Last weekend I should have been in the north of England, battling the elements with friends, around the Montane Cheviot Goat. Unfortunately my body had other ideas and instead I was left to enjoy a local muddy twelve miles on my own and partake in a bit of dot watching (and cheering) from afar.

I haven’t written about my training and racing on here since I finished Lakeland and that is for good reason, I wasn’t sure what I should write. Just like last year, my autumn was a repeated pattern of trying desperately to get back into running, battling against a body that had other ideas.

Lakeland was the ultimate high, with me hitting all bar one of my pre-race goals. Race report written, my mind soon turned to my next big objective, The Dragons Back in May 2019. As I crossed the finish line in Coniston, I finally felt like I had put eighteen months struggling with a variety of pelvis issues behind me and I could start to rebuild my ultra running career. Not once during the race had my pelvis or adductors complained and despite the usual fatigue, aches and pains you would expect after running a hilly hundred miles, I felt great.

I rested and waited for that familiar urge to run to return. August was always planned as a “run for fun” month, with a focus on recovery and only running when I fancied it. After a week the desire to return to the trails returned, so I set out for a short local run.

A New Plan

I had already decided before Lakeland that I wanted to step up my efforts with my running. Approaching my mid-forties, I was keen to really have a go and try and get the most out of my legs while I could.

The first step was to get myself a coach. Despite being qualified myself, I genuinely felt like I had taken myself as far as I could and would benefit from external input and impartial assessment of where I was with my running. I am a strong believer in the adage that you are “only as good as the team around you”, be that in work, family life or athletic pursuits. I was therefore excited to add to the already great mix of people I had supporting me with my running.

Over the summer I set about interviewing a number of coaches. Throughout 2018 I had been building a list of those that I wanted to speak to and who I thought could add to my training. Marcus Scotney was top of this list and chatting with him soon confirmed this choice. His running CV speaks for itself but it was his personality and approach to training that really resonated with me and I quickly secured his services, agreeing to start structured training from the beginning of September.

Unfortunately my body was already pushing back against my “fun runs”. My right glute and lower back had gone from the occasional twinge when running to constantly hurting. It was obvious there was something wrong and running was not helping matters. Rest was the only answer and Marcus and I agreed to delay starting structure training until October.

As September began, I took two weeks off and tried again. The pain was still there and after another round of rest, I turned to my good friend John Reynolds who identified a lot of tightness up my entire back. Hands (or rather elbow) on work released it and some of John’s kinesio tape magic allowed me to run pain free for the first time in months.

During this period I also agreed to work with Shane Benzie of Running Reborn for the next few months. Ever since my rugby career came to an end over a decade ago, I have been aware of the limitations the metalwork in my ankle brings to my running biomechanics. Getting my running gait properly assessed is something I have toyed with throughout 2018. With Shane’s expert advice, technology and insight, I am excited to see what additional improvements he can bring to my training and running technique.

The Bigger Picture

Slowly I returned to running, keeping the distances short and complementing my running with a lot of ball and flexibility work. Marcus was great throughout this process, offering advice and guidance on how to approach my training. I already knew that The Cheviot Goat was increasingly a long shot. It was now three months since Lakeland and I had done very little running and was way off being fifty-miles run fit.

In early November, with Marcus’ help, we made two key decisions. First, to ditch The Goat, and second to start some steady foundation training.

It was disappointing to have to withdraw from The Cheviot Goat. I had entered this on the day entries had opened and was looking forward to breaking out some of my Spine kit and enjoying a winter running adventure. A number of good friends were also taking part and it would have been the perfect end to the year and an opportunity to get out into the hills and have some fun.

Withdrawing from the race was the right decision, as although I am sure I would have got around the course, it would likely have broken me and I would then have had to take at least a month to recover, possibly even longer. This would have had a serious impact on The Dragons Back, which was now just six months away. It was all about the bigger picture and I knew I needed to remain focussed on my A goal for 2019.

On first speaking to Marcus, he had also strongly advised me against entering Lakeland 100 in 2019, something I dearly wanted to do, as its a race I love. Again it was all about the big picture and setting priorities for the season. Having two A races within two months and each over a hundred miles, was ludicrous to say the least. Yes I may have got around Lakeland but chances are I would still be totally battered after Dragons Back and it wouldn’t be the race I dreamed it could be.

So, entry day for Lakeland duly arrived and I watched from afar as friends struggled to get their entries into the system. Without Marcus’ guidance, I am sure I would have thrown caution to the wind and entered and hard as it was to keep my hands off the keyboard, I knew deep down this was the correct choice.

Bring on The Oreo’s

During my injury troubles, my diet took a major turn for the worse. As I have written before, I am an emotional eater and without the structure and discipline of training, I let myself go and Autumn 2018 was one big poor food choice.

Over the course of those few months I went from the lightest I have been in years to approaching the heaviest, adding over six kilograms of weight onto my grumbling hips. My morale was low and there were times I wondered if I would ever get back to running. However with the support of the dream team (my wife, Marcus and John) I slowly gained some self control back. As the running mileage increased, so did my food discipline and I started to bring my life back on track.

Looking into 2019

So while it was disappointing to not be able to travel north with friends to run across The Cheviots last weekend, for the first time in months I am positive about my running. It is all about The Dragons Back now, a race I have dreamed of doing for years and hopefully 2019 will be the year I finally make that dream come true.

The plan for the remainder of 2018 is to focus on building my fitness and ability to run consistently. Once 2019 arrives, we will then look to step things up as May approaches fast.

In terms of warm up races, I have a few ideas and plan to use a combination of events and my own trips to the hillier parts of the United Kingdom to supplement my local training. I am hoping to include a trip or two to Wales in the mix as well. While I have spent many years climbing and working as an outdoor instructor in Wales, it has been nearly a decade since I have run there and I am looking forward to re-discovering this beautiful part of the world once again.

So my apologies for the radio silence these last few months. Hopefully you can now see how my frustrations and lack of clarity about my running was the reason behind this. As 2019 draws to a close, I am feeling more positive, have added to the already great team around me and feel like I have a clear plan for the months and hopefully years ahead.

Finally congratulations to everybody who took part in the Montane Cheviot Goat last weekend. Speaking to a number of friend afterwards, it sounds like an epic event and everything I had hoped it would be. I am sure I will be back to pit my wits against the course but for now its all about The Dragons Back.