2019 in Review

Overview

2018 was a fantastic year for running all through, 2019 started badly but ended really strong! So much has happened this year both in my running life and my personal life.

I have set no personal bests this year and ran the slowest road marathon I ever have, even after a reasonable training block. I have DNS’ed three ultras and deferred entry to another. But, I am thankful to say after my difficult start I decided to focus on the Cheviot Goat 55 mile winter ultra – I had originally intended this to be my A-race for the year with a high mileage build-up, including lots of racing but as mentioned above my personal life had to come first hence withdrawing from my first few ultras of the year and deferring another.

I am thankful I made the decision to attempt a road marathon focus – in the end it allowed me more time with my then fiance, now wife! It took the pressure off an already pressured year what with planning and executing a wedding, and some major changes at work. It also built up a lot of speed thanks to the structured workouts I was undertaking each week. As well as this, it made me miss the trails and ultras, helped me to figure out that I don’t do well with training blocks that last longer then 10 weeks. All of this translated to a strong end to the year following a loosely structured 10 week training plan for the Cheviot Goat. The plan worked as during Week 5, I surprised myself with a 5th placed finish at the White Rose Ultra 30 – my first ultra for 14 months! Then, the A-race, Cheviot Goat, seemed to arrive very quickly. Again, I surprised myself with a 20th place finish in 12 hours, 36 minutes which far surpassed my goal of just finishing the thing.

As I write this I am 2 days from beginning a 6 week training block for the Arc of Attrition 50 which will be my first race of 2020. I am very much looking forward to it and it feels good to be running with purpose and joy again!

Best Race

Cheviot Goat Winter Ultra.

My longest race to date, covering 55 miles and 3000m of ascent over extremely rough ground. The race required a lot of planning and on the day a lot of navigation in darkness and thick fog.

So, as I mentioned above I was extremely surprised to do so well! My race report is here. Enjoy.

12:35:36, 20th.

Worst Race

Hull Marathon

Another road marathon slog! But this time I smiled for at least 90% of it. I didn’t reach my goal but I did stick to my intention of enjoying myself no matter what, embracing the suffering and smiling. A surprisingly hot and humid day in Yorkshire caught everyone off guard, including a fair few event pacers!

I decided to stick with 3 hour pacers from the start but it became apparent after about 10km they were going a little bit too quick. I shrugged my shoulders and opted to stick with it and managed to do that until about 28km when I started to cramp up and feel a bit sick – my pace began to drop and I never recovered.

I walked every step of the last 2km, including the finishing straight which I’ve never done before – it didn’t help that I felt like I was going to throw up for last 5km and couldn’t take on any water or even Shot Bloks. All that taken into consideration I’m glad I managed to smile almost all of the way, cracked jokes with Marshalls and spectators, had a little dance through an aid station at one point and high fived loads of kids. The running highlight of the day had to be the start and running across the Humber Bridge (out and back) – an amazing structure and a beautiful clear morning gave decent views.

Poorly planned, poorly paced and my 16 weeks of training pretty much ground to a halt at Week 9 – I gave up, felt really tired and drained and all the structure of the previous 9 weeks was the opposite of the next 7 weeks. Over the last 7 weeks I managed 1 planned long run and 1 planned speed workout and the rest of the mileage was very much ad hoc – some on road, some slow, some fast and none very long.

Best Moment(s)

Getting married on June 15th.

Returning to Ibiza for a Minimoon in July – we stayed in the same place we went on our first holiday together back in 2016.

A long distance hike with my wife on our Honeymoon in Turkey, August/September. 26km – the most Sarah has ever covered in one go.

My first trip to the Peak District as a surprise birthday weekend away in October – I ran a solo Kinder Scout loop and hiked a Mom Tor loop with Sarah.

Worst Moment

I was supposed to race West Pennine Ultra on March 9th and it turned out to be my first DNS of the year. The night before the race I woke up at 0300hrs and I found myself absolutely terrified by something I couldn’t identify – sweating profusely, hyperventilating, repetitive negative thoughts and an urge to run away.

I haven’t had a panic attack for nearly 4 years and this one took me out! I’ve struggled with anxiety for 20 years and I’ve had depressive episodes over the years too. Panic attacks, thankfully, have been infrequent. For me they are so scary as I feel I lose control of my decision making capacity and my inner monologue splits into two – arguments between my rational side and my irrational side can go on for hours and bring on feelings of anxiety and fear.

After I had calmed down a bit at around 0600hrs, I headed away from the race HQ but not towards home in the south. Instead I found myself heading north into horrific weather and towards the fells around the Trough of Bowland. I was convinced I needed the space. I drove for an hour and when I arrived I set out towards Clougha Pike and Grit Fell. It quickly became apparent that my negative thoughts were strongest today and after a mile I was really struggling to keep up a pace that would enable me to stay warm. All I had to do was reach behind into my pack and put on my jacket but all I could hear in my head was ‘What’s the point’. I kept slowly moving forward urging myself to up the pace but failing to beat the inner monologue of ‘What’s the point.’ I got colder, I got wetter and I started shivering. Thankfully I regained control of my brain long enough to realise I needed to turn around and head back to the car lest I end up in trouble on the fells with nobody knowing my location.

I made it back to the car, slowly jogging at points but still losing the battle to ‘What’s the point’. I spent an hour in the car, drying off, warming up and getting changed. I made my way home and called some friends and family on the way as I know it’s always good to talk things through after experiences like this. It took a long time for me to regain my sense of self and I think this set the tone for my next two DNS – I withdrew from South Downs Way and North Downs Way 50 milers a couple of weeks after returning from the north.

Favourite Run(s)

I had a fantastic run in the mountains of Turkey on the last day of my honeymoon.

I woke up well before sunrise so I could beat the sweltering heat of the day and headed off out into the mountains on the Lycian Way to catch the sunrise for just over an hour. I made it back in time to wake Sarah up so we could go and enjoy a wonderful breakfast at the mountain retreat we were staying at.

The trails were beautiful and I think this is the run that woke my soul back up to the joy of the trails. There was hard hiking in parts on steep rocky and rooty singletrack, smooth (and sometimes fast) running on pine needle carpet in other parts. The ground underfoot was rough and I even got to bushwhack in parts as the trail was non-existent – my Garmin Fenix 5x came into good use here as I used the mapping to take direct lines uphill to identifiable trail.

Favourite Kit

Two pieces of kit that I purchased specifically for racing in winter definitely take top prize this year!

La Sportiva Tempesta GTX

The first time I have purchased a GTX pair of shoes and the first time in 7 pairs of trail shoes I have gone for soemthing other than the La Sportiva Helios SR. They weren’t cheap and they’re not exactly light like the Helios SR but boy do they do a fantastic job in freezing temperatures, driving rain and boggy, muddy ground.

I have run 500km in these since October 24th – this includes a 55 mile race, and a 30 mile race as well as training in the Peak District and the finest Hertfordshire mud, fields, trails and lanes. They have held up really well and keep the feet mostly dry and warm in the coldest of conditions. When they do experience water ingress I was surprised to find they drain very quickly and warm up the feet again which helps to dry the internal sock construction. I expect these shoes will last me until around February as the front grip is starting to wear thanks to the road link ups I need to use during training. At this point I will definitely purchase another pair in preparation for next winter and my Bob Graham recces.

Montane Windjammer Alpine Beanie

Normally I don’t like covering my head during races or training but I was worried about the potential of rain and cold to drain my energy and body heat during the Cheviot Goat. I knew that a Buff wouldn’t do the job as they tend to get wet and stay wet so I went looking for something more robust.

It is an absolutely fantastic piece of kit. For the most part it keeps rain out and heat in, and it definitely kills the ferocity of the wind. At the time of writing I have owned this beanie for exactly a month so it must be a decent piece of kit to make it into my annual review! During the Cheviot Goat I took it off once for about 20 minutes – as I approached the half way checkpoint on a sheltered road section. With my jacket, tights and baselayer I felt as thought I was overheating as the wind disappeared for 4km, my only real option was to take off the beanie as I didn’t want to mess around with the layers on my upper half. I can report that after leaving the checkpoint the beanie had mostly dried out from sweat on the inside and out, and it went straight back on as I climbed out of shelter and onto the hills again – it remained in place until I crossed the finish line 7 hours later.

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