I was going to start this post with something like: ‘As the race season draws to a close…’ but I realised that these days that doesn’t really happen unless you’re a road runner… and that’s what cross country (XC) is for! Given that the year is ending though it did seem worthwhile to catch up with myself.
I find myself with two more fell races and two more ultras to go… oh, and an XC seasons to start – my first. I also find myself with a pulled hip flexor which is not a good thing. For the first time since joining Helsby and becoming a serious runner, I was in with a shout of winning the Helsby Fell champs – it’s no coincidence that Adair had been suffering with a calf issue early in the season. In truth I’ve thrown the title away by chasing the Lakeland 100. Jimmy took Moel-y-Gamlin after I’d gone for a last minute 50 mile recce of the L100 with Braddan (a great decision overall, I had an awesome time, but it didn’t help me with a long fell race the next day). To be honest, Jimmy was flying that day, but I’d have at least given him a run for his money.
The second must win was Nant-y-Moch; a cracking race I’ll return to every time it is on. I’d managed to gap Adair but lost it in a route error; Although I’d regained the lead and gapped him again, being in sight made it hard to get away from such a tenacious and excellent runner. In the end it came down to a final extended road section (due to a further mis-navigation) and it gave Adair the edge to bring it home. I was certainly feeling the after effects of my Lakeland 90 at that race too and I’m not good enough to manage speed over two such different distances!
Turning up to the Breidden Hills fell race the morning after a good few drinks at my Bob Graham dinner looked early on like it would be another bad combination as Adair had over 30 seconds on me before disappearing from view. I settled in to focus on beating another local runner Ian. Much to my surprise Adair appeared after a technical rocky section and I set about trying to pass him. It was easily the hardest fought race we’ve ever had, every time I tried to pass, Adair would put on a mini sprint – it served to underline just how important different gears are and I still only have one :(. I finally got ahead of Adair on the final descent and put 60 metres on him – sadly not enough to keep me safe on the final 500 metres of the race – a downhill fire road where I just didn’t have the speed to hold him off. Adair takes the title once again and very well deserved it was too.
The Cardington Cracker will be the final fell race for me this year – simply a cracker of a race, but not before the annual pilgrimage to Brecon for the Likeys Brecon Ultra – 46 raceable miles, assuming my hip flexor heals, it’ll be a great benchmark to see where I am at. The Tour de Helvellyn will be my final ultra race for 2013 – a great chance to catch up with Joe Faulkner and other DBR people – hopefully there will be a good amount of snow to spice things up too!
The big question for me is what to focus on in 2014. I was all but certain that training for a sub 3 hour marathon was the right thing to do, but I really lost my running mojo back in May after following a more regimented plan. I need to be honest with myself and either accept that I just like to run without the pressure and structure that a more scientific programme brings, or I need to find another way to get in sessions that focus on varying my speed.
“Group” speed sessions really work for me, so in the absence of that, races fit the bill, be that a park run or a XC race. It needs to be local so I’m not out of the house for ages or at inconvenient times of the day. It’s also the case that Laura loves the park run and we can’t both do it due to the boys – incredible as the Park run volunteers are, they don’t extend to babysitting! All this means that the treadmill will be getting a good pounding.
Truth be told, I like the routine of running my 10 miler each morning. Yes it means that I will continue to practice “single gear” running (the so called “junk miles”) but the alternative has proved to be lower weekly mileage, greater pressure and less enjoyment – also more bad stress and I’ve not been clearing my head as well; something I desperately need day in day out. Equally as I look at the yo-yo dieter trying to “give up” every vice at once and failing, I need to implant small changes and let them settle before adding another. Having recently gone back to the morning miles in order to get the routine back again, I have seen my mojo return. So as good as it is to run greater “quality”, if I don’t actually run as a result or if it feels like a strict chore then my running will ultimately suffer.
I regularly hear of people that find themselves “stuck in a rut” or bored running the same routine – for me I like the rhythm, I find this habitual action ironically is the fastest and most effective way to find myself on the path searching for freedom. I embrace that foggy mind-state when I step out the door and those early miles that somehow transform tired legs into free moving limbs and a refreshed consciousness. So whilst it goes against everything I read from the various experts, I’ve made peach with this and am happy in my belief that it is ok! It won’t stop me reading, evolving or chasing, I just won’t do it all at once nor, more importantly, beat myself up for not doing so.
As luck would have it I’ve found myself heading up to the lakes for a meeting every other week so it seems wrong not to make the most of that opportunity by going for a stroll or a run in the mountains. Last Thursday was the first and a quick loop from Patterdale up and along the Helvellyn ridge was magnificent. Combining this with the British Fell relay championships in Llandberis it has seen me pouring over the Paddy Buckley map again. I’ve also marked up my Southern Snowdonia map with the fearsome Meirionnydd Round – if nothing else, each leg makes for a fantastic day out (albeit logistically difficult).
Looking forward, I think 2014 could see me attempting a round in Snowdonia and maybe even a traverse of the Brecon Beacons although that would need to be on spec as I won’t get the chance to recce it too much. My experience on the Klets class of the SLMM has also fired up my desire to compete again in that class. If I had got the route right for day 1 I’m sure I’d have ended up significantly higher up the list.
In a totally separate world I’ve seen myself take over 2.5 minutes off my previous 5km PB (primarily because I hadn’t raced that distance for years) setting it at 18:54. Given that I was going to be happy to break 20 minutes I was really stoked. It would be great to race this distance regularly and if I consistently work on the treadmill each week the combination is bound to see improvement and that sub 3 hour marathon become a reality. The question is what I want most, the long days out tackling ‘rounds’ or to focus on speed endurance. The right answer is the latter whilst I still can as it will only get harder, so my head says this, but my heart is in the mountains and whilst the different goals are not mutually exclusive training wise, I can’t help but feel that I must ignore the “oughts” and the “shoulds” and follow my heart on this one.