Coincidentally or not, this year has been a time of facing the reality in several aspects of my life. Running was one of these. About a year ago, I set three (running) goals for 2013: (1) become competitive in local fell races, (2) run a marathon in the low 2:30s, and (3) break 8 hours in the Vitosha 100K. Did I achieve any of these? The short answer is no. The longer version is below, and I can only summarize it as the most enjoyable failure I have ever experienced.
This was actually the one where I came the closest, probably because ‘becoming competitive’ is vaguely defined. Yes, I made the top 10 in every fell race I entered this year, even if just barely (Tarren Hendre, Cader Idris, Welsh 1000m Peaks, Nant Y Moch Skyline and Skyrun Maliovitsa). But most of these races did not have particularly deep fields. The one I will definitely remember the most is Cader Idris. Making the podium was a big surprise for me, and even if that took some luck (the race was moved this year and probably clashed with some other big fell race(s)), I will take it! Overall, I think I made some real progress with fell running, and the shorter, more intense sessions, relative to the ultra-slogs I was used to, have improved my strength. As far as enjoyment is concerned, I will let this picture tell the story:
This was the painful one. In every possible mental and physical way. I have now started six marathons full of optimism and finished six completely crushed. Both marathons I ran this year (Manchester in 2:43 and Chester in 2:40) were PBs by 3-4 min, but both were also compromised by severe cramping after about 15-16 miles. I honestly have no idea why, but I suspect it might be the insultingly simple general explanation of cramping – I was just not fit enough for the pace I was trying to run. And while I know how to get fitter, I am not quite sure how to deal with the optimism, which I am pretty sure is a problem in this case. The silver lining once again came from Matt Carpenter, and I have started to train and even race with a heart rate monitor. I am not sure if this is going to completely fix my pacing problems, but I am optimistic ;)
My focus has temporarily shifted away from ultramarathon training, so breaking 8 hours, or even running a decent race seemed like quite a long shot. As it turned out, lower expectations and keeping a cool head (both literally and figuratively) helped me run by far my most satisfying race on this course (see detailed reports in Bulgarian or English). I will be taking a few years off from this race, and ultramarathons in general. But when I do come back, I will probably have to break 8 hours (on a longer course too!) to be competitive with the exploding ultra- and mountain-running community in Bulgaria. And this is awesome!
Overall, it has been a great year of chasing overambitious goals. I can’t wait to do it all over again!