Following on from the progress, if that is the correct term, made in 2016 (100K ultra and 6 marathons) I wanted 2017 to be an even bigger year. The big race, the A race that would be my target was the Berlin Wall 100 Miler, a curious and relatively unknown event but one that has piqued my interest. The race registration opened in September and I had it in my Outlook calendar in 2016. But with plans to visit family in Cape Town already on the map I got waylaid at the last minute, deviated from the predetermined path, like a London bike wanker ignoring the multimillion pound Cycle Super Highway and riding along the pavement despite it being populated by dozens of pedestrians, and signed up for the Comrades Ultramarathon in June. This single act completely changed the landscape of the year, but it wouldn’t be the only drastic change too. My brother got into the London Marathon via the ballot. After I sent a link around about a Reebok contest Jen got into the London Marathon. I did not get into the ballot. But after a fishing email asking if they ever need anyone, that I am always happy to help, Pancreatic Cancer asked if I would run for them at London. This was very last minute, no notice really, a now or never kind of deal. So I agreed, but with the proviso that the £2000 they wanted me to raise I would do over the year. And that meant I needed to add a second challenge to my already bloated race calendar. To raise the £2000, rather than bust a gut trying to raise it all for VLM, I linked it to a new challenge, my 12 Marathons in 12 Months and thus gave myself another huge task, that would again show me progress but first back to the beginning.
- BRIXTON 10K
The new year would start as the previous year ended, south of the river. It would be the RunThrough Brixton 10K in Brockwell Park. It was a last minute signup deal with Melissa, Carl, Jen, Ciara and Lee all present and accounted for as we paced Carl around his, and my, first race of the year as I sported a hearty, hearty looking tan from a few weeks in the Maldives hunting for bio-luminescent plankton (as you do).
We were last, of course, even though we tried to chase down a couple of ladies, but being last was not such a terrible thing. We could have gone faster, sure, my shoes could have squeaked a little less, but it was race 1 of 25 done and dusted. Job done. To the pub we went!
Brixton was also a week before the first of my SVN 6 Hour lap races, and one at which I had a point to prove. It would be a chance for me to get over the disappointment after the Alice in Wonderland Caucus race where I ran 11 miles and had to cut it short due to the Running Awards, and the Punk Run just after RTTS where I ran 20 miles but called it quits a lap early. This time I had no excuses, nowhere to run to, no one waiting for me.
With 4 and a bit mile laps it was a simple case of ticking off as many as possible before I froze, then forcing myself to go out for the last lap and boom! Marathon one of the year done. My SVN marathon nightmare finally over and so early in the year too. Manchester was my first last year, and that wasn’t until April. Now I had a January marathon in the bag already.
- PORTLAND COASTAL MARATHON
Back in 2016 when looking to punish myself for skipping Lucerne (twice) I looked up the most difficult marathons in the UK and picked Beachy Head ahead of Snowdon, Purbeck, and Portland. I finished 2016 at a bit of a low, 2017, one marathon down in January already, and now in the first week of February I had the chance to push myself even more at one of the trickiest, lumpiest marathons going.
The toughest race I had done (now superseded by Bovington). Zero support and a hellish course of mud, no one I knew at all for a lonely running weekend, hills and cliff edges, not to mention the stone steps to Mordor, a 6 hour cutoff and closer to 27.2 miles. Did it though, was last and milked it. Marathon 2 of the year finished whilst the others enjoyed the £££ revelry back at the London Winter 10K for CRUK.
It was around then that I received a call from Pancreatic Cancer UK about running the London Marathon. I was already over the disappointment of not getting in through the ballot or one of the many competitions and online draws but suddenly they hooked me with the offer. They wanted 2 grand but as the race was 2 months away that would not be possible so we negotiated and that I would raise the amount but spread it over the year as a plan to run 12 in 12 was now formulating as I was already booked into Barcelona, Brighton, Yorkshire, Ultraks and Milton Keynes (on top of the two I had already run). I was finally running my home town. Finally!
- MUSIC LEGENDS CHALLENGE (aka BOWIEATHON)
With the loss of the great David Bowie this SVN 6 hour lap race was framed in my head as the Bowieathon. But when Helen, Jenni, Marty and I got there, with snow in the air, adorned with lightning bolts and wigs and tee shirts, the medal was a huge disappointment and so no one ran enough to count as a marathon. I was so disappointed for everyone I barely made a half before giving up and seeking out hot chocolate.
- BARCELONA MARATHON
Wonderful from start to finish. A March marathon when it is still cold back home and it was “dos cervezas, por favour” on the beach, in the sun. Superb expo, lovely city, excellent support, superb food and drink throughout. Ending was a total unadulterated clusterfuck! Although it does make for a fun image, kinda akin to Where’s Wally? With me as Wally completing my 3rd marathon of the year in March.
- VICTORIA PARK 10K
Back to reality and another failed PB pacing attempt for Carl around Vicky Park with Lewis and Bodders in tow at the end for beers. I realised at this point I am just not cut out for pacing.
5 PEAKS CHALLENGE
My mug broke. The Vertical Rush mug I got for running the 932 steps up Tower 42 was broken at work and so I needed another and so signed up again. For training purposes, and with one eye on Ultraks, I formulated a training plan that included the 5 deepest tube stops in London (1900 steps in total) . All on my line. 3 of them local, with a 5 mile run in between. I did it twice in preparation for the big one.
I ran it faster than the year before. But it was exactly the same sensation. Start running two at a time. Then one at a time. Then total lung and leg burn. Then just walking, using the banister to slingshot yourself a little way. And in the end? No mug!
- BRIGHTON MARATHON
Rip off and water issues in B-town. As always the BS regarding “oooh, we know we have been closed for entry for months but (around VLM ballot time) we magically found thousands of new spots” annoyed me and so I signed on opening day last year to tick off what still is, regardless of that dodginess, one of the UKs best marathons. I needed to tick the box but was smart about it. The race was ok, a few soul destroying parts, esp the industrial zone and a long long long there and back in town, but the real issue was the heat and the lack of water for me as I completed Marathon Number 4 of the year.
With the 2016 ceremony being so much fun with the Run with Strava, the MarathonTalk boys giving a Q and A, and free booze and food we thought it was going to be great. Nope. I had even convinced the London crowd to go too and in the end it was very disappointing. Bodders and Me sneaking the Dryrobes was the highlight, along with the S Club 7 Where are they Now? lineup photo.
- LONDON MARATHON
Back to running and the big daddy of them all? Certainly in the UK. The majors are the majors for a reason. It is another league. I have never been a fan of how long they take for the ballot. But I had the opportunity to run it, and run it with my brother too, so I had to take it. 2 large was on my Justgiving now, and I would have to run a dozen marathons too, but hell, I may never get the opportunity to run it again. TBH I didn’t like the crowding, the aggressive pace groups, and got injured but I did it and ticked off marathon number 5 of the year towards my goal. That is something I guess.
- MILTON KEYNES MARATHON
A tonne of banter about the picturesque Mile 23 sign led into this weekend and I was quite disappointed it was missing when I got there. I was injured around mile 10 in London and so, with MK 8 days later, was happy to limp around a quiet but very well managed marathon with a decent stadium finish with Lisa Freeman, JK, Baz and Kaya, Clare, Kevin, Colin, Keith and Chris Holt. After VLM (ping at mile 10) and MK (strapped up) it was obvious something was wrong with my left knee. Several visits to physio, then osteo then doctor confirmed that this was indeed a cartilage issue and I needed to rest, recover, strengthen and maybe go get it fixed. But not for a while, I needed to recover first with my life A race Comrades 12 weeks away and only 6 out of 12 of my marathons of the year done.
On top of the running 2016/17 saw me complete my second masters degree. This one looked at the impact of activity tracking technology (ATT) on members of an online running community (UKRUNCHAT on twitter). It looked at the psychological impact on reliance on technology that is unreliable, as well as impact on activity levels when including gamification and sharing of activity with peers. It was a nice distraction from the running and work, and engaged the community too, allowing them to think about their own technology usage.
One can conclude that ATT is widely used within the UKRUNCHAT community. Of the 1,147 respondents to the questionnaire 93.46% stated that they use ATT to track a variety of statistics, with only 3.49% stating that they did not. 99.16% of the respondents track distance, with average pace (90.51%), activity time (79.16%) and GPS route (59.35%) scoring highly showing that the variety of trackable data is important to the users. Reliability, and battery life is listed by 66.76% as being the most important feature of ATT, with ease of use at 27.27. The personal reasons for using ATT varies, with many people using the device for more than one purpose, suggesting that the ATT needs to fit with the individual’s fitness lifestyle.
Regarding reliability, 66.79% of respondents stated that their ATT rarely fails, with a further 22.96% stating that it never fails. When the technology does fail, 38% said it affects their motivation but only 8% said it would stop them running. From the survey the key factors that cause a user to stop using ATT are poor connectivity to GPS (24%), poor battery life (23%) and constant technical issues (14%) including accuracy.
When asked about the reason they chose their ATT the top reasons were not technical
- I have used this brand before 31.97%
- Personal recommendation 29.01%
- Cost 19.00%
However, the top reasons that the users like their device are all technical
- Ease of use 79.00%
- Connectivity to GPS 56.98%
- Features 45.24%
The proportion of runners in the “mature runner” category (running over 5 years) was much higher in the non-ATT users than the sample as a whole, suggesting that those that started running before ATT was widely available, affordable, and reliable did not see it as necessary in their running habit, regardless of how the technology has improved and evolved.
- TWO TUNNELS HALF
As well as study time, after a few weeks of rest (6 I think), and daily physio exercises the first physical test of my injury came at the unique Two Tunnels races in Bath. They are the UKs longest underground races, as they go through the now paved steam tunnels outside the city. For the half you go through them 4 times and I really enjoyed this, And better still the knee held out so I could go to South Africa with the hope of running the 87KM in the 12 hours permitted.
I am not going to relive the whole Comrades weekend. This is a review after all. I will say the start, even the thought of it, still makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand to attention. It was incredible. The race is brutal and I shouldn’t have gone into it still injured, only to injure myself. It was my first DNF in 5 years of running but did break me from the mindset that a DNF is the end of the world. It is not. As I often say, “your last race does not define you, your next one does.”
And so I was injured, took flack from a couple of royal douchebags on Twitter (both blocked and hope they rot in the hell of running obscurity), but returned a stronger and more determined runner. Although I did not even reach half way, I tapped out at 33K. If I had made 42 at least I could have counted it towards the marathon total for the year.
- BEAT THE BOAT 10K
Broken for a bit, going through almost daily rehab with my Cape Town then London osteo and physios before returning as a grumpy sausage, it took a 10K where I chased a boat by Windsor Castle with multiple stops for beer and prosecco accompanied by superb gentleman and askew bib wearer Lewis to get me back on track.
Well, I had completed 6 marathons in 107 days or 15 weeks at the start of the year which I thought was pretty decent, as it was as much as I had managed in the entire previous year but I needed more guidance, a push, and so signed Shaun Dixon as my coach for a 16 week running program whilst injured that would take me up to the end of October.
Shaun uses Final Surge, a great little planning app and website and I had training runs and races on there, with Shaun messaging me to wish me luck and cheer me on, and also see how I was progressing as I headed into the second half of the year. I highly recommend getting a coach.
- CHASE THE SUN 10K
Originally the plan had been to go from Comrades to Ultraks, my two big A races one after another, with Ultraks being the end of August in Switzerland and Comrades being the first week of June. I was completing exercises at the gym and jogging, with Lewis’ support I bimbled around Windsor now I needed another test, sooner that Ultraks and so signed up for the Runthrough Chase the Sun 10K in Clapham and Pride in Victoria Park.
It was hot, it was after work but it was a comfortable run and one that allowed me to dream once more. Comrades had come and gone. Ultraks and the second half of my 12 in 12 was still to come.
- PRIDE 10K
My PB race and PB course. Originally NinjaBoyRuns was going to pace me to a 48 min 10K (with me dressed as a white ninja) but I was on the bumpy road to recovery still and so opted for a more subtle option and comfortable 54 minute race with Caroline, Rowan, NinjaBoy, Baz and Kaya.
Finally. Yes, finally, at the third attempt I made it to Switzerland for a race. After bailing on Lucerne twice! I was now joining Chris, Stu, Jen and Jeff in Zermatt for what will be the most spectular race I have ever taken part in. The scenery, the Matterhorn in the background, the changes in the landscape, the glacier, absolutely stunning. The tail runners did actually put a huge black mark on this race for me, but the rest was truly epic. And in the end? With the timeouts Jeff, Jen, Stu and I did not finish the race, leaving Red Squirrel Running’s Chris as the only medal earner for the weekend.
- BACCHUS HALF MARATHON
For the second year in a row I would be a unicorn at the wine drinking fun and games that is Bacchus. A much larger herd this year and more wine stops. What’s not to like about that?
Parkrun Tourism and MARATHONINADAY
I rarely go to Parkrun full stop. I will NEVER get to 100 parkruns and get the much coveted black tee. But this year I have tried. I have broken out. My Hampstead Heath parkrun is probably the most difficult in London. It is particularly hilly. I do consider running further afield but then on the day I can’t be arsed. I did run in Brockwell once and got my damned PB there. But this year, with a new found belief I started going more regularly and saw my time at HH coming down with a course PB each week for a few in a row. And then I went to a wedding in Durham and there, a Parkrun PB, beating my long standing Brockwell PB, albeit by 3 seconds. And then, for my masters graduation ceremony I was in Brighton and boom! Dead flat along the seafront and a new PB again, this time by well over a minute! I don’t know when I will get back to Parkrun, I barely run half a dozen a year. But I did enjoy seeing the times and parks starting to add up in my My 5K Run app.
The Marathon in a Day was a charity challenge where individuals or groups (teams) would complete the virtual race and then submit their times. It was a nice distraction and Team Scrambledlegs of Em Coady and Cazza and I did the distance and then some. We would also reassemble for the Run Up to Christmas where we would run nearly 300KM in days in December.
- HULL MARATHON
Back on it and a trip up up up North to Hull and race with Cat Presi and Colin. I barely had any sleep, was unfueled but I liked the race a lot. I even liked the mammoth there and back over the Humber Bridge, and the MK-esque stadium finish. The race photos after turned into a bit of a debacle, and soured what was otherwise one of my favourite races that had started my second set of marathons for the year. Marathon number 7 completed, and was happy with that.
- YORKSHIRE MARATHON
A fortnight later and I would be in the north again, this time with Cat Presi again and Jen again, Chris, Jo and Tim Sacks, and Lewis again. I sported the yellow of the YoungMinds charity buff and enjoyed the race through the countryside with a comfy time and a nice run that showed me my niggly knee wasn’t 100% but it was getting there and that was marathon 8 of 12 complete.
- SWISS CITY MARATHON
FINALLY! Two years on the trot I skipped the Swiss City Marathon in Lucerne but with UKRUNCHAT supremo Jenni Morris joining me for the 6th crossover race of the year there was no going back. It was a stunning two lap race, where the turnaround to start the second 13 mile lap is an absolutely killer. I was glad my running buddy was there for this one, as it made all the difference as we ran over the line to complete my 9th marathon of the year.
- SHAKESPEARE RACEWAY MARATHON
If Lucerne and running around a stunning lake, under the mountains of Switzerland with a running buddy is a highlight, then the Shakespeare Raceway marathon around a disused former airfield and now rotting race track 20 minutes outside Stratford Upon Avon was a lowlight. It was wet. It was ugly. I got really sick and DNFd. Still, by the time I got home people were still running, so it is not all bad.
- HERTS HALF
What it did though, that third DNF after Comrades and Ultraks, was mean that I needed to find yet another marathon to complete my challenge. As it was that race was to replace Ultraks, where I had only got into the 30s. But, that is all in the past. I had to search for 2 more marathons before the end of the year, having only Bovington left on the calendar, but before that a small matter of the RunThrough Herts Half with Spence, birthday boys JK and Lee, Clare, Kaya, Baz, Jo Sacks, Michelle and Allie, a great time, with great people and great Cake.
- RELATIVITY RUN
I had actually forgotten about this one. As I was hunting down marathons in the ever decreasing number of weekends in the year Jude had mentioned the Nottingham marathon this weekend. I went online to check it out and it turned out to be full. Ahh, panic stations. I went on RunnersWorld. NADA. I then turned to SVN and the Einstein inspired relativity run was that weekend. Hold on, he says in a Michael Caine voice, I think I signed up for this one anyway. And I had. I had forgotten about it. And so I joined Ant, who I had met at Shakespeare, and Chris and Gary as they attempted the almost unbelievable feat of 10 marathons in 10 days down on Margate seafront.
I was quite ok with it. I knew the form and the first marathon of the year (Cakeathon) had given me confidence and a plan. I had no one waiting for me. I could just plod a lap, eat, plod a lap, go out and complete the third, and then almost walk the last lap to come in under the limit and complete my 10th marathon of the year, for a medal that measures an astonishing 15cm across.
- REGENTS PARK WINTER 10K
When 5 of your last 6 races have been marathons, when someone asks if you would like to run through your local park for a festive 10K you almost shout HELLS YES! As it was though it would become the most festive race around as, with MK Half and a lot of other races crying off with the weather, we got to ran around Regents Park, in the snow, dressed as elves.
24. BOVINGTON MARATHON
Festive fun curtailed, a week later and I was in the mud, blood, sweat and bullets of the British Army tank training grounds with Michelle and Jason. It would be Jason’s first marathon and Michelle and I would be running our 3rd race together in the second half of the year. I do love these crossovers. I love running with the peeps. And in the end? Marathon number 11 ship shape and Bristol fashion, present and correct, stand by your beds, one more to go.
25. PHOENIX WINTER MARATHON
And to finish off the year a low key frozen lap race with the promise of a 12 in 12 medal that never made it out of the customs offices at the airport. Disappointing and an anti-climax. It was suggested to me that I go out in a big bang with loads of the peeps around at a marathon we could all get to, but this was perfect. 5 hours of there and backs with my tunes and the occasional wave to the other runners. Comfy and satisfying. Let’s see how 2018 shapes up in comparison.
The first 6 marathons of the year I did in 107 days, the second 6 I did in 95 days. I ran 3 DNFs that would have all counted if I had just squeezed a few extra miles out of them. Next year I do not plan on doing so many marathons. I have run 18 and plan to finish on 25 next year, my 6th year of running. The calendar currently looks like:
- Transgrancanaria Marathon with Michelle and Lou (nice easy one to start)
- Green Man Ultra 45 Miles (self nav and am very scared about this)
- Vienna Marathon with Baz and Audrey Reddington
- St Illtyd’s Ultra with a whole gang of people from Twitter, JK, Clare and Michelle too
- Liverpool RNR with the Katzenjammers
- Race to the Tower double marathon over 2 days to complete the Threshold Series of RTTS, RTTK, RTTT
- Loch Ness Marathon
- Frankfurt Marathon
- San Sebastian Marathon
Of course there will be smaller races, last minute races, impulse races, 10ks, halves, charity runs, pacing opportunities with friends, family and the Katzenjammers. I am in South Africa but the only race options there are night trail runs in Constantia so may try them. May even push for 200 medals by the end of the year, my 6th year running. I guess time will tell.