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:
- 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.
- 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…!).
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.