As a keen runner, I felt it would be interesting to document my running progress throughout this challenging and eventful year.
The crisp winter mornings are enjoyable to run in. I find a new route, North instead of South, from Muswell Hill up to High Barnet taking in the lovely Friary Park along the way.
I am still struggling to get back to the level I was at before I contracted COVID in September 2020. I am running with a heart rate monitor across my chest. I have been experiencing occasional rapid heartbeat, dizziness and breathlessness although happily nothing like it was back in October when at one point my heart rate went up to 201. There are signs of improvement. Adopting a strategy of ‘little and often’, I gradually increase my mileage, completing my first double figure run in four months on January 27th.
I am still entered in to the 2020 Liverpool Marathon which has now been put back to May 2021. I remain seriously worried that I will not be able to complete the 26.2 miles. COVID has shattered my confidence in being able to run anything beyond 10 or 11 miles and left me with a fear of driving my body too hard lest I damage myself permanently. I am thinking of downsizing to the half marathon but decide to wait until nearer the time to make a final decision.
My recovery continues with longer distances and hardly any rapid heartbeat problems. I love running in the bright, clear, cold winter conditions, all wrapped up in woolly hat and gloves. It is uplifting to witness the emergence of early spring wildflowers in the park, pushing back against the harsh frost.
I have always found running to be a great comfort. It has a positive effect on my mental wellbeing and has helped me through many difficult times. I turn to it again on the 11th after my brother calls me with the sad news that our mother has passed away at the age of 87.
My marathon has been put back again to October 2021. This gives me a bit more time to think about whether I am up to it or not. After I did my first marathon in 2011, I thought it would be a good idea to run one for every year of my 50s. I have made it to nine and it would be lovely to get to ten. We’ll see.
Mum’s funeral is on the 5th. My first visit to Liverpool for some time. It’s a cold but mercifully bright day. I read Sonnet 29 at the graveside service. It’s a deeply moving occasion but I gain strength from the presence of so many good friends who have joined us to say our final goodbye to Mum.
Back in London, the leaves have not quite returned to the trees. Purple wildflowers have joined their yellow counterparts in the park and, as if to cheer and inspire, a sunny spring has placed daffodils alongside the Great North Road. By the time the clocks go forward I have extended my longest run to over 11 miles.
I start a new job on the 19th. This means I have to put a bit more planning into my running schedule. I’m fond of getting out in the early mornings, especially in this lovely spring weather, but it now means I have to get out of bed super early. I generally aim to run three times per week; Tuesday and Thursday with my longer runs saved for the weekend.
I still don’t feel I am completely back to my pre-COVID level. During longer runs I find I am adding in more walking breaks than I used to. I do manage, however, to run a half marathon distance this month – the farthest I have run in one session since 28th August 2020. This is encouraging.
Spring seems to have given way to summer. I am running through picturesque Hampstead Garden Suburb with it’s avenues of vibrant cherry blossom. The park is a carpet of yellow and white daisies. It is very pleasant. I am running with more confidence and hit a top distance of 14 miles this month.
In early 2020, I hired a running coach to help get into the best possible shape for my 10th marathon. One of my biggest worries is that I wouldn’t be able to finish and would end up being caught by ‘the sweep’ – the bus which picks up the timed-out stragglers and DNFs. The coach was great. She changed my running technique for the better. Previously I would plant my heel and now I was running more on the balls of my feet with shorter strides. I was also given a set of exercises to strengthen my core, which really helped.
A lot of my coaching was based around training at different speeds and sometimes this became a bit challenging, especially post COVID. One of the reasons I have always loved running is the sheer joy of trotting along the edge of a lovely park on a bright summer morning with music in my headphones and not a care in the world.
In late 2020 I parted with my coach – she was fantastic and I am grateful for everything she taught me. It wasn’t her, it was me.
My birthday month. And not just any old birthday, a significant birthday. I am, however, grateful that as I enter my 7th decade I can still enjoy running. Perhaps my birthday festivities explain why my mileage has plummeted. Also, my new job has been very intense of late and I have been working long hours.
The month of June brings sunshine and showers. The daisies in the park have turned to clover, but the light evenings are welcome.
I have decided not to run the marathon in October and to concentrate on the half-marathon distance instead. It is clear that I don’t have the stamina I used to, as I struggle with anything over 15 miles. I don’t want cause any lasting harm to my body and I’m keen to retain my love of running and for it not to become a chore.
Having made this decision, I now feel like a weight has lifted off my shoulders and I enjoy the summer running, particularly the blessed early mornings. There are some lovely warm days in July and I go out with a bottle of water in my hand. The month is good to me and I log 72 miles. The long COVID rapid heartbeat problems I experienced last winter seem to have completely disappeared and I have abandoned the heart rate monitor. I feel optimistic.
I am planning to run in the BTR Liverpool half marathon which takes place on Sunday 12th September. I am fine tuning my training schedule accordingly. I sense it will be a challenge as I don’t feel as if I am on good form this month. I’m currently unable get through a long run without stopping to walk every now and then. It feels like cheating.
I should listen to my own advice; I always say to other runners that it’s OK to walk and there’s no such thing as a bad run. Experience has told me that not every running session will be easy. There have been times when I have left the house with a hangover and not had much sleep yet felt like I could run all day, and other occasions where I have eaten healthily, had lots of rest and run as if I was carrying a piano on my back.
By the end of August the leaves are already starting to fall.
The early mornings in the park are incredible. Mist covers the field and the sunrise is golden. That beautiful tipping point where autumn takes summer. It genuinely feels like a privilege to be out in such lovely conditions. My heart is lifted.
I head North for the BTR Liverpool half marathon. It is my first visit since Mum’s funeral. The course begins and ends at the Pier Head on the Mersey – literally in front of the Cunard building where my maternal grandfather, Philip Murphy, worked in the latter part of his career after 28 eventful years on the waves. Born in 1901, he spent almost all his adult life working for Cunard.
It is always a bit special for me to run in my home city. I get round the half marathon course in about 2h20. It’s a long way from my personal best but I am alright with this.
Two more memorable running events this month.
The first is the Royal Parks half marathon on the 10th. Very enjoyable it is too. Starting on The Mall, it takes in Whitehall, St James’ Park and finishes in Hyde Park passing several eminent London landmarks along the way. It claims to be the greenest running event in the world – even the finisher’s medal is made of recycled wood. I enjoy it immensely. The weather is good and my eldest daughter and her partner greet me at the finish line. My time is almost exactly the same as the BTR Liverpool race last month.
Two weeks later I am back at the Pier Head in Liverpool for the Rock ‘n’ Roll Liverpool half marathon. The full marathon, which I was originally meant to run in, takes place on the same day. I am a little bit sad that I am not running in the main event but I don’t regret my decision. The course is wonderful, running out of town through Toxteth to Princes and Sefton Parks, with the last few miles along the banks of the Mersey from where my Grandfather sailed to the Americas, and past the docks where my Dad worked for 20 years. I even manage to take five minutes off my previous time. The Rock ‘n’ Roll medal is nice and heavy. I get my picture taken with the river in the background.
It feels like a special day, made even more so later that afternoon in my favourite pub watching Liverpool FC beat Manchester United 5-0. Life is good.
Back in the real world, in London, autumn has kicked in properly. The leaves have fallen in earnest and it rains a lot.
The first winter frost has arrived. It feels like the seasonal gods have sprinkled icing sugar over the park.
November is bright and crisp. The fabulous morning light and rich autumn palette of browns, reds, and golds feels more vibrant than ever this year, especially so against what seems to be constant crystal clear skies.
My recent half marathons have left me invigorated and my running mojo is back. I feel motivated and manage over 70 miles this month, which helps clear my head during a trying few weeks in work and sets me up nicely as we roll into the festive season.
The month starts slowly. I don’t push myself too hard, which is probably a good thing as I pick up a very nasty cold which seems to last for weeks. I test for COVID regularly, all negative, so it looks like it isn’t the dreaded omicron variant. It is, however, still debilitating and impacts my running.
I keep the distances short. The sunrise on the 22nd is breathtaking. Despite my Christmas food and drink excess I manage a very good ten miles on the 28th and strangely feel like I could run all day. I am very happy about this and round December off with a solid seven miles.
I enjoy some welcome time off from work and look forward to 2022. Reflecting on the year just gone, I am humbled by my capacity to still run – it keeps me healthy and sane, and I resolve to keep going as long as possible and to never take it for granted.
Happy new year.