A return to the road

So here we are, in April. The days are getting longer, spring is a-springing. Time for the annual running checklist. Sayonara 2New shoes? Check. Training plan in place? Kind of. Running lots and lots of training miles? Erm…not so much. Building up to the first big event of the year? Well, yes and no. Yes, I have an event in the diary. But not as I know it.

For the first time since 2011, I arrive here without a run in the calendar, this year’s pair of running shoes remain boxed away yet to see the light of day. But why? What happened? Well, dear readers, let’s just say it wasn’t entirely a conscious decision.

It all started back in December, at the peak of the daily Marcothon runs (which raised over a grand for the Booth Centre, you lovely lovely people). As is often the way, sat in the pub on a Sunday afternoon with a couple of premium-strength IPAs inside me, I began to ponder. I’d been running every day for nearly a month, and I’d be continuing to keep myself in some semblance of fitness by carrying on all through the Christmas break. The daily runs were getting easier and I’d already chucked a couple of slightly longer ones in on a weekend just for shits and giggles, because I’m a bit odd like that. I’d had an email offering me a discount entry to the Manchester Marathon and I thought about the challenge awaiting me, right here on my doorstep. I thought back to last April and the 150-odd seconds I’d missed out on the good for age time to get into London. I thought about the 12 minutes I’d lopped off my marathon PB on that occasion. Was another two and a half feasible?

The more I thought about it, the more it made sense. Conveniently forgetting the sheer horror of the last time I attempted marathon training, I began to crank the Marcothon runs up a bit and see what happened. Suddenly, the Sunday long run was into double figures, the first time that had happened since April. It felt OK. Unlike last year, most of the runs seemed to be on beautiful crisp, clear wintery mornings and it was almost a pleasure being out there. Just two days after Christmas and the long run was up to twelve miles, a week later and it was fifteen. I’d sworn back in April it’d be another two or three years (at least) before I went again for a full marathon, and yet here I was again, out running for over two hours on a Sunday morning, or nearly the same again straight from work on a Tuesday. Running six days out of seven, over 60 miles a week.

As January wore on though, it began to hit home just what a ridiculous commitment the full distance is and in the end I’m not ashamed to admit that I began to feel increasingly like I wasn’t quite ready for it again so soon. It was set to be my biggest month of running ever, hitting 170 miles in the opening three weeks alone and well on target to beat the previous best of 216. The Sunday long run by then stood at 18 miles (twice) and it was all getting A Bit Bloody Serious. It was also God forbid, A Bit Bloody Boring. All the runs seemed to be low speed chugs, and after only really running 10ks for the past six or seven months I’d forgotten how bloody dull the slow stuff can be sometimes. I got to the 23rd of January and climbed the stairs into my flat, absolutely exhausted after a ten-miler straight from work in the dark and pissing rain, with my clothes in a rucksack. I slumped against the front door and sat there. I felt a bit down, a bit sad. I thought of how far I still had to go, not even a third of the way through the 18-week plan I’d set myself. And so, after the hardest opening to a new year in living memory, I tapped out.

Instantly I felt a wave of relief wash over me, and I knew then I’d made the right decision. I’ve got nuff respect for people who constantly marathon and enter events left right and centre but for me it’s something to do every so often I think. Something special, something meaningful. Go absolutely all in for a few months, then steer clear for an extended period of time, never to speak of it again. Leave it to the other nutters for a bit.

With that decided I then set sights on a spring half. I mean, why let all that hard work go to waste, right? And I always say that it’s my favourite distance anyway; a rewarding challenge, but without the batshit mentalness of the full effort. Nothing would fall into place though: without a car I’d struggle to get to any of the further flung ones before they actually started (Oulton Park, Silverstone, Liverpool) and the only local one that I could actually get to (Wilmslow) had already sold out. I’d left it all too late and run out of options.

So, I switched focus.

Triban 3The gradual death of the marathon dream had neatly coincided with the completion of my beautiful new road bike. Bought on a whim at the tail end of last summer, I’d not had much of a chance to truly stretch her legs before a final ride of the year resulted in her being cut down in her nascent prime. A puncture, followed by an instant second puncture because I am a complete helmet and forgot to check whether the tiny thorny bastard was still in the tyre, resulted in a 14 mile ride home on a flat rear, and subsequently a dented wheelrim. But now, she was ready.

Brand new wheels, hubs, skewers and tyres, a bit like Trigger’s broom I guess as more and more of the original bike was replaced. Just like that though, a whole new world of possibilities had opened up and I sit here now with less than four weeks until my first event of 2015, and the first on the bike since 2013 when I went for a 50 mile spin of four laps of the Mancunian Way, shortly followed by my bike being nicked.

I’m back in the game. Despite a third successive knockback from RideLondon (London fucking hates me), I now have potentially four events lined up over the next six months, including an attempt at my first ever century in July and a big fundraising effort later in the year with a few comrades in tow. More on those to come, but first up it’s a crack at the big guns.

What a brilliant way to kick things off, the start of my little odyssey on two wheels. Basically, on the final day of the inaugural Tour de Yorkshire, I’ll be riding around the same route that the pro riders (including Sir Bradley Wiggins) will be hammering round later that very day. I’m not doing the full distance because I don’t even know if I can ride that far yet, not to mention the fact that Yorkshire is considerably lumpier than the pancake-like nature of most of the roads I commute on at the minute. Nevertheless, it’s a nice first challenge of the year, 60-odd kilometres with a really nasty bastard climb towards the end which looks on paper like the biggest I will have attempted on the bike to date. Game on.

So that’s where I’m at. I know it’s been a while since the last blog, as I attempted to plan what I would be doing for the year and I flopped between marathon, half marathon and now all the bike stuff. But now it’s all falling into place and I’ll be aiming for more regular posts throughout the year as each ride comes and goes, especially as the big charity ride looms up in September. I’m looking forward to having something new to bore you all about for once, rather than just banging on about sub-40 10ks or moaning about being out training in the pissing Manchester rain. OK, so you might get some of the latter but them’s the breaks with living in the North West.

Most of all, I’m just looking forward to spreading my wings a bit further afield over the summer, culminating in a huge effort with friends to raise a shedload of money for an incredibly worthy charity. As I said though, more on that later in the year, but first up I’ve got a month of training to get myself in shape for a 60km spin over the Yorkshire Dales. I’ve not ridden further than 50km for nearly two years so I’ve got a bit of work ahead of me to get myself in a decent state so I don’t embarrass myself in front of Sir Wiggo and co. I have to be honest and say I’m rather looking forward to it all. I feel positive, excited and keen to get out there and do something a bit different to the norm. Most of all though, I’m just relieved it’s not another bloody marathon.

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