We're at the time when seasoned bloggers do their review of the year, and although I'm still a beginner having only started in July I didn't feel that I could escape the deal. I wondered if it wasn't really my thing because the year is already fading from my near consciousness and I'm thinking more about what is to come than what has been, but I found deliberately looking back triggered a lot of memories and overall it's been a more enjoyable task than I was expecting.
First, the blog. I've no idea how many people read these ramblings but I've enjoyed writing it and I'm sure it's been good for me to try to crystallise my random thoughts from time to time, and it gives me something to look back on if nothing else. I'll carry on for another year at least, to get in a full calendar season and try to get some overall perspective. Same pattern as this year, not many blow-by-blow accounts of training sessions, just events or days out that I've found good experiences and occasional other stuff that interests me.
Next, the people. I have already met a lot of amazing characters since taking up this rather questionable sport three years ago, but this year has been especially rich in new acquaintances and getting to know people I only half knew, or those I had only met in the ether. But of course we lost Dario; I neither knew him as well nor could I write of him as eloquently as his close friends have, but he always talked warmly and at length with me and my family whenever we saw him, and he was instrumental in getting me into this game in the first place for which I will always be grateful. I'll think of him whenever I set foot on the West Highland Way.
Now I suppose the running. I set my sights on 9 races this year ranging from half marathon distance to a hundred miles plus, starting in March with the Wuthering Hike and finishing in December at the Rotherham Round, but the latter was moved to a date in October I couldn't make so I ended up running just 8. I chose them not for any rational athletic reasons but because I thought, or in some cases already knew, that they would be good days out. The year started well in Haworth where I knocked just over 4 minutes off my best time for the Wuthering Hike - not a lot in a hilly 32 miles but good enough to let the senior citzen know that he hasn't become completely decrepit since last year. The next two races were in pure performance terms the best of the year for me. I started the Rotterdam Marathon with the intention of just enjoying the day; in perfect running conditions I looked at my watch just twice, once at half way and once at 10k to go, finishing in a "where did that come from?" time of 3 hours 17 minutes, faster than my previous best by over 7 minutes. I have to be honest at my age I don't expect to beat or even come near this ever again. In the Highland Fling in April I set myself a challenging (for me) target of 10 hours 36 minutes (ie 5 miles an hour average) and came home in 10-23. My warm glow at the finish was only slightly tempered by not winning the over 60's class in spite of beating the previous record by over three quarters of an hour - reality is always there to put you back in your place when you get too full of yourself! Again, I don't expect to beat this time in the future.
The West Highland Way came next, and although 24-44 beat my previous best by nearly two hours I was still a bit disappointed not to get in just under the 24. I think I can still improve here though, I'm convinced that in the longer races a bit of experience (or is it just low cunning) can pay off. The Devil o'the Highlands was great for me for three reasons; it's a wonderful fast course (the WHW without the messy bits), it was good to join the "triple crown" band (runners who have completed the Fling, Devil, and WHW in the same year), and my time of 7-39 felt very comfortable as I was running conservatively in view of the upcoming UTMB. I think I could knock a chunk off this, but the need to find a support crew and to commit to the race so early the previous year because of its popularity probably means I won't run it again for a while. As in previous years my next race the UTMB was a real disappointment, the big one got away again when I dropped out about two thirds of the way round. It remains the only ultra where I have recorded a "Did Not Finish" (three times!) but I'll be back again in 2010 if I can get a place in the ballot.
My final two races were family affairs. We always go to the Great North Run in Newcastle, and after a summer of running slowly up and down hills my time of nearly 1-37 was certainly not sparkling (barely a minute faster than my second half split in the Rotterdam Marathon earlier in the year) but it was fun. So was running the Amsterdam Marathon a month later where I finished in 3-51. The move of the Rotherham Round was really a shame for me, this 50 mile feast of mud, rain and darkness in December had been a highlight of the two previous years, so after Amsterdam in mid October the events were done, and I spent the rest of the year just ticking over and scoping some potential events for next year.
I've just read John K's blog on his own review of the year and while I'm nowhere near as organised I found some of the statistics fascinating, so I've trawled through my diary to find a few of my own. In the year I ran a total of 2207 miles, probably more than I need to and I'll aim for no more than 2000 next year, but it's how they are built up that's interesting. John ran 2326 miles, but only ran over 20 miles on 15 occasions including races, whereas I ran over 20 miles 28 times, including 11 times over 30 miles. Now JK's a far and away better runner than me, but his figures seem to show that you can produce some pretty good ultra performances without doing too many long runs. On the flip side, I like long days out in the hills, they seem more like fun than training, and I have the time to indulge myself, so come the longer daylight I expect I'll be out there doing just the same next year!
But these are just figures. The events are rewarding experiences and they give us focus, but there was much, much more to 2009 than that. I have a hundred memories that I will treasure; of surprising the same pair of walkers three times on Snowdon on the same day, of the fiery furnace that was the Nantlle Ridge in early summer (yes, Wales!), of clattering down Steel Fell at a speed I thought was now beyond me with a companion who I had met a few short hours earlier, of the hundreds of people who gathered to wish Dario farewell, of the Anglesey coast path on a calm clear early morning, of meeting the dawn on the Col de la Seigne, of discovering parts of the Lake District I never knew existed, of my son's elation as we crossed the finishing line together in Amsterdam, and of running on the near-deserted roads two evenings before Christmas, snowflakes falling gently through the glow of the streetlights, my feet silently making the only marks on the shallow fresh carpet beneath, content.
Yes, a good enough year. But of course, next year will be better.....