6 months have passed. 6 whole months already! It feels like yesterday I first sat down with Daryl and started planning what runs I’d do in 2018. It was all pretty shoddy that first attempt, but shortly afterwards my “12 month challenge” was born, although I can’t remember why I decided to do this.
I thought I’d stop for a moment (not literally though, the running continues) and look back on the first half of the year. Take a look at what the challenge has become, what I’ve achieved, what I’ve learnt (and still haven’t learnt) and generally take stock of what’s to come in the next half of the year…. plus it will save me in 6 months time when I try to remember everything that has gone on and recollect all the adventures and memories!
Firstly the task itself. 12 marathons in 12 months, or at least that is what it started as. I soon realised that road marathons didn’t excite me as much as I thought. As the year got underway I was introduced to trail running and started to do this more and more. I was also greedy, as I’d started sampling the Ultras and being tempted by some of those more exotic races and struggling to say no to some others suggested. In some cases I couldn’t choose between races in the same month, so booked them all. As such I’ve ended up with a year that features 6 marathons and 9 Ultras. It kind of grew out of hand.
So what has been run already? 5 out of 6 of those marathons – Muscat, Malta, Limassol, Brighton and Helsinki. It all kicked off in Oman with an incredible trip (which I still mean to document someday) and a reunion with Angela and Stephane from Myanmar in 2016. I PB’d big time, first in Oman and then in Malta before spectacularly blowing up in Limassol in March. More to come on that later… April saw me run with Alex and embrace the atmosphere of Brighton and I ran Helsinki care-free.
I’ve also now completed a third of the ultras with the challenges of Brecon Beacons Ultra Trail, Race to the Tower and Race to the King all overcome. The Brecon Beacons ultra was particularly grueling and my first real taste of running in the mountains. It’s fair to say I enjoyed it and will need to get used to it as there are more mountains to come in the next half of the year! The Race to the Tower and Race to the King saw me complete the Threshold Trail series and as per race to the Stones last year they were incredibly well organised and a lot of fun.
What have been my highlights so far? let’s break these down…
- The people – I could go on and on about a lot of people here, those I know closely, those I’ve come to know through Instagram, my family and strangers encountered along the way. But a call out to the old friends reunited through running – Angela and Stephane who I had the company with for a few days out in Oman, and Sandra whom I’d not seen for nearly a decade until Helsinki! Running brings you back together. A shout out to the new friends made on the way, and there are many of them, but Ged – 33 miles shared on the Cotswolds Way…what a great way to meet and get to know someone. And the squad, the crew, the gang that were there when I needed them most. In the darkness of my DNF in Cyrpus Daryl, Brigita, Yvette and Barnadas were there for me. I’ll forever be thankful.
- Exploring the UK – I’ve seen very little of the UK in truth. I’ve probably seen more of it in the past 6 months than I have in the 33 years preceding them! It’s no surprise to say you cover a lot of ground when running Ultras. Through a few different races (and general runs) I’ve now spent a fair amount of time down on the South Downs and South East Coast. Race to the King saw me cover a lot of the Cotswolds and at the Brecon Beacons Ultra trail I covered a few laps of, yeah, Brecon! Each place is so different. Each has its own uniqueness and tranquility. I’m looking forward to exploring more. Maybe a venture North should come next?
- Travelling – It’s always going to sound like a dating app cliche, but I love to travel. I’ve been fortunate to visit nearly 50 different countries and have made some amazing memories along the way. Combining this passion with running has been a great experience. Seeing such amazing cultural differences (such as Oman) and landscapes has been a blessing. Oman, Malta, Cyprus and Finland have all been sampled so far.
- The lack of training – I don’t “train” anymore. I kid you not. I just run. Is that weird? I’m now in (and have been for a few months) a perpetual state of marathon fitness. Sounds awesome doesn’t it! It’s odd in that its become such a normality that my weekly mileage feels small (somewhere in the 30-40 miles) but its more than enough. I should clarify that, when I say I don’t train, I do actually workout and put effort in (I still go to the Never Stop London Tuesday training sessions and have started going to the Wild Trail Running Monday night sessions for example). What I mean is that I don’t have, nor follow, a routine or plan. There is no tempo session, no hill session, no speed work, no easy run, no long run, no fartlek nor intervals. Every run is just a run. No set mileage, just time on my feet. Each run will vary in distance it is true, but no run has a goal or an aim other than being a run. And most surprisingly of all, this works for me. I’m getting fitter and stronger from ‘just running’. What I particularly like is the freedom it gives me, there is no pressure to miss out because a run doesn’t fit into my ‘plan’ or schedule.
- The regular experiences – Through others and the Internet I have become involved in several groups. There’s the Cool Cats – A collective of like minded runners of all sorts organised through Facebook and the amazing Jana. The Never Stop London group – Run by The North Face and through Jack. The Wild Trail Runners headed up by the enigmatic Maggie and the London Burger Runs put on by Tommy ‘Texas T-Dog’. Yeah that’s not his name but whatever. Whenever I can I will go to these runs and events put on by these guys. There are a lot of great people involved and I’m guaranteed to have a smile on my face running/working out with them.
- The support – Closely linked to the people, I’m constantly amazed by the support and advice I constantly receive. Through the many many people I’m in contact with on Instagram to those I’ve been fortunate to meet and become friends with. There is support everywhere. Nowhere more have I received such support as from Daryl, Jana, Yvette (and her generosity also!), Jack, Alex, Maggie, Jon (and many more, the list really does go on). These guys have followed my every move, supported and advised, encouraged and challenged me and continue to push me forward. Then there is the huge community of supporters who turn out to volunteer or cheer participants at events, you are amazing!
And what hasn’t been so high? Well, the low points exist too…
- The DNF – this was always going to feature. Blowing up in Limassol was an experience I never want to have again. Not so much the DNF, but the effects it has on the mind. Looking back I’m fortunate. I came out the other side without a single scratch nor lasting damage. Others aren’t so lucky. It is however on my mind….
- The Fear of injury – With so many races, each one exciting and challenging, I’m afraid. I’m afraid of something happening (like an injury) that will prevent me from getting to the starting line. That will be the worst. I can deal with what happens on the day, but not getting the chance to attempt something, that will mess with me….Every little niggle I feel is magnified and feels like a big deal.
- The Enjoyment (or often lack of) – Running is hard. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise. No matter the distance, your ability or objectives, running is tough. Even on those glorious days in spectacular surroundings it is hard and requires physical and mental strength. When I head out into a marathon or ultra, nothing is certain. Don’t get me wrong, I’m confident and go into races prepared, but that doesn’t mean they are easy or a sure thing. Anything can happen. But what doesn’t help is putting pressure on yourself. I’ve done this a few times now. I chase the times. That changes how you run. It saps the enjoyment out of a run. When you are running somewhere new, somewhere special, the last thing you need to be doing is staring at your watch all the time. This does mean there have been runs I’ve not enjoyed as much as I should. Which is a shame.
- The psychological effect – This one I’ll struggle to explain. But its the lasting impact of the DNF, combined with the fear. I realised recently when I unintentionally muttered the words “I’m afraid of being afraid”. A dawning moment. In particular the effect I’m feeling is related to not getting a sub 3hr marathon time in Cyprus. No shame in failing. I’m fine with that. But, now I’m afraid of trying again. What if it happens again? what if I’m not so fortunate next time around. What if I can never hit sub 3? Can I be bothered to train hard for it? Lot’s of ifs and buts, all of which are meaningless. What does running a set distance 3 minutes faster award me? Absolutely bugger all is what. I get to say I’m a sub 3 hour marathoner. It’s meaningless. But I’ll dwell on it for some time to come I’m sure.
- The Planning – I’ve booked so many races that I can’t think of them. I need to look at what is coming up immediately. I need to prepare, I need to plan and I need to focus. At best I can look 3 races into the future perhaps. But even this is getting harder as the weeks in between are packed full of other fun runs I’ve planned. As such I don’t give each run the attention it deserves nor do I respect them as I should. I’ve the CCC quickly approaching (it’s now number 3 on my races coming up), but before then I first have to navigate 2 x 100km trail runs, 3 x runs I’m pacing/leading, a trip to Chamonix for some mountain training (which I think needs to involve a serious amount of elevation over 2 runs and a night run in two days) and hopefully a trip up to Northumberland. One race at a time, everything blurs into one. It’s surprisingly stressful.
- The fear – again, more fear, and it probably isn’t the last I’ll say on this topic. I’ve mentioned being ‘afraid of being afraid’ and I’ve mentioned the training trip to Chamonix. These are related. Everyone rightly tells me to go to Chamonix and get some mountain running before the CCC. In truth, I’ve delayed it so long because I’m afraid. I know it will be tough, but I’m scared it will be so tough that I dwell on it too much. As opposed to realising when I’m out there doing the CCC and knowing my stubbornness will just drag me through it. Regardless, I’m going. I’ll have to deal with it now. Embrace the fear!
This is turning out to be a long old post….So what have I learnt over the past 6 months (I’ve re-written this after realising the “what I haven’t learnt” is the flip side to each!)?
- I’m not to bad at this running malarkey. I’m getting faster and stronger and for the most part I run with a smile on my face. What this means though is that I am constantly looking for that next challenge. More isn’t always a good thing.
- There is inspiration everywhere. Every person I meet on the trail has a story. Everyone has their experiences. There ambitions and goals. It’s so good to share these with people and be inspired by their journeys.
- I’m a stubborn bastard. When it hurts I carry on. When I need to do something, I do it. I’ve always been this way only it has become blatantly clear to me through running that this is how I work. Pros and Cons I suppose. The downside of the stubbornness… Well, it means I’m ignorant. I don’t listen to my body. I sometimes push myself too much and risk things that are unnecessary.
- I’m also a greedy bastard. I love a freebie. I love a good time on a run. If I like something I want more of it. Whether its more running, more flat coke or whatever. I am prone to over indulging. This couldn’t have been more evident than at the RTTK where I’d stashed a shoe box worth of food into my bag which I had to run with for the last 20 miles. Greedy Bastard!
- I don’t do things correctly. I still don’t stretch or foam roll enough. I don’t get proper sleep. I don’t rest. Event the rest days I have tend to involve a couple of hours of cycling as part of my commute. My nutrition, hah, its all over the place.
- Race tactics. I sometimes have them. Sometimes don’t and don’t always stick to them. I don’t know what to do, if anything, about this? I’m trying to adopt the ‘run how it feels’ approach, this requires a lot of listening to the body!
- The Runner’s ‘Highs’ but also the runner’s ‘Lows’. Certainly a new experience I’ve come to acknowledge. We all so easily get the buzz from completing a challenge and finishing a race. The Adrenaline is pumping and the sense of achievement can be all encompassing. But when it wears off (and I’m afraid to say it will), the feeling you are left with can make you swing completely the other way. In the days following events I’m finding more and more that I’m on an emotional downer. It is weird, given that I have so much else to look forward to and get excited about, but that ‘hole’ that you are left with can suck you in way too easily. There’s a challenge ahead in how I adapt and learn to cope with it better. I think remembering your motivations for doing what you do will play a key part in the coping mechanisms we can put in place.
What else has been going on?
- As I write these words I also recall I did a 30 day run streak in January. I’d forgotten about that until writing this post! That was something I found a lot harder than I expected. The motivation and desire to run all the time is a big ask. I find it easier to keep running once I’m moving, but doing it day after day for shorter distances is a whole different experience entirely. Respect those who have completed streaks and to those who have streaks going on.
- Blogging! This has also happened. I started the year running. Now I write and run? I don’t even like writing. But. it has helped me channel my thoughts and reflect on what I do. Who knows where the blog will head, more kit and product reviews for sure.
- Realisation of the financial impact of running! As I continue into the next 6 months the other thing I’ve realised is that this isn’t cheap! Besides running I’m becoming addicted to buying running kit. So many trainers, so many tops and gadgets and tech. It’s great. But it costs a lot! Each race entry, the logistics and planning, it all costs. I used to say that running was great because its free. It is if you don’t get “too into it”!
So what comes next? What has the second part of the year got in store for me?
Well, for a start, it gets hard now. My next three runs are all 100km in distance. The CCC is the big one which will put me on a whole new level in terms of experience and I’ve so much to try to learn before then (running when tired, sleep deprived, mountain running, running in the dark etc.). Then there is the Berlin marathon. Part of my original aim for the year was to run a good for age qualifying time at Berlin. Then I obtained a place in the CCC just two weeks before. So that needs re-evaluating. I’ve no idea how I’ll feel when I fly out to Berlin. How my body will feel or even my mental state. However, I now know a lot of people who will also be out there, so the atmosphere is sure to be electric! I also obtained that GFA time in Malta (wooo) only for the bastards at the London Marathon to then move the goalposts a month later (Pricks). So I’m not sure if that goal is even valid anymore? Either way, Berlin is now turning into a bit of a party event. I now know so many people going that its going to be a great time no matter what I decide to do on the day. Then the remaining Ultras are all going to be shared with other people too. Different groups, all social in someway, including heading back to the Brecon Beacons, this time with Jon, Tommy and Kieron. Who knows how that will turn out!!
What am I going to change heading into the next 6 months? Hhmmm… right now, not a lot! Things are working right now so I won’t upset the balance too much. I’m becoming more involved in the social and community aspects of running so there will be more ‘running’ and more planning (runs, routes, meetups etc.). That will serve me from a training perspective. I’m keen to be more focused on the enjoyment and help remove the pressures I place upon myself, and I don’t intend to book any more events for this year! I do need to start thinking about 2019 though…
So to finally stop mumbling on…Looking back, I find it hard to believe that in such a short space of time I’ve become so passionate and involved in running. Taking the time to stop and reflect is going to become essential as the journey continues. As I acknowledge my goals, whats been achieved and adjust to what can be achieved, I sometimes think I need to be slapped with a trout and brought back to the reality of life! So onward to the next 6 months. Onward on these trails as I get ready to embrace the adventures, memories and more friendships that are coming my way!