The 2017 North Downs Way 50

In short, I was aiming for a long day on the Downs, and that is what I got.

Arriving in Farnham having stayed with some friends in Horsham, I was feeling relaxed and free of any anxiety that I usually have on a start line. There was no time pressure to finish- the time cut offs are lenient- and I wanted to use as much time as I could to be on my feet with Lavaredo kit and just enjoy the North Downs in all of their spring glory.

After registering I had chance to catch up with a few of the centurion crew- Drew, James, Nici and Claire, as well as Ian Brazier, Paul Reader and James Donald- a friend from Bath who I knew was on for a good time (he finished in 8th, under 8 hours which is a cracking time on this route).

A quick chat with Stuart March, a race briefing from James and then it was time for my sixth walk from St Polycarps down to the start line at the beginning of the 153 mile North Downs Way (has anyone done the 100 miler yet and carried on those extra 53 to Dover? Just gonna leave that out there…Mark Fox. Ahem).

I had made the decision to aim for five hours to halfway and then seven hours for the second half, but as usual I got carried away with the early pace and as it felt fine I went with it. I had in the back of my mind that my plan was to pretty much hike the second half anyway so if I ‘blew up’ by going off a little quicker than planned, then it really didn’t matter and might even help.

Aid station one at Puttenham came around as expected in just over an hour and I slowed to fill my bottles and thank the volunteers. I knew I was seeing the kids at Newlands Corner so was keen to push on and meet them on schedule at 10:30.

My pace was fine here and I chatted with a few runners here and there, which is unlike me as I usually get my head down. It was a totally different experience to pushing myself and as I arrived at Newlands Corner bang on half ten, I was smiling…even more so as I saw my son and daughter bounding towards me. We had a kiss and a cuddle, grabbed a bit of food and then raced them to the road crossing where they kissed me goodbye and went for a wagamama with the boss. It was great seeing them and Sol on the course and I really didn’t feel like the day was hurting where as Newlands Corner is usually that no-mans land where the legs start to hurt a tad, but you haven’t really made much of a dent on the distance. Today felt good and the weather was perfect.

image2

Newlines Corner. Mile 13- the best part of the race, seeing the monkeys!

I love the next section, 11 miles through the woods to Box Hill. It reminds me of being a kid and playing in the woods with my friends and the colours on the trees were amazing. It was one long green tunnel and we even had a brief rain shower which was very pleasant on a slightly humid morning.

My best time on this course was 10:11 in 2013 and here I got to Box Hill in 4:15, so I was slightly surprised to arrive in 4:32 this weekend. I had intentionally not been looking at my watch, but running to feel and I now knew I had banked enough time to hike the second half and still finish under 13 hours. However, I didn’t want to be under any pressure later in the race from the cut-offs, so set myself a 12 hour finish pace which was along the lines of run the downhills as hard as I could (get the quads as used to downhill damage as possible), walk the ups and hike the flats, interspersed with jogging now and then.

At the bottom of Box Hill I took out my Mountain King poles and was looking forward to having a good few hours practice with them for the rest of the day. No hill on this course lasts for more than 15-20 minutes max, so poles aren’t necessary by any means, but I also wanted to get used to running with them so there are no surprises come the last weekend of June.

image3

Oxted Steps about mile 40. Credit: Jon Lavis

The second half of the race was awesome. I spent a lot of time alongside Paul Spooner who is doing the 50 mile grand slam this summer. Paul is a very accomplished runner, having done over 100 marathons, but this was his first NDW50 so it was good to be able to tell him what was coming up. We were side by side to the final aid station at Botley Hill, where he went ahead and I decided to walk the last 7 miles (or 9, according to Ash on the aid station).

Very happy, I trundled over the line in 11:48- perfect pacing.

As I write this I have certainly learnt a lot. Firstly, no matter what pace you go at, the next day always hurts like hell! This was my longest run for a while and whilst I never felt like I was pushing myself, 50 miles is still 50 miles and the quads don’t like me very much today.

Secondly, I still have work to do on my nutrition (not just because of the massive gut in the race photos), but on race day food. I still struggle with solids and whilst I don’t have long until Lavaredo I would love to know how others get on with the likes of Tailwind. In hindsight I should have tried some on Saturday, but it didn’t occur to me until after.

Thirdly, whilst the day went well, Lavaredo is a different beast entirely. I need to drop some weight and work the hills relentlessly for the next month, before a gentle taper and a flight to Venice.

All in all, this weekend was everything I had hoped it would be. Centurion were awesome as always and the volunteers were everything a runner could ask for and more. Especially the bossy lady at Reigate Hill who only let me sit down for two minutes! Happy recovery to everyone who ran and I will see you at the South Downs 100 in four weeks where I am pacing Paul Reader.

image4

Fourth NDW50 finish, bagged.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Planning a Personal Worst at the North Downs Way 50 2017

The last time I stood on the start line in Farnham was actually way back in 2014 when I completed my first 100 mile race, but this was actually my fifth run from Farnham to Knockholt Pound and I am looking forward to returning almost three years later.

This race will always have a special place in my heart as it was my first ultra back in 2012.

I ran the 2012, 2013 and 2014 editions of the 50 miler as well as twice during the 100 mile version, so the route is very familiar and very special to me- my first ultra finish and my first 100 mile finish being on this course.

And yes, the title to this piece isn’t a typo, I really am aiming for a personal worst here next weekend. And you are probably wondering why…

Well, six weeks after the NDW50 I am running the Lavaredo Ultra Trail, a 120km loop through the Dolomites, starting and finishing in Cortina d’ampezzo and this is my ‘A Race’ of 2017. The NDW50 is not an easy race and it deserves respect, however for me this year it is my final long test run before the mountains and a great opportunity spend a long time on my feet using all the kit I will be taking to Cortina.

So whilst I have a healthy respect for this course, its also an opportunity to use all of the time Centurion allot to this race (13 hours) to be out there on my feet and feeling comfortable so there are no surprises come the last weekend of June.

So, firstly I wouldn’t want to push myself on the Downs and potentially cause any mishaps or injuries so close to this race. Secondly, I need a long time to re-familiarise myself with trekking poles which I haven’t used much since UTMB last summer. Don’t panic if you are new to the NDW50- you don’t need them- but it’s a great opportunity for me to re-connect.

Finally, I have always run this race with a goal in mind- whether that is Western States qualification or a PB, and I have never just been out there to enjoy it. I have some great memories of this race, but next Saturday for me will be about taking in the scenery and just enjoying the day.

So whether this is your first race or you are a long time sufferer of ultras, I’m looking forward to catching up in a few days time.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Green Man Ultra 2017

IMG_0484.JPG

 

My diary was eerily apt for race day…

I hadn’t finished an ultra since the South Downs Way 100 last June. After two drops in August and September I decided to have a reflective winter and to rest and re-build. That meant very little running and a return to basics. I started looking after myself better with regular physio and tried (and mostly failed) to eat better. I still ran, but very rarely anything over six miles in one go until after Christmas.

I ran the Slaughterford 9 in January and held the Cotswold Way 50k where I gently ran the distance at the back, helping those less familiar with the course in order to just bank the miles and not worry about the time. And before I knew it, the calendar hit March and it was three days until the Green Man, a 45 mile mudbath of a single loop of the Community Forrest Path encircling Bristol.

I had run this once before in 2015 when I was arguably at my fittest, three months after my fastest 100 miler at Brazos Bend in December 2014 and so I knew getting close to that time would be virtually impossible. Conditions that year were dry underfoot too, so all I cared about this time was getting to the finish and getting the DNF monkey off my back. I knew I wasn’t as fit as I could be but I needed a confidence boost before a big season and to finish was all that mattered. I also firmly placed in my mind that I have never dropped from a distance of less than 100 miles and had finished many 50 milers when less fit and settled as I am right now, so whilst confidence wasn’t exactly high, I was looking forward to this one.

After driving to the start I caught up with Paul Heath who I last saw after he dropped at the Autumn 100 and we spoke as I was waiting to pace Mark Myles the last 30 miles. He seemed fired up and I was pleased to see he finished in a great time and I hope he is delighted, as he should be. We shared a coffee as we waited to get going and I also spoke with Dawn Gardner. Anyone who knows Dawn knows she is in a different league. Dawn was running the Green Man double and had already completed one loop overnight before starting with the mass field at 8am. She looked a little tired, but more than that, focussed and completed her 90+ mile personal challenge in less than 24 hours. We had chatted the day before as I was one of only a few people who knew she was planning this, having run a section of the course with her in December and she almost didn’t start the normal race, let alone the double, which just goes to show her mental strength. Expect big things from her at the GUCR in two months time.

We started out from the beautiful mansion at Ashton Court estate and headed up for the first few miles, often stopping as the mass field got caught up at gates and stiles. These slow and steady miles were what I needed as I placed myself towards the back of the field, but I quickly realised that it was significantly more muddy underfoot than I recalled from two years ago and knew we were in for a slog if it stayed like this. Stay like this, it did.

IMG_0513.JPG

Credit: Mick Ward

Whilst I didn’t have a time goal in mind, I figured if I was within an hour of my 9:58 of 2015 I would be doing well. This was based on fitness, confidence and the underfoot conditions, so I had 11 hours in the back of my mind, but was in no way running to that goal but more enjoy the day and simply finish. I hit checkpoint one in 1:51 and knew this was not too shabby and I felt fine, so quickly downed a couple of cups of coke and moved on.

The run to checkpoint two was much of the same, a very slippy section of often ankle deep mud and an exercise in staying upright but the miles clicked by and whilst wet underfoot, it was a beautiful morning and I just enjoyed the scenery and running alone, as is my preference.

IMG_0514.JPG

Credit: Mick Ward

I moved quickly through this checkpoint too, but whilst I wasn’t at the very back they had already run out of coke which was a bit frustrating as this is my main fuel on shorter ultras as I don’t like too much solid food. Sadly this pattern continued and where there was red bull at checkpoint three a couple of years ago and soup at checkpoint four, there was only squash and coffee respectively. Having paid for the catered event, this was disappointing and I feel running out of coke and not having soup where advertised isn’t good practice. That said, the volunteers and marshall were awesome as were all of the crews on the course cheering us on and offering sweets etc.

The section between checkpoint two and three took over 3 hours and this was my lowest point of an otherwise pretty upbeat run. The terrain here is mainly flat but everywhere was heavily waterlogged and made the going quite slow. It was also pretty warm for early March and I found myself rationing water knowing it was a long stretch. It started raining about half an hour out of the checkpoint so I stopped to put on my waterproof and enjoyed running in my own little cocooned world with my hood up and music on.

IMG_0515.JPG

Credit: Mick Ward 

In most races I set myself a checkpoint target from where I know I will complete the distance. Obviously things can go wrong, but this tends to work for me and helps break down the distance. Checkpoint 3 was about 29 miles so when I started this was my ‘finish’ line and if I made it here I only had a 16 mile jog/walk to go. Psychologically this helps and so when I ran into this checkpoint, I knew I would finish. I think everyone has their own way of mentally breaking down ultras but this as always worked for me and so I left here focussed and ready to get to checkpoint four.

At this point it started to really pour down, but abated after half an hour or so but I kept the waterproof and gloves on and felt warm, settled and confident. It was another 10 miles to the next checkpoint, but we were mostly in urban areas by now so the going was easier but the legs were starting to feel it. I’ve done enough races now to know that the legs don’t hurt any worse at mile 40 than they do at mile 30 and so I embraced it, with my body remembering what it was capable of. It was just great to be back.

I quickly grabbed a coffee at checkpoint four and moved on for the final six or so miles back to Ashton Court. This takes you through one of the nicest parts of Bristol and I enjoyed the home stretch. At The Green Man there are ‘time lords’ who run at 9, 10,11 and 12 hour paces and I was tooing and froing with the 11 hour crowd running with time lord Ira Rainey (of Fat Man to Green Man fame). By this stage, my mindset had firmly focussed on sub 11 hours and I knew if I pushed and maintained I would finish ahead of Ira’s pacing so got my head down and ran as much of the flats and downs as I could and walked the hills as fast as I could manage.

The sun had now set, so as I hit Clifton Downs I grabbed my headtorch and pushed on. Soon the stunning site of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, lit up, was ahead of me and I knew this marked one mile to go. It was 6:40pm and I had 20 minutes to cover that last mile. I jogged and walked with a group of other runners over the bridge, turned left into the estate and ran down the final hill to the finish, crossing the line in 10:56.

IMG_0503.JPG

I really needed that run. As I write this, I feel great and it was the exact confidence boost I needed. And to sum it up, my diary quote at the top of this post is just perfect.

IMG_0502.JPG

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ultimate Direction Signature Series: Anton Krupicka Adventure Vest 3.0

ak_ultravest_3-0_canyon_front_ud16_web__31424-1478728322-1280-1280

OK, so I have been fortunate enough to have a few of the UD Signature Series packs over the years. I started off with the Scott Jurek version one (the red ones), then reviewed the larger Pete Bakwin version 2 (the blue ones) and finally have one of the 20l fastpacks which is my go to pack for run commuting or when I need more gear.

All of these packs evolved and Ultimate Direction are a company who take customer feedback seriously and act on it. Consequently whilst you see a few other packs here and there during an ultramarathon, I think its fair to say that between Ultimate Direction and Salomon, they have the majority of the field covered.

Last August a friend of mine who had recently received sponsorship gave me his old Salomon race vest and I used this during UTMB and the Cotswold Way Century (both DNF’s incidentally but not anything to do with the pack!). It was a great bit of kit and the soft flasks were a real asset over the previous hard bottles used by Ultimate Direction. That said there were some flaws including the size of the pockets and access to the rear when using a dry bag, but overall I thought it slightly out-did the UD packs…just.

IMG_0450.JPG

And then this came along…and its blown all past UD vests out of the water as well as addressing all of the faults I had come up against on the Salomon race vest. I honestly cannot think of an area of the vest that I could suggest an improvement on.

To start with, the pack is lighter at just 400g (14oz) yet the AK’s biggest weakness always was its capacity which was tiny. This has now grown to 11.5l which competes with the larger Salomon packs. The vast majority of this storage is now in the large rear pocket which features one zip which travels along the top and all the way down the right hand side. This means the pocket is much easier to open and access gear or stuff a dry bag. I tend to do the latter as no pack is fully waterproof and dry bags are very cheap. These are perfect for mandatory kit you don’t plan to access unless essential.

IMG_0451.JPG

In front of this pocket is a large elasticated stuff pocket which is ideal for a waterproof to be quickly accessed but also has room for a base layer, hat and gloves ( or an ideal place to store a bladder if you prefer to bottles without hindering your mandatory gear). Finally you have the bungee area which can also hold extra gear.

IMG_0452.JPG

Moving to the front, you have a new system to fit poles on the front which makes mountain races so much easier. At UTMB I didn’t ever fold my poles away as I was conscious of time taking my pack on and off to do this, but now you can access whilst the pack is still firmly strapped on and they don’t hinder arms whilst running.

The pack has extra storage on the front including a huge mesh pocket on the bottom left side. I drink a lot when running long distance and often find two bottles isn’t enough, but I don’t like bladders, so this expandable pocket is ideal to securely store a third (or even fourth) bottle.

IMG_0453.JPG

The pack comes with two 500ml 2017 softflasks as standard and has increased space for a larger smartphone on the front pockets too. The side zipped pockets, which on previous versions I said you needed to be able to dislocate your arm to access on the run, are now lower and much easier to access.

IMG_0454.JPG

Yes, I received this pack to review for free, but if I had to choose any pack on the market right now, it would be this one. It is expensive and I can’t talk for its longevity yet, but if built as well as or better than the older vests I have, which I still use, then it should be very sturdy indeed. For me, the key with this pack is versatility. It has more than enough capacity for big mountain races, but also using the bungees you can synch it down and carry the bare minimum for shorter races or training days out. The material is the softest I have comes across in a race vest and whilst my longest session so far was for 7.5 hours, I had no chafing or soreness when I returned.

Its truly a pack for all scenarios (bar multi-days or the Spine etc, before I have people tell me that!)

You can watch Anton Describing the pack here and you can buy the pack in the UK here

The pack comes in three sizes and all measurements are spelled out on the above links so you get the right fit.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Dilemma

wait-list

This is one of the hardest posts I have written since I set up Sofa to Ultra in 2012. I think the last 24 hours have been as exhausting- certainly mentally- as if I had run the actual Western States.

As with most things Western States related, I follow amendments and updates religiously. This included the two new course variations for 2017 and the addition of a waitlist at the lottery. The latter I didn’t give much thought to, aside from thinking it was a sensible way to ensure that come race day they maxed out on the correct number of starters as opposed to DNS’s skewing things.

Back in October I secured a place at the Lavaredo Ultra Trail in Italy for the same weekend as Western States and always said I would drop this for Western States if by any chance my name came up in the lottery- the logic being Western States is not only statistically harder to get into, but my absolute dream race. The chance with 8 tickets was still slim and I kinda hoped I would slide through this one to have 16 tickets in for next December.

Well, as I watched the lottery yesterday, I didn’t get in.

As the 250th and last name was read out, I knew there would always be next year and I would keep running qualifiers and putting my name in the hat and I would have 16 tickets next December. C’est La Vie.

Then came the waitlist draw. Six names were drawn and read out by the legendary Tim Twietmeyer. Then the seventh “Another from Great Britain (gulp), fourth year ticket holder (GULP), from Bath (fuck me), Tim Lambert (I’M [probably] RUNNING WESTERN STATES!!!!).

Over 4200 people had their name in that hat and I had 8 tickets with my name on out of over 11,000 total tickets. The odds of being selected were very slim, but my name was picked and very, very high up the wait list.

With 24 DNS’s last summer, this all but guarantees I would move up the list and run Western States in summer 2017. Something I have been working towards since summer 2011.

And you probably knew this was coming…but, there is a but…

With just 369 runner spots, this race is in ridiculously high demand. If you get in, you do all you can to hit that start line. Training begins at once and you have six months to get super fit and deal with any issues such as injuries. As a consequence, barring broken limbs, very few people withdraw prior to very close to race day- only when they absolutely have no chance of starting.

Yes, there is a chance that might be different this year but there is also a chance I would be training, half unsure if I would be getting into the race. With a race of such supreme importance to me, that’s tough mentally to handle. Ideally I would like the certainty of a secured place, although don’t get me wrong I appreciate I am in a very lucky position.

But to maybe have to wait until April, May or even early June to know if I am running, would put me personally at a distinct disadvantage to those picked and preparing from now. Others might get a rush off the adrenaline, but I do like a little security, its just who I am.

In addition, in order to gain a place I would be secretly and inadvertently hoping for seven runners to injure themselves or get sick. That is not good karma and I would feel like my place had been secured off the back of misfortune of others. I have a feeling this might get to me, despite there being no reason whatsoever that it should, but I do over analyse things.

I think if I lived in the USA I would feel differently, but I am not in a position to pay for flights now on the chance I might run or pay a premium for lastminute flights. The same with accommodation. I need to commit to Lavaredo or Western States and by committing to Western States, there is a chance I could spend a lot of money to run neither race. A small chance, but a chance nonetheless.

If I do decline the waitlist place, I keep my ticket count doubling each year. So I would have 16 tickets next year, 32 the year after and so on. It is highly likely that given that trajectory I will get a secured spot in the conventional lottery within the next 3 years. I have waited so long for this and I want to do it right. Obviously if the ticket count had gone I would have invested four years in nothing so would have taken the waitlist place, without a shadow of a doubt.

A good friend of mine summed it up perfectly, that the waitlist is the worst of both worlds. It’s a taster of what could be, but also limbo land and not enough to focus on Western States or Lavaredo.

Another put it less subtly “Imagine if only 6 pull out…” Cheers, Mark.

Finally after the year I have had, I need a good year to get back on the horse. If I hadn’t been picked for WS at all, I would have been OK as I had alternatives planned to build the confidence. For the last 24 hours I have been in a world of confusion as to what to do, but I think once a decision is made it is important to stick with it and commit 100%. If you second guess yourself, you’re fucked.

And that decision is I am going to run Lavaredo in 2017.

I am going to withdraw from the waitlist and I am going to qualify for 16 tickets for the draw next December. I am going to have a wonderful year of experiences and achievements and I am going to run Western States when fate calls me properly.

A lot of people will think I am nuts. Half my friends get this decision and half think I am being stupid. I can relate to both as that is the (first world) turmoil I have been going through these last 24 hours.

Thank you to everyone who has sent me congratulations and advice. This still means the world to me, as does your friendship and this wonderful community.

I might regret this decision in time but as it stands, I think it is the right one and I will see Squaw Valley when the time is right.

And most importantly…I now know for sure that they actually do put the tickets with my name on, in the tumbler. That, my friends, is key.

Happy Trails.

 

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments

The Mind Games of the 100

img_0106-002

I started this sport to run 100 miles. It was that simple, really. After realising ultras existed back in 2011, I said I would run 100 miles.

In 2012 I ran my first 50 and in 2014 I finally finished my first 100 mile race and it was every bit as sweet as I had imagined, day and night for three years. It was all the more sweet because it didn’t come easy and came at a race I tried, and failed, to finish in 2013.

The thing is, that first attempt at the 100 mile distance was the first race I had ever failed to finish.

I am by no means quick, but I am stubborn and I tend to get things done. It took me a year to bounce back and it took everything I had- and a lot of what I didn’t realise I had- to fall across that finish line.

To date I have stood on the start line of eight 100 milers and only finished four of them. I’ve still not dropped from a race of any other distance so what is it that’s consistently tripped me up here?

I have done a lot of thinking about this these last few months, because if you had asked me four months ago I would have said I have started six 100 milers and finished four, but two 100 mile DNF’s in a row knocked my confidence and I have subsequently hit re-set, had a break, got a bit fat and started again from scratch.

I’ve spoken to friends and fellow runners and whilst I wanted to write this piece primarily for me, to clarify my thoughts with my first race of 2017 just 3 months away, I thought it might help others either stepping up to the distance or trying to better their performances.

Insufficient Mental Strength

The vast majority of drops from 100 mile + distance races are because of mentally checking out. I have lost count of times in races of all distances where I have been scripting my excuses for a drop at the next aid station.

With a hundred miler, its not that I necessarily get any different thoughts to a shorter race, I just have longer to think about them. And let them fester. And let them slowly pluck my race from my feet. Everything can be working well, but if you don’t choke off that thought, that thread that keeps begging to be pulled and pulled, you will check out and when that happens you are done, no matter what you have left physically.

In 100 milers, I’ve sometimes taken over 3 hours to go 10 miles between aid stations. When you’re cold and exhausted and you realise you could have used those 3 hours for a Nandos and a movie and driven home, you’ve got to remember why you signed up in the first place and have been excited about this race for weeks. Precisely because you are not doing what everyone else is doing on a Saturday night and that Nandos coleslaw is rubbish.

Often it will manifest itself as a physical injury such as a strain. That initial pain becomes a strain and then the worm creeps into your brain that if you don’t stop, you’ll do yourself some serious injury.

Other times it’s a reaction to the climate- too hot, too cold, too thirsty, not pissing enough and so on.

They are all threads and need to be stopped before they start. Learn to tell a thought to do one. If it’s a real issue, it’ll come back of its own accord and really needs no encouragement or nurturing.

Two of my four drops have been for mental reasons. I blamed the first one on the heat and the second on a knee injury. Because that was easier than calling myself a wimp.

Mental Exhaustion

Not to be confused with insufficient mental strength, this is going into a race with something else heavily weighing on your mind. We all run these sorts of distances, at least in part, as a means of escapism. Not just the races themselves, but the discipline it takes to train for them. I know I do.

But sometimes I have something on my mind that wont leave during a race or on other occasions it will be a problem I have been suffering through which has now gone away and meant some of the ‘fight’ I had had up until recently had left me.

My third dropout at UTMB in August was partially down to this and partially down to being undertrained for such an endeavour. A huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders two weeks before race day and whilst this was magnificent, it also was like a boxer losing concentration mid-fight and being landed a shattering blow. UTMB was that blow and knocked me out.

UTMB wasn’t actually a drop, but I was timed out. Regardless, this meant I was not good enough to finish. I was mentally exhausted and physically unprepared for the endeavour as a consequence.

Nutrition Issues

I remember an interview with Anton Krupicka a few years back where he said he would seriously need to re-think his nutrition strategy because what got him through 50’s was making him bonk on the 100’s.

Like daily nutrition I believe variety is key but that also one can get into zombie mode mid-race and lost focus on strategy. If you get nutrition wrong, you will lose mental focus and you will then drop. You might wing it through a 50 miler on bad nutrition or just fruit and coke, but in a 100 that is virtually impossible.

We all know how bad we feel when we miss breakfast and rush around and eat lunch late- pretty rubbish. So magnify that by ten and that’s how you’ll feel if you cant eat in an ultra.

The biggest problem with nutrition is that very few of us will run more than 30 miles in training for a 100 miler or maybe the odd 50 miler thrown in a month or two before the big day. What works on a 30 miler may not work from mile 31 and you just wont know it until race day.

I have learnt that the best way to combat this is to not have just one nutrition strategy but be open minded to having to switch things up mid race. I’ll have a plan, but I will be open to deviate from that plan as soon as it no longer works.

The last race I dropped from in September was the Cotswold Way Century. It’s a midday start and I took the two hour bus ride to the start and saw this as a sensible time to stuff my face. Big mistake. I started bloated and heavy and felt rubbish from the first step. This also wasn’t helped by still, with hindsight, having slight gut issues from drinking from streams at the baking hot UTMB. I was puking from mile 30, moved quickly on to sipping gels and coke- which got me through the Thames Path 100 a couple of years back- albeit from mile 60- and started slowly bonking. I was still exhausted from UTMB and I couldn’t keep food down. I was pulled at mile 50 a broken man.

Injury

Whilst I haven’t dropped from injury myself, those who have are either carrying an injury into a race or sustain one during the run. The latter happens sometimes and it’s a risk we all take, but carrying one in is just stupid in a 100 miler. I get that races are few and far between and often it’s a qualifier that you need to finish to accumulate lottery points, but if it hurts on a 10 mile training run its going to put you in danger- and possibly others- in a 100 miler.

Yes, there is the usual ‘suck it up, buttercup’ and ‘man up’ bravado all over social media, but I have learnt ultras aren’t about being hard, they are about being sensible and knowing when you really are pushing that little bit too far.

A friend of mine summed it up perfectly a few years ago and I always have this in my mind during a race- if the pain is so bad that you need a painkiller, then drop. I’ve only taken a painkiller once in a race and I never will again as its just dangerous. Either carry on without one or step aside (but bearing in mind the insufficient mental strength- is it really that bad or is it your excuse?)

For me, it has been a very humbling experience this year. I wont be so hard on myself to improve next year like I always was, but will focus more on the completion and enjoyment of each step. Once you finish a distance, you have nothing left to prove.

Yes, you can improve your time but whether I am 109th or 67th no longer matters to me- its whether I ran smartly and whether I enjoyed the experience. I’m never going to compete at the sharp end and whilst PB’s are always a pleasant reward, a smile and knowledge that I did my best that day is what I am after next year.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Laying the Foundations for 2017

Most of you know this year has been disappointing. Of four events started, I only finished two of them. But what most people don’t realise is I have just been grateful to be able to run at all.

UTMB was never about the race itself, as strange as that sounds. Of course I was gutted to not complete it, but it was the journey towards it that kept me focused in some pretty dark times. This year has made me realise that whilst finishes are always fantastic, as cheesy as it sounds, it really is about the journey. The excitement of entering a race or getting a place in a much sought after lottery. Of taking those first steps. Of planning races along the way to be ready for that big A race. Of using running as a means to fighting depression or any other type of anxiety. Of being the reason to get up at 5am on a cold morning. Of meeting friends to run up Pen y Fan on a winters morning. Races are not about race day I now realise, but what it takes to hit that start line.

Standing in Chamonix with 2,500 other athletes on the start line of one of the great ultramarathons in the world, having been a non-runner a few years before set the hairs on the back of my neck tingling. That was UTMB in 2016 for me. And I have no doubt whatsoever that when the time is right and things align, I will finish that race.

As I write this, my focuses for 2017 are coming together. On December 3rd I will find out if I have a place in Western States for next June and this will be my fourth consecutive lottery, which means I have 8 tickets in the hat. The odds get better each year but for the first time I am hoping my name isn’t called*. For three reasons:

  1. I already have a place in the Lavaredo Ultratrail that same weekend and this is a race I am extremely excited about, having visited Cortina earlier this year. Quite simply it is the most beautiful place I have ever been in my life and I cannot wait to return and run this iconic route. That said, it is easier to get a place than Western States so if my name is called, I will have to pull out of this and look to run another year. So many races, such little time.
  2. I have just set up my own business and money is tight. It is a lot cheaper to race at Lavaredo (I can stay with friends and flights are cheap) than fly to California. 2018 will be better financially (hopefully…!).
  3. Because 2016 was so shite, I am looking to use 2017 as a massive confidence boost to be well placed if my name was called for 2018. I would like to run well in the UK and Italy and then use Western States as my sole focus for 2018, bar a few smaller tune up races.

*I was asked recently why anyone would enter a lottery if they didn’t want a place. Western States works on cumulative ticket counts, doubling each year to give the dedicated a higher chance of success over the years. Year one, 1 ticket, year two, 2 tickets, year three, 4 tickets and so on. It is year four for me so I have 8 tickets and if I fail this year I would have 16 for next year (subject to running an approved qualifier each year), as opposed to back to one ticket if I failed to enter this December.

Regardless of what happens, I am excited for what 2017 holds and cannot wait to get back out there and racing to the best of my ability. This means a fresh start and a clean slate and after six weeks of virtually no running I am building back up again. Yet this time, I am starting with the basics and building up right. My first ultra of 2017 is in March, so I have four months to get ready and start the season right.

So, what am I doing differently this time around? Well, as opposed to just logging miles I am starting with the foundations of nutrition for the demands I am asking of my body. I have befriended the team in the local health food shop and they have started me off on three key supplements. Generally, I eat pretty well anyway and have just started juicing once a day, but what I have been supplementing to date has essentially been worthless, as it turns out. Let’s just say if the health food manager had texted me with regards what I was taking, she would have described them as ‘ducking shut’.

So its out with the supermarket multivitamins and fish oil and in with the wonderfully branded Lamberts. Must be quality with that name.

20161105_151702

So daily now I am taking 3 x 1100mg fish oil pills. Primarily this is to maintain and strengthen bones as I build up the miles on my legs. I have sporadically taken fish oil to date, but not to a routine and, as it turns out, the supermarket stuff is crap.

Arnica pills 30c after every run of more than six miles or one hour. Reducing swelling and muscle soreness this wonder herbal pill aids recovery and I have been directed to take before bed to recover during sleep.

20161105_151631.jpg

Vitamin D3. During the dark winter months where often the only sunlight I see is from the window as I work, I was recommended this for mood enhancement and bone support. Often known as the sunshine vitamin, I don’t take this daily but on days where I spend little or no time in sunlight which is sadly common during the British winter all too often.

20161105_151718.jpg

In addition, breakfast is now a homemade juice often including carrots, kale and spinach to support all of the above supplements.

I am upping my intake of red meat for iron and wild fish, as well as cutting out white pasta and rice to increase fibre levels.

All of the above is great as a foundation, but without the right training it won’t do it alone. The ‘junk’ miles are out in exchange for a proper training program starting in December, culminating in either Lavaredo or Western States as my goal.

I have finally submitted to technology and have bought a second hand Suunto Ambit 2 from a mate who was upgrading. Most days I forget to switch this on, but will try and do so more often to run to my training plan and not just slogging out miles. This is also great for finding new routes and I have a few winter explorations planned including running the full length of the 36 mile beautiful Limestone Link, where this watch will be invaluable on the poorly marked or junction sections.

20161105_152111.jpg

Finally, I have admitted to myself that it would also be hugely beneficial if I can see where I am going! All of my adult life I have worn glasses for driving and watching TV etc and I have been conscious that I really should wear these for running too. Having chatted with Jeff Browning, a friend from the US (Hardrock and Western States double record holder), who wears glasses too, he recommended a firm who could help. Consequently, I have invested in some fantastic Oakley glasses. These are super lightweight and have a transition lens, meaning they are sunglasses on sunny days and revert to a normal lens when cloudy, night-time or under tree cover. My running confidence has soared since putting these on for the first time last week. If you wear glasses and want more details, drop me a line as they have changed the game for me already.

20161105_152053.jpg

I have been nursing a small foot injury since UTMB and since taking the supplements and increasing my vitamins and high quality, natural food this has faded away and I am delighted with the changes and just need to stick with them. Roll on 2017 for many reasons but I am really excited to see what I can do. I firmly believe that all of the above help, but also the psychological benefits of knowing I am doing the right things will also benefit hugely.

20161105_152014.jpg

Posted in Uncategorized | 3 Comments