I finished the last one with this mysterious piece on "taking the next step". That lead to lots of supportive emails, tweets and messages, but I never followed up on what the next step was.
The lack of blogging certainly isn't because I don't enjoy doing it.
I love the feeling of rationalising and organising the feelings of a good run or race, whether others enjoy it or not. I like baring myself to people I don't see in my every day life, because I rarely get to do it in the real world. A mixture of not having many runner friends and not being a "bare your sole" kind of guy means that my usual response to "how was your race?" is usually no more than "good thanks, I got a medal".
Regular readers will know my passion for running has evolved over the last four years. I can take a look at myself now and see a streak of discipline and hard work in me which never existed before. That streak has empowered me to achieve more in the last 12 months than I ever have before.
This year has seen me run 3 ultramarathons, but only finish 2. I ran the London Marathon in a PB time of 3:29 and set my first 5k race time of 19:05. I broke every previous best I had set and finally achieved something approaching a body shape and level of fitness I'm happy with (massive step).
Away from the running, I have sat and passed my Level 2 gym instructor qualifications and as of last week passed my level 3 personal trainer exams, with a practical to follow in January. I became an ambassador for Ink'n'burn, qualified as a Barefoot Run Instructor with Vivobarefoot.
I did these things alongside a full time job, family life and other commitments.
Running taught me I could do it; and I did.
I've always preached that running prepares you for life's challenges, that it's a microcosm of life itself and teaches you all of the lessons that you need to succeed. This last year has shown me just how true that is.
So as I look back at last year and identify the biggest lessons, I have to ask myself, have I really learnt anything and am I ready for the next step?
- Do not be afraid to fail. I stopped 43 miles into a 62 mile race and despite a small wobble immediately after, I have no doubt it was the right thing for me. I had given it everything that day and needed the finish to qualify for a 100 miler in 2014. But by not finishing I reassessed my goals and accepted that while anything is possible, it has to be the right time. Training for ultras takes a lot of time as well as commitment and with everything else I had/have going on, I wasn't giving it the right level of attention.
- Never be afraid to try something different. One of my highlights of the year was running around central London, through the night with some friends. Meeting at a train station at 11pm and running through 'til sunrise was bizarre and brilliant all at the same time. Catching the train to work and then doing a ten-hour shift wasn't my smartest move. But if running has a "rock'n'roll" side to it, I'd like to think we did it that night.
- Share running. Never be afraid to espouse the benefits and rewards that running brings. I have had two work colleagues start running this year, with my support and encouragement and seeing them develop and succeed has been a real success for me as well as them. You still see some people who are selfish with their sports. Elitist and somewhat exclusive, and I dare say that in the past I have done it, probably being protective of something I care about. But I have loved encouraging others and will continue to do so. Turning up at the end of Rugged Radnage when I couldn't run it and cheering people in was brilliant fun.
- See all sides of the sport. I helped on an aid station this year at Centurion's Winter100, and I learnt more in those 9 hours tan I have in 2 years of running ultras. The sheer tenacity of the runners coupled with the fun they were having while doing it was a heady experience. I realised that I have been approaching most of my races wrong. Taking them too seriously and worrying about my position at the start of a 100km race is like worrying about exam results at the start of the school year. It is pointless, a waste of energy and detracts from the joy of running and racing. In next years 50 miler, I'm taking a totally different approach to it and I'm going to enjoy it a whole lot more.
- Meet your heroes. I'm not going to name them, but if you're like me you have those people who you look up to, even if your only experience of them is on Twitter or Facebook. I got to run with a lot of mine this year. Some impress because of their sporting achievements and performance, others because of the positive attitude they bring to running and infectious running. Some are idols because they motivate others, despite having very busy home and professional lives and others continually push themselves despite the challenges, injuries or setbacks that may face them. As I said earlier, I'm not one to bare my soul, but if I had the pleasure of running with you this year, then believe me you have motivated me and encouraged me. And every time I run, I thank you.
- Push the limits. Winning a place in VLM this year was crazy. The single biggest experience of my running life and one that I could not even hope to recreate. The crowds, the experience, the sheer number of runners. London Marathon is an immense experience and I'm a little bit jealous of everyone running it in 2014, although I'm not sure I could have the same buzz as last year. As good as it was, my running highlight of this year was the Redbull Steeplechase. Another event I won a place in. I got to meet, and for a short while run with, and for a longer while share a beer with one of my running heroes. My first Fell run in the beautiful peak district, I'll be going back in 2014, making more of the complimentary bar this time.
While the above is not a complete look at the last year, it would be boring and I've probably lost half of you already, I hope it captures some of the things I have learnt and how running has helped to shape my future.
In 2014, as well as running more races, and meeting more heroes I will qualify as a personal trainer. After doing the same job for 15 years, I'm actually starting to believe that sports and fitness may have a larger place in my life than an occasional Sunday race and long Saturday runs.
In 2014 I will launch my Personal Training business, my running courses and I will take further qualifications to better meet the needs of prospective clients. I hope I'll get a chance to blog about it, when I do it will be under a different guise.
What I will say is this; for everyone of you who tweets support, who texts congratulations, who emails advice, posts pictures on facebook, blog, cheers or races me near the finish line and pushes me to be my best, I thank you. If you've read this far then thanks again.
I love to run, it helps me be the best I can and I believe it can help you too. It has prepared me for a future that for the first time is uncertain and holds more possibilities than I thought.
So if you are a runner, keep doing what you do. Run, and inspire others to do it too. If you're not running currently, or want to or even used to but don't, then get outside and run, you will feel better and achieve more than you ever thought you could.