2019 – Year in Review

2019 was quite a year running-wise, with a fair few highs and a number of lows. It was, relatively speaking, a light year for me in terms of races by quantity:

  • 14 Ultra Marathons
  • 5 additional “standard” marathons
  • 9 half marathons
  • 2 10ks
  • 2 5ks.

On top of that, two DNFs on 100 Mile ultra attempts and one DFT at a 100k. Challenge-wise I completed my 26 ultras in 52 weeks, 26 marathons in 52 weeks and 26 half marathons in 52 weeks, missed out on a sub-3 hour marathon and paced Naomi around her first ever marathons.

Without further ado:

January

January started things off gently, easing into the new year with a half marathon on the 5th with RunThrough at Victoria Park. I decided to start off the year with a snappy pace to see how the legs were feeling, bringing the half in at 1:23:20 and missing out on my half marathon PB by 42 seconds. Hence the face.

The course is a looped event around the park, so I then set back out and joined Naomi for her last lap and a half to pace her home.

The weather took a bit of a nosedive throughout the rest of January, so my 5:30am commute runs saw me scaring half of London as it looked like I was going on a mugging spree.

Gangster

Naomi and I decided to put my flat on the market and we quickly found a new house which our offer was accepted on. The move would then dominate much of the rest of the year as it dragged on and on.

The middle of January was full of training runs, including long running trips around London with Naomi, training her up for her first ever marathon (see April).

Touring London via running with Naomi

Towards the latter end of the month, Naomi and I headed off to Rome for a long weekend. No medals were run but Naomi came home with some bling of a different kind.

And I rounded off the month with an ultra marathon on the last day of January – the Unusual Suspects with SVN in Gravesend. By this point London was in the middle of a snow and ice spell which made running a rather different exercise than usual but all rather fun.

One half marathon and one ultra marathon for January. A slow start to the year.

February

February was somehow even slower with the race calendar. The month started out with a number of training runs with Naomi, picking up her distances ready for her marathon.

We both took part in Phoenix Running’s “One Ring to Rule them All” half marathon, which I ran with Naomi. She completed her 12 half marathons in 12 months challenge and picked up her medal and certificate.

Most of the rest of February was quiet. One Park Run and I was done race-wise, although we did find our wedding venue.

Our venue

March

March started strong with Phoenix Running’s “Track Wars” – as many laps as you wanted to run around a 400m race track. 125 laps and 50km later, I was done with my first “track ultra” under my belt.

The plan was to then run the 35km home, because why not? About 15km I realised I’d taken a wrong turn and had been running for about 30 minutes at right angles to where I was supposed to be. We had friends around for dinner that evening and I was now going to be late, so I rounded off the day with a sprint to the nearest train station and a sheepish ride home.

Naomi’s training continued. The weather was predictably miserable for much of the early part of the month, so much rain and wet weather running.

At other times, it was gorgeous weather. Commute running home after work meant I hit Greenwich just as the sun was setting each day. Can’t complain at that.

And then Naomi and I were off to Bali for two weeks. Two weeks of heat and maximum humidity. Just stepping outside would drench me in sweat and I struggled with running but got the distances done. Especially once we reached the Gili Islands with no traffic and a natural 5km loop around the coast line.

It was while sitting on a sun lounger by the pool that I first set up this website and my MattRunsLondon Instagram page. That feels a lot longer than nine months ago.

Bali took up most of March but there was time for one last race in the month when we returned home – RunThrough’s half marathon at the Velopark. 13 laps of the concrete bike track, undulating ups and downs the whole way. I’ve run this race numerous times and enjoy it every time. I bought this one in for a comfortable sub-1:30.

April

April would prove to be… busy.

Three ultra marathons, three marathons, five half marathons. 10 of those were on 10 consecutive days.

Let’s start with the big one. Manchester. I love Manchester marathon. I’ve set a PB there each time I’ve run it. This year I was aiming for a sub-3. My PB at the time was 3:18:51 so I was looking to take almost 19 minutes off in one go.

My full review of that race is here (it was also the first race review I wrote for this website). After blowing up part way around, I brought the race in for a 3:08. Not the sub-3 I was after but over 11 minutes chopped off my PB in a single hit. At the finish line the only thing in my head was missing the sub-3 which led to this face…

But I cheered up (food was probably involved).

Then I had six days to rest before the main effort for the month began. 10 races in 10 days (3 ultras, 2 marathons, 5 halves). This was a step back from the 10 ultras in 10 days I’d ran in 2018 but was enough for the moment.

I wont’ go into detail on all 10 days (the full report is here) but the two major days were day 1 (my birthday) and day 2, Brighton Marathon.

I’ve ran Brighton Marathon numerous times but this one was special – it was day 2 of the 10-in-10 and Naomi’s first ever marathon. The full recap is here but I paced Naomi around the entire thing and she finished in a brilliant 4:42:08.

May

May opened with my most ambitious attempt yet – my first 100 Mile ultra. This was the Centurion Running Thames Path 100. The full recap is here but for present purposes it’s sufficient to say that my head wasn’t in the right place, my nutrition was all over the place and I dropped out at mile 58.

I started the day happy and strong but by mile 50 I was having a war within my own head, struggling for calories and meandered on for another 8 miles before deciding to call it a day.

A couple of weeks later I had pulled myself together and turned up for the RunThrough Chase the Sun event at Hyde Park. I went along planning to run the 10k race but was feeling ill all day so opted for the 5k.

I was in pain from the start with stomach issues but pushed to a new PB anyway. Job done.

The month ended with a day off of work and a solo trip to Box Hill for a day of trail running and hill training. A nice way to round out the month.

June

June started with me firmly in my running happy place – a double race weekend with an ultra marathon on the Saturday and a marathon on the Sunday. Both with Phoenix Running in Walton on Thames and for two of their extra special medals – the Silver Phoenix and the Gold Phoenix.

The weather was in full summer swing and temperatures were boiling so the two days were energy sappers.

Thankfully on the Sunday the race director had brought stacks of ice lollies for the mini-freezer he’d installed by the checkpoint. Naomi was running her second ever marathon (just two months after her first) so I ran it with her and ice lollies got us round. The full race recap is here.

4 days later I was back at Walton for my next challenge – five ultra marathons in four days. Ultras on Thursday, Friday, Saturday morning, Saturday afternoon and Sunday. The recap for this set is here.

The Saturday almost broke me. It wasn’t the distance, which is one I’m fairly comfortable with anyway. It was the hour and a half gap between the two ultras which allowed my legs time to seize up. Combined with something weird that was happening to my feet (wrong shoes for the day) and the Sunday morning I could barely stand. Still, I dragged myself to the start line, set off and things fell into shape. Job done.

One week later and I was on the Jurassic Coast for a long weekend with Naomi and her family. No races here – just some brilliant running along the coastline.

Back to London and I was on a bit of a runner’s high. My running was in a good place, fitness wise I was on top of things and I was looking forward to the Cotswolds Way Ultra.

The last weekend of the month and I was in Bath, ready for the 100km race across the Cotswolds Way to finish in Cheltenham (where I grew up).

This one hurt. The temperatures had hit the roof. Two hours in and temperatures were at 32oC and above. I was dehydrated and not getting fluids into me. I hiked it in to the 50km checkpoint and called it a day. DNFing this one hurt more than the race but if I carried on there was a decent chance I’d end up collapsing somewhere, which would rather defy the point of why I got into running in the first place.

So I sat on a bench, in a lovely village in the middle of the Cotswolds in blistering heat and waited for Naomi to find me in the car.

July

July opened with a RunThrough 10k at the Olympic Park. The previous few months had mainly been about steady pace ultras so I hadn’t really done any speed work. I was happy to push this one to a 38:53 finish although the photo from the finish shows what an effort it was.

Mid-July I flew a plane. This has nothing to do with running but it was awesome. Did I mention I flew a plane?!

Back to running. Another day booked off work for another ultra marathon with Phoenix Running. And it was a proper slog. A mixture of heat and pouring rain. I hadn’t bought a waterproof so dragged myself over the line, soaking, bedraggled and chafed. One for the spreadsheet and nothing more.

A gave myself a day off and was back in Walton on Thames for an ultra two days later. This one was the Space Race Gold. Naomi ran this one as a great half and I pressed on for ultra distance. The medal connects to the Space Race Bronze medal from the previous year’s race to create a thick, 3D medal.

August

At the beginning of August, WE MOVED HOUSE! Finally. 8 months after we’d had the offer accepted, we finally moved.

Before I had the chance to settle in, I was off for the Centurion North Downs Way 100 Miles. My full recap of that race is here – this one was a bit of a disaster for me.

I set off strong and was enjoying every minute but I suffered as I always do on the long ultras from poor nutrition. I struggle massively to swallow food during a race and can’t get enough calories into me.

As such I suffered massively and the race turned into more of a hike. For some reason my pack also wasn’t sitting well on my back and I was in agony. By the time I made mile 50 my back was one massive blister from top to bottom and I couldn’t touch it, which made putting my pack back on impossible. Home time.

One week off after the 50 miles and I was back with Phoenix Running at Denbies’ Wine Estate for a very hilly ultra. Naomi ran a half marathon so I completed the first few laps with her before heading off at a faster pace.

Ultra done and I collected my 26 ultras in 52 weeks , 26 marathons in 52 weeks and 26 half marathons in 52 weeks medals. Job done.

September

September started with the return of the track for Track Wars II with Phoenix Running. My intention was to run a half marathon as I had Richmond Marathon the following week and I wanted to keep things fresh. A pain in my right shoulder meant I called it a day at 10k as I didn’t want to exacerbate anything before Richmond.

Then off “up North” for Naomi’s brother’s wedding in the sunshine and back for the race.

I intended Richmond Marathon to be another sub-3 attempt and I kept that pace up for the first half but then let it drop off. The weather was sweltering and the year of ultras had taken its toll.

My legs hadn’t recovered and weren’t playing ball. I slowed the pace and with the odd spurt brought it in for a 3:24:36.

Richmond was however my 50th lifetime marathon! Shirt collected and half way to the 100 Marathon Club!

And then back up North for a lovely weekend celebrating Naomi’s grandparents’ Diamond Wedding Anniversary.

October

From here things started to go down hill. I’d had some time off from racing after Richmond and everything seemed to have fallen apart a bit. My fitness had sagged, my legs weren’t doing what they were told and nothing I did seemed to make any difference. I entered a marathon at a driving circuit to test them out and ended up DNFing, which is unheard of for me at marathon distance.

Richmond would turn out to be my last marathon of 2019.

October wasn’t a complete disaster though. Naomi and I headed down to Brighton where we had a brilliant weekend making each other’s wedding rings.

Naturally, I had to use the opportunity for running along the beach. Great fun but hard work (running on sand and shingle is absurdly difficult).

November

clone tag: 6523722765379016217

November was starting to get cold and started off with training runs around Greenwich. I had one last ultra entered, the Centurion Wendover Woods 50 Miler. 50 miles consisting of five laps of brutal hill climbs and mud.

The race started off fun but draining. The first lap was an attempt to memorise the woodland tracks before it got dark in the later stages and I kept up a good pace.

Unfortunately, nearing the end of the second lap I came across another runner who had collapsed and was in a bad way. Myself and another waited with him while we called in the medics and then helped him back to the start. By the time this was done my own temperature had plummeted, I’d used up a lot of my mandatory kit and I called it a day.

The following weekend a group of former colleagues and friends ran a 30kish training run in the Chilterns. We’re all running a 100k race together next year (the weekend before I’m entered for a sub-10 hour Race to the Kings 100km – well planned…). Some had never run trail before and one had never gone further than 6k so the run was intended to give a bit of familiarisation.

And then… the big one. I’d entered my details a couple of months before into Salomon’s website, registering interest in their “Unexpected Run Weekend” in Barcelona and then forgotten all about it. Out of the blue I received an email, almost deleting it as spam, saying that I’d been selected along with six others.

And so, at the end of November, Salomon flew me out to Barcelona on an all expenses paid trail running trip, kitted me out head to toe and sent us off on a wild adventure.

Trail running, yoga, mountain climbing, a video call with Kilian Jornet, crepes up a mountain, private tours of the observatory, fire dancing and a hot air balloon tour over Catalonia.

It was rather a spectacular way to enter the end of the year. My full recap is here.

December

And that took me into December. Time for one final race. The Band of Runners race, named after the podcast I took part in earlier in the year (do a search on iTunes or Spotify for Band of Runners Podcast – it’s brilliant – I’m Series 1, Episode 3) and to celebrate Rob Cowlin’s 100th Marathon. I ran a half with Naomi as I was still not feeling up to a marathon (?!) in my running slump.

Mid-December Naomi and I managed to get away for a long weekend in Budapest. Largely running free but I did manage to find a 5km race track situated on an island in the middle of the river.

And with that the year was almost done. A few training runs have rounded off the month and taken me into the new year.

On to 2020

So a year of running highs and running lows. One week into the new year and my pace is picking back up again, with distances creeping back up and times starting to fall once more – I’ll be ready for my next sub-3 hour attempt at Milton Keynes Marathon in April- just after getting married!

Right now I have 20 “normal” marathons and 3 ultras booked already for the year, as well as a requested entry for a 24 hour track race which I’m waiting to hear back about. Fingers crossed!

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