2018 has been something of an odd year for me running-wise. A tale of a plan to make changes, coupled with some different changes being made. As such it became something unexpected. Good, but a bit odd.
I thought it would be fun to work through the year and pick out some of the highlights.
The plan, as it appeared in my head had several strands. Over the previous 4 years I’d trained for spring marathons. And managed to pick up injuries in all 4 years. It made me question why….. Why was I getting injured? Why was I training for marathons? And finally why was I feeling so disenfranchised about the whole thing.
The injuries why has been a frustrating one to crack. I’ve been increasing my focus on strength & conditioning, but in previous years this tended to happen as a result of the injury. So I’ve been trying to find something that ‘works’ for me. I question whether it’s anything to do with my running style; countless running photos pick up a wayward recovery leg as well as making sure my glutes are firing as they should be. I have the knowledge to fix this, but it’s the challenge of unlearning/relearning a muscle skillset from the last however many years I’ve been doing this.
The marathons why seemed to boil down to 2 factors. Firstly, all the people I train with are great marathon runners and I’d like to be too. Secondly, my marathon times are out of kilter to my shorter distances; I still feel I have something to prove at the distance. Last year I was close to getting a Good For Age (GFA) time which gave me hope that I could do it. However in April this year, all the (male) GFA times for the London Marathon were pushed to be much faster. It left me with a bigger gap to fill, however ‘the numbers’ suggested it was within my ability. If I could get the full training done without breaking.
But that seemed to be the only reason for doing this. So I was risking writing off season after season chasing a PB that was possible on paper. And I realised my heart wasn’t in it. This wasn’t why I went running.
So the 2018 plan was to bin the road marathons and to fall in love with running again. It sounds so simple doesn’t it?!
So this is what happened.
January – March
Having ended 2017 with a solid base of running, I started 2018 full of cold and doing very little! However, I’d decided that the first quarter of the year would be to stick on the road and try to get some good half-marathon times in. Simple on paper, but with the snowiest winter over the longest period I can remember as an adult, it was never going to be simple.
My first race was the 4 Villages Half Marathon at the end of January (link goes to my write-up). It was Baltic conditions, with freezing rain / sleet / snow throughout and the sound of hundreds of runners squelching up the road from Helsby. I didn’t have a bad run, finishing in 91 minutes, but it did feel like I had a lot of ground to make up.
With Race #2 being in March, I’d hoped things might be better – it was my favourite Anglesey Half-Marathon. Despite the snow during February writing off my track sessions, and the fear that the race would be cancelled due to more snow country-wide, I got to Anglesey fit and well. And then ate something that disagreed with me overnight and had a very uncomfortable race. I got around in a reasonably swift 88 minutes, although the latter miles I think were driven by the need to get to a toilet PDQ. But that aside, this was a good day.
It was then out to Cyprus for my first international race, in Limassol. The difficulty was the fact I didn’t know how to adjust my race strategy for the relative warmth in Cyprus. It wasn’t desperately hot (although back home it was desperately cold!). However, I discovered that my pacing for the temperature was too ambitious (I was making it up as I had nothing to work with) and ended up run/walking the last 5k. I enjoyed the experience of the event, but the ideas of challenging my 2016 PB at the distance were somewhat dashed, again!
I finished March with the Rivington Pike fell race, a short and sharp up/down the Pike. It was my last running for my old club as the competition year starts on 1 April. There had been a number of driving forces resulting in me making this change, the paperwork of which had been completed in early March. So it was quite odd running in my old team colours having already mentally moved on.
And perhaps this change marked the gradual shift for the rest of the year.
April – June
I had decided that, once the spring half-marathons were out of the way, that I’d focus on my trail running. As a compliment to that, I also thought it would be good to have a go at a few more fell races; we have loads locally, so there was plenty of opportunities to build up my fell-running experience.
I dipped my toe with the Chicken Run fell race (link is above with Rivington Pike) and enjoyed it immensely. But it was my first experience at the local iconic Kinder Downfall race that marked a step up. This was my longest fell race to date, with some navigation (or at least local knowledge) required. It was a great event and I felt I learned a lot from it.
As May arrived, so did the longest heatwave in the UK since 1976. I also got stuck into a whole mixture of races. I did trail with the Runway and Resers races, fell with the 3 days in May (although I only could fit in 2 of them!) and two last-minute road half-marathons (Leeds & Buxton). It’s safe to say that the heat impacted performance on all events although a lack of experience on the Mount Famine fell race didn’t help matters! Leeds was a decent run, another 91 minutes whereas Buxton went to pot, just like it did 5 years ago. Poor prep, lack of training coupled with a roasting day on a hilly course. Although I guess I didn’t acknowledge that my fitness was sliding at this point, even though I wasn’t really doing much running!
June had a couple of delightful fell races, with the Wincle Trout event being a short race (which resulted in coming home with a trout for tea) and Kinder Trog being my longest fell race to date. Both days were scorching hot, and I think I was just happy to get around the Trog course without keeling over. I did fall and smash up my arm, but in the grand scheme of things it was very minor.
July – September
The 3rd quarter of the year was actually the focus of my year. I’d decided early on that I’d like to have a go at a proper Trail Ultra-marathon.
I had done the Snowdonia Trail Marathon in 2016 which was ‘technically’ an ultra as it was 28 miles long. However the creation of a 60km ultra-marathon route meant I could relive the pain of a full ascent of Snowdon, but this time after having already run 28 miles! It was a tough day and I was exhausted at the end of it. But it was amazing to do all the same.
Whilst August wasn’t quite so amazing with the weather, I enjoyed 3 races, in the guise of Cracken Edge fell race, Eccles Pike fell race and the all new Quarry Bank trail race. I’d done Cracken Edge in 2017 in boggy conditions, and wanted to see if I could be a lot quicker this year. I was quicker, but it felt under-whelmingly so. Again, I was probably a little blind to the impact of a lack of training. Eccles Pike however seemed to go quite well, perhaps due to it being much shorter. And whilst Quarry Bank wasn’t a bad result, I blew up mid race and struggled towards the end. Again the training, or lack thereof, being the problem.
Things did come to a head in September. My second trail ultra-marathon, the Gritstone Grind, was a wonderful day out. I took it steadily and made a reasonable job of the race. A week later I was racing again, this time on the road at the English Half Marathon. This went badly. A relatively flattish course that had lots of PB potential was laboured and slow. The obvious answer was not to run a HM a week after a trail-ultra (in fairness the HM had been booked long before Gritstone).
However, stepping on the scales after the race and realising I was a stone overweight also highlighted the elephant in the room. I’d stopped training, but continued eating. And in fact the eating habits had gone wildly out of control, with a ridiculous amount of snacking. With this issue identified, I made an effort to fix the problem and put together a diet to get me back onto the straight and narrow.
October – December
The final quarter of each year tends to be the one which I put in the most mileage. I suspect in previous years this was due to spending the spring and summer out injured although the #REDBED Challenge last year resulted in a massive end of year mileage attack.
2018 was going to be no different. My mindset of just floating through the year had firmly been checked with the weight issue and I decided that it was time to return to regular training. This would come in the form of club-night running with my new club, hills with my Lyme Runners group, a weekly track session (at my old club) and a decent attempt at some strength work as well. I’m not sure if it was anything about a missing mojo but instead more the wake-up call of suddenly feeling unable to do something I used to be able to do.
My first race outing in October was my first-ever cross-country meet. And it didn’t go well. A highly competitive field compared to your standard road race meant we set off very fast. And bearing in mind I was still dieting at the time, well you’ll guess the combination didn’t work. At least I was understanding the issues now, even if they were something I should have picked up beforehand! However it was done and I realised I needed to tweak my dieting goals to ensure they were more conducive to my training plans.
The only other race in October was a couple of weeks later in Oldham. This hilly road race had been in the diary for a few months and really ticked the bill for me in my current state. I didn’t want a flat and fast course that I would clearly not achieve what I’d want to do. Something more challenging route-wise would at least allow me to check how my fitness was going. And the resulting 94 minutes on the course was better than I was expecting, which is always nice.
Three more races followed in November. The second leg of the cross-country went a lot better, now that I’d improved fitness and got my weight back into the right ball-park. In fairness I ran a much more measured race than in the first leg and all felt a lot more like it should. The Langley 7 race that I’d done previously had been replaced with a new course which was significantly harder than the old course. I had a decent enough race, but was looking towards even greater improvement.
At the end of November was the Famous Grouse fell race. This was a tale of two halves, with the uphills being really confident and strong but the downhills being in the ‘could do better’ category. Still, all a learning experience.
In addition, I started to get myself back down to parkrun. Despite joining back in 2011 I’d only just reached double figures in parkrun attendance in 2017. Two visits to the Marple parkrun course showed me I could still run 5k at the same pace as I’d done in 2016. I even managed a 3rd place with a shiny new PB of 19:21.
With that the mojo was definitely being rediscovered and I wanted to really knuckle down and see what I could do now I was training again.
December started off with a slight injury concern. A case of overdoing things on the track left me with aggravation in my heels due to the soleus getting a bit stressed-out and pulling on the insertion point in the back of the foot. As such I had to be realistic and plans were scaled back. I skipped the third leg of the cross-country, which was a shame as it was the local meet too. But I knew that I wouldn’t go easy in a race, and so it was the safest option.
After a lot of stretching and work on my calves, I did manage to get along to the Gravy Pud Fell Race though and had a really decent run out, running a couple of minutes quicker than I did in 2017. Thankfully the heels didn’t moan about this.
A couple more parkruns this time at Woodbank Park (where I did my first in 2012) and at the new course at Fletcher Moss where I was able to run reasonably quick albeit in poor weather.
We even managed a festive run at Lyme Park with my Tuesday Group, much to the amusement of the staff there!
The year ended on a couple of racing efforts. Despite having already beaten my 2016 parkrun PB during November, I still felt I could push a bit harder. This was tempered somewhat with the minor injury on the track but I knew I wanted to try. A visit to Cheadle Hulme parkrun didn’t really go to plan as the course was very much of the cross-country ilk. And in light trail shoes I was skidding everywhere. Several people had mentioned that I ought to try the parkrun at South Manchester as that was flat and tarmac.
On 29th December I went over to Platt Fields hoping to worry the 19 minutes barrier. Although I’d not come close to it, I’d never run on a flat tarmac course, so I figured it should be up for grabs. It was busy parkrun and a fast start where I had to weave around a lot of people before getting some space to run my own race. (For clarity, parkrun isn’t a race, and I’ve just used that as a turn of phrase. However the intention was to push myself as if in race conditions). Very quickly the group spread out and I experienced my first very flat and tarmac parkrun. And it ended on quite a high:
The 19 minutes barrier was broken and I took a huge 52 seconds off my previous best, which I was pleasantly surprised about! Perhaps these flat tarmac courses are on to something after all…..!
The finale to 2018 was the NYE Bowstones Fell Race. I went out with no real plan or expectation, beyond doing the best I can on the day. The heels were a bit sore for the first couple of miles but then seemed to settle down. The race was uneventful in that I didn’t end up flat on my back or face-first in mud (an improvement over my previous running of this race) and I finished in 54th place in 51m34s, slightly faster than last time.
So that was 2018 from a running perspective! All being well 2019 will begin with a touch of R&R just to make sure that the niggly heels don’t develop into another injury horror story and then I can start to focus on the year ahead!