Three weeks into 2017, I woke up from whatever catatonic stupor I was in from the crazy night out in Leeds. I had fallen over in some giddy chase after my brother and my sister’s fiancé piggybacked one another across a zebra crossing, some five pints down. I had bruised my knee, my ribs, my elbow, my hand and the top of my left foot. I despaired at my situation, the inbetween of which I had completely forgotten, thinking I’d ruined the running high I’d carried over from Snowdonia and the Great Yorkshire Pieathlon. Six days from my first half marathon in nearly two years, I’d have laughed in your face and uncontrollably floundered if what happened over the next 49 weeks, had been foretold.
At the end of 2017, I can look back on a year in which I’ve managed to surpass myself in a number of ways. OK, so fell running was an experience that left me in a heap in Roberts Park in Hebden Bridge, having felt sluggish, tired and truly beaten up by the beast of Stoodley Pike, and opting to leave it as an experience to return to in future. But it refocused my energy drawn from the brilliant start to the year, where I recovered from that incident in Leeds to record 3rd in the Sir Titus Trot Half Marathon, and 2nd in my first ever ultra marathon, the 32 mile Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter, a race I could scarcely believe how well I executed my race plan from start to finish off, to achieve the then-best result of my running career.
In May I finally joined a running club, the Halifax Harriers, off the back of two parkrun first places as well. Now a fully fledged member of a club, with club colours to wear proudly, I set about my chief task of the summer – a shot at my 10K time from 3 years before – a 37:15 from the Epilepsy Action Bradford 10K in 2014. Inspired by the track sessions, time trials and handicap races put on by my club, I injected speedwork back into my training and ran fastest in a 11th place finish in the club’s Summer Handicap 10K, making up a 21 minute deficit on the first runners to run 37:21, narrowly outside my time. Without question, getting myself in PB shape again, over two years since my last PB proper, was a difficult endeavour, with a couple of extra years of wear, as well as experience, to draw upon. My chosen race, the Race Organiser’s Regent’s Park 10K Summer Series, seemed an ideal place, and an opportune one at that, to go for the time, as well as squeeze in a race on my summer holiday. The race itself punished me for my early eager pace, and it was a bumpy ride midway through as I contemplated giving up on the attempt – but instead, I did the maths, figured I still had a chance and absolutely gritted my teeth on the final lap of the race. I recorded 37:08, finishing 5th overall and recording a 7 second PB which felt immensely harder than when I coasted home during the end of my Bradford race those years ago. Still, absolutely worth it.
Away from recording PB’s, there were more good results to be had too. I ran a competitive Honley Trail 10K to finish 5th overall, and I topped off my year with a first ever 5K race proper – and won! Leeds Liverpool Canal Christmas Cracker 5K Male Champion. Yep, that’s quite a mouthful, but to finally win a race was a tremendous feeling.
Without question though, my biggest successes came when I absolutely challenged myself. There was the Ilkley Aquathlon, a first ever competitive multisport event, in which my body pretty much gave me a big ‘nope’ mid swim and nearly ruined my race – due to a low turnout, however, I ended up making up time on the run and finishing 3rd male, 4th overall. The achievement there wasn’t where I finished, but more that I overcame my brain’s urge to quit during the swim and to see my first competitive swim – and aquathlon – to a conclusion. I didn’t spend 2.5 years relearning to swim just to give up when it mattered.
The step to ultra marathon, however, was perhaps my biggest all around achievement and maybe a steeper learning curve than anything the aquathlon (at the time) and fell running had thrown at me. There was the step of taking time to walk during my long distance runs to take on food, thus suppressing my competitive want to carry on running non stop. Getting this nailed was one thing I quickly got the hang of. Running slower than usual was another. Actually running marathon distance in training seemed plain ridiculous. Though I didn’t enter any traditional marathons in 2017, I ran the 26.2 twice – once entirely on the Calder-Hebble Navigation and Rochdale Canal, heading out and back in around 3:48 in early February; and a much hillier 3:54 around Upper Calder Valley. I truly enjoyed both experiences, running at a saner pace than any race attempt, a truly immersive experience and a highly rewarding one at that.
The results I gathered in my two ultras were something too. Second place in the Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter (32 miles), running for the most part about a mile per minute quicker than in training, and only finishing around 4.5 minutes behind the eventual winner. At the time, that was my best ever race result, but more impressive, my race plan went pretty much to perfection. The same can’t quite be said for the much hillier White Rose Ultra, which punished me for attempting to implement that same race plan and running inside course record pace in the first half of the event. I ran the last nine or ten miles with a good few walk breaks and pretty much all alone. But I found enough in reserve to eventually find a last injection of pace to finish strong and come home in 10th place, feeling proud to have finished well but knowing I’d truly been found out by a hideously difficult course, one that I’d actually reccied as well.
All this extra distance meant I finally achieved the one arbitrary goal that had eluded me for the best part of four years – a year end total of 1,000 miles – albeit one I’d only seriously chased since 2015, ironically the year I spent most of my days on the sidelines. My best effort of any year saw me scrape just inside 900 miles for the year, still a very good total for any year, but in reality a sign of being hampered by injury at some point or another. This year, having overcome that early fall, and boosted the extra mileage I’ve run for the ultra marathons, I’ve managed a total of 1,160 miles for 2017, aided by an 8.5 mile run this morning. I surpassed my target in Mid-October and have ended up smashing my old record by a good 250+ miles. It’s never been a mark I’ve obsessed over, but to finally say I ran a thousand miles plus in a year, says a lot about my dedication and also how lucky I am to have got through the year pretty much injury free. A full year of consistent running, pretty much, from start to finish, the first time really since 2014.
I’m now getting into the swing of 2018 already, with entries to the Liversedge Half Marathon and the London Marathon now confirmed, I’m going to be almost singularly focused for the time being on getting the one time goal that truly matters to me more than any other – the sub-3 hour marathon. But I’m embellish more on that in future posts. Tonight will be a good time to reflect on everything I’ve done this year, a year I can be absolutely satisfied with everything I threw myself into.
With that, I’d like to thank all my readers for all your support, interest, your kind words and encouragement. For the active among you, I hope you also found success this year and wish you all the very best heading into 2018.
My year in numbers:
1,160 miles run in 2017
Longest run: 32.48 miles (Leeds Liverpool Canal Canter)
7 top 10 finishes
1 race victory
1 2nd place finish
1 3rd place finish (and a 3rd male finish in the Ilkley Aquathlon)
2 parkrun 1st place finishes
37:08 – New 10K PB time (at the Royal Parks Summer Series Regent’s Park 10K)
White Rose Ultra pictures taken from Team OA.