Highs and lows

Six months ago I was on top of the world. Running at my absolute peak, I achieved a lifetime ambition after the greatest run of my entire life, the culmination of a decade of planning, trying, failing and trying again. After eighteen months of training, I finally got the sub three hour marathon I’d always wanted, but never thought I could achieve. My proudest ever moment.

Looking back, even now I still can’t believe it. That time at the top of my race results just looks weird with a 2 instead of a 3 at the start of it. I just can’t believe that a) it happened and b) how close it came to not happening. I needed a perfect storm of things to come together to even have a chance of doing it, and although all the things I’d worried about and planned for worked out okay in the end, I was nearly scuppered by something I’d never even considered a possibility: the course being too long. It was such a close run thing, barely beating the target by a second per mile, and I only made it because, somehow, I managed to run the final full mile of a bloody marathon at my 10k pace, before dipping even further and hitting sub-5k pace over those final extra 400 or so metres, terrified I was going to miss out. I’ve struggled to hit that kind of pace at the end of a 10k, let alone a full marathon. I have no idea where it came from, but I’m glad it did. All the hard work had paid off.

Naturally after that, in the weeks to come my running dropped off a little. After nearly two years of almost daily running, with 40-50 mile weeks and three full goes through the marathon training cycle, it felt nice to dial it all back a bit and just head out when I fancied it. Which, being winter in the North West of England, wasn’t actually that often. Despite a few nice holiday runs in Portugal and the Cotswolds, November 2021 was my lowest month of mileage for over two years but by January normal service was resumed and 40-mile weeks were back on the agenda. All eyes were on a possible triplet of half marathons in March, May and October with maybe one of them being a PB attempt and all in all things were ticking over very nicely indeed.

Then I got Covid.

It was always going to happen eventually, and after coming back out of the other side of it I’m so so incredibly grateful that it never happened in the buildup to that sub-3 attempt last year. It had been one of my biggest fears in the buildup to the race and those fears proved fully founded as, despite being triple-jabbed, it gave my running a right old kick in the swingers and would have derailed the entire thing had it come before 10th October 2021.

Aside from the week of running I lost when actually suffering with the direct effects of the virus, things just haven’t been quite right since. It’s really hard to describe but basically, every so often a run feels like absolute shit, with absolutely no rhyme or reason as to why. I head out feeling fine, then after half a mile or so it all goes tits up, without any warning or explanation whatsoever. Then the next run a day or two later feels absolutely fine. It makes no sense at all.

I did actually manage a surprisingly decent race at the Wilmslow half marathon in March, incredibly being on for a possible PB at one point before the uphill second half, sudden headwind and general lack of fitness kicked in. I’d half thought about pulling out before raceday, coming only three weeks after having the ‘rona, but buoyed by good weather and it being a race I’ve always enjoyed I thought why the hell not. At the end of the day I’d run the 2021 edition well off my usual race pace and had a nice day out so thought it worth giving it a shot.

It’s a nice race, Wilmslow, all round the country lanes to Mobberley and back and always seems to have really nice weather to boot, despite randomly popping up all over the calendar on any given year. Okay, so I missed the year it got cancelled due to a Beast from the East (although I was out on my own 20-miler training for London at the time) but when I’ve ran it, it’s always been great. This year was no exception with bright blue skies and, just as in 2019, it went better than expected and I, somehow, duly recorded my fourth fastest half marathon ever with a very respectable 1:27:59. Four years ago I didn’t know if I’d ever be able to go under the 1:28:00 set in 2013 and now I’ve done it four times in four years, the latest coming the wrong side of my 40th birthday and off the back of having Covid. Not too shabby.

Despite that pretty decent day at the office though the shit runs have continued to come sporadically. Less frequently as time goes on, but still there every so often when I least expect it. Even last week, well over two months since I last tested positive, a supposedly easy run along the banks of the Thames while on a work trip saw my heart rate all over the place and my Garmin telling me my fitness is suffering and then a couple more injury niggles out of nowhere the next day. I seem to be, inexplicably, getting injured more often lately, which I can’t understand the logic behind it but there you go. After running nearly 5,000 miles over two years with barely a niggle, I somehow suddenly feel my age with a constant stream of minor strains in knee, ankle, foot, calf and lower back, just from the ones I can remember.

It’s basically been a bit of a negative spiral lately. I’m feeling crap, so I’m running less, then my fitness is suffering and I seem to be picking up minor injuries which then, again, lead to me running less, and then feeling crap. And so on, and so on, and so on. Lather, rinse, repeat.

The numbers tell the whole story. At the end of last month I was over 200 miles behind where I was at the same stage in 2021, and nearly 300 behind where I was in 2020. After consecutive years running well over 2,000 miles I’m barely on for half that at the current rate, and even then my 2022 total’s only swelled by that half-decent January before everything fell apart a month later. In April I ran under 100 miles in a month for the first time since December 2019, and that was despite a couple of occasions where I’d managed to get a nice run in while away on a business trip in Bristol or on holiday in Barcelona.

Hopefully I’m over the worst now though. This week I managed to get out for a run on consecutive days for the first time in nearly a month, the first runs in ages where I didn’t feel a single injury niggle all the way round, although my Garmin is still whingeing at me and telling me I’m not as fit as I should be. That’s understandable though. It’s been a bad couple of months, but hopefully onwards and upwards from here. Assuming I don’t then get injured again, in two weeks time I’m due to run the Great Manchester Run half marathon, a race I’d originally earmarked as a possible PB attempt but will now just be a case of trying to survive, not pick up any more bloody injuries and then can move onto whatever the rest of the year has in store for me. I know I’ll never hit the heights I hit back in October 2021 ever ever again, but hopefully I won’t hit the depths of the first few months of 2022 either.

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