A game of two halves, 2014, but still with a bit of a surprise in the dying minutes.
I won't dwell too much on the first part of the year, I've documented it well enough already. Sufficient to say that injuries and cures took up a lot of time and precluded participation in many planned events. I managed to keep walking around the hills (almost) throughout, but didn't start running again until the middle of April, a gap of 7 months since things went wrong the previous October.
By the 7th June I felt I could jog far enough to join in my nearest ultra, the Cheshire Sandstone Trail race (34 miles, 2500ft ascent). The time of 7:28:00 was far slower than I would normally cover the route in training, but at least we were (sort of) back in business.
I had reasoned that with the winter and spring walking, speed rather than distance was likely to be my nemesis over the year, so I was not put off by the length of events but was determined to do them slowly. Smell the flowers, skim the cut-offs and generally have an enjoyable and recuperative summer. The plan went into action on 21st June with the West Highland Way race (95 miles, 14,700ft). I was nervous about having to average nearly 4 miles an hour for the first 20 miles including the first real climb over Conic Hill, but it went OK and from there to the finish I took my time, getting home in 29:37:33. Over seven hours slower than the previous year, but it was nonetheless a very satisfying experience and an eye-opener on what can be done with virtually no training, so long as one is prepared to cut one's suit according to the cloth available.
The plus side of such a slow journey was that I felt recovered and ready to go again within a couple of days, so I had no hesitation in fetching up at Keswick the following weekend for the Lakes 10 Peaks race (46 miles, 18,400ft). A proper mountain course, this one, plenty of climbing, technical tracks, no tracks, and scrambling. I enjoyed it hugely and finished in 21:24:18.
I had wondered about my long-standing entry in the Lakeland 100 (105 miles, 22,500ft) as this was a course I had found quite challenging enough even when fully fit, but the combination of the West Highland Way and Lakes 10 Peaks experiences gave me enough confidence to turn up at Coniston for the start on 25th July. I'd formulated a scheme of walking all the uphill and flat bits and jogging only the comfortable downhills, and this was good enough to see me to a finish in 38:34:26.
I'd gradually got back into a bit of running by then, covering up to five or six miles at around nine minute mile pace, but longer sessions were still uncomfortable so I didn't push too hard. But at least when the Grand Tour of Skiddaw (46 miles, 7,000ft) came round on 23rd August I was up for jogging reasonable stretches of flat ground. This upped the overall pace a bit to get a finish in 11:10:47 on a beautiful August day.
I'd been so impressed with the laid-back yet well-organised Lakes 10 Peaks that almost immediately after finishing I entered the sister event, the Brecon Beacons 10 Peaks (56 miles, 15,700ft) on 6th September. With the Skiddaw run under my belt and assuming that the Beacons would be easier going than the Lakes (I'd never really been there before), this was the first event of the year that I set myself a time target for, I hoped to get round in under 20 hours. A mistake on three counts: I wasn't yet ready for running long periods, a couple of bad navigational decisions led to my extending the course to over 58 miles, and as I found out on the day, a lot of the territory in the Beacons is far from easy! Still, I finished in 20:51:42 with no real harm done, but resolved to go back to "just complete with enjoyment" for the remainder of the year.
Way back in the year two events in the Lakes had caught my imagination. They were only a fortnight apart and I couldn't decide which one to go for, so after months of procrastination I finally did both. The Lakes 3 x 3000 (47 miles, 12,500ft) came up first on 4th October. The attraction of covering the three classic 3000ft peaks (Scafell Pike, Helvellyn and Skiddaw) in a circular entirely off-road trail run was too good to miss. In the event, the top bit of Scafell Pike was missed (officially!) due to appalling morning conditions on the day, but it was still a nice event, marred a bit for me by the blanket route marking which took away the navigational element which I think is so appealing in mountain events. For this reason alone I may not do it again, but you never know. I finished wet but in good shape in 15:10:02. The other event, the Lakes-in-a-Day (50 miles, 13,100ft) I will definitely go back to. For great organisation and variety of ground covered, with a bit of everything the Lakes has to offer, I thought it was one of the best events of my year. I finished in 16:34:53.
I had nothing planned in November but was looking forward to the Tour de Helvellyn in December. But a bad cold took a grip the last week in November and left me unable to get out at all until just before Christmas, so for the second year running I had to pull out of this classic event before starting.
Earlier in the year I had joined an on-line "2014 miles in 2014" group. With the early injuries, this had seemed an impossibility for me in the late spring, but by November I had just got my head back above the "average" line and it looked like a reasonable December would finish it off. But of course that has gone too now, no big deal but a bit of a sad end to one of these little games we play.
A couple more gentle jogs around the block (or the forest, if the weather looks up a bit) should see me complete around 1950 miles for the year. More important I think is that I have amassed just over 266,000ft of ascent, and I think it is this rather than the miles that has seen me through the majority of the events mentioned earlier. I've now started running again, and it's going to be a fairy long but enjoyable process to get back to somewhere near the fitness I had in 2013; if I can add that to the knowledge I've gained this year on how to complete events when far from in best shape, then I might actually start achieving something again.
So all things considered, not a bad year, much better than I at some times feared. And now, going into 2015 with (touch wood) no injuries, hopes of a better one to come. 2015 will be different in some ways. I may not enter any "100 mile" events. With the Dragon's Back coming up in June, preparation for at least the first half of the year will be about getting used to 30-40 mile days with lots of climbing, navigation and rough ground (and finishing with enough in the tank to set out again the next day!). But I like events, so I will probably do a number of shorter ultras through the Spring; something of a plan is coming together.
Happy New Year!