It has been a slow start in 2019 on my racing calendar. By now I would have usually run at least a marathon, and probably an ultra, along with a handful of shorter races. As it stands I have run a trail marathon, a trail 16 miler and a ‘mixed-terrain’ 10k. No ultras. In fact, I have had 4 ultras in the calendar and registered DNS in all of them.
That DNS rate has bugged me since my first in March at the West Pennine Ultra. This weekend I registered my 4th DNS by choosing to withdraw from the North Downs Way 50. Last night I spent some time reflecting on the contributory factors to my lack of motivation to train for and race ultra distances this year. First and foremost I have had a lot of stress at work and this is what contributed to my DNS in March – I was so stressed out that I ended up having my first panic attack in many years the night before the race. I woke the next morning feeling wiped out and with a creeping depression setting in. That took a good while to recover from.
The second DNS was at the South Downs Way 50 back in April. I think it would be fair to say that work related stress was still in play here and my training began to nosedive a couple of weeks before the race. Self doubt kicked down the door in my mind and a sense of anxiety pretty much crippled my motivation to finish the training block. I withdrew the day before and then when I woke up on race morning I had the beginnings of 2 week upper-respiratory infection which took me out of work for a week. This did nothing for my work related stress, or my mental health!
A month later at the beginning of May, I was due to head up to the Lake District for the Great Lakes 3-Day. By this point I had realised I needed to work on my work/life balance and my stress levels were reducing in that area of life, but the workload at home increased for both Sarah and I as we continued organising our upcoming wedding. I chose to withdraw from Great Lakeland a week beforehand and on doing so I felt relief. I didn’t question that feeling too much at the time. But on reflection, following my 4th DNS this weekend, relief is not something I expect to feel when I withdraw from a race in a beautiful place or, generally, when I withdraw from any ultra prior to the start. I felt relief again this weekend when I made the decision not to race. The fun of training for and racing ultras has faded away and I am not going to find it by entering more, or not properly preparing for the ones I was entered for prior to making the decision to withdraw from this year’s White Rose Ultra 60 and Montane Cheviot Goat. Again, once I made those decisions this morning, I felt relief.
So, what now?
Well I had already planned to spend the summer months tackling my 10k and Half Marathon road PRs as the short and fast stuff has been fun, satisfying and engaging since the end of last year. I have decided to build on that and I have now entered the Hull Marathon on September 22nd. I will be aiming to run a PR and I will put it out there now that my training will be focused on achieving a sub-3 hour time. For the first time since starting running in 2011 I have the motivation, time and desire to focus fully on road running and racing. I am really excited to see what I can get out of myself across the sub-ultra distances by following a structured marathon training plan!
I have run three road marathons since 2011:
I hope the pictures above show at least an improvement in form, as well as an improvement in time! I was a complete novice at Pisa – I ran in trail shoes and in a vest that was more suitable for the beach or gym than for road racing. In Frankfurt I had shaped up a little more with an actual running vest and road shoes and then fast forward to Brighton the all black top/bottom combo stayed with me and I had slimmed down and toned up quite a bit (as well as losing the 2013-14 beard and big hair look – what was that about?!). Short Shorts will always be my go to for road marathons. Always. The less said about compression knee socks, the better.
My training in 2013 was mostly undertaken in the pool as I had a fractured cuboid in the months leading into the race. I had so little mileage in my legs I was very surprised I even managed to get half way, even more surprised (and very pleased) with my finishing time. In fact, Pisa was the only race of any distance I ran that year. In 2014 I ran my first ultra 2 months before the Frankfurt marathon and it turned my head completely away from the road. I went over to Frankfurt with no structured speed training in my legs and with half an eye on training for an ultra in the January of 2015. Anyway, Frankfurt was great as it also fell on my 31st birthday – I really enjoyed the experience of racing on my birthday and I wasn’t at all disappointed with the time considering my mind was already on the trails. Finally, last year at Brighton, I threw away a good opportunity to dial it in having taken my focus from ultra to triathlon and road racing from September of 2017. It was my first time with a coach, with somebody else programming my training and the results were pretty good. But for some reason my brain just couldn’t adjust to the multi-sport aspect of training and I kind of gave up on the plan in TrainingPeaks and just did what I wanted. I could and should have run a much faster, much more disciplined race at Brighton and it left me wanting. I finished that race with the marathon monkey on my back and have watched quite a few friends achieve sub-3 throughout 2018 and into 2019. All of those friends have told me they believe in my speed and strength, and all of them have encouraged me to dedicate myself to having a go at sub-3.
The time is right, the time is now, it’s my turn to have a proper go!