2017 was a funny old year of running. When it was good, it was very very good, but when it was shit, it was really quite shit.
Through the ups and downs, the DNSs and the race wins, the ecstasy and the tears, this is what running has taught me over the last 12 months:
Hang on in through the shit times as the good times will come back
I finished 2016 on a high after a few months of good results, so I had no reason at all to think this wouldn’t continue, and I went into 2017 full of exciting racing plans and high hopes for them. And then everything fell apart. From never having to miss one run through injury, two random falls put me out for a couple of weeks each. But more debilitating than that was becoming anaemic, which basically wiped out the first 4 months of the year running-wise for me. I cancelled most of my races, and the two I ran (Chichester 10k and TP100) were total flops. I summed up the first few months of the year by ‘spending more time crying about running and cross-training from running, than actually running’.
But towards the end of May, running started to feel easy and enjoyable again. My iron levels returned to normal and I started working with my new coach Ian Sharman. It didn’t happen over night; I trained harder than I’ve ever trained to get my running back to where it was….but slowly and surely I got there. I had the best and most enjoyable 3 months of training I’d ever had in the build-up to the CCC; I had the most amazing 20:30 hours of running at the CCC; I went to RTP Patagonia and raced like I’d never raced before and came away with the win….I even managed to get back on parkrun women’s sub 20 list a couple of times, something which had alluded me for the previous 15 months.
And whilst I wish those rubbish few months at the start of the year hadn’t happened, in a way they’ve made me even more grateful for the good times. As I approached the finish line on the Long Stage in Patagonia I had a little cry, because I was just so unbelievably happy at how the year had turned around and that I was ending it on such a high. And it’s made me realise that whatever running throws at me in the future, I’ll get through it and come out of it, hopefully a little bit stronger and wiser.
It’s really not ‘that’ bad when you can’t run
I’ve always been a huge advocate of cross-training alongside my running, but this year for the first time, two falls meant that I needed to replace my running with cross-training. Everyone knows that runner who’ll try and run through niggles and injury and ends up in a cycle of injury woes. I didn’t want to be that runner.
So I joined the gym, I got on the bike and the cross-trainer, I even got in the pool despite hating/being awful at swimming. And do you know what? It was fine. Ok it’s not running….but I discovered I love the bike (and still incorporate it into my training when I can), I barely lost any fitness (in fact I think I gained it – there’s nothing like an injured runner taking their injury frustrations out on a tough bike session!) and it gave my running legs a rest.
And for anyone who can’t be convinced to hang up their trainers temporarily when injured, I always refer to running superstar Emily Proto who most recently cross-trained through injury during the summer, and came back and ran a 2:54 marathon PB last week. If it’s good enough for Emily, then it’s definitely good enough for me!
It’s ok for me to DNS races….
Two weeks before Seville marathon, I made the decision to DNS the race. I didn’t know why at the time, but I knew something had gone amiss with my running, and I went from being able to run long runs at 7:20 minute mile target marathon pace, to struggling to run just a few miles at a much slower pace. I was absolutely heartbroken as I’d thrown myself into marathon training in the months leading up to it, and whilst I could have ‘got round’ in a time of 3:30 – 3:45, that wasn’t what I’d trained for.
Everyone races for different reasons, and for me a race is the culmination of months of focused training. I much prefer training to racing, so I have no interest in churning out sub-standard races to get a medal that will go in the bin. If I’m on the start line of an A race, then I want to be able to give it my best and I knew I was far from being able to do this in Seville.
As it turned out, I had absolutely no regrets; Seville was a great city break supporting Tom, drinking beer and eating tapas. And for the most part, races are always going to be there in subsequent years, so I’m not going to beat myself up trying to make a start line if I’m ill or injured, which will most likely cause longer-term setbacks to my running. And I get to go back to Seville in February to hopefully get that marathon PB.
….but it’s not ok to DNF races unless you’ve got a serious injury
In hindsight I shouldn’t have started the TP100. I was woefully under trained and my iron levels were low. But I thought I might be able to try and salvage something from the first few months of the year.
I couldn’t. From about mile 30 my lack of training was exposed. And from mile 50, when I met Tom who was pacing me to the end, I really really struggled. I remember getting to the Reading aid station (mile 60) and thinking ‘it would be so easy to get the train from here to the finish at Oxford and drive home’. But I couldn’t. I wasn’t seriously injured, so what was my excuse? Things were a bit shit? I always think ultras are a bit like life; sometimes they go a bit shit. So what does that say about me if I give up when things turn a bit shit?
So I basically walked the 40 miles from Reading to the finish. And 40 miles is a long way to walk when you’re there to run and you’d been targeting a sub 18:00 hour time at the start of the year.
I was embarrassed by my performance and 21:09 time, even more so because so many people had tipped me for the win (although I need to caveat that, and even at 100% fitness I’d never have beaten Mari and her awesome 16:55 time!). But I’m glad I finished and didn’t give up. My worst 100 mile performance is also one I guess I’m quite proud of in a roundabout way.
Embrace the down-time
The best thing we can do as runners is recover as hard as we train and race. I truly don’t think it’s any coincidence that when I’ve consciously taken a period off training (3 weeks after TP100 before I started CCC training, 2+ weeks after the CCC before I started Patagonia training), some of my best training and racing has followed.
As I write this I’m on a 3 week ‘off-season’ (coach’s orders!) which has meant 10 days of no running and then 10 days of easy running before we kick off Seville marathon and Crawley 24 hour training. And whilst I’d love to run 6 days a week 52 weeks a year, I know if I want longevity in my running and injury-free running, then these recovery weeks are as important as any peak training weeks.
So a couple of times a year for 2-3 weeks at a time, milk that recovery, crack open a beer, eat rubbish and keep your trainers out of sight.
The most important thing is to ‘run happy’
This is something the lovely and super talented Gemma Carter said to me at the start of the TP100. I love running, running makes me happy and I’ve always run with a big smile on my face. But in the first few months of 2017 there hadn’t been much smiling going on. So as I ran one of the worst races of my life at TP100, I remembered Gemma’s ‘run happy’ mantra and focused on the fact, that after 4 months of injury, illness and running woes, I was running, and sometimes we should be happy and grateful for the little things.
And I’ve continued to carry Gemma’s mantra with me. I might not ever run that 3:10 marathon or sub 18:00 100 miler, but do you know what, that’s ok. I sometimes forget I’ve achieved more in the few years I’ve been running than I would ever have dreamt of when I went for my first run (2 miles around the local park to help me stop smoking), so as long as I’m running happy and injury-free with a big smile on my face, then that’s first and foremost the most important thing. But I’ll still try my hardest to get those marathon and 100 mile PBs!
Thank you to everyone who’s stuck with me through the good and bad times this year (especially Tom and all the friends who listened to my running woes), to Likeys and Mountain Fuel for the support and giving me the amazing opportunity to be Ambassadors for them, and to a great coach who’s got me doing some of my best and happiest running I’ve ever done.