On Sunday 29th November I achieved something I would have considered two years ago – difficult, four years ago – unachievable, and six years ago – impossible and quite frankly daft to even think it. On this day I achieved my aim of running 1,000 miles in a calendar year. As it happens, I completed my goal one month early but this matters to me less than the fact that I did what I set out to do at the beginning of the year.
Of course I set this challenge for myself before I had any idea just what 2020 would be like for us all. Coronavirus was in the news a bit in late December and early January but, at that point no-one knew what was around the corner. I think on the whole the periods of lockdown helped my running cause, but it’s a difficult judgement to make. I lead one running club and am a member of another and in normal times run seven miles with my fellow club runners over a Monday and Tuesday evening without really thinking about it. For a challenge where you need to run around 25 miles a week, a ‘fun seven’ definitely helps. This was snatched away from mid-March onwards and with 200 miles already under my belt, I did the vast majority of the remaining 800 on my own. This was not the plan. I was expecting to do at least 500 miles of my challenge with company, including the Edinburgh marathon which, along with countless other events, got cancelled. But when Edinburgh got removed from the calendar, I was left with a solitary running challenge to complete.
Running has pretty well defined my year. My runs have been the commas, semi-colon, and full-stops of every week and month of 2020. It has been the topic on which I have written more about this year on my blog than any other. It got me a short article in the iPaper in March, a slot on the radio with BBC WM in November, and two opportunities to co-host the @UKRunchat run hour on Twitter. In addition to my personal challenge, the Green Heart Runners undertook two running challenges this year (April and November) and between us we raised over £7,500 for B30 Foodbank.
Throughout the year my weekly running mileage has varied quiet a lot. The graph below shows how it fluctuated. Occasionally I would have a really good week of running when weather was good, the opportunity was there, and I was in the right mood. I learnt to capitalise on these moments and this is a reason why I ran a few ‘accidental’ half-marathons. My view was if I was enjoying it and felt comfortable and injury-free, that I should keep going and capitalise on the good feeling and fortune. This then bought me some credit for other weeks when getting the mileage in was that bit more difficult.
The vast majority of my runs this year have been in Sutton Coldfield where I live. During height of the pandemic and the first lockdown, I took to exploring new running routes and also completely lost interest in my running pace. I think this may have been partly due to the Edinburgh marathon being cancelled as well.
This year I have found several new running routes, including areas of woodland I never knew had footpaths, and most importantly for me I have discovered so many trails in the magnificent Sutton Park, which is just three miles from my house. I treat Sutton Park a bit like my extended back garden now. I have got to know it very well now, and never tire of it.
Opportunities to run further from my home patch have been few and far between. However, running in Birmingham with my friends Lucy and Hannah with Run of a Kind in June on the hottest day of the year, through Cardiff City centre, Swansea Bay and the Gower in August, and taking in the key London sights one chilly Sunday morning in September, are lovely running memories from this year.
In the three weeks since completing my 1,000 miles I have taken the opportunity to do other forms of exercise, mainly in the gym on the free weights and on some of the other cardio machines, just to vary things and give other muscle groups a bit of a workout. The gyms re-opening has been a big boost not only for the exercise, but also it has been somewhere to go and be around people, and frankly the only activity outside the house that I enjoy that we’re still allowed to do!
So to 2021. I have already declared my running goal for next year, which is to run a marathon in under four hours. I hope this will be the Edinburgh marathon in May, but time will tell. If all races are cancelled for another year though, I shall just have to run my own marathon! Completing a sub-four hour marathon will require me to knock off around twenty minutes from my previous marathon time. I’ve no idea whether this is a realistic goal, but anyway, it is my goal and I’ll go for it! On top of all the training runs I will need to do, I also need to learn more about marathon fuel, as poor planning in this department was a key factor (I think) behind my legs seizing up with five miles to go during my one and only marathon run so far.
I throughly recommend anyone setting themselves an exercise goal. Based on my experience my advice would be to set something that feels almost out of reach, break it down into sizeable chunks so you have a plan for achieving it, and keep yourself accountable and motivated by letting other people know.
2020 has been a great year of running for me. It has kept me sane, and disciplined and provided some focus in turbulent times. Thank you to everyone who has supported me along the way, I shall need more of it for my 2021 challenge!