Happy new year folks!

So here we are again, it’s time for the now traditional start-of-year blog. Hitting all these well-worn subjects from years gone by:

  1. Hope you had a good Christmas
  2. The weather is rubbish
  3. The weather has been rubbish all Christmas
  4. I’m doing loads of running again
  5. Most of this has taken place in really, really rubbish weather
  6. Got me some new running shoes
  7. The rubbish weather has trashed them already
  8. Happy new year!

It’s been an busy couple of months since my last blog marking the close of the year’s activities – where I hinted at bigger things to come – to now where I am in the very midst of the first of these “bigger things”. Two months ago I was laying the foundations; now the walls are going up. And it’s bloody heavy going. November: 60 miles, December 185. January nearly 130 to date.  The average per week now over 50, the Sunday long run up at 18. Literally, hours spent out there in the torrential rain, gale force winds and rush hour traffic in the pitch dark in a tiny football shirt and shorts.

See where all this is going? That’s right folks: it’s marathon time again! Dear God. An 18 week training plan in place, from the beginning of December to the middle of April, and so it came to pass that yet again I was running through the entire festive period, including Christmas Day, Boxing Day (which was horrendous, by the way) and New Years Day. Three consecutive years now I’ve headed out on Christmas morning. Three bloody years. What am I doing with my life?

This year’s wasn’t quite up there with the last two though, for many reasons if I’m being honest. As soon as I realised I’d be out and about again I consoled myself it’d all be OK, harking back to how much I (bizarrely) enjoyed last year’s effort where I’d only had to jog the three miles to fulfil the Marcothon requirements, and on a lovely bright, crisp wintery morning to boot. Off out I went, saying hello, Merry Christmas or whatever to the steady slew of others I saw out and about as the sun’s rays peeked over the horizon and bathed us all in a lovely orangey glow, even high fiving someone as I jogged through one of the local parks. Yes I’m bloody mental for going out on Christmas Day I’d say to people, but I actually quite enjoyed that one.

Unfortunately this year forces conspired against me to deliver a bloody nine mile tempo run, in the pissing rain, with an above average hangover. Not quite what I had in mind. Nevertheless, I laced up my shoes and headed out into Storm Steve (or whoever’s turn it was to batter us in that week) with the consolation that I’d at least hopefully see a few others out and about and be able to share a “Merry Christmas” to raise the spirits. I don’t know if it was the weather or something though but I tell you what, it was a right set of miserable bastards out there this year. The first four didn’t even bother looking up to acknowledge me until finally the fifth raised the kind of grim smile of appreciation at another idiot out there foresaking their festive lie in, the exact look that I have spent the last two years perfecting. It was a nice moment as we briefly acknowledged each other, before going our separate ways destined never to see each other again. But it wasn’t enough to make up for the general depressingness of being out in the Mancunian drizzle as if it were just any other morning. Merry bloody Christmas eh.

With that all behind me though, I sit here now and look ahead with the usual fear and trepidation about what lies in store in the weeks to come. Today marks the end of the sixth week and the first “mesocycle” of my training plan. One third of the way through in terms of time (if not distance…) and the end of the endurance building phase before the extra speedwork comes into play. In terms of fitness and stamina, I feel probably the absolute best I have ever felt at this time of year. I feel good on most of my sessions (even the poxy tempo runs), I’m finishing the longer ones strongly. I’m dealing OK so far with the cold, the wet and the boredom. I have been managing a few niggles in both feet as the mileage ramps up which has been the main challenge so far, but all in all I have a quiet confidence at this stage that was missing from my last two marathons in 2011 and 2014. I’ve been here, I’ve done it. I’ve got the T shirt. And now I’m back for more.

In terms of the event itself, I have quite literally been here before (and got the T shirt) as it’s round two for Manchester after my 2014 romp round the same course. A second bash at the “flattest, fastest and friendliest” marathon in the UK, and this time it’s for all for charideeeeeeeeeee. The opening event of a year of fundraising activities, some taking two days, some barely 40 minutes. Some with a single participant, some with half a dozen of us including a support vehicle. A whistle stop tour of the UK with events in the North West, North East, down in the capital and surrounding area or from one coast to the other across the north of England. A combined effort to hopefully cover over a thousand miles by foot and by bike to raise as much as we can for the Motor Neurone Disease Association in memory of a man taken far, far too soon in the absolute prime of his life.

I’ll get a post up in due course explaining in more detail why we’re doing it, as my good friend will be able to articulate better than I can as someone who sadly last year saw first hand the terrible damage motor neurone disease can do to a loved one in less than three months. And over the course of the year there’ll be bits from hopefully all of us as we sweat, struggle and swear through the following events:

  1. MNDAGreater Manchester Marathon – 10th April
  2. Stockton duathlon – 24th April
  3. Great Manchester Run – 22nd May
  4. Memorial bike ride – May
  5. Coast to Coast bike ride – July
  6. RideLondon-Surrey 100 – 31st July
  7. Paras 10 – 4th September
  8. Great North Run – 11th September

There may be more to come as well depending on how close to the target we are as the summer progresses. Maybe a repeat of the overnight spin to Dunwich to add another ton on there? Another cycling sportive or two perhaps, or maybe a tilt at Manchester’s brand new half marathon in October? After the customary jog round Standalone, of course. It all adds up.

So the 2016 “MNDA biathalon” is on, and we’re just getting started. Turbo trainers are being set up in our garages, new running shoes are on the rack. Feelings of mild panic about what exactly it is we are all letting ourselves in for. The biggest year of fundraising yet, with each and every person aiming to achieve something they never have before and hopefully raise a shedload of cash to for the MNDA.

You’ll be able to keep your eye on this blog for all the detailed updates of how training is going and the stories behind the events after we’ve done them, as well as guest blogs from other members of the fundraising team and family members who will be able to expand on why we are doing all this. You can also follow the dedicated Twitter account for all the up to the minute news and updates on our struggles (it’ll get more busy as the spring turns to summer and the events begin to come thick and fast).

We’ll have a JustGiving page setup very soon as well for any of you that would like to make an early donation and get the ball rolling. Your money will go towards a huge target we are setting of £3,000 to help buy a lightwriter to help those diagnosed with MND to communicate with their loved ones. Of this total, £1,400 will be raised from specific events through golden bond charity places (£550 for the Ride 100 and two lots of £425 for Great North Run places). But anything you can give will be a great help; no sum too big or too small.

So that’s where I am at the start of 2016. This time last year there was no plan in place; twelve months on, it’s all mapped out. Dates are in the diary, training plans in place. Winter running, followed by spring and summer out on the bike, and then back on my feet to close out the year and hopefully put the lid on a massive year of fundraising in memory of one the best blokes I ever met.

Let’s do it.