In reflection, 2019 has been by far the most successful, rewarding and challenging year since I started this running journey back in 2015. It’s been a year of personal achievements and milestones as well as having it’s fair share of tears, injuries and mental health issues. Running has turned from an addiction into a lifestyle change. I’m fitter and healthier than I’ve ever been and feel I’m a better person for it.
This blog post is a review of my year, highlighting the good runs as well as the negative ones I’ve faced along the way. In a year of running whereby I’ve covered 1,318 miles with over 131,085 feet of ascent, I’ve achieved some amazing milestones and personal achievements whilst overcoming some of the biggest challenges I’ve ever had to face.
Special thanks go out to everyone I’ve ran with this year and the friends I’ve made along the way. The running community really is such a welcoming and supportive group.
The year started following a training plan geared towards training for the Manchester Marathon in April. It’s the same plan I use every year but this time around I was mindful that I wanted to introduce more elevation into my running with Lakes in a Day ultra confirmed for early October. With this in mind, I introduced more hills reps into my training and headed for the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire to do some of my long runs. I’d often hiked up the Malvern Hills but never actually ran them but had been toying with the idea of running the ridge line for quite some time. I’d devised an 18 mile out-and-back route and headed out mid January joined by Nicola, Kate and Karen for the first leg of the run covering 5,236 feet of elevation. It was to be the first of many visits up the Malverns throughout the year. On top of this, I’d organised a few club runs around the Lickey Hills and led some 10k runs in and around the trails at various pace groups throughout the month – something I was keen to continue doing throughout the year.
Total Distance: 117.2 miles. Total Elevation: 8,662 feet
Bad weather put an end to the first race in the calendar, with the Icing on the Cake marathon falling victim to severe snow storms throughout the first week in February. Although disappointing, it proved to be the right call as the conditions, not only on the course but also on the surrounding roads were treacherous.
I found myself working in Norwich for a few days in February and as the norm now when I work away, I’d threw some running gear into the boot of the car. Evenings tend to get quite lonely so heading out for a post-work run is a great way to prevent boredom and gives you chance to do some explore-running (yes, it’s a thing) around the surrounding area. I found a local trail, the Marriott’s Way and ran a steady 20 miles out-and-back on some nice, flat, muddy trails.
The following weekend I found myself back up the Malvern Hills, joined by Karen from club and enjoyed another 18 mile route up and over the hills. It was just as hard and just as hilly as before but just as fun!
I also hooked up with another local trail running group – Wild Stiles who I’d stumbled across through Facebook. I joined them on a Friday evening night run around Rowney Green. Heading out into the countryside and woodlands armed with just a head-torch is a surreal experience and something which I try to take advantage of in the winter months.
February wasn’t all positive though. I found myself in a very dark place mentally and whereas in the past running has been a a release, for some reason I found myself struggling to get on top of it. I couldn’t pinpoint the cause, I just felt like something was missing. I consider myself extremely lucky in life, I have everything I’ve ever wanted; a wife, the boys, family and friends, a nice home and a job that I love but for some reason I had these demons in my head which I couldn’t shift. It’s something I wouldn’t normally broadcast, I’m quite a private person and usually bottle up my feelings but everything got on top of me and I ended up opening up. I was humbled by the amount of support I received from family and friends and it soon became apparent, especially amongst the running community, that mental health is much more prominent than you think…and talking about it does help.
Total Distance: 140.6 miles. Total Elevation: 13,875 feet
March continued with yet more runs up the Malvern Hills and joining up with the Wild Stiles group for some head-torch related fun on the trails. I’d also been working away for a couple of days in Swansea so had done a couple of evening runs to the Mumbles and back; the second of which being a nice half marathon along the seafront. Training had been going well and my legs, despite the mileage and elevation, felt great.
Then came my first race of the year; Ashby 20 and it never quite went to plan! This was to be my second time running this event with my previous finish time set in 2017 (2018 was cancelled due to bad weather) of 3:05. I went into this race with the same expectations; finish as close to the 3 hour mark as possible and I’d be happy, after all, it’s used as the last training run before you taper for the Manchester Marathon. No point in going out too hard and risking injury. Needless to say, I went out way too quick and managed to maintain that pace for 18 miles before cramp set in and resulted in a rather uncomfortable and forgettable last 2 miles. I crossed the line in 2:49, some 16 minutes off my previous time but marred slightly by the negative feeling that I’d gassed at the 18 mile mark – proof that I wasn’t as fit as I thought I was!
Total Distance: 145.1 miles. Total Elevation: 9,639 feet
The first ‘key race’ in the calendar – the Manchester Marathon. That was to be my 4th consecutive year running this event and still a firm favourite in the diary. Training had gone well (despite mixed feeling about Ashby 20). My mileage had increased significantly and I’d introduced a lot more hills into my routine. In a 20 week training plan I’d covered over 485 miles, or the equivalent of running from Birmingham UK to Frankfurt in Germany. My legs felt strong and I was well rested after a disciplined taper. I knew a PB was possible but had no real expectations on the day other than to run at a consistent pace. Previous years I’d hit the wall at mile 20 and I was determined not to let that happen again. My previous results were 4:25 in 2016, 3:53 in 2017 and 3:50 in 2018 so I’d PB’d year-on-year. As it happens, I ran an almost perfect race (for me), maintaining steady splits of 8:13/mi and finishing in 3:37- knocking 13 minutes of last years effort. I was ecstatic and it exceeded all my expectations.
The following week we found ourselves visiting relatives in Bolton-Upon-Dearne and I ran Clifton Park parkrun in Rotherham. With 3 laps and 233 ft of hills, it isn’t necessarily a fast course but I ended up running a 21:43 5k which at that time, was a new parkrun PB. Needless to say, with two PB’s in a week, I was delighted!
Total Distance: 111.2 miles. Total Elevation: 22,012 feet
My third race of the year; the May the Fourth be with you Marathon in the Shropshire Hills. Not an easy trail race with over 5,000 feet of elevation but with breathtaking views it’s another firm favourite of mine. I’d entered this race with quite a few club mates who were down to run the half marathon (1 lap) whereas I’d opted to do 2 laps. We’d met up beforehand and I ran the first lap with a couple of friends, chatting away oblivious to the pace we were setting. At the end of the first lap, I bid them a fond farewell as they collected their medals whilst I set out for lap 2. As we approached the first main hill it soon hit me that the pace had caught up with me and I was rather blowing at this point! I soldiered on until we reached the first marshal point on the second lap. As I grabbed some refreshments the marshals congratulated me and mentioned that I was currently 9th in the field. Now, I’m normally a middle of the pack runner, which I’m more than content with but the prospect of finishing in the top 10 brought out the competitive nature in me and it spurred me on – in my wildest dreams I never thought I’d be top 10 in a field so I raised my game.
A couple of miles along the trail I caught up with another couple of runners, one of whom I knew – Dylan, who was pacing someone on their first marathon. I ran with them for a while before they started to tire and encouraged me to push on. This put me up to 6th position. 6th FFS! Not only that, Dylan had mentioned that the bloke in 5th position was just ahead and seemed to be struggling which spurred me on even more. I continued along the trail for another mile or so before catching up with the 5th place guy. We ran together for a short while before I managed to pull away from him on the last main climb of the run.
I completed the race in 5:13 and finished in 5th position. My highest ever place in a race and I was over the moon! I waited around at the finish line to congratulate the runners as they crossed the line. As it transpires, the bloke who finished 6th was also running the Revenge of the Fifth Marathon the following day so had been resting himself – to say he shit on my bonfire was an understatement but kudos to him – I’m still gloating about my 5th place position regardless 🙂
Similar to last month, I found myself visiting relatives down in Milton Keynes the week after so took advantage and ran the Marston Vale parkrun, finishing in 20:54 and setting a new parkrun PB. My running had never been better!
To support my brother-in-law Iain and get in a bit of cross training, I’d entered the Boughton Cycling Group 50 mile Sportive in Milton Keynes. Iain had organised the event and I’d managed to persuade a couple of mates; Tom and Duncan to join me on very limited training. We completed the event in 3:20 averaging 14.9mi/h. I enjoy cycling to a fashion but I much prefer 2 feet than 2 tires!
I also completed the Hathersage Hurtle in May, a 20 mile walk though the Peak District with Ruth and my sister-in-law Naomi. Ian, my brother-in-law opted to run the event. It was a great day out in the hills, finishing in 7:01 with over 2,709 feet of elevation. The route GPX file is saved on my watch with the intention of running the route one day, either as part of the organised race or as a training run.
Total Distance: 14.4 miles. Total Elevation: 3,812 feet
June started with a repeat of the May the Fourth be with you route organised by Wild Stiles. Just one lap this time of 13.1 miles but it was such an amazing day out on the hills with great company.
This led to 6 weeks off running and numerous visits to physio. My training plans for Lakes in a Day had started and this would set me back both physically and mentally. I tried not to let it affect me and stay positive but the realisation that you can’t run was demoralising, especially when you’re in the habit of running 5-6 times a week for both fitness and my general well-being.
Within a couple of weeks I was weight bearing and the physio advised me that I could take up cycling and swimming, both low resistant activities. For the next 4 weeks, I cycled, swam and did my exercises religiously in a bid to maintain some fitness levels.
Total Distance: 85.7 miles. Total Elevation: 4,137 feet
Throughout June and July I was under physio with fortnightly appointments. I was finally given the all clear to commence light running mid July and tentatively headed to Arrow Valley for my first run around the lake. I managed five miles and despite some discomfort, the ankle held out okay. I kept the runs short and the mileage fairly low and continued with the exercises and stretches I had been given from physio. I also continued to use the turbo trainer but if truth be told, it bored me senseless!
Total Distance: 143 miles. Total Elevation: 10,325 feet
Earlier on in the year I’d agreed to run the length of the Teesdale Way with my brother-in-law, Ian. Starting at it’s source in Cumbria, it weaves its way across the country until it reaches the sea at Redcar, some 92 miles later. We’d agreed to run it over three days, covering 3 ultramarathon distances of 30+ miles per day. When we initially came up with the idea we knew it would be a massive challenge but given my recent injuries that now felt like an understatement. Despite being on the injury bench for the majority of June/July I’d never ruled it out, I was determined to give it my best shot. If I could weight bare, I could run. If I couldn’t run, I’d walk. The date had been finalised and due to other commitments we couldn’t reschedule. It was happening. On August 2 we set off on our 92 mile adventure.
You can read the full race report here but to summarise, we did it! 2 blokes. 3 days. 92 miles. 5,240 ft of ascent. 1.5 miles of vertical ascent. 3 counties.
Looking back, it was probably the hardest thing I’d ever done (up to that point) but the sense of achievement was massive! It opened my eyes to what the human body is capable of and the amount of stress it can endure. I’m not the fittest person in the world or the fastest but I’ve learnt that ultra running is not just about physicality, it’s about being mentally tough. The ability to keep going when your body wants to shut down and to ignore the aches and pains which try and force you to stop. All runners go though bad patches but it’s the ability to see it through, continue moving forward and focus on what’s ahead.
I took a few days recovery after completing the Teesdale Way but was back up the Lickey Hills, leading some trail runs shortly after.
The last 2 weeks of August I went on a family holiday to the Isle of Wight. Coincidentally (depending on who you ask) the Isle of Wight Half Marathon was taking place whilst we were there. Needless to say, I registered and enjoyed a somewhat hillier than expected, Half Marathon finishing in 1:45. The course was a mixture of road and trail and run by the local running club; Ryde Harriers.
I also did the local Medina, Isle of Wight parkrun finishing in 23:24 which I was delighted with considering it featured Tourettes Hill!
Total Distance: 143.2 miles. Total Elevation: 23,455 feet
For my 40th birthday in May, Ian and Naomi had organised for me to go on a navigation training course with Due North Events in the Lake District. It was a great day on the fells, covering 8 miles in total whilst learning to navigate, take a bearing and map reading. All skills I would need when taking on my second ‘key race’ in the calendar; LiaD in October.
The following day I met up with Ian and we recce’d the last 20 miles of the LiaD route between Ambleside and Cartmel which was supposed to be ‘relatively flat’. In reality, with over 3,000 feet of ascent, it opened my eyes to what a challenge the actual race was going to be with a total elevation of 14,000 ft ahead of us.
I continued running 5 or 6 times a week, mixing my training with short road runs and longer runs up the Lickey Hills and Malvern Hills – trying my best to replicate the terrain in my training. I was averaging just over 40 miles a week and despite feeling physically tired I felt strong in the legs.
I got the opportunity to run the Trailffest Half Marathon in September after a friend dropped out and gave me their place. It was a last minute decision which after some consideration I kindly accepted. Being so close to LiaD (and my taper) I decided to use it as a training run and not get too carried away with pace or competition – the last thing I needed was to get another injury! I drove the 6 hour round trip, joined by Kate, a friend at club and ran what was a stunning half marathon on some technical trail. Despite taking it easy, some of the hills still got the better of me and I found myself walking too many sections! Regardless, it was an enjoyable day out and a race I’d fully recommend.
I finished in 2:28 covering 1,535 ft of elevation.
The following weekend I headed for the Malvern Hills for what would be my last long training run before I tapered. I did a bit more hill work and covered 20 miles with over 6,000 feet of elevation.
Was I ready? Who knew…
Total Distance: 99.3 miles. Total Elevation: 15,594 feet
The day had finally arrived.
The sole reason why I’d started this blog in the first place.
Lakes in a Day 2019.
50 miles covering the length of the Lake District from Cartmel in the North to Caldbeck in the South with over 14,000 ft of elevation. My greatest challenge.
In a 21 week training plan I’d run 532 miles, or the equivalent of running from Birmingham, UK to Basel in Switzerland. Not quite the 767 miles my training plan had suggested but injury and holiday had put a stop to that.
Reflecting back, I thought the Teesdale Way was tough, this was brutal!
You can read the full race report here – The Lakes in a Day.
It didn’t go without incident. It was both a physical and mental challenge and by far the hardest thing I’ve ever done. It was relentless and unforgiving. Being self navigating, there were no marshals or supporters up in the fells so it was just you versus the terrain. No way of quitting, flagging down a cab and going home. You have to make your way off the fells. Luckily, the weather conditions couldn’t have been better considering it was October which is notorious for heavy rainfall and storms. Visibility was excellent, the terrain was manageable and conditions were cool. I imagine it’s a different beast with zero visibility, storms or blizzards. I guess I was lucky that everything fell into place. What I didn’t take into account was the elevation. As much as I tried to replicate this in training, being from the West Midlands there are no mountains in size or height as a comparison. The constant and relentless climbing was the biggest challenge – something that the Malvern Hills or the Lickey Hills can’t replicate.
But I did it!
I finished in 17:23. Delighted but exhausted.
Total Distance: 85.2 miles. Total Elevation: 3,773 feet
I took a few weeks off after LiaD. I’d been tea total (ish) for over 8 months and was living a fairly healthy lifestyle in the lead time up to race day. I’d got my weight down to what I considered to be a sustainable and healthy weight and post LiaD it all went to pot! I lived a little and treated myself a little too much. I was doing the occasional run but my weight started to creep up – much faster than it took me to lose it!
I felt I needed something to focus on so set myself another target – the Sunset to Sunrise Challenge mid November. This was a different format to your standard race. This was a timed event whereby you had to run the same 11 mile loop as many times as you could in 15 hours and as the name suggests, you’d be running between sunset (4:18pm) and sunrise (7:20am). I’d lost a little fitness by this time but felt I had it in me to see the 15 hours through; although the distance wasn’t important.
I was joined by Jasper, a friend from club and despite not starting together, we ended up running the majority of the laps together. It was tough and a different challenge to what I’d done before. Not having a physical finish line to aim for is a mental challenge and you find yourself racing the clock rather than the distance. The conditions underfoot were also not good. It had rained persistently prior to the event and continued throughout the night. My feet were in a bad way and I started suffering from niggles behind the knee, something I’d not experienced before.
We managed to see it though, both covering 55 miles in just shy of 15 hours. It was a unique experience and something I’m glad I completed. You can read the full race report here
November also played host to my running clubs Annual Awards Night which unfortunately, due to childcare, I couldn’t attend. I learnt afterwards that I’d be been awarded a medal in recognition of my ‘epic adventures’ and a Runners Choice Award from a fellow club mate for being a ‘positive face in the club’. To say I was honoured and humbled was an understatement! In hindsight, I’m glad I wasn’t in attendance as I would have died with embarrassment but I’m proud of the recognition and award.
Total Distance: 143.3 miles. Total Elevation: 11,719 feet
In a bid to maintain some fitness and shift some pre Xmas weight I did the Advent run challenge in December – to run every day of Advent. I’ve done this challenge for the past couple of years and despite its challenging nature, its a great way of staying motivated. In total I ran 112.1 miles over 24 days. In amongst this I also paced Ruth to a Half Marathon PB at the Milton Keynes Winter Half Marathon and enjoyed a muddy 9 mile trail race at Mortimer Forest.
So what lies in store for 2020?
My key races for next year are the West Country Hilly 50 in May, Thunder run 24hr solo in July and yes, you’ve guessed it, Lakes in a Day 2020.
I guess I’m just a glutton for punishment!