Friday, 31 December 2021

My running review of 2021

         My memory gets worse every year, and this year is no exception. What have I done this year? Luckily, I have all the photos on my phone and a catalogue of race events that I have done via the website “Runbritain”. Only the UKA races appear on Runbritain though, so the phone photos were useful to fill in the gaps of the other events.

    A strange start to the year as the pandemic continued. I was still ill from long covid from October of the previous year. My heart and lungs had enlarged and was causing me months of chest pain and breathing issues. My resting heart rate was as low as 30bpm which concerned myself and the heart specialist. I had to walk up and down the stairs to get my heart rate above 40 just so that I could get a blood pressure reading which was also all over the place. I spent days of exhaustion in bed. Work was such a drag. I couldn’t wait to get home and sleep. I had nausea every day. My head spinning and feeling sick while I tried to work. My lovely boss would often tell me to take five minutes out and sit down.

 Then there were the days on which I tried to run. It would be 16 degrees outside and my lungs would be burning in pain as if it was minus 5 degrees outside. I thought this was going to stay with me forever. Despite the pain and misery, I ran anyway. It was the only thing I had that I really enjoyed. And despite the illness, I would still push hard.. until my heart MRI anyway. The heart specialist phoned me and told me to cut back on running and the intensity until we got the results. He was telling me that it could be caused by the widening of an artery near the heart. I didn’t like the sound of this.

The swelling of my heart passed and so did the chest pains. I have a very healthy heart according to the specialists report after the MRI. Things were improving. And so they should as the long covid had lasted nearly 9 months. I’m not saying it has gone as I still get the odd day of fatigue and nausea but life is pretty much back to normal now.

Anyway, illness aside.. there hadn’t been any parkruns in the U.K since March of 2020. There were no race events happening either. It made me and most runners realise how precious our parkruns and race events were. Some pretty bleak times of just plodding the streets alone with no social aspects. But then, the sun began to shine…

         On Saturday May the 29th, a few of us got together to run one of my favourite, if not favourite events in the racing calendar. The Bratton Hilly. An 11.4K race where the first mile was pretty much uphill. But then, you could see miles of Wiltshire countryside in the summertime while running along country lanes and through colourful fields. Plenty of undulations and a few people to race. This race never really gets more than 100 runners and I was worried it would get too popular as it was now taken over by Red Fish events. Fair play to them, it was the same race and atmosphere as all the other years I had ran it. It was a great day and I managed to run myself a course pb. A time of 50.36. An 11.4k pb or 7.12 miles if you like the miles like me ;)

It was so good to be back amongst friends too. Josh Chivers, Kevin Willsher, Di and Mike Mattingly and Patrick and Angela too. Josh and Kev were miles ahead of me. Not sure Josh liked all the hills but Kev loved it and won his V40 age category in a rapid time of 44.15 and came 4th over all. It took about 4 or 5 months for him to get his prize though! Haha. Josh came 10th with a time of 46.28. 2nd Lordshiller home ;)

The Bratton hilly doesn’t start until 11pm so usually we would do Southwick parkrun first. Last time we did Melksham parkrun instead. But the parkruns were still not operational at this time.

          A month later, (27th June) saw me in Exeter at the Exeter half marathon. I stayed there overnight and met Di and Mikey at the event. I was in pretty good shape and ran a time of 88.29. I only made the course around 12.7 miles though and I had run the wrong way. There were no water stations on the course and I took no gels either. This could have been a pb for me as I was only 14 seconds away, but I know I wouldn’t be happy with it. Just like the time I got a pb at the 4.7 mile Romsey 5 course.

         Forward another month and the weather conditions could not have been any different. On the 18th of July, I was at Frome half with regular racing buddies Di and Mikey. It was about 30 degrees, unlike the grey and rainy day at Exeter. I had done Frome a few years previously and I knew it was a hilly course but I think I had forgotten how hilly. I told myself that I wasn’t going to race this because of the heat.

It was so hot that I had to use everything I had just to finish and get around. I felt pretty dizzy for a while as I sat on the grass under the shade of a tree cheering others in. I was over 10 minutes slower than my time at Exeter with a shocking 98.51. At least the course wasn’t short!

I can’t remember what date the parkruns returned. Maybe I didn’t rush back to them because of covid still spreading. The races I had done had staggered starts and lots of precautions. Anyway, on the 24th of July, I cycled to Itchen Valley to do my first parkrun there. This parkrun started just before I moved to Wales, so I never got around to doing it. There were a few other Vegan runners there too. This made it even better as we sat and had coffee and vegan sausage rolls afterwards at the lovely cafe. I think we bought all the sausage rolls in there too.

It was a new revised course and quite technical to follow the instructions we were told. Anyway, you’re supposed to go left at the bridge but a lot of us went right and did the first mile in reverse to the confusion of the marshals and the other runners who were actually running in the right direction. It was comical. We still did the same distance though and it is a lovely course which requires trail shoes if you have some. There are some wonderful wooded areas and plenty of mud. 21.46 was my time and then a tired cycle home.

          Only a week later, on the 31st of July, we had another unofficial vegan runners meet up at Winchester parkrun as Mike Harper was leaving us Hampshire vegans and moving to became a North Devonshire vegan. Great to meet Jon Taylor and James Pittman on that day. Lovely to see Jhon Cosgrove, Matt Salisbury, Cece and of course Mr. Harper himself. My aim was to run a sub 20 on this course. I had tried a few times before and failed. I think my course pb was 20.11. I didn’t really feel confident as I ran around the course. I remember thinking.. I don’t think you’re on for the sub 20 but you MUST beat 20.11 for a new course pb. Push Dean, push! To my surprise I came in with a 19.53. It was painful but I did it. After this, I wanted to try and do more sub 20 parkruns. I had kind of set it in my head as a goal. We then got a group photo and we all laughed as the random lady taking the photo said “Everyone say cheese”. She’d realised what she’d said and changed it. “Everyone say vegan cheeeeese”. It was then time for another lovely cafe catch up.

          7th of August saw Kev Willsher and myself heading to one of my favourite parkrun courses. Upton park parkrun. It’s a lovely compacted gravel trail course with a tough little hill in there. The course was slightly different this time around. I think this was because of needing a wider start and finish due to spread out the runners during these times of covid concern. I had a course pb of 19.43. It would be a tough one to beat. I raced it hard but only managed a 19.51. Still a great time for me and another sub 20. Kev told me that he went the wrong way on one of the turns but still came 5th with an impressive time of 18.32.

          A bit of solo parkrun tourism on the 14th of August as I caught the train to Lymington and did the Lymington Woodside parkrun. I managed to have a good warm up and a catch up with Alice Rudd and also chat to Rachel and James Brown at the end. I also had a chat with Kate Budd who had cycled there from Southampton.

A few people had told me that Lymington wasn’t a great course but I really enjoyed it and would love to go back again in 2022. Again, I just about managed the sub 20 with a time of 19.53. These sub 20’s were painful but at least they were getting consistent now.

          Ok, let’s try and get another sub 20. On the 28th of August, I was planning to get the train to Fareham for the parkrun. I told Kev, Kev said he would drive us and then we invited legendary Neil Catchlove. Another V45 who is much quicker than me. Kev did one of those things where he says he isn’t racing and I knew that Neil always raced his parkruns. I also knew that Kev couldn’t help himself and often didn’t listen to his own advice. They went off chatting as I was behind them huffing and puffing away. They were leading and I was in 3rd place! I wonder if we could hold this. Kev and Neil soon went out of my sight. Then I saw them on their way back. Kev was in front and Neil close behind. I swear I could hear someone on my shoulder but dare not look around. I kept on pushing. This was a lot more painful that usual. It felt as if time had stood still. The miles on my watch were taking ages to reach. I managed to hold 3rd place with a time of 19.13. I was over the moon and has really surprised myself. Later as we sat in the sun drinking coffee at the Cams mill pub, I was thinking about how I might have had a P1 today. Haha. Why did I invite those dickheads? Just kidding, I probably wouldn’t have pushed so hard without the influences of Kev and Neil there. Cheers guys.

        I got up super early on the 4th of September to return to Littlehampton parkrun. The aim was another sub 20. I knew it could be a pretty quick course depending on the wind. I randomly bumped into Lordshill legend Roger Bradley. I ran a 19.15 and got my first P2. P1 was way ahead though. Turns out Worthing 10k was the next day, so most people were taking it a bit easier. Roger and I had a lovely breakfast and a catch up afterwards too.

          It’s my birthday so we do what I want. On the 11th of September. Di drove me to Queen Elizabeth country park for the parkrun. We met Helen Bonaer there too as arranged. Last time I did this course was on a New Year’s day. I had cycled 26 miles there, worn road shoes and got a parkrun PW of 33 minutes and then cycled home again in the cold wind and rain. I had been meaning to return for a while.

It was a lot drier but I had forgotten how hard the hills were on this course. It’s pretty brutal. I knew I wouldn’t sub 20 this one but was very happy with my 20.57. Another breakfast followed and then a jog up Butser hill for fun.

        I decided not to write about every parkrun as there were slower times and ones where I just jogged around chatting to Disgo Dan, Helen Bonaer, Rob Kelly, Josh Chivers etc.. The 19th of September felt like a big deal. I felt a lot of pressure and expectation. The Lordshill 10k. Not the original course but this was my first 10k a decade ago. Josh and Kev would message me telling me I had a sub 40 in me. I wasn’t so sure. Was I fit enough? I had run a 40.25 at Goodwood in February of 2020.

Ever since I started running in 2011, I would dream about running a sub 40 for the 10k. It seemed to be a bench mark for being a proper runner back then. Most people I know are running mid to low 30’s now! I am 47 years old I guess though. No excuses Dean Jones.

       Anyway, I managed a time of 39.39. My first sub 40. I was so happy. It really was a life time goal of mine to achieve which some people used to laugh at when I told them. Maybe I wasn’t aiming high enough in life? I didn’t care as long as I was happy. It took a while to sink in that I had achieved it. I can happily look back and say that I ran a sub 40. Probably my biggest achievement of 2021.

       I did a few more sub 20 parkruns. Southampton and Portsmouth Lakeside and then back to Southampton parkrun on the 9th of October. On that day I somehow ran my first sub 19 for the 5k. A time of 18.53. Probably the only time that I’ll beat Alan Graham at anything. It was brutal and then I had Paddy Connors jogging past me at the finish casually congratulating me as if he was almost Cheers Paddy.

           More tourism ensued. A very long train journey to Crawley on the 16th of October saw me running around Tilgate parkrun. I was taking it easier as I had the Great South run the following day. This is a stunning parkrun around a lovely lake with a bit of a hill in there too. You know it’s going to be tough when you seem to be running downhill for quite a while! It would be my 59th different parkrun location. I would definitely recommend doing Tilgate if you can.

         The Nerves and apprehension crept back in as the Great South run arrived. Very overpriced but a great local race where you can just jump on the train and race in a great atmosphere. I met Josh Chivers on the train and we saw Dan Hunt when we got off the train. We walked and chatted our way to the start. Talking of times and conditions etc.. Even though I tried to take the racing line on the course, I always found it to be a bit over the distance. I remember being on for a PB one year and I would have got it if the course was actually 10 miles. According to my watch, I still had another half a mile to run.

I had this thought in my head today. It’s going to be a long course so you need to run a bit faster for a PB anyway. Where the course is so flat, you can pace each mile really well, apart from the wind on the last mile or two. And there was a strong wind this year. Anyway, I got my PB with a 10 mile time of 66.12. A PB over 30 seconds beating my Wimborne 10 time of 66.44.

Josh came in at an amazing 69th and got a PB of 58.54. Dan Hunt came 47th with a time of 56.48 which he thought was “Okay” and local hero Will Bryan came 5th with a time of 49.05! Ridiculous.

          Netley, Brockenhurst and Soton parkruns followed as the Saturdays rolled by. My friend Helen has talked me into entering two races. The testway 50 and the Phoenix Skull runner. Not sure why I agreed but both were a challenge and great fun. 31st of October saw Helen running her first ultra in a 7 hour timed event. The rain was torrential and it was windy on the Thames path. I didn’t want to get out of Helen’s warm car but she made me. The out and back route was about 3 miles or so. Helen wanted to quit at 29 miles but I said that wasn’t an ultra distance so we did another lap making up just over 32 miles where she destroyed me in a sprint finish and make me look crap. However, she said she was done. I kind of wanted to keep going but I was happy enough as I hadn’t done an ultra for a while. This was our training and “Reverse taper” for the Testway 50 on the 13th of November.

         I love the testway and told Helen how well I knew most of the course. I had run about 35 miles of it on my own before. Or at least, I thought I had. It is a 50 miler or 52 miles as the race director told us at the start. It was a fantastic day with mild and dry weather. All the hills seemed to be near the start. We did a 10 mile loop and ended up back at the start which I didn’t realise as I didn’t read the email. Helen knew this though. I thought it was strange that we were heading to Berkshire rather than Hampshire! Oh yeah, I should have mentioned that we were running it from the Inkpen end and finishing at Rotten Totton.

  As if we hadn’t chatted enough about cats and food on the skull runner, the conversations continued effortlessly as the miles passed us by. The views were great and the terrain always changing. We did get lost though and ran through a private field and had to turn back. It’s nice that we took some other runners with us who decided to follow us.

        The aim was to reach the aid stations which were about every 10 miles. It made such a difference to have Andy Herman and the kids to support us. The marshals at the aid stations were amazing too. I loved eating and talking to them more than I liked the running. But every now and then we reminded ourselves that we had to leave and carry on. There wasn’t much of a Vegan option at the aid stations. I had a bit of banana here and there. I bought my own Nked bars and gels though. I was looking forward to seeing Andy and the kids again with my bag of Vegan ham and cheese sandwiches. I had been thinking about them for ages. We got to the White Lion pub in Wherwell but no Andy was to be seen.

  Helen phoned him only to discover that he was at the wrong checkpoint. I could have cried right there. I want my sandwiches Andy! I got my brain engaged and starting thinking. He was 10 miles away at Mottisfont. Maybe he could meet us at the pub on the corner in Stockbridge? Stockbridge must have been about 5 miles I imagined. What was the pub called? I had to google it. The White Hart.

       I think this actually worked out better for us as we now had the most mentally challenging part coming up.. The old dis-used railway line. Starting in Leckford it is just a very straight gravel path that goes on for about 5 or 6 miles. Stockbridge was about halfway in though. We were so happy to see the pub, Andy and the kids. I changed t-shirt, socks and ate my lovely sandwiches. Wow, what a difference this had made. A wonderful pit-stop. We carried back onto the railway line and turned off and headed uphill to Mottisfont where we saw another aid station and the amazing Andy again. Andy gave me a hug and I think it may have been one of the best hugs of my life. I felt a little bit tearful if I’m honest. 40 miles in and the emotions were high and tiredness was evident. Helen and I still chatted away though. We had now got our head torches. I would later discover at Romsey tide mill that I had forgot to change the batteries and had to run with the light on my phone. Squabb wood was interesting. Luckily both Helen and myself knew the route. A couple of people stayed with us for navigation. It was also very muddy and climbing stiles was getting tough. After I hid behind Helen, she managed to scare the cows off and onwards we went. Helen was struggling a bit mentally and said she may have to walk the rest of the way. I think we were at mile 43. It was a dark place for us both mentally and literally. We walked for a bit, not really saying much. The ground was now rutted and hard to run on.

         Things changed when we hit the road though. We knew we had another aid station in a couple of miles and our spirits seemed to ignite. We got to that aid station on Church lane and we were back to our chatty selves while all the marshals and spectators told us how amazing we were. A big feel good factor. We ran happily on in the remaining miles onto the lower test and across the boardwalks. A big cheer of supporters at the Salmon leap pub and then running through the park and into Totton. Seeing that finish line was such a great feeling. We both upped our pace for what we thought was a sprint finish. Everyone applauded and cheered. What a day! Memories that will last a lifetime. It was a very special day for me and I loved it. Thanks for the company and talking me into it Helen. Highlight of 2021? Probably…

          Anyway, some much needed recovery time was taken, especially at my age. I didn’t do much for a month until I headed for a reunion with my good friend Chloe Elliott. I forgot to mention that earlier in the summer I got the train to Wales and stayed in Abergavenny. Chloe picked me up and we attempted to run around the Brecon Beacons. Stupidly though, I forgot to tell Chloe that I was scared of heights and suffered with Vertigo. Turns out to be quite an important thing in the mountains! We did our 20 miles but I couldn’t do the big hills or the mountains. As soon as the torrential rain came in, the wind and the clouds started ruining my visibility, I felt unsafe as we were quite high up. I panicked and headed back down very quickly. I felt very bad for Chloe but it was still a great run and lovely to catch up with her. She later did it again on her own anyway. The photos looked stunning too. I was a bit annoyed with myself. Maybe I’ll try hypnotherapy next year.

       Forward to the 10th of December and I met Chloe again but in Gloucester. We had made plans but had to adapt them due to Chloe not being able to find my hotel on time and the infrequency of the trains. In the end, we got the train from Gloucester to Stonehouse and would run from there to Cheltenham. We made a bit of a mess of the train tickets and got ourselves very confused. It’s a very long story….

I looked at my Cotswolds map where Chloe said we would run 18 miles, this later changed to 24 miles but when I looked, I made it about 32 miles? The original plan was to get off at Stroud but Chloe dragged us off the train at Stonehouse. “This is perfect” she said. “We just follow this path here”. Fair play to her, before we knew it, we were on the Cotswolds way. It was another lovely day with sunshine. Lots of hills. Hill after hill. We sure climbed a lot and my hamstrings weren’t so keen but the views were stunning and we had a very clear day. Another great catch up where we chatted away and really took in the experience. Another very memorable day. We didn’t get very lost either thanks to Chloe’s navigational skills.

The weird thing was that when we got into Cheltenham, things started to look familiar. Chloe didn’t think so but when we looked on Strava we had already run a couple of segments together before. Another adventure we did on the Cotswolds when Chloe lived in Cheltenham. Haha. Cheers Chloe.

She had got her 26.2 mile marathon distance but I had to run half a mile around the train station car park while she spoke to her mum on the phone. And then another train back to Gloucester for coffee.

      The next day I could barely walk but met up with some Vegan runners at Gloucester city parkrun. I wanted another sub 20. It seemed a bit ridiculous but I got it. My 60th different parkrun location and a time of 19.59. It was a very fast course but I made it 3.2 miles when I finished. It should have been a 19.30 really ;) Still, another 3rd place finish.

      A week later on the 18th of December I ran Southampton parkrun. I couldn’t decide whether or not to race it. I had a 10k the next day but told myself I probably wouldn’t bother going at the trains were to be replaced by slow buses. Another PB came out of me from somewhere. Ian Bower asked me what time I was going for and I just said "Sub-Bower". Obviously, this was enough to get him racing and he beat me of course but 18.42 was my time. Wow, I was in shock. I had also been putting on weight and getting "a bit of a tummy" due to my poor eating habits of late. What a great finish to the year. I also thought that I had beaten my old coach Rob Kelly’s parkrun PB but turns out that I equalled it! Doh.

          I still did the Scrooge 10k the following day. I was originally entered for the marathon but decided it wouldn’t be good training for my 10k race in January. I was being sensible! Another shock to the system. I wanted around 40 minutes. Good training for Stubbington I thought.

Kev gave me a lift there and was telling me how perfect the running conditions were and how there didn’t look like much competition “Apart from the guy in the vaporflys” he said. Anyway, the guy in the cheating shoes did beat me (by nearly 5 minutes) but I still came in second place after going the wrong way and coming into the finish from the wrong side. I said I wasn’t going for a PB as I knew it wasn’t a UKA registered race but did a time of 39.51 and covered 6.27 miles. My average pace was quicker than my PB at Lordshill too. Another sub 40! I couldn’t believe it. What a year of racing for me. In the car after the race, I asked Kev if he thought I could have done better if I hadn’t ran a hard 5k at parkrun the day before. “No, you still would have come second mate”. This still makes me laugh. Not really what I  

           It’s been a super good one despite the covid crap. A PB on the parkrun, 10k and the 10 miler. I reckon I could have got a PB at Maidenhead half again if Purple patch hadn’t moved it to Dorney lake. I didn’t go to Dorney lake and got a refund. We’ll see what happens next year. I also have an easy marathon PB to chase in 2022 at Newport marathon. Sadly I have put on a few pounds lately so need to sort the healthy eating out for the coming year.
            I think giving up alcohol 14 months ago has been the best thing I ever did. Going vegan too. 26 months Vegan now. Love the Vegan runners UK running club. Great support and always lovely to meet new people repping the “Green and Black”. I even managed to volunteer a couple of times at parkrun in December. Once marshalling at Netley and telling runners to stay to the right instead of the left and photographer at Bartley park on Xmas day. I really enjoyed both roles and really should volunteer more.
             Bouldering has been amazing too. I think I only discovered bouldering 2 years ago and now I couldn’t be without it. It’s my cross-training activity. Because I’m always reading that just running isn’t enough and I find the gym so boring. It helps with my core and upper body strength. I love the challenges and problem solving of it. The lovely people who you engage with too. My sports therapist used to say that I ate too many carbs and only ran. That’s why I ended up with quads like a rugby player. Thanks to Natasha at Muscle magic for all those massages, advice and wisdom. Thanks to Kev and Josh for bullying me into bettering myself and believing in me.
Thanks for reading if you got this far. See you in the new year. X

                                       Go Vegan, stop the animal suffering.

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