Running reflections – 2014 in review

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It’s important to take time to reflect regularly, making changes to the way we do things and deal with others as appropriate. In reality, many of us have great intentions and mean to do this but as the end of the year approaches we then take time out to reflect upon our lives, ambitions and progress towards our goals. The festive period is also a time to regain perspective and set new goals for the coming year. So here goes….

Work-family-running balance

This is a tough one. Running ultra marathons means long runs in training, with back-to-back long runs every weekend. Or does it?

This year and last year I did back-to-back long runs on Saturday and Sunday mornings (often starting the longest run at 5am or even earlier in order to get back in time to have a decent day with my wife and son) while training for the North Downs Way 50. As I begin preparations and planning for my 100 mile debut at the South Downs Way 100 next June I’ve been thinking about the training involved and how I can get myself race ready while not sacrificing too much time with my family.

Having posed the question “Are back-to-backs necessary in training for a 100 miler?” to the amazing Ultrarunning Community Facebook group I received lots of comments and, as expected, opinion was split. However, I was reassured by the fact that several of the elite runners and middle to back of the pack runners like me said they don’t do back-to-backs, even when training for 100 mile races, and felt they are unnecessary. My plans for SDW100 training will reflect this, with single long runs at weekends with a back-to-back weekend every few weeks rather than every week.

As I run on weekday evenings as well as weekends I can make up some of this mileage by extending the mileage on some of these runs without affecting my wife (busy reading of an evening) and son (in bed). Hopefully this will make for a more balanced home life and reduce the running related concerns and occasionally uncomfortable “Are you running this weekend?” questions.

I am also starting a new job in January, my first management post since I returned to work in education 5 years ago. No doubt this will involve a lot of challenges and stressful moments so my running will become even more important as a form of relaxation and giving me the chance to regain perspective and composure. New job and first 100 mile run in the same year? Well I certainly won’t be bored.

Trail running community

Early this year I was fortunate enough to be 1 of 100 trail runners shortlisted to attend 1 of 2 events, the first in the Lake District and the second in London, as the Trail Team 2014 was selected. This gave me the opportunity to meet some great people of all abilities and meet Gary Kiernan, Allan Rumbles, and Paul Radford for the first time. I knew from Tim Ellis, a member of the 2013 team, what a fantastic time the winners would have and was glad to have the chance to listen to some inspiring speakers, run around trails in London (who knew?!) and meet Simon Freeman and the Freestak team. While I wasn’t selected I gained so much from the experience and will certainly try again if they have a 2016 team. That’s me at the back below the 0 and 1 grinning like an idiot!
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Throughout the year I followed other running friends like Martin Bushell and Jon Fielden complete their first 100 miler and Glen Willie complete the Grand Slam of all 4 Centurion Running 100 milers. What I love about the advent (pardon the pun) of social media is the ability to connect with other runners, engage in banter and gain valuable advice. I was delighted to see Rodrigo Freeman, who I’ve been talking to for over a year as we have both trained using the Maffetone Method (heart rate based, aerobic training), finish the Winter 100 in well under 24 hours and surprised when he suggested we do a recce run of the South Downs Way together in November (he’s signed up for the Grand Slam in 2015). I agreed immediately, of course, and we spent a day running 33 miles along the SDW and beating the sunset. More recce runs await in 2015 and I am looking forward to running with Jon and others in the build up to SDW100. The SDW is a great place for doing the aeroplane too. Result.
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Races

This year I ran the following races:

Meon Valley Plod (February) – 21 miles of mud, ankle deep puddles, hills and trails.

Steyning Stinger Marathon (March) – A boggy, muddy, hilly and windy but amazingly scenic trail marathon. After enjoying the downhills far too much I suffered in the second half.

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Both of these races were brutal but fantastic preparation for NDW50. It was great to run these and the next 2 races with my buddy Phil Hall.

North Downs Way 50 (May) – Better prepared and fitter than in 2013 I was hopeful of a sub-11 hour finish and a 53 minute PB. A problematic IT Band put paid to that just 10 miles in but I gutted it out to finish in time and proved to myself that I am getting stronger mentally every year.

Endure 24 (June) – My first 24 hour race, staged on a 5 mile trail loop just outside of Reading. After little running post NDW50 as I recovered from the ITB injury I was uncertain how I’d get on but was delighted to manage my 80 mile target. Despite the subsequent lay off from running due to severely damaging both big toenails in the process. I’ve still to determine the right shoe choice for SDW100. It was also great to see Kev Matthews (who’s the reason I know about ultra running and who inspired my first 50 miler after his NDW50 debut in 2012), Dan Park, Nici Griffin, Paul Ali, Ashley Hurd, Paul Katsiva-Corderoy, Janine Lewis, Robin Killingsworth and Kirsty Reade (TrailTeam2014 member and subsequent conqueror of UTMB) there as well.
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Alice Holt 10k (August) – I entered this a few weeks before the event, curious to see how I would get on running this distance. I’d only run one 10k race before but that was the Santa Run in 2011 so I figured a new PB would be on the cards without the added drag of a Santa suit! This was a no pressure, ‘let’s see what we can do’ run through on a lovely trail course. Hoping for a sub-50 minute finish (my parkrun and 5k PB is 25:28) I was delighted to finish in 49:48. Hats off to the runners who finish these races in 30-40 minutes. Running 10k is tough. More pleasing to me was the fact that I was running controlled throughout and didn’t know that I was running sub 8 minute mile pace for the first mile until I checked my Garmin. I also got to meet Susie Chan at long last.

Royal Parks Foundation 50k Ultra (October) – Having obtained a free place via the charity Tommy’s I was looking forward to my first 50k race, a flat and road/hard packed trail ultra marathon around London and the 5 Royal Parks. In preparation for this event I trained exclusively on roads (with the odd stretch of hard packed trail) and found it strangely rewarding. The race was less so as I lost my mojo in the middle third when I kept falling behind Phil and Simon Welch and began questioning my running ability. Despite this I still finished close to my target time of 6 hours (2 minutes over). Too much self-imposed pressure due to a time target and running at a faster than planned pace for the first third put paid to my planned race but afterwards I remembered what’s important.

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Great South Run (October) – I wasn’t expecting to run this in 2015. An ever present from 2005 to 2012 I decided not to run this in 2013 as I was slightly bored of the route and road running. However, this being the 25th anniversary race and with running friends Phil and Simon running it yet again and my older brother Greg and his wife Tracy running it for the first time I hoped the opportunity to take part might arise. The week before the race my wish was granted as I was offered a place and duly paced my brother to a 90 minute finish, as requested, and in the process had the best run I’ve had in ages. Sometimes running races for others is much more satisfying than achieving your own race goals and this was a highlight of the year for me. Tracy also beat her time goal, Phil ran in a penguin suit and Simon blasted it yet again. Wins all round.
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Santa Run 5k (December) – The 3rd time I’ve done this with my son (now 10). A festive, fun 5k run (with some walking) along Southsea seafront. No targets, just being part of a special event and raising a few smiles as well as funds for the RNLI into the bargain. One of my favourite running events of the year.
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Volunteering

South Downs Way 100 (June) – As soon as I decided that I wanted to run this race in 2015 I signed up to volunteer at the 2014 event. I wanted to get an insight into how the runners are in the 2nd half of the race and was stationed at the 69 mile point (Clayton Windmills) with running buddies Phil, Dan, and Bryan Webster plus new running buddies Andrew Baillie and Darren Chilcott. Despite a shift which lasted almost 12 hours I had a great time helping out. It’s so uplifting watching the determination of the runners from the front to the back of the pack, cheering them on with a smile and some encouraging words and playing a small part in their epic journey. If you haven’t already volunteered at a Centurion Running event then do it. Ultra runner or not, it’s a fulfilling experience. I left for home just before 3am grinning from ear to ear and convinced that I can run 100 miles.

Thames Meander Marathon (August) – This event runs alongside the River Thames from Kingston-Upon-Thames to Putney and back. It wasn’t an event I was aware of until another running buddy, Beth, shared a status update from Hermes Running on Facebook requesting volunteers. Having enjoyed the SDW100 stint so much I readily offered my services and spent the day feeding, watering and supporting the runners by Barnes Bridge, in doing so seeing them at roughly the 10 and 16 mile points. Highlights for me were working alongside Fiona McNelis (picking her brain on running 100 miles and finding out that she was paced to the finish in a 100 miler by the inspirational Mimi Anderson), meeting Marathon Man Rob Young (running over 300 marathons in 2014 to raise funds for charity) and 80 year old Robbie “Red Hat” Wilson (running his 400th marathon, having started running them in his early 40s like me, and still smiling). These are just a few of the characters I met and was lucky enough to help on their run that day. I’ll be back next August to run the race myself on what looks like a great course. It’s a very well organised event and highly recommended.
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Portsmouth Coastal Waterside Marathon (December) – Rob Piggott runs this and many other Believe and Achieve events from the Santa Run (5k and 10k options) and a half marathon to duathlons and adventure races. He’s raised thousands for the RNLI in the process and continues to do so. A top bloke, he recognised my efforts in 2012 when I was unable to run the marathon because my wife was unwell and subsequently turned a DNS into a solo marathon finish, running the race unsupported 3 days later on the same course on Boxing Day. I asked Rob in August if he needed any help with this race and was asked to be last runner marshall (AKA sweeper) for the return leg of the course. Before setting off to clear the course of many, many signs (the act of carrying them from aid station to aid station turning into a strength training session in itself!) with Emma I helped out at the turnaround point aid station by handing out water and high fives to the runners, including Traviss Willcox, Luke Ashton, Rajiv Ratan, Stewart Liesnham, Beth Pirie, Simon, Phil and Gabrielle Yates . Running behind the last runner was a privilege and it was great to see her finish after clearly struggling for miles. I’ll be back next year for the inaugural Harbour 50k race, which follows the marathon route with some bonus miles at either end.

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My goals for 2015

Let’s not overcomplicate things. My running goals for the next 12 months are:

Finish the South Downs Way 100

Anything under the 30 hour cut off is fine by me. It’s my first 100 miler so I’m going to avoid the temptation to set a time goal. I’m going to train smart (that’s the plan, anyway) and I’ll run the best race I can.

My sole running focus over the next 6 months is working towards achieving this goal. I don’t know what I’ll want to do after that but know that I’ll need another race to aim for before the year ends. Most likely I’ll run for fun for a while after SDW100, with a place in the Thames Meander Marathon (August) and the new Harbour 50k Ultra, sister race of the well established Portsmouth Coastal Waterside Marathon (December).

Who knows where this will lead me?

Long term I want to run the Isle of Wight Coastal Path (about 70 miles) and may do this via the Isle of Wight Challenge race or a Social Ultra. I also have my eye on an unsupported run the length of the Wayfarers Walk from Basingstoke to Emsworth (about 72 miles). A 2nd 100 miler may well be on the cards for 2016 as well.

“It’s the (running) economy, stupid”

It seems that strength and flexibility will be key to a successful 100 mile run. I’ve started to do some strength and conditioning exercises more regularly and need to ensure that I focus on this as well as my running in order to maintain good running form for as long as possible at SDW100.

Refuel, review, resume

Over the next week I’ll get a few runs in but nothing major. The festive period allows time to rest, enjoy time with family and friends, indulge a little, review what has and hasn’t been working in my training, and make plans for the training starting in January. Exciting times lay ahead. I’m ready to take the next steps on my 100 mile journey. Or at least I will be in a few days from now.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to everyone. I hope to see some of you at running events during 2015.