Well that is another year wrapped. One that started so well and finished in a totally different place than I had originally planned.
The racing year
2017 started quickly and within a couple of weeks I was into my first A race of the year, standing in a cold and snow laden Edale on the start line of The Spine Challenger. My race preparation was less than optimal and if I am honest with myself, I was a beaten man before I even started. Some how though I dug deep and with some superb support, I managed to drag myself all the way to Hawes and the finish line.
I left Hawes elated but also swearing never to step foot on that course ever again. Within hours though my attitude started to shift. Like many others, I was watching the dots of the other competitors in the full Spine Race, continuing to push north towards the Scottish border. I also felt so fresh after The Challenger Race and soon wished I was back on the cold and icy fells with them. Slowly it lured me back in and when entries opened for the full Spine race in March, I submitted my application immediately and was in!
My race preparation and execution may have been poor but looking back completing the Spine Challenger was definitely to be one of my biggest achievements of the year and running career to date. I felt so good after the Spine that I was back out on a race course in mid February, celebrating my 43rd birthday by running the LDWA Winter Poppyline in North Norfolk.
Being a Norfolk lad born and bred, the opportunity to run a fifty mile race in my home county on my birthday was just too good a chance to turn down. The fact I would also have a chance to run with my good friend John Reynolds was the icing on the cake and I was grateful to Kevin Marshall for allowing me to take his place due to injury.
This was never a race, rather a chance to run in a place I love, with great company. I knew my body would be carrying some fatigue following The Spine, so I set myself some pretty realistic race objectives and started the race with one key objective, to have some fun.
And what a running adventure it was! It was amazing to be able to share the first half of the race with John and it was such a pity that he had to withdraw with injury in Cromer. In the second half I took the opportunity to open my legs a little and see how much I really had in the tank following The Spine. Not a lot was the answer but it was still a really enjoyable run to the finish, where my family were all waiting for me.
My focus now shifted to my next objective of the year, my attempt at a sub thirty hour finish of Lakeland 100.
It was during March that my injury woes started. A slight discomfort in my abdomen, soon became more painful and while it never stopped me running, I eventually had a scan to confirm that I had inflammation of the bone marrow at the front of my pelvis.
I had just managed a top ten finish at the inaugural Pennine Barrier 50, which really boosted my confidence. It proved that I had the speed to get around Lakeland in less than thirty hours and also showed that the pelvis injury wouldn’t hold me back. Lakeland 100 was now less than two months away and I felt like I was in the running form of my life.
My body however had other ideas and just days later it threw the towel in and my running world fell apart around me. In the remaining weeks I worked hard to try and get myself to the start line, with some great support and guidance from my family and friends.
Against all logic, I made it to Coniston and set out with a few hundred other runners on a wet and surprisingly fresh July Friday evening onto the Lakeland fells. Twenty miles and five hours later I stood in checkpoint three at Wasdale having my timing chip cut from my wrist as I withdrew from the race.
The injury year
If my completion of the Spine Challenger goes down as one of my high points, Lakeland 100 was definitely one of my lowest. My first ever DNF (did not finish) in my short ultra running career and an objective, that I had been working towards for eleven months, lay in tatters around me.
The second half of 2017 was dominated by injury. Despite having to withdraw from Lakeland, the fact I had made it to the start line convinced me I could still recover and take part in the Spine race in January 2018.
How wrong was I!? I rested, rested and rested but time and time again I struggled to return to running. Planned warm-up races were cancelled and finally in October I took what was probably my first logical decision of the year and decided to withdraw from The Spine and focus entirely on my recovery.
A few weeks later the news got worse, with a stress fracture discovered in the back of my pelvis, to complement the ongoing oedema at the front.
As I had already taken the decision to stop running for the rest of the year, I took this news pragmatically. Yes it was a pain in the backside – quite literally – but I was told that I would make a full return to running and I just needed time to let everything settle.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Away from running I continued to pursue my writing during 2017 and have had a number of my articles published in MyOutdoors.co.uk, Ultra Magazine, Run Deep Magazine and LinkedFitness. I still enjoyed my photography and while its strange to not have any races booked in the near future, its the running I miss the most, especially my run commuting.
Absence definitely makes the heart grow fonder and as the weeks pass I long to be pulling my rucksack on and running to the office. I know it will happen eventually and I am sure it will be amazing when it does but for now I have to be patient and wait.
I’ll admit that in the closing weeks of 2017 I really let things go. My diet, which was already pretty poor went totally off the rails. Unable to cycle, swim, run or do any core strength work, I was left to wallow and spiral a bit.
As 2018 starts I have a renewed vigour to try and sort things out. I have started a core strength programme, so I feel like my rehab has finally begun. I am also determined once and for all to sort my diet out, something which could be my biggest challenge to date.
My 2017 objectives
So how did I get on with the objectives I set myself way back at the start of 2017? Here is a quick recap:
- Improve my nutrition generally, stop the late night binges!
- Get more sleep
- Develop a regular meditation routine
- Go sub 30 hours at Lakeland 100
Total failure would be my summation of my progress – whoops!
My 2018 objectives
So what for 2018? Well I have two simple objectives in words but huge ones to tackle, these are:
- Sort my running out
- Sort my diet out
I’ll deal with my diet in a future post, as there is a lot to cover there.
For running, its not just the case of simply running ultra marathons again but making sure I come back as a better all round runner. This will involve me looking at my posture, running style, gait and body mechanics to ensure that when I return I am fitter and stronger than I was before, with a body that is able to tackle the racing goals I still have in me.
Race wise, I have a place in next years Lakeland 100 but at this stage I would place my chances of starting this as slight at best.
Although I am yet to discuss a date for my return to running with my consultant, I am already convinced this is unlikely to be before Easter 2018. If so it will be a tall order to get myself fit enough to run a hundred miles by the end of July. If anybody is aware of a Couch to 100 Mile plan in just four months, please do let me know! 🙂
My wife was also bitten by the trail and ultra bug during 2017. While I know she feels bad that she should be out running and racing while I cannot, it is a real joy to see someone I love so dearly enjoying running as much as I do.
While I cannot run, being able to give her all the support I can in both her training and racing is ample compensation, and I am really looking forward to enjoying her running adventures with her during 2018 and cheering her along with our boys.
Crewing both Lea at her races and John Figiel on his run in the Escape from Meriden, have been some of the most enjoyable running related moments of the year for me. Being able to support others in their running adventures is such a buzz and rewarding experience.
When the call went out for help in running checkpoints at this year Norfolk 100, Lea and I were only two willing to offer our assistance and we are both really looking forward to giving back and helping others at this superb race during 2018.
So, there we have it. 2017 was definitely not the year I expected when I wrote this article twelve months ago. While I had some amazing running adventures during 2018, it will be a year that I will definitely remember for the injury issues I suffered.
These have not deterred me though and while I may enter 2018 still injured, I am determined to finish it as a much stronger runner than I was this time last year.
Here is to 2018 and the adventures to come!