Aaaaaaaaand, relax. For the first time since 2015, it’s the third month of the year but there’s no panic, no anxiety. No feeling of dread with a date marked in red for the following month. No basing my entire weekend around a 20-mile, three hour Sunday long run. There’s no 2kg Friday evening pasta meals, no Saturday pizzasmash. No 8pm Sunday bedtime feeling absolutely fucking knackered, beyond belief.

(Whisper it): there’s no marathon this year. Despite what he title of this post says, I’m actually marathon free for 2019. I’m safe. Manchester, Liverpool, London. It doesn’t matter. They’re all going on, all the runners will probably all have a lovely time. But I won’t be there. I’m out. It’s over. Maybe I really did mean it when I crossed the line in London last year and immediately posted on Facebook “no more marathons”. Maybe, just maybe, I’m normal again.

That’s not to say I haven’t been out running, I mean come on. This is a running blog after all. I’m not that normal. In fact, all marathon-bashing aside, it’s been still been quite a productive opening to 2019 with two successive months over 100 miles and a couple of events on the extremely not-too-distant horizon. In fact, it’s actually a marathon of sorts I guess, albeit split over two races a fortnight apart: the Liverpool Half Marathon (again) tomorrow and then the Wilmslow Half Marathon (finally) a couple of weeks later. That’s assuming they can actually get the distance right at Liverpool this year, of course.

The running has been going pretty well, although I’m back to not flogging myself for a PB after last autumn’s madness where it all got A Bit Serious again for the first time in years. Although delighted with how it all panned out, this little upcoming run of events is very much in the “running for enjoyment” category, although from looking at tomorrows’s weather forecast I’m not even sure that’s relevant but there we go. To be honest, this weekend is really only part of the loose training plan I’ve put together for Wilmslow anyway so it’s probably just gonna be a case of gritting my teeth, battling the horrible wind and rain up the four mile stretch from Otterspool to the finish and then smashing a massive pizza at the finish. It’ll almost definitely be hell, but Amalia will make everything better.

Apart from a few unresolved, unexplained struggles on my tempo and race pace runs, the training has come relatively easily anyway after a strong finish to 2018. Marcothon came and went and was another massive success with over £300 raised for The Wellspring (and I’ll be doing more for them this year – more on that later). I found it a bit easier than the last time I tried it in 2014, although some of it was still hard work from a logistical point of view. I think getting up at 5:30am on Christmas morning to squeeze it in before driving down to my folks’ to be there for 10am was probably the nadir but there were other ones that ran it close. But anyway, the amount raised made it all 100% worthwhile and as a nice little bonus I also won a Running Heroes competition requiring 20 runs in the 25 days leading up to Christmas, receiving a £20 Amazon voucher for my troubles. Which has now been re-invested back into a new pair of running shoes. The circle of life.

2018 in general though was a brilliant year of running, hitting over 1,000 miles for the second time in my life and with the total mileage behind only the absolutely mental 2016 where the opening four months of the year going nuts for the good for age marathon time were responsible for 70% of the total 1300-odd miles, bumping that one up somewhat. 2018 was my most consistent ever though, spreading the 1,143.7 miles out over the full year, hitting 181 days of running: almost a run every other day.

All that running meant there were a couple of retirements in 2018, including going through the full lifecycle of a pair of shoes in a single year for the first time, a set of (now sadly discontinued) Mizuno Catalysts, one of my favourite pairs of running shoes of all time. After a couple of shorter runs to break them in a bit, the first run proper in them was somewhat inauspicious to put it mildly as I as sick like a dog barely half a mile into an attempted 16 miler, traipsing home broken and defeated within 10 minutes of leaving my flat. Lesson learned: six chocolate Weetabix is not a good breakfast before the Sunday long run.

They eventually became my workhorse shoes for 2018 though and wherever there was an adventure to be had, there they were for me. They got me through The Hottest London Marathon On Record TM without a repeat of the 2017 blisters, nicely matching my MND Association colours to boot as I raised a few hundred quid for them on the way round. They were there for me for a couple of half marathons too, over in Liverpool and on the other side of the Mersey. They were also on my feet throughout the height of the longest, hottest summer I can ever remember, including some distinctly sweaty 30+ degree runs along the Brighton seafront, when all I wanted to do was jump into the cool blue sea.

Because I’m a bit of a wrong’un, I even took them away with me on holiday to Málaga, and the 10k jog along the footpath adjacent to the sea in a torrential thunderstorm with the sea crashing against the rocks below me will live long, long in the memory as one of the more epic days at the office. Similarly epic was the morning loosener high up in the Yorkshire Dales, trying to blow a hangover away on a bright, crisp late autumnal morning, with an unexpected 25% incline within half a mile taking me up to probably the highest altitude I’ve ever run at and some breathtaking views back over the hills.

I finally retired them after rounding off the year with the 31 runs in 31 days as part of December’s Marcothon, taking them over the 500 mile mark on the very last run, on the very last day, of 2018. Farewell, faithful friends. You were a great bunch of lads.

And so back onto 2019 and there’s a lot to look forward to already. By look forward to, I mean sweat and cry through obviously, but you know what I mean. As well as the two races mentioned earlier, there’s a brand new challenge in May where I’ll be attempting both the Great Manchester Run Half Marathon and 10k on the same day, alongside my wife running the half as we try to raise as much as we can for The Wellspring to help them support the homeless and disadvantaged. I have no idea how I am going to get on with running a pair of races on the same day so that should be interesting, and not just because I won’t be able to have my customary pint at the end of the first race.

But before all that we have a third go at the Liverpool Half and then finally a crack at the Wilmslow one. I say “finally” (again) because it’s been one I’ve been wanting to do for years and for one reason or other I’ve not yet been able to. It’s clashed with marathon training the last three years, a weekend away another year. I’ve accidentally let it sell out twice. Last year’s actually got postponed because of a Beast from the East but then when it was rearranged for June, I was on holiday so I couldn’t do it then either.

At last though, this year the pieces have fallen into place and I have an email in my inbox telling me I’m in. It looks like a nice jog round the country lanes around Wilmslow and Mobberley and stuff, which I’m pretty familiar with from my cycling days, and always seems to be one of the more highly-rated runs in my local area so it should be a decent day out. I’m not really fussed about the time at either race if I’m being honest but if I get a sub-90 at one of them I’ll be pretty chuffed. If not, no dramas. I feel ready for the distance if not the time and that’s good enough for me. We’re going racing again, and it’s good to be back. And it’s even better that it’s not a bloody marathon.