It doesn’t feel like I’ve done too much worthy of sitting down and investing the time to write, but I’ve got a little late night space and now seems a good a time as any to cast my mind back. I’m certain there are some gems! Last time I put pen to paper was late Feb2019 after running a local marathon – Lenham Cross Winter Marathon – and in the following 4 months I’ve chalked up another 5 ultras, 5 trail marathons and a road marathon. Lenham was my 101st marathon or above so the last 4months the mood and motivation around races has changed a lot for me. Everything was focused on getting to the 100 and as soon as I hit the magic number the reason for running vanished overnight. Now I had a full year of racing ahead (19 races at least) minus a fire burning underneath me, the thing that made me get up to race in miserable weather day after day when I really didn’t feel like it. But I’m stubborn and committed so I stuck to the plan even when I didn’t want to or need to.
Photo: Steyning Stinger
First there was Steyning Stinger. I only did this because for me it formed a trio of South Downs races I wanted to complete – Beachy Head, Steyning, and 3Forts. That was all – tick it off a tick list. 90 minute drive, awful awful weather the whole way, drive home. This didn’t motivate me much. Following weekend I travelled the 4 hours north to the West Pennines for my first Howler race – West Pennine Ultra. I know the moors here fairly well and love to be on them. On a clear day you can see Blackpool Tower and the sea from them. Howler didn’t disappoint – unmarked 30 miles all on moorland, a nasty hailstorm followed us the whole way, and because this race was entirely self nav off over untracked territory (lots of lovely bog) I badly twisted an ankle somewhere around halfway jumping a deep sided river in the middle of moorland. Two long shitty weather days out in a week wasn’t helping me mentally push on. The following weekend was Hardmoors50 so another very long drive to North Yorkshire and yet again a bad storm as well as carrying into it the tender ankle. I was just having a really bad run of things. Knackered from work, knackered from driving to races, and facing horrendous conditions week after week. Hardmoors was a good test though, for enduring the weather for so long. And I did feel a reasonable sense of accomplishment crossing the line. On the route I again twisted the same ankle on a fall and got lost by about 4miles so it was a testing day. Thankfully beyond this point the weather dried and I had 3 weeks totally off running.
Strangely, having not run at all for 3 weeks I went in to Manchester Marathon really positive. I hate road marathons, but I knew that as my 10th road this would be my last in order to officially qualify for the 100 Marathon Club. I also felt fine in the legs, weather was perfect. I started in a pen towards the back and was just running to get it done but within the first mile or so I was running well at something like 8.5min/miles and cruising past a lot of people and that continued for most of the race and I knew a PB was on. Lack of race fitness showed around mile 22 where I started to slow badly but had done enough to scrape a PB by about 6 minutes for 3.54
Another full 3 weeks off running and I arrive at The Fellsman in Yorkshire. A race i’d run in my imagination so many times. One of those races about which you read blogs over and over, pore over maps and memorise the route detail on. 100km and around 13’000ft ascent taking in Ingleborough and Whernside and big chunks over private fell. It was glorious, a real stand out race from the 105 previous races. One of the very best. We had mountains, bogs, woodland, hailstorms, a dark cold night and a warm sunny morning. Completing it was also a gateway to other races I want to do in the future as it’s a recognised as a bloody tough race – crack this one and you’ll find it’s on the entry requirement list for other big races like The Spine.
Another 5 events came and went without too much fuss including Dukeries40 and last weekend I ran the Kent50. My 8th 50 miler. Never did I think id reach a point where 50 became regularly achievable. My body is conditioned now to comfortably get me through a marathon distance without training or food or post-race aches, and now I finally feel that I’m close to this for 50milers. I think this is more about experience on pacing and managing temperature and energy levels than leg strength. I’d had 2 weeks without running and the day was very hot, I turned up to get to 26.2 and then if I felt able I’d crawl the rest interspersed with beer stops after all the cut off was about 16 hours so lots of buffer for me. Comfortably through 26.2 and then 31 and I thought a PB was possible against my current best of 10.35 at NDW50. I felt strong into 40miles and a sub9 was easily doable but the heat and lack of fitness in legs started to trip me up. Still running but fast walking sections now I came through 50.6miles in 9.38 so nearly an hour chopped off.
I thought reaching 100 marathon club was everything but quickly realised that beneath that target, my love of the mountains and fells and running with pals for fun is still there and a strong driver. It’s a weight off to not have to worry about chasing numbers or need to race when I don’t need to. I can wake up, check the weather and bin off a race if I’m not feeling it and racing for me hasn’t been like that for over 2 years. In the period just gone I’ve managed a marathon PB and a 50 mile PB, completed The Fellsman, and reached 112 marathons/ultras. So I’m still surprising myself and enjoying races I’ve not done before. Its been a really good phase.
What has come to the forefront of mind recently is a strong desire to run longer and to run more mountainous races. I’ve been playing with the list for 2020. Without doubt I will move from running marathons very frequently to putting in a low number of much bigger races and filling the in-between with training. Up until now the frequency of marathons has been my training but this hasn’t been structured, and has no dedicated hill work or speed work built in.
I’ll get a taste of that soon enough as next along is Zermatt Ultra on 6th July. Fly out on the Friday, register, race Saturday morning and fly back Sunday morning. I’ve only raced overseas once for Berlin Marathon so excited to see how it works at a mountain race on the Continent. I primarily chose it because there was an Ultra option that gives the highest altitude finishing line in Europe – one that adds just 2miles beyond marathon but adds 1’686ft climb in those 2 miles for a total race ascent of 8’064ft. I liked the sound of that extra challenge. It all seems to be uphill though!
Zermatt will then mark entry to a new phase of my running. Lots of exciting races to tell you about…