I’ve just sat down to write my first race report of the year and at this moment in time I have no idea if this will be a long one or not. I think it probably will be though because I can honestly say this is by the far the best race I have ran on many levels!! My preparation was on point, my strategy was ambitious but not unrealistic, the execution of the strategy was pretty much perfect and I also made a friend along the way which was a bonus considering I went in thinking I’d be running solo!
(nb – this has turned into a long post folks…if you can get to the end there are some pictures, it’s not just all writing, I promise!)
Before I get into my usual list-style race report I’ll reveal my pre-race goals which I kept to myself for almost 3 months having decided on them shortly after finishing the Frankfurt Marathon – the only person that knew them beforehand was Gabrielle! I really wanted to beat my Grim Reaper 40 time of 7:24:19, I wanted to finish strong, I wanted to average about 6:30 per km for the distance and most of all I wanted to finish in the top 100…I can very happily report that this is the first time I have ever reached, and surpassed, all of my pre-race goals!
Here’s how the race went down in relation to my goals:
- I ran 69.1km (43 miles) in 7:17:19
- I pulled a sprint finish out of the bag over the last hundred metres or so and ran the last section from CP5 to the finish in 1:00:56 which was about 10km
- I averaged 6:20 per kilometre
- I finished in 90th overall and 38th in my Category (Men Open – under 40)
I cannot really adequately explain how all of the above makes me feel. I’m ecstatic to have started the year so well and on target! Last year was my busiest ever in terms of racing (and it felt like in general too!) and this year I think it’s going to be a good one, maybe not so busy as I won’t be entering too many shorter races but I’ve taken heart from Country to Capital and I’m looking forward to racing a few more ultras in 2015!
Onward now, to how the race went down from start to finish:
- As usual I had a very fitful night before the race. Thankfully I had a comfortable and peaceful hotel room in which to be fitful in. I ended up with about 5 hours of decent sleep and woke up to eat my breakfast an hour before getting into a taxi to race registration.
- On the breakfast note, I decided to buy porridge pots as I didn’t much like the idea of rushing my breakfast in a hotel restaurant. My taxi was booked for 0730 and breakfast wouldn’t have been served until 0700 – I think this is one of the best decisions I made prior to the race (along with buying some trail shorts and a Buff) as it allowed me to stay completely focused from the moment I woke up until I stepped out of the taxi at the registration area.
- The atmosphere at the registration area/start line was great. I saw a few familiar faces beforehand and checked in with them before settling down in a comfortable chair to pin my race number onto my shorts.
- Bag registration was quick, easy and painless which was a relief as it allowed me to go back into the pub where the race started from to keep warm and see to my pre-race ablutions!
- The toilets were clean and remained so for the hour or so that I was in the pub. This was a much welcome change from the usual pre-race Porta-Potty set up!
- In the queue for ablutions I got chatting to a fellow runner about our respective fuel strategies after he asked how I was feeling about the race ahead. When I responded “I’m well up for it! I can’t wait to get going” he let me know that was great to hear as so many other people seemed apprehensive (heavy snow was forecast).
- My fuel strategy comes from having learned a lesson at the Grim Reaper 40 last year. Namely, natural food and I do not mix well on the run! Therefore I stocked my pack with gels and Shot Bloks. I took on my first gel at 10km and then had a Shot Blok every hour or so until the finish (I got through a whole pack, chomping down the last one on the last section from CP5 to the finish). As for gels I ingested 3 High5 gels, 2 Gu Salted Caramel gels and 1 High5+ gel to get me through the last 5 klicks.
- Gu Salted Caramel is the like some sort of magical fuel for runners. If you don’t know, get to know!
- I did eat some real food because every checkpoint was stocked with a very legendary fruit cake (baked to a secret recipe) which I just could not resist – it was the lure of the cake that got me from CP1 to CP2! CP3 at 41km was stocked with a whole variety of food and I managed to eat two mini-Scotch eggs and this is where I picked up a small bag of Twiglets that made it to the finish unopened…a nice treat after I’d had my finisher’s cup of tea!
- At this point I’d like to give a HUGE shout out to my friend and ultra-compadre Trevor Poole of the Chiltern Pirates Running Club! This is the guy I mentioned in point 6 of this list and this is the guy who I ran with from the start all the way to mile 36. We worked the race as a team and I don’t think I could have stuck to my strategy with such rigour if it hadn’t been for this guy encouraging me through the low points and reminding me to chill when the pace got a bit quicker than was required at certain points. The start of the race is a downhill road sprint to a very narrow trailhead and on run down to here we got chatting, shook hands and found that we were heading for similar goals in terms of pace and finish time – Trev wanted an 8 hour or less finish and, as I mentioned, I wanted to average out at 6:30 so we conspired to get it done! At mile 36 Trevor began to struggle a little and it was with regret that I began to open up a gap and, in all honesty, I felt quite emotional about this for the next few klicks as we’d ran through snow and mud together all day long! Thankfully though Trev had a bit of support in the form of his good friend Justin who was riding behind on a mountain bike and he finished in 96th position in 7:24:17 – well within his 8 hour goal and later on I found it was also within his other goal which was to finish in the top 100. (If you’re reading this buddy thanks for the company – next time we race together we’ll put the hammer down together and race to the finish!)
- The race started at 0835hrs and snow began to fall around 0900hrs – it did not stop until 1045/1100hrs. It was such a great experience racing through the snow! It was falling pretty heavily at some points, certainly enough to obscure the view of everything around me past 20 metres or so! It wasn’t as cold as I thought it might be and I found it a great distraction from the task at hand as it made the English countryside look even more beautiful than it usually appears!
- After CP2 I began to notice some symptoms of dehydration setting in. This is something I need to get a handle on in future as it happened during the Grim Reaper too. It really effects my hands and the blood flow to them and is very painful! My fingers swell and become extremely sensitive and cold – I had to wrench my first pair of gloves off with quite a bit of force and then had to wait quite some time for the swelling to reduce enough before I could put my second pair of gloves on. From this point onwards I suffered with pain in my hands every time I slowed below 6:20 per km so pretty much on every hill section and at every checkpoint!
- I’m glad I packed sunglasses because after the snow stopped and the cloud had cleared the sky cleared completely and the sun was bright and strong! I think wearing glasses also reduced the peripheral vision somewhat and helped me to focus on what’s ahead – I found that it really kept my mind on the game. (I took them off and shoved them into my trail shorts about a klick from the finish as I didn’t want to obscure the elation in my eyes in my finishers photograph!)
- There were a few points where my novice map reading skills were required and I was glad to put them to use and find that they were just about up to scratch! This is something I’ll be working on this year so, Gabs, that ‘Ultimate Navigation Manual’ you got me for my birthday won’t be gathering dust on the book shelf 😉
- Back to food again: I forgot to mention my secret weapon came into play again. After finding that tangerine pieces were pretty much the only food I could ingest at the Grim Reaper 40 I packed 3 tangerines worth within easy reach for this race and they worked a treat again! Because it was so cold they tasted like cold, pulpy juice which was a welcome relief from stodgy check point cake and thick energy gel!!
- Quote of the day (from Trev): “If you can take it, you can make it!” and then later on down the line I shared my long distance running (and life) mantra of “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”…with the addition of “Just smile!”
- I finished with two small blisters…and zero chafe?! Awesome!!
- Just to hammer home the point that I have often made on the blog: Injinji socks are amazing. You need them.
- A new favourite: Montane Mountain Shorts – how did I ever run trail in anything else? How did I ever run in winter in anything else? I’ll write these up in my ‘Reviews‘ section soon!
- Salomon Sense Ultra SG – I had my doubts about running in mud and serious cold with these but, with the addition of trail gaiters, they stood up to the test and my feet and legs feel fine!
- Calf Guards – yeah, I have no idea how I ran 30 miles of Grim Reaper with no compression on my calf muscles and it’s probably why I suffered with some pretty harsh spasms for about 3 or 4 hours afterwards! Not this time though 🙂
- 22 miles running along a canal path doesn’t give you much in the way of beauty but it definitely put me in a bit of trance which allowed me to get into a pretty good rhythm after the hills and mud of the first 21 miles! I can’t say that I didn’t like this section at all because it fit in so well with my strategy of increasing my pace towards the tail end of the race.
- From CP5 to the finish I could feel myself getting stronger. I honestly felt like I could have kept ramping up the pace for a fair while longer and I’ll likely test this theory at the South Downs Way 50 in April…
- I was passed by only one runner between CP5 and the finish. To use a term from the ultrarunner’s lexicon, I was ‘chicked’. This didn’t bother me at all because I think she kind of carried me in her wake as I tried to keep up with her over the last 3 miles or so! Looking at the results it looks like she had a pretty great strategy as she took another guy just before the finish.
- I took a paracetemol and an iburprofen at about 52km as my back and shoulders were starting to hurt quite a bit. Thanks for those Trev – I’ll be packing some for my next ultra!
- Hike the ups, run the downs. It works.
- Oh, I almost forgot, I took 7 minutes of my 50k PR that I set at Grim Reaper last year so it now stands at 5:13:21. I’m looking forward to racing an actual 50k at some point later in the year as I am confident I can combine my marathon speed and ultra endurance to bring this under 5 hours!
- Don’t walk too much or too often. Even if you’re shuffling it’s better than walking – it can break the spirit if you walk for too long.
- I didn’t need my trail jacket, head torch, spare long sleeve tech shirt, extra socks or toilet paper. I’m considering going super-minimal at SDW50. I’ll still wear my S-Lab pack because the chest holsters for water are far more preferable than handhelds (in my opinion) and the pockets are great for gels and other bits that are on the mandatory list. So, next time round I’ll have head torch, map, compass and foil blanket along with my gels and water. I’ll finish the race in the clothes I started in just like I did here!
That’s it from me I think! Sorry for the disjointed nature of the post – I’m not sure how else I could have written it?! So much happened over the course of the day and I ended up just writing a stream of consciousness post! Maybe I could have written it as a Checkpoint to Checkpoint kind of deal and usually that’s how my mind works but this time that wasn’t working for me – what you read above is how it fell from my mind at the time of writing. Gabrielle and I returned to the Shoulder of Mutton pub on Sunday 18th, the day after the race, for lunch and we went for a walk down to the little gate that we all sprinted to on Saturday morning. It was my intention to walk with her until we reach the trail head and the fairly steep climb that appeared early in the race but once we got the the church (which isn’t far from the trail head I’ve now found) I realised I had very little recollection of the early part of the race at all – I literally stood there like a lost lamb wondering if we went that way at all?! So it was that we went back the way we came and I began to wonder how the hell I would write this up! Anyway I hope you’ve enjoyed my random and piecemeal thoughts from what, up to this point in my life as a runner, could be described as my best race ever. And now for some photographs…