Wednesday 8 January 2014

2013 Review (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Run)

Well that was 2013. From a personal perspective it has been an amazing year, with the birth of my gorgeous baby girl in February being the absolute highlight of my life so far. Watching her grow over the last 10 months has been incredible, and she is now a little person with her own (incredibly cheeky) personality. I can't wait to see what else she has in store for us over the years to come!

But from a running perspective? Meh.

It's been okay, but not the year I was hoping for. My training through last winter was great, and I came into 2013 feeling stronger and faster than ever before. My diet (by which I mean "what I was eating in general", and not that I was only eating a stick a stick of celery every day) was pretty good, so I was in pretty good shape.

But obviously with a baby on the way, this was interrupted somewhat to concentrate on the more important aspects of my life. That being said, I was still able to get a fair bit of running in, which is largely due to having such an amazing and understanding wife, and also due to being an early morning runner and getting a lot of miles in through commuting.

Since we didn't really know what to expect from the first few months of parenthood, my first race wasn't until the Viking Way at Easter. As it happens, the first few months were relatively easy, other than a severe lack of sleep. Obviously this affected how much I was able to get out for long runs, but since a lot of my running is done as commuting to work this was unaffected.

I hit the start line feeling pretty good, with a good finish in my sights. It started well, with Mark Cockbain telling me off for getting to the Aid Stations too quickly for them. Unfortunately some issues with navigation left me making some serious cock ups resulting in finishing second despite being over 2 hours ahead at one point. C'est la vie. You live and learn. That being said the race itself went brilliantly for me, and in particular was the furthest I had ever run. I recovered quickly and was back running a couple of days later which was a great sign for my conditioning.

Next up was travelling to La Palma for Transvulcania, which was very much a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I actually entered before we fell pregnant. Despite this, it did feel a little harsh buggering off to an island paradise with my buddies for a weekend away. Certainly I had a pang of guilt whilst riding the water slides at Siam Park...

I was a little unsure what to expect here, as I'm not exactly well conditioned for mountains what with living in the flattest area of the country. Regardless, I coped pretty well and was on for a pretty good time until I took a tumble on the long downhill back towards the coast. My calves cramped up pretty severely, and a sudden spasm sent me sprawling, cracking my knee on a rock. They took a look at me in the medical tent to clean up the blood, but I was able to carry on. I had to walk the rest of the downhill, which was a looong way. I dropped quite a few places, and probably lost a good half hour to an hour on my finish. But it was still not a bad time overall, and I had an absolute blast out there. I thoroughly recommend it to anybody!

Unfortunately this injury proved to be worse than I thought, and I struggled to run for a while afterwards. My Physio was convinced that it was nothing too serious, and I took it very carefully with my rehabbing. I built up the miles slowly, not doing my usual thing of ramping things up too quickly.

But this was a slow process and unfortunately impacted on some other races. In particular, the South Downs Way 100 miler, which had been my focus race for the year. In the weeks leading up to it, my knee was feeling okay, but I wasn't running more than 10-15 miles at a time. I had no idea if I was back to full running strength yet. But I figured I wouldn't know until I tried.

I went into the race without much confidence that I would finish - but I didn't want to let anyone else know that! I was hoping to get a really good 100 mile time, with an aim for 16 hours. I still feel like I have it in me to do this, and the conditions were nigh on perfect for a fast time - but it wasn't to be this year. Within about 10 miles it was clear that things weren't right. I wasn't out to prove anything, and I certainly didn't want to make things worse, so I just dropped out. Robbie Britton went on to run a stonking good race, so I doubt a win would have been on the cards for me even on a good day.

6 weeks later it was time for the North Downs Way 100 miler. Again, my knee was feeling better day to day, but I wasn't entirely convinced I was back to normal. But I started, just to see how things felt. This time I got to about 25 miles before it became clear that there was an issue. Sigh.

Another few weeks and we were into September and already the season was coming to a close. I didn't really have much to show for it. At home, we were struggling with Lottie's sleeping as well, which wasn't helping my ability to head out early for long runs. I decided to run a fairly local 100km race, the Stour Valley Path, determined to see if the rehab had worked. It wasn't pretty, but I finished! It wasn't my best performance by a long shot, but I came out feeling incredibly positive. The problem had been my stomach and general fatigue rather than my knee. It just means I need to improve my diet (which has slipped considerably over the year) and conditioning (no long runs for months).

On a whim, I decided to have a go at another local race organised by one of my friends, Lindley Chambers. I turned up at the Stort 30 miler, planning on trying for a fast run if possible. The first half went very well, but the lack of miles in my legs quickly became apparent. Again, it was a pretty deflating finish, but a finish nonetheless.

Last up was the Piece of String Fun Run, which I had entered again for a bit of a larf. Having finished last year, I wasn't out to prove anything, but just to see how things went. I was pretty sure that my knee was sorted, but didn't have much long running in my legs. I was genuinely interested to see what would happen!

The weather was a million times better which would make things much more pleasant - not at all what this race was about! I quite enjoyed second guessing the organisers on what to expect, and really wasn't worrying about where the end was. I was just going to run till I couldn't run no [sic] more!

This happened at about 110 miles, when I twisted my knee on a tree root and started to limp. Having buggered up my knee earlier in the year I didn't want to go though all that again. So I pulled out without too much fanfare. As it happens I was only about 10 miles from the end, but obviously I didn't know that. I'm not too bothered about missing out in the finish though. I still consider it a positive as I ran over 100 miles quite comfortably. It's nice to be back!

So it's been a bit of a damp squib, but nothing that can't be sorted for next year. I need to sort my diet out again after Christmas, and have a little bit of extra weight to shift - but nothing major. I need to avoid injuries, which hopefully my sensible approach to things should help. And I need to get some more miles in my legs, which hopefully the fact that things are becoming more settled with sleeping should help.

But at the end of the day, even if I can't be as competitive as I would like, as long as I'm enjoying myself I'm happy! 

Ah, tautologies...

So what does 2014 have in store? Currently I have the Spine Challenger this weekend (more on that soon), probably the Viking Way again, the Grand Union Canal Race, another crack at the South Downs Way, a proper attempt at the Lakeland 100 course, and hopefully a trip to Greece for the Spartathlon. Plenty to keep me busy then!

Happy New Year everybody! And happy running.

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