A short month in most respects, February, but that didn’t stop me bashing out a record monthly distance for me of 276.5km, including three record breaking weeks. Conditions were varied too, ranging from ice cold to merely cold and muddy, to really quite warm and sunny. I am generally feeling like this is now within my physical capabilities. I am tired after a very long run, of course, but I have been surprised by how sprightly my legs have felt the following day and that running felt quite ok. This bodes well for the longer back to back runs coming my way once I get into the thick of the ultra training later in the spring. For the moment I am focused on the 30 mile (fake) event on 20th March.

One of the joys of running at this time of year is being out for sunrise, often on crystal clear mornings. I am lucky to live on the outskirts of town, so I have the countryside just a few short minutes of running from my doorstep.

Runs that I have to just tough it out and get through have been few and far between during February, for the most part I have been light on my feet. Even the 5:30am starts for the mid-week 20ks haven’t been too onerous. On the contrary, those have been among the most satisfying runs I’ve done this last month, easy pace, but with 8 strides added to spice things up. I am still new enough to this endurance lark that bashing out 20k before the day starts feels exotic, even a little hardcore, for this runner. I am enjoying that this is very doable.

On Valentine’s weekend I participated in a virtual event run by Centurion Running called One Love. There were various distances available, I chose 50k for the weekend as this was close-ish to what was on my plan anyway. As befits the last month of meteorological winter, it was sometimes pretty chilly, even arctic during February. On 13th February, the day I’d chosen to run 35km of the 50km, our local weather was cold and clear, with a stiff breeze bringing temperatures down to an apparent -11°c in the windchill.

I was sufficiently wrapped up to make this a mostly comfortable experience. My main challenge was the frozen mud. There were long stretches where churned up mud was like the surface of some nightmare asteroid – hard as rock and very unforgiving on the feet. The surface was often un-runnable, an injury waiting to happen. My poor plates were battered by this experience, feeling bruised for several days after.

On the plus side, during this chilly run I was able to revisit Grim’s Ditch, a lovely section of the Ridgeway path. Dead straight, under tree cover and very runnable, despite a good sprinkling of rooty trip hazards. It is also slightly downhill in this direction, making it relatively quick for a long plod. My route plotting being a little careless, I ended up running 36km rather than the 35km I expected.

The next day saw me lace up again to complete the 50k total. It was still cold on the Sunday and I did feel a bit sluggish as I plugged away at a local 14km loop. A few days later the shiny heart-shaped medal popped through the letterbox. While these virtual events are logically a sort of nonsense, certainly a pale imitation of the real thing, I enjoyed this one and sharing progress with other participants via Twitter.

The following week I had another big mileage weekend, at least for me, with 37km on the plan for Saturday, 10km on the Sunday. Quite a contrast in conditions, it was sunny and mild, something like a 21°c difference compared to the previous week. This meant that the frozen mud was a thing of the past but I had the opposite problem this time, very gloopy mud, made worse by some heavy rain earlier in the week. At one point I lost a shoe, it just got stuck fast and my foot popped out. I then had an amusing one-legged tug of war to remove it. I was really tired at the end of this run. What you gain in lower impact running on a soft surface, I think you lose in sheer exhaustion with the extra effort it takes. I have been experimenting with fuelling on the long runs. On top of the regulation Tailwind, I have been adding a few gels, a muesli bar or two, and the culinary piéce de resistance, marmite and crisp wraps. Sounds a bit weird, but it is very good to have something savoury to cut through the sweetness of everything else. I will continue to experiment, it’s important to know what works (and what doesn’t) well ahead of the ultras I am hoping to run this year.

This month I have re-discovered a turn of speed I’ve been missing for about a year now. On the weekly tempo run, my splits have been coming down, presumably a result of the miles I’ve been putting in my legs, plus a bit of benefit from the strength work. I had a particularly satisfying tempo run last Thursday, with accidental progressive splits. A quick trawl through my records shows that the last time I ran a faster split was in the final stages of the Surrey Half, almost a year ago.

The month ended with 40km on Saturday, followed by an 8km loosener on Sunday. 40km is a long way! It is also the length of EACH of the FOUR legs of the Centurion 100 mile event I’ll be attempting in October this year. I confess I remain intimidated by that prospect. Anyhow, back to my paltry 40k. I had to hedge my bets in the shoe department, I wasn’t sure how muddy the trails would be, and I knew there was a fair bit of tarmac on the route I had planned. I chose a compromise, the Inov8 Terraultra 260s, a light trail shoe.

The route was actually fairly dry, the mud having dried out almost entirely since the previous weekend. I think road shoes would have been fine throughout, and I might have benefited from the extra cushioning. My feet were sore by the end of it and I was very happy to stop running. It was lovely out though, one of those perfect winter mornings – cold at first, a bit foggy, but very bright and sunny later on.

I was a bit worried about the 8km the following day, but my legs actually felt pretty good and I ended up really enjoying it, pushing the boundaries of easy for most of it, even popping into effort territory for a couple of km.

That’s it for February, I’ll be back in a month or so with an update that should include news of my first legitimate ultramarathon effort. Run well!