The second half of the year started in a similar fashion to June – just enjoying being in good shape and the very gradual easing of lockdown restrictions and return to some semblance of normality across the UK. This included our ‘Last Man Stands’ cricket season belatedly getting underway, albeit with lots of hand gel, elbow bump wicket celebrations and socially distanced team photos. I developed and delivered ‘introduction to running nutrition’ webinars to local running clubs and had a great response.
We were also able to escape London and get a proper change of scenery for the first time in four months, and my main running highlights of these months were an 18km hard run following Holly on her bike through rural Somerset, and the hilliest run of my life (Strava confirms this: 506m elevation gain) along the Welsh coast, from Tenby to Laugharne. At this stage of the year, 3:50 / km pace felt like a ‘steady’ effort, whereas 3:35 had become my standard tempo pace on the 9km run to work. 2000km for 2020 was chalked up well ahead of schedule, and I was undoubtedly in the running form of my life…if only I’d had a big race to prove it.
The month started well, with the closest thing to a race to look forward to in over six months. The Heathside handicap 5km was a safely spaced and well-planned event on the 12th, and my 16:32 (N.B. the course was short at 4.7km) was good enough for 4th out of 70-odd club runners.
However, it soon started to unravel. Rather than just take the tube like a normal person, I made the dumb decision to run 22km at 4 min/km pace to deep South London immediately before a full day of keeping wicket in the baking sun for my cricket team (which basically involves leaping around and landing in awkward positions). It could be coincidence, but shortly after that day I started feeling an unusual ache in my hip.
I should then have bailed on our fake club Tuesday intervals slot, but my running ego got in the way and I did the session. Later that week it was pretty obvious I’d been an idiot and overdone it. Again, at this point I could and should have listened to my body and given myself a week or two off, but had committed months ago to a long Bath to Bristol run with a couple of old school friends, also carefully planned around a very rare chance in 2020 to see my dad and granny (outside, obviously). I decided to chance it under the proviso that we kept the pace very easy and chatty. We did, and I survived, somehow, without any pain.
October and November
However, a few days later, it was glaringly obvious that this was a proper injury and I had to sort it out without any further delay. I went down the physio route, and was diagnosed with a stress reaction (the precursor to a stress fracture) and given a structured rehab plan.
So, I didn’t run for two whole weeks (I enjoyed the break more than I expected), then started with 3km at very easy pace. Every 2-3 days I ran again and increased the duration by 10%, keeping the pace very slow. Every other day I took the opportunity to do S&C (far more than I’ve ever done before), and I incorporated a fair bit of cross-training too (swimming and cycling). October saw me cover a grand total of 45km – my lowest monthly total since my running records began many years ago!
Over November, I slowly crept back up to doing my full run commute distance of 9km, and then focussed on chipping away at the pace. I had one minor setback where I veered from the plan and did a bit too much too soon, but other than that I loved sticking to the regimented, incremental structure, and by the end of November I was getting closer to 4 min/km for tempo runs and to 50km weeks.
Whereas November had seen slow but steady rises in COVID cases on the ICU, by December, the much anticipated second surge was here. While the numbers on the units are roughly similar to the first surge in spring, the challenges this time are undoubtedly greater, as hospitals are doing everything to keep operations and other services running alongside the direct management of the pandemic itself. On top of this, the frontline workforce is exhausted and massively depleted, with twice-weekly self-testing (a bizarre way to start the day) meaning that the self-isolation statistics are truly eye-watering.
The projections for the coming weeks are getting bleaker almost by the hour, daily death rates are nearly back to 1000, and the country is placed in ever tighter tiers of restrictions…yet the public appreciation or compliance is nothing like it was back in spring. Some are even protesting (maskless, obviously) outside the hospital chanting that it’s a hoax. If you don’t laugh, you cry.
My runs back from work this month made me angry, with people hugging and congregating on increasingly busy streets. Following a year of Government U-turns, the rules got relaxed and then tightened again for Christmas, but by this point, depressingly large numbers of the population seemed to think they didn’t really apply to them anyway. It’s fair to say that the pandemic has really brought the best out of some people and the worst out of others. As I write this, I’ve just had to quickly shave off the Christmas beard, as ICU numbers have spiralled to the extent that we now need to staff the New Year’s Day bank holiday as an emergency.
I tried to switch off from the news over my precious Christmas break, and tucked into some beautiful muddy runs around Hampstead Heath, the River Lea and Ally Pally, plus a first fake solo ‘parkrun’ for 9 months on the Finsbury Park course on Christmas morning. At 18:20, I’m nowhere near back at PB pace yet, but it’s something to build on for next year.
But perhaps the most significant run of the year was on Tuesday morning, as I jogged home from receiving my first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine: the light at the end of the tunnel that my ICU colleagues, and no doubt millions of others, will be clinging onto over the next few weeks.