It’s a bit late for a review of the old year, but in all the chaos of the Christmas holidays with two excitable small people I didn’t really get a chance to sit down and reflect on my running in 2016.
2016 was a significant year for me, seeing me not only complete my first 100 mile race at the Lakeland 100, but also having to deal with my first significant running injury. As a result I learned a lot, both about running and about myself, and I wanted to make sure I recorded these lessons for the future. So, here are my three main lessons from 2016.
You are NOT invincible
After a great winter of training I was at the fittest I have ever been and running really well. I ran well above expectations at the Hardmoors 55 and my preparations for the Lakeland 100 were going fabulously. I was starting to feel that I had totally mastered my ultra marathon training and would sail through my first 100 miler.
Then, I came back down to earth with a bump. Feeling well recovered a few days after the Hardmoors 55 I decided that I would be fine to run at the JK Orienteering Championships one week later. Big mistake! After a short sprint race hammering around the campus and up and down the steps of Leeds University, my IT band, which had been mildly niggling post-Hardmoors, gave up with a vengeance. That afternoon it got progressively worse and by the time I got up the next morning I was in agony just walking. Not only could I not race in the rest of the JK, but my participation in my major goal race, the Lakeland 100, was now in jeopardy. I should have respected what I had put my body through running 55 miles and given myself the chance to recover properly, even though that meant missing out on the fun of another event.
Thankfully, around 12 sessions of intense physio and daily strength and conditioning exercises had me back into full training within around 8 weeks and I was able to get a decent two months of training before the Lakeland 100. However, for the future I shall remember that old ultra adage that no matter whether you are feeling awful or on top of the world “this too shall pass” and that no matter how well training is going I need to respect my recovery and dedicate time to keeping fit and healthy, otherwise injury or illness will be hiding round the next corner!
Speedwork makes me a better ultra runner
There is always a great debate in the ultrarunning community as to whether speedwork is a necessary component when training for ultras. In 2016 I tried to schedule regular speedwork in my training plan, particularly half mile and mile intervals and I am convinced that these contributed to improving my overall ability as a runner. Running speedwork sessions not only improves my strength (which is a pretty useful alternative to having big hills to run up here in East Anglia), but also improves my technique and running economy, making my long run pace feel much more comfortable. I was unable to do any speedwork in the lead up to the Lakeland 100, as I didn’t want to risk the combination of high mileage and speed on my dodgy ITB, and I definitely became a slower and (even) more ploddy runner as a result.
I will always prioritise miles in my training, but incorporating speedwork as well definitely improves my performance.
You can deal with incredible depths of pain when you really want something
The Lakeland 100 exposed me to considerably more pain than I have ever voluntarily experienced in my life (other than in childbirth of course, but there is no option to stop in that case!). I discovered new depths to which I am capable of pushing myself and that the adrenaline generated by fear of not finishing (such as when I nearly missed the cut off at Ambleside) was enough to override pain that had me hobbling in agony moments earlier. I was able to run the entire descent from the final pass to the finish at Coniston and yet moments after finishing was in so much pain that I was unable to move my right ankle. Discovering these new mental reserves will give me greater confidence to push myself hard in the future.
The more ultras I compete in, the more I understand that there really is no substitute for experience. Every time I race I learn something that will hopefully make me a better runner in the future. Now, having identified these lessons from 2016, the challenge will be to remember to apply them in 2017 and future years!