A Marathon a Month in 2017

There was no grand plan, there weren’t 12 nicely paid for race entry emails in my inbox. It was all a bit of an accident.

(Yes, as usual the post is way too long with too many pictures. Half of them don’t really deserve a proper report though so 12 posts wouldn’t be worthwhile. I don’t expect anyone to read all of it either… )

January 25th – DIY Marathon (4:46)

This was the accident that kicked off the thought process. I had a very quiet work Wednesday after a really busy few weeks and needed some headspace. I’d entered a couple of ultras and wanted to get used to wearing a pack loaded with kit. I set off on my ‘long loop’, 17km around some quiet lanes. Got back home and decided to run a bit more to make a half marathon so grabbed some more water and went off again. Decided to do one of my ‘little loops’, 12km on some of the same roads. Again, got home and felt fine, so only only thing for it. Another 12km and a little 1km finisher up the road. A nice 42.2km training marathon which felt like a great achievement.

It was this one that planted the seed of trying to do one a month. I’d got a few races booked which would count so needed to fill in some more. The idea was partly to keep up with the longer runs and overcome my inherent laziness. The other part of it was to try to mentally normalise the marathon distance so ultras would seem easier. Prior to 2017 I’d only done 3 marathons so it’d be a decent way to get some more under my belt.

February 16th – DIY Marathon (4:48)

Most other people doing a ’12 in 12′ (and I know there’s a few of you that have done that this year) are doing proper Marathons (capital M) with medals, T-Shirts and recognition. For me, it’s a bit too much of a stretch on family time to have 12 weekend days away, a fair bit of travelling, hotels etc.  So, if I was going to give this a crack I’d need to fill in a bit with some DIY ones. Big loop, little loop, little loop. I set them up as proper runs with water / food left in the porch and left the Garmin ticking away. No medal at the end, but 26.2 is 26.2 as far as I’m concerned.

Feb one was much the same as the January one except I knew I was going for a marathon at the start. Not sure if that helped or hindered!

March 24th – DIY Marathon (4:51)

From memory on this one I started out way too fast and ended up run/walking the final 10km or so. Was lovely and sunny though.

April 1st – Calderdale Hike 44.5km (6:47 moving, 8:00 total)

I think this is probably the hardest marathon distance race I’ve ever done. I did this with Andrew as a bit of a last minute thing, the weekend after my March mara. The name ‘Hike’ is potentially a bit misleading as you can enter as a runner or a walker. We confidently entered as runners.

‘Only’ 1100m of elevation which isn’t absurd but about half of the race was entirely flat alongside a lot of reservoirs. The parts that were hilly were ridiculously so. The weather was atrocious, our navigation was questionable and it was 2km too long (which took ages!). I lost my shoes twice with them getting stuck in the mud, ended up in a freezing cold bog up to my knees about three times. Scaled dry stone walls, fell over more times than I can remember, illegally traversed some reservoir building works and consumed a lot of jelly babies.

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Friendly, but wouldn’t budge
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Andrew demonstrating how to fall gracefully
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DANGER
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This was a path apparently

 

It was slow going, we got beaten by a lot of people who entered as walkers, we were last of the runners but a good time was had. (Mostly)

 

May 1st – Milton Keynes Marathon (4:33 – Marathon PB!)

Entered this the week before just before entries closed. Really enjoyed this one.

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The kids got a LOT of people hitting the Power Up sign.

 

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I know the time is over, but I forgot to stop Garmin and the course is genuinely 300m long!

 

June 3rd – Calderdale Way Ultra 58km (10:17)

Another race with Andrew and my first ever DNF. Not sure what went wrong other than just not being quick enough. We managed 58 of the 80km before being caught by the sweeper. It was a gorgeous but very hard course. My theory of what went wrong was the first cut off was very very tight. I can’t find the info now of the exact times and distances but because of the amount of climbing it basically meant running absolutely flat out on the runnable sections to make that first cut off. We made it with about 10 minutes to spare and then the next one with about 15 minutes to spare. From that point onwards though we were both in a hole of calorie defecit (no real chance to fuel) and over cooking the pace. About 25% of runners missed cut offs or got pulled by the sweeper so for 2018 the organisers have added 2 hours to the 12 hour cutoff we had. I don’t feel too bad about the DNF as we gave it a fair crack and had another grand day out.

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Caught by the lovely sweeper and sweeper dog.

 

July 22nd – DIY Marathon (4:33)

About 2 seconds slower than MK but was far more relaxed. Started at 6 am to avoid the heat, quick cuppa and out the door. Big loop, little loop and a final little loop joined by Rae. Lovely to have some company!

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Loads of kites circling around at about 6:30am. Gorgeous sound.

August 6th – DIY again (4:52)

I think I did this one purely because I had some podcasts to listen to. Looking at Strava I left the house at midday and ran in the blazing sun. Idiot.

 

September 16th – Chiltern Wonderland 50 (80km, 12:10)

I’d classify this as my first ‘proper’ ultra. Calderdale Way in June was a DNF and Race to the Stones 100km in 2016 was a somewhat more relaxed affair. My first Centurion Running event and I was very impressed. Another race with Andrew, we arrived at 8am in Goring for a 9am start. Easy kit check, registration, briefing and go. It’s a spectacular course and I’m really looking forward to doing it again next year. Despite being wedged between Henley, Wallingford and Reading the course is really remote. You run past a few small hamlets and at one point skirt around a tiny village but for the rest of it you could be in the middle of nowhere. 20170916_103522.jpg

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Ran with Andrew up until about 30km where the cold he’d had for the previous few weeks came back to bite. We’d dropped down to a walking pace and weren’t sure we were going to make the next cutoff. Obviously, I ditched him without hesitation. 😉

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Seeya!

 

After that I made up a fair bit of time to make sure I’d get past the next cut off ok. Overtook about 40 runners over the next section and felt great. Ran in to a forest at the 42km mark and somehow managed to miss a giant arrow telling me to go left.. carried on for 300m before realising I was no longer on the course. As I was checking my Garmin map, I saw another runner in the distance coming back, obviously gone the wrong way too. Unfortunately for my new friend Suzanne she’d gone about a kilometer before turning back. It turned out to be a fortuitous mistake for both of us in the end as we ended up running the remaining 40km together pushing each other on which was fantastic. We had a bit of rain and it got quite chilly as the sun dropped but only had about an hour of headtorch running fortunately as I’m not very good at it. Great to have someone to run with though. I made sure Suzanne ate and drank, she made sure I didn’t start sulking as I tend to do.

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Andrew was on the sweeper bus which stopped at all the aid stations, so had a bit of a catch up.

 

 

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Suzanne running through the ‘field of dreams’.. which looks a lot better in summer I guess !

 

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Running in the dark feels so much faster.

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October 22nd – Bonus Marathon pacing Neil and Helen at Autumn 100. (8:01!)

I offered to pace Neil and Helen for one of the legs of their attempt at the Autumn 100 miler. I didn’t know if Helen wanted me for Leg 3 or Leg 4, but turned out to be Liz for Leg 3, myself for Leg 4.

Boo: It meant a start somewhere between 1am and 5am. The course is deathly boring.

Yay: It’s the bit with all glory, bringing them back for their buckle and fame.

I’ve listed it here as a marathon and I guess it sort of counts, but it wasn’t really a ‘run’ for me, but I bet it still felt like it for Neil and H!

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Stunning sunrise by the Thames
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Absolutely NOBODY cried when Helens friends and family appeared with 10km to go.
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100 Mile Heroes

 

October 28th – Snowdonia Marathon (4:58:55)

This was the highlight of my running year I think. I adore this race and this was my 3rd time at it. It’s a great but tough course, varied scenery (but always stunning). The Welsh support is excellent and this year I sliced a whopping 40 mins off my previous Snowdonia PB from 2015 to finish in just under 5 hours. The race went pretty perfectly. We walked the steep ups and ran everything else, overtaking hundreds of people in the second half of the race.

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Running fwends.
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If you’ve done this race, you’ll know how tough this hill is at mile 23!
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The main reason I do this race.
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That’s a Scotch in that glass. Classy.

 

November 25th – Wendover Woods 50 (84km in 14:07)

I don’t mind admitting this race scared the hell out of me. 50 miles over 5 loops of Wendover Woods with a total elevation of 3500 meters. That’s not a mistake, that isn’t feet! I did a one loop recce with Amy the week before and I’m not sure if it helped or not as I knew it was doable, but knew how hard it would be.

Race morning was -2degC when I left the house and not much warmer when I got to the race start. After kit check / registration, Amy and David popped over to say good luck and watch the start which was really appreciated. Battling race day nerves while standing around on your own is fairly unpleasant.

The course itself is utterly bonkers. It’s a 10 mile loop, contained in a 1.5 x 1.5 mile area of woods, although only in about 3 places do you see any of the other paths and get any sense that it’s compact. The total elevation doesn’t quite tell the whole story as it’s not rolling at all really. The up parts are VERY up, sometimes over 30%, scrambling up them. The downs though are almost all runnable even for me with limited off road skills. The cutoff was 15 hours so I figured 2:30 per loop would give me plenty of wiggle room.

Loop 1: 2:01 – Whoops.. waay too fast.

Loop 2: 2:23 – Still a bit fast, but better paced

Loop 3: 2:45 – Slowing down…

Loop 4: 3:09 – In the dark and cold, but ran the whole loop with an experienced ultra runner so got dragged around a bit which was good. At the end of loop 4, Amy and David had popped back which was really welcome surprise and a massive boost before heading back out in to the freezing cold night.

Loop 5: 3:49 – My new found running buddy from loop 4 was really struggling with her stomach and being pretty sick. I knew there was plenty of time to get round the loop but was a bit concerned about leaving her on her own in the dark and the 0deg temperature. She was getting a bit light headed at the top of each climb and the thought of anything happening overcame any desire I had to run ahead and get a slightly better time. People are always more important than an arbitrary number.

We eventually got to the finish line where Rae and Lozza had come as yet another surprise (I honestly thought I’d be at the race entirely on my own!)

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This Kenyan fella is a 2:08 Marathon runner. Here he is lapping me.
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A pic for the kids
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The down hill bits were harder than the up hill bits I think.
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This wasn’t creepy at all

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Fresh as a daisy

December 17th – Final DIY Marathon attempt. 33km and a DNF.

Yep, managed to DNF a solo DIY marathon. Doh! Started at 6:45am in the freezing cold with just the tiniest sliver of sunlight appearing. Slipped around on sheet ice for the first few hours, eventually gave up at 33km after hip and knee pain finally made me stop. No sense in a long term injury just for the sake of box ticking one for December. It was probably my least favourite run I’ve ever done. Cold, slippy, painful and generally quite horrid. A bit disappointed, but pleased I gave it a crack.

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The frosty bits were actually the grippy bits!

 

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It wasn’t ALL bad I guess

 

I could potentially squeeze another attempt in  around Xmas time, but I’m not really bothered enough to do it. If it was for some official thing (i.e. all the marathons were real ones) then I probably would. Do I need to do another one with that final 9km for my own satisfaction? No, not really. I’m really pleased with what I’ve managed running wise this year so it’s a bit pointless in the grand scheme of things.

Overall totals are:

8 x marathons (only 3 official ones)

2 x 50 mile ultras

1 x 38 mile ultra (should have been 50 but Andrew and I were broken)

1 x bonus marathon in October pacing Neil and Helen during their amazing 100 miler.

1 x 20 miler stab at an icy marathon before giving up.

Would I do all this again? Probably not, I’ve got a fair few more big races next year so I need to concentrate on those. I’ve never thought of myself as a runner (and probably never will) so it was a good experiment to push myself a bit.

For now though, that’s me done for 2017.

 

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