Running Review of 2020

What a year!

No-one could predict what 2020 had in store for us and as I type this, things looks pretty bleak as we head into the New Year.

Running feels pretty insignificant compared to what’s happening in the real world but I’m trying to normalise things as much as possible. Running has always helped with my mental wellbeing – even more so this year. It’s an escapism. It’s an opportunity to get out into the fresh air and switch off from reality. Zone out from all the stress, confusion and restrictions that life throws at us.

For what it’s worth, my race calendar for 2020 was looking good at the start of the year, with the following races confirmed in the diary:

  • Icing on the Cake Marathon 26.2
  • Scott’s Dirty Dozen Trail 9.0
  • The Imber Ultra 30
  • Ashby 20
  • Manchester Marathon 26.4
  • West Country Hilly 50
  • Thunder Run 24hr Solo
  • (Volunteer Role) at Robin Hood 100
  • Lakes in a Day 50
  • Malaga Marathon 26.2

As it happens, all but three races were cancelled or postponed due to the pandemic.

Despite this I still managed to maintain some consistency in training and clock up the miles and elevation gain. Scheduled races were replaced with ‘unofficial adventures’ and I managed to rack up 1,599.5 miles with 152,963ft of elevation gain. Not too shabby.

This is a brief summary of how the year panned out:

January

Total distance: 122.4 miles. Total Elevation: 18,934ft

The year started with a double parkrun. The first being at Millennium County, pacing Ruth to a PB followed straight after at Milton Keynes where Ruth and I were joined by my eldest son, James.

The following three weekends I led various trail runs up the Malvern Hills in Worcestershire. I’d posted the route details on the club page and was joined by numerous clubmates, some of whom were new to trail running. Offering distances from 6 – 18 miles, it catered for all abilities and was something I was keen to continue throughout the year. It also acted as a great training platform for my up-and-coming Icing on the Cake Marathon – a hilly mountain marathon in the Shropshire Hills.

February

Total distance: 174.5 miles. Total Elevation: 13,666ft

The first race in the calendar – the Icing on the Cake Marathon proved to be another great day out on the trails. With over 4,350ft of elevation and 43mph winds recorded on the tops, it was a hard, challenging day but I loved every minute of it! I was also lucky to be joined by 18 clubmates – a fantastic turnout – although I was the only one ‘fortunate’ enough to do 2 laps – next year I’ll persuade someone to join me on the full marathon.

I finished in a time of 5:27 – not my fastest on that course but certainly one of the toughest given the conditions.

The following day I joined my local trail running club – Wild Stiles on a ‘recovery run’ which turned out to be 8.5 miles of hills, waterlogged trails and thick mud. I needed to recover from the recovery run!

The following weekend I ran Arrow Valley Parkrun with my son, Oliver – which as it happens was his first ever parkrun outside a pushchair! He smiled all the way round, finishing in a fantastic time of 40:12 – not bad for a 5 year old!

I’d planned to join a group of local trail runners who were organising a social run from Birmingham to Worcester via the canal – an unofficial ultra of 30 miles. It just so happened that Storm Ciara hit the UK with winds up to 80mph resulting in the run being postponed. Although it was the sensible decision, in all honesty I was secretly disappointed. I’d been running well and the prospect of running an ultra – amongst friends – sounded like a great challenge. Thankfully – or stupidly as it may have been the case – I got a message from a friend stating that a few people were still up for it and asked whether I’d like to join them. I jumped at the chance. Due to logistics, we decided to modify the route slightly – starting in Bromsgrove before heading to Worcester via the canal, then returning via the River Severn – a circular run of approximately 30 miles.

I was joined by Neil, whom I knew through Wild Stiles and introduced to Adam, Natasha and Jon on the morning. Conditions weren’t ideal. Given the time of year the canal sections were boggy, there was driving rain and although we never experienced Storm Ciara in full force, we were running against a considerable headwind for what felt like most of the run. Needless to say, we all completed the ‘unofficial Ultra’ and had a great day out on the trails – making new friends at the same time. 31 miles in 5:10.

The end of February saw me enter my second race of the year – the ‘Scott’s Dirty Dozen’ Trail race with the infamous ‘Ditch of Doom’. It proved to be another great day on the trails and I was lucky enough to be joined by some teammates to share the experience. I ran with Colin and we finished in 1:37 – not the fastest race I’ve ever run but certainly one of the most memorable.

March

Total distance: 139.3 miles. Total Elevation: 12,457ft

March opened with me leading a group; the ‘Alvechurch Running Buddies’ on a 10k run around the Lickey Hills – another great experience I enjoyed. Introducing new people to the trails is something I really enjoy and although I’m not LIRF trained, it’s something I wanted to focus on later in the year.

My third race of the year was the ‘Imber Ultra‘ – 30 miles of trails in and around Imber in Wiltshire. I was joined by Jasper and we decided to run together – treating it as a training run as we both had key races in the calendar for later in the year. It was another great day out, although my choice of footwear for the terrain made it more challenging than it should have been! Who’d have know Imber had so much rain and mud in March! I’ll know better next time…

The week after Imber the world stood still. Covid-19 was running rampant and the country was forced into a lockdown.

Joe Wicks’ morning workout became the norm (more on him later), outdoor exercise was limited to 30 minutes a day and everyone went mad by stockpiling toilet roll! It was crazy and unprecedented. We were in the middle of a pandemic and the world as we knew it had changed. My daily runs were replaced with homeschooling and my running buffs were now face masks!

Back to Joe Wickes – the body coach – the lovable chap from Surrey who single handily got millions of people across the globe exercising at nine in the morning! I’ll give the guy credit, it certainly kept my kids motivated – albeit for a week – my wife – albeit for 2 days and myself – well, I managed at least 5 weeks before injury took hold. Yes, I blame Joe Wicks for my Achilles Tendinitis – something I’ve been managing on and off for the past 10 months! I’m almost certain it was down to the bloody rabbit hops!

April

Total distance: 122.1 miles. Total Elevation: 5,912ft

Although there were no races for the foreseeable, I did manage to maintain some mileage in the legs. Runs were replaced with family walks and it was a great time for discovering new trails on the doorstep. It was also an opportunity to explore some trails with my boys – James (8) and Oliver (6) found a new passion for running and got them some much needed fresh air around homeschooling and isolation. As depressing and scary as lockdown was at the time, I took the opportunity to spend more quality time with the family which is something I’ll always be appreciative of – life is too short and passes you by too quickly.

May

Total distance: 159 miles. Total Elevation: 15,357ft

I’d returned to work in May – albeit working from home. My employees had furloughed me throughout April which had meant more time on the trails throughout the week – whether that was walking with the family or solo runs. Now that I was back at work, it meant more miles on the weekend with shorter, local runs in the week – balancing family life, work life and running.

I wanted to introduce some distance into my runs again so did a couple of 18+ mile trail routes in and around Birmingham – the Lickey’s / Waseley / Clent circular is a popular route of mine which I did on a couple of occasions.

I also got myself back to the Malvern Hills and ran an 18 mile sunrise run with Colin – with views to die for – we picked a great morning for it and had the hills to ourselves.

June

Total distance: 158.9 miles. Total Elevation: 11,748ft

June carried on in similar vein to May – restrictions had eased so I enjoyed some trail runs with Wild Stiles and continued going out either solo or with the boys. The miles racked up.

I was under Physio at the Princess of Wales Community Hospital, albeit they were virtual appointments. I’d been diagnosed with Achilles Tendinitis and given some standard Achilles / Calf stretches to do to alleviate the problem. I knew the issues stemmed from tight calves, which I was stretching daily but frustratingly I didn’t feel like I was making progress. I was fortunate enough to be told that I could still run – and I wasn’t experiencing any pain (slight discomfort maybe) whilst running – but it felt like I was managing the problem, not resolving it.

July

Total distance: 132.2 miles. Total Elevation: 12,713ft

With the arrival of warmer weather, restrictions had eased and under government guidance we were allowed to venture further afield. We took full advantage of this and did some socially distanced walks up the Shropshire Hills and utilised our National Trust and English Heritage memberships for family trips. We were still conscious of social distancing so left early to avoid the crowds. It was great to get back to some sort of normality and explore areas further afield.

I was enjoying my running and gradually building up the miles – and subsequently fitness levels were increasing. I’d uploaded a walking route off Strava which a clubmate had posted and decided it would make a challenging, yet doable run. Joined by Colin and Nick, we ran the 30 mile Worcestershire loop in 7:28 and had an amazing day out on the trails. Ultramarathon distances always gives me a buzz and I was keen to do some more adventures over the coming months.

August

Total distance: 122.4 miles. Total Elevation: 15,830ft

Due to the pandemic, we’d had to cancel our summer holiday to the Isle of Wight. I’d been taking annual leave to home school the boys whilst Ruth was at work and we were continuing to get out on family walks as much as possible. I was running mainly in the evenings and on weekends but the boys took priority – so a lot of my normal ‘boring miles’ were replaced with family walks which benefited us all.

I was still getting out on some adventures further afield though and enjoyed a tough 14 mile run up the Black Mountains with Neil, Jill and Adam. A tough, challenging route with plenty of elevation, mud and technical terrain.

I also organised another long distance run – this time in Edale in the Peak District. The Edale Skyline is a popular 24 mile circular route with spectacular views and challenging terrain. I’d posted on the ‘Run it in a Day’ page- (associated Facebook page to the ‘Lakes in a Day’ – which incidentally was still scheduled to run in October) and was joined by fellow runners Nick, Karen and Paul. It was an amazing day out on the trails and probably one of my favourite routes of the year.

September

Total distance: 127.3 miles. Total Elevation: 11,145ft

I’d got back in touch with physio early September as I was concerned I wasn’t making any progress with the Achilles. Although it was only causing me minor issues when running, it was still sore to touch and causing some discomfort when loading the area. I got put through to another physio – a fellow runner – who seemed a lot more clued up the issues I was experiencing and gave me different exercises to do to target and load the Achilles. I was instantly more attuned and confident I could see some improvements before the end of the year. New stretches, new exercise – new found confidence in the effectiveness of what I was being told to do.

I’d heard about ‘the Coventry Way‘ from fellow runners and had always wanted to give it a go. It’s a 40 mile trail route circumnavigating Coventry – where I lived for 3 years whilst studying at University. Once again, I managed to persuade Colin, Nick and Jasper to join me on the run which we completed in 9:28 – my furthest run of the year.

I’d received a message from Adam, whom I’d met on the Bromsgrove to Worcester 30 mile circular run in February, letting me know that he was organising a run around Stiperstones in the Shropshire Hills. Not one to turn down an adventure, we were joined by Dylan and Jill and enjoyed a boulder-dashing scramble around the hills. It was certainly an adventure – and confirmed my fear of heights – but another great day out on the trails with fellow like-minded friends.

October

Total distance: 135.5 miles. Total Elevation: 11,706ft

As the nights were drawing in, I’d started weekly head torch runs in and around the Lickey Hills – a 10k loop which I’ve been running regularly for the past 5 years. Initially it was part of a training block for Lakes in a Day, which regrettably – although not surprisingly – was postponed to 2021. Joined by Maria, it became a weekly fixture in the diary and something which would continue into the New Year. I’d always enjoyed night running – navigating the trails by head torch – and thankfully Maria shared the same passion as I do.

The Robin Hood 100 is a 100 mile ultramarathon held in Nottinghamshire. I’d contacted Ronnie Staton – race organiser – and offered my services as volunteer for the event. I was given the role of Time Keeper at one of the aid stations and was looking forward to the day. The week leading up to the event Ruth became ill and was advised to take a Covid-19 test – which subsequently meant we had to self isolate until the results came back. This coincided with the weekend of the race. I’d contacted Ronnie to explain the situation and although he was understanding, I still felt like I’d let him down. I made a note to offer my services as a volunteer on his future events once they are back up and running.

Upon researching the role, I’d taken a look at the route and it looked stunning, taking in tree lined trails in and around Sherwood Forest and Clumber Park, as well as the infamous Mighty Oak. I’d looked at Ronnie’s other events and noticed that the Dukeries 40 route runs the same trails, taking in the same landmarks so was keen to give it a go.

Joined by Colin, Nick and Kerry, we completed the 40 mile route in 8:03 and this planted the seed to attempt the Robin Hood 100 race – maybe next year!

November

Total distance: 100.5 miles. Total Elevation: 11,189ft

November continued with the weekly head torch run in the Lickey Hills and a few trips further afield to the Malvern Hills. The miles were ticking themselves off and the Achilles was feeling stronger by the day.

I also had the pleasure of pacing Dean, a friend who had recently taken up running again, to a sub 2 hour Half Marathon attempt – a target of his for a long time. He had a great run, finishing in a time of 1: 54 – a great effort which was thoroughly deserved and a detriment to the training he had been putting in during lockdown.

December

Total distance: 105.4 miles. Total Elevation: 12,306ft

The year ended on top form. My Achilles felt stronger and I was enjoying my running more than ever – getting out on the trails as much as possible – or as much as Government restrictions would allow. I was fortunate enough only to be in Tier 2 so minimal restrictions applied.

My fourth and final race of the year was the Milton Keynes Winter Half Marathon which thankfully, being in Tier 2, I was able to partake. Joined by Ruth and a couple of friends; Jill and Clive, it’s one of my favourite races as I get to spend a couple of hours running with Ruth – child free! This year was no exception and we finished in 2:06 – which was a new PB for Ruth – another fantastic effort and detriment to the consistency and effort she has been putting into her running this year.

The following week I set myself a challenge of running a marathon around one of my favourite jaunts – the Lickey Hills. The wintery conditions made for challenging terrain underfoot but supported by Jasper and Maria, I completed it in a time of 5:38 with over 4,100ft of elevation. It was a tough day!

My last long run of the year was an 18 mile run up the Malvern Hills in the snow. Joined by Jasper and Nick, the wintery conditions made for a challenging run but the picture-postcard views more than made up for the increased effort.

A great way to end a crazy year!

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