2017 began with a crazy challenge, taking on the baton from Karl Hodgson and Steven Willetts to run a mile every day for a year. Why? For my friend, Ben Ashworth who had terminal bowel cancer, raised awareness and incredible funds for three charities very close to his and his wife Louise’s heart.
So, what would it mean? Running every day of course, but how would that work in reality? The #365 challenge means you must remember to do it every day – a great starting point. So, when you’ve been at work all day, got home, made tea, walked dogs, and all other domestic duties then remembering you’ve not done your mile – whoopsie; out through the door you go! Many, (with all the best intentions) tried to talk me out of it, saying it would be too much and to think of the commitment. All were valid points, and all said with genuine concern and care (love you guys). So why take up the baton you might ask, simple, because Ben said it would be an amazing challenge, one he wished he could do.
Here begins the journey…
On a mate date in Mad Hatters café in Longton, Ben insisted on doing the press up challenge after lunch outside the front of the café. What a guy, my friend, nuts, in pain and because he had been too poorly after liver surgery to do the push up challenge he insisted on completing it, albeit much later than the social media masses, Ben was still determined – it was for a good cause after all. An inspiration, a legend, an angel in his lifetime.
This led to our chats around my annual target setting and Ben’s early marathon challenges that just kept on growing (6 in 6 etc). I have a 10 in 10 challenge that I set for myself each year and 2017 would not include PB’s, chasing club races or collecting cross country awards. 2017 would be 10 challenges with a twist.
Having never run an ultra-marathon and with a place in the Montane Lakeland 50, work began around the training plan and incorporating the new challenges into that mix. With this in mind, the 10 became a reality. 2 half marathons, 2 full marathons, 2 ultramarathons, achieving 100 parkruns, running 1,500 miles, climbing 150,000ft and running every day for a year – phew, it was going to be a tough year! Kick starting 2017 with relatively fresh legs and the weeks/months swiftly passed. Keeping a check on which day I was on for the purpose of recording on Strava did become an issue though
The Montane Howgills marathon in May was nicely ticked off and one of my most memorable events to date. With fantastic views, a tough climb up Winder Fell and lovely company with #TeamOMM (Oates, Mitchell and McCrea) the day was simply amazing. The mile the next day sure was a test though. Throughout the #365 the ‘golden thread’ linking all my running together has definitely been the strength gained from running every day. Now we’re not talking about muscle strength here, we’re talking endurance strength which equals the mental strength.
With some recovery time #TeamOMM took on the Calderdale Way Ultra in early June, the first Ultra marathon of my 10 in 10. A small cohort of seasoned ultra-runners gathered at the event HQ ready for a coach trip to the start. Bertie and I took to the front seats being poor coach passengers with a history of projectile vomiting, we landed at the quiet scenic starting point on the outskirts of Halifax, in essence to run back to the HQ in Todmorden!! The race had several checkpoints and lots of marshal support at the feed stations although this event wasn’t one of my favourites. Largely trail but a lot of the course covered main roads and tarmac running, for those who know me will understand why I have no real desire to return to run this event. Tarmac hurts – fact.
With Calderdale ticked off and the first marathon and ultra under my belt the Lakeland 50 event date was getting closer, training runs became longer than marathons with back to back training sessions dominating weekends. It’s fairly easy to incorporate your daily mile when your training means you are running on average 40 miles per week with 3,000ft of climbing. Finding new routes with technical terrain soon became a feature in planning.
This next phase is where some cracks began to show. One of the last long training runs on the first Sunday in July and the tragic news that Ben had passed away circulated around Ben’s friends. Ray took the call and made the decision to ring me whilst out on the mountains as we always carry phones but try not to use them. I knew Ben was at a difficult and painful time in his cancer journey. Our final mate date ended with me dropping him at his local surgery instead of home to Louise and his girls. I knew I wouldn’t see him again, I knew his pain was coming to an end.
That training run is as memorable as all of my events this year. Tears, laughter, friends and the fells got me back to the car and ready for home. It was time to just pull on my big girl pants and get ready for the biggest event of my running to date. My pain was nowhere near his pain, my pain was temporary.
The Lakeland 50 day arrived, training completed, a few niggles here and there but relatively good to go, my family, friends, Ray and my long-suffering training bud Mad Dog making sure I didn’t wobble, Gareth and I were on the start and although 50 miles is a long way in a car, running it seems odd to write about even now. There is so much I could write just about the 50 but that’s been done already, and I obviously wouldn’t want to steal Gareth’s crown for the longest blog in history! The last 6 miles coming into Tilberthwaite, running in the heaving rain down the craggy, rocky stone steps of Coniston Old Man, legs completely shredded, the thought sprang into my head, running a mile the next day.
The mile happened, a shuffle, a sharp intake of breath and off I went downhill and then up out of the campsite in Pooley Bridge where we were staying for a few days. THAT.MILE.HURT.
Two Ultras ticked off, one marathon – two half marathons and a final marathon to complete the events for my year. Delamere half marathon was a blast! #TeamOMM back together again, on the trails of the forest with lots of familiar faces marshalling and running meant a memorable day was had once again. Still with fatigue in my legs from the L50 this half was a good social run and the pressure eased post 50, I enjoyed the day. The OMM was next on the list, the second of the marathons. This event was a DNF, conditions were very poor, Bowfell a challenge that remains undefeated with hyperthermia, 70% DNF rate and very disappointed but grateful to safely return to Lancashire from the stunning Langdales, able to run another day.
Conwy half with an inspirational runner and friend allowed me to support Steve Bullows for every step of his 100th event for Mummy’s Star. 13.1 miles chatting, telling stories admiring the view from the Orme and the penultimate event was boxed off.
With one marathon left to go, not many long distance off road events left on the calendar the Hell of a Hill marathon was shouting at me. The thought of 5 laps around Rivington pike didn’t sound great but failing the targets for the year was not an option. 26.2 on technical terrain was tough, but with great support and an all encouraging training buddy – job done and a respectable time too. The next day THAT.MILE.HURT.
With all running events completed, Strava stats looking promising I could see the end was in sight. parkrun has been a passion for almost 6 years, from my first runs at Preston, back in the day when they had 80/90 runners each week, to setting up Cuerden Valley and doing a bit of tourism and double run days when possible. The elusive 100 shirt needed to be claimed and the November target was approaching and with some coordination Mad Dog and I completed our 100th run in the valley. Steve returned to the valley to run it with me and what a memorable day it was. Now all that was needed was a romp home to the finish of the #365 run every day.
I finish this blog on the eve of New Year’s Eve, excited to be able to hand over the baton to another athlete who will begin their #365 challenge for 2018. He is strong, determined and a great ambassador and former King of the Valley. He will do Ben proud and continue to support the legacy that is “The Ben Ashworth Way”.
(Gareth, I think I top trumped you )
Thank you to all who have donated to my Virgin Money site, you raised over £1,000 for Mummy’s Star. Your support and messages of encouragement have helped me through each day. Keep on running and always be the best you can be.
Cry baby, occasional marathon and Ultra Runner