Hello everyone, and Happy New Year to you all. Hope Christmas was excellent for you all and you’ve not overloaded on booze and chocolate! 

2016 didn’t end particularly well for myself, sleeping in on Christmas Eve and missing a 14 mile run that was very much needed to ideally stay on track. This was compounded by a foot injury I picked up shortly afterwards while, of all things, removing a shoe. I just pulled it out, and it immediately felt like something was up. I was therefore unable to run on New Year’s Eve too, and that would have been 16 miles. Thankfully, due to rest and recovery, the foot has been healing well and I’ve completed a near full week of running, so I’m almost back to full fitness. The picture at the top there was from a recent trail run up to Beacon Hill which overlooks the town of Halifax, and you can see the whole of the town centre from up there. That’s motivation enough!

The first 24 hours of 2017 were interesting, to say the least. At the turn of the year, I’d signed up to do the Canalathon, a race I’d long promised myself, and at 50km would have been my first ultra. Then came the realisation that the date of the race – Sunday March 26th – clashed with Mother’s Day in the UK. Usually, my mother’s day consists of helping get the kids organised – they’re five years old, so it still falls on me to get gifts/flowers and the like sorted, while also accommodating my wife’s plans with her mother, and then there’s my annual rememberance of my mother, to whom I arrange a nice bunch of flowers with my siblings to mark the occasion. This would have proven quite the headache, and so for all the hassle it would have caused, it wasn’t achievable to enter at all. Except, I already had.

And so 24 hours later, I had withdrawn from the Canalathon, losing my £50 entry fee and receiving a discount code valid for up to two years as a form of withdrawal refund. Not a complete kick to my own teeth, but a slightly painful lesson nonetheless. In its place, I shelled out another £36 to enter another canal based ultra – the 32 mile Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter. Organised by It’s Grim Up North Running, a Leeds based events company, and it’ll be a flat out and back along the Leeds Liverpool Canal. The race takes place on Saturday March 11. This is 15 days prior to the Canalathon, so that’s two weeks less training to fit in. Its not a decision I made on a whim, but I felt having trained considerably for the Snowdonia Marathon, and now having over four years of experience as a runner,  its a small sacrifice I’m willing to take. The Canter is a smaller event than the Canalathon, but its great value for £36, and as the Canalathon is only 31 miles at its shortest, I can actually say I’ve gone the extra mile to be accommodating!.

First up though is the Sir Titus Trot, also from It’s Grim Up North Running, which, like the Canal Canter, is a race over a multitude of distances on the Leeds-Liverpool Canal from Saltaire, but in my case its a half marathon. It’ll be a smallish field I’m up against (40, I believe), so I do stand a good chance of placing well based on previous history. It might well be the first race – discounting parkruns – where I will run flat out, or at least aim to – since the last half marathon I entered in February 2015. On that day, I absolutely tore up my half marathon PB on a reasonably undulating course and ran 1:22:41. This will be the flat course I’ve been wanting to test my time against – but whether I’m in shape for that remains to be seen.

The oddball entry so far is The Drop Summer Sizzler. This starts/finishes in Huddersfield, and I was lucky as one of the first five entrants to get in for free. The premise is that you are placed in a van with blackout goggles, or a blindfold, and driven 5, 10 or 15 miles away – as the crow flies. You’re not allowed any GPS, compass, in fact any navigational aids, and no help whatsoever, with the exception of an optional partner. You are given a very basic map, an emergency bag, which if used disqualifies you from the race. You’re then dropped off at your start point, and you’ve got to find your way back to Huddersfield. The very nature of this race means a wrong turn could leave you running considerably more than the 5, 10 or 15 miles you signed up for. As someone who’s managed to go off course in three previous Team OA events (yes, really), this should be right up my street, as even if I get lost, it’ll be acceptable (within reason) and no one will judge me for it! Result!

What else?

The other race I’m chiefly working towards isn’t a running race per se, but an aquathlon. The Ilkley Aquathlon is a pool based swim-run event with a 400 metre swim, and a 3,000 metre run out of transition. Entries aren’t open for this race yet, but it is my chief inspiration to continue building on the progress I made in the pool in 2016, and effectively serves as a hitherto unspoken resolution. At the back end of the year, I swam 100 metres nonstop for the first time in a 25 metre pool. It was a huge personal milestone for myself, and now the big test going forward lies in where my re-education continues. I’m still swimming Tuesdays in Halifax, getting a swim in the main pool and the improvers lesson afterwards. It also serves as an ideal starting point for my Tuesday night runs. However, my progress has reached a point where, after 18 months, I may be beyond the lessons, barring my breaststroke technique, which isn’t quite there, and my backstroke, which is sometimes a little wayward and maybe a bit too frenzied at times. I honestly feel with a little more improvement, I’ll be ready to step up and leave that lesson behind, with the option of attending a Friday ‘Stroke Skills’ class, which I’ve attended before and definitely laid the foundation for my late year progress.

The only problem here is that based on the current timetables in place, Tuesdays in Halifax remain the best night for swimming. If I drop the lesson, do I necessarily need to travel to Halifax any more when I have a local pool I can use? I do have a desire to join the local running club, the Halifax Harriers, and that would fit with Tuesdays, but not until I can actually work out if I can guarantee myself quality pool time without upsetting either my progress, or the delicate work-life balance currently in place. So there’s bound to be a crossroads that I’ll need to address later in the year. For now though, things shall remain as they are.

And I do have an itching desire to book another marathon later in the year as well, though I anticipate it’ll be a local one and not quite the epic adventure that Snowdonia brought, but all the same I’m prepared to try and push myself that little bit more this year and to test my limits once again.

And maybe 2017 will be the year I finally crack ,

Right now though, I’m in the thick of training for the Canal Canter, and the half marathon is coming up very fast indeed. All in all, I’m hoping for an incredible start to the year.

I’d love to hear your own plans for the year, whether you’re running, racing, swimming, cycling, adventuring, feel free to comment.

And to all my readers, belatedly, all the best for 2017. Let’s make it a great one.