Year in Review: Top 5 Toughest Races

January 21, 2014

With 2013 now nothing more than a distant memory I’ve decided to finally get off my arse and provide a bit of a wrap up of my personal record breaking year of running. My 1000km challenge took me all across the country and with running 53 races it was inevitable that whilst I would have some great experiences and races, there would also be some bad ones. In the first of a two part series I will reflect on some of the toughest races of my year, whether due to a challenge course, bad weather or my own physical condition going into the race.

Of course the easy (and lazy) option would be to go with 5 of the 6 marathons I ran last year, but instead to resist temptation I have limited my selection to one race from each distance plus a couple of wildcards.

So, without further ado, here is my top 5 (in no particular order) worst/toughest races of 2013.

*Plays Top of the Pops music*

Grimsthorpe Castle 10K

“There’s a Grimsthorpe PB and then your normal PB.”

Whilst most were taking advantage of the three day weekend, on the August Bank Holiday Monday I took to the Grimsthorpe Festival for their 10K race. Coming less than a week after Jenny suffered her suspected TIA, it’s safe to say my mind was elsewhere going into the race. What I wanted was a nice simple race, where I could add on another 10km to my total and then be home in time for tea.

Instead what I found was an undulating course through fields with overgrown grass, where a twisted ankle was only a wrong step away. With two 10 mile races lined up on the Saturday, I took a cautious approach throughout the race, a decision helped by the course, as my usual reckless approach could easily have ended in disaster. The race was marred by the emotional events the previous week, in different circumstances I may have enjoyed it a little more, but as it stands it’s one that I wouldn’t be in any hurry to do again.

Honourable  Mention: Sheffield Man of Steel
The race itself was one of the more enjoyable ones of the year, but it will always be remembered as the £300+ race where I lost a GoPro camera in a pond. If I can shake the frustration, I may end up doing it again.

12.12

It would be wrong to assume that because a race has made this list that I didn’t enjoy it and would be reluctant to run it again. In fact the 12.12 race could quite easily have made my ‘Best Races of 2013’ list, but instead here it sits on the other side of the fence. More so than any other race, perhaps even including a some of the marathons, this one took it out of me the most. With a total elevation of over 2,000ft in just 12 miles, blistering heat, running without any nutrition and my fitness being well below a level I’d be happy with, it was one of the toughest races I ran all year.

Yet if given the choice I would run it again tomorrow. The views of the Peak District were spectacular and aside from getting lost a couple of times, despite initially feeling out of place amongst a strong looking field, I felt at home on the course. It’s currently sitting at the top of my wishlist for this year and this time maybe I’ll even be prepared for it.

Spires & Steeples Marathon

Running 6 marathons in a year was always going to be an ask, particularly when as of April I had yet to run a single marathon (ever). With the frequency of events tailing off during the hotter, summer months, there was always the potential for the events to bunch up a bit later on in the year. And that is exactly what happened, with 3 of my 6 marathons coming in just four weeks in September/October.

Whilst you would expect each race to get progressively tougher as fatigue set in, it was the second of these, the Spires & Steeples Challenge 26 that would prove to be the toughest of the lot. I had been suffering with insomnia for the week before the race and then on the Friday I went down with what would commonly be termed ‘man flu’. Common sense would have seen me call the race off, but instead at 9am I found myself at the start line ready to run my 4th marathon of the year. Heavy rain for a few days before the race lead to sections of the course almost being impassable and attempting to run through the rain sodden fields only made you sink in deeper. When I crossed the finish line 4 and a half hours later I was then faced with the challenge of getting home and ended up having to walk 10+ miles home.

Sleaford Half Marathon
Sleaford Half Marathon

If you were to look at this from a purely objective perspective you would see that I smashed my PB at Sleaford by around 7 minutes and you would wonder what the hell it is doing on this list. However if you were to catch up with me five miles into the race you would see a very different story, mentally and physically I was in pieces.

Throughout the year, almost without exception, I ran every race as fast as I could, disregarding how I was feeling beforehand, the course or how this would impact on me later on. Before the race I had decided that it was the day to go for a PB attempt, a few miles in I was caught off guard by hills and off road sections and by mile five I was crippled by the most intense stitch I’ve ever experienced and everything that could, seemed to be going wrong.

It was the first time in the year that I began to question whether my plans were even possible, my fitness would have to go up a few levels and it felt like I would need a hell of a lot of luck to avoid injury. Somehow I managed to sort myself out and in the end I crossed the line with a new PB by a massive 7 minutes so my melodrama was all for nothing, aside from perhaps being great motivation.

Honourable Mention: Great North Run
For the cost of the entry and it being the (self-proclaimed) best half marathon in the world I expected a lot. Instead what I got was 13 miles along interchangeable dual carriageways and a longer wait to leave the car park than it took me to run the race. The miserable weather certainly didn’t help either.

Great South Run

On paper this was an easy race. A flat 10 mile race through Portsmouth after the three marathons I’d ran in the previous month should have seemed like a simple warm up. The extreme weather that was forecast for the weekend threatened to put the race in doubt, but despite the promise of heavy rain and very strong winds, the worst of the storm was due to miss the race and so it went ahead.

As a rare ‘holiday’ I left any sensible decision making at home and instead went on a path of destructive eating 12 hours before the race. Starting firstly with a large mixed grill the night before, followed up in the morning with a large fried breakfast. Hardly an ideal athletes diet, but then I never did do things easily. As the race started it was soon clear that my body was very much running on empty after the three marathons and my own personal attempts to sabotage my race preparation. The worst part of the race was still to come however, with the final mile and a half being straight into the wrath of St. Jude. I’m still waking up in cold sweats due to the wind.

What is the toughest race you’ve ever ran?

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