Part 3: the 2021 plan – Heed The Call.

Perfect Winter conditions in Beacon Park, looking South West towards Liverpool and North Wales.

Thank you so much if you took the time to read parts 1 & 2 of this trilogy of getting my blog up-to-date, it is much appreciated. Part 3 – the bit you are reading now – is to lay out my 2021 grand plan to you because, once you tell someone, you have to stick to it, right?! As well as running plans, I do also have plans to make this blog more interesting than writing about myself, hence the need to get up-to-date so that I can push on into the future and write about things which might interest you more. More on that later too.

If you have missed the first two parts you will find them on the links below:

Part 1 – August 2019 to March 2020: https://gbsticks11.com/2021/02/02/running-in-the-olden-days/

Part 2 – Review of 2020: https://gbsticks11.com/2021/02/21/2020-the-year-no-plans-inadvertently-paid-off/

So, on we go, what have I got planned for 2021?

Setting a target for 2021 – the process:

As I progressed through 2020 I found, completely by accident, I had fallen into a habit of running much more than I used to. Initially, as detailed in blog 2 above, it was mostly because I suddenly had time to pop out for a little run everyday. By the time schools re-opened in September, I was pretty used to running six or seven days of the week and, disastrous December aside, I managed to pretty much maintain a running week of at least five outings. This led to weekly mileage around the 40 mile mark – more than ever before.

My annual record mileage stands at 1755 in 2016. You won’t be surprised to know that – guess what – 2016 was the year I ran all my PBs! At the time, I thought that mileage was quite a lot! It dawned on me very quickly, looking at my running from April 2020 onwards, that actually it wasn’t very far at all. In fact, 2020 accounted for four of my record months and I was very close to a couple of others as well.

What I did next was look back, month by month, and plot the record mileage that I had done in each month of the year. To explain more clearly: ‘What is the most mileage I have ever done in January, and what year was it?’ (170 miles; January 2019.) I then repeated the process for each calendar month of the year. What surprised me were several patterns which I had never spotted before. I always knew December was terrible due to the number of school based events, for the whole family, that go on in the evenings in December which stop me running. But I had never noticed what a disaster February always is! I’ve been injured for most of them! The most mileage I have ever done in February was 136 in 2016.

I then totalled up all the record months to give me one hypothetical record mileage year. I was staggered how relatively low the number was. Don’t get me wrong, it’s 400 miles more than I have ever managed in a calendar year, but I know for a fact it is a long way short of the amount that a lot of my friends down at Harriers run in a year and it still clocks in at waaaaaaaay under 200 miles a month.

So there it is, my target for the year: to beat my previous record mileage for each calendar month in every month of 2021 and, by logical conclusion, beat my hypothetical record annual total into the bargain.

On an Excel Spreadsheet, it looks like this:

That’s right girls and boys (and people who don’t identify by gender) an Excel Spreadsheet! 20th Century, here I come!!! (Huh? There’s another century after that?!)

Now, I’ve given you a bit of a preview there because, as you can see, I have already filled in January and February for your perusal. Obviously, I am currently smashing it out of the park, or else I may never have admitted the target to you in the first place! However, let’s leave that boastful, showy-offy point aside, and get back to the main question I know you all have, which is….

Why did you suddenly decide to use an Excel Spreadsheet you outdated old fossil?!

Well, the answer comes in two parts. The first one is simple. Leanne looked at me drawing beautiful columns beautifully in my beautiful hard-backed Lakeland 100 journal, (available from The Endurance Store website for any fellow writing/running notebook nerds like myself – buy one, they’re beautiful,) and simply said “I don’t know why you don’t use Excel for that,” thus planting a seed of doubt and uncertainty in the mind that only a good wife can. Wives are very good at these ‘seed-planting’ statements, there are many examples – especially in my house. See if you recognise any of these:

  • I think there is an outside storage box for those dirty trail shoes. (x5 pairs, btw)
  • That drain does get blocked in the downstairs shower doesn’t it? I wonder if it’s mud?
  • I really couldn’t get back to sleep after your 6am run alarm, which you didn’t get up for, woke me up.
  • I’m not sure we should put the your stinking running kit in the same wash cycle as the girls’ school uniforms.
  • Yes, I’m absolutely fine with you ‘popping out’ for a run, I’ll just make the tea and get the children in the bath or shower and get them ready for bed while you’re out.
  • £150 for an ultra? For which you’ll be out of the house training for six months, then will want me to look after the girls while you disappear into the hills for the entire weekend? No problem, I’m sure.

Anyway, I digress! The second reason for Excel is a lot less flippant than that above, it is my own little personal nod of appreciation to a chap called John Kynaston, of whom much more later, if you don’t know the name.

Aside from the spreadsheet itself, the other thing John inspired in me was the gold/silver/bronze target ladder which, I think, is familiar to a lot of runners.

Bronze target (1800 miles) – as previously mentioned, my actual annual mileage record is 1755 in 2016. I would have beaten that easily last year had I not missed March entirely to injury, so my absolute base starting point for 2021 is 1800 miles. That’s a nice, round 150 miles a month and, injuries permitting, should be easily achievable given my new 5/6 day running week schedule.

Silver target (2000 miles) – No specific reason for this figure, other than that is is roughly in the middle of my gold and bronze targets and is a nice, round, simple target figure that I think any runner would be pleased to reach. If you’d told me last year that I was contemplating 2000 miles I’d have probably laughed, so it tells you something about my new mindset that I would regard this as a bit disappointing unless something significant gets in the way.

Gold target (2170 miles) – a bit of a random number but I’m sure you have all recognised that my hypothetical record year is 2166 miles, so it would be amazing to beat that and 2170 is simply rounded up to the nearest 10!

As you can see from the spreadsheet, I have come flying out of the blocks in January and February and, as such, am currently looking at these targets and thinking ‘Have I undersold myself a bit?’ Well, there are a few reasons why I don’t think this is the case which I will explain in a moment but, first, this thought has led to me adding a couple of layers to my gold target above:

Double Gold target (beating my previous monthly best in all 12 months) – obviously, the dream ticket would be to beat the hypothetical annual total by setting a new record for each individual month. I have achieved this with some room to spare in January and February, but there are more difficult challenges to come. Regardless of any race schedule which may present itself as COVID restrictions ease, (I did well to get this far without mentioning the C-word, didn’t I?!) I am already looking at July and August as massive challenges. I sincerely hope that we will be on our family summer holiday for a decent chunk of those months. I love holiday running but am definitely not going to put running ahead of the family on any given day of a holiday which the girls so desperately deserve. If I can get through those months, double gold might be on.

All-New Platinum target (2400 miles; 200 per month) – this would be the dream ticket. Obviously, lots could go wrong, not least injury which would kill it in a week! But I have to admit that it has crossed my mind. Let’s hope I haven’t tempted fate!

So, now I have nailed my colours to the mast and the plan is out there for inspection, what barriers are there to prevent targets being reached? (Sounds like a bit of office-speak there!)

Injury – as I recently turned 48, I am suddenly painfully aware of age creeping up on me. I’m hardly a hypochondriac but it probably isn’t positive that I’m not too fussed about catching COVID because I’m way more worried about having a heart attack every time I go for a run! (I have even recently bought one of those rubber identification wrist bracelets to wear while running so that a stranger knows who I am if they ever come across me flat out somewhere! Like a lost bloody pet!) But it is a basic fact that I have had more injuries in the last two years than the previous ten put together and I am hardly a yoga/pilates/stretching guru, so I have to factor in that I am going to miss time somewhere along the line.

Races – this is a point really well made by clubmate John recently, and something I spotted when tracking my previous running months. I couldn’t work out why my monthly totals were lower in months when I knew I’d run a 50+ mile ultra race. They must be the biggest months, right? Wrong! In actual fact, to run well in a long ultra of that nature you need a decent taper into it and you need to rest properly after it. So that 50 mile race may come with as little as 30 miles the fortnight before and as little as 0 the week after (slightly extreme!) and suddenly you have a 120 mile month instead of 200. As John pointed out, if you are going to run a local midweek league race and then you have a 10k race on the weekend, that cuts severely into long runs that wrack up the miles. I hasten to add this is not a bad thing – it’s why we run after all! My plan was put in place this year when, to be honest, I was pretty certain that hardly any races would be run this year either. If and when races do get going, I will still prioritise them over trying to hit mileage totals, but let’s see what happens over the coming months.

The end of lockdown – It’s very easy to say ‘Oh, I can’t wait for everything to go back to to normal,’ and, I suppose, I am the same. (Did I sound convincing?!) But there are a lot of things I will miss about lockdown, and time is the main one. Time with the girls. Time to finally sort the garden. Time to de-clutter the house. Time to actually eat meals as a family! And, obviously, time to run. And not just run, but the time to enjoy the run as a genuine source of wellbeing, as opposed to feeling guilty about going running because I really should be doing something else. Obviously, there are pros and cons to everything, but if the return to normal involves a return to the insane, chaotic speed of ‘normal’ life before lockdown then I, for one, am not really looking forward to that. And it could play havoc with my new running schedule if I don’t get smart and work around the ‘normal life’ timetable.

January and February Running.

The year started with a surprise dose of real Winter conditions! I think the snow appeared overnight just before New Year’s Eve. Not loads, but enough for us to get the family sledge out for the first time in NINE YEARS! (I’m not even kidding! Hannah was in Reception and Nancy [9] has never even seen the thing!) Every run between December 28th and January 10th was a snow run of some description. The temperature barely got above freezing the entire time, so every fresh dusting of snow, and that’s all it ever was, stuck around. The pavements were pretty treacherous really, but you could run if you wore trail shoes and made a point of running as slowly and gently as possible. The trails were generally safer, although I did one run from my work thinking the canal towpath would be clear, only to find the towpath a glaze of sheet black ice where it had been trodden down by days and days of walkers. There were so many beautiful runs with clear blue skies and glistening snow that it really was a pleasure to be out. Winter at it’s best truly is the finest of seasons.

In fact, the only disappointing part of January running was the cancellation of Mike’s 50th birthday run. He had a grand run plan lined up for The Sundae Runners which included a finish at his house for coffee and copious cakes but, within days of his birthday, the National lockdown was announced and The Sundae Runners were no more – for now! His lovely wife, Catherine, had even had t-shirts specially printed for the occasion which were to be a surprise for Mike. They were hastily delivered instead. I was the lucky one who lives closest to Mike so, come the big day, I was fortunate enough to be his ‘You can meet up for exercise with one other person’ person! We donned the t-shirt anyway and had a memorable 17 miles in stunning conditions. The coffee, cake and full group run will hopefully be re-booked in the not too distant future! Happy birthday, Coach Harris!

I won’t bore you with the rest of January and February, other than to say I think we have had every type of weather condition in roughly equal quantities but generally nothing that actually stopped me running. Since breaking up for Christmas on December 18th, I have had 11 consecutive weeks of 40 mile plus running weeks, my most consistent spell ever. I have managed to mix up speed, tempo, long, hilly and recovery runs pretty well, so feel quite good. At worst, I have laid a really good foundation of endurance for the upcoming year. Club training sessions are due to resume in late March, which I definitely need to sharpen up but, otherwise, I cannot complain at all.

Looking to the future – 2021 and beyond.

I think, in my mind, I had pretty much written off any chance of any races being able to take place in the first half of 2021. To be honest, I didn’t think any major races would even be held in Autumn, at least not without either vastly reduced fields or hugely elongated staggered starts. I guess I was simply hoping that local races and, possibly, club based events like cross-country might be considered ‘small’ enough to go ahead. This was ultimately the reason for my decision to focus on mileage – a training target to focus on – rather than a race.

Then along came Boris with his roadmap to leaving lockdown and, rightly or wrongly, I was almost overwhelmed with hope! Suddenly there was a sense that this time, surely, we might be playing some sort of end game with this bizarre episode in all our lives. As I mentioned in a previous blog, I was always going to use 2020 to decide what I actually wanted to do with my running going forward – did I still have an appetite for ultra running? Did I want to actually have one more serious crack at marathon running? Did I want to focus on short stuff? Did I still want to race at all? To be honest, I hadn’t decided on any of those things as I couldn’t see an end to the never ending lockdowns but, to my surprise, the potential for clarity in the latter led to a remarkable moment of clarity in the former.

To explain my idea for the rest of 2021, I need to project into 2022 and possibly even 2023, because it is in these years that I first formed the basis of the plan. Throughout 2020 I really couldn’t decide what I wanted to do, other than enjoy my running. But there were only really three thoughts which occurred with enough regularity for me to actually believe them:

1 – I am absolutely desperate to get back to the Lakeland 100! I’ve learned so much the last two years (future blog alert 1!), I was so unfit when I finished that I know I have a much faster time in me if I put it all together. If/when I get back it will be with the specific aim of going sub 30 hours. I am not naive or stupid, that is a really tough ask for my ability but, ultimately, it is a target to be inspired by. If I ended running a good race and beating my last time, that would ultimately be fine, but as to whether I want to do it or not, that doubt has passed – I will be back! But, in reality, the absolute earliest that can be is 2022. I would really like it to be then, due to my slightly unbalanced 2023 idea.

2 – I am not really interested in anything ‘exotic’ like UTMB or Western States. I know they are iconic international events. But do I really want to start just entering ultras just to hoover up UTMB qualification points? Nope. Leanne is tremendously supportive of my running, but do I want to fork out thousands of pounds and impinge on precious family time to the extent that those races would? Nope. Would I want to go to one of those events but run one of the smaller, little brother support races, no matter how difficult they actually are in reality? Nope. I’d never say never but, while the girls are growing up, I am not going to blow that much family holiday money on something just for me. If money was no object, then fine. But it is!!!

3 – I’m 50 in 2023 (gulp) and would quite like a crack at the GB Ultras Ultra Great Britain (UGB) Race. So here is the ‘local’ alternative to the next rung on the ladder of challenges. I have never done a multi-day race before and, in reality, I hardly ever can due to term times and holiday inflexibility. But long-time followers of this blog will know that both Leanne and I have a bit of history with this race. I won’t elaborate here because it is going to feature in a future blog (future blog alert 2!), but we saw quite a bit of the first edition of this race in 2016 and we ran a checkpoint in the 2017 edition – one of the absolute most memorable running based two days of my life. Originally a Coast-to-Coast race of 200 miles using the Trans-Pennine Trail from Southport to Hornsea (near Hull), race director Wayne Drinkwater upped the ante in 2018 by transporting the race north of the border and, instead, began using the Southern Upland Way to again travel coast-to-coast over 215 miles, but this time adding a significant amount of elevation and variety of trail conditions to an already arduous test. I will save the details for that future blog but if the race was still on the TPT I would fancy my chances of a decent finish. The Southern Upland Way is a completely different kettle of fish (sporran of haggis?) though; I think a finish at all there is at the absolute end of my spectrum of ability, but I do think I would kick myself if I never had a go at all.

So how do this potential future years plan affect 2021?

Well, if I want to get into the 2022 Lakeland 100 I have to qualify. To be honest, I didn’t think the 2021 edition would get off the ground this summer – I didn’t think the COVID restrictions would be lifted in time, so I secretly wondered if my 2019 race finish would qualify me on account of no other races having taken place! As it stands, I sincerely hope the 2021 race gets off the ground for all concerned; this will then open up the ballot process in September for the 2022 race. I have no idea if the current qualification criteria will stand but, if it did, I need a 50+ mile Lake District style race to get a qualie run in before September. Hence step 4 of the plan…

4 – Run the Lakeland Trails 100k Race in July 2021! Another race I thought would not get started, my friends at the Lakeland Trails team are seriously hoping this can now take place on July 10th. The problem was it is booked up with runners carrying over their entries from 2020’s cancelled edition. However, they asked for reserves, I put my name down and I have been offered a place. To be honest, I wasn’t expecting to hear back so quickly!!! I haven’t formally entered yet as the one thing I absolutely don’t want to do is enter this race, COVID numbers go up, and I have paid £125 to enter a race that will either run virtually or will be carried over to 2022. I really want to do it this year, but I really don’t want to do it next year! (And I will not be doing it virtually!) I have until the end of March to make my mind up, so I am just being patient rather than rushing in. If I knew the race was on, I would enter immediately. I want to do it and am already miles fitter than I was the last time I stood on an ultra start line. I guess I will ultimately have to gamble on it taking place and just enter – and then wait with baited breath…!

So there you have it! My grand plan laid out for all to see! And once you’ve told people, you have to do it, right?! In that case, I’m not even going to mention what I might get up to in Autumn, I’ll leave that for a future blog! (Future blog alert 3!)

Podcasts.

During lockdown, when the majority of runs were for relaxation rather than training, I got into quite a habit of listening to podcasts while running. At the time, when I was trying to keep to roughly 60 minutes and was sticking to the same quiet, local routes, it was as much to avoid monotony as anything else. I have actually greatly reduced this recently as I noticed that I run an awful lot better when I am concentrating on what I am doing and not just pottering along listening to something else! I also noticed that I am much more mentally switched off when listening to nature around me – a mindfulness moment no less! I haven’t stopped listening to podcasts, just not as much when running anymore.

However, if you are into podcasts, here are a few recommendations. Three about running, and two others:

1 – Running Commentary.

In my opinion, the best running podcast out there. Many running podcasts can be very dry, theory, training-based and very low on entertainment – which is fine, if that is what you want. But Running Commentary is two friends, who just happen to be professional comedians, Rob Deering and Paul Tonkinson, chatting as they run. And I do mean, as they run. As in, the podcast is recorded on mobile devices on the move. It is unscripted, there is little to no pre-planning. Therefore it is neither polished nor perfect. Sometimes they talk about running a lot, sometimes it is barely mentioned at all. But, the more you listen, the more it becomes a soundtrack to life, not just running. As with any good show, you form relationships with the characters and you learn about their families. They get injured; you join them on their rehab journey. Low motivation or moments of running nirvana; you experience it all with them. They recorded the whole of their 2019 London Marathon run live and it is quite a cathartic, moving experience I can tell you.

Left: Paul Tonkinson & Rob Deering recording Running Commentary. Right: myself, Paul Tonkinson and fellow Harrier Paul Platt; York 2017.

Paul has a terrific book out called ‘26.2 miles to happiness’ which is highly recommended. His and my running ‘careers’ mirror each other incredibly similarly, even down to PB times, until Paul hunted down his sub-3 marathon at the same point in life that I started ultra running. In fact, I met him at the finish line of the York marathon in Autumn 2016, he’d just run 3.03(ish) and I’d just run my 3.11pb. I actually met him again at the National Cross Country Championships the year after too. (And, funnily enough, the very first time I ever want to a Comedy Store, Paul was the headline act! We’d be talking roughly 2005 I reckon!)

Rob is about to have his first book published, ‘Running Tracks’, all about the music that has inspired him while running. His stand-up comedy involves a lot of music too – imagine Ed Sheeran’s loop pedals with a sense of humour! His background is very much a success story for anyone who came to running a little later in life. But his own PBs are now very respectable and he adopts a very holistic approach to running – vegan, stetching, core exercise etc in stark contrast to Paul, (and myself!)

So what you end up with is a brilliant juxtaposition of ‘old school’ natural born runner and modern, music listening, non-runner who became a runner – both of whom are very funny. There have been plenty of occasions when I have had to stop running due to belly laughing. Plus, if you listen while you are running, they are running too, so it genuinely does feel like you are out running with them – a group run for the solo runner! They are occasionally joined by guests and I regularly find myself chatting along to them as if I too am being recorded! In fact, they need to interview me because they think ultras are harder than marathons, whereas I know they aren’t! (future blog alert 4!) If you are going to listen to one running podcast, make it this one.

2 – Everyday Runner.

Let me re-phrase that last sentence or my brother will disown me! You need to listen to two running podcasts, because my brother Chris Hillam (aka Dougie) has just started his own! In it, he interviews normal, everyday runners about their running journey. It is very much in it’s infancy – three episodes to date – but he has already interviewed three very different runners who have had very different experiences. I was lucky enough to be his crash-test-dummy in episode one, before an interview with Paul Heseltine on his sub-3 marathon journey in episode two, then a very open and honest interview with Andy Firth in episode three, who describes his battle with personal demons with commendable honesty. Let’s be honest, most of us are ‘everyday runners’ so it is refreshing to listen to interviews about normal people by a normal person who both have to fit their running around families, full-time jobs and all the other pitfalls of modern life. Please support Dougie and give ‘Everyday Runner’ a try!

3 – The Endurance Podcast (TEP).

Hosted by Marc Laithwaite (Endurance Store, Lakeland 100 organiser, Epic Events… the list goes on), Mike James (aka Endurance Physio) and Dr Ian Boardley, this podcast will tick every box required for any endurance athlete. It has the perfect balance of information, advice and entertainment and is equally comfortable discussing complex issues relating to endurance performance or taking a light-hearted look at the latest controversy, headline or ridiculous tweet!

It has all the major bases covered, so you get opinions on physiotherapy and health plus the oft-overlooked psychological aspect of the life of an amateur athlete. Then, throw in being given a fascinating insight into the life, stresses and behind-the-scenes struggles of a race organiser and what you end up with is a podcast in which you will either learn something, or at least be left thinking differently, about at least one aspect of your training, race day preparation or performance implementation after every episode.

They are more than happy to discuss the modern, scientific aspects of training or gadgetry but the undertone throughout comes through loud and clear in every episode, (as it does in every one of Marc’s blogs on the Endurance Store website): there is no substitute for good, old fashioned hard work!

4 – Taskmaster, The Podcast.

We have left the world of running and are now into light entertainment! If you have never watched Taskmaster before, do yourself a favour, find a free evening, open a bottle of your favourite drink, load E4 on your smart TV and start at series 1, episode 1 of the Taskmaster TV show. I practically guarantee you will watch the first series of six episodes in one go. And then you will be hooked. Not only is this a good use of your free time, it is also crucial for this podcast, as you need to have seen the TV shows to listen to the podcast.

There are now 10 series of the TV show in the books and series 11 has been recorded and is soon to be aired. The podcast takes each episode in detail, one per podcast, and breaks down the events with a previous contestant. (Think of the ‘extra’ TV shows you get to accompany programmes like The Apprentice, Bake-Off, Big Brother etc). We are firmly in nerd/super-fan territory here but, as the podcast is hosted by comedian and series 9 contestant Ed Gamble and generally involves an interview with another comedian, you are going to be entertained.

My girls are massive fans of the TV show, which is hosted by Greg Davies in the role of the brutal, no-holds-barred, no-sympathy-given Taskmaster, supported by his ‘assistant’ and the show’s creator ‘little’ Alex Horne. It has taught them many things about life – the main one probably being the art of swearing. There is a family friendly version of the show available but, you know, we are responsible parents and children need to learn that swearing is a part of normal life and, more importantly, a life skill. (Billy Connelly taught me this in my youth!) One of their proudest moments was when Alex Horne replied to one of our tweets that we sent him whilst playing the board game! Give it a go, you won’t regret it.

5 – Around The NFL.

OK, now I am getting niche! Bear with me. I am not going to try and convert you to the NFL, but I am going to briefly explain why this podcast has to be on my list. I’ve only been listening to podcasts since the summer of 2017 when I was decorating Lottie’s bedroom and needed something other than music to listen to. The very first podcast I listened to was Around The NFL.

The premise is ridiculously simple: four mates talking football (not our kind!) and, like any group of mates, they agree on some things and fiercely disagree on others. Probably the greatest compliment I can pay Dan, Gregg, Marc and the late, great Chris Wesseling (more on him below) is that it reminds me completely of me and my brothers or friends chatting in the pub. Each character is slightly different and brings their own personality to the table. The input of producer Erica Tamposi and a string of regular guests, all with nicknames and running jokes to match, just adds to the atmosphere of mates on a night out enjoying each others company.

They were my first ever podcast and generally churn out three or four episodes every week of the year, all in the ball-park of an hour, which pretty much means I spend as much time listening to them as I do any of my other friends or family. Because of that, they become friends and family. They are massively popular in the UK, probably because of the way they wind each other up with brutal levels of sarcastic banter, but laugh it off and remain best of friends – it is the very definition of the British sense of humour.

I’m not asking you to like the NFL but, if you have any interest in the sport at all, you need to listen to this podcast.

Left to right: Gregg, Dan, Chris and Marc. The photo on the right is (obviously!) taken on one of their London visits, including producer Erica.

In Memoriam:

In the last few weeks, two men that I have never met sadly passed away; one in the running community, the other not. However, they both have noble personality traits very much in common with each other: both had a massive influence on the lives of others and both were probably way too modest and unassuming to realise quite how far that influence stretched. News of both deaths left me stunned; both the unexpected, premature timing of their deaths at such relatively young ages, but also because they will both leave a huge hole in my life in their respective fields.

John Kynaston

When I first entered the Lakeland 100 in September 2017 (for the July 2018 edition of the race), I decided I wanted to know everything about the course. I can’t remember who first told me to look up some videos of the route on You Tube – probably someone on the Facebook chat board – but this was my first ‘meeting’ with John Kynaston.

In preparation for John’s first attempt at the LL100 in 2012, he recced the entire course with his friend Dave Troman (who finished 10th that year). As they ran, he filmed all the important junctions and lankmarks, checking them off against the official race notes. I assume he did this mostly for his own reference, but they made it to You Tube all the same. Over the years, these have become absolutely essential viewing for anyone about to attempt the race for the first time – or even for repeat attempts. If you can’t spend all your days on course familiarising yourself with the route, what better way than to watch someone else guide you round it?!

He also made a film of his 2012 race and actually comments part way through that, “I can’t believe how many people have told me they have watched my videos!” I managed to recce the entire route myself before my first attempt but I cannot tell you how many times I watched John’s video guides. I did exactly the same before my 2019 race too; partly because you get so tired during the race that you want the actual route imprinted on your brain to save silly mistakes but also, by then, I just hugely enjoyed watching his films. His voice is so calming and therapeutic that what better way to chill out after a stressful day at work than by watching a nice chap guide you round some of Britain’s finest paths and ultra courses?!

His You Tube channel is an absolute treasure trove of route recces and race videos, as well as a host of interviews and other information. Find it on this link:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC7hVAC3Hj2UbdueXyi1ZCRA?view_as=subscriber

His website and blog was, and still is, even better – something else of his I aspire to. Find it here:

https://johnkynaston.com/

His blogs always, but always, included spreadsheets of either a training schedule, a completed training block or of race times against predicted race splits. (Hence my comment at the top of this blog about him inspiring me to my first ever spreadsheet!) But the spreadsheets were not just for him. Oh no, he didn’t just help you with navigation before a race – for many of his regular races he produced a results spreadsheet for EVERY SINGLE RUNNER!!!

In the Summer of 2018 when I was looking back on my LL100 DNF, it was John’s stats that helped me realise that, as I’d suspected, I wasn’t doing badly at all at the point that I dropped out. In fact, I was doing pretty bloody well! When I looked back at just how many runners finished having been miles behind me in the actual race, I realised just how much my decision was mental rather than physical. Likewise, in 2019, it was thanks to John that I knew I’d dropped as low as 200th after my poor start but ended up finishing 153rd, including overtaking 26 people after Kentmere in a (relatively speaking) flying finish. I spent nearly as much time looking at this data as I did at his videos!

But I don’t want the above to detract from his main qualities, which were expressed over and over on social media in tribute to him when he died suddenly of a heart attack in January, only 61 years of age. This was a tremendously kind, warm, Christian man who gave his time and attention to anyone who requested it. He would always reply to you on social media, even if you were just thanking him for a spreadsheet! His friends and family must have been so touched to read the outpouring from the running community – I only hope John himself realised just how influential he was.

I said at the top I never met John; this isn’t quite true. In the 2019 race I met Dave Troman (an equally nice man made equally ‘famous’ by the route videos!) at registration and told him how much the videos meant to me. Then, during the bad start I mentioned above, I was cresting Scarth Gap between Ennerdale and Buttermere, probably sometime just after midnight. There were a couple of lights at the top of the pass so, as these obvious madmen said ‘Well done!’ to me as I passed, I thanked them for being mental enough to be up there in the middle of the night and told them how much I appreciated their support.

The next day my fellow #lakelandlegend Rob Lister asked me if I’d met the two supporters. “Didn’t you recognise his voice?” Rob asked. No, I hadn’t.

It was John Kynaston.

I so wish I’d realised, I would have stopped, shook his hand and said thank you.

John Kynaston (1959-2021)

Chris Wesseling

As I have already told you earlier, Around The NFL was the first podcast I ever listened to. It was August 2017 and, if memory serves, one of the very first episodes I listened to included Chris, or ‘Wess’ as he was simply known to all, announcing to the team that his cancer was in remission. This was obviously a source of great relief and joy to his friends on the show, as well as the army of diehard fans of whom I was just about to become a member.

In the short time between then and now, Wess married the woman who supported him throughout his first battle with cancer, Lakisha, and they had their first child, Linc, soon after – in May, 2020. Unfortunately, at exactly that moment, cancer returned. Wess continued to appear on the podcast intermittently; sometimes sounding well, at other times not so. However, there was never a clue given as to the seriousness of the prognosis. His last appearance was as recently as 17th January this year, in the middle of the NFL play-offs. He sounded dreadful, but his analysis of the games in question was as sharp and inciteful as ever.

Even if you know nothing of the NFL, you have all heard of the Superbowl. For myself and my friends, who have followed the sport for years, Superbowl Sunday is known as our second Christmas Day and is looked forward to with great anticipation. Leanne always lets me go to bed on the Sunday afternoon and evening so that I can stay up all night and watch the game. (Unfortunately, being in education, taking the Monday after the game off work is not an option!)

This year, I awoke on Superbowl Sunday morning, 7th February, with the usual excitement and anticipation. The first thing that greeted me on my phone was the stunning news that Wess had passed away the previous day, aged just 46.

I couldn’t believe it. It felt like I’d only heard his voice a few days ago. I had listened to his friends do a Superbowl preview show while I was running the day before and, I must admit, I did think it was worrying that he hadn’t taken part at all, but thought he was probably saving his energy for the post-game show on Sunday night.

The timing of his passing could not have been worse for his friends on their one, single busiest working day of the year – Superbowl Sunday. Absolutely no chance of time off and, as presenters and guests on a whole host of TV shows, forced to face the cameras and turn on the NFL razzmatazz. The Around The NFL friends have been regulars on the UK Sky Sports NFL coverage for years – they have a huge UK fanbase – and, I have to admit, I genuinely considered not watching the game until I realised that Dan, Gregg and Marc would be on the show. The UK host of Sky’s NFL and Superbowl coverage, Neil Reynolds, did a remarkable job of remaining composed, as did his three friends, as they all paid tribute to Wess before returning to their thoughts on the game. How any of them got through it I have no idea.

So why am I telling you all this? I mean, it’s all very moving and so on, but this is a running blog. Well, during the many tributes that have been paid to Wess in the weeks since, his friends have often referred to one of his favourite sayings:

‘Heed The Call.’

What does it mean? Well, as possibly only someone who has had a near miss with death can, Wess had a remarkable clarity during the podcasts, whether discussing sport or life in general, for dismissing opinions he considered nonsense or for things in general that annoyed him. Life is too short, he would say, to waste any time at all on negative things, things that you do not want or need to do, or people you do not want to be around.

‘Heed The Call’ very simply meant:

Work out what things make you happy, and who makes you happy – then do those things with those people. Don’t waste precious time on anything else.

I think we have all learned in the past 12 months that life is too short and too precious. Don’t waste it.

Whether it is running or something completely different, be more Wess – Heed The Call.

Chris Wesseling (1974-2021)

One thought on “Part 3: the 2021 plan – Heed The Call.

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