This time 12 months ago all my thoughts were about running further in 2020 and I’d booked my place on the start line for a 50k ultra.
Priorities were to get comfortable running on trails, get better at fuelling and build up my core strength in the hope I could successfully go beyond marathon distance for the first time – and without crashing in the process.
Training had resumed and my first races were in the diary, including a couple of spring halves, a spring road marathon and a summer trail marathon about a month before the big 50k day.
And then the world changed, accompanied by a bucket load of cancellations, lots of frustration and ultimately disappointment that my goal was going to remain unfulfilled.
Of course the severity of COVID-19 and the devastating impact it has had on huge numbers of families means I have to keep that disappointment firmly in perspective.
I’m extremely lucky in that the pandemic has only really affected me in terms of having to comply with restrictions. We had one case in the family around Easter time, but it didn’t require hospital treatment and it didn’t spread. Since then it’s been a case of stay safe, be sensible, respect others and follow the rules.
From a running standpoint, it would have been easy to just write this year off. However in the depths of lockdown, living on my own and with a stressful job, I needed my miles more than ever – not just for fitness, for escapism.
So I carried on. And as I look back to reflect on the year that was, it’s actually pleasantly surprising just how much I’ve managed to achieve.
Not everything was cancelled
While clearly not as often as I would have liked, I did get to participate in a few events this year. The Leicestershire and Stafford Half Marathons both went ahead before the March lockdown, the latter seeing me PB and go sub 1:40 for the first time.
In September I took part in the Milton Keynes Marathon Reimagined, a clever workaround where we got to run a designated and properly measured course, but individually on a day and time of our choosing rather than as part of a pack.
And a month later I was delighted when the 40th Beachy Head Marathon went ahead as scheduled, with a number of measures to make it COVID-secure that didn’t detract too much from the overall experience.
No ultra in the end – at first they delayed it, then they reluctantly moved it to 2021. I’m hopeful that by next July restrictions will have eased enough to make it viable.
Spurred on by my new half marathon PB, I decided to have a crack at a few other distances as well.
Marathon was the first to fall in a lockdown 26.2 completed at the end of that first spring training block. It saw me improve from 4:11 to 4:03 and reignited my hopes that sub-4 could eventually happen one day.
Then in the summer I started working on my 5k time using a few different parkrun courses and managed to get that down to an extremely satisfying 20:07.
I know some runners struggled to stay motivated after all the race cancellations. I found it helped to keep setting myself goals, such as my first 50+ mile week (I managed 57) and keeping up a minimum 10,000 steps a day streak (currently at 413 days and counting).
A few weeks ago I also noticed that my monthly running mileage hadn’t dipped under 100 since February, so I’ve kept that going too and am ending the year on 1,565 miles – by far my highest annual total.
Working from home is what has really made all these extra miles possible. That hour I’ve gained by not having to commute in a morning creates a perfect window for running and I’ve quickly got into the habit of going out five or six times a week.
I’ve never been a gym goer, but have dabbled with a bit of exercise and weight lifting at home to help with my marathon training, albeit in a very DIY and non-professional way that in hindsight probably didn’t make a lot of difference.
This year I decided to take advantage of the swathes of strength and conditioning YouTube workouts born out of the first national lockdown – the Running Channel, Run Experience, Joe Wicks, Ben Parkes to name but a few.
These sessions are now part of my routine, with a least one and usually two or three slotting in every week.
Last year and into early 2020 I was struggling to find shoes that didn’t leave me with soreness in my Achilles and hamstrings and blisters on my forefoot.
I finally relented and went for gait analysis, which revealed I was no longer over-pronating and could do away with stability trainers like my Saucony Guides, Asics Kayanos and Brooks Adrenaline GTS.
The store recommended something lightweight and with a higher 10mm drop in order to straighten up the line of my legs, especially on the left side. The result? Injury and largely pain free since the summer.
I’ve gone on to experiment with a few more racier neutral shoes for faster tempo runs and the aforementioned 5k time trials.
Both the Saucony Endorphin Speed and the Brooks Hyperion Tempo have now been added to my rotation and are bringing some genuine fun and excitement to my running because of how incredibly responsive they are.
Next year will arguably be a replay of what 2020 should have been, with prep for the ultra and more time exploring the trails.
That said, I am going to look again at my road marathon training and try following a properly structured, professionally developed plan rather than just my own cobbled together internet version.
That means adding in weekly workouts such as hill reps, progressive runs and interval sessions and, above all, paying proper attention to pacing.
I’m guilty of just running based on how I feel, but the more I think about it the more I realise there are times when I simply need to slow down.
Easy miles and long runs, for example, should be significantly slower than target marathon pace – mine are invariably faster, usually somewhere in the low to mid 8s, which is just expending energy before race day.
We’ll see if it makes a difference. For now, I’m trusting the experts and sticking to their advice.
And the blog?
Ah yes, I’ll be the first to admit it has been a struggle to keep it updated this year.
And I’m sad to say that looking around at the lack of interaction, the regular spam posts and the push to migrate people over to the new Realbuzz platform, I don’t see many reasons to keep it going much longer.
Writing about my running experiences has always been for my own benefit, not a vehicle to reach others and certainly not to try and impress anyone or boast about what I’ve done.
I find the experience cathartic and it helps me capture and retain the wide range of emotions I’ve experienced through running, good and bad.
That said, others did sometimes read along and as a result a number of genuine offline friendships have developed. I’ll always be grateful to Realbuzz and its community for helping to make that happen.
Perhaps I’ll dip in and out in 2021, or try again to get into the new site (at first glance I’m afraid the personal appeal was somewhat limited). But for now, I suspect my stint as Beacon’s Marathon Man is pretty much done.
To be fair, it was done when I crossed the finish line at the London Marathon in 2015! But bizarrely I never got around to changing the blog title…
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