My final race of 2015 turned out to be both amazing, awful, beautiful and brutal! EnduranceLife sure know how to put on a tough race. They organise their courses according to ‘severity’: (2) Moderate, (3) Strenuous, (4) Severe and (5) Extreme – this one was billed as ‘Extreme’ and it lived up to it for sure.
I arrived the afternoon before the race into the very picturesque village of West Lulworth. The wind was gusting at about 35/40mph when I arrived but it wasn’t so noticeable as the cottage I was staying in was in a cove and sheltered by the hills I was due to run the next day. As the day wore on and evening approached the wind began to pick up quite significantly and was rattling the doors and windows of the cottage. All of us knew that we would be in for a tough day on an exposed course the next day. By the time I was heading to sleep I was already glad that I decided to enter the 54km race instead of the 74km!
The morning saw all 8 of us up before sunrise. It’s the first time I’ve really left my pre-race comfort zone staying with so many other people beforehand but I have to say it was great fun and I think it made me a little more relaxed to know some of the people I was lining up to start with. I still managed to stick to most of pre-race rituals but they just didn’t feel so important! By the time the race briefing finished at 0805hrs I was buzzing and ready to get a move on up the first big climb of the day so I could get down on the other side to get my first ever up close view of Durdle Door!
I wanted to stick to a heart rate based plan which I knew would be difficult because of the hills. I planned to max out at 170bpm tops on cresting any major climbs and then to cruise the early downhills to recover the heart rate into an aerobic zone whilst keeping up to the aerobic level on any gentle descents or flat sections. Later on in the race, over the final 10km or so, I had planned to run or hike everything as hard as possible in a bid to gap anybody behind me and close in on anybody in front. The plan fell apart fairly early on! For the first 10km I ran with my friend Adrien who was racing the 74km event – we had the same kind of race plan for the early stages but after I stopped to refill my Tailwind bottle at the 10km check point he moved ahead and I didn’t catch him again. He finished 9th in the 74k so great work there – he said he felt good heading out of CP1 and decided to push on and push on he did!
I broke with my plan heading out of CP1 because I was also feeling pretty good and pretty solid. I ran a very strong section from 10km to around 21/22km and then decided to ease off a little because I knew that from this section up to around the 44km point the course would have its steepest climbs and descents and would be most exposed. Heading into the second part of the course I was confident enough. My strategy came back into play and I was doing well keeping my heart rate fairly level. I hadn’t lost any places for quite some time and hadn’t seen any 54k runners ahead for a while either. In hindsight I should have noticed around the 25km mark that I had started to take a dislike to the taste of my ‘unflavoured’ Tailwind mix and instead was solely relying on my plain water bottle. It became very apparent that I was under fuelled when I came to a rare sheltered and flat, runnable section at the 28 to 30km mark. I just could not summon the energy to put in a strong effort and I had to fight a mental battle to keep moving at even a solid hike. It was at this point other 54k runners started to pass me – not many at first but by the time I got out of my long, dark, deep decline at 38km I must have been passed by at least 10 or 12 people.
The long, dark tunnel of despair kicked in at 31km as I was ascending a steep uneven stepped section. I over reached my left leg and pulled a muscle. I thought my race was over as I tried to carry on but found the spasm to be so strong I had to stop, stretch out and then attempt to continue the climb far slower than I wanted to. At this point I cursed the wind which had started to gust up into the 60 to 70mph range and was beginning to take a real toll on my energy level (and that of everybody else out on the course)! My heart rate began to jump around wildly from 31km to the aid station at 37km and I was feeling extremely depleted, at time I was barely managing a slow walk but then at other times I forced myself to run until I felt nauseous – by the time I reached 37km all I wanted was ready salted crisps, jelly babies and more water. I took the decision to dump the Tailwind from my handheld and one of my soft flasks and refilled with plain water. I shoved a huge amount of jelly babies into the pocket of my shorts, ate 2 packets of salted crisps and then steeled myself for the climb ahead.
I think I stopped for about 5 or 6 minutes and that was enough to lower my body temperature enough to warrant putting on my water and windproof coat for the rest of the race. As I power hiked out of the station a smile began to appear on my face as I felt my energy levels picking up thanks to the steady stream of jelly babies I was feeding myself at the time. At 38km my race was back on and I was running again…until I hit a very open and exposed cliff path where the winds gusted up to 80mph at times. Everybody I saw along that section down to the 40km mark was just doing their best to keep moving forward. Some opted for a run/walk strategy – running when there was a gap in the wind and practically walking on the spot when it was blowing. Some opted to just keep running, head down as hard a possible the entire way and others, like myself opted for a head down, arm swinging power hike along the whole section. For me this worked wonders and I began to feel stronger and stronger knowing that from 40km to the checkpoint at 44km it was going to be mostly downhill with a bit of running on a pebble beach. The thought of more ready salted crisps and a cup of hot, black tea kept me going!
I stopped again at the final checkpoint with 10km to go. I knew that up ahead there were two very steep climbs waiting for me and one fairly long, steep and exposed climb before I could turn off the coast line and begin the final 4 miles to the finish line along pretty flat terrain, finishing on a very steep (and fun) downhill! I stayed at the final checkpoint for about 5 or 6 minutes again and drank two cups of coke and a black tea along with a packet of salted crisps. I power hiked the first uphill as hard as I could as per my original plan and then hammered the downhill on the other side. My A-Goal of a 6:15/6:25 finish was done with a few minutes after leaving the checkpoint and I knew that given the conditions it would be unlikely I would reach my B-Goal of 6:30/6:45 either but I didn’t want to let go of a racing mentality and so I pushed hard.
On the second climb I was passed by one person and I passed about three which made me feel pretty good but I was being pushed by someone about 200 metres back! The racing instinct was really kicking in at this point (as it always does for me over the last 5km of any race) and I just wanted to put as big a gap as I could manage between myself and the two runners behind. As I crested the second climb I knew there was a short downhill section that would help me to build the gap I wanted if I just took the breaks off, forgot about my quads and threw myself downhill! Unfortunately the wind had other ideas and I was literally blown off my feet by a very strong gust toward the bottom of the hill. It knocked my confidence and I had to struggle into the wind to get moving again at this point knowing I was heading into the final, long climb of the race. One of the runners behind me managed to catch up as we began to the final climb and we exchanged a few brief words – he told me his quads were killing him and he was having difficulty figuring out whether to run more or hike more. Shame on me – I wished the guy well and then threw in a little mind spanner by telling him my legs felt great before heading off uphill at a very strong pace!
From the top of the last climb with 5km to go I was only passed by one other person and it wasn’t the guy I left struggling uphill. I ran the majority of the last 5km in 32:31 – not very fast but it was enough for me to catch three people approaching the final descent and one on the descent itself. I had to check back a few times as I knew there were two pretty strong runners around 500m back from me at the 5km mark but I loved the feeling of being pushed into a strong downhill finish and it felt great to descend into the cove with the wind dying off with each step. I finished the race with a huge smile and running hard off the descent – I was 30 seconds back from the guy in 43rd and only 24 seconds in front of the guys in 45th which put me in 44th place with a time of 7:12:31!
Although I didn’t manage to reach my A or B goals I am proud of the achievement. I struggled again with nutrition, and again it was around the same point on the course where I struggled at the Ox Ultra in May and Thames Meander in November but this time I didn’t let it completely kill my race – I ran or fast hiked wherever I could and I only had one or two extended walking sections where I could have or should have been moving a little faster. I will continue to use Tailwind for the time being but from now on during races I will carry my own supply of salted crisps and jelly babies. I honestly think that with lighter winds I would have definitely been able to reach my B Goal but after careful consideration I may have been overreaching with my initial A Goal…but then again, I always do!
I’m already looking forward to racing next year but, for now, I’m going to enjoy a week off from running and structured training before heading into a short 10 week block for Grizedale Trail Marathon on February 7th.
Thanks for reading!
Peace & Blessings