This weekend was the funeral of someone I was incredibly fond of and he died too young. I won’t go into any more detail, but it is times like these that make you think about lifestyle choices and how I can come away from something like that with a focus to improve my life- especially at the start of a new year..
This morning I read an article before I started work and the link is below. This further cemented my thoughts on making 2014 count:
2013, whilst tough in many areas of my life, went incredibly well from a running perspective. I completed my main target for the year- to qualify for Western States in May in a time I was happy with. One friend commented after that I could have run a minute slower per mile and still qualified which put it in perspective that I had improved a lot.
Amongst other events another top highlight was coming 23rd at the Bath Trail Marathon. I was delighted to have ‘raced’ for once as opposed to just ‘run’.
But I did drop out of my biggest race of the year and first attempt at the 100 mile distance. A goal I am determined to achieve in 2014.
Six months on I have been dwelling over Christmas on what really went wrong that day. With hindsight there were three key things:
I was fatigued in August. I should not have ‘raced’ the Bath Marathon two weeks prior, but jogged it as a last good training run. I ran hard for four solid hours over a very hilly course and I was shattered by the end. I had also been following the example of a number of high mileage friends, such as Anthony Forsyth, and probably trained too hard between May and August. Very high mileage works well for some people- mainly elites like Anthony- but for me, I should have focussed on an average of 70 miles a week tops.
I referenced it in a number of posts last year, but my diet was still not up to scratch for a (wannabe) athlete. Overall I eat healthily, but supplement my diet with stuff that could be easily eliminated if I put my mind to it- refined sugar, fizzy drinks, the wrong fats etc.
Not Mentally Ready
I repeat- I was not mentally ready. This is the point I have most dwelled on before writing. It is the point that makes me sound weak. Whilst the other two have a factor, the mental side of ultra running is huge. To date, all of my races have started in daylight and finished in daylight- on the same day. I just don’t think I had geared myself up for those second 50 miles and how to mentally break them down as fatigue set it and the night drew in. When my brain shut down at mile 44, I agreed and didn’t deal with the situation as I should have done. Physically I was fine- mentally I had left the building.
When I look back on how much I improved last year it is easy to think I had one bad day and just keep training as I did and this year will be better. But 100 mile running doesn’t work like that. I think the key to cracking the distance is honesty.
So how can I get ready for my next crack at the distance in August?
Training. I will lower my mileage to a peak of 70 miles per week maximum. I will build in more tempo runs (which I hate) and back to back long runs, so my mind can work with my body on how to run on fatigued legs. Whilst less miles, these will be more focussed rather than just daily long slow runs.
I will run hard at my 50 mile races in April and May, but will then not race again until August, allowing me two months of training at a pace that suits me and gets me mentally and physically ready for the challenge. I am pretty bad at dealing with failure and it gets to me so I am not prepared to drop again. If it means walking the last half, so be it.
I have already started eliminating as much processed food and refined sugars as I can. Yes, it is only one week into January but I feel much better already and just need to stay conscious and focussed. Already in the afternoons at work I feel less lethargic.
I have been reading a lot of vegan athlete books and whilst I don’t have the willpower (yet) to go fully vegan, I can cut down on meat, cheese and other types of junk that can slip into a diet such as processed white bread. Rice is being changed from white to brown, as is pasta, green tea instead of PG, banana instead of a snickers etc. It is not drastic, but is simple common sense and I hope because it is simple I stick to it.
Ideally, I would love to lose a stone between now and August which over 100 miles will make a big difference. Rather than a Saturday night pizza take away I will aim to cook a new healthy dish every week and fall in love with cooking again like I used to.
This is the hardest of the three points to define. I need to be conscious that the highs and lows will be far more drastic in a 100 mile race and be prepared to deal with them. I need to be selfish and run my race and not run to a schedule because I told my crew I would be there at a certain time. In fact, I am going to run without a crew at all in August as Centurion races are so well organised you don’t need outside assistance unless you want it.
I need to have a good solid bank of training and note improvements in the April and May races. I also need to note what has not gone so well and deal with it.
Above all, I need to stay positive. I had heard about smiling when you are going through a low point in a race. I was sceptical but tried this at the Brecon Beacons Ultra in November and it actually worked.
I finished Scott Jurek’s book last night, for probably the tenth time, and it concludes with him discussing his mental struggle in a 24 hour race and being told beforehand ‘This is what you came for’. No one is forcing me to run 100 miles, I signed up and I will get myself over the line, but I want to enjoy as much of the whole race as possible, not just the finish.
Dropping from the North Downs Way 100 in August was one of the hardest things I have ever had to do. I am stubborn and this was the first time I have dropped from any race. It hurt and it also surprised me. I suppose I thought my stubbornness was going to be enough, but it wasn’t- I was complacent. Six months on, I need to look at the positives from last year and build on what was otherwise a great year of running. I know I can do this and I will do this. I just needed to write honestly and have something to look back on as spring and summer once again come around.
Those who ask why I run, perhaps the above gives some insight. All three points I have dwelled on and answered apply to daily life too. To be a fitter, healthier and mentally tougher person are three traits I would love to develop further. It just so happens that I love to run, too.