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2019 – a running year of ups and downs

Six weeks ago I ran a marathon; today I struggled to run 5 miles. If anything sums up my running year, it’s this.  As 2019 draws to a close it’s time to review, reassess and plan for a more successful and consistent 2020.

The end of 2018 saw me in positive mood. After over twelve months out for a serious ankle injury I had 16 weeks to get myself marathon fit. The goal? Returning to run the New York City marathon. I previously wrote about the challenge of running again after so long out, and I found the motivation of such a big comeback race really helped keep me focussed as I gradually increased my mileage week on week. It was steady progress, but with no new injury concerns I knew, as I stood on the Verrazano Bridge at the start of the worlds biggest marathon, that I was going to get round. And get round I did, and in an incredibly pleasing 3:47. Far quicker than I expected when I first laced up my running shoes at the end of June.

Tim running NYC marathon 2018
Back in the Big Apple (NYC 2018)

Much more important, however, was quite how much I enjoyed it. It’s an amazing race through a fantastic city, with the 10 miles through Brooklyn being amongst my favourite runs anywhere in the world. We are a miserable bunch when we’re injured and our nearest and dearest have to put up with an awful lot (the early mornings, the races, the shoes, tapering moods…) as we enjoy our passion. So, it was very special to be able to share the trip with Liz, even if a miscommunication meant we spent hours looking for each other at the finish! New York, I’ll be back.

With this milestone achieved and feeling like a ‘proper runner’ once again, I made my plans for 2019: a transition to forefoot running (partly to protect the ankle); sub 3:15 marathons; a dream trip to run in Kenya; basically, starting to feel like I was approaching some of my best form. I’d cracked the marathon again, so surely it was just a case of working that bit harder?

Well that’s not how things worked out. A very frustrating winter and spring saw me unable to string together more than three weeks of injury-free training. Nothing too serious (quite a few calf issues and continuing nagging pain in my ankle) but enough to stop me progressing as I had hoped. So, I returned to two of my favourite marathons in the spring (London and Windermere), having to settle for getting round in one piece, rather than progressing too much. I found both races quite tough, a symptom of my stop-start training and just not enough miles in my legs to support the pace I wanted to run at. That twelve months out was still taking its toll. It was, however, wonderful to return to Brathay in May and run the Windermere marathon for the first time since I completed my 10 marathons in 10 days in 2017. I was glad I only had to do it once this time – how I managed 10 days is quite beyond me

The lowest point of the year occurred in February. Ever since reading Adharanand Finn’s excellent Running with the Kenyans I had wanted to experience what it would be like to run and train in Kenya. That dream came true when Liz bought me a two-week training camp as a wedding present although I had to wait until my 2017 and 2018 injuries were behind me. I finally flew out to Kenya in early February, swapping the snow and ice of Yorkshire for the dust and hills of Iten and the Rift Valley. For obvious reasons this trip should have made a great blog in its own right as I experienced life at the high-altitude training camp used by so many of the top distance runners in the world. But it wasn’t to be. At the end of a very gentle three mile run on day one I felt my calf tighten. Within a couple of hours it had worsened and despite some excellent treatment I knew that I wouldn’t be able to run again for at least ten days. My dream trip was over almost before it had begun. To say I was devasted was an understatement and I struck a pretty forlorn figure as I flew home a week early feeling pretty sorry for myself. The running gods can be so cruel.

Tim and group in Iten, Kenya 2019
I made it…if only briefly

Following my spring marathons, I decided to change up my training and concentrate a little more on speed, rather than distance. There’s no doubt that variety can keep us fresh and I did quite enjoy (if that’s the word) the shorter but more intensive workouts. I was also able to enter some new (to me) races and really enjoyed the Great Grimsby 10k in July and ABP Humber Coast Half in September. Nothing like PB pace but enjoying racing once again.

As I headed into the autumn I was starting to feel fitter and stronger, the regular strains and injuries had stopped and, most importantly, I hadn’t had any pain or discomfort in my ankle since May. All of which meant I was able to make the most of my last two target events of the year. I have always enjoyed the 24-hour relay events I’ve done, not just the running but the whole weekend experience shared with teammates. And so it was great to travel to Equinox in September as part of a 50+ team from my club (KuHAC). Our dedicated team of five shared our responsibilities evenly throughout the 24 hours and earned a top ten finish in our category despite competing against much bigger teams. I finished with five 10k laps and even enjoyed the two runs in the middle of the night. It was a great weekend and thoughts have already turned to which of these great events to take on in 2020.

Timmy and Sunny run Lisbon

I have also enjoyed running marathons around the world (part of why I started blogging) and in October I travelled with running mate Sunny to experience marathon weekend in Lisbon. It wasn’t a place I’d visited before and my initial impression of the historic old town was how hilly it was. Fortunately, the marathon is a point-to-point route that follows the coast road from Cascais back into Lisbon. So, I didn’t have to worry about the hills, just the early start, the rising temperature and the number of pasteis de nata (Portuguese tarts) I’d eaten as part of my carb-loading! It is a beautiful run, winding through seaside towns before finishing in Lisbon’s main square. I was pretty happy with my run too (3:23). Not as fast as I had originally hoped to achieve but I was definitely moving in the right direction.

As my running year came to an end I had enough time to complete (for my first ever win!) one of the excellent Enigma Running marathons in Milton Keynes before some planned surgery (non-running related) meant an enforced four-week break. Which takes me to today’s run, and the struggle to get back to fitness after the break. But I do so with renewed hope that 2020 will see me continue to progress and improve, and with spring marathons in Paris, Boston (UK) and Windermere already booked it looks like there’ll be plenty of hard work to get through during the winter months.  Oh yes, I’m going back to Kenya too!

I wish you and yours all the very best for Christmas and the New Year and much success for your running in 2020. Set those targets, work hard, have fun, and I’ll see you at the start.