At the beginning of 2016 I found myself injured, unable to run, frustrated by the situation as I wanted to run but had to focus on just getting my knee better and hoping it would improve. The feelings and emotions I had during this time really reminded my of how I felt back in January 2003 when my knee injury forced me out the game and I had to resign myself to this situation I found myself in.
The good news this time round was that the physios I was seeing were confident I would be back up and running but I just needed to be patient, do my rehab exercises and take it one week at a time.
At the beginning of February I made my first come back run and ran a 5km parkrun in 19:00. I rather slowly ran around the National Cross Country Championships at Castle Donnington in 889th place. Whilst the position wasn’t anything I was going to be pleased with it did feel great to be running (and racing again).
By the end of March I took part in a qualifying event for the Great Britain age-group team for the European Duathlon Championships. The course was the exact same I’d completed 12 months before at Clumber Park. Thankfully I’d improved on the bike section (I’d done a fair bit of rehab work on the bike). I was about 20th amongst the 500 or so starters after the first run. After the bike section I’d been overtaken by about 70 athletes which compared to the year before I thought was bloody brilliant. My bike leg was infact 8 minutes quicker than the year before and I managed to sneak one of the last places on the team for the championships so I was thrilled with that.
However just as I felt I was getting back into things disaster struck again.
This time it proved – of all things – to be the mole on the bottom of my toe. I’d been encouraged to get it checked out and on inspection the doctor was concerned that it could be at risk of being cancerous (once removed and tested It was proven to be non-cancerous). As a precaution they wanted it removed. I wasn’t given a moment to think about it as they said I should get it done that day. The inevitable consequence of all this was that I wouldn’t be able to run for the next 2 months as the skin graft would mean stitches were required and skin on that part of body is very unrobust so takes quite a long time to grow back and toughen up. Hence just as I thought my come back was on and I’d got a good few weeks training under my belt I was having to again take a break from the sport.
It wasn’t until June that I was able to run again. I knew my track season in the 800m/1500m would be a write off in terms of setting new personal bests but I decided I would try and race when I could and take from the season what I could. Nothing of note really happened for most of the summer apart from a nice cheeky win at the National Civil Servants Track and Field Championships where I bagged a gold medal in the 800m and silver in the 1500m.
Finally at the end of the summer track season I managed to get into PB shape at the longer distances. I ran a 9:19 for 3000m, 16:22 for 5000m and 34:35 for 10,000m. The 10,000m race was interesting as it was infact the South of England Athletic Association 10,000m championships. I’d taken part in lots of area championships when younger but never bagged a medal so its been something I was keen to rectify. The 10,000m race actually contained 3 races in one as it was a combined championships race also including the Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire county championships. I took the first half of the race out in about 17:30 and managed to pick up the second half a little bit by running it in around 17:05. A chap I was racing against in the last couple of laps gained a slender lead which increased quite a bit on the penultimate lap. I only bothered to try and chase him down once I had about 350m left which proved too late as he beat me 1.5 seconds. Finishing like a train I made up a distance of some 50m over the last lap but ended up short. It was only once the race had finished and the result of the 3 championships races were announced that I realised I’d missed the bronze medal by 1.5 seconds as the chap who finished just ahead had won it. I was kicking myself for days after that as I knew that if (a) i’d known he was in the bronze position and (b) if I’d made my move a little earlier I could have finished 3rd. Whilst I was really annoyed at the time it was definitely a good lesson to learn in how to ensure you leave all your effort on the track and to try and beat every last competitor to avoid later regrets.
Whilst injured for the majority of the first half of 2016 I had a lot of time to think about what events I might to once I was able to run again. One decision I’d made to myself was that once my body was ready to run again I’d attempt a marathon again as I felt my current pb of 3:26 didn’t reflect the sort of time I could probably do.
One of the more comical elements of being a runner in the internet age is that through websites like power of 10 your results and personal bests are all online for the world to see. I include myself in saying that there can be some pressure (from yourself) to want to have personal best times showing on your profile that you feel reflect your true ability. My marathon time stuck out to me as a time that should be better. I needed a challenge and focus for when I was to make my come back after the skin graft so decided an autumn marathon in 2016 would provide me with that fresh goal.
I ran the Frankfurt marathon at the end of October with my friend Simon Messenger. I trained for it like a middle-distance track runner averaging about 30 miles a week. Any marathon runner knows that is no way to prepare but I didn’t want to compromise my training for the track over the summer. I ran the first 21 miles averaging around 6:30/mile pace and was on for a 2:52 overall time. Unfortunately at this point my legs totally gave in forcing me to trot the last 10km in about 50 minutes. It gave me a finishing time of 3 hours and 2 minutes. Whilst it was a couple of minutes slower than my target time of 2:59 it was a big personal best and to be honest an incredible experience to run around the course and experience the amazing atmosphere on the day. By running a decent personal best I think it helped to suppress my desire to run another marathon as I still have unfinished ambitions on the track before I venture up to this crazy distance again.
The year ended with some cross country races for my club Herne Hill Harriers. I was now making the scoring teams for most of the team races and feeling more comfortable at this level of competition. My friend Sean Fitzpatrick (a marathon runner incidentally) advised I should step up my mileage over the winter if I want to improve over the summer. Gradually I went from being a 30 mile a week runner to around 55 miles a week. Note the word gradually as I tried to learn from my Czech Republic experiences of the year before!