I suddenly realised that I hadn’t written a blog post for sometime, in fact not since last year, so I thought that I had better get my ass in gear and use some of this time wisely. It may also help to pass a few minutes for some of you who like to read my posts and during times like these it is all about what you can give to help others!
Like for so many life got in the way and I just never got round to sitting down and putting anything together. Now the year is on hold for so many people, we have all been thrown into chaos and uncertainty, unable to visit friends, families and loved ones or pass the time doing the things we have all taken for granted. Added to that mix is the fact that we are not able to stoke those competitive fires that rage within us either; as events have been cancelled and goals that we had for 2020 have to be changed. Coronavirus/COVID-19 whatever you wish to call it has certainly done a number on us all in one way or another.
I guess for most of us the hardest thing is the not knowing…. not knowing if loved ones will be ok, if businesses will survive, or if you’ll be able to get loo roll the next time you visit the supermarket. I am sure there would be a collective sigh of relief if someone could look into their crystal ball and say ‘don’t worry everything will be back to normal on ‘ insert given date here……… ‘
Then we would have a target to aim for, something to strive towards and for many the chance to plan future targets. We would be able to say that we know things are tough now, but they will be back to normal in a few weeks/months etc. so lets just ride it out. We are tough, we are runners, we are built for endurance and we must endure this!
Alas we are not in a position to do that and my thoughts go out to all the key workers who are fighting this head on. The NHS staff are amazing, putting their lives on the line quite literally to save others. Then we have the rest of the emergency services coupled with the numerous shop workers, refuse collectors, construction workers, and the armed forces to name but a few who are out there day to day facing this head on. I for one salute you all.
My thoughts from a running perspective are also with the Race Director’s and Clubs who are desperately hoping that their events will go ahead later in the year and they will not only have the chance to bring joy to the masses who want to race, but also have a chance of generating some much needed revenue for their businesses, and/or members. Some have gone above and beyond to accommodate us by arranging new dates, giving full refunds, and holding virtual events to help motivate us. I urge you all when this is over to remember what they have gone through and support them either by taking part or volunteering at future events.
As the arguments continue to rage on social media between groups of people with differing views it is easy to lose sight of what is important. Stay Home, Stay Safe and Save Lives. The government have given clear guidance on the only reasons that you should leave the house and yet there will always be those who try to stretch or bend those rules, and even just downright ignore them. I am not going to preach as those people will do what they want despite what I say (as I begun to write this blog there were reports of people with caravans stuck in traffic heading to Devon/Cornwall for Easter!!), but I am going to urge you all to not get caught up in it.
Please go for your one run/walk/cycle/swim a day, go on your own or with other members of your household and respect others whilst you are out and about. Do this for your mental health and the chance to get some fresh air but also be mindful of those who aren’t as lucky as you. Think of those key workers I spoke of earlier who are on the frontline day after day, who by the time they get home are too tired to even run a bath, let alone go for that one form of exercise they truly love..
We are all in this together and it has been wonderful to hear of so many people who have volunteered to assist those who are vulnerable or have gone the extra mile to help those in their local community. Amongst the bad news there are countless stories of heroes and heroines who don’t wear capes, that are just doing what they can to help. Only this week my other half was given an Easter Egg as she shopped in M&S as the staff wanted to thank her for all her hard work for the NHS.
Try to focus on these stories and be thankful for what you have got, not what you don’t, and if you are one of those people who inexplicably bought a shed load of toilet roll, or are bulk buying self raising flour.. remember there are others who need to bake cakes and wipe their bums (not at the same time I hope!!) to get by so please share your stock piles with the local neighbourhood.
This period of lockdown has really given me time to reflect on the year so far. I have been lucky enough to have raced 4 times and was looking forward to competing in my first ever Track 100 race (due to be next week) against some of the worlds best 100 mile runners (including the 100 mile WR holder). Like so many I had taken running and the ability to compete for granted and along the way had maybe lost sight of why I do it and why I love it so much.
A few weeks ago I certainly wouldn’t of said I was looking forward to the Track 100 and if the truth be told I was really struggling to find any sort of running mojo and had been since the start of the year. I struggled to get out the door, looked for every excuse not to run and was really demotivated. I was still suffering a bit with my foot injury (Pre-Spartathlon) and even when I finally managed to get out the door I wasn’t enjoying it at all. As far as I was concerned running had become a chore and I had had enough of it. I was running the same old routes, lacking focus and direction whilst generally just going through the motions because I felt I had too.
VLT and I signed up for a 6hr Running Miles event in Slough in January, and I went there with my eye on the course record. I had hardly trained, and wasn’t in the greatest of shape so didn’t expect much, but you have to aim high. A few days before we had taken part in one of the Winter Trail Series races at Stowe, where I had somehow managed to come second albeit 2 minutes slower than on the same course last year. This just showed where I was at physically even if I didn’t want to believe it.
Inevitably at Slough I was dragged into racing and went through the Marathon distance in about 3:07, which was far quicker than I had intended. The silver lining to this cloud was that it gave me another 2:53 to run 10 miles and surpass the CR held by a certain James Elson (he’d stopped after 4:51 achieving 36.7 miles in 2019). Unsurprisingly my legs were starting to scream at me as I hadn’t run this far in ages but after 4:38 minutes I went through 36.7 miles. If VLT hadn’t been there I would of just stopped, but she went out to do her final loop to complete 31 miles. So I trotted after her and we run/walked/jeffed that last 5 miles together. It took just under an hour and we called it a day at 5:35 finishing the event together, which was most enjoyable and unbeknownst to us at the time 1st Male and 1st Female. It turned out the extra lap VLT did meant that she won as well, which she was very proud of.
February then came around and we headed to Seville for the marathon just as the Coronavirus was starting to appear in Europe (Northern Italy). I had hoped that the success at the 6hr event in January would of given me the impetus to train hard for the Marathon, but it hadn’t. I had gone through the motions and not put in the requisite work needed to even get close to a PB and I knew it. The fact that the Track 100 loomed on the horizon and this was supposed to me getting in ‘peak shape’ hadn’t even motivated me… So I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty.
Those who know me well, know that I am still quite bloody minded and despite knowing I wasn’t in great shape, I still flirted with the idea of running sub 2:45, although I had admitted to VLT that I would be lucky to scrape a sub 2:50. I had noticed the day before on Instagram that Beth Pascall was running, and then in the start pen I stood close to another centurion stalwart Ed Catmur, although he didn’t see me.
I knew during the first 10k it was going to be tough as my legs felt like lead far too early, however I somehow went through 13.1 miles in 1:22:30.. perfectly on pace for a sub 2:45. Maybe I could hold on and scrape that championship standard… Then at 16 miles I did something I have never ever done in a road marathon… I stopped and went for a wee. That just showed my mental state.. I just wasn’t up for it so I thought what the hell, why try and hold this I might as well go. It took me a while to get back up to speed, however I still thought sub 2:48 is on here, and then with 5k left my legs deserted me and Beth Pascall came flying past. I can honestly say it was the most awful 5km I have experienced in a marathon and I that have never been overtaken by so many people in the last 2km of a marathon. Somehow I managed to hang on for a 2:49:36 which was scarily close to what I thought I would be capable of. Maybe deep down I really understood where I was at but didn’t want to admit it to myself.
Seville is a beautiful city and I love the Seville Marathon, so the weekend as a whole was wonderful and looking back now we were so lucky to escape for a few days of sunny weather and a mini holiday. The other good news was that it finally gave me the kick up the ass I needed. I had seen Rob Payne at the airport as we waited to fly back to England and I checked out the time he had achieved as I was due to be racing him at the Track 100 which was now only 7 weeks away.. he had finished in around 2:30 something so was obviously in good form. I knew that I needed to get serious and after a week of recovery that is what I intended to do.
I had booked a race on Friday 13th March, Track Wars III, a 6hr track race in Walton on Thames as this would give me a good idea of where I was at and give me the chance to mentally prepare for 13hrs on a track. I would then be heading to the Lake District the week after for a 4 day training camp, so normal service was resumed. I started upping my mileage and getting out the door, I was starting to enjoy running again and thankfully was feeling like my old self. I even managed to enjoy a couple of runs around the track at Hereford Leisure Centre when I visited my parents for Mum’s birthday, which I surprisingly enjoyed. Perhaps track running was going to be my bag after all.
I expected the 6hr event to be cancelled as others were just starting to fall foul of the pandemic, but Rik and his team at Phoenix Running decided to implement some safety measures to protect runners and we went ahead as planned. Little did we all know at the time that it would be one of the last events held in the UK for the foreseeable future. So there we were gathered at 8:30am on a track ready to run round and round, I didn’t know what to expect and thought I wondered if I would be bored out of my brain. Turns out that I loved every minute of it, starting at a steady pace I churned out lap after lap with my old Spartathlon buddy from 2017 Jay Macdonald not far behind. He was just aiming for a marathon, but I still didn’t want him to get bragging rights and beat me to that distance.
I went through the marathon in about 3:03 a couple of minutes ahead of Jay and then gradually backed off. The legs were starting to feel it and I hadn’t fuelled properly at all, so I grabbed some electrolytes and a couple of gels and tried to get some calories on board. I really enjoyed the camaraderie on the track, and it made such a change from other ultras I have done. I often spend long periods alone during races and so even though I was running in my own little world it was great to see people constantly. Saying well done to people or having a little bit of banter with them just made the time go quickly and I didn’t even need to resort to listening to music.
With an hour to go, another fellow Spartathlete from 2019 Jonny Suckling turned up and started giving me some encouragement and letting me know how far I had covered. That came as a huge boost and really helped me to keep going. I had a few issues with my legs due to not fuelling adequately which meant I did walk a lap or two, but I managed to cover 47.5 miles (76km) in 6:01 for 1st place which I was very pleased with. I also knew that there was more in the tank, and that I am not done with 6hr track racing just yet.
Most importantly I had enjoyed it and was now looking forward to the Track 100, although by the time I was to head to the Lake District that along with many other races had been postponed. Luckily my Air b’n’b host in the Lake District still welcomed me and I had a fantastic weekend running and social distancing on the trails around Ambleside, Grasmere and Windermere. I was even offered an extra nights stay, however the prospect of needing to return to work meant heading back on the Sunday evening.
On the evening of Monday 23rd March Boris locked the country down and the rest as they say is history. I have now been working at home for almost 3 weeks doing my best to ensure that we continue to provide an Occupational Health service for our frontline firefighters and support personnel. I haven’t been able to go and visit VLT who is doing an amazing job in a Pharmacy in Bicester, but I have been able to go for a run, and that is something that I am hugely thankful for. I am even more thankful because I am actually enjoying running and not in the place I was in January.
Whilst there are events on the horizon (July) I am fully expecting these to be cancelled/postponed and if they are then so be it! They are not what matters at the moment, staying happy, healthy and saving lives is all that matters. I am thankful for the things I have managed to do this year and I am looking forward to getting back out there when this thing has run it’s course.
In the meantime I will continue to run, just because I love running and because it gets me out of the house. I also want to try and stay in good shape so that when races start again I am ready to go and I need to run otherwise I will be the size of a house because working next to a fridge doesn’t do the snack-resistance any favours!!
Stay safe everybody, stay happy and be grateful for everything that you have.
Happy Easter Everybody…..