Wednesday, 25 August 2010

2 days to go...

So with 2 days to go I've made up my mind that I will run the Ridgeway this weekend. I mean what have I really got to lose. I think I would lose out on a whole lot more if I didn't run in terms of the experience. You can learn so much about yourself from a single run and I think Saturdays race will be no exception. It's all very well going into a race fully focused and ready to hit the trails in super confident mood but it's perhaps when you are a little more unsure about things that you really start to learn what it's all about.

It's quite unlike me to be so indecisive about things so we will just have to see how it all plays out. Not sure how I will try to run it yet other than do the usual go with how you feel on the day strategy and see what happens. I think the build up to ultras are a strange affair and so different to other races especially the 'marathon'. I guess what I'm saying is that there is no build up, not in the heightened sense of putting so much on the line for just one race. With ultras you just kinda rock up, do your thing, and move on to the next one longing to get that same mad rush and intensity that you felt from the last. I think (actually I know) that I'm only just starting to figure out what they are all about; how they make you feel during a race and between races, and why you always come back for more. And I'm not sure that I get it yet. Perhaps I will find more answers this weekend however I doubt it as it's more likely that I will end up with more questions as to why. I think this passage from a recent UTMB newsletter sums it up quite nicely for me...

"Why did you embark on this hellish adventure? We have no idea why we are taking on the mountain in this way….dozens of kilometres and hours, endless passes to cross, hundreds of metres of positive height gain, hundreds of thousands of strides. This is what awaits you, and you wonder maybe, in any case we hope you ask, "Why?". The answer is, doubtless, in the question. You are there precisely to understand why you work like that and not otherwise, why you have pain in your muscles, why the gels do not work, why the guys in front go up faster than you, why the refreshment posts so seem far away, why! The Ultra a poses many more questions than it resolves, and this is, paradoxically, its great strength. Each question generates another, in exactly the same way as one step follows another one. We acquire not only the humility of one who knows nothing, or not a lot, but the force of
curiosity, which draws on information and continues drawing on it. One now has an idea of our passion for studies carried out concerning the ultra runner. They are endless, they allow us to advance, and will help you, maybe, to advance a little farther still".

Monday, 23 August 2010

Do I or don't I ?...

I just cannot make up mind about Saturdays race.  The issue is still the foot which is not 100% but also my entry into the Royal Parks half marathon in October. My running club had a place going which I jumped at. However this now means that I have a very limited space of time to get fit for that race if I'm to post a good time. 1:31 is my PB and I want to go sub 1:30. So i guess I need to ask what is more important as it's very unlikely I can compete in the Ridgeway, survive and be fit for Royal Parks. Hhmmmm decisions decisions. Perhaps I should just run the half as a marker (whilst also running ridgeway) with the goal to then train properly thereafter to hit my target later in the year. Who ever thought running would be this complicated! I certainly didn't sign up for this. Unfortunately i'm the type of person that wants it all which isn't going to change so I guess I will just have to suck it and see, and in hindsight realise that yep you can't !!

I've just got home too and waiting on the door step is my sponsored running vest from PACE for the Royal Parks half. Is this a sign I wonder...

Sunday, 22 August 2010

Ridgeway a week away...

So with less than a week to go now before I toe the line for the start of the Ridgeway85. Ive been looking forward to this race for ages. I think it was the first ultra that I became aware of when I started out in going long. It starts on my door step in Ivinghoe and is a spectacular trail. It will also be my first point to point ultra of significant distance. The fellsman being he other. I'm under no illusion that this is going to be a real test and perhaps stretch me further physically and mentally. This might sound strange having come off the back of my 111 miler at the TR24 but I was always never too concerned about that race probably because you were always only 6m away from your drop bag, provisions and support crew. This is quite a bit different with no support crew and only 8 or so check points over the entire 85 miles (apparently it's actually closer to 87 miles and that's without going wrong!)

I did an easy 9 miler this morning and it's apparent that I still have the miles in my legs from the TR24. Hence I think it's going to fill as if I've already have 20 or so miles inhe legs when I start on the ridgeway. I really am expecting this one to be the toughest run I've attempted yet which inself excites me emmensely. Whatever happens next saturday I will finish. The only thing on my quit list is a broken bone or the complete inability to even put one leg in front of the other and even that won't stop me.

Just got to get in the right head space for this race now. Eg. Do I attack it and go for sub 20 hrs or run to finish (26 hr cut off). It starts at midday which if I employ the strategy of going for it means doing the 1st half in the light and 2nd in the dark. Thus I'm inclined to follow a proven strategy as used on the fellsman which is to give it your all in the daylight cos however you are feeling when it gets dark you WILL slow down. So this is kinda my mind made up for me. The only other factor which wil determine my speed is my left and/or right foot. Both are still mildly grumbling so I wil have to stay aware as the miles go how they are coping with the terrain.

Ok I had better stop there. I'm typing this on my new iPod touch which my lovely wife and family bought for my birthday yesterday. Thus don't want to lose everything I've typed now! Sorry for such a dull post. This was more for me to think through the race and how it might go and how I should approach it. I would be really happy and eager if I could get the thoughts of others on this race. Should I push hard and go for it or take it easy? What would you do? Let me know guys...

Monday, 16 August 2010

A short long run...

A very short long run report this week as I covered just 7.5m in my first run since the TR24. It unsurprisingly felt laboured and slow but I thoroughly enjoyed being back out there nevertheless. At an average of just 10.5 minute miling this was the recovery run I needed after the 111m epic.

My route took me through the small villages of Little Billington and Slapton (nicer than it sounds I promise) which was all on road. From Slapton you can join the Grand Union canal which (turning right) winds it way back to Leighton Buzzard across open fields and woodland. It made for a very nice Sunday morning run and I felt better for it (you always do).

I was very concerned going into this run that my left foot was not fully repaired post TR24 however post run it feels fine. The problem however is that my right foot is now grumbling just a little. I was going to run this lunchtime (Monday) but thought better of it and rested the foot instead. I could really be doing without this with the Ridgeway85 less than 2 weeks away now but must listen to the signs that more recovery is needed.

Going to the gym tomorrow for some low impact work on the legs. I'm 100% sure I will start the ridgeway race but how fit I will be with effectively a month inbetween, with little running remains to be seen. What I dont want to do though is miss out on the opportunity of 3 qualifying points for UTMB which whilst a world away from what I'm currently running (i'm under no illusions of that) is a future event on the calendar that greatly excites me at the prospect of running.

Perhaps in 2011 or 2012 or just when life allows...

Saturday, 14 August 2010

Running in style

I would like to start to expand my blog to more than just the occasional race or long run report which by their very nature are very me, me, me, and start to explore further afield about what makes us ultra runners tick. First off though I'm no writer and so don't expect to find something that is free flowing or easy reading, instead it will probably be a little (very) clumsy, and more a collection of individual thoughts which even I probably don't know where they are leading but hey if you don't try you will never know... My one hope is that perhaps what I write leads to discussion amongst fellow minded runners of topics in which we can all relate. So instead of the usual comments that we all feel compelled to post having read someones race reports, which we in kind look forward to reading ourselves when we all eagerly upload our own race reports and wait to see if any one has bothered to read it, that perhaps this can lead to more 'down the pub type discussion' about running, what motivates us to run, and anything else that may happen to crop up.... I told you it would be clumsy!

So anyway I've had 2 weeks now to reflect on completing my first 100 mile run, and so thought I would capture my thoughts and feelings on what this means post-race. I've read elsewhere in other runners accounts of ultras that your first 100 miler changes you, and leaves a lasting impression on you that you will never forget, so imagine my disappointment when I woke up the morning after the race feeling very normal. There was no life changing moment or sudden realisation of clarity. I didn't feel god-like, or different nor did I feel like I had achieved anything more than just another run. I was exactly the same person (just a little sorer for my troubles). I wonder what others experiences are of their first 100?

The thing is, '100' is after all just a number (quite a large one), but just a number all the same. So why should it matter so much and perhaps it doesn't. So if the number of miles that one runs is not terribly significant then what is? What really makes us tick? What makes us put in all that hard training, and those early mornings?

Perhaps it's time (another number) in which you complete a given distance that is more important. It seems to be a common held belief amongst ultra runners that in fact time is less important though, and what is far more important is the journey itself that we all take when embarking on our latest challenge. What I find is that, the journey and the time it takes me to complete it are inextricably linked. You can't separate them. On the TR24 race which was a fixed time race - time obviously played a very central part to the whole thing. It was also an amazing journey which I thoroughly enjoyed as I covered mile after mile with a keen eye on my watch and my pace band to ensure I succeeded in my quest. Thus the time in which you cover a given distance I think is a far bigger motivator than distance alone.

So on the TR24 as I slowed down in the latter stages the journey became far tougher as I became less motivated and didn't feel that I was running it in style. It wasn't less enjoyable because of the pain factor (the pain is always going to be there when running long!), but because I wasn't able to run it in the way I wanted to. In others words I couldn't RUN. We run because we love running.... that's why we do it. So being reduced to plodding along surely stops it being a run, and becomes something all together different.

I therefore feel that it is the 'style' in which you complete an ultra that gives you the 'feel good' factor and that glow of real satisfaction. Style being the ability to pace it right from the start and not being reduced to a crawl as you eek out mile after mile. I want to run not walk, and whilst walking is an inevitable and strategic part of ultras, the 'style' in which you cover a given distance is for me what counts. Now of course 'style' is a very individualistic thing and we will all define it in different ways. Running in style for me also includes enjoying every second no bad how things get, to smile at your fellow runners, to laugh, and to empathise with others, and to not be overly obsessed with ones own goals in a race, but to enjoy the journey. The distance of that journey is irrelevant in my eyes.

One thing everyone has in common when starting a race is that we all have some kind of game plan. We have a clear (or even vague) idea in our minds about how we want to run the race. And I think that the execution of this plan and the style in which we run are very closely aligned. Distance becomes irrelevant. You could be running a 3km park run or 100 mile ultra, but the basic rules are the same. You go in with a game plan, execute it, and thus run it in style - the way you had visualised running it many times before in the lead up to the race. Then you sit back with a warm glow of satisfaction on your face and bask in the glory of what you have achieved.

For me the execution of my race plan in the TR24 was the most pleasing element of my race. And whilst I hit my 100m target it was the style in which I did it that mattered most of all.

Monday, 2 August 2010

Adidas Thunder Run 24hr (First 100!)

I had been waiting a long time for this challenge, and my first attempt at a 100 miler. This race was the 'replacement' for the Devon100 which was due to take place back in March but never was when the race director got cold feet about staging such an event. Having now seen the organisation and effort required to put on an event like this I for one don't blame him.

The TR race format is as follows: Run around a 10km off road loop for 24 hours completing as many laps as you can within that time from soloists to relay teams of 8. There were 35 male solo runners on the entry list, 15 female soloists, and many other male/female/mixed pairs, 5's and 8's. You were therefore competing against those in your category. People were therefore running at very different speeds, which you don't find in other ultras. There's nothing quite like seeing someone fly past you at a sub 7 min pace (which they did frequently) to make you feel ever so slow! However trying to run 100 miles in 24hrs was certainly never going to be about speed! It was going to be about how slow I could run, as opposed to how fast, and keep this going, and going, and going all day, through the night, and into the early part of the next afternoon.

Pacing wise I decided to chuck some numbers into an excel spreadsheet and create myself a pacing band. The garmin wasn't going to survive 24hrs so wasn't any use. The band actually proved very useful throughout the race. And without giving the end away I actually managed to get within 8 minutes (under) of my predicted time over a given distance over a 24hr period which is pretty good going.

So what of the race... The actual course itself didn't have too many highs or lows (unlike my mental state). Relatively flat with 149m of climb per lap but multiplied over the race distance and the total ascent does add up. To over 8000ft in fact. It was a varied course which divided into two parts - the first 5km consisted of running over grassland, along farm tracks besides open crop fields with also the occasional short sharp woodland track. Most of the climbing was in the first half of the lap. The second 5km was a far more twisty affair. Evidently the course designer had gone a bit mad with the Adidas 'three stripe' branded tape and decided to tie it to every conceivable tree in the woods which more resembled an airport security waiting area.

Different parts of the course were also named (I think to try and sell you Adidas products with their not-so-subliminal advertising). So this included the 'Kandida Climb' (which was a walker), the 'Adistar Descent' (a particular favourite part of the course to gather some downhill speed), 'Supernova Stretch' (which was a tough slog around grass fields for about 1.5km before the finish), and 'The Last Salvation' which as name suggests was just before the finish.

Anyway five paragraphs into this race report and haven't even mentioned the actual race. So if you are still with me lets begin... Things all kicked off at 2pm Saturday afternoon with a 10 second count down, the blast of the horn and a dash off the line. It became quickly apparent who the soloists and the team runners were as 'we' were left behind to plod along at a 'sustainable' pace, and the speed merchants blasted around treating it as if it were just a 10km race (of course it was for them). To give you some idea of their speed - the winners of the mixed 8 category (Plymouth Harriers) completed 35 laps which translates to around a 42 minute 10km lap! How the heck they kept that going is pretty amazing.

My pace of course was nothing of the sort. In the early laps it was hovering around a 10 minute per mile pace. Still one minute quicker than I had intended but I honestly didn't think I could run any slower. I did inject some short walk breaks on anything that resembled a hill to help preserve my energy for longer. I consciously decided to try and maintain a similar pace for the first 4 laps, and this worked well with lap times of 0.59; 1.01; 1.00; 1.09. The 4th lap involving my first major refuelling stop, which accounts for the extra minutes as I tucked into some pizza. yum.

The plan was to knock off another minute per mile from my pace and maintain this for another 4 laps. Laps 5-8 were 1.04; 1.08; 1.14; 1.20. Things were going well and tackling it in this manner really helped to break things up a little so I never thought 'oh my god I'm gonna be running for 24 hrs'. I just focused on the next 4 laps trying to maintain the set pace. The first 8 laps really did fly by with little if any incident. Oh apart from being stung by a bloody wasp in the first km of the race. The girl beside me also got stung at exactly the same time. Apparently 9 other runners were also stung at the same point on the course. The nest was duly removed.

My family had travelled up with me also and were proving an excellent support crew with mum, wife and 2 yr daughter handing me my refilled bottles! We had pitched our tents right next to the track on the back straight of the 'Supernova Stretch' just before the course climbed steeply, and then went down again and around to the start/finish area. My dad was running having secured a place in a team of five who lost a member having fell off a horse the day before. He only found out on the morning of the race that he was running. Way to go Dad!!! And he completed 5 laps (50km) for his team and was the fastest member.

So back to the race… 8 laps down and we were now well into the night stage. The rules stated that you needed your head torch on from 8:30 onwards which seemed very early however the woodland sections with deep tree cover were much darker than the open. However I managed to navigate myself safely through the root infested woodlands until around 9:30 having gone out on lap 6 at 8:15pm so wasn't breaking any rules.

I set myself the target of completing laps 8 -12 in 6 hours. So 1.5 hrs per lap including refuelling breaks. I know that to most this will seem very slow (just 15 minute miling) including myself, but having already completed 2 marathons, and being able to see only 10ft ahead, things do inevitably slow down. These laps were without doubt the toughest part of the race. My energy levels were low, and there seemed to be no end in sight with my 100 mile distance target still way off. So I focused on just one lap at a time, and pulled on through. Looking back now there is very little that stands out during this period. Its almost as if I had pressed the auto-pilot button and let the rest take care of itself. I had brought my ipod along with me for the night section but I didn't use it as I was too focused on the task at hand, and in a way enjoyed the peacefulness of running/plodding through the night with the moon occasionally peering out between the clouds.

At the end of every lap I would come back to the tent where my family were curled up in their sleeping bags, and my mum would hear me, and enquire how I was doing and if I was ok. It was nice to exchange a few words. My night time menu consisted of pizza (note to self - a bit more topping wouldn't have gone amiss) minestrone soup (which really hit the spot!) and rice pudding. All washed down with hot tea and coke. I definitely felt better as I started out on every lap after taking on food and drink.

I kept an eye on the time and thought I was a little behind the 6 hr target for these laps, however looking back at the lap splits now it appears I was actually within the 6 hrs. Maths was never my strong subject especially when out running for 24hrs. I was giving it everything I could, running when I could and walking in parts to save what was left of my legs and limiting the increasing discomfort in my left ankle. I was sure that when the sun rose I would spark into life once again and see this thing through. So that was laps 9-12 done (splits 1.19; 1.17; 1.32; 1.39).

It was almost time for breakfast but I squeezed in one more lap (apparently). My memory of this period is a little jumbled as I thought I had breakfast after lap 12 but the splits suggest otherwise. So lap 13 including a major refuel, toilet stop and change of clothes back into day running wear was 1:48. The warm porridge and tea really hit the spot and I polished off a whole bowl and felt much better for it. The sun was up and for the first time the end of the race was in site. Whilst I still had a marathon to go to reach my 100 mile target it was during lap 14 that I knew for the first time that I WOULD finish. It really was this clear in my mind as I continued on my way laughing to myself with joy.

Lap 14 was a blast and the best I had felt for ages posting a lap time of 1:08! (Note to self – porridge works!!!). I hoped this feeling and the energy that returned to my legs would last, but of course it didn't. However I did start doing the sums to work out how many laps I could do within the remaining time. I figured 17 was a fair bet (my original target), but if I could hold it together then 18 or even 19 was possible. From this point on it really was a case of one lap at a time. My family were up and about and the encouragement from them, other spectators and runners was much appreciated. My splits for laps 13-16 were 1.48; 1.08; 1.33; 1.26.

Lap 17 officially saw me pass the 100 mile mark. There was no celebration as the race was not over but I do remember thinking wow I've just run a hundred miles, how cool is that. And then I carried on as I still had 2hrs of running left. I decided that lap 18 would be my last, unless events unfolded which meant that the guy behind me could conceivably carry on and overtake my lap total pushing me back one position.

Dad had been keeping me informed in the latter stages of the race as to my position in the solo male category. In the early hours of the morning I was 8th, this then rose to 5th as I pushed on, and by mid morning I was in 3rd place with the 4th place guy just 10 minutes behind me. The gap increased to 27 minutes by the next lap. Little did I know that I then actually lapped the 4th place guy on my final lap to secure 3rd place in the solo male category. If I carried on and ran a 19th lap I would of secured 2nd place, but after 111 miles my work here was well and truly done. Having achieved exactly what I set out to do I had no desire to run another lap (the ibuprofen was also wearing off and the chaffing down below more than a little uncomfortable!). Lap 17 and 18 splits were 1:21 and 1:23.

After a sprint finish to the finish line it was all over!

Running a 100 miles was never going to be pretty, and I knew it would be difficult but I had never imagined quite what I would have to put my body through to achieve it. What they say about ultras is so true - that you run the first half with your legs and the second with your mind. I had ran 18 laps totalling 111 miles in a time of 23hrs30mins. My pace band had written on it: Lap 18 - 111 miles - 23:38. Now that's what I call pacing! There was even time for a cup of tea :-)