Ten years gone

I shall start this first post of the year by wishing both of my readers a very happy New Year. I hope you enjoy reading this one. I can guarantee it’s the best thing I’ve written this decade so far.

Christmas and New Year were very enjoyable and different to what I’m used to, but in a good way. In the midst of all the festivities also was a house move, which, truth be told, is still ongoing. Towards the Christmas break however, I could, and still can, feel my general confidence level plummeting. There are probably many reasons as to why this is happening. One thought might be that so much happened to me last year, mostly in the summer, as well as achieving so many of my goals. By the end of September, I had had my first ever DNF and was almost definitely at the mercy of a potentially long-term injury. Two very unusual events for me as I’ve lived a seemingly charmed life in my physical activity existence. Being injured has held me back a little and I do feel out of shape, feeling reluctant to push myself like I used to.

My new tradition (second year) is competing in RED (Run Every Day) January. I headed out for run number two and felt up against it so decided to push it a bit and by the time I got home, I felt like I used to years ago when I first started to run seriously – fairly sweaty, suitably pushed and most importantly, buoyant on endorphins. It left me very satisfied and feeling raring to go for my next session, so I am able to see the positive in my fitness slipping.

With last year being pinned down by three ultra marathons, a Fan Dance and two Paras 10 races, I feel 2020 should be a return after a three year absence to road marathons to rediscover why I run to begin with. In true me style, I have set myself the goal of running a marathon in April in under three hours and fifteen minutes. I think currently, I’m in the four hour mark, and my personal best from my peak is three hours twenty-something, so I have a lot of work to do. Symbolically, the marathon will be exactly ten years since my first marathon, so there will be plenty of parallels to be drawn on many fronts. It’s definitely been ten years of complete change so I will more than likely be quite reflective throughout the whole thing.

I am hoping the marathon will be exactly what I need to put me somewhere near halfway to feeling like I’m actually good at something.

First ultra

Previously I threatened to bore everyone stupid with a day-by-day account of my week in the mountains. Fortunately, I completely forgot that inbetween that post and the next planned post, I took part in my first trail ultra marathon.

For my first attempt, I chose the second longest distance available for the weekend, which was 45 miles. It was a beautifully scenic out and back course, with the middle section being the hills that make up the highest ground of my home county. The whole trail followed a long county-wide path that carries the county’s name, so it was quite special to compete on home soil.

It was as much about fact finding as it was about running, having never ran that distance before, it was all unknown – distance, elevation, nutrition – so it was a kind of suck it and see exercise.

It generally went well, I ate to plan, little, often and regularly. Kept hydrated, walked the hills, ran the flat bits. Inevitably, the pace dropped somewhat in the last third. By that point however I had acquired a running pal who was running a shorter distance than me and had fresher legs, but insisted in staying with me. It was nice to have the company, and being honest, he probably indirectly pushed me to run many sections towards the end that I may not have attempted on my own owing to fatigue. On the other hand, as we were chatting most of the time, I wasn’t keeping an eye on the time and missed a few vital feeding slots. As I continued to slow, I instructed him a few times to carry on without me, although he refused, and we finished in tandem, crossing the finish line together.

The worst part, as with most endurance runs, was the end. Dealing with the need to lie down, but knowing that stretching and keeping moving is best. Feeling ravenous but feeling sick at the thought and sight of most foods. Being completely knackered and wanting to sleep but being unable to due to excess sugar consumed in energy foods, muscle fasciculations, and the buzzing of adrenaline still pumping. It’s probably the only time I would happily take a sleeping tablet.

I did manage to finish 12th, although at times I thought I was last. I have another slightly longer, yet more hilly, ultra in a month’s time. I couldn’t bring myself to think about running again until yesterday. Let’s hope I can put what I’ve learned this weekend to good use for the next ultra.

With ultra runs, especially trail ones, the main element for me is enjoyment. Enjoy it, complete it, make friends, learn from it, and come back again, and again.