Review of 2021

Path surrounded by hedges

It’s a strange time, the bit between Christmas and Normal.

In place of work, we float in a dazed and lazy haze. With nothing to do, we get restless and jaded. The world passes us by and we watch it go, too bloated to do anything about it.

Of course, I’m projecting.

Many people have more will power and restraint than me. Not everyone feels the need to polish off all the alcohol and eat all the cheese.

Others can simply stroll past the Quality Street without dipping in, every single time. I don’t even really like Quality Street – that’s how feeble I am!

To make matters worse, I’m one of those people who is no good at doing nothing. I don’t relax easily. With nothing to do, I get bored and fidgety, like a child. It annoys the hell out of my wife.

Which explains why I’ve written my first blog post in four months. (Although, it doesn’t explain the four-month absence.) It also explains my belly. It doesn’t justify it, but it certainly explains it.

All of the above made sense when I started writing my review of 2021 - when it was still that time between Christmas and Normal. Much procrastinating means we're almost at the stage where "happy new year" isn't an appropriate greeting anymore. But I've got work to do now and I don't want to rewrite the intro. Not again. Besides, I'm still munching my way through Christmas chocolate. So, you know, unlike my jeans, it kind of fits.

Review of 2021 – goals

In January I set out my annual ambitions in an overly verbose post. Looking at them now, I’m pleased with nearly-45-year-old me. My goals were sensible and achievable. In some cases, they were vague enough that I could claim success, regardless of my performance.

Topping the list was my usual goal to run further than the year before. In 2020, with all its oddity and disruption, I ran 965km, which translates to an annoying 599 miles.

I’d hoped 2021 would see me pass 1,000km within a calendar year for the first time. Plus, I planned to track distance in kilometres AND miles, to avoid another irritating shortfall.

My other targets were vaguer. I intended to “do more strength and stretching,” as well as working on my mental wellbeing. After the psychological upheaval of 2020, the latter felt like a huge priority.

And that was it. Having missed too many goals too many times, and with the craziness of 2020, I went for self-care and achievability.

Review of 2021 – achievements

I tracked ahead of my distance target for most of the year. At points, I was on course for a whopping 1,200km.

But injury is a thing and I’m as susceptible as anyone.

Like the fields at Glastonbury, I need fallow periods. A couple of weeks here or there lets my body recover from accumulated knocks and niggles. I was quite good at adding rest to my training plan last year, and it worked.

Looking back over the year, I only took injury breaks in September and November. September’s pause was for a foot pain that I ignored for too long. After a premature (but necessary) return to running, November’s gap was for the same pain.

Fortunately, none of those breaks affected my goal. With a five-mile ramble on Christmas Eve, I hit 1,000km (then went on to add another ten). That’s a total of 627 miles. Not much for some, it’s a personal best for me, and one I’m delighted with.

Since distance was my only SMART target, I can’t claim success or accept failure on the other goals. I did some strength and stretching. I also worked on my mental wellbeing – and I think I did an alright job.

Review of 2021 – racing

Beat the Tide

With uncertainty the only certainty, I didn’t factor races into 2021. What was the point? At the time, it seemed we’d never race again. Then, as the nation opened up from COVID restrictions, mass events opened up to the nation. As if by magic (but definitely not by magic), races began to return.

On Tuesday the 13th of July, an anxious group gathered on Worthing beach for one of my favourites – Beat the Tide 10k. Not run since 2019 – when the tide beat everyone by being inconveniently high – there was a nervous excitement about the return of this great race along the foreshore.

There was also a lot of seaweed. I mean, loads!

In 2019 I beat the tide and the 45-minute mark. This year, the seaweed almost beat me. But not quite. I managed a satisfactory 50ish minutes.

Then I enjoyed an even more satisfactory beer and collected my first shiny trinket in over a year.

Seaweed could take only some blame for my leisurely pace. A year of neglect had conspired with age and gathered around my midriff. Despite regular running, I was lugging too much blubber and my gait strained under the weight.

After only just Beating the Tide, I started trying harder to Beat the Belly.

People running through lots of seaweed
Look at the seaweed!

Run like a Maverick

Man running along trail

A big driver behind my quest for less belly was a race unlike any I’d done before. Starting and ending in the grounds of Slindon College, the Maverick Frontier South Downs clambered around the hills near Arundel.

Running with my brother for the first time since 2019, I plumped for the “Middle” distance – a manageable 22km. Of course, given the location, those 22km included 430m of elevation. Again, not especially impressive to some, it was a new and challenging experience for me.

And I loved it! Somewhere around the second or third mile, the course cut through the edge of a field, pitched left, then right, then dropped down into woodland. And I grinned like an idiot.

In my ears, the bass kicked into Bonobo’s Break Apart and I flowed with a stream of runners that poured along the winding track. Trees flashed past, then opened into fields, themselves soon replaced by denser trees. Hills came and went. Paths widened then closed.

Around 8km, I fell in with another racer and we chatted as we weaved through the woods. Then, where the course split into longer and shorter bits, he went straight while I took the hairpin into a wide, gravely avenue. Another big grin squeezed my cheeks.

Soon the race got harder. The hills steepened and my legs tired. By the end, after many ups and downs, I began to break apart. I passed two runners about 5k from the finish and joked that I would regret my pace. As they eased past a couple of miles later, that joke wasn’t funny anymore.

By the time I stumbled over the line, my legs were ready to give way. Finally able to stop, my brain unleashed a mad rush of chemicals that flooded my body. I’ve honestly never felt anything like it.

Maverick are organising another run around the same hills next October. I’ll definitely be there.

parkrun returns

I’ve been a parkruner since January 2017. In the subsequent five years I’ve only managed 69 parkruns. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love it. I do love it. A lot.

Having hit 50 parkruns at the end of 2019, I’d hoped to be nearing 100 by the end of 2020. I don’t need to tell you that I didn’t even get close. You know what happened.

But then, after a couple of false starts, parkrun finally returned on the 24th of July 2021. It was monumental. If I thought the return of racing was big, it was nothing compared with the return of parkrun.

Naturally, things were different. The pre-run briefing altered to include new reminders: don’t spit (obvious) and avoid high fives (understandable). To make things more complex, the funfair was in town, which always means a squeeze at the start.

It was nervy, anxious and exciting. Cleverly, I set one my slowest ever parkrun times, which guaranteed plenty of potential for improvement over the coming weeks.

Review of 2021 – trainers and tech

New trainers

“I don’t need new trainers” said no runner, ever.

I’ve written before that there are two types of runner – those who own only one pair of trainers and those who can’t seem to get enough. Unfortunately, I’m the second type.

My current rotation includes both pairs of Reeboks that I mention in the above post, plus a pair of adidas Ultraboost 20, which I picked up cheap in an outlet shop.

My verdict on the Ultraboost is really positive. They’re well-cushioned and, as a result, quite heavy – you won’t break any PBs with them. But allowing for their weight, they’re great. Having done around 80 miles, I can see they’ll enjoy a lengthy life in my rotation. And, at £75, they were a bargain.

New tech

My first race of this year came with extensive pre-race briefing notes. You know, the information you’d normally received via megaphone on the day, plus a load of new COVID stuff.

Among the notes were the words that many runners dread: “no headphones”.

Arguably, no one needs music when they run. But many people like music (or audio books / podcasts / white noise) for running. I’m one of them.

Luckily, the no headphones rule is often caveated by an exception for bone conducting headphones. Luckier still, I’m now the proud owner of a pair of bone conducting headphones.

I went for the bottom of the range, Aftershokz Trekz Titanium, based on a combination of price and online reviews.

Fordy Runs says it all – they’re safe, lightweight and comfortable. And the sound is good. Not just “better than I expected”, but good. (Although, obviously not audiophile quality – just in case there was any doubt.)

2022 plans

That’s my review of 2021, so what about 2022?

Unfortunately, despite my best intentions, my belly came back – and remains – for now. That foot pain I mentioned earlier also still lingers. Maybe I’ll get round to fixing it, but right now it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

I started 2022 year with the WSFRL Hangover 5, a gruelling five-mile slog from Hill Barn to Cissbury Ring and back. The WSFRL was an early COVID casualty, with only the Hangover 5 taking place in 2020. Here’s hoping we’ll enjoy many more of these wonderful runs throughout 2022.

The much postponed Worthing Half Marathon is scheduled for the 24th of April. Now organised by the team behind the Richmond Marathon, the day includes a 10km race alongside the new, two-lap Half Marathon route. Having first booked my place in 2019, I’m excited for this one to finally go ahead.

Hopefully, Beat the Tide and the Worthing 10k will take place again. And I’ll be trying not to break myself at the Maverick “Middle” distance run in late October.

My biggest ambition this year is to explore the Downs – after all, I can be up among the hills within a parkrun of my front door.

In training for the Worthing Half, I plan to hit the trails, rather than lumbering along the seafront. The hills will help my training and the softer surfaces should be good for my knees.

Aside from all that, I want to better last year’s distance, with a provisional target of 1,100km. Plus, more strength and conditioning work, and more focus on mental wellbeing – especially meditation.

Time permitting, I’ll write more blog posts as well. Feast or famine defines the life of a freelancer and I’ll be gluttonous over the next three months. While that’s not an excuse not to post at least once a month… well, we’ll see!