2019 – A Running Year in Review

 

Twelve months have come and gone and here I am looking back and hoping to see an improvement, some sort of progress in at least one aspect of my running from previous years. I do this every year, despite the haters hatin’, even though it tends to depress me it also inspires me to plan a better year to follow. 2019 I think, in all honesty, has been a good one overall but I guess we shall see…

January

From the off the A Race for the year was the Half Fire and Ice Ultra in Iceland. A fraction of the cost of MDS or even the Half MDS for me, everything until May was geared to being ready for 3 days running across some of the most unforgiving terrain in the world.

And so 2019 was supposed to start with a bang, literally. As the fireworks exploded on New Years Eve over the Zur See lake in Zurich I took my place at the start of the Zurich Neuerjahrmaraton. A race that is designed so someone, the winner, can for some small number of hours, say they have the fastest marathon in the World for the year. It was a nice idea in theory, but in practice it was an utter shit show.

20 minutes outside of Zurich, with no trains for a few hours, and a route that could be summed up as 4 laps of pitch dark, uneven, puddle pocked, muddy tow path, a long there, cross a bridge, back, cross a bridge, and then the next lap that was so little fun virtually everyone said fuck it, called it quits early, and went home for a night cap of Jager and fondue, and to sleep. Me included.

Running into 2019

I returned to London a bit defeated. But this is not a year for defeat, and so I immediately booked myself on the RunThrough Victoria Park 5K the next weekend with the aim of righting some wrongs. My thinking for this being that I now had set myself some targets.

I wanted:

  • PB at Parkrun
  • 50 Parkruns
  • PB at 5K
  • PB at 10K
  • PB at Half
  • PB at Marathon
  • PB at Trail Marathon
  • PB at Lap Marathon
  • PB at 50K
  • Furthest distance run in a year
  • 50 Marathons or more
  • Most Marathons in a Year
  • Beat GMU 2018 time
  • Beat St Illtyds 2018 time

Unfortunately, as I ran in Victoria park, with my brain faltering with cold, I could no longer do any basic maths, so, despite running the first 4K in record time, I gave up sometime in the last KM and ended 13 seconds slower than my best, including stopping to go back for my buff and gloves after dropping them. Sadly, I would not run a 5K that was anywhere near it for the rest of the year, so that first target gets a strike-through.

  • PB at 5K

February

Going into the next month, and seeing January as a bit of a write off,  the next 3 races are what we term in the business as complete mother fuckers. For the first weekend in February, as the snows hit, I had the Pilgrim Challenge, 2 days of 33 miles over NDW including Box Hill steps, then the most difficult marathon I’d run to date, Portland Coastal, before easing into March with a rerunning of the Green Man Ultra, only this time it would be in the muddy dark Spring rather than the relative warmth and dryness of September.

I ran Pilgrims with James Dunne, in the snow, in the mud, in the dark, headtorch needed for the last hour or so. I completed the first day, but with Portland a week after, 33 miles was enough for me and I bailed on day two. At the second attempt I had managed to chalk up my first 100MC mark of the year, when I should have been on 3 already (Zurich + Pilgrims x 2).

This disappointing trend followed the next weekend, as JK, Lew and Keith joined me for a drunkard fun fest on the south coast, I bailed Portland at half way. So now I was 1 from 4 attempts at completing a marathon or above for the year, and it was nobody’s fault but my own. For want of a Shakespearean term, it sucked donkey dick for nickels. Still, the boys seemed to enjoy themselves.

Snap, Crackle and Pop the Meth Years

March

March, and I needed something to fucking cheer about. And so I planned meticulously, using the September Green Man Ultra attempt as a template, but perfecting it. I would stay closer to the race this time, a straight shot to the station in the morning, an uber from the race to the hotel after. I knew the way somewhat, and was comfortable with the use of OS Maps, as well as remembering where I went wrong in September. I also worked out where I could cut time from my previous attempt, working out to the KM how I could shave a minute here or there on the route.

If Portland Coastal is my fault, GMU is Ira’s

And that is pretty much what I did, taking 32 minutes off my previous time and, dare I say it, enjoying every minute of it.

  • Beat GMU 2018 time …. TICK

The joy was shortlived though and March continued with a pretty grim Big Half (I wouldn’t recommend it) and then I was suffering from Ebola (the Northern Curse) as I travelled up to Penistone for a SVN Cakeathon and Chocathon double header that turned out to be a massive disaster, leaving my 100MC count at the end of March as 2 from 7 attempts. So much for the perfect prep for Fire and Ice in May.

April

I did not want to continue with all the failure, and being no one’s April Fool I had two races in the month, both road marathons and both overseas, effectively my bread and butter; the Hanover Marathon the first weekend, and Rock and Roll Madrid the last. And what these did, was give me the shot in the arm/arse that was needed. Road marathons you can always plod and so, diet on the go, new shoes being broken in, full of currywurst and big beers I went to Germany and had a thoroughly good time. First mara of the year? Tick.

And then, 3 weeks later, in Spain, a tougher, hotter run, but still…

Bosh done. From 2 out of seven, I was now on 4 in 4 months, back on track to equal or beat my 12 in 12 from 2017 and 2018. Rest of the year? Let’s be ‘aving you! Or, more so, May and The St Illtyds Ultra, The London Trail Marathon, and then 3 days running across Iceland, let’s be ‘aving you (shhh).

May

Buoyed by a successful April, May was where the story really started. A return to Burry Port and the lumpy as hell St Illtyds Ultra with the great and the good returning for a second running. Again, like GMU, I had a game plan. And with the prior year fresh in my mind I knew where I could cut the time. I didn’t stop at the CPs, and I didn’t get lost and spend ages in Furnace sitting on a bench and going to the shops. The results? I bettered the 2018 time by 2 hours and 8 minutes. Everyone did well, everyone pushed on and did themselves proud.

And on top of that? A 50K PB for me. Finally the ticks in boxes are adding up.

  • Beat St Illtyds 2018 time … TICK
  • PB at 50K … TICK

With one eye on my upcoming trip to Iceland, a week later I took on the new Threshold event, the Dulux Revolutions London Trail marathon. I was in a good place, fit, healthy and well, the kit was working, and so, at my 8th trail marathon in 3 years I PBd again, by 51 minutes.

  • PB at Trail Marathon … TICK and didn’t I look happy about it?

I had gone from a bit of an iffy year, losing out on multiple marathon opportunities, to suddenly running 4 marathons and above in the space of 5 weeks, setting two personal bests along the way and taking my total for the year to 6 and the 100MC up to 37.

The A Race

There is too much to say about Fire and Ice.  It was a 5 day trip, a 3 day race across dormant volcanoes, and the kind of unforgiving terrain the USSR thought would be good to test their space kit on. Me? I had all I needed, the best tent mates, and enough tea, milk and sugar to somehow survive, not be last, not be shit, and come out of it with a plaque and a host of memories for my hard work.  It was a two blogger, there was just so much to say, to share with you to try and convey just what was involved. I would highly recommend it. Read the blogs. It was 3 days I will remember forever. And the kind of foot pain that razor sharp pumice brings.

June

Did I take time off? Did I fuck. Into June and a week later I was in Liege in sweltering sunlight, dressed as Indiana Jones, carrying a fertility idol and whip, drinking 19 beers over a marathon course, climbing a crazy set of steps 4K in and finishing on a slide, as you do.

And all that was an aperitif, the main course for the rest of the month was The Wall. And what a tasty burger it would be too. 70 miles over two days, camping (again), from Carlisle Castle to the Millennium Bridge in Newcastle following Hadrians Wall Way. Day one was ok. Day two not so much. No wall, no tunes, broken feet. Still, I did it. We did it. And lived to run another day. Somehow I finished the first half of the year on 10 marathons and above, despite the fuck ups early on. See? You can turn it around. To quote Journey, “Don’t stop believing.”

July

Into the summer and things were warming up. Literally. It started in July with the Beat the Boat 10K in Windsor, a very average race with a special place in my heart after Lew came all the way down to run with me after I’d spectacularly failed Comrades in 2017. This time we rounded up Jen Morris and Baz Tavener to enjoy a weekend of boat crashes, beers and burgers.

Two 50Ks booked in quick succession became four including August, but then I skipped out on Stour Valley Path 50K. It was just too difficult to get there for a 1.30pm start. It meant that I was fresh going into the Serpent Trail Ultra, and what would become mara/ultra number 11 of the year. Invigorated by blogs on the race, it was, in my head at least, going to be a great one. And it was… Well, great in that I did it, I took it easy at times, stopped off at a shop for ice cold sodas, enjoyed breath taking views, no snakes, and met up with Boz.

August

Two big races planned for the month of August. A 55K run from Eastbourne to Brighton in the form of the South Coast Challenge  and the 55K London Ultra. One I did, the other? I binned it.

Yup. I opted for the South Coast Challenge. A mix of runners and walkers started with the lumpy end of Beachy Head, up and down the SDW for what was, at times, stunning views, before ruining it all with a shitty ending with the heaving masses of Brighton seafront. But whatevs, as they say, I did it, and found myself on the early train home after completing mara/ultra number 12 of the year, equalling the two previous years’ scores with 4 months of 2019 still to go. I was in new territory.

September

I hadn’t planned a 3rd running of the Bacchus Half, the wine soaked plod through the Denbies Estate in Dorking, but with my running buddy Jen back from her world tour with Cirque du Soliel it had to be done. With the usual crowd absent there would be no unicorns this year, and so we found a recent movie to inspire the costume choices.

From Bohemian Rhapsody, Freddie Mercury and Brian May

And what this left was the Tring Ultra, a 50K from the people who organised Amersham, Devils Challenge, Druids, and Pilgrims. It would be Caroline’s first ultra and somehow I had helped her prepare. And it was great to see her at the start line, before we plodded off, up and down the river, through Wendover Woods, onto the Ridgeway and back to finish number 13 of the year, and finish a nice quiet month.

October

October was dominated by a trip to the US, my third major in the shape of the Chicago marathon and then 6 days later the Brooklyn Half, again another opportunity for a full that I did not take. I was unwell leading into the trip, and it showed in my performances. But, as always I finished both, and, as always, it inspired me to plan races where I could win back a little pride.

100 MC number 45 and number 14 of the year

November

A single race in November AND YET ANOTHER full that I dropped down to the half in. Thames Meander though would not have been a good marathon to run. I would have hated it. Out of all the races I had bailed or dropped down a distance on, I am ok with this one. I was not a fan, and would not entertain running it again.

December

From the people who brought you the Serpent Trail, Hurtwood 50K should have been my mara/ultra number 15 of the year but a sore throat a week before slowly developed into burny eyes, fever and aches for a couple of days before the lung butter settled in and called an end to that. Yet again the dreaded lurgy coincided with a race.

This left a few festive parkruns and then the Bobble Hobble (my 21st race of the year) to become 100MC number 46 and marathon number 15 of the year.

An SVN event yes, laps, yes, but easy, a plod, eight 3 mile there and backs in Gravesend with a bobble hat theme, and 8 bobble hats on show. I have run numerous lap races, the PB for a 6 hour race was beaten last at Gothic Challenge. This year?

Well this year I gave up. 4 laps in and called it quits on racing for the remainder of the year. New year, new mentality, time to thank the running Gods for 2019, and to look forward to 2020.

Summary

And so the year ends on 45 marathons and above towards the 100 MC, but with the number of fails (14!!!!!!! Pilgrims one day, Portland, Cakeathon/Chocathon weekend, Snowdon, Swiss Irontrail, Thames Meander, SVP, London Ultra, Brooklyn, Hurtwood, Bobble Hobble and Zurich) it could have been a lot more. Well, 14 more. I did have the brilliant idea to reach 100 marathons before I hit 50. Maybe I should change that to when I am 50, in which case I have 4 years to run 55. Likely? Like fuck. I did tick plenty of the boxes though.

  • PB at Parkrun (NOPE. 2 mins 17 slower)
  • 50 Parkruns (Nope ended on 47)
  • PB at 5K (NOPE 13 seconds slower)
  • PB at 10K (NOPE. ONLY RAN 2. ONE STARTING MARA PACE AND THE OTHER WITH BEER. 15 mins slower)
  • PB at Half (Nope)
  • PB at Marathon (NOWHERE NEAR. 33 mins slower)
  • PB at Trail Marathon TICK (by 51 mins)
  • PB at Lap Marathon  (Nope)
  • PB at 50K TICK (Twice)
  • Furthest distance run in a year TICK (55KM more than previous best)
  • Most Marathons or above in a year TICK (14!!!)
  • 50 Marathons or more (NOPE ENDED UP ON 45)
  • Beat GMU 2018 time TICK (by 32 mins)
  • Beat St Illtyds 2018 time TICK (by 2 hours 8 mins)

So I set myself 14 goals, loose as they are but it is nice to aim for something else when your main goal has gone. If you set yourself one target in a race, I tend to find that crushing if you don’t hit it. And so I normally have 3 or 4. Over the year though the 14 targets have kept me going, and hitting 6 of them is an achievement in itself. And only in 21  races too, a much lower total than the last couple of years where I ran thirty plus.

Overall I am disappointed, but hey! This is what you get for being born under a bad sign…

9 photos to sum up the year

I guess it isn’t all that dreadful though. I ran my first marathon, the 42nd Berlin marathon, when I was 42. As I write this, and a week shy of my 47th birthday I have run 45, so I will definitely hit 47 by 47. It does mean the 100 marathon club before I hit 50 is a bit of an ask, but I am happy to see if I am up to it. The failures of this year, like any other, are still open wounds, when I read this there will be a sprinkling of salt, a squeeze of lime and a shot of tequila poured into it and it will hopefully push me onto great things in a bigger and better 2020.

2019 in a nutshell. Top L to R Pilgrims Challenge with James Dunn, Ira and Keith at GMU, Liege Beer marathon, middle row The Wall with Rachee Vee, Serpent Trail, Bacchus with Jen, Chicago with M, London Revolution and Fire and Ice

The Original Plan… 2020

I had started planning 2020 early. I get over zealous and start booking anything that takes my fancy. When I pasted this plan into the blog I had already cancelled Transvulcania to free up time for Ragnar with Keith et al.

But now, as I publish this I have cancelled Devil’s Challenge and Manchester to Liverpool due to other commitments, and have upped GMU to 45 miles from 30 to make myself feel a little better about it. Am I being sensible, cautious, am I running scared? Actually I want to take the 4 marathons seriously next year, well the ones I have booked that aren’t mountainous (Hamburg, Valencia, Midnight Sun, and Chicago). And I can hear you when you say “about time too.”  But, and it is not much of a surprise, that Comrades 2021 is a goal, so the marathons will be used to qualify for that.

I wanted 50 marathons, I ended on 45, but ran more than ever in a year (14). I wanted 50 parkruns, I ended on 47. I have achieved so much, but didn’t quite reach the heights I set for myself. It has knocked me back a little and so I have decided on a much reduced race calendar to help me recentre and focus.

VICTORIA PARK LONDON 21.1 04/01/2020
VICTORIA PARK LONDON 21.1 08/02/2020
GREEN MAN ULTRA 45M 07/03/2020
HAMBURG 26.2 19/04/2020
HACKNEY LONDON 21.1 17/05/2020
RAGNAR RELAY 32.2 13/06/2020
MIDNIGHT SUN 26.2 20/06/2020
ZERMATT 26.2 04/07/2020
CHICAGO 26.2 11/10/2020
VALENCIA 26.2 06/12/2020

Happy New Year everyone, I hope you had a great 2019 and I hope to see you out there in 2020 for more tea and miles.

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