It is always good at the start of a new year to take some time to look back and reflect on the previous 12 months. Maybe its because I have been so busy (possibly) or maybe its poor time management (most likely), but its the end of February and I finally get my act in gear to write a running review of 2019…
Road PB’s like London buses
I had a focus in 2019 on road races, particularly that bugger of a distance, and one I had never been “sub 3” before, the road marathon. A previous blog told of my build up to Manchester Marathon, and I managed to finally crack it with a 2.53. Not only that but later in the year I fancied a go at the Nottingham Christmas Marathon and managed a 2.52, despite some atrocious conditions, frozen eye lashes and running laps around a lake that you couldn’t see. I massively enjoyed it!
At the start of the year I managed a 10k PB at Dewsbury (35.51), a 20 mile PB at the Brownlee/Bodington cycle centre (2.09), and in June a half marathon PB at Doncaster (1.21). I reserve judgment on whether it was worth it spending 3 hours sat in the car park jam afterwards though…
Finally, I left it late for a 5k best, and also a Parkrun PB with an unexpected 17.35 on the 28th December at Southport. I conveniently won’t mention my attempt at the Vale of York half marathon in September because that went a bit pete tong…
A surprising number of fell races
This did come as a surprise, as I didn’t think I would have much time for fell races in 2019 what with concentrating on road events, however I managed to fit in some classics, some for the first time like Langdale Horseshoe, a cracking weekend camping at Borrowdale and the epic that is the Old County Tops fell race. 37 miles running as a pair with Jon Pownall was always going to be a tough day out (due to his speed, not a lack of banter) and wasn’t helped by my nav error off Scafell Pike which tested morale levels (despite a flawless recce the week before!). However, slumped in the race finish field after almost 8.5 hrs I think we were relatively pleased with 22nd place in the end.
Again I managed some more big pb’s- at Ilkley fell race, Jack Bloor, Sedbergh Hills and the Three Peaks, with a sprint finish taking Jon at the end, only to be awarded the exact same time (3.36.07) and position (51st)! And so the wait goes on for a maiden “victory” against him, the bugger!
Strava never lies
I am not a massive stato, however it was interesting to see my strava stats for 2019. It didn’t take a genius to work out a correlation between improved performances and pb’s linked to my most number of miles run in a calendar year (2,150), which was 500 more than any other year. Most of these miles have been multi-purpose commuting runs too, maximising time, saving money by not driving and doing my bit for the planet, happy days!
No mention of the “I” word
Another definite factor in improved performance has been my troublesome calf holding firm for another year. In fact it is 2 years now since I took my one and only trip to physio (and ex GB mountain running legend) Helene Whitaker who diagnosed and prescribed a series of exercises to do, of which I have stuck to fairly religiously, and I haven’t had an ounce of trouble since. Given I had 4 or 5 years of persistent problems before this (and countless physios) it is clear massive credit has to go to Helene, and I would urge anyone to visit her, particularly if you suffer with persistent running related injuries. Thanks Helene!
Adding a little bit of science
In August I had an exciting opportunity through a colleague to take part in a running research trial at Leeds Beckett University testing out the effects of Maurten hydrogel, to measure the way the body reacts to various quantities, ultimately to see if improved performance can be gained with consuming more (and without any ill effects). This involved a VO2 max test, followed by a weekly 2 hour treadmill run, with a 5k time trial immediately afterwards. All in a fasted state, hooked up to machines and usually at 6am! In each of the three trials you either had a placebo drink, or one of two Maurten hydrogel combination drinks (without knowing which).
Whilst I have not seen my specific results I have a fair idea as to which trial was water and which was the hydrogel! I felt no ill effects and felt a marked improvement in my performance and have used the Maurten products in all my races since. I find they are easy to consume and have a very neutral taste which works particularly well when you get sick of too much sweet stuff. At the end of my marathon in Nottingham I felt absolutely great and my pace was increasing by the end, something I would put down to the gels and drinks I had. Indeed the results of the research trial were sent on to Maurten and used directly to influence the fuelling strategy for Eilid Kipchoge’s successful sub-2 hour record on 12th October in Vienna. You see, it wasn’t all about his trainers!
No Mickey Mouse Race at Mont Blanc
I stepped up my race distance in late June to take part in the Mont Blanc 90k in Chamonix, a race involving 6200m ascent and a good 20 miles longer than I have ever run before in one go. Throw in some 35 degree heat, altitude, snow and I knew it would be a serious test. But what an enjoyable test it was too! A 4am start meant witnessing sunrise over Mont Blanc whilst “warming up” with a 1400m climb to le Brevent, which was pretty special.
I started off way down at the back of the field on purpose, saving myself as not knowing how my body would react to almost doubling my max running time and the expected extreme heat forecast. I was 664 (out of 1000 starters) at the first checkpoint, but gradually worked my way through the field, and bar the odd “moment” (I had to lie down on a rock in the shade at one point) I seemed to get stronger as the day wore on. I certainly improved as the evening shade hit and temperatures “cooled”, and by improve I mean I actually remembered how to run and what it felt like to do so without feeling like your body was actually melting.
It was great fun being able to send my little boy photos of Swiss tractors en-route (which he loved), and getting his reaction photos back too (which I loved). Nice touches like that definitely help with morale. As did hearing that our UTMB veteran Eirik (and Mickey Mouse protagonist) had DNF’d halfway through the race. Sorry Eirik but you are never going to live that one down…
Seeing Eirik (by now showered, changed and probably 10 pints sunk) along with Chris and his little lad supporting at the checkpoint at les Bois (16 hours in) definitely gave me another boost. I felt really strong climbing up to Montenvers, across to Plan de l’Aiguille (headtorch on now) and down the final descent into Chamonix just after midnight. I just missed the 20 hour mark but I did pick up over 100 places in the last few hours to cross the line in 279th out of 555 finishers. What a brilliant experience and one of those days when you test yourself and realise that your capabilities may extend beyond what you previously defined.
So 2019 was without doubt my best running year to date, but what does 2020 hold? A new baby? A month in the campervan in the Alps? A dream move to the Lake District? Liverpool win the Premier league? I am pretty confident at least two of those things will be happening this year…
Having had such a good year last year what I don’t now feel is any sort of “pressure” in 2020 to book on any particular races or chase any sort of race goals. Which is a nice situation as we will be so busy with other (more important) things this year. I will however continue to run for enjoyment, for active travel, for nap times (buggy runs!) and fit in the odd race here and there when it suits family life.
What won’t be happening in 2020 is a crack at the CCC, with a rejection from the ballot for the UTMB series of races curtailing that one. That wait must go on…