Friday, 8 August 2014

Montane Lakeland 50 Race Report - "Being Within the Moment"


I know many readers 'struggle' with the length of my blog posts, however, the writing of these blog posts form a critical part of my preparation for following races.  Therefore they may be short if not much analysis and learning is taking place, but more often than not, they are quite lengthy as I continue to strive to improve.  In relation to their training impact, I don't think it is a coincidence that my running performances have dramatically improved since I started my UltraStu blog back in March 2010.  How long will tonight's post be?  Possibly shorter than usual.  But I have many thoughts / themes jumbling around in my head, so it could be quite lengthy.  However to help ease the reading I might try to sub-divide the post into different sections.  Well here goes!

Previous 2014 UltraStu Blog Posts
While at the recent Montane Lakeland 100/50 I was chatting to a reader of my blog about my Fellsman race post back in April.  He commented about how negative the post seemed to be.  Quite different to my usual positive posts, and he was interested in not only why was it so negative, but more importantly how I was able to transform from being in such a negative state of mind, to regain the positivity, which had resulted in a high quality performance in the Montane Lakeland 50.  Re-reading by Fellsman post the following two paragraphs stand out:
"The disappointment wasn't so much to do with my relatively poor performance, but more to do with a realisation that maybe I had got my life balance wrong.  Was all of the effort, the time, the 'sacrifices' to do with ultra trail racing really worth it?  I'm not really sure why I got so down, so philosophical following the race, but I did!" 
"Maybe, my self expectations of what I am able to achieve in ultra trail racing is just unrealistic? Maybe, it is quite obvious why I had to slow down so much during the race.  Because I started out running far too fast, trying to keep up with runners that are far better than me, and I simply 'paid' for my foolishness, I simply 'blew up'!  It is nothing to do with my state of mind, nothing to do with a negative downward spiral.  Accept it, I am just not physically fit enough.  Spend more time doing some actual hard physical training, like everyone else does, and forget all of this race focus, positivity bulls**t and train hard, pace myself sensibly, and then maybe I won't slow down so much!" (Fellsman blogpost)
Yes, there was quite a bit of negativity within the post, which really 'jumped out' at me when I re-read my post probably about a week after publishing it.  Which 'woke me up' and got me into carrying out extensive non-physical training, in order to turn around my to date disappointing 2014 trail racing season, consisting of a DNF (Steyning Stinger Marathon), a DNS (South Downs Way 50), and probably my worst ever performance in a trail race (Fellsman).  Yes although others runners may respond differently when they don't perform to their expectations within an ultra-trail race, possibly by carrying out more physical training.  I responded by carrying out more non-physical training, as I am convinced that when it comes to ultra-trail racing it is the non-physical training that has the largest impact on performance.  One is unable to perform to the level they wish to achieve without completing the necessary physical training, but come race day, the variation in performance from an excellent race result, to a below-par race result, or during different portions of the race, from a really strong leg, to a leg where one struggles, I feel that this variation is a consequence mainly of one's state of mind.  And hence why the non-physical training is so important.

In terms of my non-physical training I always start with the three questions I ask myself: "What do I want?", "Why do I want it?", "How much do I want it?".  In my preparation for the South Downs Way 100 miler, my 'bounce back' race to 'redeem' myself following the Fellsman race, I got the "What do I want" wrong!  I thought that the answer/the reward for all of the sacrifices that are involved with ultra trail racing was to do with simply achieving a high finishing place that I would be happy with..  And for me for the South Downs Way 100, that high finish place had to be a win!  After all, the race was on my 'home patch' finishing in East Sussex!

Those of you that have read my SDW100 race report will know that as a consequence of getting my non-physical preparation wrong, I had another disappointing day!  But each and every race CAN be a learning experience if one spends the time to carry out the necessary reflection and analysis.  So by the time I had finished writing my SDW100 post I was adamant that I knew what was required to achieve a satisfying performance at the Montane Lakeland 50, which was also the 2014 British Ultra-Trail Championships.
"So yes, the SDW100 was frustrating for many reasons, but the best way to deal with these frustrations is to put in action the necessary changes I need to make to my TOTAL preparation.  Specifically my non-physical preparation in order to 'bounce back' from two consecutive 'below par' performances, as physically I feel in pretty good shape.  Look out for the next lengthy instalment of my continuing learning experiences at the end of July, as I look to 'get it right', to do what I know I need to do, over the fantastic trails of the Lake District at the Montane Lakeland 50." (SDW100 blogpost)
Although fellow ultra-trail runner Robert Osfield wasn't so convinced that my planned TOTAL preparation approach was the best way forward as explained within his SDW100 blog post comment:
"Personally, I don't think trying to do better at TOTAL preparation is going to fix this long term problem. You keep talking about the important of non physical prep and TOTAL preparation yet time all too you set out what seems with good TOTAL preparation only to start faltering quarter the way through a race. Then you say your TOTAL preparation wasn't good enough... if the formula isn't working you need to change the formula not keep trying to apply the same formula over and over." (Robert Osfield SDW100 blogpost comment)

Total Preparation and the Importance of Emotions
I however knew better.  Or more importantly I totally believed that what training I was carrying out was what I needed to do in order to perform.  One thing that I have discovered during my last six years of ultra-trail racing is that the effectiveness of one's training isn't so much influenced by what actual training is carried out, but more by the state of readiness it creates.  The confidence that it generates in terms of feeling prepared for the race, which then results in an heightened self belief, which is the number one ingredient for a successful performance.

Robert is often very critical of my "Run as fast as you can, while you can" pacing strategy.  Mainly based on his over emphasis of the physiology in terms of influencing running performance.  For road races where there are mile markers to provide feedback in terms of the pace one is running at, the ability to process the surrounding feedback and to integrate it with one's emotions has reduced importance.  Also for shorter races, there isn't the extended time where one has to 'deal with' the 'devil on the shoulder' consistently persisting in arguing for you to slow down.  So for these events the physiology does play a more major role.  But when it comes to ultra-trail running, it is one's emotion that dominates performance.  Get one's emotion right, and the successful performance will follow.  With success being defined as the performance with which you are satisfied with.  I guess the importance of emotions, is perhaps why Professor Tim Noakes wrote an interesting article titled "Fatigue is a brain-derived emotion that regulates the exercise behavior to ensure the protection of whole body homeostasis."

In terms of pacing strategy, what is important to realise is that it is the consequence of one's non-physical training that largely determines the pace one starts a race at.  And it is the consequence of the pace one starts at that largely determines one's emotion.  And it is one's emotion that largely determines race performance.  Get non-physical training 'wrong', then it is much more difficult to achieve a successful performance.  And this is what happened to me at the SDW100.  There was an over emphasis on a destination goal, i.e. on my finish place.

As highlighted within my SDW100 post, there is one thing knowing what one should do, but it is a different matter actually carrying it out.  I think most people will agree that process goals are more beneficial than outcome goals, i.e. journey goals being more effective than destination goals.  But still it is so easy to focus on the outcome, such as; I want to finish in a certain time, I want to finish in a certain place, ahead of a certain person etc.  But it is what you are doing DURING the race that determines your finish time and place.  Hence why it is more important to focus on the process (journey) goals.  What do you want to be thinking at various stages during the race?  What do you want to be experiencing at various stages during the race?  But most important of all, what do you want to be FEELING at various stages during the race?  Yes, what do you want your emotions to be at various stages during the race?  And what do you need to do prior to the race, and during the actual race to ensure you are experiencing these emotions.  What strategy do you have in place if you are not getting what you want during the race, i.e. not experiencing the emotions that will lead you to achieve your successful performance.

The above paragraph formed the basis of my non-physical training.  Ensuring I had a clear 'picture' of what would indicate a successful race performance, and also a clear 'picture' of what I needed to experience/feel DURING the race.  Deciding upon this 'picture' and recognising what it will actually look like, and having the belief that one is actually able to 'paint this picture' whilst racing is actually really, really difficult.  Hence why I am unable to consistently perform at a satisfying level every race!

The Montane Lakeland 50 Competition
In terms of specifics for the Montane Lakeland 50, the first step was to remove the emphasis on a finishing place.  Being the British Championships the field was pretty strong.  Defending Montane Lakeland 50 champion Ben Abdelnoor unfortunately wasn't running due to injury, however, defending 2013 British Ultra-Trail champion Lee Kemp was racing.  But I expected the likely winner to be Danny Kendall, who not only had finished in fifth place in the 2014 Marathon des Sables, but had ‘left me for dead’ in the Steyning Stinger Marathon back in March (before I DNFed due to injury), breaking my ten year old course record by over four minutes, in less than ideal race conditions.  Then to confirm that he was in pretty good shape, back in June we were both members of different teams in the 24 hour non-stop trail relay race the Mizuno Endure 24, and his performance relative to mine was to put it simply, in a 'different league'.

Endure24 - Handing Over to Teammate Scott

The Endure 24 consisted of repeatedly running an undulating 5 miles over muddy trails.  The event doesn't really require to the same extent the need for ‘harmony between the body and mind’ as ultra-trail racing demands.  It is pretty well blast the five miles as quickly as you can, and hope that you can repeat the process seven more times.  Both Danny and I completed a total of eight legs during the 24 hours, and the difference between our lap times was quite unbelievable!  Danny averaged 30:33, whereas I averaged 36:47.  So a massive 6 minutes and 14 seconds slower per leg.  Which equates to me running a massive 20% slower.  Translating that into the Danny’s planned Montane Lakeland 50 finish time of 7:40ish (“Lakeland 50 splits. Numbers tell the story of my race. Projected winning time was 7:45, actual was 7:48. My 1st 3 and last 3 sections were on schedule for 7:40ish but lost over 30 mins in the middle section from Kentmere to Langdale due to various issues ironically brought on by heat.” Danny’s facebook page) all things being equal would have me finishing 92 minutes behind Danny!  Fortunately when it comes to ultra trail racing all things aren’t equal!  But the likelihood of me turning around this massive physiological deficit, as a result of my extensive non-physical training was minimal.  There is only so much that experience and wisdom can achieve!

This realisation that there was only a slight chance of beating Danny in order to win the race I therefore turned into a positive.  It meant that I could completely avoid thinking about destination race goals.  As thinking about a win was pretty unrealistic.  Yes, Danny could have an off day, but then there were other equally as quick runners competing.  Probably top of the list was fellow Montane athlete Marcus Scotney, where from what I had noticed during the year, he had been pretty well been winning every event he had raced.  There was also Martin Cox, who I had also never raced, but I had heard of his reputation as a pretty awesome mountain runner, with years of experience racing over the mountains in Europe.  And just to add further status to his credentials, I believe he also achieved a 64 minute half marathon PB in his younger days. Not that he is old now, being only 44, which is pretty well still a youngster in comparison to me!  Then there were likely to be one or two others turning up who I wouldn't know, or who I wasn't aware of them being on the entry list, such as Kim Collison, this year’s Fellsman winner.

Yes, focusing on a high finish place wasn't appropriate.  So I focused on what I wanted to experience DURING the actual race.  I wanted to feel like I was running well.  The feeling of maintaining a relaxed flowing rhythmical running pace.  I didn't want to feel as if I was battling / fighting my way to the finish line.  I wanted to sense that I was maintaining the race focus required to perform.  I was maintaining concentration.  I was continuing to race and not to 'pack a sad' (translation = feeling sorry for myself, or simply getting negative) in terms of how I was positioned in relation to others in the field.  Most of all I focused on planning to remain positive and to enjoy the running journey.  With the enjoyment coming from being happy with how I was running, in relation to my high self expectations I place upon myself.

Even though my race performances had been disappointing during 2014, in that I had found it difficult to maintain the race focus in both the Fellsman and the SDW100.  I was confident that on the day I was able to race the entire 50 miles.  I was confident that I could remain positive.  Focus on myself, and not be negatively affected by the performance of the other runners.  Yes, there is also the enjoyment one gets from running along awesome trails and the tremendous scenery one passes through,  But I can experience this simply on a training run.  What makes racing so appealing to me is that I can still take in the surroundings, but whilst at the same time, really challenging myself to run along the route as quickly as possible.

I state above that I would not be negatively affected by the other runners.  That didn't mean that I would totally ignore the other runners, and therefore treat the race as if it was a time trial, where I would run at a set pre-planned pace regardless of what the other runners are doing.  No, the advantages of being in a race is that one is able to use the excitement of racing, the buzz of the competition, to generate the ideal emotions that would assist you to perform to one's best.  So come race day, the intention was to race.  But whereas for the SDW100 the ego wanting to win negatively affected my race goals and my pacing strategy.  Yes running the first mile of a 100 mile race in 6:04 is a wee bit quick.  For the Lakeland 50 I would pay attention to what the other runners are doing, but as long as I was achieving my race goals of maintaining race focus, running without fighting/battling, and enjoying the moment during the moment, I wouldn't get upset if I have to watch the leaders disappear into the distance.

On the Start Line - Finally my Race Report Begins! Well, not quite.  
This year I travelled up to the Lake District with my wife Frances and our two boys Rob and Chris.  They had finally forgiven me for ignoring them during the 2010 Lakeland 100, as demonstrated at around the six minute mark in the video available on YouTube at the Tilberthwaite checkpoint.  We arrived on the Friday night just before the 100 mile race started.  So I had a chance to offer my best wishes to Chris, one of the athletes I coach who was hoping to significantly improve on his 30th place from 2013, and to a few other runners who I had got to know over the years.  I then had a chance to chat to fellow Montane athlete Marcus Scotney for the first time as our paths hadn't actually crossed before in any previous races.  We spoke about the likely conditions and the likely front runners in the 50 mile race.  Marcus then asked me if I was planning to start off fast like I usually did.  Although he was a fellow Montane athlete, revealing my planned strategy didn't seem appropriate, so I just politely told him he would just have to wait and see.

 Chatting to Marcus Friday Evening

So what was my planned strategy.  Yes, in many past ultra trail races I have 'blasted off' at the start, got a lead, and held onto it for the remainder of the race, such as at the Lakeland 100 2010, 2013, London to Brighton 2009, 2013, Hardmoors 55 2010, Shires and Spires 2011, Ridgeway 85 2008, just to name a few.  But in all of these events I had the belief that I was able to outperform all of the other runners within the field.  But for the Lakeland 50 I didn't have this belief.  So I didn't see much point in blasting off to gain a lead for the first few miles, to simply provide the other runners with the satisfaction as they pulled me in and then subsequently left me for dead!  No based on the race performance of the other runners I have highlighted above, even taking into account my likely improved relative performance in the Lakeland 50 due to my experience/wisdom and extensive non-physical training, I concluded that simply running with the front bunch for the first few miles should be significantly fast enough, so that was my plan.  To start at a reasonably quick pace, to run alongside the lead bunch, but without there being a mega quick 6:04 mile.

 Montane Lakeland 50 Start - The Race Favourites Near the Front 
(I am in the middle wearing a blue Montane cap.  Marcus is immediately to my right wearing a blue Montane peak.  Danny is to my left wearing a yellow teeshirt, and Kim is to Danny's left wearing a white teeshirt and cap)

There is a countdown and we are off.  I am immediately at the front, running at I guess around 6:30 - 6:40 minute mile pace.  Just a note I usually race with a Garmin GPS watch so I can analyse the data following the race.  However, at last year's Lakeland 100 race I had forgotten to bring my watch, and I found the 'freedom' of racing without the knowledge that my pace and heart rate were being recorded was quite positive.  So I chose not to wear my GPS watch for this year's race. So we are cruising along the 3.5 mile circuit within the grounds of Dalemain.  Even though we aren't running that quickly, considering the quality of the lead runners within the field, there is only a small bunch of four of us at the front.  Consisting of Danny Kendall, Lee Kemp, Kim Collison (who politely introduces himself when I ask "Who are you?" as I didn't recognise him from when we last raced together at the Fellsman), and myself.  After leading the race for the first three miles, shortly before returning past the start area, Danny and Lee take up the pace, and I happily sit in behind.  A few minutes later Martin Cox joins us, so there is a lead bunch of five as we head through Pooley Bridge and start the first of many climbs.

 Leading Group of Four After 3.5 Miles at Dalemain

Leaving Dalemain with Martin Cox Shortly to Join the Lead Bunch

All is going to plan.  I am staying within the moment, simply focusing on what I need to do at that moment in time, and enjoying myself as I feel like I am running at a good pace whist remaining relaxed.  At around 5.5 miles into the race, the climb out of Pooley Bridge commences and pretty well immediately it feels as if I am having to struggle to maintain contact with the bunch.  With my focus being to be aware of what the leaders are doing, but not to be dictated by their pace, I decide to let them gradually leave me behind, but to maintain an eye on them, i.e. try not to let them get too far ahead too quickly.

Not long later I am caught my Marcus Scotney, who after a brief few friendly words of conversation, he also leaves me behind.  Decision time.  Am I in a time-trial or am I in a race?  I decide I am in a race.  So although I know I need to focus on my race, it is important to gain from being in a race situation, so I decide to not let Marcus get too far ahead and so I increase my race focus, and happily increase my running pace ensuring that I didn't feel like I was battling.

Entering Howtown Checkpoint As Marcus Departs

It doesn't seem like long before we are approaching the first checkpoint at Howtown.  To get to this checkpoint there is a small out and back, and I am able to see the lead bunch of four (although not so tightly grouped together at this point) head off to start the first tough climb of Fusedale.  Marcus leaves the checkpoint just as I arrive.  And with it being a very quick dib into the timer and a jug of water over the head, I am only around half a minute behind him.

The Start of the Climb Up Fusedale

The climb up Fusedale to the highest point of the course although steep in parts, feels so much more comfortable than the three previous times I have raced up it.  These all being during the Lakeland 100, where by this time I am usually pretty shattered having raced around 70 miles!  Yes, throughout the entire Lakeland 50 race this year, I was continuously receiving positive feedback, in that I was running so much faster over this part of the course than I had ever before.  Just to illustrate the difference in my running pace this year in the 50 compared to previous years in the 100 mile races.  This year I complete the leg from Howtown to Mardale in a time of 1 hour 37 minutes, whereas for the same leg my times have been 2:52, 2:38, and 2:27 for the 100 mile race in 2010, 2012 and 2013 respectively.  So a massive 50 minutes quicker than last year, for only a 9.4 mile leg!

I reach the top of the climb again in what seems an amazingly short period of time, losing a little bit of ground to Marcus, but he is still probably only around one and a half to two minutes ahead.  There is then a gentle descent along the tops to Low Kop, before the steep descent down to Haweswater.  During this mile along the top I couldn't contain myself, I was literally shouting out loudly with joy.  It was fantastic.  It was hot, sunny, blue sky.  There was a fresh breeze to cool the temperature a bit.  It was a gentle downhill, so I was moving pretty quickly, and it felt easy as I was running relaxed, but fast.  And most of all I was taking in the awesome scenery whilst still focusing on the race.  Yes, I was totally within the moment, and at the moment in time I was totally enjoying myself.  Yes, I was only in sixth place, but that didn't matter.  I knew I was running well, as demonstrated by being totally within the moment.  Even as I ran alongside the edge of Haweswater with the heat really beginning to feel quite extreme, I was still loving every moment!  In terms of how hot it was I did something I had never done before in over 25 ultra trail races, and in over 30 trail marathons. Instead of crossing a stream using the bridge I entered the stream lay down totally into the stream face first, and gulped and drank water for what seemed like 15 - 20 seconds.  I exited the stream totally soaked and for a few moments I felt like a million dollars as I got back into fast running along the undulating trail towards the Mardale Head checkpoint.

Stopping to Chat with Alex at Mardale Head

Shortly before the Mardale checkpoint Delamare Spartan runner Steve Mee was there with his wee lad Alex watching the runners race by.  I got to know Steve a few years back where he invited me up to Cheshire to do a talk to the Delamare Spartans running club.  Just the previous day Steve had mentioned that his son Alex had been to a fancy dress party where he had to go as a superhero.  And Alex decided to go as the Lakeland 100 winner.  I then had the privilege of signing his Lakeland 1 race number the previous evening.  So as I approached Steve and Alex, and being totally within the moment, enjoying every moment, I briefly stopped racing and casually started chatting to Alex.  He was a little shocked that I had stopped running to chat, as was Steve who was encouraging me to get racing.  But at that moment in time, the buzz I got from chatting to a young lad, hopefully inspiring him, but more likely frightening him, was well worth the few seconds that I was stationary.   As I left Steve and Alex to reach the Spartans checkpoint I was really buzzing.

Apologising to Steve for Frightening His Son Alex!

Super Spartan Marshal Alex with his Encouraging Sign

Last year during the 100 mile race, I was pretty shattered as I arrived at the same checkpoint.  As described within the Spartans blogpost from last year I had arrived "looking a little beaten up"!  This year, it was quite a contrast, I recognised a few familiar faces, some who had assisted me last year.  So I got another massive boost of positivity and I was quickly back on my journey, running up the first bit of the climb up to Gatesgarth Pass before it steepened and therefore being more beneficial to power hike to the top.

Descending Down Towards Kentmere

I reach the top in pretty quick time, and then make good progress down the rather stony path and then up the next steepish but short climb, before descending down to the Kentmere checkpoint.  One thing reflecting back now that surprises me was that at the Mardale, Kentmere and Ambleside checkpoints, where I was totally unaware of the distance to the 50 mile runners ahead, I didn't even think of asking the checkpoint crew for the time gap to the runners in front.  No, I was too busy enjoying myself, happy that I was running well, maintaining a good pace, and letting my finish position 'look after itself'.  I then got a bit of a surprise shortly before the top of the short sharpish climb before the Kentmere checkpoint when I rapidly caught and then passed reigning British Ultra-Trail Champion Lee Kemp. As I passed and offered him some kind words of encouragement, I briefly gave thought that I had now moved into fifth place, but simply continued along my enjoyable journey of the Lake District.

As I enter the checkpoint at Kentmere, which was being manned by Montane, I get another boost in positivity as I am met by familiar faces. (You can read about the Montane crew's experiences of looking after the hundreds of runners at Kentmere within their interesting and intriguing  checkpoint report.)  Then I see sitting at one of the tables Lakeland 100 runner Tom, who doesn't look like he is planning to get back out running.  I have got to know Tom over the last few years, and have had some good chats with him and his Mum and Dad (Graham, who is also running the Lakeland 50).  I do my best to encourage him to try to get back out running.  I probably spend around a minute or two chatting/encouraging Tom, even threatening him that I won't leave the checkpoint without him, but unfortunately unsuccessfully as Tom DNFs at Kentmere.  Again, I am not worried about the potential loss of race time.  The positive energy I am receiving back from the checkpoint crew is worth plenty more in minutes gained during the following leg.  I eventually leave the checkpoint, and then realise that with all of the distractions of encouraging Tom, and again pouring a jugful of cool water over my head (outside of the hall) I have forgotten to take on board any fuel.  I quickly re-enter the hall and grab a quick biscuit or piece of cake.

Here is probably a good time to quickly comment on my nutrition during the race.  Although there is currently a bit of an anti-carbohydrate trend within running circles, I am a firm believer that in order to run at a high intensity one needs to take on board carbohydrate.  It is therefore fortunate that I am part of the TORQ Performance Trail Running Team and therefore have available to me the best tasting carbohydrate gels on the market.  Although the scientific literature indicates that the body is able to take on board 90 grams of carbohydrate each hour if a combination of glucose and fructose, for ultra trail racing due to the intensity not being that extreme, even with my run fast at the start approach, I planned a nutrition schedule of one 30 gram TORQ gel every 45 minutes, so equivalent to 40 grams of carbohydrate per hour.

I carried out this strategy for the first four hours, supplemented with some coke at the Mardale checkpoint and a piece of ginger cake, as it looked appealing.  By the time I had reached the Kentmere checkpoint after 4 hours and 8 minutes, I felt that my running intensity had dropped significantly that it probably wasn't necessary to continue with the gels, as even with them being the most tasty on the market, they still when coming to consuming the fifth gel take a bit of effort to get down.  So from Kentmere onwards I simply fuelled on coke and a small mixture of cake and biscuit.  Although at the Langdale checkpoint, with a gel not being appealing, I added a sachet of TORQ energy powder to one of my drink bottles and consumed this, rather than any real food.  Did my nutrition work?  Well I never got that 'woosey' feeling in my head, and I never felt like I was getting weak due to a lack of biochemical energy.  So I would conclude my nutritional strategy was successful.

Right, back to the race.  Where was I?  Yes, I left the Kentmere checkpoint really buzzing.  Immediately there is quite a climb to get to the top of Garburn Pass.  I increase the level of race focus, trying to maintain running when the gradient allows, but power hike the majority of the climb.  Shortly after the top on the fast gradual descent down to Troutbeck I get another surprise.  I very quickly catch Martin Cox, who didn't look very happy, but the difference in running pace is so great I don't even get a chance to chat to enquire about is problem, which I am led to believe from Marcus Scotney's race report was either a knee or an Achilles issue. Now in fourth place, which I think is great, but again don't ponder over it.

Usually at this point along the route my legs are pretty trashed and so I am moving pretty slowly.  But today. having only covered 30 miles, rather than the usual 80 miles, I am able to run down to Troutbeck at a pretty good pace.  The positive feedback this gives me enables me to pretty well run the entire next climb past the Post Office at Troutbeck.  And then a few minutes later I get the greatest surprise of the day, Danny Kendall is only a little way ahead of me, and he is walking up a gentle uphill!  I can't believe it. Yes I had felt that I had been running quite well, but not overly quick.  And yes it had been a pretty hot during the day, which had made the day more challenging.  But Danny, the Marathon des Sables runner, surely used to running in deserts isn't going to find the Lakeland heat any issue.

It doesn't take long to catch him, and as with when I passed Martin Cox, the difference in pace between the two of us was quite extreme.  However, we do have a chance for a brief chat where Danny explains that he has been suffering from severe cramps.  I wish him the best, and with the excitement of overtaking Danny, my running pace quickens, and now this time 'I leave him for dead'!  Payback time for him taking my Steyning Stinger course record I quietly think to myself.

Although, I am now in third place in the British Ultra Trail Championships, which excites me.  I find that I don't dwell on it and simply get back into being within the moment, as I enjoy running quickly through a really scenic portion of the route as it passes through Skelghyll Woods before entering Ambleside.

I am welcomed by Frances, Rob and Chris at the Ambleside checkpoint. It is great to be greeted by my family.  The boys are taking photos, with the majority of the photos within this post being theirs.  This post does also have two photos, start of the Fusedale climb, that I purchased from the Sportsunday (the official race photographers), the family shot at the finish courtesy of Ian Corless, plus one or two I 'borrowed' from various facebook friends whom I can't quite remember, although I do recall the excellent photo descending towards Kentmere was taken by Jen Regan. Thanks for the photos.

Entering Ambleside Checkpoint

It is hard to explain, but whilst at the checkpoint the relaxed 'she'll be right' approach seemed to change.  Whereas back at Kentmere I didn't seem to have a 'worry in the world' and was really enjoying the race and willing to lose time to chat at the checkpoint.  For some reason, all of a sudden I started to rush, to try to save time, I guess I started to panic about Danny catching back up to me if I spent too long at the checkpoint.  Whatever caused this change in attitude, I don't know.  But compare the expressions between the photo above and the photo below.  Something happened, and all of a sudden, as if instantly, I started to struggle.

Leaving Ambleside Checkpoint

Just as I leave the checkpoint I hear the applause as Danny is welcome to the checkpoint.  The official results show that he arrived exactly 3 minutes and 1 second after me.  So I had spent probably around 2:45 at the checkpoint.  Still quite a long stop considering that I was trying to rush.  I don't know what the length of my relaxed cheerful stops at Mardale and Kentmere were, but I would imagine a similar duration of around 2 - 3 minutes.  Not quick, but as highlight above, the boost in energy received whilst at the checkpoint tends to result in the regaining of this time plus more!

I am conscious that my attitude has changed, so I really focus on getting back to being in a relaxed positive frame of mind, whilst trying to maintain the necessary race focus and a good running pace.  The steep but shortish climb and descent down to Skelwith Bridge goes well.  As I travel along the smooth gravel path towards Elterwater, I feel that it is taking more effort to maintain a good running pace.  I am beginning to start to worry about how far there is to go.  I 'snap' myself out of this negative thinking, and try to concentrate on just getting to the next checkpoint at Langdale.

The Beginning of the Struggle at Elterwater

'Snapping Back' to 'Being Within the Moment' Passing Wainwright's Inn, Chapel Stile

At the penultimate checkpoint, checkpoint five at Langdale/Chapel Stile, again I am in panic / rush mode as I take on some fuel and fluid, and for the first time in the race I ask what the gap ahead to Marcus is.  Why I need to know what the time gap to Marcus is now, when I haven't needed to know since the last time I saw him way back at Low Kop above Haweswater, I don't really know.  I guess it was largely due to the prospect of winning a British Athletics Championship medal, which would be pretty amazing at the age of 51, and being over 20 years since I last won a National championship medal.  Yes, way back in 1992 while I was living up in Aberdeen, Scotland for a year or so, back in my Ironman triathlon days, I managed to win a bronze medal in the Scottish Athletics marathon championships,  I also managed to win a silver medal in the 1992 Scottish Triathlon Championships, finishing second to Jack Maitland, (who just so happens to be one of the Brownlee brothers coaches).  

I guess it was this thinking ahead to what it would be like to 'finish on the podium' and win a British athletics championship medal that got be being distracted and being no longer within the moment.  I was now distracted by the destination.  I wanted the race to finish.  I had started to count down the miles.  I was beginning to expect that I should be exhausted by now as I was nearing the finish, having completed 40 miles.  So anyway, I ask for some data on the time gap to Marcus, and the impact of being told it was seventeen minutes had immediate negative consequences.  I immediately conclude that I can't gain this time, so I need to focus on staying ahead of Danny.  I further slipped into trying to predict what will happen in the future.  The focus on the present moment is gone.  I am not receptive to the positive energy from the checkpoint volunteers.  So I depart the checkpoint in a similar state to how I departed the Ambleside checkpoint, without my positivity tank replenished.  And just to really 'knock me' as I am beginning to fall into the downward spiral, I glance to my left and see that Danny is only 100 metres away from entering the checkpoint!  On no, he is obviously running back to his usual awesome standard.  Oh well fourth place is good! 

So as I commence leg six of seven instead of enjoying the surrounding beauty and maintaining my race focus, my mind is wandering.  How soon will it be until he catches me?  Can I hold him off?  Don't be stupid.  One doesn't finish in fifth place in the Marathon des Sables without being able to deal with difficult patches during a race, which he has obviously done.  It is quite hard to explain the thoughts and emotions that were going around in my head for the next 20 minutes or so before he caught me.  One thing I love about ultra-trail racing is the competition.  Pitting myself against the other runners.  But up until this portion of the race, although I was racing, in terms of really maintaining my race focus to ensure I finished in the quickest time that I could possibly achieve on this day.  Since losing sight of Marcus during leg two I had been pretty well running on my own and had been really enjoying the peacefulness of running quickly through the amazing landscapes.  Now here I was in a real race battle situation, and for some reason I didn't get excited.  The exact opposite happened, I got negative as I simply assumed that I would lose the battle to Danny.  

Now I am not trying to make excuses here, but I am trying to get an understanding of how I need to control my thoughts/feelings for my next race, the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc.  At pretty well the same point of the course in last year's Lakeland 100, I was faced with a similar situation, in that I was being chased down by those behind me.  What was different this year, as last year it really spurred me on, and it gave me the incentive to up the intensity and to really battle all the way to Coniston?  There are two possibilities I can think of.  Firstly, self-belief.  Last year I had the self-belief that I was capable of winning the Lakeland 100 for a second time.  Whereas this year, as described at the start of this blog post, it was quite obvious that I expected to be beaten by Danny.  In fact I had used this information to ensure that I didn't became too destination focused.  

So now when I need to have the belief that I was capable of beating him, all I was getting back from the 'devil on my shoulder' was "Don't be stupid.  You know you can't beat him, so don't even bother trying.  Go back to enjoying the scenery."  The other 'problem' I had was that throughout the journey so far I had really focused on running relaxed and not battling/fighting my way to the finish.  I have this as a key race goal during ultra-trail races as I don't think it is really possible to fight one's way for seven, eight, nine hours plus.  But now with less than ten miles to the finish, not much more than an hour and a half of running, there isn't really an issue with battling for this short duration of time.  But I guess the lack of self belief combined with the prospect of the 'discomfort' of getting into a battle which I was going to lose anyway, led to me losing third place without the difficulty that Danny was perhaps expecting to encounter.

Danny catches me at the bottom of the steep climb up to Side Pike Pass with there being now less than eight miles to the finish.  We hike the climb together quietly chatting, and then as the climb flattens out, as we approach the summit, I simply say to Danny "See you at Coniston" as Danny commences running and I continue to walk.  He quickly gains probably around a minute on me as we pass Blea Tarn.  I then realise that one of my goals for the race was to race the entire 50 miles.  For the last ten minutes I had not been doing this.  Amazingly I am able to get back into race mode and raise the intensity and start trying to regain the lost ground to Danny.  By the time we reach the compulsory self-dibber checkpoint around ten minutes later, I have regained a little bit of time lost to Danny. The race is back on, but on the next short climb before we descend down to checkpoint seven at Tilberthwaite I lose a little more time, as although I am on task and focusing within the present moment, the reality of the situation was that I was pretty exhausted both physically and mentally.  Yes, although I have tended to ignore it within this blog post, the physical body does actually play a major part in completing fifty miles of trails as quickly as one can.  The messages coming from the leg muscles that they are quite damaged is getting stronger, or perhaps I am just paying more attention to these messages, as it becomes more difficult to focus on the positives as one begins to run out of the all important race focus energy (RFE). As I approach the checkpoint I watch Danny run up the infamous quarry steps, and gauge that I am now around three minutes behind.

During the last leg to Conistion the arguments from the 'devil', this time using the approach that I must slow down in order to not totally 'destroy' myself so able to be better prepared for my key race of the year, the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in less than five weeks' time, seems totally logical and appealing.  So I stop racing, and slowly make my way to Conisiton.  Although to be totally honest, even if I had managed to maintain the race focus for the last 3.5 miles I doubt I would have gone much quicker, as there wasn't much left in 'the tank'!  Overall I had 'dug pretty deep', but just not as deep as during last year's 100 mile race.

As I run the final mile to the finish I am already reflecting on my race.  How had it gone?  How had I performed?  Had I achieved my race goals?  Whilst within my fatigued state I conclude that I have run well.  I have pretty well reached Coniston as quickly as I could on this particular day.  And although I didn't quite achieve my goal of racing the entire fifty miles. Racing for probably 46 of these 50 miles isn't too far off the mark.  So as I cross the finish line, in fourth place in a time of 8:25:32, I am pretty pleased with how I have performed, and really enjoy the warm welcome from all of the volunteers and catching up again with my family and fellow runners. 

With Chris the Photographer and Chris the Athlete (Who did substantially improve on his 2013 performance by around three and a half hours to finish in ninth place.)

Sharing Race Journey Stories With Marcus

Concluding Thoughts
Well this has been another ultra-length post.  But beneficial to me as I prepare for my final ultra-trail race of the year, the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc.  Hopefully the post has also been beneficial to those that have managed to read this far.  The post is sub-titled "Being Within the Moment", and I have spent considerable words above trying to explain how getting one's emotions 'right', contributes significantly to ultra-trail performance.  The difference in my race performance in the Lakeland 50 in comparison to my race performance in the Fellsman, just three months earlier, is quite extreme.  Was this difference a consequence of me being physically/physiologically fitter?  No!  I don't think there has been any noticeable change in my physical fitness levels.  Throughout the year I have felt I have been in pretty good physical shape.  But what has been different between the two races, has been my emotions during the race.  To put it simply, remaining positive, and not getting negative.  An easy thing to say, and an easy aim to state.  But achieving it whilst racing over the demanding Lakeland trails, in pretty hot conditions, is not that easy!

I have also attempted to highlight above how as my emotions changed during the race, my running changed.  In terms of having an objective measure of how well one is running during the race, I find the individual leg time rankings can provide a guide.  If we look at the leg split time data of the six pre-race favourites as identified by race winner Kim Collison (7:48:01) within his excellent (brief in comparison to my effort) race report, the variation in the leg split time rankings for these six runners is at times huge and really interesting, (see below).

Within the various race reports I have read, there is mention of severe cramping, heavy legs, dry mouths, boiling brains, screaming hearts, injury issues, but also mention of "the belief I could do it".  So maintaining one's running pace may not be as simple as controlling one's emotions.  But unless the physical issues are literally slowing you down, I would suggest these 'difficult patches', or often referred to as 'low points', as the term suggests are when one's emotions are low, then getting one's emotions in the right place plays a huge part in determining running pace and overall race performance.

Looking at the table above, the variations in the leg split time rankings are quite large.  It seems that five out of the six runners, excluding the winner Kim, had 'difficult patches', and experience one or two relatively slow legs.  Also interesting that five out of the six runners 'won' a leg, except me!  I have produced two excel files with the leg split time rankings for all competitors for both the Lakeland 50 and the Lakeland 100 races.  These can be accessed by clinking this L50 link and this L100 link.

Well done to everyone that completed the Montane Lakeland 50 and the Montane Lakeland 100, and huge congratulations to Kim for his outstanding (consistent) performance.  By the way, it was Kim who highlighted within his race report "I had the belief I could do it".

Lastly, a massive thanks to everyone involved in putting on such a fantastic race.

Time to sign off with a quote from twice Lakeland 100 second place finisher Andy Mouncey:
"So it's just running, is it?  Yeah right! ....  My emotional turbo-charge has been to meet the other members of Family Mouncey."  Andy Mouncey, from his book titled:  Magic, Madness and Ultramarathon Running
All the best with your emotions during future races.


PS  Those of you who had a look at the Montane Kentmere checkpoint crew's report may have noticed the following at the end of their report Stuart Mills (ML50): My intention at the moment is to give ultra trail running a break for a few years as I will focus on returning to Ironman triathlons after a twenty year break.  So I will not be back next year, but maybe in 2017." Yes not only is UTMB later this month going to be my final ultra-trail race for the year, but my final ultra-trail race for a few years.  But more about this in another blog post!

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Montane Lakeland 50 - Quick Update


It's been some time since I have done a quick update, but since it will be a little while until I write my race report due to spending some time on holiday, here is a quick update.

The Montane Lakeland 50 this year was the British Ultra trail championships so there was an exceptionally strong field. After having to date a disappointing racing year it is very pleasing to report that I had a positive performance. Racing in at times very hot conditions, after spending the majority of the race in sixth place, I had a really strong patch between 21 and 34 miles and moved  to third place. Unfortunately at around the 42 mile mark Danny Kendall re-overtook me, so I finish in fourth place in a time of 8 hours 25 minutes, around half an hour behind the winner Kim Collinson. Jo Meek finish in sixth place overall to win the women's race.

Look out for my full race report around the middle of next week, where you can expect an ultra length report as I will attempt to share how I managed to get the preparation more complete, which resulted in a substantially improved 2014 race performance.

From a warm northern England, all the best with your summer running. 


Tuesday, 17 June 2014

South Downs Way 100 Race Report - Processing the Frustration


As I start typing up this race report from Saturday's race I'm not that sure what I will end up writing.  Often I let things 'settle' for a few days or perhaps a week, to allow time to fully process what happened during the race, in order to learn from and to continue to improve.  However, due to there being some frustration with my performance on Saturday, I find I am wanting to analyse what happened as soon as possible, so I can adjust my preparations so as to 'get things right' for my next race, which is only six weeks away.  So if this race report ends up being a bit 'jumbled', it is because I am analysing the race 'live'! 

Please note that although I publish my race report posts on my UltraStu blog which enables others to read my race reflections, the number one reason for writing the post is to assist me with improving my ultra trail running performance.  So yes, the post maybe rather lengthy, probably a bit repetitive, and even at times boring, but it serves it's purpose for me.  And if others are able to take on board some useful bits of information from my experiences and the mistakes I have made, then this is a bonus!  Be prepared for an ultra analysis!

This year was the first year since taking up ultra trail running in 2008 that I decided to race two ultra races of 100 miles duration, these being the South Downs Way (SDW) 100 and then at the end of August, the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc 166km (103 mile).  With the majority of the SDW race travelling through Sussex, passing just a few miles from where I live and finishing at Eastbourne where I work, it seemed an obvious race choice to include as one of the seven races I race would race during 2014.

The SDW race was first organised by Centurion Running in 2012, when it was won by Ryan Brown in a time of 17:04:26.  Last year, Robbie Britton just a few weeks after he ran for Great Britain at the World 24 Hour Championships where he finished in I think 19th place, ran one and a half hours quicker and won in a time of 15:43:53.  So as I started my TOTAL preparations for this year's race I knew that to achieve a finish time of around 15:40 it would require quite a bit of focus.  As with all of my races I carry out extensive research on the event, looking at past results, race route descriptions, and if possible recceing of the course.  With the race being so local to me, I knew the route pretty well, having raced over portions of it during the South Downs, Three Forts, Steyning Stinger and Beachy Head trail marathons , as well as having mountain biked the entire route from Winchester to Eastbourne a few years back.  However training partner and work colleague Rob Harley who was also racing the SDW100, hadn't run much of the route, so during May we scheduled in three recce runs which covered from Winchester to Housedean Farm (Checkpoint 11, as the SDW crosses the A27, not too far from Lewes).

Before the Start With Training Partner Rob

With the terrain and elevations fresh in my mind, together with an assessment of my current physical fitness, I then calculated split times for each of the fifteen legs assuming I have a 'perfect day'.  I have used this 'perfect day' approach for I guess the last year or so.  It is not specifically a race goal, but used more as an expectation that if everything went well, then this finish time is possible.  I prefer this approach rather than calling it a race goal, so it avoids any possible disappointment that may result if one doesn't achieve the target time set, as one wouldn't expect to achieve the perfect result every time they raced.  I have mentioned before why I think it is important that one has a 'ball park' idea of what finish time one can expect to achieve in relation to the sub-conscious, so won't repeat it here, rather than stating that it is important!  In terms of specific race goals, I try to establish non time related, or non place related goals.  With the specific race goal being more of a 'journey' goal rather than a 'destination' goal.

Well following my detailed split time calculations, my 'perfect day' finish time came to 14 hours 50 minutes.  Okay, pretty quick in relation to Robbie Britton's 2013 finish time, but looking at the calculations on paper, the numbers seemed to be pretty realistic.  For those interested in how I calculate these split times, firstly in order to have any reasonable accuracy one needs to have a thorough knowledge of the route, so for the SDW100 I had no problems there.  Then due to my "Run as fast as you can, while you can" pacing approach, I schedule into my calculations significant slowing down.  With the minute mile rates for the SDW100 starting at 7 minute miling for the first two legs, i.e. up to Checkpoint 2 at Queen Elizabeth Park, the first timed checkpoint at 22.6 miles.  Then progressively slowing down to 10 minute 30 seconds per mile for the last two legs from Alfriston at 91.6 miles.  I also factor in the approximate time lost on the climbs, and time stationary at checkpoints, and so add on these extra minutes to each of the checkpoint split times.  Now I know many people adopt the exact opposite approach, and aim to try to maintain a constant running pace throughout, but I am not convinced.  Even after Saturday's result I am still adamant that slowing down is a reality, and not slowing down during an ultra event is actually a sign of a poorly paced race.  Although the amount of slowdown is obviously important.  Excessive slowing down is clearly not what you want, but you do want some, or perhaps better phrased as, you should expect some.  If time allows I will try to expand upon this later on.

So even though I spend a significant amount of time calculating my checkpoint split times, come race day I try not to know these times precisely.  For Saturday's race I knew my schedule times at CP2 QE Park (2:44), at Washington CP7 after 54.0 miles (7:10), at Southease CP12 after 83.2 miles (12:00), which I had to know, as I was going to be cheered on by my family at Southease and my boys Rob and Chris don't appreciate me not keeping to schedule, and lastly the finish time at Eastbourne.  But the scheduled times at the other 11 checkpoints, I didn't know.  I didn't need to know them.  I guess in essence I didn't really need to know any of the split times as come race day I try to run by feel.  But I have found that it is quite difficult to race without any objective feedback on how one is performing, such as split times, hence why I memorise just a few split times for during the race.  Just an aside, although I do wear a Garmin Forerunner 310XT GPS watch with heart rate monitor.  Whilst racing I never look at my heart rate.  I wear the watch for later analysis of the heart rate, mile pace, and elevation data.

So how did the race progress, and why the frustration that I have indicated above?  Well standing on the start line I was in a 'good place'.  I felt that my preparation had gone well, both physically and non-physically (mentally).  Since getting over the injury I picked up during the Steyning Stinger marathon back at the start of March, I had run a total of 783 miles during the 12 weeks leading up to the race.  So with a weekly average of 65.3 miles per week, it was probably one of my biggest weekly mileage periods of training.  But what was more significant was that I didn't feel run down from, relative for me, the high mileage.  I was actually feeling really good during the majority of my training runs  There wasn't really a deliberate intention to increase my weekly mileage.  It more came amount as a result of the lengthy recce runs with Rob, long runs checking out the Weald Challenge Trail Race routes, then marking the route and collecting in the route markings, and finally doing an ultra guided running weekend as part of my Trail Running Sussex website.

I also felt pretty comfortable with my plan to start reasonably quick, to hopefully get ahead on my own, so I could run my own race.  Gaining a lead as a result of running quickly for the first few hours during previous ultra trail races had worked quite well for me.  In a number or races, for example in the Montane Lakeland 100 in 2010 and 2013, both of which I won, I was able to get around a 12 minute lead by around the 3 hour mark and then pretty well hold that time gap for the next 4 - 5 hours (in 2010) or for the next 15 hours (in 2013), before extending the lead.  In the past, running faster than a 'realistic' 100 mile race pace for the first three or so hours hasn't seemed to do any 'damage',  In fact it did the exact opposite, as the joy I would receive from running quickly, whilst still feeling good, is huge and provided a massive positive boost.

I was also really looking forward to the race, from the competitive aspect, the scenery aspect, but also the banter aspect that I was likely to receive form friend Brendan, who being a road cyclist, was going to cycle on his road bike from Winchester to Eastbourne and randomly 'pop up' along the way where the SDW crosses various roads.  Even though I had told him there was no need to, he had come prepared with lights on his bike, and with a thick novel to keep himself entertained while he anticipated lengthy delays in waiting for me at the road junctions!

Standing on the start line at Winchester, although happy with my preparation, there was however some doubt about how competitive I would be.  Although I try to simply focus on what I am able to do, pretty well everyone else you speak to about the race is interested in how you will do in relation to the likely winner of the race.  What position do you think you will get?  Will you win this 100 mile race, like you did at last year's Montane Lakeland 100?  Don't you perform better in 100 mile races than you do in the shorter races, such as marathons, so surely you are expecting to win?  So even though I try not to focus on the opposition, it is quite hard not to!  So who were the opposition?  Last year's winner, Robbie Britton wasn't racing, but on the entry list available to view on the race website, I did recognise a few names of some high performing runners.  So I knew that it wasn't just going to be the case of simply turning up and winning.  Not that it ever is like this!

Then a few days prior to race day, James Elson, the race director posts on the Centurion Running blog his thoughts on the main contenders.  Yes, I am listed as one of the contenders along with five or six other prospective leading men runners, and the likely leading women runners.  Although I was aware of many of the other runner's recent achievements, the recent sub three hour Three Forts Trail Marathon performance listed for Mark Perkins, together with his pretty quick SDW50 time attracted my attention.  Back in 2007 when I had won the Three Forts Marathon (actually 27 miles), I remember that I felt that I had run reasonably well that day to record a finish time of 3:07.  During the last two years, I have found that my trail marathon times have slowed quite dramatically.  So I know that I no longer would be able to run the Three Forts Marathon in 3:07, more likely around ten minutes slower at 3:17.  So I guess this is where some of the doubt about my likely competitiveness initiated from.  It appeared that possibly I was giving away 17 minutes over the marathon distance. 

Now I know there is a big difference between racing a marathon and racing 100 miles.  Usually being aware that another runner could possibly beat me in a marathon wouldn't really bother me.  As the longer the duration of the race, the greater the contribution ones non-physical preparation plays in determining performance.  And I see this aspect as perhaps one of my strengths.  But for an unknown reason, possibly due to my 'below par' performance at the Fellsman back in April, my self belief was lacking a wee bit, and so the doubt was there.  What was my solution to dispel this doubt, this lack of confidence?  Try to maximise the possible interpretation by others that I am a 100 mile specialist, and therefore a difficult competitor to beat.  Which I felt would be enhanced by getting a substantial enough lead over the main contenders at the first timed checkpoint at QE Park after 22.6 miles.  Then hopefully once they receive the anticipated large time gap feedback, they might just accept that they are only racing for second place and so 'forget' about me and pay too much attention to each other.

Perhaps you can begin to sense why I am frustrated with aspects of my performance during Saturday's race.  Planning ones race strategy on other runner's possible actions is probably one of the first DON'Ts of successful trail running.  Everyone knows that one should simply focus on what they are doing, not on what others are doing.  Yes, you know that, I know that, but sometimes even when we know what we should be doing, it doesn't mean we end up doing it!

Race Start at Winchester

So, the race starts and I take off pretty quickly.  It felt easy and I would have thought that it was somewhere around 6:20 minute mile pace.  Quick, but not too fast.  My GPS data, available to view on GarminConnect, actually shows that the first mile was run in 6:04, so a little bit quicker than planned.  As mentioned I was really looking forward to the race, so maybe this excitement lead to running that quickly.  Anyway I felt good, and continued to feel good as I settled into a comfortable pace, quicker than one would expect for a 100 mile race, but that was always my race pacing approach.  Start quick for the first hour, then ease of the pace for the next hour, then ease of a bit more for the next hour.  So by the time one is three hours into the race, I would eventually be running at 'proper' 100 mile race pace.

Unfortunately, with this 'obsession' with getting to the QE Park checkpoint with a massive lead, to hopefully demoralise the following runners, I kept on pushing, probably running at a slightly higher intensity than I would usually maintain during the second and third hours of a 100 mile ultra trail race.  I reassured myself, that all was fine, everything was going to plan, and that I could 'ease off' once I passed through the QE Park checkpoint.  I reached the checkpoint in 2:42:29, so just a little over a minute quicker than my scheduled 2:44 'perfect day' split time, feeling pretty comfortable, but with the beginning of some doubt that perhaps I may have gone that little bit quicker than usual.

Still Running Strong After Around 11 Miles Through Exton

I remember trying to make comparisons to the intensity I raced the first two or three legs at last year's Montane 100.  So again, another big mistake.  Rather than focusing on the present moment, I was being distracted, and not 'staying within the present moment'.  Probably one of the most important non-physical determinants of ultra trail running performance.  Yes, again I know what I should be doing, but again not doing it!  Oh the frustration!

Having 'promised' to myself that I could ease off once passing through the checkpoint, the easing off of the pace was more pronounced than it should have been.  This confirmed to me that yes, I had gone that little bit too quick.  Now I know that I promote the pacing strategy of "Run as fast as you can, while you can!"  So surely then you can't run too fast.  Well I know, that this philosophy of mine can create some confusion.  What I am trying to get across with my approach is that, pretty well no matter what pace you run at, unless ridiculously slower than what you are capable of, then you will slow down during an ultra trail race, as you will gradually fatigue.  So it is best to make the most of feeling strong and fresh at the start of the race, and run quickly.  Obviously, the "As fast as you can" literally doesn't mean "As fast as you can", i.e. for me a 5 minute mile, but it means faster that what you would expect to be able to maintain for the duration of the ultra race.  How much faster?  Now that is the interesting debate.

You can interpret from my planned schedule above, that my how much faster was quite a bit faster.  A 14 hour 50 minute finish time gives an average minute mile pace of 8:54, which includes the time one slows when running up the hills.  My planned starting pace of seven minute miling was without the time lost running up hills, as I include this extra time afterwards.  Once I have added in this extra time my planned average minute mile pace to QE Park at 22.6 miles was 7:15 miles.  So 1:39 per mile quicker than the overall average pace.  Then towards the end of the 100 mile race, I am planning to run 10:30 minute miles, plus around 15 seconds per mile slower due to the hills, so more like 10:45 minute miling, so 1:51 per mile slower than the overall average pace.

Now I am not trying to state that this percentage faster is the ideal ratio quicker that everyone should go at when starting an ultra trail race.  These are just some numbers/ratios that seem to 'work' for me based on my previous twenty five ultra trail races.  Looking at the GPS data from last Saturday, I think the 'problem' wasn't so much due to an error with the above numbers, but more due to the error in my interpretation of the pace I was running at.  Possibly due to being too anxious on creating a big lead.  With the first few miles consisting of mile split times of 6:04, 7:33 containing a 68 metre elevation gain, 7:11 containing a 38 metre elevation gain, and then another 6:04 mile.  It is definitely quicker than the planned flat running pace of 7:00 minute miles!

So what effect does this quicker than planned race start have?  Yes, it will result in increased glycogen usage, and also possibly increase the level of muscle damage.  But in relation to the pace I am able to run at, even running a 6:04 minute mile isn't relatively that quick, as I am still able to run a sub five minute mile, just!  But the damage that it does create is within ones mind!  Now I know that probably the most accepted approach to ultra running in terms of pacing strategy is to "Take it easy to half way" and then the 'racing' can begin.  Well even though I totally disagree with this approach, although I had arrived at the QE Park checkpoint pretty well bang on schedule, I found that the moment I started to question whether I had actually worked at too higher an intensity, the mind started to wander.  I was thinking back to the miles just completed, trying to assess whether I had "gone too hard", (yes the term hard, being a negative term doesn't really help!), and then thinking ahead trying to predict what the possible consequences could be for the next 70 miles.  Again, I know what I should have been doing, simply staying within the present moment, staying within the 'here and now'.  But for whatever reason I wasn't!  And the moment this happened, I had the "bad angel" on one shoulder, as Ironman triathlete Chris McCormack describes it as, screaming at me telling me "You have blown it", "You are going to suffer for your ridiculous fast start", and as much as I know physiologically my quickish start wasn't going to be that damaging, sometimes it is just gets too difficult to continually battle against these "bad angel" arguments!  I therefore accepted, that the only way to perhaps salvage my race was to slow down by pace, which I had always intended to do, but it just so happened that the resulting slowing down was more than planned.

Looking back at my 'perfect day' schedule, the planned arrival time at Cocking CP4, the next timed checkpoint at 35.1 miles, was 4:24, which means that the 12.5 miles between checkpoints would take 1:40, so an average minute mile pace of exactly 8:00 per mile,  So 45 seconds per mile slower than the planned average pace up to QE Park.  In terms of elevation gain and loss, although there are a few climbs during the first 35 miles, there isn't anything really major, apart from a bit of a climb up to the top of Old Winchester Hill, so probably not much difference between the first 22 miles and the next 13 miles.  In fact although not physically possible, there seemed to be more significant downhills during this portion of the race, in relation to any of the climbs, such as the drop down from Beacon Hill immediately after CP1, the drop down from Buster Hill immediately before CP2, and the drop into the Cocking checkpoint (CP4).

Shortly before dropping down into the Cocking checkpoint, I get a big surprise as Mark Perkins appears beside me.  Up to that point, the only information I had received was that at about 7 - 8 miles into the race I had around a five minute lead.  Having gone through the QE Park CP in 2:42 in relation to Robbie Britton's QE Park CP time form 2013 of 3:09, I thought that my lead could possibly be anything as great as up to 15 minutes, if the same rate of gaining a lead up to the 7 - 8 mile mark was maintain throughout to QE Park.  Note; the official results actually show that my lead at the checkpoint was only 9 minutes and 13 seconds!  Which I didn't know on race day, so to be caught at the 35 mile mark was a bit of a shock.  Looking at the split time for arriving at Cocking, based on my data, as the official Cocking CP data isn't available, which was at around 4:32.  I had lost 8 minutes to my perfect day schedule, but more importantly had lost ALL of my 9 minute lead from QE Park.  It had taken me 109 minutes to cover 12.5 mile miles.  So instead of my average running pace slowing down from 7:15 min/mile to 8:00 min/mile, it actually slowed substantially more down to 8:44 min/mile.  Meanwhile Mark Perkins' pace only slowed down from 7:37 min/mile up to QE Park to 8:00 min/mile.  Interestingly the 8:00 min/mile pace he ran at between QE Park and Cocking was identical to my planned 'perfect day' pace.  So as planned, if I had managed to control my slowing down during this portion of the race to 8:00, then the time gap would have been the same, which I have noticed is what typically has happened in a number of my previous ultra trail races.

What caused the excessive slowdown is the big question?  Was it largely due to the negative thoughts, the wandering of the mind, the doubt, concern, worry about having gone too fast?  Or was it simple physiology, I just wasn't physically fit enough to run at the pace I had planned?  Probably a combination of the two.  All I know, and where the frustration comes from for this portion of the race is, that with better mind control, the slowdown wouldn't have been as excessive.  And this is something I can remedy before my next race.  Trying to correct the level of physical fitness is a lot more difficult.  As mentioned above, with increasing age I have found that my physiology has declined, and during the last two years especially, this decline as been more rapid!  Maybe with turning 50 last year, there is also a possible mental expectation component that has magnified the decline, although in my mind I still feel as young and as competitive as I always have! 

Mark's stop at the checkpoint is minimal, and so he departs a minute or so before me, and that is the last I see of him!  Although disappointing to have lost the lead, I am fine with it, and in some ways a bit relieved, as I was aware that I was slowing down more than I should have been, so with my mind wandering, I found that I was trying to predict, with minimal data, when I would get caught.  Not a good sign, having this negative expectation of being caught present within ones thoughts!  So at least now I didn't have this distraction.

I therefore continued along the South Downs Way, yes at an even slower pace.  It still amazes me just how much leading a race can have on how one feels.  Maybe it is just my big ego.  But when leading a race, everything just feels so much easier.  The moment one loses the lead, all of a sudden little things became more of a struggle.  And it isn't just me with these sensations.  How many times have you seen the current leader of a race drop out.  Very seldom.  But the moment they lose their lead, then all of the sudden the discomfort from the injury or illness becomes just too much and they drop out.  Yes, it is all in the mind.  But that doesn't mean that these feelings, emotions, sensations aren't real!

So I make my way towards Eastbourne, briefly chatting to Brendan at a number of different road junctions.  And I guess shortly before descending into Amberley at around the 45 mile mark I encounter my first challenging moment.  Up to that point I had felt okay.  Although at times I felt a bit warm, my hydration using the new Montane Jaws 10 trail running pack with drink bottles on the shoulder straps, and my nutrition using TORQ gels had been effective.  But after over six hours of running, even with the TORQ gels being a lot less 'offensive' than all of the other gels I have used in the past, the thought of consuming more gels wasn't that appealing, which then creates concern regarding whether I am taking on sufficient fuel.  There also at the same time seems to be a lack of excitement, and lack of enjoyment.  I guess partly due to having lost the lead but hopefully I would expect more due to the fact that I was running slower than planned.  I usually establish a race goal of running strong, running confidently, running positively for as much of the race as possible, ideally the entire race.  But on Saturday, obtaining that goal was no longer possible due to the negative thoughts that had 'taken control' shortly after QE Park with the acceptance that I needed to slow down!  So in combination with this reduction in joy, I was finding it difficult to maintain the motivation to keep the intensity at a race pace level.  The "bad angel" was doing it's best to convince me that there was no purpose in trying to run quickly.  It wasn't possible to achieve any of the race goals I had established, so the best option was to simply slow down, look at the scenery, totally forget any time component to do with the race, and therefore maximise your enjoyment!  It always amazes me how the "bad angel" always somehow manages to construct a pretty powerful argument to get you to slow down!

Fortunately climbing the big climb out of Amberley, although not moving that quickly I get back on task.  The increased focus to get up the hill re-engages my racing mode, and things are therefore pretty well okay all the way to the Washington checkpoint at 54.0 miles, which I reach after 7:31.  Now being 23 minutes behind Mark, and in relation to by 'perfect day' schedule, 21 minutes behind schedule.  Taking on board this time information, at first pleases me, as it confirms that even if I was running well, I would still likely be behind Mark as he is running really well.  But then it disappoints me, as I realise I am missing an excellent opportunity to have a great battle in what could have been a closely fought race.

I guess I am stopped at Washington for around 3 - 4 minutes.  I used to always try to minimise the time I spent at checkpoints, but now I am not too sure if this is the best approach in long 100 mile races.  At the checkpoint is an excellent opportunity to really soak up some positive energy from the volunteers and other spectators.  And as long as the time spent there isn't too long, the 2 - 3 minutes of 'down time' can allow your mind to briefly switch off from the required 'race focus', and can rejuvenate you.  However, taking a 'break' at a checkpoint can also be risky, as it can result in when you attempt to get back into race mode, that you don't return to the same race intensity, and from that point in the race onwards, it is as if your 'intensity thermostat' has been reset.  So where as for example in last year's Montane Lakeland 100, where taking 2 - 3 minute checkpoint breaks made a significant positive impact on my overall race performance, I think possibly with the SDW 100 race route not being so physically demanding.  Due to smaller climbs, the lack of night time running (for me), and the much reduced overall race duration.  Then taking slightly longer breaks last Saturday didn't really pay off!  For those situations in more demanding, long races, I would suggest that 3 minutes should be the upper maximum time.  The only problem is that it is so easy for the 2 - 3 minutes to extend to 5 - 6 minutes, and then it may become even more difficult to get back into race mode!

Leaving Washington CP at 54 Miles (Photo courtesy of Javid Bhatti)

Being at the Washington checkpoint for that little bit too long does result in me taking a bit of time to re-engage with the race, but overall I am reasonably happy with the progress I am making towards Eastbourne.  Yes, a lot slower that planned, but at this point although not moving fast I am still racing.  However, on the decent to the Boltophs checkpoint at the 61 mile mark, the amount of discomfort in the legs seems to be the 'final straw' in my ability to hold off the 'slow down arguments'!  Now in every 100 mile race I have run, towards the latter end of the race, I have always experienced discomfort due to extensive muscle damage.  Yes, sometime it is worse that others, but reflecting back now, as I descended down to Bolthophs it was nowhere as challenging as usual, and this 'giving' in without really trying to process the discomfort, is another source of frustration.  Interestingly even though I don't think slowing ones pace down to pretty well a minimal shuffle actually reduces the level of discomfort that much, it at least feels as though one is doing something positive to make things more comfortable.  So that is what I do.  I absolutely take forever to drop down to the river and into the checkpoint. 

The Massive Drop in Heart Rate as I DNF the Race Decending into Boltolphs Checkpoint at 61 Miles

Then to 'top things off' as I leave the checkpoint and glance back across the river, I spot an approaching runner.  Do I then immediately get a move on, get back into race mode?  Unfortunately not.  I walk out of the checkpoint, walk across the busy road, and yes walk up the hill up toward the youth hostel on Trueleigh Hill.  Although the hill is reasonably steep at the bottom section, I know that I shouldn't be walking it, but I do!  I no longer have the incentive to maintain my race focus.  In reality my racing is over for the day! Even though I am still in second place overall as I walk up the climb, it doesn't seem to hold any significance for me. And this is what is possibly the most frustrating aspect for me from last Saturday's race.  This lack of desire to continue to race hard, regardless of my race position.  Yes, a very disappointing realisation!

Racing the Mountain Bikers At Ditchling Beacon At Around 72 Miles

Having a 'Picnic' at Southease Checkpoint at 83 Miles With Cyclist Supporter Brendan and Chris

However, I do continue to run, all be it, at a slower than usual pace, all the way to Eastbourne, apart from walking up the very last climb out of Jevington.  As I had lost the incentive to run as quickly as I could, pretty well the only motivation I was able to create to keep me moving along at running pace was so I didn't miss any of the football that started at 11:00pm and so after 17 hours.  As I left the last checkpoint at Jevington, I knew that I could literally walk all the way to Eastbourne and still not miss any of the football, hence the lengthy walk up the final climb/  I officially finish in fifth place overall, in a time of 16:33:30, which I guess for 228 of the runners from the field of 233 starters on Saturday they would be really pleased with finishing fifth in such a quick time.  But everyone's motives and challenges for running the SDW100 are different, and therefore everyone's levels of achievement and satisfaction are also different.  So for me, the finish time was not satisfying.  I know I am capable of a better performance.  Yes, I know that maybe I have finally reached the pinnacle of my ultra trail racing performances, and so from now on it may be all downhill.  But, I guess it gets down to the fact that I am not quite ready to accept this.  The desire to continue to perform at a high level that has provided me in the past with immense satisfaction is still strong.  Fortunately through this detailed analysis of last Saturday's race I am able to see that I can make some simple changes which can enhance my performance quite a bit.  So I am not quite ready to 'throw in the towel'.

So yes, the SDW100 was frustrating for many reasons, but the best way to deal with these frustrations is to put in action the necessary changes I need to make to my TOTAL preparation.  Specifically my non-physical preparation in order to 'bounce back' from two consecutive 'below par' performances, as physically I feel in pretty good shape.  Look out for the next lengthy instalment of my continuing learning experiences at the end of July, as I look to 'get it right', to do what I know I need to do, over the fantastic trails of the Lake District at the Montane Lakeland 50.

Well I did warn you at the start that this blog post was being typed 'live'!  As a result I am feeling a lot more positive towards my next race, which before commencing these race reflections, there was just a wee bit of doom and gloom!

I will sign off with a quote from one of my favourite books:
"You can either live the safe route that many others have done and continue to do, or you can take that leap of faith: jump off the cliff that can send you into a World that is unpredictable, extremely challenging, and altogether unsupported by those who see risk as a negative.  Do that and you can truly live the life that you were put here to live".  Mark Allen, Six Times Hawaii Ironman Champion.  From the book titled I'm Here to Win, by Chris McCormack, 2011.
Was running the first mile in 6:04 the safe route?  No, probably not, but it was a lot of fun!

All Smiles - Out On My Own at the End of the Starting Lap of the Field at Winchester