There’s still plenty of running to do in 2016 but with all my target races completed it’s time to relax and look back on my running year. And what a year it turned out to be!
I came into 2016 with mixed feelings: in 2015 I’d run my first marathon and scored a clutch of PBs but a disappointing Oxford Half Marathon in the October gave me focus for the winter.
January saw me take on my first ever cross country race and I loved it! Make no mistake, the terrain was tough, the hills were tougher but the downhills were exhilarating and the club spirit was uplifting.
Other than the remaining Oxford League XC races, I opted to concentrate on training over racing and didn’t toe the start line of a road race until the start of the Mota-vation series at the end of April.
The Mota-vation series is set at 5 Oxfordshire locations on Thursday evenings through the summer. The races are around 4 miles long with a range of flat, undulating and hilly courses. This was my 3rd year of taking part and I was looking forward to testing myself.
I attacked the April race at Charlton-on-Otmoor and took 44 seconds of my previous best around this fast and flat course.
I missed the June race due to short-notice work committments but was back in July at the first of two Combe races. Both are hilly and I was looking forward to putting some of the hill training I’d been doing to the test.
At the July Combe race I managed to shave 9 seconds off my previous best and felt much stronger on the hills. The August Combe race is a different course and requires two ascents of much more significant hill. The hill training really kicked in and helped me to a 31 second improvement on my course best.
The series was wrapped up on my least favourite of the courses, a flatter route in Oxford. Despite not feeling great and bracing myself to struggle round I ran a very disciplined race. My reward was smashing 41 seconds off my previous course best. A great way to end the series.
Over the summer I had also been pursuing my fascination with the mile. Two races in London would see me attempt to beat my personal best on the road and the track.
The City of London Mile is an absolutely fantastic event that I have run every year since it’s formation in 2014. Multiple waves suitable for all runners, this free event (yes – FREE!) is well organised, well supported and provides a great medal for the bling hunters.
On a slightly adjusted course this year I was unsure if I’d be able to better last year’s time but I crossed the line in 5:56, taking 4 seconds off my PB. The only frustrating thing is I had perhaps been a little too cautious for the first half of the race so there might have been a little more to take.
Due to other commitments, my track mile attempt switched from the iconic Iffley Road track in Oxford to a brand new event in London at the Battersea Park track. The SOAR Mile was being organised as a promo for the clothing brand, SOAR. I was due to be in London anyway, it was cheap to enter and beer for all finishers was on offer so it sounded ideal.
The weather was a little less than ideal with the baking sun still hot even into the evening races. Conscious of the potential affect of the heat while running on the limit, I held a little back until the last lap. Spectators were encouraged to line lane 4 and shout, cheer and cow-bell us over the finish line. It helped me to a new PB of 5:54.34, an improvement of just over 2 seconds. I was surprised and left thinking “what if” about the weather!
After a summer of focusing on the shorter distance it was time to switch my attention to endurance again and attempt to put my Oxford Half ghost to rest.
The most serious, consistent block of training since my 2015 marathon set me up perfectly for a PB attempt. Despite writing about my race plan in the vain hope I’d pay more respect to it, I tore it up and ran like a dick in the first 5k. That repaid me in the last 5k with heavy legs and even though I mustered a sprint finish I was 15 seconds too late for a PB.
Fortunately my wife is a clever woman and suggested I find another half marathon to enter to capitalise on my training efforts and have a more disciplined attempt.
I found the uninspiring but pan-flat Autumn Shakespeare race perfectly timed to fall on an empty weekend. What better chance could I have to PB and perhaps even get the elusive sub-100 minute time I’d been hoping for.
Well! I was pleasantly surprised by the organisation of the event and I actually think running laps helped me break the race down into sections. I ran a very patient race, keeping to my pace plan and it seemed to fly by. My pacing meant I had enough to kick for the final kilometre and my efforts were rewarded. Not only a PB but the elusive sub-100 minute time: 1:39:52.
What a feeling to finally beat the half marathon demons! All that was left of my season was a two week gap until the Eynsham 10k.
With PBs secured at every distance I’d raced this year from mile to half marathon, could I complete the set by adding a 10k PB? Everything suggested that I could until I woke up the morning after a stag do just a week before the race.
My ribs were agony. There were no marks, bruises or memories as to what had caused this pain but it was not ideal prep for a 10k race. I’ve broken my ribs twice before so I knew they weren’t as bad as that but whatever I’d done was limiting my ability to breathe.
Ibuprofen helped take the edge off and through the week, especially after a run, they were getting better. On race morning they were as good as they’d been but were still causing me some grief so I decided I’d run the first 5k lap of Eynsham at target pace and see what happened.
Even though I’d allowed myself to consider my first DNF things were going ok at halfway but between 6 and 7k the pain discomfort increased and manifested itself as a severe stitch. Easing slightly and exhaling deeply got me back into a manageable state and by 8k I felt really good. I stick to my pace plan until we approached 9k when I began to ramp up to the finish.
A strong last few hundred metres got me across the line in a time of 44:19 – a new PB by 18 seconds. Not bad for someone with damaged ribs! Looking back at my splits, I’d averaged 4:28 for the first 9 kilometres which woudn’t have been quick enough to score a PB, but finishing the final kilometre in 4 minutes exactly was enough to swing it.
It just goes to show that pacing a race right sets you up for a strong finish and delivers quick times.
And it’s not just my road and track times that have fallen this year with my Oxford parkrun time improving by 21 seconds to 21:03 and I also managed a 21:00 at Bicester parkrun.
Some may say that, as a relatively new runner, my PBs are just coming from having run more and another year of training under my belt. There maybe some truth in that. Personally, and as a coach, I would say that concentrating on running long slow runs slower and injecting some quality speed and hill sessions have given my body the mix of training stimuli to improve my times.
So now I get to kick back a little and begin my transition to get ready for my London Marathon training to commence in January! I wonder what next year will bring?