21 Jan 2014

Year in Review: Top 5 Worst/Toughest Races

With 2013 now nothing more than a distant memory I've decided to finally get off my arse and provide a bit of a wrap up of my personal record breaking year of running. My 1000km challenge took me all across the country and with running 53 races it was inevitable that whilst I would have some great experiences and races, there would also be some bad ones. In the first of a two part series I will reflect on some of the toughest races of my year, whether due to a challenge course, bad weather or my own physical condition going into the race.

Of course the easy (and lazy) option would be to go with 5 of the 6 marathons I ran last year, but instead to resist temptation I have limited my selection to one race from each distance plus a couple of wildcards.

So, without further ado, here is my top 5 (in no particular order) worst/toughest races of 2013.

*Plays Top of the Pops music*

Grimsthorpe Castle 10K

"There's a Grimsthorpe PB and then your normal PB."

Whilst most were taking advantage of the three day weekend, on the August Bank Holiday Monday I took to the Grimsthorpe Festival for their 10K race. Coming less than a week after Jenny suffered her suspected TIA, it's safe to say my mind was elsewhere going into the race. What I wanted was a nice simple race, where I could add on another 10km to my total and then be home in time for tea.

Instead what I found was an undulating course through fields with overgrown grass, where a twisted ankle was only a wrong step away. With two 10 mile races lined up on the Saturday, I took a cautious approach throughout the race, a decision helped by the course, as my usual reckless approach could easily have ended in disaster. The race was marred by the emotional events the previous week, in different circumstances I may have enjoyed it a little more, but as it stands it's one that I wouldn't be in any hurry to do again.

Honourable Mention: Sheffield Man of Steel
The race itself was one of the more enjoyable ones of the year, but it will always be remembered as the £300+ race where I lost a GoPro camera in a pond. If I can shake the frustration, I may end up doing it again.


It would be wrong to assume that because a race has made this list that I didn't enjoy it and would be reluctant to run it again. In fact the 12.12 race could quite easily have made my 'Best Races of 2013' list, but instead here it sits on the other side of the fence. More so than any other race, perhaps even including a some of the marathons, this one took it out of me the most. With a total elevation of over 2,000ft in just 12 miles, blistering heat, running without any nutrition and my fitness being well below a level I'd be happy with, it was one of the toughest races I ran all year.

Yet if given the choice I would run it again tomorrow. The views of the Peak District were spectacular and aside from getting lost a couple of times, despite initially feeling out of place amongst a strong looking field, I felt at home on the course. It's currently sitting at the top of my wishlist for this year and this time maybe I'll even be prepared for it.

Spires & Steeples Marathon

Running 6 marathons in a year was always going to be an ask, particularly when as of April I had yet to run a single marathon (ever). With the frequency of events tailing off during the hotter, summer months, there was always the potential for the events to bunch up a bit later on in the year. And that is exactly what happened, with 3 of my 6 marathons coming in just four weeks in September/October.

Whilst you would expect each race to get progressively tougher as fatigue set in, it was the second of these, the Spires & Steeples Challenge 26 that would prove to be the toughest of the lot. I had been suffering with insomnia for the week before the race and then on the Friday I went down with what would commonly be termed 'man flu'. Common sense would have seen me call the race off, but instead at 9am I found myself at the start line ready to run my 4th marathon of the year. Heavy rain for a few days before the race lead to sections of the course almost being impassable and attempting to run through the rain sodden fields only made you sink in deeper. When I crossed the finish line 4 and a half hours later I was then faced with the challenge of getting home and ended up having to walk 10+ miles home.

Sleaford Half Marathon

If you were to look at this from a purely objective perspective you would see that I smashed my PB at Sleaford by around 7 minutes and you would wonder what the hell it is doing on this list. However if you were to catch up with me five miles into the race you would see a very different story, mentally and physically I was in pieces.

Throughout the year, almost without exception, I ran every race as fast as I could, disregarding how I was feeling beforehand, the course or how this would impact on me later on. Before the race I had decided that it was the day to go for a PB attempt, a few miles in I was caught off guard by hills and off road sections and by mile five I was crippled by the most intense stitch I've ever experienced and everything that could, seemed to be going wrong.

It was the first time in the year that I began to question whether my plans were even possible, my fitness would have to go up a few levels and it felt like I would need a hell of a lot of luck to avoid injury. Somehow I managed to sort myself out and in the end I crossed the line with a new PB by a massive 7 minutes so my melodrama was all for nothing, aside from perhaps being great motivation.

Honourable Mention: Great North Run
For the cost of the entry and it being the (self-proclaimed) best half marathon in the world I expected a lot. Instead what I got was 13 miles along interchangeable dual carriageways and a longer wait to leave the car park than it took me to run the race. The miserable weather certainly didn't help either.

Great South Run

On paper this was an easy race. A flat 10 mile race through Portsmouth after the three marathons I'd ran in the previous month should have seemed like a simple warm up. The extreme weather that was forecast for the weekend threatened to put the race in doubt, but despite the promise of heavy rain and very strong winds, the worst of the storm was due to miss the race and so it went ahead.

As a rare 'holiday' I left any sensible decision making at home and instead went on a path of destructive eating 12 hours before the race. Starting firstly with a large mixed grill the night before, followed up in the morning with a large fried breakfast. Hardly an ideal athletes diet, but then I never did do things easily. As the race started it was soon clear that my body was very much running on empty after the three marathons and my own personal attempts to sabotage my race preparation. The worst part of the race was still to come however, with the final mile and a half being straight into the wrath of St. Jude. I'm still waking up in cold sweats due to the wind.

What is the worst race you've ever ran?

9 Jan 2014

1043.2 - 1093.48KM: The Big Finale (Lincoln & District Runners' Charity Christmas Cross Country & Liverbird New Years Eve Marathon)

Just over a week ago I brought my year of running to an end with my 6th marathon of the year and 15 months of planning had finally been brought into fruition as I bookended the year as I had planned with the Liverbird New Year's Eve Marathon. Before that I had the small matter of reaching my secondary target of 2013, running 52 races in a calendar year.

1043.2 - 1051.28KM: Lincoln & District Runners' Charity Christmas Cross Country

Like with many of the 20+ races I ran in Lincolnshire in 2013, the 'Lincoln & District Runners' Charity Christmas Cross Country' was yet another race that had been on my doorstep for years but I had been ignorant of. It also won the record of having the longest race name of the year, one it will hold for quite a while, as well as being quite unique with it's race entry being the donation of toys or selection boxes to a local children's charity.

Soo close...
After a brisk 2 mile walk from my front door to the start of the race I was greeted by the sight of several bin bags full of chocolate. Avoiding the temptation to grab one and run off, I handed over my donation and then received my 52nd race number of the year in return. A few minutes later and it was time to line up at the start of the race, for the first of 5, mile long laps around Lincoln's South Common.

With each lap the race course got tougher as the terrain began to be chewed up underfoot. The two short, but steep climbs started of as slightly challenging, by the end of the race as the mud turned very slippery under foot and forced me to walking pace in an attempt to keep my balance. Once at the top the course would turn to trail as we ran along the top of common before two stile crossings in quick succession and then back down towards the start and another lap. On the first lap I watched on in envy as other competitors feeling particularly more energetic than me leaped both stiles. I followed suit for the remainder of the laps for the first stile, but wasn't willing to push my luck too much and so always climbed over the second. Before too long I found myself crossing the finish line to my 52nd race of the year to little fan fare, then continued on running back home for a nice warm shower and a cup of tea.

Distance: 7.08 km | 5.02 miles
Time: 00:45:33
Official Time: N/A
Average Pace: 05:38 min/km | 09:04 min/mi
Playlist: N/A
Goody Bag: N/A


View my run:

1051.28 - 1093.48KM: Liverbird New Year's Eve Marathon

At the beginning of the year when I began to think about how I could end my 1000km Challenge there were few options available. The one that stood out was the Liverbird New Years Eve Marathon, as not only would it allow me to run the required 6th marathon of the year, but it would also bookend the year perfectly and the Cleethorpes New Years Day 10k. Roll on 12 months and there I was on the River Mersey about to run my last 26.2 miles of the year.

It's safe to say I wasn't particularly feeling up for the marathon. As the rain was lashing down on the car windscreen on the way to the race I jovially, but also semi seriously, questioned why I was still doing it. I had completed the 1000KM Challenge over a month ago and just the other week I ran my 52nd race of the year, so there was little riding on my attendance. My main reason for signing up, even when I knew I would already reach my target before hand, was the matter of the '6th' marathon. Throughout the year I had always maintained that I would be running 6, even now that I wouldn't need to and even if I was probably the only person that would care if I didn't.

Definitely not ready for this...
It wasn't the best frame of mind to be in only minutes before running a marathon, but with my number pinned on and less than 10 minutes to go until the start I did what I could to focus on the upcoming race. With a few minutes to go the rain stopped and as the clouds dispersed, my ability to blame the weather went with them.

The course was a fairly simple affair, with four 3 and a bit miles out and back laps along the river. After touching the wall at the end of the first half of a lap, we turned back in the direction of the start, ran around the red cowboy hat and then back again another three times. Early on I felt deceptively fresh and I began to be concerned as to whether I could simply roll out of bed with little preparation and run a marathon. It would be a good skill to have but one I would no doubt exploit down the line. Fortunately this would soon prove to not be the case and my pace would slowly, but surely begin to drop off. The multi lapped out and back course would prove to be a challenge mentally as much as it was physically. Whilst it could be used to your advantage by knowing exactly how far was left to run, the same reasons could be used in a negative light. Add to that the sight of the faster runners 'lapping' you and seeing them at the finish line whilst I still had another 7 miles to go, psychologically it would be my toughest race yet.

My pace dropped significantly for the last lap and a bit and I found myself running the toughest end to a marathon of my year. The last 8 miles would take me well over 90 minutes, around 15 minutes slower than the opening 8 miles. There's hitting the wall and then there is the battle I found myself in for the last part of the race, at times it felt like I was barely moving and it became a case of ticking each mile off, one by one, until the finish line came into sight. For once I had nothing left in reserve to muster any thing resembling a sprint finish, even seeing Jenny waiting for me on the finish line barely raised a smile. Eventually I stumbled over the line, grabbed a bottle of water and slumped onto the nearest bench. After one long year, the 1000KM Challenge was now finally over.

One year, 53 races and 1093.475km later and it's all over
At the time I blamed it on lack of training, general tiredness and a little bit of indulging over Christmas. It wasn't until a few days afterwards that it dawned on me that I gave blood on Sunday, less than 36 hours before running the Marathon. As it turns out I'm not superhuman and I lack Wolverine's healing abilities. In hindsight it was a bit of a reckless thing to do, as it could take at least 6 weeks to fully recover and something I will certainly learn from. Yet, as tough as the race was, the weather was kind to us, certainly in comparison to the following day's marathon. So I guess in hindsight, it could always have been worse...

(The Day Before) The Day After Tomorrow

This post has been one of the toughest of the past year to write, for the past week I have spent every evening sat in front of my laptop waiting for these words to write themselves. As the challenge was drawing to a close, each post felt more difficult to get down and it felt like I was loosing enthusiasm for running. At the beginning of the year I never felt like I needed motivation to get out on the road, but as the year wore on I found the 'Challenge' as a great kick up the arse on weekends when I'd rather stay in bed. Now it's over, along with general fatigue I've found myself stuck in a rut.

If you haven't already done so then I ask you to take a look at my '2013 in Review: The Facts & Figures' infographic, for a look at numbers behind my past year of running.

If you're feeling generous and have made a New Years Resolution to be a better person, my JustGiving page is still open, so please visit http://justgiving.com/shanes1000km


Distance: 42.17 km | 26.2 miles
Time: 04:16:34
Official Time: N/A
Average Pace: 06:05 min/km | 09:50 min/mi
Playlist: Iced Earth
Goody Bag: Medal


View my run:

2 Jan 2014

My goal is to run to the Moon

So 2013 is over and yesterday I saw the year out with a bang, or rather a shuffle and a bit of a limp, with the Liverbird New Year's Eve Marathon. Three hundred and sixty-five days, 53 races and 1093.48kms after starting the year at the Cleethorpes New Year's Day 10K my running adventure had come to an end. The question is, and one I have been asked constantly for the past month, what happens next?

I've looked better...

Well first things first, I'll be taking a bit of a rest. At least until the weekend, when my knee will hopefully have sorted itself out and finally get back down to my second Park Run. In truth I should probably give it a few more days than that, but I'll just end up playing it by ear.

Next stop...The Moon
My 1000km challenge is over, so Shane's 1000KM challenge is now kind of redundant. So later this month (January) I will be re-launching my blog/site as Run To The Moon.

"That's a stupid name, what's it all about?"

On a cold,  Autumnal evening when I was bored and couldn't find anything to do I worked out that if I ran 10km everyday it would take 105 years to run to the moon and to run 384,400KM by the time I turned 80 I'd need to run 18.8km a day, everyday. And so the crazy idea was born. Soon enough I was brought crashing back down to Earth when I began to realise just how improbable it was.My body is old before it's time, I'm scared to think what state my knees will be in by the time I reach 40. But it's not impossible, you only have to look at the likes of Jamie McDonald to see that the human body is capable of far more than you can possible dream of. 

I'll confirm now that I have no misconceptions about being able to run a quarter of a million miles, rather I thought it was a good 'brand' for the yearly running challenges I plan to embark on from here on out. I felt that the name represented one man daring to dream big, to set themselves an almost impossible task, to push themselves well out of their comfort zone and to do everything they can to help others.

It's no secret that I have gained a massive sense of satisfaction from my fundraising last year, at times it felt like it gave my running a purpose. To the outsider the amount I ran last year may not seem anything special, but if you compare it to what a normal running year for me looked like then it gives it a little more context. Typically I would run 4 or 5 races a year, a couple of 10Ks and the rest Half Marathons. The rest of the year would be spent either getting injured, or recovering from injury, so the fact that I survived last year surprised even me.Truth is I blagged this past year heavily, I never trained properly and I ate terribly and I'm left asking myself what more I'm capable of.

So what exactly is next?
So how do I go one better than running 1000KM? I don't, I go 3.241 times better. My next challenge is quite simple, to 'Run the Year', to run a total of 2014 miles between January 1st and December 31st. The reason for picking this is that it was simple and after making my Bank Manager very angry last year with travelling all across the country every weekend and spending the best part of £1,500 doing so, it's also relatively low key.

All I need are my trainers, an open road and some way of measuring where I'm running. There a still a handful of races that I have my eye on this year, some, ones I missed out on last year and others like the Equinox24, as I look to improve my fitness and challenge myself further.

I will be keeping my JustGiving page open as long as I can, for the benefit of those who still wish to sponsor me for last or this year's antics, or for those who have just stumbled across me. Originally I set myself a fundraising target of £6,000 and whilst I have raised an incredible £4,500 I still intend to do what I can to come as close to that target as I can.

I will be announcing more about Run To The Moon in the coming weeks, including my plans for 2014 and beyond. This weekend I will also be posting my write up of the final two races of 2013 as well as giving a recap on the highs and lows of the past year.