Wednesday, 30 December 2009

2009 summary: some ups and some downs.

This concludes my first year's running blog. I have Karen MacDonald of Runfurther to thank for persuading me at the Wye Ultra to start it. It has been rewarding and therapeutic, if time-consuming.

For me, 2009 was another great year of pushing personal athletic boundaries and always learning; learning what my body can do, learning some new ways to fail and learning how not to fail against adversity if the carrot is big enough (thoughts of the Runfurther Grand Slam during the Pumlumon Challenge and High Peak 40). It was also another year of meeting old and new running and walking friends and exchanging stories of success and sometimes failure (the latter on my part at least).

2009 started off pretty well. A couple more 10th anniversaries were bagged on the events (Rombald Stride, Anglezarke Amble) and I'm still surprising myself with more PBs, even on a 10th completion. No doubt the frozen and firm conditions early on helped with some results (The Hebden, Two Crosses Circuit, Rombald Stride). Not many weeks later we enjoyed early warmth and sunshine (Wye Ultra, Starkholmes Stagger, Calderdale Hike, and that only brings us up to April).

The first half of the year brought some really good races with satisfying outcomes:
3rd Jan – The Hebden (PB1);
11th Jan – Two Crosses Circuit (PB2);
7th Feb – Rombald Stride (PB fodder but new, slower route);
14th Feb – Anglezarke Amble (10th completion and PB3);
14th Mar – Wuthering Hike / Haworth Hobble (PB4);
21st Mar – Starkholmes Stagger (PB5);
28th Mar – Kipling Kaper (PB6);
18th Apr – Calderdale Hike (big PB7 and highest Runfurther points (805) this year, probably ever);
2nd May – local 5k Parkrun (PB8);
9th - 10th May – The Fellsman (big PB9 by 1hr 34mins);
16th May – Marlborough Downs Challenge (PB10);
6th Jun – Wharfedale Off-Road Marathon (PB11);
13th Jun – Three Rings Of Shap rings 1 and 2 (fastest times on both rings).

This is all getting very boring and repetitive I can hear you say, but fear not. It couldn't possibly continue, especially since I've been at it for just on 14 years and the big ol' five-o isn't far over the horizon now. I must have been on borrowed time for years as it is. Time to come back down to earth. Here are some not-so-good races with less than ideal outcomes:

27th Jun – Western States Endurance Run.
Retired (timed out) at 62 miles after vomiting blood for 34 miles. Nausea was beginning to set in at 19 miles, already forcing me to a walk.
Lesson 1. If you ever do Western States, drink water between the aid stations and only drink GU2O at the aid stations, NOT ALL THE TIME. In other words, do what I always used to do, until this year. Stupid boy :-(
This was my first Hundred DNF. I learned that a Hundred completion is not a given just by slowing down a bit if it gets tough. Sometimes, medical issues can make it impossible, no matter how slowly you go.

25th Jul – local 5k Parkrun (PW).

28th - 29th Aug – Tour du Mont Blanc.
Retired at 77 miles, drained and devoid of leg strength. I was beyond the restorative qualities of food and drink. I had run on empty for too long on the quest for an aid station with food.
Lesson 2. If you ever do the UTMB, do not rely on the aid stations for food when you need it. Be prepared to use your own for regular fuelling. The aid stations sometimes become the back-up, not vice versa as my mind was conditioned towards.
This was my second Hundred DNF. I was beginning to make a habit of this all of a sudden. Now I would not complete a 100-miler in 2009 when originally I had planned to complete three.

12th Sept – Pumlumon Challenge.
I was just recovering from the lurgy and I would not have travelled had this not been a Runfurther event. The Grand Slam was at stake so 'needs must an' all that'. I felt quite perky on the start line but it didn't last long into the race. My finishing time was virtually an hour down on what it should have been. I earned my lowest Runfurther points so far (643). I was too far gone afterwards to face the long journey home. I crashed out in a local hotel to build sufficient strength to return the next morning.

19th Sept – High Peak 40.
Allow me to quote from my running diary: “I have felt tired, lacklustre and disinterested in life all week. It was a chore to even be present at the start. I was only there through Grand Slam obligation.” I love this event and this was to be my 10th completion out of 10 starts. I was shocked at how negative I was feeling. If you read the blog report (linked above) you will realise how close I was to dropping out and shattering the Grand Slam dream. But I didn't. I came back to finish feeling stronger than I felt last week and grab a near-PW for this event and my lowest Runfurther points (606) of the year.

Taking a more positive line again, the second half of the year wasn't all doom and debacle at the events. A few more PBs came my way. The best one, which must rank alongside the Calderdale Hike for the rewarding feeling I felt, was the Round Rotherham on 17th October. The event had been brought forward a couple of months in the hopes of killing off the run of bad weather we had endured for the previous two years. It worked. Abnormally dry months leading up to the event produced perfect conditions for PBs all round. My time of 9hrs 13mins was a PB by 58 minutes. I never imagined being able to run a 50-mile trail race that fast. Needless to say I was 15 minutes down on my Snowdonia Marathon time the following weekend but I couldn't care because I was still on Cloud 9.

My running year ended with an early enforced taper and cancelled events due to a dose of 'flu (not the 'man' variety either; this was real) then a cold. The first winter snows provided beautiful running conditions for a few last-gasp runs to work before the overindulgences of Christmas.

Some statistics for 2009.
Miles completed – 1,797 (excludes training runs because I didn't do any).
Personal Bests – 18 (where there was a previous completion to compare against).
Personal Worsts – 1 (where there was a previous completion to compare against).
Number of Ultras – 17.
Total Ultras since 1996 – 115.

Looking forward to next year:

I received a pair of Vibram fivefingers for Christmas. Being an habitual 'bare-footer' I've hankered after a pair of these since they first came out in the US a year or two ago. I have not run in them yet but they feel very comfortable to walk in. I look forward to trying them on my runs into work. I may report on them early in the New Year.

The stark realities of the Western States Endurance Run lottery were brought home to me this month. I did not get picked so I will not be going to Squaw Valley next June to put right what I messed up this year. My 4-year habit has come to an end. Well done to all those who did get in. Do yourselves proud on that course.


  1. nick, an excellent and inspiring year id say. yes with obvious dissapointments but i guess you can easily put those into perspective. hope to see you around in 2010..we've enjoyed meeting up with you. dig the new fivefingers!

  2. Thanks UC. We'll meet again sooner rather than later at an event somewhere, I'm sure.
    You're right about the perspective. There are valid reasons for everything that didn't quite go to plan.

  3. What an amazing year youve had. happy new year to you.

  4. Well done Nick on your achievements / experiences this year. Do you have a fair idea of what the big races are on the cards next year (rather this year now :-))

  5. Fantastic year, good luck with those vibram fivefingers, how far do people run in those things? I recall seeing somebody in them at Snowdonia and thought they were pretty brave.

  6. those 5fingers look mental!! can you really run trail races in those shoes? can't wait to hear about them Nick. Perhaps for the D100 ;-)

    Your 2009 race mileage is astounding!! more than my total mileage for the year (inc training runs!) Looking forward to hooking up at D100 Nick!