Saturday 24 December 2011

2011 - The Breakthrough Year

I started 2011 with high hopes.  My endurance was good, I had five tough trail marathons left in my Endurance life 7x Challenge, and nothing hurt too much.  The goal was to complete that series, hopefully pick up another marathon as a "bonus" for completing the challenge, throw in another in July to keep the legs ticking over, and then head into the Autumn on song for another PB on the road.  So, how did it go?

2011 Training:  Plenty planned, but to what end?
The first race of January was my annual tilt at the local cross country county championships (survival, rather than victory, is my goal!).  Once again, I had a lot of fun, and once again, I tweaked my calves.  It wasn't really a surprise, given that I don't do nearly enough speed work.  But, with a bit of rest, some good work by Sara to break up the knots and tape me back together, I duly headed off to Anglesey for marathon number 3.  I didn't have much fun, but I completed it. With the combination of the calf issues and recovery from Anglesey, I averaged a paltry 20 miles per week for January.

I also, for the first time in many years, had decided to keep an eye on my weight.  Once upon a time, I'd weigh myself to see if I had managed to put on a few pounds so that people stopped looking at me like some sort of underfed alley cat.  At Anglesey, I realised that the waistband of my Skins was folding over due to the pressure from the remains of Christmas and New Year revelry.  Ah, how times and metabolism change.  So, I weighed in at 11 stone (154lbs) and cut back on the beer (except for marathon recovery, of course!).

February took me to South Devon for marathon number 4.  The day shone bright and I had an absolutely wonderful race.  The joy of having a good race is that it usually takes less time to recover from than a bad race.  So, even with the planned recovery, I managed to nudge the weekly mileage up to 25.  I also managed to leave seven pounds on the trails.

March was planned as the tough month of the year, with marathons 5 and 6 with only one off weekend in between.  Pembrokeshire was fast, but exhausting.  Sussex was exhilarating until I had to tackle Beachy Head, and also rather tiring.  With two big races, much of the month was geared towards recovery and repair, so I dropped back to a weekly average of 20 miles.  Another couple of pounds melted away, and the Skins finally started to fit properly around the midriff.

In April, I only had one race planned, so I started to look at the upcoming calendar and realised I needed to re-introduce speed sessions to be prepared for the post-marathon season.  So, I headed out to the local race at Peopleton and picked up a small PB for that course.  Then, it was down to Exmoor for marathon number 7 - expected to be the toughest of the series.  By this time, the tape on my legs was more placebo than requirement, but I was taking even more recovery time.  I averaged only 17 miles per week and the weight finally stabilised at 144lbs (gross!).   But, the recovery of low/no mileage seemed to work.  Exmoor was an amazing race in a fantastic setting.  By the time we got home from the race, it was marked in the calendar for 2012.

May brought "The Edge," Endurancelife's bonus race for series completion and fast finishing.  The course was reasonable, I went off far too quickly, but the series of speakers in the evening was truly inspiring.  The mad ideas that have been going through my head ever since are slowly turning into a long-term plan for foolishness.   May also brought the annual club team relay at The Hilly Hundred.  As the team organisers, Nic and I bombed about the countryside delivering and cheering the runners.  I enjoyed my leg, albeit somewhat more slowly than I had in 2009.  Again, weekly mileage was low, but mostly because real life took its chance to get in the way of some good running.

June's schedule rapidly filled up with some short local races, as I tried to get some speed into my legs.  A couple of hilly midweek dashes and another hilly relay later, combined with some hot weather training during a trip home to Texas, and I was back to 25 miles per week.  The weight was still steady (a great result considering a trip to the US!), and I was looking forward to my first experience of running in the Lake District.

I started July with a rather warm Coniston Marathon, and followed it up with some great hiking in the Appalachians.  No running in the mountains this year, on account of the amount of falling down I did the previous year.  We headed to the Atlantic coast for a week of R&R and beach running, which just managed to keep the excellent Atlantic seafood from taking hold.

August was due to be another big month.  Not having any big racing planned, and with a hole in my schedule until the October PB attempt, I mentally slipped and added a solo ultra into the schedule.  The attempt to hit nearly 50 miles turned into 50km as I repeatedly lost my trail and eventually was so hacked off by the combination of weak mind and tiring body that I bailed out at the earliest of my potential finishing points.

September slipped by without much notice.  I was finally managing regular speed sessions.  My race-paced runs were actually going better than planned.  Weekly mileage was still hanging out in the mid-20s.  October's PB attempt at Abingdon was looking pretty feasible.

Of course, there's always one last speed session required to tune up for a big race, so I popped over to Stourport for their 10K the first Sunday in October, and got to within a few seconds of my PB - completely unexpected and a most welcome mental boost for the trip to Abingdon a couple of weeks later.  Then, just a few days before the big day, a business trip that involved 90 minutes of traffic and a stiff clutch resulted in nasty cramp in the glutes with 5 miles to go after 21 miles of staying dead on schedule.

The PB didn't happen, my butt is still not fully recovered, and November was a bit of a write-off.  The various fell runs I had pencilled into the training plan got rubbed out, and training is still a bit hit-or-miss, depending on which days the glutes decided to go on strike.  Sara steadily put me back together, and I joined some fellow club members in Shropshire for the Mortimer Forest 10.  It was a blast to get back into the mud and hills as Winter approached.

As a bonus, my running clubmates kindly recognized my inability to say no to a race in our annual awards ceremony.

A lot going on, but to what end?  With the loss of November and the extra recovery between marathons, not to mention a bit more travel time than usual, 2011 will actually have fewer running miles than 2010.  But, what miles!  Most of my running has been in the Cotswolds or racing other stunning trails around the UK.  Of course, 2011 was unusually dry, so I actually got to see where I was going - let's not fool ourselves into thinking it will be the same every year.  As a result of all this fun, Nic's signed herself up for a few Endurancelife marathons, which gives me the ideal excuse to bump myself up to the ultras.  If that goes well, then I may just get that chance to run the complete Cotswold Way this Summer.  2011 seemed incredibly ambitious when I planned it, but it looks like it's main purpose was to whet my appetite for 2012.

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