Healthy start to the year!

Since my last post I have ran in three races.
I wasn’t entered into the Ultrarace 45/90 that I took part in last year as transport is a bit of a mission to get sorted without it costing a bomb. Then there’s the hotel in Tring between day one and day two. All a bit too pricey really. My housemate James, had entered it nearly a year previously, and had collected some money for charity. He had a dodgy knee so I offered my services. All we had to do, was get some transport sorted and some accomodation. Well, to cut a long story short, the plan was looking good till the day before, when the transport option fell through. Very frustrating, but that’s the way it goes I suppose!

Next on the agenda was the Thames Trot which I’d ran the year before. It begins at Oxford and ends in Henley, following the Thames footpath. It’s a fast course and I was keen to see if I could better last years time of 7hrs 20mins. I was happy with how my training was progressing but hadn’t raced for a while so was completely unsure of my current form. The conditions seemed pretty good. I saw a few friends at the start that I hadn’t seen for a little while which was good. Everyone was in pretty high spirits. It was going to be a good day…

As we started, I went pretty fast to get near the front so as not to get caught behind people, and just as you cross a bridge after a few hundred metres you turn left onto the path. As I stood onto the path, my foot slid and I crashed down onto my knee, which really hurt. Fortunately I had gloves on which prevented me from grazing my hands to shreds. I promptly bounced back up and carried on running as if nothing had happened feeling like an idiot knowing that lots of people would have seen it!

I ran with Mark and James for a while as I tried to settle into my pace. As my rhythm took hold, I started feeling pretty good. Rob Treadwell had shot off the front and I wasn’t expecting to see him again, but as I went ahead of Mark and James, I saw him up ahead and shortly caught him. We had a good chat. This was the first time I’d seen him since JOGLE so it was good to catch up. We decided after a while that we both were happy with each others pace so we’d stick together throughout. This proved to be really effective as we seemed to be pretty even till the end, where we finished strongly in 6hrs 53mins! A pb by 27mins! Brilliant. I was super happy with that. My foot was fairly sore but manageable. Things were looking pretty good. Recovery after this event was fairly swift. It suprises me just how well the body seems to adapt to such pressure.

Next target is the Endurancelife Ultra in South Devon. 35 miles on a part of the coast path I’ve never been on before. I couldn’t wait!
The week preceeding the race was very wet. The weekend before I’d been at my parents house and went for a long run on the North Devon coast path and it was epically wet. Really marshy in places. Seeing as the week hadn’t been great, I was expecting it to be a bit of a mud fest! Brilliant, all the more fun!
The drive down was long and troubled. We had to leave at 5am and as we made our way down the motorway we noticed a sign alerting us of a road closure ahead. It just happened to be the road that we’d planned to use! We stopped at the services to plan a new route. This was going to be close! We quickly decided on a route and sped off into the rainy dark. It looked as though I’d be 5-10 minutes late. Not great, but not the end of the world. Just as I was speeding down a country lane, I spotted the sea, then a ferry moving away from us. I jammed on the brakes hard as I suddenly noticed the road go straight into the sea! NOOooooo! We hadn’t realised that on the map the road disapeared for a little bit as it crossed an estuary! Idiots! We replanned again then sped off around the estuary to get me in a mad panic to the start line. Fortunately the race is done with electronic tags so my run time wouldn’t include the 25 minutes that I was late! I sprinted off like a man posessed, trying desperately hard to stay calm which was almost impossible. It was very wet under foot but the day was looking to be a stunner. I was too warm if anything! I was of course running all alone and was wondering how long it would take to catch the back markers. Within 45 mins I sighted a group of around 5 who seemed to be sticking together. I quickly caught and passed them and from then on I had an almost continual supply of rabbits to catch. Whether this is good for my pace I’m not sure. It certainly puts in lots of bursts where I normally wouldn’t! My punishment for being late! It is a very positive thing to be overtaking people regularely though. The course was very pretty and would take my breath away at times. The coast is my favourite place to run (maybe). The weather was stunning. It was like a pleasant Spring day. I’m sure the weather gods are looking after these events. The luck they have is crazy. As I came to the end of the marathon section (the ultra course is the marathon course followed by the 10k course) I was tiring quite a bit. Energy levels were low. I was not going to start squeezing what little I had left till I had begun the 10k course. During the last few km of the marathon course, a fair few runners came past me. I wasn’t exactly over the moon by this and was suprised by their speed. Each time someone would catch me, I kept wanting to chase. That was until I realised that they were in the marathon which started 15 mins after I did. They were on the home straight, whereas I had over an hour of running left! I breathed a sigh of relief and relaxed a little. As I passed through the pandemonium of the start/finish area, with more than one person telling me that this was the finish, I eventually got out onto the coast again and was all alone which was nice. Shortly I spotted a runner up ahead, and within 10 minutes I’d caught him. We stuck together for a while and had a good chat. We both decided that we’d finish quicker if we stuck together, So for the final 8k we worked hard together. He didn’t seem overjoyed when I told him about my late start, hence my 25 minute advantage over him. We worked well together, finishing fast and side by side. My eventual position was 6th place. I thought maybe I’d been stronger than that but, who cares when it’s just such fun. I had definitely used up all my reserves, I was exhausted! I finished the day off with a pasty sat in the sun overlooking the sea. Perfect!

Although I’d pushed my body really hard reaching my max HR and sustaining a high average HR, my recovery was swift. This is great stuff. I seem to be recovering so well at the moment. Compared to a year ago it is completely different. I’d take a good week to recover from a 6-8hr run, but now, just 2 or 3 days! Training is going well and to plan, with a major difference to previous years. That being the proportion of trail running I’m doing compared to road running. I’ve really been making an effort to get out on the trails more, often unknown (to me) trails, so not only is it immeasurably more fun, but it is most definitely more of an adventure. Off road running is a far superior work out than road running, so maybe that is the answer to the recovery improvement. Maybe it’s got something to do with the fact that for over a year I’ve been taking Udo’s Oil twice daily. Maybe my body is just one more year conditioned to ultra running. More than likely it is a combination of all of the above and many other variables I have yet to work out.

Last weekend, I took part in the Wye Valley Ultra. A 50 miler that begins up river from the race HQ and heads down river for 50 miles to the finish at the HQ. There are one or two diversions over the hills which give the accumulated climbing of over 2000 metres. Should be fun I thought. I caught a train and then was met at the station by Mark who drove the rest of the way to Glasbury house which is an outdoors centre with accomodation. We arrived at around 10 in the evening which was too late to register so just made our way to our room for the night. We did a little bit of prep for the morning and I set my alarm for 5 then turned the lights out. Within what seemed like 30 seconds the alarm was going off. We got up and ready, had a bowl of cereal and made our way downstairs to grab a coffee before getting on one of the two coaches and setting off for the start. An hour and 15 mins later we arrived at the start point. what seemed like everyone used the portaloos provided, then we lined up and were off! I’d got near the front as we took off at a fair pace. Two guy shot off very fast as we all made our way up the first of many hills. After about 10 minutes, a few of us took the wrong route and had to turn back. I find that once you understand how some people mark the routes you tend not to go wrong so much. Hopefully, I’d get used to this pretty sharpish! After around an hour, I started to get some sort of rhythm going. I did seem to be working at a pretty high level, but decided to ride it. It was a slightly overcast, not at all cold day. Visibility was great, so really this was a great day for running (though aren’t they all!). By cp3 (9 in total) I was in 5th place. As I walked up the hill from the cp I started feeling pretty sluggish. I had eaten enough and fluid was going down ok, so I suppose it was just a dead spot that needed to weathered. It’d pass. As time passed on the dead spot improved, but never fully. I just seemed to have lost whatever zip I would normally have had. At around the 30 mile point, I was in 3rd place, but was then caught by 3 guys all together. One just went straight past me. One I had to slowly let get away from me as he was stronger. The other seemed to tail off a little behind. Still a long way to go. I was pushing myself as hard as I could but there just didn’t seem to be much there. I kept catching glimpses of the guy who had pulled away from me. He was easily pulling away from me on the ascents but I was clawing a little back on the descents. After cp6 the path headed up, up and up! I hit another heavy legged stage and just power walked as hard as I could. I remembered seeing that this stage of the race had over 500 metres of climbing in it. No need to kill myself! There was a short sharp descent before the bulk of the climb continued. I’d lost sight of the guy in 4th place now and was trying to focus on my pace and nothing else. This was a great climb which bought me out on top of the hills with some truly beautiful views all around. It was exposed, but even up here, I wasn’t cold. Eventually I reached the end of the climb and began the descent. I knew that once I’d get to the next cp which was pretty much at the end of the descent then it was fairly flat as you closely followed the river in to the finish at Glasbury. I eventually made it into the cp and stopped for a few minutes to quickly down a litre of water and eat some food, as the chap there informed me that 4th place was around 10 minutes in front. Way too much of an advantage to overcome with only 8 miles left! I pushed on as hard as I could, knowing that there were no more hills left to break me anymore. The finish was a reality now. I’ll try to hold 5th place. Thankfully the trail continued to be fun and pretty, which really helps and is inspirational when you are so tired.

Shortly I spotted in the near distance a village which I was sure to be the location of the finish. I was now within around 1 km from the end and suddenly spotted 4th place just ahead of me. Wow, I really hadn’t expected that. If he doesn’t see me coming then it’ll be easier to catch him up. He approached a gate that needed to be opened. Would he look behind as he stopped to open it? Damn, he did! He spotted me and bolted like he hadn’t just ran 50 miles. I caught him up as we made our way through the village then went past him. As we turned the corner and got our first sight of the finish line I had the lead. I thought I had him as I crossed the line, but in my periphary I noticed he’d come back and we crossed the line together! A dead heat. Perfect! Joint 4th.

Considering my sluggish sensations and what felt like a poor performance, I am more than happy with my overall placing. With hindsight I can only possibly see that what I ate the night before was the partial cause. I only had a sandwich and a bowl of cereal. Normally I’d make sure I’d have a good, solid, filling meal. There’s is also the possibility that I just had a bad day. These things happen. It was a great day out running on a fantastic course. By the following Tuesday, I’d almost fully recovered. There was barely any tenderness in my legs or feet. All looks good. I plan to do two steady weeks then a heavy week. I will then be pretty close to the Exmoor coastal trail series ultra. I’m very excited about this one. It’s is one of the most dramatic and exciting courses I have run. Could be even more fun if it’s nice and muddy!

Will let you know how I get on there. Hopefully I’ll have a better race than my last dismal attempt!

Happy running.

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