REDJanuary, the Coast-to-Coast challenge, and the Virtual Miami Marathon!

Happy New Year! It’s 2021, time to put the difficulties of the past year behind us and start looking towards a brighter time ahead. At least, that’s what most of us thought as New Year’s eve ticked over into January, however it soon became obvious that the early of 2021 could well turn out to be the most challenging period of the whole pandemic. Wanting to kick off my year of fitness with a bang, I signed up for REDJanuary, an initiative that originated as a challenge to run every day in the month, but has since been more widely taken up as a commitment to be active every day in January, be that running, walking or other forms of exercise. I decided to stick to the original meaning of running every day, to help me along with the second challenge I had signed up for, the Virtual Coast-to-Coast challenge with My Virtual Medal! To earn ourselves the lovely challenge medal, we had until the end of March to cover the distance of the iconic cross-England walk, which normally covers 192miles(309km) of glorious English countryside from St Bees on the West coast, winding it’s way through the Lake District and over the Yorkshire Dales, to finish by dipping your toes in the North Sea at Robin Hood’s bay. As a virtual challenge, we would be running closer to home, logging our miles to see our markers progress along the event map, and cheering each other on in our support groups. I decided that ticking off the first 200km in January would be a great target, quite a bit higher than my normal monthly mileage but hopefully acheivable.

And then, just as January had barely started, COVID cases in the UK began to spiral out of control, and we were plunged into another lockdown. My children’s school was closed which suddenly made things a bit more challenging. Instead of being able to enjoy some lunchtime running while the kids were at school, my days would now be split between my job in a critical worker role as a cancer research scientist, and homeschooling. Running would have to be squeezed into the evenings when we were all finished work, or during my lunch break on work days. Still, I persevered with getting out there and making the time to go running every day.

The first couple of weeks ticked by, and things were going pretty well. I managed to break my 10km PB on the 9th January, and ran a decent 21km for the virtual Miami half-marathon the next day. On the 11th, I started the second round of my Six Pack Revolution challenge, and suddenly a whole load of additional exercises were thrown into the mix, including daily press-ups, battle ropes and weights routines. I ran at sunrise, escaped to the lakes near work on my lunch breaks, and plodded through the rainy dark evenings. Running became my daily escape; half an hour or more to listen to music and tune out of the world.

Week three brought more challenges in the form of snow and icy paths. I was 4lbs down on my January starting weight thanks to my Six Pack meal plan and workouts, but all the extra intensity of exercise was starting to take it’s toll on my legs which seemed permanently fatigued. I had been running a minimum of 5km every day, but with my weekend longer runs included it seemed I was already quite close to hitting my 200km target. After some quick calculations I realised that with my two remaining planned Sunday long runs, I would only need to run an average of 7.4km all the other days to get the full 309km mileage ticked off in one month! It seemed like a great goal to try to hit, but with this being more than double my normal monthly mileage, would my legs hold up? There was only one way to find out! The penultimate weekend rolled around and I set out early on a long tour of North-East London via the Regents canal, using a 31km route picked out by Strava to take me along some unexplored and beautiful areas in the crisp cold sunshine.

The final week started and my calf muscles were starting to complain from the lack of rest days. I spent the week getting my miles in every day still, but at a slower pace. I even remembered to stretch a few times! A very gentle 5km run on Saturday 30th Jan left me with exactly 42km, and one day left to complete the coast-to-coast challenge. There was only one thing for it!

The Virtual Miami Marathon!

I set off early on Sunday 31st January as the sun came up, a rough route in mind and the last few hours of an audiobook to listen to as my steady-paced strides took me around Chingford, Hackney and Walthamstow Marshes. I’m not a natural long-distance runner at all and always find the last 10km of a marathon incredibly hard, as my legs protest and my split times get slower and slower. As the final hour approached, I put on my favourite running podcast, listened, laughed and tried to distract myself from the increasing levels of discomfort. Finally, it was done, in 4hr34 minutes, taking 12 minutes off my previous best marathon time, set in Berlin! I was incredibly pleased with that, especially after just running the miles by myself, with no race-day atmosphere or handy drink stations. I really can’t wait until we can get back to some real-life races!

So there we have it, REDJanuary is done and dusted, and my legs are looking forward to a well deserved rest day tomorrow. It was a great way to kick off another year of working on my health, and hats off to those of you who clock up this kind of mileage every month, you are amazing! Spring is creeping ever closer, and with over 8 million people in the UK having received their first dose of COVID-19 vaccine already, are brighter times around the corner? I sure hope so! Lots of love to you all

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