Tuesday 31 March 2015

A confession - i'm failing

All is not well.
I feel that I have failed at this round of training…compared to last year’s 100 mile preparations, I’m not where I should be or wanted to be. My mileage in between my races has been pitifully low, and too many days have gone by where I haven't been able to get out of the door to run, and unusually haven't felt that concerned about the impact it would have on my overall training. I stopped working with Robbie Britton a month or so ago, I haven’t lost the weight I had hoped to (and am sure I've piled on half a stone in the last six months as I have been demolishing all the junk food in sight), my Achilles is still dodgy where I haven't been doing my strength and stretching exercises, and yesterday, although not my fault but to add to my frustrations, I twisted my knee…and not even when I was training - I was just walking along the street when someone stopped dead in front of me, and I tried to avoid them. I spent last night RICEing it.
It’s fair to say that although my races have gone relatively well and I've enjoyed them, generally I'm disappointed with myself, with my fitness levels and my whole attitude to achieving my goals this year.
I’m not quite sure what the root cause is of this failure to commit to my training. I struggled with returning to full time work in January after four months off, and finding the time to balance my 9-5 commitments, and our new puppy, has been a challenge that I had got used to not having…but in early December I went through a period of not being able to make myself run at all for weeks, so it can't just be that. I know that the change to our plans last autumn threw me (we were due to go backpacking in South America for 3 months but cancelled when my father in law suddenly fell ill, and then very sadly passed away) and maybe that’s been the issue. Life was totally turned upside down then, and maybe I've not worked out how to get back to normal yet. I’ve also had the added (self-made) distraction of preparing for triathlon to contend with, and hours on the bike or in the pool really aren’t what I need when my running miles are so low. Maybe I've just got too blasé about the 100 miler, after last year's TP100 went so well?
I don't really know, but regardless, these are all just excuses. Whatever the cause, I am where I am - undertrained and overweight - I have to deal with that, and move forward.
I have less than 5 weeks until TP100, with the South Downs Way 50 miler this weekend, and a couple of other marathons to run before the big day. Then it’s just three weeks until the astonishingly tough and ridiculously far GUCR.
I think I've been in denial but feel that I’ve woken up to the state of things and am finally able to admit how my training has gone, to myself and, publicly, to all of you! Now I need to dig deep and do all I can to redeem the situation. Hopefully I can turn things around.
I know that I can't do much in 8 weeks for my overall fitness levels, but I can start to eat more healthily, start training with greater consistency, and at least get to the start lines of my upcoming races with a more positive state of mind.

Wednesday 18 March 2015

Ranscombe Spring Challenge

John's 100th marathon cake, made by Heather. Incredible.
On Saturday morning I found myself suddenly jumping out of bed in a panic, as I realised that although my alarm had gone off an hour before, I'd fallen back to sleep. I was late. Again! It’s how most mornings are for me, but unfortunately today was race day – the Spring edition of the Ranscombe Challenge - and I needed to be out of the house in 30 minutes.

Luckily I remembered to eat breakfast, before pulling some clothes on, throwing some stuff in a bag and rushing through the door. It was only as I pulled the car out of the drive I realised that my trainers were still in the house!

Trainers retrieved, eventually I arrived in Cuxton, the little village in Kent where the Ranscombe Farm Nature Reserve is located. Sat-nav working well, I found the designated street for parking, and despite cars seemingly lining the road nose to tail, I managed to find myself a space. I delved into the bag I’d hurriedly packed and was very pleased to see that I’d managed to bring everything I wanted – my garmin, my ipod and headphones, painkillers, I had Vaseline and could tape my feet, I even remember to bring a banana to eat before the race. Things were starting to look up.

I like pretty much everything about this race. It’s put on by Traviss and Rachel, who are awesome, the aid station is perfectly stocked and managed, the course is really varied and interesting with some lovely scenery, so although it’s laps it doesn’t get dull, and the medal is beautiful. One of the best things, though, as with all of the SVN races, is that it’s really friendly and I seem to know half the people who are running.

I arrived at the start line to be greeted by lots of familiar faces, and friends, and it was lovely to see John Close who was bouncing around, excited to get started for this, his 100th Marathon. Amazingly, considering my late start, I had arrived in enough time to even go to the toilet (thankfully no queues at an event like this) and as I put my race number on, we all stood around chatting, mainly about the incredible TransGranCanaria marathon that Rosie and John had run the weekend before, and the 50 mile version that Rachel had completed! I managed to remember to leave my electrolyte tablets on the aid station table too, so I could add them to my water whenever I refilled – my plan was to carry a bottle all the way round and drink to thirst, and then just eat at the aid station, so every 3.8 miles. 

The Ranscombe Challenge is a timed event, and in the Spring version (one of four seasonal races) the limit is 8 hours. Last July, when I ran the inaugural challenge, I completed 10 laps, or 38 miles, in 7:55, and I wanted to beat my time and distance. I was planning on a total of 11 laps in the 8 hours, so 41.8 miles and thought that although I’d need to concentrate to get there, it should be within my capability on a straight forward, no mud, no navigation course, especially in the excellent weather conditions we had for running.

I started out with Rosie, John and Ellan, but after about half a lap I realised that I needed to get a shift on if I was going to have any chance of reaching my goal, so I sped up a bit and headed off. However, I'd totally forgotten how hilly some of the sections of the course are, and there are a couple of sections that are a bit technical underfoot. While the uphills forced me to walk, the steep downhills are brilliantly exhilarating, and I love that the second section of each lap feels easy compared to the first half, as it’s pretty much all gravity enhanced! :D 

I plodded along, plugged into the iPod, greeting friends as we passed each other on out and back sections of the route. Although the countryside looks very different to the idyllic, flower strewn fields that you see during the summer, Ranscombe at this time of year is still special and I loved running around the reserve.

That’s not to say that it’s easy doing laps, especially at an event where if you run just one lap you’re still counted as a finisher and get the medal and a goody bag! It does require mental strength to keep going. At about 10 miles, I was still sure I’d do the full 11 laps I’d planned, but by about 19 miles, I was convinced it was pointless, and the little voice inside my head was telling me I should stop when I got to marathon distance, especially as I knew that most other people would be finishing then, to celebrate with John and watch his 100 Marathon Club presentation. I also knew that if I carried on, I would sadly not only miss John receiving his hallowed blue and yellow shirt but also miss trying some of the amazing 100 cake that I'm sure tasted as good as it looked!

However, once the distance came up, and then for each lap after when Rachel asked me at the checkpoint if I wanted to ring the bell (to signify I had finished) or to take a band to count me onto the next lap, there wasn’t a doubt in my mind. I had set out at the beginning of the day to run 41.8 miles, and I needed to prove to myself that I was strong minded enough to do it! Added to this, I was having a lovely time out there, albeit with fewer and fewer other runners to share the trail with, and spending 8 hours on my feet makes another good training run for the TP100 and GUCR.

When I got in at the end of lap 9, at 34.2 miles, I realised that I was going to struggle to beat the cutoff - I had to have finished lap 10 and be out of the aid station again by 7hrs 15mins to be allowed to start another lap, but that would mean running faster than I had been. Speeding up with over 30 miles in your legs isn’t the easiest thing in the world, but it needed doing. There was lots of encouragement from the other runners still milling around, and a hug from Emily that was much appreciated – they swiftly sent me on my way.  

I had to work hard to get back in time, but I had resolved that I would make it happen, so I just got on with it through gritted teeth. Right up until I finished that 10th lap, I wasn’t sure if I had made it in time. Luckily though, as I ran down towards the checkpoint, I saw Rachel holding up the bell and a band, I still had the option of either, so of course I took the band. I even had time to fill up water bottles and take on some more peanuts and jelly beans (pretty much the only type of food I’d eaten during the race) before heading out for my final 3.8 miles.

My last lap was much more relaxed – even if you finish your last lap after the 8hour time limit, the distance still counts, so I knew I didn’t have to push. I took it more easily, and enjoyed the views. I ended up being the last person to finish running, crossing the line in 8:00:33 but wonderfully came in second overall as only one other person ran the 41.8 mile distance, although they did it considerably faster than me, in an impressive 7:26.

As I walked back to the car, across the fields of the nature reserve, I reflected on just how lucky I was. To know so many of these incredible people, to be able to share the trail with them at these brilliant events, to be out on a sunny day in the countryside. I was very pleased with how the day had gone, and that I had completed my target mileage, especially as I had to really push towards the end, and bearing in mind it's been only two weeks since the St Peter's Way race.

 Once I got home, I just had to work out how I was going to combat the inevitable post-ultra tiredness and find the enthusiasm to go out that night in London, as we were off for dinner to celebrate a friend’s 40th birthday. Unfortunately, these days, running an ultra is no longer an excuse for lazing around on the sofa in the name of recovery! :P

*Many thanks to Richard Harrison-Murray & Alex Hamilton for the photos!

Monday 2 March 2015

St Peter's Way 45 miler

Yesterday was my third running of the St Peter’s Way Ultra, and it was absolutely brilliant.  I’m still on a high, and if ever there was a race that reminded me why I love ultra-running, this is it.

I've had a few races in the last month – the 66 miles of the Pilgrims Challenge across the North Downs Way, and a marathon distance run at the Hugin Challenge along the Kent coast last Sunday – both of which were excellent events. However, I think yesterday’s was probably the race I've enjoyed most so far this year.

I caught a lift to Ongar with Morgan and Marc – two other ultra runners from Billericay – which meant a great start to the day, chatting about the race and what else we had coming up. Morgan’s unfortunately injured at the moment, so he was helping out at a check point, but Marc was aiming for a sub 7 time (which he smashed with an absolutely storming performance!).

Anyway, we arrived in lots of time and got kit check done, numbers sorted out and then stood around bemoaning the cold and chatting. The number of runners who didn’t have the compulsory kit was a real surprise – Lindley, the race director, is a stickler for this, and when he says waterproof jacket, he means it, and if spares hadn’t been found for people, they wouldn’t have been allowed to run. However, I’m not really in a position to criticise, having turned up at the Stour Valley Path 100km last year without a survival blanket, risking not being allowed to start myself, had another runner not come to my rescue!

Anyway, at 8am, off we trundled, and very excited about it I was too.

It wasn’t all easy though, far from it. The first six miles were tough. I could feel the previous week’s marathon still in my legs which were heavy, and my heart rate soared. I kept reminding myself that I hadn’t done enough training and running through my mind was the fear that I was stupid to even consider attempting a run of 145 miles when I couldn’t even run 6! Luckily, once that first section was out of the way, I did start to feel better, although unusually I couldn’t get my nutrition right, and continued to feel tired until about thirty miles in when eventually my body seemed to remember what it was meant to be doing! 

The course itself was great. It’s generally flat with a few hills to walk up but nothing of much note, and there is a lot of mud! I love the route, and despite everyone moaning about the conditions underfoot and how challenging the self-navigation is, I really enjoy it and feel like I’m on an adventure. There are sections through villages, farms and even a marina, but generally it's across the fields and often with great views of the Essex landscape.

The weather was stunning yesterday too - chilly but bright sunshine, and absolutely perfect for running.

I don’t know if it was the result of the caffeinated gels I was taking (alongside the babybel, flapjack, and dried mango I carried with me) but every so often, I had that often talked about, rarely experienced, runner’s high – I just couldn’t have felt happier or more relaxed. The mud wasn’t as bad as I’d expected, and although at times it was absolutely epic, there were fields that I’d expected to struggle over, that turned out to be runnable. I was feeling a bit anti-social, and wanted to run on my own, so plugged myself into the ipod for the whole race, but at times had to stop myself from singing along out loud!

The aid stations were impressive too – very well stocked with all sorts of food, and drink (love an aid station that has water, two types of squash and coke) and most of them were manned by friends so I was well looked after and enjoyed a quick chat.

I’ve run the race twice before (and got lost both times) but in the last month had recced a couple of the legs of the route, so generally knew where I was going, but after blindly following everyone else for the first few miles, realised that was stupid and so started also paying attention to my route instructions which made me feel much more in control. By the end of the race, I’d lost count of the number of times I redirected other runners who were taking wrong turns – it’s definitely a race that requires some concentration as the red St Peter’s Way route markers disappear from time to time, and you find yourself stood in the middle of field wondering which way to go! 

The second half of the race is flatter and less muddy than the first, and I found myself feeling stronger as the day went on, which was very reassuring. The last five miles or so were fantastic – the sun was low and the colours of the landscape became beautifully vivid, and at one point I stopped on the sea wall that you run around in the last couple of miles before the finish at the ancient St Peter’s Chapel and just looked around me, trying to commit to memory how lovely it was.

There were very few female runners this year – out of 79 entrants, only 10 were women, and I don’t think everyone made the start. As a result, I ended up managing to bag myself a trophy for 3rd Lady, which I’m very pleased with – it goes nicely with my trophy from the race last year when I was 2nd Lady! However, I was a bit disappointed with my finish time as I ran slower than I had planned – my excuse is last weekend’s marathon. I also saw my pace just fall away as I walked across particularly boggy fields, scrambled across the endless stiles, and spent too long at a couple of the aid stations. I ended up being 27 minutes slower than 2014.

I really enjoyed the day, I loved it in fact, and am taking away the positive that I felt strong at the end, and could have quite happily carried on running.