“To survive and flourish…you will need a lot of mental flexibility and great reserves of emotional balance. You will have to repeatedly let go of some of what you know best, and feel at home with the unknown.” – Yuval Noah Harari
This is the second part of my two parter covering the strange year of 2020. The first covered January to May. This post will take us from June to December 26th and I will try to outline some tentative plans for 2021, as we all know the only plans any of us can make at this point are tentative ones!
The second half of the year has been even stranger than the first half. From June to September life seemed to have fewer Covid related restrictions, races seemed to be going ahead and I was able to go on a few camping trips but then, as October closed in so did the restrictions and lockdown was imposed again. I handled the first one pretty well but the second one really started to have a negative effect on my mindset and by the time November rolled around many things external and internal conspired to create a perfect storm and sent me first into paroxisms of anxiety, and then into a spiral of depression which I now seem to be coming around from.
It took a while but I have accepted I won’t finish a race in 2020. It will be the year of 1 race start and 1 DNF but that really does pale into insignificance when I can safely say that it seems I have almost made it 2021 relatively unscathed and with a new job, fresh perspectives on life and endurance and also as I mentioned above some tenative plans to make 2021 interesting, varied and exciting.
After successful lockdown challenges of 6, 12 and 24 hours in April and May I decided in June that I would start a 13 week training block with the end goal of running a self-supported 100 miler. This kept my running interesting and gave me some more focus but by Week 4, the end goal seemed to be so far away that it was more frustrating than energising…
…and then I injured myself. Week 5 I put a stop to my 100 mile training as I felt like I’d pulled a muscle in my psoas/adductor area. As I write this on December 26th I can finally say that I now seem to have finally recovered and my running is good again. But the set back did not just set me back physically, but mentally too. With my training focus gone, and my ability to run for as long as I’d like gone I slowly started to become more and more anxious as weeks and months passed by.
I did what I could, when I could, for as long as I could but in the end I had to stop doing anything for quite a while and just focus on rehab focused exercises.
In August I did my best to ignore the injury and to focus on the positives. I could still hike and I could still do some limited strength exercises.
I headed to the Lake District with the original intention of doing a Bob Graham Round recce on Legs 3 and 4 with my friend Max, but alas, the injury got the best of me and I realised I wouldn’t be able to move quickly enough to keep pace without further hurting myself. In the end I took it a lot easier, bagged a few Wainwrights and just enjoyed being in the mountains for the first time in 2020.
I have to say writing this is much more difficult than the first part! I definitely achieved a lot in the first part of the year from an endurance perspective but honestly, this second part of the year has been less than ideal for endurance training, adventures or achievements so I am kind of struggling with what to write.
October, November & December
So, as I don’t really have much to say beyond “I was injured, it was lame” and “It had a cumulative negative effect on my mental health” I have decided to close this blog post by looking ahead to 2021 and some positives!
The first positive from life is that I have moved from working in the charity/third sector and into a more strategic role in the public sector. I started in my role as a Commissioner on December 14th and it’s been fantastic so far. I am so pleased to be able to use my lived and professional experience in a different way. My focus will be on monitoring, evaluation, procurement and commissioning for services to support those experiencing complex needs, multiple disadvantage and who need housing related support – particularly where mental health, alcohol dependency and substance misuse issues are prevalent.
The second positive is the fact my injury seems to have gone. It really seems like I have recovered and over the last 2 weeks I have put together some great training runs on the road. I am saving a return to the trail until I am 100% confident that my psoas and adductor can take variable terrain without risking injury.
The third positive is that on December 24th I unexpectedly, and quite comfortably, set a 2 minute 22 second personal best over half marathon distance. I set off to run the distance and the only thing I had in mind was the route. There was no plan beyond that and I was extremely pleased to run 1:25:44.
As I said at the start of this post, we can only really make tenative plans for next year but like most people I am feeling more positive that we may finally be able to move away from lockdowns, restrictions and mask wearing by the end of 2021.
What I do have on the cards are races carried over from 2020. The two that mean the most to me, and which I really hope will go ahead are the Great Lakeland 3 Day in May and the Lakeland 50 in July. There are some other races on the schedule but right now I am not sure if they will go ahead – one is in early January and the other mid-February and to be quite honest, I think those of us in south east England (at least) will still be in some form of restriction of lockdown.
In terms of GL3D and Lakeland 50, I do think these will go ahead. My focus for the GL3D will be to bag as many Wainwrights as the course allows over the 3 days and my focus for Lakeland will be to improve on my course PB of 10:31:58.
In terms of tentative plans for adventures and races this is what I have lined up (in my head at least):
I plan to slowly start getting into road cycling with a view to building up to an Ironman and some long, solo-unsupported rides over the next few years. I tried triathlon and cycling back in 2017 and did quite well but I could not get my head around cycling on the road for training. The challenge will be getting out there and facing down my anxiety and fear of it.
In addition to the cycling I will continue my exploration of bouldering and climbing, as outlined in my post from earlier this year.
Throughout the year I am also intending to undertake some solo and unsupported long distance runs and I would also like to incorporate overnight bivvys into some of these.
June – European Aquathlon Championships
I am hoping to be selected for my second Great Britain Age Group Team for aquathlon. I qualified and was selected for the 2019 European Championships but did not take up my place for personal reasons. This time, without a doubt, if I am selected I will make every possible effort to take up my place and travel to Austria for the event!
October – Bob Graham Round or Crickhowell Round
I cannot be sure just yet that a Bob Graham Round attempt is going to go ahead. I really wanted to do it this year but Covid put a stop to that as I just could not safely navigate restrictions to get in enough recce time. It is quite possible there may be enough recce time in May, July, August and September if all works out well and if that’s the case then I will more than likely put one foot in front of the other from Moot Hall some time in mid-October.
With that said, if the recces don’t work out for Bob Graham, I spent a lot of time and effort earlier this year mapping a 40-ish mile round in the Black Mountains on the England/Wales border and this is the back-up plan. If restrictions allow, I will set-off on this unsupported round with a few friends on my birthday which was the plan this year until it wasn’t!
December – Exodus 100
I have wanted to run a 100 miler for a long time and I thought I would get to do that solo and unsupported this year until I got injured. However, I decided last year shortly after the Cheviot Goat that I would love to run a 100 miler in challenging conditions, in a remote spot.
The Exodus very much fits that bill. It is run in mid-December across the Brecon Beacons with no course markings and only 3 checkpoints, The weather is often challenging and changeable, as you would expect from mountain weather in the winter. Finally, with 7100m of ascent and just as much descent it definitely cannot be described as a PB course.
43 people started in 2019, 27 finished and the winner ran an impressive 25 hours. 2nd and 3rd place finishers clocked 28 hours, 4th 29 hours and 5th 30 hours with the last finisher clocking slightly over the 48 hour limit in 48:14. Just looking at those results is intimidating and the spread of runners suggests that a lot of the time it will be you, your mind and the elements. Basically, it looks like a true challenge that will put me up against what I feel are my current endurance limits – the last race that got me this excited was the Cheviot in 2019 and I absolutely loved training for it, and racing it.
Roll on 2021!