Monday, 21 March 2011

SIS Lightning 12 race report

It's the day after the Lightning12 and I can categorically say that that was the hardest fought race I have had to endure to date. Well it was due to happen sooner rather than later right...

Rewind to race morning (I had arrived the night before in the beautiful Malvern Hills - although quite not so beautiful if you find your running up and down them for 12 hours!). It was a cold night and my tent offered little protection from this. I cacooned myself in my sleeping bag and did as best I could to sleep. I probably didn't manage more than 3 hrs of sleep max.

My iPod alarm was set for 4:30am (race start was 6) but didn't wake me or didn't go off at all. I couldn't work out which. I rose at 5am and had just an hour to prepare. Normally this would be plenty but confined to a tent makes everything a little bit more tricky. Porridge and banana for breakfast with a strong coffee set me up for the run ahead. The clock was ticking and it was getting closer and closer to 6. I was still fumbling around getting my kit together, filling my water bottle up etc when I hear... 5... 4.... 3... 2..... 1! And the claxon sound. Oh crap I've missed the start!! I grabbed my gear and rushed to the start line which luckily was all but 50 metres away. I joined the back of the pack and had a good laugh to myself about it. If anything that small mishap helped me relax a little. For a description of the course itself see my account from last year here - 

Shortly into the first lap it became apparent that my innov8s had seen better days. The wear on the back of the tread meant that they were falling inwards and backwards with every step. Plus I had opted to wear my sealskinz socks for added protection from the trail however I quickly learnt that they do not perform in the dry as well as they do in the wet. My feet were on fire and massively overheating. Defintely a shoe and sock change at the end of lap 1.

I had good speed (who doesn't on the first lap of a 12 hour race!) but didn't think I was overdoing it. My race strategy was simple (he says) each lap had to average under an hour so that on completing my 12 lap I could go out and run a 13th. But I also wanted to run a more consistent race too. To give what I was asking of myself some context I only ran my first 3 laps last year under 1hr. The rest were between 1h5m -1h20m. I therefore knewn this wasn't going to be easy.

And easy it wasn't!!! With my new Montrail Mountain Masochists and Injini socks on I was feeling far more comfortable. Lap 1 was 52mins (each lap measures 9.3k - coming up short of the advertised 10k mark). Add the 800ft of ascent PER lap and you get an idea of how tough this course is. I kept the pace steady and ran laps 2, 3, and 4 in 52, 54 and 58 minutes. Good consistency, on track and I was happy. I stopped by my tent at the end of each lap to refill my bottle and take on some food but avoided the temptation to sit in my chair.  

Then it was all change.... From lap 5 onwards it all went horribly wrong. Clearly the pace I was running wasn't sustainble. I had hit the wall no question and continued scaling up it for lap after lap after lap. This wasn't just a small low point in the race which I would soon get over. I was deteroiating fast and I was powerless to stop the rot. Lap 5 was a 67 and lap 6 a 79. I had fallen off a cliff! The reality of knowing I hadn't even completed half of the alloted 12 hours also bared down heavily on me. Instead of breaking this up in to chunks and focusing only on each lap, all I could think about was the total distance/time/number of laps I would still be out there for.

I seriously (I think) considered throwing in the towel at the end of lap 6 such was my physical and mental distress. I slumped down in my chair and ate some pizza and coke. This relived the senses a little and I simply got up and went back out for another lap. There wasn't any major change in me, I was still on a low but perhaps a little more accepting of my fate. Yes I was hurting, and yes it will continue to hurt, no question, and no I wouldn't be getting any faster, only slower, but I'm still in this race and so I plodded on and out for another lap. 

Laps 7, 8 and 9 were a little more consistent. Consistently slow maybe but still consistent. 77, 75 and 75. Wow perhaps I was getting the knack for this pacing thing after all. There is little else to report or describe about what occured during these laps other than to say that my mood did improve a little. This is in part because of all the other great people out on the course. Many knew me as the guy who won it last year (to my real surprise as I was really trying to keep that one quiet - card marked and all that). The number 1 race number didn't help either but is a very nice momento to keep.  Anyway where I was going with this is that some would comment as they passed me (and on the rare occasion that I actually passed them). One guy's response when I told him I was throwing in the towel was "you can't, you're our inspiration for being out here" (I'm not making that up!) That was nice to hear and perhaps a clever ploy to keep me out there but it kinda worked and perked me up a little. The other thoughts that ran through my head when I thought about quiting were primarily who would I be letting down if I did call it a day - would my family think less of me if I did - the answer of course is no, but at the time the thought of going home and telling them I quit after 6 laps was not one I could contempate,  and after that guy's comment on the course it made me think that I had a kind of duty to stay out there as the course record holder and keep going til I dropped. The last thing I wanted was to be thought of as a bad loser - someone who when its not quite going their way, and things got a bit tough quits. And what stick would I get from the guys down the club - Answer: Plenty!! And perhaps rightly so... Because as ultra runners we measure and pride ourselves on NOT how fast we run but on how FAR we run and how LONG we can endure it for. Therefore quiting in an ultra race perhaps has far more consequence and significance than in a 'normal' shorter or distance event. Of course anyone, 'ultra runner' or otherwise, can have a bad day and I was definitely having a bad day (at least by the standards I had set myself).

There is one particular quote by Lance Armstrong that went through my head as I was out there and which defintely kept me going - "Pain is temporary. Quiting lasts forever". Too true! And the simple reality of the situation was that I either stopped or kept going. End of. As I sit here now on Monday evening the pain has indeed subsided (unless tackling stairs!) but had I quit yesterday and not carried on then I would indeed be feeling very very sorry for myself and doubting my ability as an ultra  runner at all.

Anyway back to the race and I had finished lap 9. Incidently back on lap 7 or 8 when speaking to my wife on the phone I talked about setting some goals that would keep me going. If I completed 9 laps that would take me over 50 miles which would be a job well done, if I managed 10 laps then that was over a double marathon and a nice round number. Completing 11 laps would go over the 100k mark which would be a very worthy milestone to achieve. Annoyingly, 10 laps wasn't 100k because of the 'short' lap. I set these goals to provide some meaning to each subsequent lap and it worked.

So back (again) to end of lap 9 (sorry we shall get to the end soon I promise) and I was all but finished mentally and physically. Instead of going to my tent to refill my water bottle I had planned to cross the finish line first to record my time, then go and have a sit down and a cup of tea in the catering tent. As I did this and crossed the line the announcer who hadn't once told me my position says and here's Stuart last years winner in 5th place. It was almost an exact reoccurence of last year when the same announcer told me I was in first place, and I couldn't believe it. For me it had been a terrible race (post lap 4) and I had slogged my way through another 5 laps of misery, but somehow I was in 5th place. My exact thoughts were not though, "Wow that's fantastic" instead they were "damn that really does mean I will have to go back out there and run another lap". I still went for my cup of tea to ponder this new information. I sat down with a guy who was running in a pair and who was also comtempating his final lap. He wasn't looking forward to it either but the crucial difference between pairs and soloists is that you really can't let down your partner. Yourself maybe, but not someone else on the team. Anyway he just said very matter of fact whilst I explained how my race had fallen apart, that I had better go do that extra lap. And as he said that it was clear I had no choice but to. What decision was there to make. None. Get up Blofeld and get your slow arse back out there for one last lap! So that's what I did. Lap 10 was no slower than my previous 3 laps, if not a little faster actually when you take into account my cup of tea in the nice warm tent. Amazing what a good old cuppa can do for morale!

I had long decided that I wouldn't even attempt an 11th lap, even though I would finish the 10th lap well inside the 12 hour time window. Running an 11th lap would have seen me out there for 12 1/2 hours plus, which was not something that filled me with any joy, plus logistically I had a tent to pack away, warm down after the event, supper and a 3hr drive home to contemplate. These aren't excuses for not running another lap, merely the reality that I faced.

So there you go that was my Lightning 12. No fairy tale ending but an ending nevertheless. I held onto 5th place in the solo category covering 57 miles in 11 hours 15 minutes. My fastest mile was a 7:27 and my slowest a 14:57. Almost certainly one involved going down hill whilst the other involved climbing up, but this was defintely a tale of two halves which I will no doubt learn a lot from in terms of pacing my first 'proper' 100 mile race in August (24hr events apparently don't count as real 100 milers even if you cover this distance).

I will try and keep the blog coming in the next few months but don't expect many races reports. My next non-running challenge is to complete the Chiltern 100 in June on my ElliptiGO. That will be positively easy compared with yesterday I can tell you, but I'm not going to take it lightly I promise!   

Friday, 18 March 2011


What a week... Since last Sundays 60 miler on the ElliptiGO things have gone a bit off track. Monday was a slow recovery ru. And whilst heavy legged I didn't feel too bad. Tuesday I rested and on Wednesday came the BIG mistake! An innocent lunchtime aerobics session at work left me seriously aching that evening and come Thursday my legs were feeling the full and very real effects of DOMS brought on by the aerobics session which I think triggered the very sore legs. Until then I felt I was recovering extremely well from Sunday and was looking good for this weekend. Now I'm wondering how an hour of exercise could have such a profound effect on how I'm now feeling. It's Friday evening now and my legs and still weary and sore. Not ideal preparation for a 12hr race this weekend.

However i've learnt an awful lot from what has happened. For one - the ElliptiGO IS a serious workout and I'm only now beginning to realise just how much it pushing the muscle groups whilst training on it. It's weird though because of the low/zero I
pact nature of it you really don't feel the effect ls of the workout whilst training and because of this it's possible to push yourself much further than when running. But beware DOMS may bite you on the arse days later!!

Sorry for the rambling post and this reflects just how I'm feeling ahead of Sunday. This mornig I was really cursing my luck and wondering how I'm gonna get through Sundays 12hr but now it's like a switch had flicked in my head and now all I'm thinking is how I'm gonna lay it ALL on the line on Sunday. Sometimes you need to go into a race knowing it gonna hurt like hell and if I'm gonna achieve what I have set out to do which is to improve on last years 12 laps then I'm goig to have to give it everything the double it, suck it up and spit it out and drive my body and mind into the ground!! Man I'm SO ready for some serious(good)damage!

I went out and stocked up the cool box today that will store my fuel for this race. Weight watchers look away now - this includes a Hawaiian pizza, tub of flapjacks, variety funsize pack, chocolate covered coffee beans, and 'I'mBuzzing' banana energy bars!! That little lo should keep me going.

Race starts 6am Sunday. I will be posting Facebook updates as the race progresses (if there is reception). The 'ProVelo Support' facebook and Twitter pages will also be posting live updates on the course.

My wildest and most optimistic prediction is to complete 13 laps (120k) in 13 hours. I would be more than happy to equal the 12 laps I ran last year in a faster time (12h48m). We shall see....

Monday, 14 March 2011

Evans Ride It 60 mile report

Just a quick report on Sundays 60 mile ride on the ElliptiGO. Organised by Evans Bikes the Ride It events are great value for a choice of distances; either 30, 60 or 90 miles. 60 would be the furthest I had ridden on the GO. I arrived early and registered with much interest being show by other riders in what I would be riding. Most couldnt believe that Idai and I were attempting that distance.
Anyhow we were ready and I was thoroughly looking forward to it. The route was waymarked through out with pink arrows at every junction. The route itself kept to nice quite country roads for the most part which on a Sunday were clear of any traffic. Evans had rated the route a 2 difficulty rating out of max of 4. So neither easy nor difficult but somewhere inbetween. We assumed 2 = few climbs so were suprised to find a mile long climb in the first 3 miles up to the top of Great Brickhill. We were rewarded though with a long descent back down the otherside. To be honest though I love hills and like to attack them. The GO performs very well when climbing and I found throughout the ride that we would always reel in those in front on the hills. Normal bikes would of course be far quicker on the flats and downhills.

The plan was to take it easy as this was a final training run/ride before next weekends Lightning12. We reckoned on about a 13mph average speed. And we pretty much stuff to it. Flats were faster but climbs slower so all evens out. The weather wasnt too favourable as we were pelted with rain for the first 1-2 hours but it dried out and was soon forgotten about. Idai and I were both testing Gore jackets and gloves offered for free by Evans as part of the Ride It deal. Both offered good protection from the elements. I felt strong throughout the ride and didnt feel any drain as the miles mounted up. The highlight scenery wise was cycling through Woburn Park where we were greeted with an amazing sight of between 20-30 very large deer in a herd. I was tempted to stop and capture the moment on film but we were ascending a steep hill at the time and wasnt too keen to lose momentum as I also caught and passed cyclists in front.

All in all a fantastic ride which was very well organised. At just £12.50 great value too. We completed the 61 miles (a minor detour in my home town of all places!) in 4h45mins. This was spot on what we aimed for so very pleasing. Now just a week of very light running in preparation for Sundays next challenge where i'm hoping (optimistically so) to go one lap further than last year which will be around 130km. Failing that I would more than settle for 12 laps in a faster time than last year. The weather will be a factor in this!

The provelosupport (the Lightning 12 event organiser) will be posting live updates from their Facebook page and twitter account if you want to follow progress. I will also try to send a few FB status updates on my page too. Always fun texting and running at the same time and helps to take mind of things and connect with the world outside....

Sunday, 6 March 2011

Leighton 10k race report

This was my first proper race of the year (if you discount the XC season which I consider more training than racing). I seldom race either so was looking forward to this one, and to hopfully put down a new marker for the 10k distance which I haven't raced in well over 2+ years.
Pre-race calve stretch

I didn't do any specific training for this race as much, and interesting since the beginning of the year my average weekly mileage has been just 17 miles. However I've covered over 500 miles on the ElliptiGO in the same period which has really boosted my fitness and kept the cobwebs away. So what could I realistically achieve at the 10k distance on a flatish course but with two significant climbs (one at half way and the other at 8k). Well I haven't gone sub 40 minutes before so this was my first target, but I had hoped to perhaps get nearer to 38 minutes.

The field was 200 strong and the race was started by legendary local hero Frank Bruno! I figured I would start up at the front so as not to get caught up in the pack, and try and run my own race. My strategy was simple... Run 6 minute mile pace for as lon as I could and if it started to hurt, suck up the pain and push on strong.

He needs no introduction...what a legend!
Frank blew the horn and we were off.... A sharp left out of the school gates as I decided to take the inside line...

Game on ... (all photos courtesy of Paul Douglas)
A lead pack quickly formed which included 6 others with me in 7th. The first half mile was quick at around 5:30 pace but it settled down as did I as I just went about keeping my breathing under control and legs loose. It was a good course which after the first 1.5k saw us turn off a main road and on to some nice quiet country lanes.

I remained in 7th spot but close behind to the two guys in front of me. The from four were further ahead, with the guy leading looking like he was starting to open a small gap between himself and 2nd place. I watched from afar and thought how jolly different this race was with me (the slow ultra runner - as know in the club) actually up there in a 10k race. Who would have thought it.

The km markers were great because alike mile marker they obviously come and go far quicker. Now I know that sounds really stupidly obvious but the difference it makes to the mental side is big. Anyhow we were soon 5k into the race and my breathing was getting heavier. No surprise really considering the pace. Miles 1, 2 & 3 were 5:50, 5:58, 6:08 so now averaging just under 6 minute miling at around the half way mark. I wasn't conciously looking at my watch however and was simply running to keep on the heels of the guy in front.

I passed a Luton AC runner probably a bit before half way, and then settled once again. A new runner also entered the fray and over took me and continued pass at a sub 6 pace. I wasn't goig to try and stay with him at this stage, and instead kept on the stay steady path.

The big test came on a long gradual climb between 5 and 6k. I dug in as did the guy in front. At this end of pack no one was giving away places lightly. A Thame rnuner came on my shoulder at this point and this time I decided to stick with this one. We were rewarded with a nice descent down to the 7k point, before I was back on familar ground with roads that I knew. What was coming next was the infamous Shenley Hill which starts ascending gradually before a big sharp kick at the end. And this was 8k in with just 2k left to go. I could smell the finish line and kicked up the hill keeping a similar cadence to the flat, just with slightly shortened strides. Once I crested the summit I got the arms out and windmilled down the other side taking back a place. I still felt strong too so held off the challenge for him to come back at me. We rounded a right corner and started off down the final 1k straight. By this point we were running sub 5:30 mile pace and it felt it. Mile splits from 3,4 & 6 were 6:10, 5:43, 5:48.

I gave the last km everything I had and took another place and closed down on one other guy just before the finish arch. However there was a left hand U-turn off the road to the finish arch which was very sharp. I went around the outside but he kicked for home a second infront of me. My time was 36:56, which I later found was good for 5th place on the day.

and across the line in....

36:56!! I was quite a happy chappy!

This surpassed all my expectations and I was very pleased with how my race had gone. I had gone out hard, yet still had enough in the tank to run a negative split which I would nevr have thought possible at that pace. So a new 10k PB by over 5 minutes I think. As I said I hadn't run this distance for a long time so a PB was always on the cards but by that margin is awesome.

Training wise I think this performance and how I have been feelig of late is definitely down to running fewer miles (not more) and cross training on the ElliptiGO. What now remains to be seen is if I can put in another good performance in 2 weeks time at the 12hr which would surely push the training benefits of the ElliptiGO up another notch.