memory of why I almost didn’t show up dissolved. I’d follow my way up the mountain behind Tom, trying my best to keep up and hobble my way through. I was weaker than I wanted to be not having been able to run much the last month, but I managed and came in 15 minutes behind Tom. By the time I’d finished I’d forgotten what my injury was.
It wouldn’t return as an issue for my leg the rest of the year.
Come August though I’d developed another issue, this time on my right knee, just below the patella. Another issue I think resulting from running too many granite mountain tops and not enough gravel carriage roads, but one that left me in throbbing pain with each step. Well, not every step. Just when I ran, walked, stood, sat, or went up or down. Possibly all from overcompensating to protect my recovering left shin injury I’d created this damage to my right knee, but regardless, I’d find myself yet again on the eve of a big run in Acadia to celebrate my friend Jenn’s 41st birthday. The prior year she and I were the sole finishers of her epic run across the mountains of Acadia, finishing with a dip in the Atlantic at Sand Beach. A lot of friends jump in and out at various parts throughout the day so I planned on just doing the first 10 mile section and calling it a day.
You know, to try and be smart about one of these things.
I ran all 41 miles, 12+ hours on our feet and an insane amount of climbing. Jenn, myself and Bradford would be the only finishers.
My knee hasn’t been an issue since then.
A month later I raced in New Brunswick, Canada in the Fundy National Park for 48K. Two weeks after that in Nova Scotia, Canada at the Round the Cape 48K. No lingering issues, I was healthy and running free.
I can’t really explain why it kept disappearing each time. The injuries were certainly not imaginary. Possibly the forced rest before the bigger events really helped prevent major damage, but in the end each time I was able to push through the inital pain and downright misery, and finish each and every event.
It was the same at Mogollon Monster 100 last fall. I was sick going into the race and then had a blown up ankle for the last 45 miles.
No lingering issues. I finished.
Possibly it has a lot to do with me simply hating to quit. I’ve told my small children for their short 4 and 6 years that “Dougherty’s don’t quit.” Don’t commit to something you can’t follow through on, and when you commit, you better not quit. I’ve repeated this over and over when they want to stop playing something they chose to do, when they wanted to shovel snow with me but wanted to stop after 4 minutes, or any other time that quitting came into their minds. It’s a character shortcoming I don’t want to ever exist in my family. There is a time for common sense and ending certain things, and then there is quitting because you didn’t want to try hard enough to see it through. The latter I detest. Apparently it’s sunk in.
I wanted to go inside after playing hockey for 4 hours in 15 degree temps after Christmas last week. I was tired, it was freezing cold and I’d regretted the decision to only put on one thin pair of socks for the last couple hours.
“Dougherty’s don’t quit Dad.” Said Dean, my 6 year old son.
Well then. I guess my toes aren’t that cold.
We kept playing.
I think a little injury scare has a lot of value. I’ve been so successful in limiting any injuries over the years, gaining the clear image of me not being able to run is frightening and I’ve really adjusted my training here to allow for better consistency. Staying on softer trails, finding more gravel miles, and hitting the granite peaks in bursts, not all day events, I think will give me a little more life over the course of the year. Even with the challenges, for a year that had so little cumulative running, I feel like it was a huge growth year for my ability as a runner, my confidence in inclement weather, and my ability to push through adversity in a wilderness situation. Which is all I really care about. I know I’ll get older every year, the trick is to also get wiser every year, and maybe even stronger every year. The times and numbers that comes with those statements become less and less important.
But since I’m a “numbers” guy I enjoy tracking how each year compares.
2018 (Maine)- 1097 miles - 236 hours - 201K elevation gain - 149 activities
2017 (Maine) - 1372 miles - 274 hours - 233K elevation gain - 167 activities
2016- (Arizona) 1348 miles - 254 hours - 203K elevation gain - 122 activities
2015 - (Arizona) 1127 miles - 222 hours - 191K elevation gain - 132 activites
2014 - (Arizona) 1259 miles - 238 hours - 219K elevation gain - 132 activities
2013 - (Arizona) 1874 miles - 346 hours - 211K elevation gain - 208 activities
2012 - (Arizona) 1749 miles - 349 hours - 251K elevation gain - 179 activities
2011 - (Arizona) 1053 miles - only tracked total miles
2010 - (Arizona) 1029 miles - only tracked total miles
2009 - (Arizona) -didn't keep track
My 11 Favorite Runs of 2018
New Years Day 2018 - Minus 20 degrees
First day of 2018 and we headed out for a long run during the frigid cold snap of the holiday break last year. It was -20 wind chill when we started and clipped off several mountains until we straight up called it a day and headed back in fear of frostbite on Jenn’s foot. Which she ultimately got and has bugged her from time to time ever since. Despite this, pushing through those temps, in those conditions was quite an adventure and a way to see Acadia that many will never see.
Cadillac Mountain Summitt - Coldest Run of the Year
James found me through Strava, looking for someone to run with him in the deep, dark, freezing winter when he was in town for work. He wanted to run up Cadillac Mountain for sunrise, as the highest point on the eastern US seaboard, its also the first place in the winter where the sun hits the US.
So I met this stranger at 4am, drove the south ridge trailhead and we headed up the ridge in unbelievably cold winds, a crystal clear morning with a truly epic sunrise. It was literally too cold to stick around and we took a quick couple photos and started back down, phones dead almost immediately from exposure to the cold. It was a beautiful run and still, dozens of Cadillac sunrise runs later, my favorite. All from a stranger reaching out for a run via social media, and since then James has returned for work and met up with us a few times for runs. The power of the internet.
Great Head May Run - The Monty Memorial
I picked up my chocolate lab and lifted him into my Tacoma on a sunny Friday afternoon in May. I drove really slow into town, hoping something would prevent me from getting there.
An hour later he was gone.
Losing my best friend of 17 years was really difficult. I spent a lot of days, nights, weekends, with just Monty. He was everything to me for so long, and everything to all of us when my family came into be more than just Monty & I. The next day we all piled into the car and went to have fun in Acadia, finding a quite side beach off Great Head that no tourists were at and we could discover little tide pools all our own. The kids were being incredible, and having a blast with big smiles on their faces despite knowing they really missed Monty too. We barely ran, but discovered a lot of side trails, rocks and ledges and still to this day, after dozens of other family hikes and runs, this is one of my all time favorite days with my family. An otherwise sad and depressing day thinking about a lost friend, was instead an incredible day of together.
May 2018 - The St. Germain Cross Island Traverse
Year 2 and no less special than the first crossing with Tom. It’s not an easy route, it’s all uphill, and what downhill we get is at 30-45% grade and all granite. Beaten, nearly broken, and trying to keep up with Tom we finished trying to finish strong on Gorham and time suddenly became important. Tom has 10+ years on me but not an ounce less of competitive spirt, something I can really appreciate and welcome. We’ve had two incredible weekends of weather for these two crossings, and one of my favorite weekends of the year that I’m already looking forward to.
July 2018 - The Week of the Mexican
When my brother moved to Phoenix 15 years ago we moved into a house together. Cesar was our roommate. Noah and I were the only gringos in the neighborhood. We lived together when both Noah and Cesar met their now wives, we all essentially grew up together through our 20’s and now 30’s. Our kids are very close, and it was our three families at the holidays together. Then we moved to Maine.
Noah, Cesar and I all drove out to Maine when I first started work. Fifty five straight hours with my 16 (at the time) year old lab who was havingexplosive diarrhea every 3 hours of the trip. Oh, the stories.
I’m fairly certain that weekend in March was the last time a Mexican stepped foot on the island before Cesar and his family came for a vacation over the 4th of July.
While the entire trip was incredible, what was really special is how much of the national park I was able to share with Cesar when we did 4-7 mile runs in different parts of the park every morning of their trip. Which is all the more special because Cesar doesn’t “run.” Not really, not as a habit. But he did in advance of coming out so we could see some of the mountains. And he clipped off some great loops with me and I loved it.
Every Tuesday Night Run - D.E.R.T.T
Trail running groups can be intimidating for some people. Not every group actually runs as a group. Some splinter quickly, completely leaving behind any new people to figure out the route on their own. I met up with DERTT (Down East Running Trail Team) their first weekend of 2017 where I met Jenn and nearly lost my left lung trying to keep up with her. Last year I made almost all of the Tuesday nights, making it a point to make the runs as it was always one of most fun, and favorite events of the week. The people, the laughs, the views, it really is much less about the running, and so much about the people. Every Tuesday we’d hit a new trail, a new mountain, a new river crossing. Someone would always show up a little intimidated, and we’d probably end up pushing them a little outside their comfort zone.
Every time they’d finish with a big smile on their face.
August 2018 - Jenn’s Acadian Birthday Run - 41 miles
Last year Jenn turned 40. I ran 41 miles with her in one of the funnest, yet difficult runs I can remember. I felt incredible, strong and better at 40 miles then almost any other endurance event. I entered the 2018 birthday run in far less fitness, but still recovered during the day and ended up keeping up with the group and finishing strong with everyone. Jenn’s birthday has turned into a collection of every local mountain runner showing up for a portion or all of her weekend. We hit almost every peak in the national park, every major view, different forests, and just hang out and take pictures and laugh all day. This year was even more special watching Bradford hit the 50K mark for the first time ever and then go on and finish the full event with us. As a super fast road runner, seeing him hammer the technical downhills and easily climb strongly all day, we were witnessing a road runner conversion right before our eyes. His enthusiasm for the outdoors and the fun he was having was truly infectious. Another annual event I’m already looking forward to for next summer.
October 2018 - Round the Cape 48K - Cape Chignecto Provincal Park, Nova Scotia, Canada
After a seven hour drive we reached the coast of Nova Scotia and Cape Chignecto Provincial Park in Canada. The race was already re-routed to a 15 mile out and back to high rivers along the course and we’d be now traversing the coastal trail along the 600 ft cliffs above the Bay of Fundy. Jenn and I took off together in the front of the small 40 person race pack and stuck together until the turnaround point. Two weeks prior at the Fundy Circuit 48K in New Brunswick I held onto Jenn for 4 miles before she dropped me. My goal for this race was to hold Jenn’s pace, a consistent and strong 10 minute trail mile over technical terrain, never, ever lagging. She’s strong and consistent no matter what comes up to her on the trail. I made it to the turnaround and we were in 2nd and 3rd respectively. My brother had just finished 3rd at the Flagstaff 50M in Arizona that same day.
I was going to finish on the podium and stuck with Jenn through the end, finishing just behind her by a few seconds. The course is unreasonably beautiful, and despite knee deep sections of mud, a mile of beach running at the end, and 6k in climbing where some was dangerously close to 50% grade’s, it was one of my favorite courses. I’m returning in 2018 for the Capes 100 which covers part of this region.
Thanksgiving 2018 - Noah, Jay and I in Spur Cross Conservation Area
In our second trip to Arizona in 2018 we had a break in the Thanksgiving schedule to head north of Phoenix to the Spur Cross Conservation Area. Home of Skull Mesa and Elephant Mountain and some of the most beautiful trails and “Old West” running in the country. Being able to run with Noah & Jay is always my choice as we can all joke about anything together, all are equal in running abilities on everyone’s best day, and we can’t go many steps without laughing. Noah had never been up Elephant Mountain itself and as the RD for Aravaipa Running’s Elephant Mountain races its a fun side adventure to check off for the upcoming race season. It’s so different in Maine then it is in Arizona, both so uniquely beautiful I’m not sure I think one is necessarily better or more beautiful than another. But wow, it’s such a rugged land of awesome out there.
December 29th, 2018 - A beautiful thaw
December 29th, 2017 it was -10. It was 40 on December 29th, 2018. I went running both times.
This one was far more enjoyable. In shorts and with far less snow and ice than last year, the western side of Acadia National Park was nothing short of stunning. I only ran 8 miles and it took me 3 hours.
I didn’t care. I stood on the cliffs and stared out over the mountains. I looked and studied the various lichen I found that looked, almost certainly, like they had grown two inches in the rain the night before.
I talked to locals out for their Saturday hike, petted dogs along the trail, practiced climbing on the Little Notch ice wall. I ran hard in sections, and was happy hiking others at a leisurely pace just enjoying the warm weather and sharp green contrasts of the moss against the red pine needle trail.
It’s part of what makes Acadia so magical. Even in the wettest of days, the driest, coldest, hottest, foggiest, it really doesn’t matter what the weather is. It will captivate you, make you forget all about your mileage goal for that day, what trail you planned to take. Because over there is a beautiful opening in the forest that is all lit up with that sliver of light coming through.
I think I’ll go check that out.
Hoping for some similar memories in 2019, down some more random rabbit holes and seeing where they take me.