It’s once again time for the end of year review where I take an annual look back at my running performances and training. Overall 2017 has been a pretty good year for me with some new PB’s and a handful of good results. However, it didn’t all go to plan with one race too many at the end of the year finishing the ultra season on a bit of a low point.
It’s also been an excellent year for my running buddies in the ‘Reading Joggers Ultra Team’ (i.e. Paul Beechey, Barry Miller, Wendy Shaw & Alex Whearity). We’ve seen some great performances and results from the small group of us this year including Alex’s 2nd at the Thames Trot, Paul B dominating the Canal Slam series, Oner win and good run at Spartathlon, Barry running a new marathon PB of 2.51 and winning Viking Way and Wendy winning the Crawley 24 and a fantastic run at Barcelona 24 where she ran 137+ miles to earn a potential GB qualification. Great results guys and I’ve had a blast running with you throughout the year. Now onto the personal end of year assessment..
I started the year with the intention doing some more speedwork and wanted a sub 3 marathon, with London the likely target. I tweaked my regular running schedule to reduce the miles a touch (down to about 75 per week), added a weekly interval session and a weekly mile reps session and introduced a rest day (shocking I know). I was at my heaviest weight at the time at 71.5 kgs (Xmas blowout) and needed a good month of running to start to get into shape for the year ahead.
Running miles = 349
The first week in February saw the Thames Trot event take place, a 48 mile run (generally through lots of mud) from Oxford to Henley along the Thames Path. I finished 8th in 7.17 from 144 finishers which was my highest ever placing at the event.
Interestingly, I was recently reminded that I came bottom 10 in my first outing in 2009 so at least I’ve made some progress over the years.
Thames Trot with Beechey & Alex
February also saw the return of the annual “Run Until You Drop” challenge where participants attempt to run or walk a number of km’s or miles equal to the day of the month (1 = 1st, 2 = 2nd etc). After planning not to participate so I could focus on some training, I got suckered into doing the mileage challenge which resulted in me running 482 miles that month.
I took part in the Phoenix Spring Marathon, the first in the Firebird Series of 4 events at the start of March. A couple of days beforehand my legs had felt battered after completing the RUYD challenge and a timely sports massage from Matt at Bodyworks got my legs feeling normal before the event. I hadn’t planned this event to the ‘the one’ but when no-one took the race on at the start line, I set out at a fast pace at the front and ended up running a new PB time of 2.58 finishing 1st from a small field of 127 finishers. I was pretty happy with that performance.
Phoenix Marathon, new PB, sub 3!
I also took part in the local half marathon at Reading and ran this in about 1.27 as a dress rehearsal for my fancy dress run in London. With a Sub 3 in the bag, London could now be a ‘fun run’.
“Watch gonna do… when your moustache falls off?”
The Reading Joggers team also had a strong showing at the QE Spring Marathon, an up and down marathon involving 2 loops of Queen Elizabeth Country Park with Alex finishing 5th (3.28), myself 6th & 1st Vet (3.31) and Paul Beechey 8th (3.37) and we also collected the 1st Team prize aswell. So a great day for the team. Running miles for the month = 295.
Messr Ali, Whearity & Beechey at the QE Spring Marathon.
Into April and I took part in the Half Oner as a training run as I was on holiday in Portland at the time whilst Paul Beechey did the big boys version of the full Oner. Both of these events take place on the Coastal Path and features a bit of elevation. Despite a ‘packed’ field at the Half Oner (a whole 6 people… with 3 dropping out) I managed to overcome these difficult odds to finish in 1st in a time of 6.09. Paul Beechey did the proper run and made it a double win finishing 1st in the Oner in 17.37.
Ali & Beechey at the Oner/Half Oner.
Alex and I took part in the London Marathon and we had elected to run this as in fancy dress as a tag team with Alex featuring as John Cena (had lots of cheers from 10 year old boys) and with myself running it as Hulk Hogan (had lots of cheers from 50 year old men). Despite starting in two different zones, we actually managed to find each other and run several miles together. My finishing time was 3.03. Running miles = 304.
Tag Team. Dream Team.
Paul, Alex and I all took part in the Ridgeway 40 a non-competitive running or hiking event along the Ridgeway to Goring and finished around 6 hours. This was planned as a long training run for the GUCR.
Ridgeway 40 finish.
I then took part in the Eastbourne Trackster Marathon as my final training event in the build up to the GUCR in early May finishing 2nd in 3.05 and feeling pretty good as I hadn’t gone at it 100%.
Eastbourne Trackstar Marathon finish
A week later I decided to try a new distance and ran the Royal Berks 10k, my first 10k event since 2013. The speedwork during this year was paying dividends as I achieved a new PB of 38.50 finishing in 34th out of 1,873 finishers. Looking back, I was probably at my lightest and fittest during the year at this point with some good training and the weight had also dropped to 66-67 kgs (4-5kg loss from January).
The last Bank Holiday in May involved the running of the Grand Union Canal Race and this was one of the big events for the team with all of the RJ Ultra Team either taking part of supporting (thanks to Adrian Lee and Barry Miller for pacing/crewing). The event involves a 145 mile non-stop run along the Grand Union Canal from Birmingham to London. Paul Beechey had a fabulous run finishing 2nd overall in 26.20, I finished 8th in 31.43 and Wendy Shaw finished 10th (2nd Lady) in 32.46 There were 66 finishers from a field of 107 starters. Unfortunately, the race didn’t go to plan for Alex Whearity on this occasion with a DNF around 90 miles.
Reading Joggers Ultra Team – 100% attendance.
Despite this being my quickest time to date it was ultimately a disappointing performance as I wanted to go sub 30 and felt like I was in shape to do that. Unfortunately, my race was marred by some horrible blistering which resulted in a 9 hour death march at the end (thanks for Mark for the impromptu company on the last leg). I’m not posting the photo of my toe (or red stump as it was) but it wasn’t very pretty. Running miles for the month 355.
GUCR finish. Must do better next time.
I decided to not participate in the Thames Ring to allow my feet time to heal so I could prepare for the Kennet & Avon Canal Race at the end of July which was probably the best decision I made all year. After a bit of rest, I started to get back into the training but it’s fair to say that I largely ticked over the miles and the effort running fell by the way-side. 299 running miles completed for the month.
The last week in July was the date for the Kennet & Avon Canal Race. This was the second event in the Canal Slam series and involved a 145 mile run from Bristol to London along the familiar Kennet & Avon Canal (and took in some of the Thames Path as the 90 mile distance along the K&A was considered too short!). Paul Beechey dominated the race finishing 1st in a time of 25.48 and I finished 3rd in 29.08. Alex avenged the GUCR defeat with a finish in 33.40 (11th place) supported by Wendy who paced Alex to the finish. There were 36 finishers from 76 starters.
I was happier with the KACR finish but still not 100% satisfied. On the plus side I was 2.5 hours quicker than the GUCR 8 weeks earlier (on a similar course of the same length) but on the down side I totally slacked off a night and marched for a few hours, moaned a bit about blistering aswell (which was no-where near as bad as the GUCR thanks to a few changes) before picking up the pace and finishing the race strongly. I was particularly gutted to miss out on a Spartathlon Auto Qualifier by 20 mins as this was probably my best chance to achieve this looking at various cut off times and required pace per miles.
Running miles for the month 390.
I ran the second Phoenix Marathon a week after the Kennet & Avon finishing 5th in a time of 3.16 from 112 finishers and then after that only had a few weeks before myself and Paul Beechey took part in the third and final race of the Canal Slam Series with the Liverpool Leeds Canal Race, a 130 mile run along the Liverpool Leeds Canal.
My legs certainly didn’t feel ready at the start of the race but sometimes everything clicks and the race went perfectly to plan as I ran strongly (accompanied by Paul Beechey for 99% of the way together), didn’t suffer sleep issues, didn’t suffer blistering issues and felt pretty good for most of the race. I did start to flag towards the end but managed to close out the race finishing joint 1st with Paul in a time of 22hrs 24minutes. Time-wise this was a level up performance from me and probably 10-15% quicker than I have run anything of this distance before.
It was also my 100th marathon/ultra so everything had aligned to create the ‘perfect race’. I was very happy with this one and my personal performance of the year. After this result I’ll probably DNF the next race now…
Paul Beechey and I at the finish of the LLCR.
Paul Beechey was also the overall winner of the Canal Slam series by a considerable margin with myself managing second place overall in the standings. Running miles for the month = 331.
No races were planned for September, so it was a bit of rest followed by a bit of training. Running miles for the month = 306.
October was the inaugural running of the Lon Las Ultra event which involved a 250 mile non-stop run across Wales. It was definitely one race too many for me as I DNF’d around the half-way point. Quite early on, I felt jaded and wasn’t able to run as much as I would normally and then when the wet weather hit my feet got mashed once again, reducing me to walking pace. Based on this pace I wasn’t sure I could march it out in time and I was definitely sure that I didn’t want to have to walk the rest of it and I took an easy decision to drop out. After that it was rest and recovery, meaning running miles for the month were 260 of which half were completed at Lon Las.
Lon Las CP photo.
After a bit of rest I took part in the next Phoenix Marathon of the series of 4 and finished in 3rd place in a time of 3.05 from 122 finishers along a muddy Thames Path. I hadn’t really felt in good race shape for this event but it was one where the mind was probably stronger than the body as I ran it the maximum pace I could handle, managed an even split but finished the race like it had been the hardest effort race ever and I really struggled the next few days. It was a bit of a contrast to some of the marathons earlier in the year where I ran low 3’s at 90-95% effort and felt good and showed that the lack of speed work, lack of consistent training due to racing, summer of long races all takes its toll on your fitness. Running miles for the month = 321.
I took part in the ‘Marcothon’ event (link here) which is an annual run every day in December challenge to help keep myself motivated when the weather got miserable and cold and the mince pies/slippers combo looks more appealing then your running shoes/garmin combo.
The final race of the year for me was the last in the Phoenix Marathon series where I finished 2nd out of 103 runners in a time of 3.11. To be honest I struggled towards the end of this race, lacked a bit of energy and could definitely feel some ‘Xmas’ weight on the stomach but I finished the year with a medal the size of my head so no complaints overall! Running miles for the month = 394.
Phoenix Marathon Series Medal
Overall, it’s been a pretty good year with a new PB at the 10k & Marathon distance and my best ever ultra run at the LLCR. In total I ran 4,087 miles for the year.
I think the performances this year can be attributed to a number of things. In order of impact, more effort in training (true for the first part of the year but slacked off the quality sessions second half), running/training with like minded people (Paul & Alex mainly, thanks guys loved the banter and friendly competition through the year), regular sports massages/maintenance (thanks Matt at Bodyworks) and a regular rest day each week (most weeks unless there’s a silly monthly running challenge).
Lessons learned for this year include even more consideration of foot-care (blistering can still be a regular occurrence) and frequency of long races (most of my marathons/shorter ultras are used for training) with Lon Las definitely once race too many and the only disappointment this year.
My races for 2018 are pretty much already booked starting with the Arc of Attrition in Feb. (I am doing the Thames Trot the week before to keep the streak of races alive but this will very much be a social plod to save the legs), Crawley 24 early April, GUCR end of May, Lakeland 100 end of July and Spartathlon end of September (race entry to be confirmed but I have an auto qualifier so no reason to think I won’t have a place for this).
It looks a packed year but each race is around 2 months apart give or take a week or so. Having a decent run at GUCR and Spartathlon are probably my preferred goals with Arc of Attrition and Lakeland experience/enjoyment races and with Crawley my aim is to just stick out the full 24 hours on the track and see how I do. No real target for this one.
After that lot I might just retire.. and find my slippers/mince pies.
Hope everyone has a great 2018, see you on the ultra circuit next year!