It is that time of the year where we reflect on what has gone before and look towards the challenges that are yet to come. It is important to remember that things do not always go the way we plan them, there are inevitable ‘bumps in the road’ that make our journeys anything but comfortable. However it is these bumps that ensure we enjoy the good times even more.
2018 certainly didn’t go to plan for me running wise; injuries, illnesses, work and generally just life got in the way as I am sure that it does for all of us. That being said I did have some big goals in mind. I fancied having a bash at the ‘Canal slam’, which for those of you who don’t know is three races of 130+ miles including the Grand Union Canal Race, Kennet and Avon Canal Race and the Liverpool to Leeds Canal Race. GUCR was to be my ‘A’ race and coming off a strong Spartathlon in Sept 2017 I was looking forward to challenging myself over the long stuff again.
I was blighted by injuries and illness throughout the build up to GUCR, but despite this there were some positive results. I ran a new 100km PB and club record in January at Flitch Way 100km of 8:27:57, and then bagged a win at the Larmer Tree Marathon held by White Star Running in March. SDW50 though didn’t go to plan and despite being in great shape I struggled badly on the day. A chest infection developed two days after the race and it became obvious that my unexplained lack of energy during the race must have been as result of that. Following the Brecon’s ultra in May I then picked up a calf/Achilles injury that meant I couldn’t run and with GUCR only 4 weeks away it was touch and go if I’d make it.
Through sheer stubbornness I started GUCR 145, but it was doomed to failure from the get go. I hadn’t been able to run more than 10km without pain in the build up so it was a miracle my leg lasted as long as it did. I finally withdrew at Stoke Bruerne which is around the 70 mile mark after my injury had flared up at 20 miles. I was devastated, but I could hardly walk and the damage I had done plagued me for the next three months. The problem was I didn’t have a plan ‘B’ so all my eggs were in the GUCR and canal ’slam’ basket which had been torn from my grasp. To say I felt low would be an understatement.
My year found salvation though in a role I never expected. Despite offering to volunteer at the SDW100 (primarily as I wanted a space for 2019) I was dreading it. Injured runners are not the best to be around, and I expected to hate the day. I couldn’t have been more wrong. I was inspired by the achievements I witnessed and felt honoured to share the euphoria of every single finisher at the event. I met some wonderful people that day (both runners and volunteers), who have since become great friends and I was keen to help them as much as I could. Hence upon returning home I immediately signed up to volunteer at NDW100 and A100. If I couldn’t achieve my dreams then I was going to try my hardest to ensure other people could.
Before returning to the Centurion events, I had the small matter of running the Mizuno 24hr event in Leeds with my friend Matt. We had signed up in 2017 and I didn’t want to let him down. I was injured and we both knew it, but I did what I could. Matt was an absolute legend that day. He shouldered the work and ran 105 miles to my 65 to ensure that we won the pairs event. His incredible distance would have put him 3rd in the singles event alone which was an extraordinary feat. This just gave a small indication of how he was going to fair at Spartathlon later in the year.
Luckily I hadn’t done too much damage and had managed my leg sensibly so the following week I could help Claire on her 1st ultra around the Lake District. Billed as 55km it ended up being closer 38 miles (60km), but Claire got it done. Finishing well inside the cut off and making me immensely proud of her. Claire has had a great year, completing her first marathon in Brecon, then her first ultra in July. She went on to complete another two ultras, running a new marathon PB in one of them and then smashed her 5k PB the week before Christmas.
Early August it was the NDW100 and it was back to the Centurion family to help out again and this time I couldn’t wait. It was a blazing hot day, and so at Reigate Hill we made sure we had over 25kg of ice to look after the runners. Ice went in hats, buffs, down tops and some even put it down their shorts, people dunked their heads in our bucket and everyone left cooled off slightly. We even managed to supply a couple of calippo’s to lucky runners. I’d like to think we saved a few peoples races that day with the work that we put in at that aid station.
I had been slightly nervous about my leg though after having agreed to pace Mari Mauland for the last 20 miles. Luckily it did me proud and although I wasn’t quite able to help her defend her trophy in an epic ladies race she did finish in a wonderful second place after battling with sickness for most of the day.
Mari and several other people that day taught me the meaning of toughness and I will look to them for inspiration next year during my events.
Running 20 miles with Mari gave me the confidence to start training again and I began testing out my legs at the odd Parkrun. I had one eye on a 6hr challenge in September and started to ease back in gently without telling anyone that I was going to race. My sensible approach paid off and I picked up a win at the Wendover Challenge, managing 8 laps in around 5:58 and just missing out on the course record.
I promptly signed up for the club championship ultra race in October, but before that more volunteering was required at the A100. This is the final leg of the Centurion 100 mile Grand Slam and I was excited to see those people whose journey I had been privileged to share fulfil their dreams. I had agreed to pace my friend Michelle for the last 50 miles, but I managed to squeeze in some volunteering prior to running with her so I could be of some small help if needed. The conditions over night were biblical and the rain was torrential, then there was what seemed like the never ending journey to the reading aid station to contend with, so massive kudos to all the runners who battled those conditions. Michelle set a new 100 mile PB and took home the win in her age category which was brilliant. She did this despite not being 100% and struggling with injury in the build up. In the meantime we helped Francis smash his 100 mile PB as he ran some of the way with us, and I was grateful to witness my good friend Laura finally pick up that elusive trophy with an outstanding performance to complete her Grand Slam adventure.
There are so many people I would like to mention, but invariably I would forget someone and I don’t want to offend anybody inadvertently, so I would like to thank you all for allowing me to be part of your journey and as I have already said I am inspired by every single one of you. If you know… then you know…
Unfortunately following the A100 I was struck down with the dreaded man flu, and although I ended up racing at Kings Forest 50k I struggled badly. The wheels fell off unsurprisingly at 20 miles and it became a slog to finish. Luckily I managed to still finish 4th and take home the club championship trophy as the 1st harrier across the line. I guess every cloud has a silver lining.
The rest of the year has seen me turn my attention to plans for 2019 and focusing on a winter of speed training. I have returned to XC races for the first time in years and have subsequently run my fastest 5km and fastest 10km times since 2013 of 17:17 and 35:58 respectively. I must be doing something right……
I am feeling positive about my plans for 2019 and suffice to say I have a plan ‘A’ and plan ’B’ just in case things don’t work out as I would like. It could prove to be a very challenging and tiring year, but if I can learn from what has gone before and draw on the strength from those that have inspired me in 2018 then maybe, just maybe it’ll be a successful year.
I will leave you with one final piece of advice..
If your dreams for 2019 don’t scare you…. Then they aren’t big enough!!
Happy New Year to you all
My Year in Numbers:
Total Distance: 4624.37 km
Total Elevation: 40,974m
Winner – Larmer Tree Marathon
Winner – Endure 24hr Leeds – Men’s Pairs
Winner – Wendover 6hr Challenge
New 100km PB
Bedford Harrier’s Ultra-Marathon Club Champion