Once again I find myself on that incline, the meandering and steepening path trodden many times before. I find myself accelerating into the cloudy mists above me on a twisting trail of expectation and possibility. During the last week I have pulled on my running shoes four times. That's the most often I have run in over eight months and with a couple of 10km runs thrown in, the furthest too. It might still only be baby steps and at 30km per week, far less running than I've done in the past, but it's a start and it feels ever so good!
Each of the last four years since running my first road marathon in 2011, I have had grand dreams of running longer distances, running in the many beautiful places that the UK offers - moors, fells and trails. Each of those four years I have at first become excessively greedy and devoured the miles and invested my running hours with fervour and delightful expectation, putting in those fabled miles and time on the feet that will build me a strong and resilient base for the months and years ahead. Each year, two or three months into my ascendancy, the train has inevitably come off the tracks in one way or another. Becoming bored, buried in work, or broken to some extent have all served to burst my exuberant bubble before reaching May. Year 1 - 2012, after a slow start in January nursing my broken feet (I had given them a good pounding during 2011 with all the road based marathon training), I was able to build during February and March. With a mad rush of blood to the head and a wave of the debit card wand, I had conjured up what I hoped would be some desperately needed commitment by entering the Coniston trail marathon. I hoped to shake off the lack lustre months of April and May with some serious training. It didn't materialise. With only enough training to run up to half marathon distance before the event, it was a foolish runner who jogged along the trails at a competitive pace for 12 miles before realising that the last 14 miles would be much harder going. In hindsight, the many miles of training I had run during the previous year must have carried me through that first slow but exhilarating trail marathon. I was rightly pleased with my performance despite the lack of training and it gave another dimension to running that I hadn't considered before - ultra distance events! In my great naivety, having completed an event with woeful training I believed I could step up to bigger and better things later in the year. No way was that going to happen! Summer holidays and work commitments pretty much wiped out the rest of my running year, so it was back to square one for 2013, but the seeds of an idea had been sown...
A pattern began to emerge; 2013, 2014, 2015 all began with a flurry of running activity in January and February. But each year there followed the gradual breakdown of calves, feet, knees, or ankles. Each year I began to get stronger but inevitably over-trained or made some foolish error by taking on a single long run that caused some long lasting niggle. Each year I have varied the routine; road running or trails, lots of short runs or fewer long ones, following a rigid plan or going by instinct. Each time it's been a huge let-down by the end of April.
So where have I gone wrong?
Ego: Believing I can do as I choose to my 40+ year-old body and expecting it to respond as it did when I was 20 is going to end in hurt or heartache or both. I should know better than to try racing without having trained, and shouldn' let myself get drawn in to distances that are simply too far in the beginning, even if the routes look fabulous on the map!
Sedentary lifestyle: Years of sitting behind a desk all day has left my body tight and weak, especially core muscles and tights calves. Not stretching is no longer an option. Work on core muscles is as important as putting in the miles.
Too much too soon: Ramping up the miles and hoping for the best, wanting to put in the miles early in the year so that I'm ready for later in the season. I now realise it's going to require a two year plan of consistency and patience to get my body fit and strong and stable. These things can't be done overnight without consequences.
Priorities and guilt: Don't make running an overarching priority for a few short months and then feel guilty about it later. Instead, I must invest my time wisely over a longer period and build up slowly, both to get my body and my family and friends used to a new running regime. Running must be a long term goal rather than a short term quick win.
Quantity rather than quality: That's a big mistake. Simply doing extra road miles to build up the distance is no good for me when I know my feet disagree with that strategy (plantar fasciitis), and my head disagrees too (boredom). Running in wild and interesting places is what makes me tick, so putting plenty of that in the plan is a priority.
Not practising what I preach: Several colleagues have turned to me (misguidedly) for running advice. I always talk about the need for variety, patience, consistency and a long term plan. Yet I've almost always messed up my own running year by breaking my own guidelines.
And so, what about 2016? Well, next year will be different! I've already begun the journey, but its a steady and measured one so far. Inspired by the autumn Fellrunner magazine from the FRA, and by my son's obvious delight and beautiful natural style when he runs the Ormskirk parkrun, I have been inspired once again to pick my sorry body off the couch and get running. Three lots of 5km runs each week for the whole of November, followed by a steady and careful ramping up during December and January until I'm doing a steady 40km per week, but no more than four runs in each week and every fourth week is a "rest" week with reduced mileage. There will be a mixture of short road runs for speed, but a predominance of trail and cross-country running for the most part. Quality rather than quantity, it feels good so far! Now to think about some events to factor in some long term commitment...
I'm steadily climbing, ascending, picking a route out between all the obstacles that life throws at me. I'm pulling on my shoes several times a week and heading out into the wild winds and rain and sun and stars, accelerating into the cloudy mists above me on that runner's twisting trail of expectation and possibility once again. It's good to be back!