Ambassador John Houston Shares his 2016 Running Season
2016 was always going to a big year for running, as someone who only does marathons in even years (London 2012 and Melbourne 2014), it was time to get the marathon training going again.
As it was an Olympic year, it felt right it up the challenge and what started off with one marathon in the calendar, became two, then three AND my first 50km Ultra to top it all off. I wanted to do this challenge to raise some money for a local cancer charity that helped my Mum and continues to support her today, as well as raising money for School charity too.
The training programme was set and the miles ticked over, completing Surrey Spitfire 20 miles in the build up to the first marathon, which was Paris, with the wife. We wanted a sub 4hr marathon together and were training towards anything between 3:45-4hrs, dependent on the day.
We travelled over to Paris a few days before and made our way to the Expo to get our numbers, with that familiar feeling of nerves and energy coursing through the veins. The day arrived and it was a beautiful crisp morning. We only just made it to the back of our pen as they set off, which turned out to be a bonus, as the space had cleared and we had a easy start to the race.
The sights were amazing and we took it all in, as we weaved through the streets of Paris. We had set up a decent pace for first 15 miles and built towards 20 miles with the plan to give the last 10km all we had. Coming round to the finish we could see that we had got our much sought after sub 4hrs, coming in for a 3:52 finish. Mission accomplished.
The next marathon was a solo effort, as my wife (Bryony) was giving this one a miss. Maybe Milton Keynes didn't quite have the same ring to it as Paris, but she took on the Half, whilst I did the full. We ran together for first 7 miles, making sure I kept a sensible pace at start. After the split, all went well until about 18 miles, when I was getting a little disheartened by the underpasses (they said they had removed lots this year compared to previous years). I got to 20 miles and gave myself a "pep-talk", as I still had a PB in sight. I pushed on and came through to the MK Dons stadium, did the last bit of running round the pitch to come through in 3:45. That training plan worked a treat and got my target time and a shiny new PB!
Round 3 got me off the road and onto the trail for my old running club's (Basingstoke and Mid Hants AC) inaugural trail event, the Hampshire Hoppit Marathon and Half Marathon. This was set in Kingsclere, across some superb terrain, with a brutal hill in the first two miles to spread the field out. It takes on the Wayfarer's Walk and Harrow Way paths, sending you up and down the local hills. The final part of the marathon even sends you up a hill as you set sight on the finish, only for an exhilarating finish to get that well deserved medal (and free pint of local ale).
The "Finale" was my first exploits into the Ultra territory, for the Chiltern Challenge 50km. This would be the furthest I had ever run, but I had done a recce of the route in a couple of stages, so knew what was in store. Again the race organisers launched us up a massive hill to spread the field (I sensed a theme in these trail races) and we were underway. The route took in the Chiltern Way, Ridgeway and even passed through the Prime Minister's residence at Chequers.
I really enjoyed the relax atmosphere of the trail races, with less pressure on pace, lots of opportunities to stop and eat at aid stations and the beautiful terrain around. I had a sub 6hr goal for this race and with a little stop to recharge myself at the 40km mark, I set off to finish the race and came in for a 5:52 finish.
So the "four in four months" challenge was completed and over £1000 raised for charity, it was a great experience. I took it a bit easier in August and embarked on some recovery in Sicily for two weeks, which was much needed.
On returning from holiday and with batteries recharged, I set about seeing if I had any speed in my legs still and having a crack at some half-marathons. I hadn't raced a half marathon for a few years, so didn't know how I'd go. In the space of two weeks, I did Maidenhead Half (1:36:45) and then Windsor (1:36:32). These were both PB's so I was delighted with that and I think I secretly like a hilly course, as Maidenhead was two relatively flat laps and Windsor was definitely undulating!
After all the racing this year, the legs started to feel a bit weary and I just wanted to get out running with less focus on times. It was time to get back onto the trails and this was when I discovered Maverick Races and realised that their final race was going to be a local one, at Stonor Park. I was familiar with the territory as now living in the Chilterns, our club had done some Summer runs out this way. Despite having had a recce of the 21km route, I opted for the 15km option and got to experience what Maverick Race are all about! Great atmosphere, beautiful routes - well marked and marshalled and a great bit of bling at the end. I was hooked and knew I wanted to be involved in the action next year.
So with 2016 almost over, I am looking forward to what 2017 offers, giving me an opportunity to explore other fantastic areas of the country. Next year is all about hitting the trails and I will probably mix it up with a half marathon on the road and maybe some 10km's. However, I think you'll agree that when you get to explore this sort of scenery on a run (Peak District earlier in year), it's hard to say no to the trails and leave the road shoes behind...
Look forward to seeing many of you out and about in 2017