In my kitchen I have a noticeboard that is generally plastered with old race numbers, race packs, hotel bookings and train tickets for future races.
This morning I was retrieving my train tickets for the Thames Trot 50 at the weekend when something on the whiteboard caught my eye – a set of dates and numbers which I’d written almost 5 years ago to the day – probably in permanent marker which was now forever, indelibly etched onto the white plastic. It was a log of my first ever runs on the gym treadmill from January 2009. This lead me to reflect a little on the past 5 years and how I progressed from that first 12 minutes on a treadmill to entering a 200-mile race.
2009 – zero to Half Marathon
I remember it well, back in January 2009 I was unemployed and overweight – having given up smoking the previous year and subsequently piled on a few pounds. Although being a regular at the gym – the rest of my lifestyle was somewhat questionable. I hit rock bottom shortly after New Year and then, one day – had a look at the treadmill in the gym thinking “I should give that a go”.
Those first few weeks were painful, 12 minutes at 10 km/h nearly killed me – but I progressed, slowly and surely to running 10k in about 70 minutes on the treadmill. Eventually, at Easter-time I ventured outside and did about 5k on the roads. I remember returning absolutely knackered, but exhilarated – and entered the Nottingham Half Marathon that afternoon.
Somehow I discovered my local parkrun a couple of miles from me, and went along one Saturday – it was my first organised event with other runners and I was unbelievably nervous about it, but I survived the 25-minutes it took me to complete 5k and started to integrate it into the half marathon training.
Nine months after my first 12-minutes on the treadmill it was the Nottingham Half Marathon and I completed it in 1:54, nicely inside my sub 2-hour goal. By this point running had become a regular part of my life…
2010 – The Marathon
When I started running I’d said I wasn’t bothered about running a marathon, eventually though – the call of the marathon got to me. London wasn’t an option, and so I eventually settled on Palma in October, a marathon AND a holiday – what could be better?
I chose a training plan based on the Furman (Run Less, Run Faster) FIRST method which specifies 3 runs a week, all fast running with an additional two cross-training sessions. To say I found the training challenging is an understatement – there was no plodding, no 10-12 minute miles, just fast, painful running…
Eventually October arrived and I completed my first marathon in 3:34 – a bit disappointed not to have broken 3:30 but most of all, questioning my desire for this running lark. I hadn’t enjoyed the training, and I didn’t really enjoy the marathon either, maybe it was time to hang-up my running shoes and try something else?
Towards the end of November I came across details for “The Cardiff Ultra” – 50 miles from Brecon to Cardiff in May 2011, maybe this was my calling…? I entered over the Christmas period resolving to start training in 2011.
2011 – Into Ultra
How do you train for a 50-mile race – especially considering I’d only just completed my first ever marathon…? Well – the first few months of 2011 answered that, and the upshot basically is – you practice, a lot. Weekends became about long runs – more and more races were accumulated as training runs and the marathon count steadily increased as I used them for training runs.
May arrived and I completed the 50-mile Cardiff Ultra in 8:50 – extremely happy with the result, over an hour quicker than my projected sub-10 time. After a few weeks rest and recovery 2011 slipped by with a mixture of marathons and shorter ultras (40-miles) thrown in to keep me ticking over. I also had my first experience of a timed-24 hour event at the Thunder Run which taught me more about nutrition in long events than anything before or since.
2012 – 100 Miles is not that far?
Early in 2012 I was fairly comfortable with the 30-50 mile ultra distance, it was time to up the ante. After much consideration I entered the North Downs Way 100 as my first 100-miler. Training was very similar to the 50-miler the year before, with more of an emphasis on long runs – again I used races for training and also had my first encounter with the mighty Fellsman.
At the end of June I used Run24 in Reading as a gauge of my fitness and completed 100 miles in under 22 hours, smashing my expectations and giving me massive confidence for achieving a sub-24 at NDW100 in August.
NDW100 was executed to perfection… I paced it for a sub-24 and came in at 23:48, right on schedule. In less than 4 years I had gone from zero to a sub-24 hundred mile runner!
The rest of 2012 passed with a mixture of marathons, including a failed sub-3:15 Good-For-Age attempt at Chester and foreign marathons in Palma, Valencia and Lanzarote.
2013 – The year of The Bear
A new challenge was needed in 2013, and an American 100-miler was on the cards. After failing to get in to Western States 100 I finally settled on The Bear 100 in Utah – this was out of my comfort zone, at reasonable altitude with more than double the ascent of NDW100. But I paid the entry fee, booked the flights and committed.
Training followed a similar pattern to 2012, with more emphasis on hilly stuff. I learnt a lot in 2013, especially after my first DNF at UTSW100… I wasn’t committed to the race and thought I could “wing it” – I can’t, at least at the moment, wing a 100-miler!
The Bear was amazing, everything about it was incredible and I was hooked. Organising a big holiday with a race opened up new horizons and possibilities, it was more than a run – it was an adventure, before during and after.
The remainder of 2013 was spent recovering and doing silly stuff like “Double Snowdonia”, although I thought I was quite lazy from Oct – Dec I seemed to mange to fit-in a 40 & 50 mile mountain ultra, a couple of marathons including “double Snowdonia” and two or three marathon+ length training runs.
2014 – Tahoe
Which brings me up-to-date, and almost 5-years to the day since I first stepped onto that treadmill for 12 minutes. In just over 8 months time I’ll be lining up somewhere in Nevada, on the shore of Lake Tahoe ready to start a 200-mile race around the Tahoe Rim Trail.
But – before I start getting my head around 200 miles, I have a bigger problem to deal with. My medal hanger seems to be full to breaking point and, yes – these are in chronological order from left-to-right.