Given what we know about the link between building movement into our daily lives and how that supports mental health, every year, RED January inspires many people to get active on a daily basis. At the time of writing, we are still experiencing a global pandemic, so anything that can help people with their mental health has to be a good thing. This year, I decided to try and create a bit of a RED January team from members of my running club, Ely Runners, and at the same time try to raise some funds for RED January’s charity partner, Sport in Mind, the UK’s leading mental health sports charity.
Every year, Ely Runners usually manages to get a handful of members to take part in RED January; this time though, and probably due to the fact that the focus is on all kinds of activity, and not just running, we managed to recruit a team of over 40! A JustGiving page was set up for Sport in Mind; a little promotion was created via our Facebook page; a Strava Club was created, and we were good to go!
I am not sure why, but I decided I would have a crack at a daily 10K, with maybe the odd longer run on Sundays. In the end this worked out just fine, and as is always the case, I was happy to run alone (early in the morning or after work), and I was also pleased if any one fellow Ely Runner joined me (whilst adhering to the pandemic rules).
So, January was quite a journey, with loads of online mutual encouragement, sharing of runs, scrutiny of the weekly Strava League table, and the logging of running; walking; cycling; yoga; HIIT sessions; strength and conditioning; and even outdoor swimming!
The thing that hit me early on was the number of club members who were perhaps in the doldrums in terms of their running: something that happens to the best of us, but perhaps more so in the middle of a depressing global pandemic. People made it clear that they were signing up to ‘get back out there’. One club member, Lizzie, was quite open about how RED January had helped her with her sanity, got her running again, resulted in her finding places near her home she had never seen, and got her some PBs!
Speed and pace is of course all relative; but my personal approach, given I ran 10K every day, was to run what is a slow pace for me, with the occasional run that was close to race pace.
As usual, I was able to run, in accordance with the rules, with one other person at a time: so, it was great to see the usual suspects: Shaun, Emily, Jon, Lionel, Andrew S, Natalie, and Lauren. I am so grateful to this bunch, and other Ely runners, who kept each other motivated via Instant Messenger.
I tried to mix it up a little for my 10K routes, but for some reason I kept going back to a familiar club route: Quanea Drove. The 10K route takes in some of the City, but also a run along the river and up a hill (Kiln Lane) from Roswell Pits. The Quanea Drove part is made up of long, isolated and exposed farmland roads, with wide views across black Fenland soil. It is rare not to see deer, buzzards, barn owls etc. At this time of year parts of the route are very muddy and icy, and the long empty roads can mess with your mind; especially in rain with a headwind! But, for some reason, I like the route, so, it became a regular for me throughout January!
Watching other club members’ progress on Facebook and Strava became addictive, and it turns out that social media was important in helping people to remain motivated to do RED January; especially when feeling gloomy about the pandemic situation. For those of us whose focus was running only, a club leaderboard on Strava was interesting, and for some, maybe a source of friendly competition (you know who you are)!
I found that, despite not getting proper rest days, I became quickly accustomed to 10K every day, but there were times when I ached a lot, and the odd day when it all came together and I felt like I did a few years ago when all those PBs kept rolling in: I analysed my pace and times and found I was running more challenging routes at a faster and more consistent pace on those rare days. Sundays were devoted to trail, and usually a half marathon.
Due to the kindness of the Ely Runners RED January Team, other Ely Runners, some of their friends and some anonymous donors, we did well on the fundraising front. At the time of writing, Ely Runners has raised £1,538 for Sport in Mind.
I had hinted to one or two Ely Runners friends that I was keen to do a longer run on the last day of RED January, and this was going to happen whatever the activities of any of my club mates; but, it was a certain Allistair Berry who motivated me to go that bit further! Allistair is a phenomenally tough runner, who pushes himself hard; and you would never know if he is finding things hard, because he is always smiling, joking and laughing! On the penultimate day of RED January, Allistair knocked out a casual marathon in wet and windy conditions (despite being bitten by a dog en route)! Kudos! But then he ran 10 miles on the final day with his wife, Michelle, and then carried on to make his final run a half marathon! Now, I have never really been bothered about my place on the leaderboard, only having looked at it to see how people were doing, and to keep abreast of their amazing mileage in the final week. On the last day, I decided to push it further than I had at first intended.
My original plan was to park my car in town, and use the boot as an aid station (Lucozade, sandwich, banana, change of socks and some plasters), and then run the whole loop (10K) four times, so that I would cover about 24 miles, and then would have to go off and do a bit more for the marathon distance. As a fellow club member said just yesterday: just one lap of Quanea Drove can be mentally demanding in the wrong conditions. I wasn’t worried about the mental stuff; I have an ability to switch off from it now: I was worried about my physical ability given the daily 10Ks in the lead up to the 31st January! Allistair’s marathon, and knowing that he was out there running again gave me the final push to decide that more than a marathon was required. I decided to run 5 Quanea Drove loops with a short cool down at the end.
If I was to cover over 30 miles, I decided to be kind to myself (and responsible to others): this meant a very short break at my car to eat and drink after each loop; to take a selfie with any Ely Runners I encountered, and to defer to the public at all times. I can’t pretend I wasn’t happy when I had to stand to one side to allow tractors, other runners and families to pass safely.
The first loop was easy (no biggie as some of my club mates say): I am used to it, and I had the company of the superb Shaun, who kept me chatting about all things covid! The second loop was fine, and made easier by losing some of the gear I was wearing, and getting a banana and some Lucozade down me! Things started to get a little uncomfortable physically at the end of the third loop, but some messages from friends helped: I was running slowly enough to be able to text whilst on the go!
The fourth loop was the one where I switched off mentally; something I have learned from a few ultra marathons: it’s not easy to explain. It involves banishing negative thoughts or any ideas that you can’t achieve your goal, and it seems to be associated with a type of tunnel vision, where looking forward is constant and I shut down from everything going on around me. I remained focussed on getting back to the car, avoiding running near anyone, and remembering to take sips of water.
I cannot pretend I was happy at the idea of setting off for the fifth loop, and as I did so, I noticed that even the shortest break resulted in me seizing up, so, I got on with it. I still struggle with nutrition on longer runs, and the usual mixture of nausea and hunger kicked in. This final 10K loop was a challenge physically, and I think I was able to do it because of my efforts in RED January, and yet at the same time I was hurting because of those same efforts. Good humoured banter with club members via messenger pushed me to the end of this loop, and then a final shuffle of around three miles. This marked the end of RED January 2021 for me!
So, today is the 1st of February 2021, and apart from eating, a lot of my time today is being taken up with reflecting on the efforts of my fellow club members, all of whom have things going on in their lives during a stressful and worrying pandemic. RED January 2021 has helped us all, and in the process, helped to raise some money for a superb charity. So here’s to Ely Runners, RED January and Sport in Mind!