And so it comes to wrap up the blog for 2015, a year quite unlike any other in my recent history. A runner since 2007, and a running blogger since 2011, this year marked probably the first time in my life when I started to maybe consider myself a cyclist instead. The events, the achievements and the blogs still came and went; I just did things faster. Longer. Further. Me and my bike against the world.
That’s not how it started though. On the back of a hugely successful Marcothon, I pencilled in an April marathon and the opening month of 2015 followed the usual pattern of new shoes, training plan, Sunday long runs. Winter storms, a few miles after work in the dark and pissing rain. 9pm dinner, 9:30 bed time. Hungry, tired. Miles and miles, up and down the same stretches of South Mancunian roads in a tiny football shirt in sub-zero weather.
And then just like that I fucked it all off. It was all about the bike now. The new steed was finished and new challenges began to fall into place. Winter behind me, spring a springing. 50 mile weekend rides were now a regular occurrence along with 30 milers in the week after a day stuck in the office. Trips over the Cat and Fiddle pass, Saddleworth Moor. Up the Brickworks near Pott Shrigley and down the other side. Lyme Park, Tatton Park. Round the back of Jodrell Bank and beyond on the Cheshire flats. A spin over the same roads as Bradley Wiggins and co and then of course the centrepiece of the whole year that epic overnight 112-mile excursion to Dunwich in July as I finally achieved my ambition of a century on two wheels. A year of discovering a new-found freedom, heading further from home than ever before under my own steam and doing things I never imagined possible this time last year.
Despite all that though, as I said in my last blog I do still, deep down, consider myself a runner I guess, and so as well as that amazing Olympic finish in July, one of the more familiar events of the year was a return to Standalone last month along with 1600-odd others for a quick 10k out and about on the country lanes surrounding Letchworth and Stotfold. My fourth Standalone in a row (and my fifth overall) and one of my favourite races on the calendar, the scene of some of my proudest moments and some of my biggest failures with two of my fastest ever 10ks and my two slowest nicely bookending the other few races I’ve done over the years around the country. A lovely little event, starting and finishing on a small farm in Hertfordshire and almost always with a few family members out and about on the course; running, spectating and even in the case of my uncle, on the tannoy. This year very much followed the pattern, with my sister and cousin competing, both my parents stood at the finish cheering us all on and my aunty out in her customary spot around the four mile marker doing the same.
For the first time since 2013 I actually chucked in a bit of training for this one as well. In stark contrast to my last four or five 10ks, I’d been out following the basic concept of a 10k plan for a few weeks leading up to it; a tempo session here and there, a cheeky Sunday long run or two. It all sort of came together really; one of the nicest autumns for many a year, an event in the diary with a bit of a target (a third sub-40 minute Standalone in a row would be nice), and most importantly a few plans for 2016 already beginning to form which would require a lengthy buildup. It really was a pleasure training for this one, with some of the nicest runs I’ve ever done, mostly around Chorlton Water Park and along the River Mersey with the autumnal sun setting behind me. I genuinely ran over a mile longer than I intended to on one evening because I got a bit carried away jogging along the grassy banks instead of heading straight for home along the road, and I didn’t regret it one bit. It was almost (if you excuse the sweating, panting, feeling like I was going to keel over etc) fun. But mostly, after a solid six months or so fannying about on the bike, I was keen to get a bit of structure back and get my stupid little legs used to the long run / rest / fast run cycle in preparation for bigger things to come.
So yea. Serious business. Proper training. Perfect preparation. Well, perfect until I went to the pub the night before the race anyway to watch Australia hoof us out of our own rugby World Cup. Despite the beers though I was back home early, had a decent night’s sleep and woke up raring to go. I laced up my best pair of race shoes and headed for the farm.
For the third consecutive year it was a stunning morning as we milled about waiting to get going with the sun peeking through the chilly early morning mist and bathing the course in rich autumnal sunshine. I actually felt a few butterflies as the 9:30 start time drew nearer and I realised that the usual platitudes of “anything under 42 minutes will do me” were hollow this time around. I had a bit of a target in mind and I wanted to hit it.
As with every single Standalone I’ve ever done though, the opening few hundred metres filled me with absolutely zero confidence whatsoever. It’s that fucking hill, honestly. Every year it’s just a little bit worse than I remember. That little bit steeper, that little bit longer. The frantic rush downhill from the start and then BANG. Shit, I’m so not up for this. I shouldn’t have gone out drinking last night. I’m ruined. The target’s gone, it’s bloody gone. This bastard hill. And then seconds later, that’s it over and done with and all is right with the world. Open road. Quiet country lanes, mostly downhill, my pace back to normal. A few spectators clapping us along. I’m alright here actually! 6:22 per mile, 6:21, 6:10 (!), 6:23. The first four miles all inside what I needed and as with the two years before I had nearly half a minute in the bank with two thirds of the run behind me. I felt good, I felt confident. I saw my Aunty out on her usual spot at the end of the bypass and prepared myself for the glory of another sub-40 a couple of miles down the road.
Trouble is though, those last couple miles along the undulations of the A507 can be bloody hard work at times, and all of sudden the wheels came off. Right off. Maybe it was the booze the night before, maybe I had overtrained in the week leading up to it. Maybe cycling to work all week as well wasn’t the best idea. Probably a combination of all three, I dunno (it was almost definitely the booze). Regardless, in all the 10ks I’ve ever done, I’ve never had quite such a sudden meltdown, such a contrast between the serene progress over the first few miles and the horrendous slog bringing it all home. It was a struggle to keep it together even on the flat bits, never mind the little inclines, and all I could do was hope I’d done enough in the first half to mitigate the shitstorm of the second.
I hit the big descent back down onto the farm and couldn’t bring myself to look at the time on my Garmin as I summoned the big finish. The clock on the line was already over 40 but I clung to the hope that my chip time would see me right. My uncle on tannoy gave me the usual big shoutout, I heard my parents cheering me over the line and then it was all over. I took a few seconds to compose myself (i.e. not be sick everywhere) and then glanced down to check my time.
40:03. Three seconds outside. Three bloody seconds! The nearest miss I’d ever had, stealing the crown from the 40:09 I ran in the Mersey Tunnel 10k in 2011. I’d probably rather have ran it a minute slower than come in three seconds outside, but there you go. In the end, looking back the time isn’t that important. Instead of marking the end of my running season, Standalone is just the beginning. Only my second running event of the year, nearly three months after my first, yet it’s the first step on the road to something bigger. Something much bigger. Rediscovering my feet. Back out on the pavements and dirt tracks of South Manchester, round and round the water parks and along the riverbanks. Up and down the Parkway, the Kingsway. Through Sharston Industrial Estate and into beautiful, beautiful Baguley. I’m planning my spring calendar already, I’m obsessing over new pairs of running shoes. I’m looking at dates, challenges. Ideas. Putting together a plan, with a few friends in tow, for what we hope will be the biggest fundraising effort yet since I set this blog up in 2011, a combined effort of greater mileage than ever before and hopefully the highest fundraising total to date.
But more on all that later, for now it’s just a case of putting the pieces in place and keeping the legs ticking over. Dates are in the diary, training schedules are being put together. Two new pairs of running shoes already purchased ready for the challenges that lie in store. With an expected life of 500 miles on each pair it may give you an idea of where I’m aiming for in five or so months time, but for now I’ll keep you all guessing.