Since I've started writing this blog, I've written a 'Review of the Year' post which has looked back at my running year. I've been planning to do the 2009 review for a few weeks, but every time I've sat down to do it I've not been able to find the appropriate words, and have put it off till later. This time I'll try and make a better attempt... here goes...
2009 will be remembered by me, and by many of the readers of this blog, as the year we lost a very close friend as a result of Dario's tragic death on 12 July. There were many lovely tributes to Dario at the time, not least the very moving and appropriate tribute at the end of the Adventure Show. The love, support and kindness shown at that time was a great comfort and strength to us all, demonstrating what a fantastic group of people make up the West Highland Way 'family'; I feel privileged to be a part of that group.
Nearly 6 months on, I still feel a huge sense of loss. I feel it every time I come out of my drive and look across the fields to Blackford where Dario and Gilian lived; I feel it when I am sitting on the train in the morning on my way to work, which was a time Dario often phoned; I feel it on days like today when I am out a long run: and I feel it when I think of some of the races and runs we used to do, such as the 24 hour race at Perth. I even feel it when I pour myself a whisky, particularly a Glengoyne. At the moment I am writing these words with tears streaming down my face but the pain I feel must be nothing compared to Gilian, especially at times like Christmas. My thoughts are with her. I hope she is able to take some comfort from the love and support of the WHW family.
But life goes on. Dario would have wanted that. Karen D has taken over the organisation of the Cateran Trail, and I'm sure she will make an excellent job of it. The WHW race committee will ensure that the 2010 race goes ahead, hopefully to the same high standard as the races that preceeded it. And we will all continue to run, to set our various targets, and to try and run further, faster, and in more obscure places.
So what happened in terms of my running in 2009? At the start of the year I set a few targets, which are shown below (in italics), along with a comment on whether I achieved it or not:
1. To finish the WHW race;
ACHIEVED. I finished in 23 hours 11 minutes. Not my fastest time by 2 hours, but given last year's DNF I ran more conservatively and was delighted to finish. One of the highlights was finishing and seeing Keith Hughes at FW Leisure Centre, wondering why he looked so cheery, then finding out that he was about to keep running a further 73 miles up the Great Glen Way to Inverness! Nutter.
2. To finish the 'Big 3' WHW races (the Highland Fling, the WHW race, the Devil O' The Highlands);
ACHIEVED. I had a very poor run in the Fling (loads of cramp) and suffered a bit over the latter stages of the Devil, but at least I finished all 3 races. I suppose that in itself is an achievement, although I wasn't overly happy with my performance in any of the races.
3. To complete 5 ultras (including a 24 hour race);
ACHIEVED. I did 7 ultras: the 3 WHW races (WHW, Fling and Devil), the Glasgow to Edinburgh race along the canal (54 miles), the Cateran Trail (55 miles - brilliant event - highly recommended), the River Ayr Way (40 miles - a bit boring and hard to follow the route at some bits), and the Tooting 24 hour race (which I ran 100km and then stopped after 12 hours 28 minutes - don't think I'll be back in a hurry). I was really pleased to do 7 ultras, which a few years ago I would have considered impossible. Howwever there is no doubt that my times suffered from doing so many. It was a year of quantity rather than quality.
4. To run at least 25 races;
NOT ACHIEVED. I only ran 20 races this year: 7 ultras, 1 marathon (Loch Ness), 3 half marathons (Inverness, Edinburgh and Kilmacolm), 4 10ks (Nigel Barge, Troon, Milngavie and Strathaven) plus 5 other races (Glen Lednock 8.5 miles, Brig Bash 5 miles, 2 cross countries and the Morrisons Academy 5k). That means I've now done 485 races in total,including 74 marathons / ultras, 86 half marathons and 94 10ks. With a bit of luck I should run my 500th race in 2010, and might even run my 100th 10k.
5. To run 5 new races;
ACHIEVED. I did 7 new races: the Glasgow to Edinburgh, Cateran Trail, River Ayr, Tooting 24 hour, Kilmacolm half marathon, Run With The Wind 10k at Strathaven, and the Glen Lednock road race.
6. To run a race on a Scottish island I haven't visited before;
NOT ACHIEVED. I didn't really plan this very well - doing so many ultras meant there was not much time left to visit a new Scottish island. Maybe next year.
7. To beat 40 minutes for a 10k;
ACHIEVED (just...). On 1 November I headed south to Strathaven, having failed to beat 40 minutes in my previous 3 10ks, and knowing this was the last chance I would have in 2009. I had also heard that the course was a bit downhill but I didn't care about that - a sub 40 would be a sub 40. Well, I pushed my body to the limit and was overjoyed to cross the line with a comfortable 6 seconds to spare. Definitely one of the highs of the year.
8. To beat 1 hour 30 minutes for a half marathon;
ACHIEVED. I ran 1.29 on an icy cold March day in Inverness - and then had a 6 hour drive home via Aberdeen as I thought (wrongly) that the A9 was closed. I also beat 1.30 at Kilmacolm, but I have to be honest and point out that my sub 1.30 there was more to do with a short course than my performance.
9. To finish in the top half of the field in the National XC;
NOT ACHIEVED. I missed this by miles; well, by at least a minute, which in cross country terms is a lot. It is a tough target - I have to be running really well to make the top half of the National XC, and haven't achieved it for a few years - so this target may be dropped going forward.
10. To run 2,000 miles.
ACHIEVED. Today I did a 13 mile run in the snow and ice, which took me to 2,001 miles for the year with 4 days to spare. Although I am the first to admit that this is a pretty meaningless target, it does have the positive effect of forcing me out the door in the cold December days and nights, when I might be tempted not to bother. For that reason alone it is worthwhile.
So in summary, 7 targets were achieved and 3 were not achieved. At the end of the day, however, it doesn't really matter. 2009 has been a tragic year, but I want to finish on a positive note, with a reflection on Dario. Dario loved running; running in general and the West Highland Way Race in particular. At Dario's funeral Eilish said we should all remember one positive memory of Dario. More than any other memory, I remember the way that Dario had time for everyone who took part, whether they were at the front, the middle or the back of the field, and made everyone feel part of the family. To me, that is what makes the WHW race special and unique. Like any family there are many differences betweem its members, but everyone is linked by their involvement in this special event. It would be a fitting legacy to Dario if this continues to develop in the years ahead.