2021 – it already feels a lot like 2020 in many respects! The New Year has brought new restrictions, another lockdown and many of the same challenges. I am working from home – as I have been since March 2020 – only leaving the house once a day to run or walk, and seeing just a handful of people each week. However, perhaps unlike 2020, this way of life no longer seems a shock to the system; I know what it feels like and the things you must accept are part of living through a pandemic.
Thankfully, the Government’s recognition of the importance of being able to get out for daily exercise has remained into 2021. At present we can even buddy to exercise with one other person, which for someone like me who lives alone, is a huge bonus. I am not sure how long that will last, but it is something positive for now.
As this year has started, I have therefore enjoyed being able to get out and meet friends for some miles. As lockdown now means my Run Club cannot meet, we have also set a virtual challenge to our members with various points awarded for finding certain objects on runs, step counts, healthy food choices etc. It has given some focus and a distraction from the going’s on in the world – plus a bit of healthy competition!
In a wider running context, I have no real goals for this year – there are still longstanding running goals I want to achieve – but I see little point in pinning them down at this moment in time whilst Covid still remains rampant. Some races are on the calendar, mainly those which I transferred places from 2020 – but whether those due to take place in April/May will be possible, I will wait and see. I have entered the virtual Ashby 20 in April (mainly because I love the hoodies!) and hope this will give me some further focus and an extra reason to enjoy some longer weekend runs again.
In the weeks ahead my plan is to therefore to continue just to enjoy running, keep a good base of fitness and mileage, and where possible relish running with friends. Simple goals, but realistic at the same time. I believe there is a brighter period ahead during 2021, but for now we just need to take each day at a time… and keep running!
2020 will certainly be a year we will all never forget, perhaps not for the memorable moments we had planned or the things we had hoped to achieve, but for the worldwide pandemic which has changed our lives and left every single person to face new challenges to their way of living. It has simultaneously felt like so much has happened this year and like nothing has happened at all. I paused blogging for a while as my running training had stopped and I did not want the pressure of feeling like I should be training for something, but I am pleased I have sat down to reflect on this year; it has felt surreal, and looking back on it now, it feels even more surreal!
If you can think back to the start of 2020, life feels almost unrecognisable – I was training for the London Marathon and thoroughly enjoying sharing marathon training journeys with several of my Run Club friends. Alongside this I was throwing myself into work doing a job I loved and living my usual busy life where my house was more of a hotel, waking up at 5:30am to run and often not getting home until 8 or 9pm at night (oh how things have changed…!) I had also logged two great races during these early months of the year; the Stamford 30k which I ran with Run Club friends and felt strong despite the challenging conditions and a lot of hills, as well as a great day out at the Cambridge Half Marathon with my sister and her boyfriend.
Then it all changed. Lockdowns, working from home for endless months, learning what 2 metres looks like, clapping on the street, queuing to get into Tesco, shopping for vulnerable strangers who needed help, working out in my living room, and Zoom – how can I forget Zoom! Running remained a constant though, and whilst Boris Johnson and co. have made some questionable decisions this year, one thing I am appreciative of is their recognition of the importance of exercise. I have run constantly all year, and probably logged a lot more miles than normal, keeping a consistent level of good weekly mileage. Due to this I feel my base level of running fitness has improved – it sounds almost arrogant, but I have been able to perform well at the few races that were possible in the latter part of the year without really training for them. Throughout 2020, running has been the focus of moments of enjoyment as in previous years, however it has taken at times a very different form.
For many weeks, running was solo adventures around a deserted Lincoln, running down the centre of roads which you never would normally dream of without even having to look to cross junctions. It gave me fresh air and kept me sane through many months of working from home, and I think judging by the amount of runners I would see out, was a sanctuary many others found. When restrictions eased and exercise was allowed with one other person, I was able to finally run with others again – a particular joy for someone like me who lives alone. Socially distanced runs eventually became small bubbles of running, which allowed the return of Run Club in little groups. Being a Run Leader has never been so rewarding as when my Run Club returned; seeing friends each week and knowing that we were all appreciative of that structure, escapism, and togetherness. It has been far more than just running.
The London Marathon played with my emotions throughout 2020. The postponement of the event in Spring paused my training, and instead I completed a 2.6 running themed challenge on what would have been London Marathon day, running 13 miles around Lincoln including 13 of the steepest hills in the city to raise funds for the charity I work for. Training then started again in the summer and went on far longer than it should have before the London Marathon organisers finally decided to cancel the rearranged October date. I then lost my Good For Age place in the mess they made of transferring people into future dates – which is another story…
In addition to the 2.6 challenge, I also took on a 10k challenge raising funds to tackle food poverty in Lincoln, which was led by my workplace. I ran laps around Lincoln City FC’s pitch until I reached 10k (I honestly cannot remember how many laps it was now – but it was A LOT!!) which also coincided with it being one of the hottest days of the year, registering at a sweltering 32 degrees. A fellow Run Club member also ran seven half marathons in seven days to raise funds to support the NHS, and I joined him for one of his runs as well as getting caught up in the excitement that rippled through our Run Club during the week.
Summer brought more freedom to running and life. I was able to see my family for the first time in 2020 and also enjoyed some trail adventures when my sister was able to visit me again. Racing also returned – the Normanby 10k was a welcomed return to pinning a piece of paper onto my chest on a Sunday morning and was expertly delivered to offer both a safe and enjoyable experience. Bassingham Bash 5m soon followed, and like at Normanby, I was really pleased with my performance considering I had not trained specifically for either distance. I also marked what would have been the first Lincoln City Half Marathon – and event I am involved with organising through my work and was devastated to have to postpone due to Covid - with a Run In Red half marathon around Lincoln with friends.
Autumn squeezed in one final race – the Thorsby Half Marathon which I loved; a trail adventure which I ran strongly and finished as 3rd female, gaining a little piece of silverware in the process. As Covid-19 took a hold of the country again, racing then ceased, but I logged two further virtual races; the Hedgehog Half Marathon and the Doncaster 10k. It is hard work running a virtual race – pushing yourself all-out but without the race atmosphere - but I was pleased to challenge myself. I also won my age group in both races and gained two further trophies. It felt strange receiving these in the post, but I told myself to feel proud I had remained fit throughout 2020 and had also kept my motivation high in order to complete these races on my own accord.
Christmas was also defined by running; unable to visit my family over the festive period and finding myself alone for the first time, I was very grateful to have the joy of a Christmas morning run with friends to get me out of bed and start the day memorably. 2020 should also have been a Christmas Day and Boxing Day parkrun double – I am sad enough to have planned that well in advance of Covid! – and I cannot write this blog without mentioning how much Lincoln parkrun has been missed in my life this year. I coped without races for many months, truly realising that I did not need a race to find joy from running, but parkrun is a whole community that was taken from us all. When it comes back I think it will truly feel euphoric.
To summarise, I feel thankful for running in 2020 – unsurprisingly my previous running goals were put on the back burner, but I would never have got through this year without running. Being a member of a Run Club has also been hugely important; I live by myself which has been tough during times of lockdown and limited social contact, however having friends to run with and talk to, either individually or in our club sessions, has really helped get me through. I have valued every single run and mile more than ever.
2020 had also taught me a lot about myself and life and for that I am actually grateful for 2020. It has given me the pause I probably did not know I needed and a chance to reflect. I have realised how valuable the people in my life are – I have a diverse friendship network formed predominantly from running circles but also wider, and I am truly grateful for every single one of them. I have felt so very supported and cared for by those around me. I have also learnt to cope far better with myself, which sounds strange, but sometimes you can be your own worse enemy, and when you have a lot of time with your own thoughts/in your own head it is easy to get lost. I feel proud of the personal strength I have shown. I think 2020 has also made me more adaptable; things change – and I am not always a fan of change! – but I have realised sometimes you have to let go of certain things and people that I used to think I needed to have in my life. Finally, I think I have learnt to recognise what makes me happy again and who I need to be around to feel happy – I strangely feel more like ‘me’ than I have done in years.
In the ‘unprecedented’ story of the year 2020 things currently feel a bit uncertain again. With the latest ‘tiered’ living restrictions announced on the week I was due to take on Thoresby Half Marathon, I was feeling very unsure about the race going ahead. However, I am pleased to say SBR Events held strong in their belief that they had a suitably ‘Covid-secure’ event plan in place, and I was able to pin a race number onto my Run Club vest for only the fifth (which is low for me!) time during the year.
Some people may have questioned why the event was going ahead, however being at the event – which offers a very inclusive range of distances from 5k to half marathon including options for Nordic walking and Canicross – it was clear for me. Firstly, the Covid-19 measures which had been implemented were thorough and over and above current guidance. Masks were worn from the moment we stepped out the car until we crossed the race start line, with our ‘slightly sweaty’ face coverings being worn again after we had crossed the finish line. Portaloos were cleaned and sanitised after each use – hence being possibly the cleanest portaloos I have ever encountered! – and hand sanitising was mandatory at all key touch points, including when picking up your own medal. Secondly, the happiness, joy, togetherness, and positivity apparent amongst all runners was something which has been so absent from 2020, it was a reminder that this was more than ‘just’ a race. 2020 has been tough, and if things can offer a beacon of light to people – and let’s not forget no one was forced to be there – we need to embrace those right now.
Anyway, enough of my justification – the event happened, and I loved it! I had not taken part in any of the Thoresby distances before and was tempted into entering the half marathon by friends from my Run Club. Unlike the vast majority of the events I take part in, this was a trail run, and I was keen to test myself on a different train, as well as wear my shiny new Nike Pegasus Trail shoes (in turn coming to terms with the fact my beautiful shoes would in fact get dirty…!) I had no real expectations for my performance, which I feel like I always say, but it was true. With the uncertainty of 2020 I have been following no training plan and simply running whatever I feel and whatever makes me happy. I knew I was fit though; I am not going to pretend I am not, so the half marathon distance would be less of the test, but more the terrain I was running on.
The half marathon course was two loops of the same circuit set in the grounds of Thoresby Hall country estate. I quite liked the loop nature, as from early on into the race I decided not to refer to my watch and simply approach the race as two circuits. This approach therefore meant I had no real idea what pace I was running, but then again, I had no real reference on trail course as to what I would expect my pace to be! After starting I simply settled into my running rhythm, focusing more of my concentration on assessing the terrain beneath me. The course was a lovely mix of some roads, woodland tracks and grassed paths, with a few hills added to the challenge – my beautiful new trainers, although now splattered in mud, were perfect and compared to my old trail shoes, felt a joy to run across all surfaces.
I felt really strong running on the trails; a level of strength that did shock me. The first lap flew by as I enjoyed the little test the inclines offered, smiled at spotting the famous Longhorn Cattle grazing in a field, enjoyed winding through woodland, as well as speeding down lovely road downhills. However, the second lap began with a short grass section, and it was almost like that little stretch shook my legs back into reality. I quickly realised the second lap would require a bit more digging in!
The initial stages of the second lap encountered some of the hills again; I battled up these (uphill is definitely my strength) picking off runners, so knew even though I was having to work harder, I was still going ok. A marshal station gave me a massive boost with the volunteers (in full PPE) blaring out The Killers ‘Mr Brightside’ on a boombox and giving us a full karaoke style rendition of the indie anthem, which I am pretty much word perfect on myself. I probably gave my watch its first real glance after passing this point, and my pace shocked me, as it was much quicker than I felt. I knew I had slowed a little too, so I assumed my first loop had been fairly speedy. Again, this gave me a lift, and I knew I just needed to keep steadily ticking off the final miles – my legs still felt up to the test, I just had to keep consistent.
My final mile was my quickest, helped by a longer road section and by the surprise of some of my Run Clubs friends popping up on a bridge to cheer our club runners home after they had finished their own races. My watch ticked onto half marathon distance annoyingly a fair way from the finish arch, and this told me I needed a good final spurt along the grass to keep under 1hr 40mins still. I had not set this goal, but suddenly on realising it could happen, I really wanted to achieve that time. I pushed on, desperate to get to the line in time.
I made it – 1:39:52 and the bonus of finishing as third place female. On stopping I realised how hard I had been actually working throughout, collapsing onto the hand rails and trying to tell my body to move again. I have missed that feeling – it’s a mix of feeling truly spent but utterly alive. It felt good, and I felt proud of what my body had achieved. I enjoyed some socially distanced chats with others runners as we collected our beautifully wooden crafted medals and then went to find my Run Club friends to cheer in our other running buddies. It almost seemed normal if it was not for the face masks!
I am very pleased with how I ran Thoresby Half Marathon – I am not a trail runner, and when I do runs trails its usually sociable, not as a race. My last trail half marathon in 2017 I ran in 1:47:31, so I am counting this as a trail PB... we have got to come out of 2020 with some achievements right!? In all seriousness, I have exceeded my own expectations in the small number of post lockdown races I have managed, and maybe this is because I have relished everything about taking part in a race so much more. As I said, its more than a race, and whilst I am unsure if there will be many more opportunities to race for a while, its something I shall always be thankful being able to participate in.
Its been nearly a month since I last blogged (other then a review of the Normanby 10k), and as seems to be the case for this year, the past few weeks have all seemed to blur into one as we try and move on with life in a socially distanced world, yet with the fear of ‘lockdown’ hanging over our lives. I cannot complain though, I am happy, and when I think back to how life was a few months back, spending long days on my own predominantly confined to my house – life is amazing! You have to hold on to the positives.
Since last writing I have learnt my London Marathon fate, and under their rules my 2020 Good For Age place is now only eligible for 2023, and will no longer be classed as Good For Age. I cannot change this, but I will forever feel slightly sad that Covid robbed me of my qualifier place and the – I will say it – greed of the London Marathon robbed me of a second chance to run as a qualifier. However, everyone has had to make sacrifices this year, and everyone will have something they feel disappointed to have lost; some people will think ‘it’s only a race’ but for me this was my ‘five star luxury holiday’ or ‘dream wedding’ and something I had been wanting for so long. However, I move on.
Running wise I am currently enjoying running whatever I like. It feels good and I have no targets or goals. I am mixing up my running; running easy when I want, adding in some longer runs, still motivated to throw in some harder efforts be that intervals or hills, and am also loving leading my Run Club sessions each week. My weekly mileage is still reasonably high (this week I have ran 37 miles for example), but it does not feel draining, and I feel I am building a good base fitness.
Highlights of the past month of running have been a return to track nights with Run Club (absolutely brutal but wonderful at the same time) an 18 mile trail run with my sister and her boyfriend (I may have told them it was 13…! ), logging a #RunInRed Lincoln Half Marathon with friends to mark what would have been the first Lincoln City Half Marathon event (roll on 2021, it will be worth the wait!), as well as of course a return to racing at Normanby 10k.
I feel like my plan for the rest of the year (if you can confidently plan anything these days!) will be to continue in the same vein. I find myself for the first time in years without a big race in the calendar, and I want to use this version of ‘Alice Downtime’ to truly enjoy running, as well as appreciate all those other parts of life which Covid took from us for so many months.
There are several things 2020/lockdown/Covid has taught me, but in running terms it has been the realisation that I purely love running, the act of going for a run, which is even better when you get to share this with others (oh how I miss you parkrun!) I have not missed racing as such, but instead the shared experience, journey, enjoyment, achievement etc. of running these adventures with others. I have reflected on this a lot since the London Marathon news was (finally) delivered this week and we now know for definite that there will be no 2020 race happening.
Since the news broke late on Thursday I have been through a real spectrum of emotions. It felt different to back in March when, as the news came that the race was being postponed, I felt sad even though I knew it was the right decision. At the time I was really enjoying my training and was looking forward to sharing the event with friends from my Run Club. I did not instantly feel sad this time though, simply relieved. Although I had been training for the new October date, I did not think the race should be held nor did I want it to take place this year. Consequently I was growing to slightly resent my training plan in recent weeks; I felt almost a slave to it when I had no reason to be.
I still feel frustrated with how the London Marathon have handled things; I feel they have almost been ignorant to the commitment of marathon training and, more importantly, to the pandemic. Although they say it, sadly I do not believe they have always had runners’ best interest in mind. Apparently they had been investigating some Bluetooth technology which runners would use during the race and which would be able to log data about who they came into 2 metre contact with across 26.2 miles. This all sounds potentially very useful going forward, but let’s face it, the Government cannot even master a decent track and trace system, so what chance did the London Marathon have of nailing this in a matter of weeks? Its something they should be exploring, but they needed to be realistic it was not possible to master, practice and ensure it was reliable in time for October.
After my initial relief at hearing the race was cancelled for 2020, and then an almost renewed respect that they had decided to hold the event in October 2021, which seems a very sensible call based on the current situation, things quickly spiralled. On the surface level social media (which another frustration of mine is that this comms was released before runners received an official email – surely it should have been the other way round?) it appeared all runners would be offered a place in the 2021 event. However, as I delved deeper into the FAQs, here the uncertainty arose…
Considering we have spent the vast majority of this year attempting to following often vague and difficult to understand guidelines about how to live our lives, you would think the London Marathon would have learnt to make things straightforward and simple – but no. Some sections of the FAQs were more straightforward, however in relation to my area of concern – Good For Age qualification – it was unclear. Have a look at the guidance yourself and see what you think - but I am pretty sure because the qualifying time I submitted was from September 2018 this means, in order to be eligible to run in 2021, I must take part in the virtual race on October 4th and I must also run another Good For Age time during this virtual run. If not, my place will only be valid for 2023. On reading this I will admit my gut reaction was to feel upset, I could almost feel myself wanting to cry. I had worked so hard to run a qualifying time and it had been a massive goal of mine to achieve this feat, and yet London Marathon were now almost seeming to disregard it. The 2020 race was also the first option I had to use my qualification time (I was too late for the 2019 event) and therefore it seemed unfair that I was being pushed back to five years after the qualifying time was ran.
Trying to swallow my feelings, I then spent time thinking more about the virtual race. How could I run 26.2 miles around Lincoln, on my own and, more importantly, fast? It would be Good For Age or bust... I was pondering routes, how I would manage aid stations, and how much more training I needed to do… Late Thursday night my mind was buzzing, including thinking about how on earth the London Marathon were going to police these virtual runs and ensure no cheating took place to log quick qualifying times. I am still unsure why they feel this should even be an option to qualify virtually when all the other World Marathon majors have omitted this from their virtual events. I was also fretting about the fact the London Marathon are not due to send an email out until September (more waiting) to confirm each runner’s individual options for rolling over their place – so if I have to do this virtual run do I need to keep training? Surely I need to if I am going to have to try run a Good For Age time?!
Fast forward to this weekend and my slightly more logical thinking has helped me make a more rational decision about the London Marathon. Firstly, I have no interest in virtual events, and personally would not feel that running 26.2 miles around Lincoln warrants a prestigious London Marathon medal. Secondly, the amount of pressure this virtual marathon would put on me is too much – a finish time is not the only reason why I run marathons and yet this virtual run would be all about the clock. On the day if I failed to run the time I needed how would that make me feel? Thirdly, I feel I need a break from training for a marathon, it has been a physically and mentally long year and my body has had no real rest period. I saw my Sports Therapist this week had have been told I have slight tendinitis developing in my left knee – it is a warning sign and I need to take this chance to ease off mileage a little. Lastly, and going back to my starting point, racing is not just why I run and any form of ‘London Marathon’ during 2020 would be going against all that lockdown had taught me.
So, my decision now leaves me awaiting my email in September to learn if I will be given an option to run in October 2021 or if I will be pushed back until April 2023. I don’t want to read I have to run in 2023, but I cannot change it, and to be honest I am tired of the London Marathon playing with my emotions and maybe a break away from the event will be good? There are other marathons to run and experiences to be had out there too.
This means 2020 will be my first year without a marathon since 2014, and I am ok with it. I have gained a lot more this year than the races I have lost. This last week has emphasised this as I enjoyed numerous runs with Run Club/friends, some easy paced runs, some pushing harder, some exploring new places, and on Sunday felt fully free to enjoy a lovely long run with no pressure. I am no longer training but back to running, and whilst I have some small events still booked in for later in the year, I will look (hopefully!) forward to these days as chances to share experiences with friends again and just run happy.
My marathon adventures will undoubtedly return in 2021, I still have many ventures I want to complete, and I am also determined I will run the London Marathon one day as a Good For Age qualifier.
Alice's Adventures In Running Land
Read about my adventures in running land...