2016 started pretty well for me, with the whole treadmill thing and my sights set on the Jungle Ultra, I was optimistic of some good races and results over summer and this autumn.
However, upon returning home after the Jungle Ultra things did not quite go as I imagined.
Normally after a big race like that I take it easy for a while, then upon returning to running can get back to pace with a couple of dedicated weeks. A few track session being dragged round by my faster friends, a bit of effort in training and I'm back were I left off.
Three months later I was having a monumental struggle to run even 4 miles at marathon pace. My legs were just not having it; exacerbated by a succession of niggles - Achilles, foot, calf, Achilles again.
I'm not going to get too involved in the minute miles here as one person's fast is another persons slow and vice versa. However, all I can tell you is that stamina was still in my legs but the pace was not. This has happened to me before; it turned out that time I was chronically anaemic. Back then my reaction was to pretty much stop running and racing. Driven by an unfounded and self indulgent vanity, I simply did not want to race and get mediocre results.
Back then I got all miserable and grumpy about running slow. I had a gazillion excuses for not running fast, and simply not running at all. It took quite a while to get out of this fog of run misery. Back then I learned that no one really cares about my 10k time. People are not critiquing and scrutinising my race results. If I ran a slow time it didn't impact on anyone at all. It was all me.
I vowed that if the loss of mojo happened again it would be handled differently. Less scrutiny on myself and not to obsess.
At least that time I had an actual physical reason, this time, well, I was just tired. A little older. A little less able. The run pudding slightly over-egged in previous months.
And so, I did not worry about my run pace, putting myself in races with considerable less concern about my results. I posted a 10k result slower than my first ever 10k years ago, and did not distress about it. It was a good yardstick to compare to in the future.
I sat around in my back garden over the summer drinking beer and playing with our new puppy. Ran with friends, reduced my mileage and didn't beat myself up over it.
Every week I went to track with my friends and died with every 400m loop. Interval training wasn't translating into speed off the track, but I didn't overthink it. Pressure in running is only applied onto ourselves by ourselves.
I heard recently that happiness, true happiness, can be measured on what you reflect upon as a good thing after it has happened, much later, perhaps when older. So you might have chosen to visit a friend in hospital over a trip to a theme park. Despite the hospital trip being considerably less fun, upon reflection it is the hospital trip that ultimately made you happier.
Running makes me happy. Beating myself up over my pace does not. The running and races that I reflect upon as the ones which have been the best are the experiences shared with my friends and loved ones. The races where fascinating people have been met, people who have turned into really good friends. Races where tough moments and up and downs are shared. Not the races were I was clinging on for dear life, stressing out with every mile trying to stick to a pace to get 30 seconds off a 10k.
All credit to my friends who keep me motivated. Huge fun was had running the excellent Bacchus Half marathon with the wonderful Cat Simpson. We dressed up as the Super Mario Brothers and enjoyed running around whilst sweating into giant fake moustaches.
Berlin marathon was a race I certainly would not have started if it wasn't for friends Sophie & Tim. We ran together for many miles and I stuck with Sophie all the way to the end. I had a massive wobble at about mile 13 and might have stopped if she wasn't there. I got through it. We were both extremely happy with our finish times and had a great sense of satisfaction that finishing a world marathon major can only give you. A brilliant day.
Of course it's a huge sense of achievement getting a new fastest time and a huge driver for me. When (if?) my pace does return, goals will be set.
And If they are missed, it's OK. I will try my best and my best at that time is OK. My running seems to go in cycles; faster months, tougher months, slower months, And that's all OK.
It's OK that some races are not a personal best. It's OK that every run is not bang on pace.
Runners! It's OK to be OK.