Another 6 months have passed, well, almost. It is the end of my challenge, 2018 is now technically closed for me (from an event perspective that is!). This means reflection time again. 6 months ago I wrote a mid-way review post and I’m glad I did. I had to read it to recall everything that has happened and where my mind and thoughts were at 6 months ago.
Lets quickly recap on that first half of the year, January – April saw 4 marathons. 2 p.bs, a DNF and a wicked experience of rediscovering the enjoyment and fun I have in running. May and June saw the start of my ultras with 3 of them completed, including my first real taste of running in the mountains. You can read all the detail of those first 6 months in my review.
Before I knew it July was here. This is when it started hotting up. Literally. What a glorious summer we had in the UK, and sure us runners moaned about it! It was always too hot. We were always dehydrated. We were always worried and concerned. Runners running early morning and late evenings just to avoid the sun. I couldn’t avoid the sun during the first of the ultras in the second half of the year. The Serpent Trail (not sure what’s happened to this blog!? it’s vanished!!) was an absolute scorcher, but great fun. Whilst the world cup was underway, I was busy running my first 100km of the year through the South Downs. It was an amazing route and well organised event but required some digging deep to carry on for 13 hours in the relentless heat. I compared this event to a Battle. That day I also met Ally whom I found out is my neighbor.
August was the big month. The first challenge in my path would be return to the SVP100. Running with Ged and Chris and meeting many many people along the way. A fairly relaxed run (I had my mind on the next imminent challenge!) where I just wanted to ensure I didn’t get injured! One thing I learnt that weekend was not to use a room in a shared/lived in Airbnb. I felt uncomfortable. Most notable in my feelings from this race was the comparisons I drew to running the same event in 2017. It didn’t disappoint.
At the end of August it was the main event. Shortly after recovering from the SVP100 it was onto the big one. The CCC. The race that had come to dominate my calendar year. The one that filled me with fear and uncertainty but so much excitement at the same time. I prepped for this one. Whilst ultimately the year so far was ‘training’ for this purpose I also went out to the Alps to Recce the route before hand. Here’s a summary of that recce and also what I learnt from doing it.
Come the race itself, physically it was hard. Mentally it was challenging. I came through it so much faster and stronger than I’d planned. I earned the gilet that day. Despite having mixed feelings on the event I am so glad I ran it.
There was no stopping now. With very little time to rest, I was straight into the Berlin marathon. A different race entirely. Shorter distance, road, greater intensity. I hadn’t run a road race for 4 months since Helsinki (and that was a calm and calculated run at a consistent, easy pace). I didn’t know how I’d fare up. The ghost of Limassol still lingered. I took the pressure off myself. I had no real intentions for Berlin. Secretly I wanted the sub 3, but I wasn’t committed to attempting it here and now. Not so soon after the CCC anyway. That all changed when I started running that morning. Kipoche wasn’t the only breaking records that day. I made my own history with a life time membership into the Sub 3 hour club. That can never be undone.
Three quarters of the year done. 3 races remaining! I’d achieved the goals I’d originally set out to achieve. I’d come through in pretty good condition. The big races of the CCC and Berlin had been conquered. Immediately I went into a sort of chilled mood. The next races were mere formalities in my mind. I didn’t care what happened as long as I finished and as long as I didn’t pick up any injuries.
Poland was the next destination in October. This was a very social occasion with 5 of us ‘Cool Cats’ heading out and running the 48km at the Lemkowyna Ultra Trail event. We met up with ‘Team Hot Tub’ from Sweden and dubbed ourselves team ‘Zeimniaki’ after discovering our love and inability to speak Polish. The run itself was not as expected as the mud gave way to glorious sunshine and dry terrain. I ran with (or rather near) Yvette for the full 6 hours and we picked up our amazing mugs and cowbell medals at the finish line. It was a great weekend. We also had a brief moment on Polish TV!
I did hit a bit of a low-point (mentally) during September and October. The build up of all the races had raised my expectations. A sort of anti-climax was reached and a little bit of me felt unfulfilled despite my achievements. My motivation and desire had dropped and I didn’t run as much in September and October as a result (still clocking >100 mile months though!). I felt a little lethargic and out of shape (I didn’t alter my diet in anyway and produced a lovely pot-belly as a result!). The calf/hamstring issue I felt out in Poland persisted and I was too stubborn to do anything about it (and still am!). I did however set my mind on re-building myself from November onward. Using those last two races to trigger the start of training for 2019. That was the plan anyway…
Poland was followed by a return to Wales. Brecon was calling once more, this time the 46 mile (2 loops) of the Brecon with Jon, Gif and Reka. Originally this was going to be Jon, Tommy and Kieron but sadly they both had to drop out in the weeks leading up to the event. We met up with Ged and ran together with as little pressure and maximum enjoyment possible. It was a great experience. We had a lot of fun that weekend and Jon secured his 4 UTMB points he set out to.
I threw an extra spanner in the works during November when I (all too easily) was convinced by Ged to run a trial of a new ultra in between Brecon and Dorset. The Thames Bridges Ultra (TBU) is a 50 mile ultra along the Thames (crossing the bridges obviously) that would be run at night. How could I resist? It was free after all! What I didn’t consider was the implications of running 3 ultras in 2 weeks. I felt good on the night but soon tired. The exhaustion from Brecon came out. It was long, hard and flat. Ged had to pull out before the day, but Reka and Krysia provided much needed company through the night.
The Dorset Coastal Trail Series was the final event for me. The end of my challenge. Another 46miles of trails and the first event I’d do on the coast. I signed up to this initially with Alex (who did the half). Later in the year, the WTR bunch got involved and so this also became a very social event. I only wish I’d studied the course before committing as, it involved a number of repetitive laps of the (very) hilly route! The weather on the day was verging on the extreme. Some emergency plans were instigated and route changes applied. Visibility was low as we fought not only the distance but the elements. A super hard run made easier with great company!
What else have I been up to?
Like the first 6 months of the year, the second half was full of other adventures and moments worth noting. So many in fact I don’t quite know where to begin nor what to really say about them! So here, as a reminder for me to look back on one day, are some other highlights from the year.
Lets start with the group training…
- Never Stop London. This carried on into the year, although I attended less frequently. The community is buzzing (and has grown so much over the summer!) and my strength has definitely improved from all the leg cranks and focused training. I’ve no doubt it helped set me up for success in the Alps.
- Wild Trail Runners – Towards the end of spring I started attending the hill sessions on Monday nights. Whilst not always motivated to go, or often aching from the weekend’s events, these have been a great opportunity to not only get some additional tailored training and hill sessions, but to become closer with a wicked bunch of runners and community.
- London Burger Run – each month these continue and with a few exceptions I’ve been able to help pace one of the groups. These have also been a great opportunity to meet people and get more involved in the community, but also to learn about pacing and leading groups of runners. Above all the atmosphere is so relaxed and a great way to bring people of all abilities and aims together.
- Evossi Explore Runs – another opportunity which came about over the summer was my involvement with Evossi (see below!) which led to some more run leader experience on runs in Richmond and South East London. A smaller, but growing community!
Run With Dai. These have continued. However they have been a little less structured (I count some of the times when I’ve run with others which might not have been planned that way!) and a little less frequent. My biggest challenge here has been maintaining not only interest (from others that is – I’m always open to running with you all!!), but freedom to do it whilst still training and travelling for all my events!
- Run With Montane – this one was a particularly special Run With Dai though as it was the first I’ve done outside of London and which required an over night stop! Whilst there were other motives involved, it also served as a reminder of the past year and a moment of reflection. I’ve now committed to going further with this incentive and will one day make it to Scotland, Northern Ireland and even Germany for a ‘Run with Dai’!
Recce Runs – there have been a few occasions where I’ve done a run to prepare for another run! Usually recces of a run I’ll be leading, but the most notable one was a trip to the Alps to prepare for the CCC:
- Recce with Yvette – Quite an adventure in itself, this was essentially a multi-stage ultra where we ran 80km over two days in the Alps. I learnt (see my post – ‘Knowing where you are going‘) a lot this trip and whilst I’d advocate doing similar, it isn’t always possible (costs, time etc.) to do before a big race. I certainly won’t be able to recce some of the races I’ve planned for 2019!
Ambassador Roles – Here is something I didn’t expect. The later half of the year has seen me work with some exciting brands and engage with the running community a different way…
- Evossi Explore – Being approached by Evossi was a very proud moment. Such an exciting brand that has big plans for establishing communities and bringing individuals together through running. I’m excited to be part of the team and thankful for the opportunity to be an ambassador and also to help with some of the Evossi Explore runs. Go check out their kit, some really smart designs and features!
- Montane – This opportunity came about through chance and relationship building. It’s incredible to be able to work with one of the leading brands for trail running gear but also to be part of a community so focused on supporting the environment in which we play – you need to check out the work Montane do with their partnership with the BMC and their commitments to Corporate Social Responsibilities!
Achieving my goals – When I started planning 2018 I associated goals to each of my races. There were some very specific targets (such as striving for a GFA time for the London Marathon) but also some less traditional goals in “having fun”, “not getting lost”. I’ve come through the year and achieved all I set out too and I couldn’t be happier. Naturally the two standout achievements were:
- Achieving good for age (for London) – technically I did this twice – firstly in Malta way back in February, only for the goal posts to be subsequently moved! Secondly when breaking the 3 hour time in Berlin in September. A 3 hour marathon was never a goal for the year but it very quickly became a possibility after a strong start to 2018. With my interests soon switching to trail rather than road, I’m grateful I’ve achieved this and don’t have to worry or think about trying ever again!
- Conquering the CCC – I’ve never been more out of my depth and full of fear in my life! When I signed up to this race I had no idea what I was doing. Here I was on the back of two trail runs and suddenly I think I can run ultras in the Alps?! Rocking up to the start line among some impressive and prestigious company was nerve racking. I didn’t belong here I thought. I felt like a fraud and that I was winging it. However, over time the experience and exposure to trails prepared me for the adventure ahead. My goal was to survive and survive I did!
Blogging – clearly this has continued otherwise you wouldn’t be sitting here reading this now (I hope you are sitting here reading this now!). I guess I’ve found it quite cathartic and a useful way to process my thoughts, identifying how I can improve and adapt. But also it is serving my goal of recording all these memories and achievements in a sort of diary I can refer back to. It’s very personal for me and I’m pleased so many of you do read my mumbles! Also, being nominated for the the best ‘personal blog’ category in the UK Running Awards is an absolute jaw dropper! (not sure if you heard, had I mention it?! go on, if you want to you can vote for me by following this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!). I have my sister to thank for that one!
What did I learn
- Race tactics – I’m still figuring this all out. Taking the pressure off yourself is the greatest tactic I’ve learnt so far (besides finding what works for you and trusting how you feel!). Find a way to create your freedom and feed your enjoyment. Berlin was the example. I felt good and strong throughout. I remember so much of the day and ran it consistently. Besides the result, I really enjoyed the run as I felt under no pressure to perform.
- Leading/running – I’ve still very much to learn here and my confidence needs building. Perhaps I’m too relaxed, I want people to enjoy, not to be dictated at. I’ve now sampled it though, look out in 2019 for the many many runs I end to plan!
- Social media – I’ve mixed feelings here. Let’s be blunt, it is a cesspool at times. So much negativity and pressure to be a certain way. But, it is so out done by all the wonderful people in supportive running community. There’s a lot of inspiration out there. Just take the experience of social media with a pinch of salt and don’t compare yourself!
- The People – Running with others is so much more enjoyable than running solo. I used to be a lone-wolf when running. I rarely run alone now and I’m smiling so much more as a result.
- Challenge – I don’t push myself and I underestimate my abilities. I know this. I don’t know why I don’t try harder. Maybe there’s an element of fear and an element of just being content with where I am. I’ll ride it out though. If and when that changes, I’ll be ready. I’m not going to force anything.
- Fear – Fear of injury is still there. I’m not unique. All athletes and people involved in sports must have this deep lasting fear of not being able to do the things you love most. I’ve learnt to just accept and be conscious of this.
- Support – The support is phenomenal. Friends. Family. Strangers. Everyone has been so great and supportive to me. For that I am truly grateful.
What hasn’t changed
- Diet & Nutrition – I might be determined, but I’m also weak and have very little will power. Put something tasty and sugary in front of me and the greedy bastard inside will take it all. When I crave something, I get it. I still need to learn and introduce some control in this aspect of my life. If I ever have desires to improve and compete then I’ll need to address my diet and self control!
- Stretching and training is all still crap – I run when I want and stretch only when I can be bothered. The beauty of running so many events is that the time between is mostly for recovery (well, in theory). My basic fitness and capability is not only there but constantly maintained. The Wild Trail running on a Monday has become the only structured and routined aspect of my training!
- Anxiety – I’m still nervous and anxious. Yep, over 16 events this year and I’m still not used to it. The days leading up to an event can be very stressful for me. I’ve identified the main parts that freak me out are the logistics (getting to and from the event) and the actual expo/race registration part. Yes the wait at the start line is also a time of being anxious, but as soon as I’m running I am free from worry. Never mind the social side of it and meeting people!
- Stubbornness – I’m still stubborn. I do it my way. My approach works for me and I am happy with that. Whilst I think of myself as easy going, If I want something (a certain flight, a certain race, whatever) then I pursue it with stubbornness. Running through so many injuries and not accepting rest into my approach is the perfect example. But this is associated to my FOMO…
- FOMO – I still do too much. The reason being is I have the FOMO. Every time I see a challenge that someone else is doing, has done or which looks great. Then I want some. I find it hard to say no. Very hard.
So looking back, wow. I’m surprised myself at what I’ve done this year. It grew completely out of control in the most amazing way. I’ve done things I’ve never thought I would. I’ve come out of my comfort zone on so many occasions. I’ve made new friends and memories that I will cherish forever. I’ve essentially begun the most amazing mid-life crisis! Some people buy cars or have affairs, I’ve discovered running! I hope this crisis never ends!
My biggest take away though is the people. The community. This is the sort of wanky statement I don’t feel comfortable with, but it’s so true for my year. Look around my blogs and reviews and whom I now spend my free time with… the vast majority of the these people I refer to I didn’t know 12 months ago. I’ve found so much inspiration and support from these people. I have so much appreciation for them and am in awe of their successes too. It’s certainly helped build this love of running I have! This is something I want to celebrate some how. I will find a way!
But what now? Where do I go from here? Good news is that I haven’t stopped thinking or planning. In fact the foundations of a plan are already there. The commitments are made. 2019 is going to be even bigger as I take Montane’s strap-line personally and go Further, Faster! Here we go again….Watch this space, but for now time to put the feet up and chill (from events that is!).
I’ve been nominated for the personal blog category with the Running Awards. I’d love your support and votes. If you like what you read and you’d like to vote for me you can click this link and find “RunWithDai” in the nominees. Thanks!