The last day of the year and once again time for the end of year review where I take an annual look back at my running performances. Unfortunately 2018 has felt like my worst running year ever with illnesses, injuries DNS’s, DNF’s throughout the year. This isn’t one of these stories with an uplifting ending but I hope you enjoy yore story about my ups and downs (and downs) along a bumpy road this year.
At the end of last year, I was planning to complete the Arc of Attrition in Feb. (I was also planning the Thames Trot the week before to keep the streak of races alive but this was supposed to be a social plod to save the legs), Crawley 24 early April, GUCR end of May, Lakeland 100 end of July and Spartathlon end of September. This was a pretty packed year but with each race 2 months apart it was all fairly do-able with GUCR and Spartathlon my key highlights and then I threatened retirement afterwards which no one believed.
So having set up the blog with all these lofty goals let me tell you about how I didn’t achieve any of them.. at all.
Training for the Arc was reasonably consistent over November/December and I took up a late entry to the Hillingdon Circuits event (a 6 hour lapped event around a cycle park) in the first week of January to test the fitness. I managed to complete approximately 47 miles in 6.15 (you could complete an extra lap if you finished the last one before 6 hours) which was a good result for me distance wise and also finish in 1st place. So a really good start to the year.
Hillingdon 6 Hour Run. Peaked for the year already.
Unfortunately illness struck and I went down with a bad case of “man-flu” (I joke). We’ve all had coughs, colds, sore throats and lethargy each year during flu season but this went a stage further and I was bed-ridden (well on the sofa) for 4 days and completely and utterly wiped out for several weeks (started end of Jan and didn’t recovery until March sometime).
This meant my potential 10 year streak at the Thames Trot was a definite no go.. I could hardly standup and walk around on the day of the race let alone strap on my shoes and plod out 48 miles. It was a shame as I missed Alex Whearity’s win at the event as I was stuck at home.
However as I had the Arc of Attrition the week after, not running the Thames Trot may have been blessing in disguise. Unfortunately, I still hadn’t really recovered but with a race entry paid for, train ticket and hotel room booked I decided to head down and see how I felt on the day. Obviously, once I was there I foolishly decided to start the race and was regretting my decision no more than 5 miles into the race when I realised I just had absolutely no energy and was still feeling wiped out from my recent illness particularly as I just couldn’t run more than 500 yards at a time. Knowing you’re going to DNF 5 miles into the race was a little embarrassing particularly after Lindley Chambers did something similar at the Arc the year before and I decided to try and hike a bit more of the course partly as a bit of a recce for another year and partly to try and find a suitable point to DNF where I could at least save some face…
… I ended up hiking for 14 hours (with little to no running) before I decided to bail out. I met a kindly crew a mile or two before Lands End (about half way) who offered me a cup of tea and a lift to the Checkpoint where I had planned to stop as I was starting to feel really jaded and wanted to stop at a Checkpoint before I became a burden on the race support.
So a DNF but I had 14 hours to get comfortable with the idea from the start as a finish was never going to happen this year and with hindsight I should never have started the race to be honest so all my own fault.
5 miles into the Arc and seeing Lindley reminded me to DNF a bit further ahead than him.
I was still feeling unwell as we headed into March. My next race was the Barry 40 mile track event (which is one the oldest ultra events still ‘running’ today having first taken place in 1986) which had a number of appeals to me with family in the area, participating in a event with a bit of history, potential build up to Crawley 24 and also the event was a Welsh Ultra Championships nominated event so pretty cool to at least take part in that. I was still at the tail end of recovering from my illness so it was a sub par performance finishing the 40 miles in 5.36.
I spent an enjoyable 20 miles running with Steve Speirs but I flagged in the second half and struggled the last half an hour. If I wanted to try and put some gloss on this I could say I picked up a Bronze Medal in the Welsh Ultra Champs.. but there were only three Welsh entrants! My position was 6th out of 7th although we did have a good quality field (Steve Way, Nathan Flear were 1st and 2nd).
Running with Steve at Barry 40
The end of March saw myself and my fellow RJ Ultra Runners (Alex, Beechey and Wendy) take part at Alex’s Birthday run the QE Spring Marathon. I was still at the tail end of my illness (having finally admitted defeat and gone to the Doctors and was taking a course of antibiotics) and knew my fitness wasn’t quite there yet but at least I was running.
Alex had a superb race leading from the front finishing in 1st place. Beechey had picked off a few runners towards the end finishing 2nd in 3.33 and I finished in 5th.. 40 seconds off 3rd place which gave Alex some ammunition to berate me for not managing to make it a Reading Joggers Ultra runners clean sweep to which I offered my range of excuses (I’m not fit, I’m still on anti-biotics, I’m old etc). Team banter and all that. Wendy finished a little while later having got some good miles in her legs as part of her training plan.
However, we did pick up the team prize for getting 3 runners home so some small reward for my efforts.
Messr Beechey, Ali & Whearity at the QE Spring Marathon.
My next event should have been the Crawley 24 but I knew I wasn’t fully fit (the Barry 40 was the fitness test I failed) and I sensibly decided to drop the 24 but managed to pick up a 6 hour entry.
The race went pretty well and I ran 45.5 miles in 6 hours so similar to my Hillingdon time in January which was good and I was 2nd overall to Dan Lawson. In terms of the race results Dan was the clear leader and after the first hour lapped me pretty consistently (as expected!). I was running just ahead of the next batch of runners (Tracy, Richard and Martin?) although it was all fairly close between us (and positions may have switched mid-race due to toilet stops). Maintaining a consistent pace towards the end meant I took a few laps out of the guys behind me although Tracy finished strongly and took a couple of laps out of me in the last hour. The finishing results for the 6 hour were Dan 1st (81.2k), myself 2nd (72.8k), Tracy 3rd (70.8k), Richard 4th (3rd male) 69.7k.
It was great to see my buddy Stouty back taking part in an Ultra for the first time in ages and I was looking forward to spending some more time on the trails with him.. until he decided to get back into amateur boxing for a while. Next year, Stouty!
Last lap dash at Crawley to sneak in another lap
I also took part in the London Marathon thanks to a GFA place with fellow RJ Ultra runners Alex and Barry Miller but just used this as a ‘fun run’ as it was only a couple of weeks post Crawley and I hadn’t really been training for speed partly due to a minor piriformis niggle and partly because I’m a little lazy when it comes to quality training. It was a really warm day which affected quite a few runners and I ran around in 3.16.
My ‘Birthday run’ was the Ridgeway 40 with Alex and Beechey which was supposed to be a last long training run before the GUCR so a steady paced effort was planned and the fact that it’s a non-competitive run (or hike) means its pretty low key. Unfortunately Alex dropped midway having not recovered from the TP100 a week before but Beechey and I finished around 6.10-6.15 which fine as a good training run. The best bit about the day was we missed a heavy downpour by 10 minutes after we had finished whilst we were sitting in the pub tucking into some lunch!
Beechey at the Ridgeway 40
This year our running club (Reading Joggers) also decided to review and change their ‘Club Championship’ format from a consistency based approach to a more competitive approach which I support and I decided to participate in a number of the nominated short distance races ever the course of the year. One of the races was the Marlow 5 miler which took place the day after the Ridgeway 40 so with tired and achy legs I was pleased to run 32.16 for the 5 miles and put some points on the board and a week later ran a 39 minute 10k in another nominated Club Championship event.
Next up was the Grand Union Canal Race at the end of May. There were no complaints about fitness or health and I was in good shape and looking forward to another sub 30 hour attempt. Well, the race went the same way that every GUCR race goes with an ok start and death march finish with blistered feet. I literally could “copy/paste” any of my last 3 or 4 race reports for this race each year. Instead, I wrote this little limerick..
“There was a long run called the Grand Union Canal Race
30 hours of running had been my planned pace
6 times I had finished this, my performances okay
A decent time I was due, some others did say
I stood on the start line the weather overcast
Recent fitness was decent, my illness was past
We set out from Gas Street, into very light rain
I ran slow and steady, which was my aim
The temperature was rising, we could all feel the heat
An early face plant occurred as I stumbled on my feet
I dusted myself down and set out on a trot
The earlier mishap, didn’t phase me a lot
The afternoon was roasting, my body was on fire
But my pace continued to be steady and I did not tire
The directions were familiar, no need for the map
The ice cool water was welcome, from a fresh lock tap
Navigation bridge was upon us, half-way some say
75 miles to go is still a long way
Food and fresh trainers and at the feet a quick peak
With feelings of soreness, they were starting to creak
Into the evening, this was more than half done
But a greater focus was required to continue to run
Some company I had, I bumped into Jay
Talk we did, there were things we both had to say
Darkness was upon us, we were into the night
Flash lightning lit the sky, to give you a fright
Once the lightning had stopped, there was an impending sense of doom
As the biblical rain fell and the thunder started to boom
My feet were now trashed, the blisters had won
My spirit was low I thought I was done
Tiredness was upon me, I wanted to sleep
Keep walking forward, there was no time to weep
Into day two and the weather was hot
With sore limbs and tiredness, enjoying this… I was not
Dreams of success were gone, I did not care
All I wanted, was to finish this walk of despair
Little Venice had arrived, the end was in view
A disappointing day but at least a medal was due
Pure relief as I sat, a 7th finish was mine
Get up and finish Ali.. you’re a yard short of the line!
One step to the finish and then this was done
Tired and sore, I question why we do this for fun
35 hours along 145 miles of trail
That’s the end of this year’s Grand Union tale”
It was a sub par effort and result with weather conditions and blistered feet contributory factors. This is THE race where my feet are always an issue despite trying all sorts of approaches. Oh well, there’s always attempt number 8 next year..
Stumbling over the finish line at the GUCR
Pictured at the Essex 100/50
August’s focus was on training and taking advantage of the lovely hot weather which would be perfect training for Sparta. However, I did make a late entry into a couple of races (the Cotswold Ultra and Oxford Ultra) mid August which were parts 1 and 2 of 4 days of the Thames Path Challenge which involved running the length of the Thames Path from source to the Thames Barrier over 4 days. I felt 2 days back to back would be a good training week several weeks before Sparta about but these were planned as ‘training runs’.
I did have a thought about doing all 4 days but it did represent additional cost and I considered Days 3 & 4 would be a slog with little training benefit.We started with the Cotswold Ultra on Day 1and I completed the 44-45 mile route in 6.49 in 1st place although the event was very low key and had a small field of runners. Day 2 was the Oxford Ultra a bit longer at 65 miles and essentially was the Thames Trot route with an extra 12 miles at the start and 5 miles at the end.
I had been looking forward to finally running the Thames Trot route in fine conditions over the summer but it pissed it down with rain in the morning so no luck there. It was a steady plod with a bit of run/walking after the previous days effort but I completed the event in 12 hours in 2nd place.
Finishing the Cotswold Ultra
I also decided on a late-ish entry to the Ridgeway Challenge which I had run back in 2011/2012. This took place a couple of weeks after the previous Cotswold/Oxford Ultra events but I convinced myself it would just be another ‘training’ run and my final long run before a taper for Sparta. After running the Ridgeway 40 earlier in the year I always said I fancied running the ‘proper’ Ridgeway event again but the August bank holiday weekend always seems to be a busy one with races.
I started steadily but dropped off after the pace around 20 miles in with a few knee twinges before picking it up again and running a really solid leg from 40-60 miles during which I caught up with ultra veteran Rob Treadwell and we then ran together. Having got to 70 miles that was enough from a training perspective and I could easily have stopped as I totally slacked off. However, with Rob chipping away at me we trudged the rest of the race together and finished in 16.18 which was about 2.5 hours quicker than I had run it 6 years ago which was quite nice and I did run this 2 weeks after 2 back to back ultras.
Through some quirk of finishing places (i.e. Top 3 finishers Dan M and Paul R considered ‘open’) then Rob and I both picked up 1st in our respective age categories.
Ridgeway finish with Rob Treadwell
September arrived and all eyes were on Sparta. I took an unusually long taper in the hope that any remaining niggles would settle but did try and batter the piriformis into submission 2 weeks before the race but this did more harm than good to be honest and I stopped doing it as I was getting hamstring discomfort.
Unfortunately, the whole event that I had been looking forward to for some time ended up being a complete and utter disappointment for me starting with the failure of the kit supplier for the team a few weeks before (which we managed to sort out at the last minute, thanks Jeff!), a horrible week of rain in Sparta (Medicane Zorba) which meant the event was a total wash out and a DNF after being pulled from the race by the medics after collapsing at the Mountain Base checkpoint (which I don’t remember a lot of as I passed out and came to with an IV drip in my arm but I’m sure Rob Pinnington would be delighted to regale my tale of woe as he witnessed some of the events at the aid station if you ask him).
Following the events at Sparta I was ill for the month with a chest infection. I had also planned a bit of break and the first time I rested properly then all my niggles came to the fore. I foolishly did run one 10 mile race (part of our Club Championships) in pouring rain and totally aggravated my piriformis issue and this stopped me from running for the next few weeks.
The Thames Trot event was also rescheduled to October following a change in ownership. Great I thought, a chance to still get 10 finishes in 10 years! Unfortunately, I couldn’t participate due to illness and injury so I’ve had to defer my place to next year.
So, ill, no running, no races… and I was generally in a bit of a sulk this month.
I also bought a bike to try and do some exercise but managed to get 4 punctures in about 6 weeks.. so my bad luck continues..
Not being able to run is frustrating and I had so many aborted attempts to run during November.
I recovered from my chest infection and started to do some very ‘light’ jogging towards the end of the month. The legs and knees have benefited from rest but the piriformis issue is still in existence and taking a long time to settle although the symptoms are subsiding gradually.
I started jogging more regularly in December and initially decided to try and do both the “Run Until You Drop” approach (matching miles to the day of the month) and the ‘Marathon’ annual running challenge to run 3 miles a day in December.
I failed the “RUYD” approach on Day 8 (too much too soon) but have managed to plod a few miles every day in December and with some time off very recently around Xmas I’ve managed to increase this to an 1 hour or 2 hour running at a really easy pace most days (i.e. Xmas/Boxing Day aside when it was a minimal distances due to family commitments).
My ‘comeback’ race was the Gutbuster 10 miler a muddy trail event near me in between Xmas and New Year which I managed to complete in 1.12 but the lack of fitness, speedwork, extra weight from not training and Xmas eating were all in evidence as I was definitely flagging those last couple of miles and felt ‘heavy’. A day after the event, the piriformis is still very sore (legs were aching from an effort run but that was expected) so I suspect a 10 mile hard effort run was too much too soon and I will still need to nurse myself back to recovery. At the moment, I can’t even visualise myself being able to run a hard marathon or a long ultra.
Summary & 2019
So there you have it, aside from the GUCR I didn’t really complete any of the races I had planned at the start of the year and modified my plans based on current fitness a couple of times during the year. An inability to complete my longer planned races meant this year has gone down as a poor one and with a growing lack of motivation over the past couple of years I’m probably overdue a bit of a break from ultras.
In terms of 2019 whilst I have a few races in the diary I’m just going to focus on fully recovering from injury, working off some weight and getting fit! Therefore, all plans are flexible at the present time as I need to get back to just enjoying running and racing. It has been frustrating not being able to run these last couple of months so hopefully that means I’m missing something. However, to put it into context there are other people who have suffered far more serious injuries and worries so in the grand scheme of things this is all short-medium term concerns which will pass.
A couple of quick notes on my fellow RJ Ultra runners. Wendy Shaw has had a great year representing GB at the 24 hour events, winning the KACR/LLCR and re-qualifying for GB at Barcelona. Alex has had a decent year with a Thames Trot win and completing the Centurion Slam including a Spartathlon Auto-Qualifier at A100. Barry seems to have raced less this year but had a great run at the Country to Capital (1st) and podiumed at the Coast to Coast. Unfortunately, Beechey… another person with an injury hit year and someone else who is hoping to recover and start training again. We will be back mate!
Finally a quick note to confirm that I’ve renamed the blog to www.paulsrunningblog.com and I decided earlier in the year to go social media free for a number of reasons but will continue to blog about running events. Interestingly, I said goodbye to about 2k twitter followers but only 2 people contacted me to ask me where my tweets had gone so make of that what you will.. lots of bots I suspect.
Happy New Year everyone!