As the dying embers of 2014 begin to flicker out, it’s high time I reflected on what has been one of the most unbelievable years in my running history so far. There have been incredible ups and seemingly endless downs, but I learned a lot about myself and discovered some new joys along the way.
This time last year I set out my challenge for 2014: 3 marathons and 2 half marathons, with the sole aim of completing that challenge in one piece. Ultimately, my challenge became something quite different (for a variety of reasons) and although for some time it looked like it might break me, I am finishing the year feeling strong and ready for 2015.
After a difficult 2013 plagued by illness and injury, I began 2014 feeling strong and successfully worked my way through my marathon training programme, a programme which ultimately saw me complete the Paris Marathon with a huge new PB of 4:05:07. This was without a doubt the high point of the year, however it was in my recovery from this race that things began to go wrong.
In hindsight, I know what I did wrong and I have learned from my mistakes. In the days following the marathon I felt good. Ok, so I had the obligatory soreness for a few days (probably not helped by an ill-timed sprint through Brussels airport in order to make our flight connection home!), but by the end of the week I was champing at the bit to get my trainers on again. Sometimes in the aftermath of a marathon people are more than happy to take a break from running, but not me, I was desperate to run! If I had run 4:05 in Paris, what was I capable of doing in Edinburgh? So I put my trainers on, and I ran.
And that was when it all began to unravel.
Three weeks after Paris I was given the opportunity to run in the Balmoral 10k. The route features a notoriously tough hill and runners are advised not to aim for a PB, yet I came very close to actually getting one and was determined to nail that PB a couple of weeks later in Glasgow. But my ambition came with a price. I was beginning to feel a bit of a grumbling from my left leg, the same left leg where I had suffered problems with my tibialis posterior late in 2013. It didn’t feel all that bad, so with a bit of stretching (and my tape on standby ready to strap my leg if necessary) I ran through it. By the time I finished the race in Glasgow, I was in a lot of pain. I may have secured that new PB, but it cost me dearly, and so began my descent into a prolonged and seemingly never-ending abyss of injury.
So what did I do wrong? Simple, I started running again too soon after the marathon and I failed to listen to my body when it was telling me to stop. I should have read the signs, but I ploughed on regardless, leading to my third mistake: I ran the Edinburgh Marathon at the end of May, putting the final nail in the coffin.
I know now that I am my own worst enemy. I actually thought I was better at listening to my body than I had been in the past, but quite clearly I was wrong. It was a week until I could walk properly again, and even longer before I was walking pain-free. I didn’t run at all in June, the first time I’ve recorded a “0” month since I began tracking my mileage in 2010, and the impact on my wellbeing was obvious. Until I found cycling.
If it hadn’t been for the suggestion that I start cycling (something I hadn’t done since I was a child), I really don’t know how I would have coped. I didn’t feel quite the same sense of achievement as I did with running, but it was a pretty good alternative. Cycling got me outside when I had been cooped up in the gym; cycling gave me the freedom to explore new routes and discover new places; and cycling gave me a new challenge in the form of the Macmillan Cycletta which I completed in early October. For me, cycling was just the lifeline I needed to lift me out of my despair at not being able to run (what a difference to my mood without those running-induced endorphins!) and gave me something to focus on. After one or two tentative test runs in the summer, I had to make some tough decisions and pull out of both the Loch Ness marathon and the Scottish half marathon. I had to alter some other plans, resulting in me WALKING the One Big Weekend 5k (yet not coming last!) and being sweep cyclist in the Perth 10k. My leg improved enough to allow me to take part in the Relay Wild Triathlon in late August, but I knew that longer distances were out of the question and at that stage I actually put off a return to running in favour of devoting more time to cycling. This delay no doubt did me good in the long term as I was able to start running again in late October without any problems.
What started out as 3 marathons and 2 half marathons, ended up being 2 marathons and 1 cycling event. For the first time in years, I did not run a half marathon (one of my planned ones was cancelled and I had to withdraw from the other). My year may not have gone to plan, but somehow I still managed to fill my medal hanger, with the final (glow in the dark!) medal from a virtual race arriving today!
A key thing I learned from this year (apart from taking a longer break after a marathon and listening to my body more closely!) is to be adaptable. I always advise people looking for marathon training programmes to look for something that fits them, rather than trying to shoehorn their lives into something that just doesn’t fit, and to be flexible about changing the plan if life gets in the way. This applies equally well to our goals – life has a somewhat inevitable tendency to affect our plans, but rather than giving up we need to refine our plans and create success. I may have pulled out of some races this year, but I still consider my year to be a success: I ran a marathon PB, I discovered cycling and I raised over £5000 for my chosen charity. How can that be anything other than a success?
I’ll remember 2014 for many things: I’ll remember the high of a PB in my favourite city in the world and the floods of supportive and congratulatory messages I received as I kick-started my challenge; I’ll remember the low of lengthy injury and weeks of physiotherapy & podiatry appointments; I’ll remember the joy of getting out on a bike for the first time in years and buying my first road bike; I’ll remember making new friends through blogging and being able to meet up with Danielle, Jaynie and Julia, as well as having a Skype chat with Kyla; I’ll remember the satisfaction of helping others learn to run and seeing them reach their goals; I’ll remember my first tentative steps towards triathlon (my swimming still needs a lot of work!); I’ll remember the generosity of others in donating to my cause, especially my friend Ian (who wrote about his motivation for supporting me via his business in a guest post) and most importantly I’ll remember the difference the money raised will make to the lives of those affected by cancer.
And now, on the cusp of 2015, it’s time to start afresh. I don’t mean in a “new year, new you” kind of way, I mean a fresh challenge. Some people are already aware of parts of my plans for 2015, but this is the first time I will “officially” set them out, and that means the challenge ahead is much more “real” than it was before!
In 2015, I am going to continue my fundraising for Macmillan Cancer Support. Why? Because not only is this a charity close to my heart, but I also feel I have unfinished business from my 2014 challenge. I committed to running three marathons for Macmillan, but ultimately “only” ran two when injury intervened, so with that in mind I am going to complete that commitment by running the Paris marathon again in April. I’m going to train sensibly and keep my fingers crossed that I can break that elusive 4 hour barrier.
Not only that, but I’m going to continue cycling in 2015 with an even bigger challenge. This year I took on my first ever cycling event with the 40km Cycletta (about 25 miles) but in 2015 I will be going big and taking on the Etape Caledonia in May – an 81 mile event (yes, you read that right, 81 miles!!). I’m both excited and nervous about this one and really only aim to finish (preferably in front of the sweep vehicle!) without any particular time goal in mind.
Enough? Never! I’m going to conclude my spring racing with a bit of madness in Edinburgh. I’m not quite barmy enough to take on the madness of all 4 races like Steve did this year (read: I can’t run the half marathon quickly enough to then get back for the start of the full marathon) but there is still a way to run in all 4 races. That’s right, in 2015 I will be running the 5k and 10k on the Saturday, followed by the half marathon and final leg of the Hairy Haggis Team Really on the Sunday. There are going to be some logistics to deal with, but provided I pace myself right, it is definitely possible and I’m excited about the prospect of taking on something new.
After that, I think I’ll have a bit of a rest, but all being well I’ll round of the year with some autumn races, perhaps a half marathon or two. I’m definitely due a PB at that distance!
I hope you’ve enjoyed following my adventures in 2014 and will stay with me on my journey in 2015. Remember you can also follow my page on Facebook for updates or subscribe to the blog (links on the right hand side of the page if you’re viewing this via a web browser) so you never miss a post. In the meantime, I wish you a very happy new year and invite you to share your goals for 2015 in the comments below.
The Running Princess x