Mark Armstrong: What's gone right and wrong in 2021?

Mark Armstrong warm up

Mark Armstrong warms up for a run. - Credit: Alison Armstrong Photography

2021 has certainly been a mixed bag when it comes to how my running has gone. 

Did I achieve everything I wanted to? No. 

Did I achieve anything I wanted to? No. 

Did I have fun trying? An emphatic YES. 

The year started with the quest for a sub 40-minute 10K. The race at Snetterton was such a big goal for me and the training for it provided structure at a time when I needed it. 

Covid numbers were surging and more home schooling was taking place. I needed to run. 

I really gave it everything and I’ve never felt as fit as I did in February/March time. I look back on some of those runs now and wonder if it was actually me doing it. 

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But it came at a cost and I have to accept that. I pushed it too hard, didn’t listen to my body, and I mis-managed a niggle that turned into a full-blown injury. 

I would say that lessons have been learned – at least in the short term they have. But it’s easy to say that ‘I’ve learned my lesson’ when the injury is still fresh in your mind.  

It’s a lot more difficult when you have the blinkers on to achieve a goal and you ignore the warning signs for injury. 

What needs to be hammered home, in my case, is that there is no point in building up speed if it’s not done in a sustainable way. This means strength training for me. 

If I don’t do it then I will get injured... it’s as simple as that. Fortunately, I think I’m getting to the stage where I know the maintenance work that I have to do each week to stay healthy.

This is largely thanks to the physio that I have been seeing when she has been able to pinpoint several faults biomechanically which can be neutralised if the right strength work is done. 

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I’d like to make it crystal clear that I do not like doing this.  

I’d much rather just run... but if I just do that then I get injured. Hopefully the penny has dropped that sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do – an important life lesson and one that I try to emphasise to my daughter, Lara, when she protests a piece of broccoli has been put on her plate. 

So, I didn’t get what I wanted at Snetterton (40:35... by the way the course is long and I’m not having anyone tell me otherwise) and I spent the next few months trying to get my body right again. 

During this time there were barely any speed sessions and running at a pace that didn’t aggravate anything in the back of my knee or hamstring. 

Dark thoughts started to fester - ‘am I ever going to be able to get back to where I was?’ 

But I was patient... and that is perhaps the most important lesson from this year.  

If you’ve got a few years of running behind you then your body also soon remembers what you have asked it to do in the past. 

I was very surprised to dip under 41 minutes at the Town and Gown 10K in October and pleased to net a personal best at the St Neots Half Marathon (1:37). It gives me hope that if I can get a really solid training block behind me, alongside the strength work, that I will be able to take a chunk out of some of those PBs next year. The training just needs to be built patiently... 

So what about 2022? I really think at this stage it’s difficult to plan too far ahead thanks to the surge in Omicron cases. 

What’s the point of looking too far ahead when we don’t even know if we’re going to be allowed to around a friend’s house on New Year’s Eve? 

I’ll try to run consistently, I’ll try to be patient and I’ll try to do the strength work. 

The point is I’ll keep trying... because that’s the only way I’m going to get better. 

And I’ll have fun doing it. 

Thank you so much to everyone that has supported this column through the year - particularly Neil Featherby, who has once again kept me on the straight and narrow at times this year... beyond running!

I'd like to wish you all a very Merry Christmas and an even better New Year.

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