Best of the Best 2017

Having rediscovered this blog in recent weeks I realised I left things on a bit of a downer after the Silverstone Half, which isn’t really a fair reflection of how the last few years’ Challenges have gone. As today is the start of a New Year (and I have a few spare hours to fill) I thought it was only right to round-up how the rest of 2017 went – the best of the best if you will – and for anyone still reading to give a bit of an insight into what is to come in 2018.

For someone who has always said my weakest area is running I seem to have spent much of my time last year on foot, so in true seasonal Top of the Pops style this is a countdown of my Top 10 runs of 2017, with a few bonus rounds thrown in for good measure:

10 – Bromsgrove Fun Run

The two main reasons I started this blog in the first place were firstly to help get fitter and achieve some personal success in races, and secondly to raise some money for charity from sponsors in my long distance challenges, so when a friend from the gym announced he would not only be organising a fun run on behalf of a local refugee charity, but it would be in my local park (my first race ever on home turf) it was a no-brainer. At just 3km I would of course have to break my own ‘not-getting-out-of-bed-for-less-than-5km’ rule, but on the basis I could add a couple of km each way by running to and from the race it made it more worthwhile.

Fun Run

A few seconds into what was a rainy run, I realised I had slightly misjudged the level of competition, as I sprinted off the line leaving behind a crowd comprised mainly of children and pensioners! Still, a result is a result, and I realised I had a rare chance of a podium as this rate. In the end it did not quite happen, and I had to settle for 5th place behind a kid about a third of my age (if only the race had been longer distance!) whilst top spot was apparently taken by a Team GB quadrathlete who had also obviously not got the memo about taking it slowly. Still, a fun day out, and maybe one I can return to try again in future.

9 – London Olympic Stadium

This one goes right back to the early weeks of January almost a full 12 months ago now. Just a nice early morning run around the East End, but with a pretty memorable centrepiece running around Olympic Park and the Stadium. Despite being pretty chilly, the lights looked great – except for the pitch black ‘Greenway’ section which my workmates casually told me was also known as ‘murder mile’ later that morning – but fortunately there were not too many others about at 6am and it ended up being just me and the stadium for much of the run.

Bonus 1 – Les Mills Live London

As our fourth One Live in two years, we felt like veterans by the time this rolled around in July, longer getting lost on the way to the venue or between classes, and managing to pace ourselves to not burn out around lunchtime. I have written loads on here before about One Live, and happy to say this one was more of the same, which was a good thing. We hit all the big classes – Combat, Attack, Pump & Step – bookended with some relaxing Body Balance and a bit of Sh’bam fun.

8 – Norwich City Runs

This was a big year for City runs, and at one point  had intended to try a different one each month – until I changed jobs and stopped living in hotels like Alan Partridge for a living – but I did manage to get in a good few in the first half of the year. Talking about living in cheap hotels, I had two weeks in Norwich during the late-June heatwave, which gave some good opportunities for exploring, although the runs needed to be either first thing in the morning or late at night to avoid the most of the heat.

It is a great running city with interesting streets, a castle, football stadium and plenty of riverside paths to explore / get lost in. The second week was spent out of town in a much nicer resort with its own golf course, which naturally I had to test out on another early morning run, trying to avoid the groundsmen in their giant lawnmowers who I had convinced myself would tell me off if I went near them for running near the course.

7 – Guernsey Seaside Runs

An even more exotic destination back in March was a fortnight on the Channel Island of Guernsey, which was also surprisingly warm for the time of year. Saint Peter Port is a charming capital of sorts, and another fantastic location for some long runs around the water’s edge. Highlights included fantastic early morning sunrises over the sea, two large castles with plenty of cannons, and generally great scenery all round.

 

Bonus 2 –  Cyprus Scuba

Whilst two weeks in Cyprus was not great for running (just descending the steps to the pool made you sweat in 40 degree heat) it was a lot better for diving, after I discovered a great scuba centre right next door to my hotel. After a couple of familiarisation shore dives I managed to notch up my 50th dive (as well as achieving Master Scuba Diver status) on none other than the Zenobia – rated as the top wreck dive in Europe. With warm waters and great visibility, the near-fully intact transport ship more than lived up to expectations as we managed to swim all around and inside the vessel, joined by copious amounts of tropical fish. A couple more sessions closer to our resort culminated in my first ever night dive, which ended up turning into more of an underwater rave complete with glowsticks!

 

6 – Newcastle Night Run

Going back even further to February I had a freezing fortnight on the Toon, staying so close to the Tyne that the fog was literally all mine, misting up my hotel room window every morning. The runs though were great, and I wrote about them on here in some detail in a previous post. As usual I alternated between late evening and early morning runs, meaning I had most of the streets to myself, got totally lost (at one point missing my lift to the office after an unintentional extra 30 minute detour one morning!). Still, the parks, bridges and waterfront all looked great lit up and this was a nice way to see much of a genuinely interesting city.

 

 

5 – Silverstone Half

My first event of 2017, and covered in much detail in my last post. Looking back I am still glad I managed this, the opportunity to emulate my F1 heroes and zoom around the famous circuit, albeit with eerily empty stands! If anything it made sure I got the year off to a start, making me train though winter and teaching me some valuable lessons on pacing yourself in a race.

Bonus 3 – Iceland Expedition

Ok this one is not strictly a sports event, but I was fortunate enough to spend this Christmas in Iceland, which I would be remiss not to talk about here. Whilst the snow made it pretty impractical to do any running, we did manage to conquer a few snowy peaks on top of the county’s longest glacier Langjökull, and even venture inside at one point (wearing crampons to ensure no ice-related injuries). A fascinating and beautiful country, especially at this time of year, which I would highly recommend to anyone interested in the outdoors.

Iceland

4 – Valencia Run

Back to the running world, I did manage a warmer run in April whilst spending a few days in city of Valencia in Spain. Given the weather allows for great year-round running the locals have done a fantastic job of creating interesting run routes, most notably the Turia gardens, a dried river bed that once ran through the city, which is now acres of parkland which winds around the historic old town, past the city gates and the out-of-this-world City of Arts & Sciences which has to be seen to be believed!

3 – London Top Gun

Last year seemed to be a case of either being far too hot (Cyprus, Valencia, er Norwich) or freezing cold (Iceland, Newcastle, London in January), but I did manage to get in one more hot run in London whilst working there in early July. Although I stayed in my usual place and retraced a few of my classic routes, this one was a bit special as it was my first proper ‘Virtual’ race – the Top Gun run. The idea with this was I could complete any route I liked, in any time, and upload to a website to ‘compete’ against others. I received back a finishers certificate and a pretty cool Top Gun medal, which if anything is at least the largest one I now own, if not the best looking.

 

2 – Worcester Half

My other proper half marathon last year was in Worcester, near to where I live. This ended up going a lot more smoothly than the Silverstone race, although was perhaps slightly less memorable. Closed roads made it a lot friendlier, and it did have a good atmosphere with plenty of time to chat to other runners as we completed one large loop, and learning from past experience I relaxed properly into this one, giving me a slower finish time but plenty of opportunity to take in some of the countryside in spring.

Bonus 4 – Velo Birmingham

The last of the non-run events this year was also arguably my A-Race, a 100 mile bike sportive around the West Midlands, taking in parts of Birmingham, Staffordshire and Worcestershire. In the past I could have written pages about the great atmosphere, hair-raising corners, organised pit-stops and even attempted sabotage from local protesters (yes really!), but the main thing I remember from it was hills.. endless hills. As much as I had tried to train properly for this race I had other things on my mind (see next entry) and as such I had enough stamina to get around this, but it took over 8 hours (!) and was a real killer. That said, it was a huge achievement which I would stand alongside any of my half-Ironmen on time alone, and the less said about recovery time after an entire day in the saddle the better!

Velo

1. Birmingham Marathon

So the biggie, a full marathon in my adopted home city. And what a day is was! Having completed plenty of half’s over the years, I decided it was time to step up ad bite the bullet. The good news was there was a new route which started the race in the main athletic stadium in the North of the city, before winding through to the centre. From there it turned into two loops, some of which was on the old half marathon course, although interestingly doing it backwards (clockwise rather than anticlockwise, not actually backwards as that would be crazy). This had some benefits as it meant I knew where I was going (although with 10k+ runners it would have been hard to get lost), but as per the usual rules of multi-loop races meant the second lap was guaranteed to be a real test of mental toughness.

Bham Marathon

And with some inevitability, around mile 20 a particularly short but steep hill brought on a dose of cramp and put paid to any thoughts I had been harbouring of a sub-5 hour finish. In the past I might have let that get to me, but this year I had learned from my mistakes in Silverstone, and refused to let myself worry about times – after all this was my first ever full marathon, and was taking place around the corner from where I used to live, and right next to my current office – this was too good a chance to worry about small things. So with the help of some of the best support for any race I have ever taken part in I pushed through the final few miles and made it across the line for that indescribable feeling of euphoria you only get after going through the limit. Marathon complete!

Looking Ahead

So how could that list possibly be topped? What next for 2018? Well a few days ago I realised that this was looking like the first year in half a decade where I had no races in the diary, having had to enter most of my big triathlons and marathons over 12 months ahead in some cases just to be sure of a place. In something of a panic I have managed to spend New Year booking myself onto two big outdoor events:Wolf Run & Tough Mudder. These are both off-road, trail based runs which should involve plenty of rough terrain, obstacles, and of course mud. Both should be fun, and I am sure I will be adding a few more races to the list by the end of the summer, and who knows maybe I will be able to rack up as many events as 2017. I might even write a blog about them…!

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