It’s time for my annual write-up of the year. And it’s an odd one. Usually I’ve been places and run in events all over the country and occasionally beyond. But 2020. I guess it doesn’t need much more of an introduction.
The year started off in the same vein as most others. Lots of plans, things to do, places to see (accepting I’m not a particularly seasoned traveller). So let’s start from the top and work our way through.
January was a great month. Having followed The Spine Race over the last couple of years by dint of watching the dots and avidly consuming the daily films that were produced I found myself in the thick of it.
After 2019’s winter Spine I applied to volunteer on the race. It’s not something I had any experience in before, but as I’d spent the previous week glued to the unfolding stories of the race I figured if I was taking the week off anyway, why not see the race in person (I’m not at the level of tackling such a race yet, if I ever will be!). I had no idea what it takes to put on such a race and went into it very open minded.
To be honest I floundered a bit on the application form. Despite years of chasing bits of paper around a desk application forms have always been something I’ve struggled with. I thought I’d probably work in a check-point but then when I wrote up my resume it didn’t really fit. So I applied to another section that sounded more akin to where my experience lay. And heard nothing for many months afterwards. Long story short, a couple of weeks before the race I was asked to join the media team!
Whilst media isn’t the area that would spring to mind to most people who know me (me included!) I actually used to do a fair share of video work when I was at school. Along with my friend David (who actually knew what he was doing), something that culminated in us being asked to produce a promotional video for the school. David has since moved on to greater media things. I’ve gone of in many different directions, some all at the same time. None of them media.
It’s all a bit Spine-y!
I felt a little out of my comfort zone, not helped by being unable to track down the media team until the morning of the race which meant up until about 2 hours before the Spine Challenger (one of the two “short” 108 mile romp from Edale to Hawes, the main 268 mile Spine Race started the following day) I hadn’t a clue what my role actually was.. I was shown the ropes working with another volunteer and was soon co-providing video updates to the Facebook feed, which was being viewed constantly by people all over the world. The races have a big international following (all are over-subscribed within a few hours) and as well as the racers’ friends and families, people get drawn into the world affectionately known as the Spine Bubble. It was a challenge as the weather was getting increasingly “Spine-y”; strong winds, a lot of rain and all the things that mean the audio sucks regardless of what you do.
Whilst the professional end of the media team tended to focus much more on the front of the three races, our jobs were much more focused on the rest of the pack. So many individual stories going on over such a vast distance it’s important to spread out to capture these things as they unfold. Due to transportation complications with running an electric car through rural bits of England I tended to base myself out of the checkpoints and then move forward via the motorway network where charging options were more readily available. (Whilst my car at the time wasn’t really ideal for the job, you need to remember that aside from this one week of mad driving, I’m rarely more than a handful of miles from home and an electric vehicle is much more convenient for the rest of the year. But at the same time, it was doable with a modicum of planning.)
This approach seemed to work well, with another volunteer filming and interviewing out on the course whilst I caught up with the runners at each check-point. What I didn’t anticipate was just how much you get invested in each runner as the race goes on (the full Spine Race runs for 7 days (168 hours)). Devastating to hear when a runner has to drop out but also beyond words for seeing them finish. I didn’t reach Kirk Yetholm until 24 hours before the race ended, so I didn’t get to see all the people finish who I’d been interviewing. But I did have the opportunity to run in with some of them, whilst streaming the moment live over Facebook to those friends, family and captivated internet who couldn’t be there in person. Totally incredible what these athletes were able to achieve, in conditions which were generally grim!
It was quite strange driving home from Scotland on the last Sunday and having to re-acquaint myself with the ‘real world’ having spent 9 days cocooned within the Spine Bubble, living and breathing the air inside it essentially being cut-off from everything else. Not because we couldn’t, but because the Spine-bubble is all consuming. It was an amazing experience and they’ve asked me back for 2021, if/when the race goes ahead (it’s already postponed into February, but with lockdowns occurring more rather than less at this time, it remains to be seen if it is viable).
February was a month of things being cancelled due to bad weather. Hard to believe a pre-COVID time when events were culled for reasons not due to virus matters. To be honest, it was a bit of a lull month. Races I should have gone along to were canned due to the weather, but the reality was I wasn’t in a good place with my running at the time. Fitness has collapsed since before Christmas and the idea of running a half-marathon wasn’t appealing, especially knowing that any race result would be a major disappointment.
Although there was another issue in the wings which was Pafos marathon; having “retired” from road marathons in 2017 after “yet another injury” I had in mind that it would be nice to do one more on my own terms, although I didn’t know what that actually meant. That said, with rubbish fitness and a lack of any endurance it was more about getting around the course in one piece and forgetting about the time; I concluded I’d be looking at 5 hours, despite my best being 3.17!
That never happened of course; 2 days before I was due to fly out to Cyprus the island had gone into lockdown with both Pafos and Limassol race weekends cancelled.
March – July
The first lockdown. I actually kept a relatively comprehensive diary for this period which is listed under The Lockdown Chronicles. So there isn’t really much more to say about it. It was a period of dry and warm weather which meant that getting out for exercise was the easy option. Avoiding everybody else doing the same was the harder bit.
A lot of running and cycling was done. A bit of falling off things and hurting myself was also done.
And I took part in the first virtual race event of my year, being the virtual half-Comrades, an event undertaken in June, yet 6 months later we’re still awaiting the finisher medals and t-shirts that were ordered. Whilst the event was done to raise money for a very needy cause, the aftermath sadly means that they might struggle to get so much engagement in the future, which is a big shame as the main race is a massive fund-raiser for local charities (which is why they staged the virtual event).
A virtual team racing event between different local running clubs allowed me to test my 5km speed. And it wasn’t bad.
Not PB territory (no surprise, or point given the lack of racing opportunities) but a couple of sub-19 minute 5kms proved to me that perhaps I wasn’t that far beyond getting some faster times despite being another year older.
August & September
When I manage to damage a ligament in my knee in early August that put paid to any more running for the rest of the month. I did some cycling and a careful bit of walking; anything that involved going up or down aggravated things, which limited my options somewhat. Instead I focused more on my music production which had suddenly woken up from its 30 year slumber. The net result was that I recreated the album I wrote back in 1989-1991 and released it. And finished off a pile of new tracks and realised them as a follow-up album. Few artists are this lacking in productivity with a 30 year gap between projects. Sadly having unleashed Asymmetry on the world, my musical production mode decided it was time for a rest. I’m hoping album no 3 doesn’t take another 30 years before it sees the light of day…..!
October – November
By October I was feeling reasonably fit from an endurance point of view. The speed that I’d found in the summer with the 5km virtual racing between local clubs had been just as quickly lost with the lay-up that was August. But speed wasn’t what I was after, with Escape from Meriden looking like it might just happen in November. Being able to keep going for many hours was the aim there. So October was all about getting some longer and hillier miles, just so that I remembered how to do slow and steady. Some great group runs, and an equal amount of terrible weather.
EfM began to look dodge when Greater Manchester went into a more restrictive tier with regard to COVID-19; eseentially travel out of the region was strongly advised against, although officially not-banned. Which made for a lot of soul searching with regard to the race swapping between legal and moral arguments (whilst acknowledging that I’d be so far socially distanced it was comical).
In the end the decision was made for me; a country-wide lockdown meant that nobody could travel anywhere and the event was postponed for 12 months. Instead, a fiendish virtual challenge was created, called Day Release. Allowing for the same amount of self-inflicted pain, significant social distancing, all from the comfort of home. I did the distance I’d hoped to do in EfM, running from home to the other side of Accrington. And back. Participants had a month window to attempt their run and I chose to get mind done close to the beginning of the period. I got to enjoy my run, and then follow everyone else’s stories without that dread of still having to do mine!
The group I tend to run with are all trail runners, but we have a significant number who, like me, prefer the longer distances. Unlike me, they’re quick, but I’m quite happy doing my own thing.
The organisers of the Lakeland 100 put out a virtual race challenge call the ‘Lakeland Lapland Festival Virtual Ultra’ with a 12 day period to complete the distance of either 89 miles or 145 miles (the latter being the distance between Rovaniemi and Korvatunturi where Santa Claus is supposed to live).
I’m not great at lots of running over a period of time as I tend to break, yet still decided to do the full 145 miles, mostly because that’s what nearly all the others were doing. But I made a decision early on that I would mix between running and hiking, although as things went on there was less running and more hiking. Consequently my time was much slower than everyone else, but I didn’t crock myself in the process of such a silly challenge.
I won’t do that again*…….
With COVID19 infection rates still going through the roof, the news was delivered that the already-modified 2021 Spine Race was postponed until February (in the outside hope that it can happen then). But they did announce a virtual Spine Race for those wanting to run 268 miles during January whilst we wait to see if the real thing can go ahead.
By some awkward mistake I managed to lean on the keyboard whilst trying to stroke the cat and inexplicably managed to click on the link, type in my credit card details and click ‘enter’**…….
* honestly 🙂