Man running along canal

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I never considered myself a runner. Actually, I still probably wouldn’t. But I’ve always run.

I was a typical around-the-block runner, doing the occasional lofty 10k or a half marathon at a push, though mostly running to unwind.

But since the Coronavirus and the growing number of lockdowns, my appreciation for running has soared (I’m beyond grateful it’s still been a possibility).

It’s been a way to release built-up adrenaline when distant mountains aren’t an option and to get a little adventure-fix by taking it off-road or going at night. And it can all be done socially distanced. A lockdown box-ticker for the outdoor inspired!

When the big 30th birthday popped up on the horizon and I knew it would land in lockdown numero 3, I wanted to do something memorable and challenging. It also seemed fitting to stick to clich├ęs and base it around the number 30.

So I decided to try and run 30 miles.

30 for 30
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Within an hour of BoJo (our questionable PM) kicking off 2021 with a new lockdown, I was brainstorming guideline-following challenge ideas.

Overnight options weren’t possible (camping gone), it had to stay local (bike touring gone) and be relatively risk-free…

Besides some heavily chafed nipples and a sprained ankle, running seemed to fit the criteria. I stuck to imperial measurements and told Sarah I’d run 30 miles on January 30th (the burfday).

Sarah is gold – always supportive and motivating – but we both knew it was a rash decision. With 3 weeks to prepare, I’d never run more than a casual half marathon and now planned on skipping the marathon distance (26.2 miles) and going straight for ultra territory.

I smiled and said I was serious. She laughed a familiar laugh and never stopped encouraging me from that moment onwards.

Girl laughing in the snow
Couldn’t have done it without this one

Less than ideal prep

I needed to get training. Properly. I looked at a few 3-6 month marathon training plans and realised I was out of my depth.

Heading out into the Moors on a snowy day to test my current level, I ran a steep half marathon, came back battered and ended up getting ill. My muscles were angry and my immune system crashed out.

With a number of the symptoms, I ended up getting a COVID test, and though it came back negative I spent the first 10 days of January completely energy-sapped.

I managed a few measly runs but even considering 30 miles in a few weeks seemed bonkers. Still, I wanted a birthday challenge and announced on Facebook I’d be running 30 kilometres as a personal commitment (it didn’t have the same ring to it but it was something).

My non-COVID illness cleared up and I got a few more encouraging runs in before the middle of the month.

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30 for 30 birthday challenge running 30 miles
My local snow-capped hill running route

F*ck it, I’ll go for it

In my head, 30 km seemed like a cop-out. I thought, perhaps I could push for 30 miles and have the 30-km goal to fall back on if it didn’t happen.

This called for proper training and a re-assessment of my running gear.

My trail runners were good but my typical running gear included:

  • Retro, charity shop Lycras that I’d cut to short-length and which caused horrible chafing (I won’t go into detail…)
  • An old, frayed baselayer top that literally made my nipples bleed (scabbed nips ain’t fun)
  • A water bottle I ran with but that strained my neck and messed up my sleep

So I got myself some proper gear. Well, Sarah gave me some perfect early birthday presents and I invested in a budget home masseuse.

A purple muscle roller
The masseuse
Man holding nipple running patches
The nipple patches

Crunch time

Time flew, as it seems to during lockdown, and the week before the run came about before I knew it. I’d planned one last big session on Sunday 24th and Sarah came to support me on the cold 24-mile run.

The first dozen miles flew by. I ran fast and felt confident. Then as I hit 15 and 16 miles, I crashed. It was cold, and though I felt mentally strong, my calves and hamstrings went rigid. From 19 miles on it was an absolute battle and I was glad to have Sarah there keeping me hydrated and dosed on cheerful encouragement.

Eventually I hobbled to my front door but going even 100m more would have been torture. I fell inside, felt destroyed and went into a fit of freezing cold shaking, barely able to stretch. With 6 days before the big run, I thought there was no way in hell I’d do it.

Perhaps I didn’t show the inner agony, but Sarah was still adamant I’d finish the 30 miles. I was sure these punishing 24 miles, less than a week before the big one, had finished my chances.

Still, I kept with the plan of two very light jogs in the week building-up, constant stretching, good sleep and as many healthy carbs and calories as I could manage.

Man running along canal

The run

My birthday came around and I woke with nerves, having dreamed of running. Reliably unreliably, the Yorkshire forecast had gone from good to snowy and then settled on being grey and windy.

The gameplan was to go super steady, keep hydrated, warm and focus on running 24 miles. I knew I could run 24 miles. I’d get to that point and then any extra distance would be a bonus.

I skipped any morning celebrations and hurried a big bowl of porridge. Heading out, my muscles twinged, belly groaned and I felt rundown. In honesty, I felt pretty sh!tty. This wasn’t helped by the wind, which made my exposed canal route torturous at points.

Before the end of 10 miles, my legs had a dull ache and I knew pushing through wouldn’t be possible if they cramped up this early on.

15 miles came around and the winds slightly eased, I gradually stopped thinking and got into a flow. It was at this point on the previous 24-mile run where everything had gone sour. This time around, it didn’t.

I kept slow, and finally passed the 24-mile benchmark more than 4 hours 30 minutes later. It was only afterwards that the possibility of hitting 30 miles gradually crept into my mind.

My mood lightened and, though I had slight aches and pains, I felt good. I was actually having a whale of a time, joking with Sarah about all the Guinness I’d drink later and appreciating a day spent outside.

It got to the last few miles and a dull euphoria started kicking in as I turned off the canal path.

I crossed Sarah’s homemade finish line after nearly 6 hours of running, clocking just over 30 miles. I felt surprised, relieved, uplifted. Sarah said she never doubted me, I definitely did.

Man running along a canal path
Looking forward to that Guinness

The perfect time for a personal challenge

I’ve found this third lockdown particularly tough. The combination of a long Yorkshire winter, not having seen family for almost a year and the pressures of trying to maintain productivity throughout a strange pandemic had taken its toll.

Setting this personal challenge was the perfect thing to keep me motivated, energised and driven.

It wasn’t a competition, no medal and I don’t even know exactly how fast I ran it in, but it meant a lot to me. And I guess that’s the beauty of personal challenges. Getting ill and the personal doubt made crossing the finish line all the more special. A cracking start to a new decade.

Without the lockdown, I wouldn’t have thrown myself into trail running and there’s no way I would have completed this challenge. I can’t say every aspect was enjoyable – I definitely should have done more training – but many elements have inspired me for future running-based adventures.

Or perhaps not? Perhaps warmer weather will come around and I’ll sway back towards climbing up rocks in my free time. Either way, I’ll be glad to look back on my 30th as the day I overcame a lot of self-doubts and ran 30 miles.

Man holding birthday banner

30 for 30: Running 30 Miles, on January 30th, for my 30th Birthday

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