With the end of the year approaching, it’s a good time to reflect back on your achievements over the past twelve months and an opportunity to think about your aspirations for the next twelve. I look back fondly over 2014 and peek excitedly towards a challenging 2015.
Since I got hooked with this running lark I start each year hoping to go quicker than the last. Luckily, as a relatively new and relatively young runner, this is still an achievable target.
Beating you previous personal best, even if only by a mere second, gives you a great sense of satisfaction; you’ve just covered that distance in the quickest time you’ve ever done. But this is just the start. The targets now become driven by some arbitrary “round” number, usually some multiple of 5, 15 or 60 minutes. How funny that such a sport that can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime with as many or few people as you like, across a variety of terrains seems to always come back down to a a target derived from the neat portioning of a clock face.
A few years ago I came across a running apparel brand called Xempo and it gave me another direction to setting my target times.
The principle behind Xempo is similar to the belt systems in marshal arts. Starting with white for completing a distance, you can then progress through a rainbow of colours as you master the distances and get quicker.
For me, my number one target is to get a PB, no matter how small an improvement but right behind that is to aim for the time that’ll take me to the next Xempo level and this year I’ve covered some ground!
You can achieve Xempo colours by racing 5k (including parkruns), 10k, half marathon and marathon distances, each having corresponding targets for the different colours.
In 2013 I secured times that made me Xempo Orange at both 10k & half marathon and being just 49 seconds and 2 minutes from 10k & half marathon Xempo Green respectively, what better starting point for my 2014 targets?
The Carterton 10k has been an important race in my short running career so it would be the first race to target a Green time of sub-48 minutes. And it wouldn’t disappoint – I managed to squeeze 17 seconds into the Xempo Green. My first target of the year successfully achieved.
In late Spring I was inspired by a much shorter distance and one that, as yet, doesn’t have a Xempo colour.
The 6th May marked the 60th anniversary since Sir Roger Bannister made the impossible, possible by breaking the 4 minute mile barrier and for some reason this grabbed my imagination. I wanted to pay tribute and embarked on a mission to find 59 other people willing to a run a mile. Amazingly, responses came from around the world and over 60 miles were run in celebration. My time? It was a good chunk of seconds over a 6 minute mile. But close enough to want to go sub 6 of course!
The Bannister effect meant I went on to beat my time twice over the summer; once at the London City Mile and then finally going sub 6 minutes on Bannister’s own stomping ground, the Iffley Road track itself!
With this new-found appreciation of shorter distances I also decided to give parkrun a go. I’d never run a 5k flat out so I set myself a benchmark in July, recording a 21:52 at Oxford parkrun which meant I was now Xempo Green for both 10k and 5k.
Now all of this speed was good fun but my attentions needed to move toward my autumn race goal of completing a hat-trick of Xempo Greens by completinga half marathon in in under 1h45.
Despite being an England Athletics Run Leader and learning to become a British Athletic Endurance Coach I still managed to make time for some quality training and when I got the opportunity of a place in the Great North Run I jumped at the chance. Unfortunately the romance of returning to my old University stomping ground and the first race I ever “ran” didn’t lead to a celebration – although it was still the second quickest half marathon I’d ever run!
Luckily for me the Oxford Half was only a few weeks after the Great North Run so I had a second bite of the cherry. Thankfully I comfortably secured my third Xempo Green performance of the year, smashing my PB by nearly 6 minutes!
With the long distance out of the way I was left with some time at the end of 2014 to go back and see just how fast I could run. I wonder if I could strangle another 20-odd seconds off my parkrun time and record my first Xempo Blue performance?
Not only did I manage to run Oxford parkrun in a Blue 21:28 but I also managed to translate the speed into a Blue 44:37 at Eynsham 10k to round off a fabulous year of PBs.
What a year of running I’ve had and it’s not just been about my performances. In the spring I went of the first stages of the British Athletics Coach in Running Fitness course and spent the summer studying, learning and practicing ready for my assessment day in the autumn. I’m very proud to have qualified as an Endurance Coach and get so much pleasure helping other people secure personal bests, whether that be a sub 2 hour half marathon or just being able to run for 30 minutes without stopping. If you love running and want to spread your enthusiasm I would seriously recommend getting more involved by becoming a Run Leader and then perhaps you’ll want to progress to be a fully fledged Endurance Coach. I’ve written more about my experience here.
So with this fantastic year of running drawing to a close I am already thinking about next year and my biggest challenge yet: running my first marathon.
After my initial disappointment of being unsuccessful in the London Marathon ballot, a small charity that is close to my heart came to the rescue; African Children’s Fund secured a single place into the 2015 London Marathon through the inaugural Charity Ballot and I have been given the honour of running it for them.
I’m under no illusions that getting myself from the half marathon distance to the full 26.2 miles is going to be a challenge, even after such a fab year of running, and that’s why I have set my own fundraising goal of £2,000.
I’ve already started to prepare my body for the rigours of marathon training and have put myself through a lab test to help plan my training appropriately. I know that with hard work, I can achieve my initial goal of a sub 4 hour marathon.
I say “initial” as, if you go to the Xempo website, you will see that would be an Orange-level performance. Given that 2014 saw me go Green at half marathon and Blue at 5k and 10k, it would be silly not to have one eye on the Green time of 3h45. Th reason I’m not going for Blue? I don;t realistically think I have time to commit to training enough to go sub 3h30 but you can never say never!
Knowing I have the support of my family, colleagues and friends whilst I set about the long hours of training will help me on my way. And whilst it will be my hard work that will make my time aspiration an achievement, it will be their generosity that will help me achieve my aspiration of raising £2,000 for a small charity who do great things with a small amount.
How was your running year? What do you have planned for next year? Do you set yourself running goals? Do you achieve them? If it’s not about times what other things do your targets involve?