January 2020 - Darkness, variety, and the mirage of Zegama

As new year’s running goals go, this year’s were fairly standard. Go further, higher, faster. It’s the same every year. I do realise that there’ll come a time when that’s no longer possible, I just refuse to accept that time is now.

January, then, is when the rubber hits the road. And the trail. And any other surface that looks like it may be runnable. It’s a month of poring over race listings and trying to get the key dates in the diary firmed up.

The month started with the Resolution Run on Newcastle Town Moor. It’s a multi-terrain 9km with a few hills that are steep enough to make you groan but not so lengthy as to slow you to a walk. I set off quick only to realise I didn’t have it in the lungs or the legs to keep up the pace. The hills were my only salvation. I still had my hill legs from last year’s racing, so I lost places on the flat and regained them on the climbs.

The hills were my only salvation, having still plenty of hills in my legs from last year’s racing. I lost places on the flat and regained them on the climbs.

I find the hardest part of running in the winter is the sense of being a nocturnal animal. The story seems to always be the same: it’s cold, it’s dark, and I need to go for a run. Variety is the only way to get through.

I spend much of winter trying to mix things up in any way I can. I’ll head to the forest before work with a head torch and a good mate. Change at work and stop somewhere on the commute home to run a route I don’t usually run. Add extra loops or different sections into existing routes. Grab any chance to run in daylight with open arms. Anything that makes the daily run more interesting helps to keep you going in the winter months.

I also find it important to remember that something is better than nothing. It may be a ropey six kilometres, barely moving in the headwind, but that’s better than not going out at all. Each opportunity taken adds up across the course of the month.

It may be a ropey six kilometres, barely moving in the headwind, but that’s better than not going out at all.

A big highlight for me was a ten mile loop through Rotterdam. My route crossed the Willemsbrug and Erasmusbrug, two iconic bridges, and finished with Kralingse lake. It was great to get a good run like that in on holiday, and follow it up the next morning with a quick-ish 5k to keep momentum up.

I’ve closed out the month on 258km. It’s my highest monthly running total yet and goes a long way towards setting me up for the year ahead.

Season planning has been less successful. I’ve entered Ultra North 55k. It’ll be my first Ultra and the timing is perfect to use it to build up base fitness for the rest of the season. Much of the trail season hangs on the results of a ballot in the picturesque Basque town of Zegama.

Trying to get into Zegama-Aizkorri is becoming an annual ritual. The ballot is incredibly over subscribed, but this year there’s also a contest to design the t-shirt. This feels like there’s at least more hope than normal. The dream of running the Sancti Spiritu climb hoves into view during the winter nights. Mirage it may be, but it keeps the legs moving.

The dream of running the Sancti Spiritu climb hoves into view during the winter nights. Mirage it may be, but it keeps the legs moving.

If I don’t get into Zegama, I have a few other options lined up. The plan is to hit some breathtaking trails and return to the Ring of Steall in September. There’s unfinished business on those hills.

But first? February, more long runs, and the National Cross Country Championships.