My Running Year
2016 was the year I decided to try not to run any marathons. Having just run my 200th in December 2015 I wanted to take my time to savour the accomplishment. I also worried that I had got into a bit of a rut running nothing but marathons and that I should run some other distances for variety, even if I ultimately returned to running marathons.
Back in January I wasn't at all sure how the year would pan out. And, in fact, my first experience of not running a marathon was not a good one. I lined up for a half marathon in Germany, the Johannesbad Thermenmarathon, feeling pleased with myself for being able to resist running the full marathon, and the day did not go well. I was reduced to a walk early on and all I could say to myself for comfort was 'thank goodness I didn't sign up for the full marathon'.
I didn't do much in the way of races in the first months of the year, also part of a new strategy of not entering as many events as possible. In 2015 I had run 23 marathons and one ultra, and I decided that ten ultras was an appropriate goal for this year. Again, I wasn't sure if I would be able to stick to this; the lure of a race can be great.
Then I got to planning a trip to America in June/July and the pressure was on. I selected three ultras, of which the McCall Trailrunning Classic 40 Mile was to be my goal race. This one would really take me out of my comfort zone, I believed, but it sounded wonderful on paper. And as it turned out, this race was without a shadow of doubt the highlight of my running year. The course was so spectacularly beautiful that it wins my gold medal easily. It was a hard race but maybe not quite as hard as I expected, and I was pleased with my level of fitness which enabled me to tackle the many hard climbs.
This year, while at home, I had managed to run trails often, and for the first year in a long while I had not been so preoccupied with tapering and recovering from marathons. This meant I could do harder training runs all year and some of the routes I picked in the Dandenongs were nasty. I ran the Brimbank 50 km, Oxfam Trailwalker 100 km, Great Ocean Road 44 km and then the Mount Macedon 50 km before my US trip.
I felt wonderful on the day of the Great Ocean Road 'Marathon' and was all set for a course PB but the weather did not cooperate, with strong winds and even hail. I missed my PB by one minute. The Macedon race was a perpetual series of hills and tested my early year preparation. I was happy with my result, even though I ran an extra 5 km by mistake. The big payoff came in July in MCall, Idaho. Actually my payoff started in the preceding two ultras I did, the St Mary's Peak 50 km in Oregon and the Afton Trail Race 50 km in Minnesota.
At both of those races I felt well in control. At Mary's Peak I got all the mud I had been expecting (but not got) at Macedon, and people lamented the hail and fog, but I loved the atmosphere brought on by the bad weather and didn't mind missing the coastal views because I wouldn't have had time to enjoy them had they been available. I felt so confident before the Afton race that I even said to someone in the car park that I didn't think the race would be as hard as it sounded on the website; dangerous words, but although I accepted that the course had lots of hills, none of them were individually anything like as hard as what I had been doing in training.
In August I did something I haven't done for years: I changed my mind about doing a race, cancelled my accommodation and enjoyed a weekend at home when I had planned to be away. This was partly due to a sore calf, but mainly because I realised the choice was available to me. I simply didn't have to do the race if I didn't want to. Sounds facile enough, but this was a big deal for me.
I also seriously contemplated running a couple of marathons that I have much enjoyed in the past, Wagga Wagga and Adelaide, but was able to resist the temptation by assuring myself that I can run these next year.
I went back to Walhalla for the 50 km in September. This had been my 200th marathons-and-ultras-combined race on my birthday in 2014. It went ok this year except that I was in a bit of a grumpy mood for two reasons: I was made to take the early start because my speed was deemed too slow for the normal start and I don't like being made to face up to my slowness like that; there were too many four wheel drivers on the course making lots of noise and impinging on my running track.
In October I had a dilemma because I didn't want to do the Melbourne Marathon, for reasons already explained, but I wanted to be home to be able to go out for my daughter's birthday dinner on marathon day. By an amazing stroke of luck I was able to do the Hume and Hovell 50 km on the Saturday and be home for Sunday evening. This race was mentally the hardest I did this year, at least in the way it compared with my expectations beforehand. Right from the start I found the going tough and I realised I was going to have a problem with dehydration on a warm day where I had to mostly carry my own refreshments. I suddenly understood why lots of people like to run the same races year after year: knowing the course can be a big advantage when the going gets tough. Had I known this course I may have experienced a different sort of day. I would have known that the difficult terrain of the first 13 kilometres does not continue all day, that the very long hill does have a summit and that there is a substantial section of not too hard running in the second half.
So it was with pleasure that I turned up for the Marysville 50 km. I knew the course, I knew it was hard and all I could think was: bring it on. The Saturday before the race was challenging; I couldn't wait for the race to start. I was in a great head space all race and I loved it. The only thing bothering me was that I thought I had finished in a slower time than last year despite feeling better this year and having done all that hill training. The day after the race I looked up last year's results and was pleased to see that I had indeed finished faster this year; I pride myself on remembering my race results but this time I hadn't remembered correctly.
And those were my ten ultras for the year. But it doesn't end there because I had also signed up for a very unusual race in France in December, one year to the day after my 200th marathon.
I pondered whether or not to do La Saintélyon for ages, well, for at least a week. It wasn't so much the distance, the 72 km, that worried me, it was the fact that the race starts at midnight. I couldn't imagine how you go right through a day, stay up well past your bedtime and then run for hours and hours. I read several blogs by previous competitors and came to understand that many competent runners take 12-13 hours to do this thing. I didn't even have a decent head torch. But when I saw that the field is capped at 8000 runners I thought: if that many people can do it I probably have a reasonable chance too. And it turned out fine. Hard, but fine.
In addition to these races and all those mornings in the Dandenongs and at Lysterfield, I am going to remember very fondly my two days on the Yurrebilla Trail in Adelaide in November. This was my little adventure, running the trail on my own. I hadn't anticipated running the trail in such hot weather and I had expected there to be some water available along the way. It was a tough run for me, but more picturesque than I had expected, and I was happy to be able to have such a satisfying non-race experience.