Another year gone, just over two and a half years now since I started running very long and writing even longer. My life has changed a lot since I started; back then I was still battling with getting the right side of the crazy line following my brain injury and 2013 saw me take the final step to bringing things under control. Life is still hectic, but it’s far less confused, fraught, frustrated and prone to angry outbursts. It has been a combination of things, new observations to manage myself, a new migraine prophylactic which made me realise just how frequently I was having them (it was like removing a sheet from over my head and ear plugs, the world now is back to clear volume and I genuinely feel like I can see with greater clarity), and the biggest step of all – going part time.
Going part time has enabled me to be calmer, taken away the majority of the confusion (which I was feeling 24/7) and allows me to do things which I would argue are reasonable to expect; e.g., go to a supermarket without feeling the need to run out or kick off, interact with my children without shouting at them, etc. Doesn’t mean I don’t shout or snap at them, but the frequency is now the same as any normal parent! I’m extremely fortunate to have a sympathetic boss and employer, and I certainly don’t regret making the career sacrifices/ loss of status that it unfortunately demanded. Finally getting to a point of settlement on my case has been pretty monumental and no matter how sanguine I was about it by the end it’s fantastic not to have that looming over me like the never ending story it was. Seven years almost to the day I had the settlement payment, I don’t wish that process on anybody.
So onwards and upwards for 2014, but before I do a quick look back over 2013 is worth while, mainly because I have plenty of lessons to learn from it. Like the tricky second album most musicians fail to pull off, my second year has been a bit of a damp squib. I only realised this as I submitted my entry to UTMB for the second time and noticed that I’d only really done one race; Transvulcania. Everything had been geared around the Lakeland 100 and given that I had my first DNF at that very race I didn’t get any points from it… I did learn a hell of a lot about myself though.
The other main anchor of my year was supposed to be the Welsh Ultra Series, but that didn’t quite go to plan either. The first race was beset by blizzards and dangerous snow conditions so we ran a reduced course, the second one clashed with Transvulcania and the third was moved at the last minute by a week so I couldn’t take part. To be fair to the MCN team they refunded my money for the third and fourth races since I could no longer run in the series (needed 3 races out of 4) so I am sure I’ll return one year to run the series.
I did take part in some epic activities still though, I ran well in my club Fell race series. At one point I could have won it, but threw it away for other priorities. Don’t get me wrong, I know full well this is because my club Nemesis Adair suffered a calf injury early in the season thus enabling me to bag some early points, but there were two races I should have taken top points from and didn’t. The day before Moel y Gamelin I chose to undertake a 50 mile recce of the lakeland 100 course with Braddan Johnson (no regrets on that front, we had a great run and I needed to do it in advance of the race) although to be fair to Jimmy O’Hara he ran a blinder that day and I’m not sure I’d have been able to beat him even if I hadn’t have done the 50 miler. The second race which I should have won was the utterly fantastic Nant y Moch. It was but a few weeks after the Lakeland 100 (or Lakeland 90 as I like to call it :)) and I just didn’t have the beans to overcome Adair that day. Still, even though I came second overall to Adair it was a great series this year with some epic battles out there between Jimmy, Adair and me; the finest of which was the final race of the series where I almost turned back on the first hill – nothing was going right, my legs felt like lead and my stomach was all over the place, I was being overtaken by everybody and Adair and Jimmy were long gone. I decided to just settle into what I could manage and see out the race. As I approached the final climb up the gulley to Moel Famau I took Adair and got the bit between my teeth. I absolutely nailed the climb taking Jimmy part way up and managed to hold on during the descent to take the win – my first real win over Adair I think. Good times.
Supporting Martin’s Double Brutal was also an epic event in itself. His second place at the event was incredible, especially since he wasn’t bothered about where he came, just finishing it. It was an awesome achievement and one I know he’s rightly very proud of. Still think it’s bonkers to do a double, but I think I’ll have a crack at the Brutal at one point, if only to stop people asking me if I’ve ever done a blinking Ironman! Another successful support was a trot out on the Paddy Buckley with Nicky Spinks for her record breaking round – my God that lady can climb! I was so relieved that I caught up before the road support point after falling behind on Cnict!
On reflection I started the year still hampered by the aftermath of the Dragon’s back. It took a huge toll on me and whilst worth every bit of it I should have taken more time off. Transvulcania was epic though and a race I’d certainly like to do again if only to finish without cramp and a drip! Prior to that I’d had one of the best solo mountain runs I think I will ever have. Poor conditions at Val D’Isere meant I was happier to go for a run rather than out on the skis. Lift pass given to my sister in law I headed out and ran up through the resort. The winds meant the side I was on was deserted but a perfect crust was there for my microspikes to dig into. Fair play it was bitter in places, but my long ski socks and shorts still kept me warm enough. Crossing a ridge to the waffle hut was a bit hairy and at one point I fell through the crust up to my waist, but safely across I entered the hut to claim my prize of waffles. I noticed the tone in the hut had changed, a little like the hick town where the music stops as the outsider walks in the bar. Looking around I realised everybody was looking at me in incredulity. A few chats and waffles later I headed out with guys filming me and cheering me on – it’s easy to have a go at the French but when it comes to mountain sports they have got it right, cheering and encouraging the crazy or the daring rather than moaning about any minor impact it has on them. Bravo.
It’s hard to regret entering the Lakeland 100, but it is safe to say that if I had been around the course I wouldn’t have entered. As far as I’m concerned it misses the purpose of going to the lakes; sticking to coach roads/ bridleways which are strewn with rubble is not a place to enjoy yourself. I take my hat off to anybody that wants to do it, takes it on and completes or DNFs there; that said, I certainly wouldn’t recommend it to anybody. I don’t regret my decision to stop and despite all the reasons why it is not the thing for me, I did learn some important lessons about myself (see previous post). These led to the right decision for me of withdrawing from the Spine race. With it just around the corner now I am very pleased with that decision.
My annual trip to the Brecon Ultra went pretty well all things considered. Still 25 minutes off my PB, it was about 40 minutes quicker than the year before. I found myself in what has become a familiar situation in 2013… running along. I’ve not feared running hard in my races this years or just being happy to settle into my own pace. This has meant that I’ve run alone in almost all my ultras. Treading that familiar no man’s land between the very front racers and the chasing pack. I’d run comfortably but hard at the L100 and once Matty Brennan dropped off at Keswick I found myself having to motivate myself – I’ll admit I resorted to a stereo for company… for so long I ran it flat before I finished.
The Tour de Helvellyn was the same, a completely solo run, but I wasn’t racing there anyway and ran completely within myself the whole way. To take 50 minutes off my previous time was very nice mind and I think with a few tweaks and somebody to run hard with, maybe I could dip under the 7 hour mark on this race… it’s all on the conditions though and they were reasonably grotty this year 50-70 mph winds in places and little benefit on the return section for me. Maybe in 2014 I should try harder to stick with people even if that means burning out. Great to see some old faces though… ahem, sorry, faces I know from old… actually, maybe I had it right the first time
The last run of the year was epic as things go: the Lanbedr horseshoe and a a fair bit more. Once the first two climbs are out of the way it is undulating all the way to the far end of the run, what with the map in the bag and enjoying it too much we ended up on The Lord Hereford’s Knob (Twmpa) which added in an extra major down & up to get back onto the right ridge. Totally worth it and after 29.5 miles of fantastic company and mind-bendingly beautiful views the beer tasted very good at the Red Lion.
So what is coming up in 2014? Well, being part time I have all day Thursday off which I will be spending in Snowdonia as much as possible. I’m looking at a Paddy Buckley round and I’m pretty sure I’ll be having a go at it. Despite thinking that trying to work on my pace by attempting to break 3 hours for the marathon, I’ve realised that I’d actually rather be out in the mountains and a little slower in the other races I do. I’ve got Dark Mountains in a few weeks, a night mountain marathon which’ll be in the Peak District. I have no idea how it will pan out, but I’m partnered with Braddan Johnson so it should be a great laugh either way. Following on from a successful first attempt at the Klets class at the Saunders I suspect I will return in an attempt to get the first day route right and hopefully burst into the top 10… we’ll see.
I’ve got a trip to Scotland planned for the Highland Fling, a trip to Anglesey for the Ring O’Fire and a trip to somewhere for the RAB Mountain Marathon planned. I’m also hoping that I get into UTMB which will define the year for me. I’ve no doubt the usual suspects will be in there; the Welsh 1000m Peaks race, the Peris horseshoe, the Fell Relays, but I hope to be fitting in a lot more fell races and a few less official ultras.
The issue to date with fell races are that they are relatively short, but by the time you factor in travel and everything else it is really a full day out as so many start late in the day; thus the idea of doing an ultra appeals if you have the day rather than just the morning. We’re in the process of buying a campervan which may lead us to head out to the area the night before, spend the weekend/ day there punctuated by either myself or Laura running the race. This way it’s really only 1-2 hours out of the day surrounded by a stack of family fun… we’ll see what the reality is. I’d like to race the Welsh championships as well as our club champs and the odd classic; e.g., The Cardington Cracker! Hopefully combining long days out on Thursday with fell races will help bring back some of my speed, one thing is for sure, I’ll have plenty of fun trying!