Friday, 5 September 2014

Ultra Trail Mont Blanc Race Report - No Obvious Major Mistakes, Just Disappointment!

Hi,

For the last six years I have been racing trail ultras.  And for the last four years I have been writing race reports here on UltraStu.  Well tonight's UTMB race report will be my last ultra trail race report for a while, as I am having a break from ultra trail racing.

I have used my race reports as part of my TOTAL training, where I have spent much time analysing my race performances in order to learn and strive to improve.  Over the last six years, I feel I have developed as an ultra trail runner, with some performances I consider being quite exceptional, whereas others have been at times disappointing.  It is just a little unfortunately that my 28th and final ultra trail race during this period of my competitive endurance racing 'career' ended up being a Did Not Finish (DNF)!  Tonight's race report should be a lot shorter than usual, as with there being no immediate upcoming ultra trail races, the need to learn to improve isn't so paramount.  So here goes!


The 168km UTMB was my number one race for 2014, having previously raced it in 2009 where I finished in 22nd place in a time of 26:29:13, and in 2011 where I DNFed at Courmayeur after 78km.  It is an amazing event, and having decided at the end of 2013 that 2014 would be my final year of ultra trail racing prior to a break, it seemed the ideal ultra trail race to finish on.  (I will come back to my decision to have a break either at the end of this post, or in a separate blog post).

My racing during 2014 had been rather mixed.  It started back in March at the Steyning Stinger Trail Marathon where I had my first ever DNF in a trail marathon after taking a fall in the mud resulting in a 'locking up' of my right leg.  During my next race in April, the 61 mile Fellsman, I ran very poorly and finish in a disappointing 20th place.  I quickly 'threw in' a trail marathon into my race schedule two weeks following the Fellsman to boost my confidence, which worked with a strong run at the Stroud Trail Marathon to finish in a close second place.  The South Downs Way 100 miler in June followed with although a fifth place, finishing in a time of sixteen and a half hours, overall I wasn't happy with my performance.  Fortunately, I managed to produce a pleasing run at the Montane Lakeland 50 at the end of July where I finished in fourth place in a very strong field with it being the British Ultra Trail Championships.  So coming into UTMB I was expecting a strong showing.

Having DNFed at UTMB in 2011 mainly as a result of getting into a negative mental downward spiral, I was well aware of the need to get the non-physical preparation right.  Establishing ones race goals I have particularly found difficult this year, and this I guess is part of the reason why I am having a break from ultra trail racing.  My goal for this year's UTMB wasn't a specific finish time or finish place goal, but more a goal of when I finished I hoped to be able to reflect back on the race and feel that I had maintained 'racing' for the entire 168km.  Obviously the intensity of racing a 168km mountainous race is lower than racing a flattish 100 miler, or a 50 mile race, however, I had the aim of wanting to maintain the race focus for the entire race.  Back in 2009, although overall I was pleased with my run, I felt that I had stopped racing at Vallorcine, which was at around 23 hours.  In 2014, could I manage to 'race' the entire route?  If I could, then a pleasing finish time would result, which I expected would be quicker than 2009, somewhere between 25:15 - 26:00 hours.  So I had a 'perfect' race time expectation of 25:15 - 26:00 hours, and formulated a schedule for the 24 timing checkpoints based on 25:15, but this wasn't the race goal.  As explained the race goal was to maintain a race level intensity, and try not to 'slacken off'.  Usually quite achievable for races lasting up to say nine hours, but for a 25+ hour race???

On a warm sunny Friday afternoon, although interrupted with a heavy shower just five minutes before the start, 2434 runners get underway. It doesn't take me long before I am in clear space and able to run at the pace that feels right.  Around the first two kilometres are on road before running along a undulating trail which is plenty wide enough to allow two runners to run side by side.  During the first 8kms before we start the first climb at Les Houches, it is all pretty comfortable, and there is brief chatter among the various British runners whom I am running near including Jez Bragg, Andy James, Robbie Britton, and Dan Lawson. I didn't have any plan to run with the other Brtish runners, it just seemed that we were wanting to run at around the same pace, probably around 200 - 300 metres back from the leaders as we go through the first drink station at Les Houches.

 The Start at Chamonix with Anton Krupicka (Headband) Directly Behind

The first climb up to Le Delevret is always a quick climb in relation to the other nine climbs.  I am working at a good level, not too high, and slowly watch the British runners move away.  I am totally fine with this as the intention was to start that little bit easier than I did back in 2011, where possibly it was just that bit too quick!  As I pass through the timing point at 1739 metres elevation (Les Houches was 1012m) I aren't aware of my position, but at the time I guessed that it would be somewhere between 50 - 70th place.  Although I wasn't really focused on a finish position, and even with the expectation that the standard of the field at the front would have improved since 2011 and 2009, I do recall feeling reasonably happy with where I was positioned.  The actual race results later show that I passed through in 71st place, in a slightly quicker time of 1:24:42 when compared to 2011 (1:25:30, 31st place).  The other British runners at this point were not in sight, having passed in the following times (places): Andy 1:21:33 (39th), Jez 1:21:56 (44th), Dan 1:22:22 (50th) and Robbie 1:22:48 (53rd).

During the First Climb

Passing Through the Le Delevret Checkpoint

The descent down to Saint Gervais is a little slippery due to the heavy rain that had started half way up the first climb.  I take it a little easier than usual being aware that back in 2011 I experienced substantial discomfort on the descent into Courmayeur.  I therefore don't get negative as around ten or so runners overtake me.  The results later show that during the forty minute descent I dropped from 71st to 83rd place.  There is a great street party atmosphere in Saint Gervais even though it is raining, and I really make the most of the positive energy and find myself high-fiving many children.

The next section along to Les Contamines is a gentle climb with the occasional short steep sections thrown in.  Including a new hill immediately prior to Les Contamines which probably adds around an extra minute or two to the race time in comparison to 2009 and 2011.  As mentioned above I had produced a 25:15 split time schedule.  I didn't have the split times written down, but I did decide to remember three of the times, these being at Les Contamines (31km), Courmayeur (78km) and Champex-Lac (124km).  I arrive at Les Contamines feeling really good, having seemed to have found my comfortable place within the field, with there being minimal changing of race position during the last hour, and I notice on my watch that I was pretty well exactly bang on my schedule time which was 3:15 at this checkpoint.  The results later show I arrived at 3:14:29 in 84th place.  The other Brits were still out of sight: Andy 3:04:19 (36th), Jez no time recorded, Dan 3:06:01 (41st) and Robbie 3:06:06 (43rd).

All is going to plan, and again I soak up the positive energy as I make good progress up to the next checkpoint at La Balme.  Up to this point of the race all had been going well.  I had felt that I was maintaining a good race pace appropriate for a 25+ hour race.  I was staying within the moment, and had been really enjoying the race, even though it had been raining now for three hours, although it had just stopped prior to La Balme which was pleasing.  I was aware that I was significantly lower down the field than I had been in both 2009 and 2011, and that I was behind the other leading British runners, but I was totally happy with all of this.  At this point I was achieving my goal of maintaining race focus, which I knew would produce the performance I would be happy with if I could simply continue to enjoy the present moment.

La Balme is at an elevation of 1698 metres, so we had already climbed quite a bit from the lowest point of the race route at Saint Gervais of 815 metres.  The next checkpoint was at Refuge Croix Bonhomme at 2439 metres.  It is during this portion of the race when things started to go wrong.  I start feeling tightness within my chest, and start to have trouble breathing.  I try to focus on the amazing surroundings, the stars above which are beginning to come out as the clouds disappear, the amazing trail of head torches behind winding up the mountain, but the discomfort from my chest is getting worse.  I have no choice but to ease off the pace in order to get to the top. 

I finally reach the checkpoint, and then try to maintain a quick pace on the descent.  I find it difficult to keep the pace up, with breathing problems with the tight chest.  I get to the Les Chapieux checkpoint, having descended 886 metres feeling pretty 'rough', after 6:30:32 of racing, now in 116th place.  Whereas back at Les Contamines I had been less than ten minutes behind the leading Brit Andy James, due to the difficulties I had experienced on the climb and descent I was now 44 minutes behind Andy!  (Andy 5:46:31 (28th), Jez 5:51:57 (41st), Dan 5:58:08 (53rd) and Robbie 6:05:16 (69th).

I decide a longer stop than usual is needed to try to recover.  For some of the checkpoints the time is recorded for entering and leaving the checkpoint, and the results show that I spent eight minutes at the checkpoint.  The next few miles are reasonably flat or at a gradient which is just that too steep to run, but easy to walk quickly up.  I begin to feel better and begin to relax as I start chatting to a runner from Japan, Aki.  I don't usually talk that much whilst racing, but I was cautiously getting back into race mode after the previous chest tightness prior to the checkpoint break, so I was able to chat a little bit. I guess we walk/run along together for around an hour, and I start to feel confident that I have got the 'bad patch' out of the way so soon into the race, so I start to look forward to increasing the intensity and gradually moving myself back up the field. Unfortunately around halfway up the long climb to Col de la Seigne (2507m) the tight chest and difficult breathing returns.  Again I try my best to remain positive and to 'push through', but I have to reduce the intensity, and the pace substantially drops and it seems to take forever to reach the top.

Meeting Up With Aki at the Prizegiving

On the descent I find that if I stay below a certain intensity the discomfort from the tight chest is okay.  I get to the checkpoint at Lac Combal (1964m) actually feeling okay, and with a quick stop are on my way.  As I start the fourth climb of the day, the moment I start to raise the intensity, the discomfort returns.  I have to travel up the mountain at a very slow pace.  I am beginning to feel a bit down.  From the race going so well for the first four hours, now at the Arete Mont-Favre checkpoint (2409m), 10:25:50 into the race, I am having really difficulty.  Not able to race, having to walk the climbs very slowly!

From Arete Mont-Fave there is first a gentle descent to the Col Chercrout checkpoint, then a steep descent to the major checkpoint at Courmayeur.  At first I manage to maintain a reasonable pace, but then shortly before Col Chercrout I begin to feel really rough, and am overcome by a sick feeling.  the tightness in the chest is still there, and now combined with feeling sick, I am not in a great state.  The checkpoint has a few benches to sit on, but no shelter.  I sit down and hope I will quickly feel better.  The checkpoint crew repeatedly check if I am okay and encourage me to make my way down to Courmayeir where the checkpoint is within a huge sports hall with hot food, beds, etc.  I don't know how long I am at the checkpoint, I guess around ten minutes.  As I start making my way down I am physically sick, although not much comes up!  Being sick actually makes me briefly feel better, but it isn't long before I feel really rough again, and I slowly make my way to the next checkpoint.

At Courmayeur, I pick up my drop bag, and make my way into the huge sports hall.  As I take a seat at a table, I find I am seated next to British runner Ed Catmur.  I hadn't actually met Ed before, although had seen him race and was well aware of his many great performances.  It was quite a bizarre moment as I introduced myself.  I was feeling pretty bad, and he actually didn't look that much better. (Ed had arrived at the checkpoint at 5:05am and spent 59 minutes there, before leaving at 6:04am.  So not the quickest of stops!).   I had a chuckle to myself at the thought of supposedly two of Britain's top 100 mile ultra trail runners both looking and feeling pretty rough, sitting down together stationary, not really doing anything, minimal feeding, minimal talking, both probably wondering what were we doing here in Italy at 5:30 in the morning, and for me trying to work out what is the best way forward in this race which although still a participant, I was no longer racing!

The thought of heading back out to immediately take on a 800 metre vertical climb was not appealing.  I knew that based on how I felt and the difficulty I had experienced on the last climb, that it would be very slow progress, and definitely not even close to racing!  My race goal had been to maintain race focus throughout my journey of Mont Blanc.  Due to the tight chest and difficulty breathing I had been unable to do this.  I therefore saw little point in continuing being in the state I was.  Solution? Simple, have a sleep on the secluded mats that were available behind the curtains.  For the first time ever in a race, I take off my shoes, lie down and fall asleep!

I pretty well immediately fall asleep, but stir a few times, realise where I am, and decide more sleep is required.  I'm not sure how many times I re-awake, but after around 2:30 - 2:40 of sleeping I felt that the time was right to get up.  It is around 8:15 am in the morning, and upon waking I feel amazingly good.  A quick breakfast of spaghetti bolognaise and fruit pie, and I am on my way.  I had arrived at the checkpoint in 189th place at 5:31am (11:59:43) and l left exactly three hours and two minutes later at 8:33am.  Meanwhile, just to update you on the progress of the leading Brits, who had all arrived and left before I had arrived at Courmayeur.  Their arrival times and positions were: Andy 9:41:15 (32nd), Jez 9:40:38 (31st), Dan 10:20:32 (65th) and Robbie 10:31:51 (79th).

As I leave Courmayeur, with it now being a warm sunny blue sky day, the intention was to simply enjoy myself on a casual training run along the 90km (56 miles) back to Chamonix.  I had definitely left race mode behind before my lengthy stop!  As I make good progress up the climb, running all the way along the road until reaching the single track though the woods my competitive instinct returns.  I start doing some calculations within my head, and work out that if I have a really strong run, quite possible now having slept and so turned the UTMB into a multi-stage race, then maybe a sub 30 hour finish could be possible.  The thought of achieving a 29:59 finish time was appealing, combined with the prospect of perhaps I could maintain race focus for the 'second day' of the race, and therefore go some way to achieving my race goal.

The Awesome Race Route Between Bertone and Bonatti

All Smiles as I Really Enjoy Moving Quickly - Although Walking Here as I Crest the Summit

I make really good progress up to the checkpoint at Bertone.  The next section of the race route from Bertone to Bonatti I remember from 2009 as being probably the most awesome part of the race.  It is early in the morning, along a smooth undulating single track at an elevation of around 2000 metres, and with Mont Blanc off to the left, the scenery is just amazing.  Back in 2009 I ran really quickly along this leg, and again this year I am running pretty fast and absolutely 'fly' past loads of runners.  The 7.2km leg takes me just 58:47 and I move up from 552nd place to 463rd place!  As I run pass the other runners I feel a bit of an 'imposter', in that they are doing a non-stop race, whereas I am doing a multi-stage race after my refreshing 3 hour break.  Many of you may be thinking that taking 58 minutes for four and a half miles may seem pretty slow.  Well just for comparisons sake I will compare my time to the four British runners who way back at Les Houches I was running with, but who are now many hours ahead of me.  Their split times from Bertone to Bonatti and their place at Bonatti were: Jez 60:49 (25th), Andy 62:48 (30th), Robbie 65:41 (70th) and Dan 72:54 (72nd).

Following Bonatti CP the route continues to stay up high before a zig-zagging descent down to Arnuva.  I continue to really enjoy myself running at a good pace, although begin to find it difficult overtaking runners on the narrower track, especially on the descent.  But I still manage to move up from 463rd place to 419th place in a little over forty minutes of running.  A quick refuel at the checkpoint and then it is pretty well straight into the next big climb of 756 vertical metres up to Grand Col Ferret, where we enter into Switzerland.

Slowly Climbing Up To Grand Col Ferret


I start the climb at a good intensity, but within minutes the tightness and discomfort in my chest returns and I start to find it difficult to breath.  I slow down so at first I am running at the same speed as the runners around me.  But then find I have to slow down even more and now are being slowly overtaken by the runners who just previously I absolutely 'flew' past.  I am not very happy.  I try to up the intensity but just can't.  The discomfort from the chest, combined with by now a rather negative state of mind prevents me from doing anything faster than actually creeping!  I decide for a 'time out'.  I move off the track, sit down and simply take a good look at the surrounding scenery.  There are glaciers, amazing sharp edged mountains, grassy fields, rivers, etc.  I think to myself that it isn't really too bad a place to be soaking up the sunshine.  Only problem being is that I was meant to be completing a running race, not just any race, but the amazing UTMB!  I get myself moving and continue my way up the long climb at a very slow pace, but I guess I must have had another three or four scenery time out stops before finally reaching the top.

Through the checkpoint and I was looking forward to the awesome descent I remembered from 2009, that descends from 2527m at the col, down to 1603m at the La Fouly checkpoint.  Back in 2009 I absolutely flew down to La Fouly with the eleven kilometres only taking me one hour and one minute.  Well without there being the urgency of racing, together with feeling pretty down about my inability to run at any pace that increased my breathing rate, it seemed to take forever, which it pretty well was, taking 2:02:27 to get to the checkpoint.  Although again I did have a few time-out scenery stops on the way down, so when I was jogging I wasn't actually going that much slower than the runners around me.

Feeling 'Down' Descending to La Fouly

As I slowly make my way down I decide that I would withdraw myself from the race at La Fouly.  Although the prospect of another DNF wasn't appealing, in reality I had stopped racing back at Courmayeur when I stopped for a sleep.  Over the last six years of ultra trail racing I have really focused on trying to perform to the best of my ability during the races.  My racing has always been about performing, the joy of running quickly, the excitement of being in a competition.  Here, today, due to whatever reason that was causing the problems with the tightness in my chest and the breathing issues whenever I raised the intensity, I was unable to actual race.  Yes, getting all the way back to Chamonix, to complete the 168km journey in itself is a massive achievement.  But for me, having already completed that challenge back in 2009, there just wasn't the same, 'continue at all costs' motivation.  Simply completing the UTMB just didn't mean that much to me.

As I enter the checkpoint, I take a quiet seat and spend a few moments observing what is around me.  There is noise and excitement outside with the spectators doing their best to encourage the runners.  Within the marquee it is very quiet.  There are probably around fifteen or so runners quietly feeding/fuelling themselves, but mainly you can see within their eyes that they are really focusing on seeking out the necessary energy to continue on their extremely challenging journey.  I compared myself to the other runners.  Should I really be dropping out?  Many of the other runners look in a pretty poor state.  Many looked exhausted, many looked shattered.  But mostly they looked determined, they have the desire to finish, and therefore are fully committing to doing their utmost to complete what they had started.

Those few minutes simply observing all around me did get me to start questioning whether I was doing the right thing by dropping out.  Apart from the breathing issues when I raised the intensity, apart from the 'feeling down', there was nothing wrong with me.  I knew that it wouldn't be easy, but physically I could jog slowly / walk my way to Chamonix.  I re-asked myself the three important questions:  What do I want?  Why do I want it?  How much do I want it?  And simply finishing the UTMB in order to not record another DNF wasn't the necessary answer to these questions to provide me with the important motivation to continue.

Looking back now, nearly a week later, did I make the right decision to drop?  Although many may see me quitting from the race for no apparent reason apart from 'things weren't going to plan' as really poor, as a sign of weakness, and really disappointing from a runner who has in the past perhaps inspired others.  I acknowledge this, and yes it doesn't really set a good example for others to follow.  But I guess in some ways my decision to quit reflects my overall approach, my overall philosophy that I have tried to maintain during my last six years of ultra trail racing.  This has been to try to really 'live within the moment' during the moment whilst racing.  To really enjoy the racing, to enjoy the journey, and with the destination, i.e. the finish place and time being a bonus.

Throughout my 28 ultra trail races I have focused on the flow, the rhythm, simply the joy of running quickly.  I have tried my utmost not to struggle, not to battle, not to suffer, whilst racing.  Yes, at times I have encountered some really challenging moments during many races when maintaining a quick pace has been difficult.  But I have never interpreted these moments as pain or as suffering.  They have been moments to challenge me, to test my character, to see how I respond.  In some ways these difficult moments have provided the opportunity to remain positive, to control ones emotions and to come out stronger and richer from working through the difficulties.

However, throughout these difficult moments whilst racing, the focus has always been to continue to move quickly.  I am a runner, a racer, and it is this that gives me the enjoyment.  And in pretty well all of my ultra trail races over the last six year, these difficult moments have been brief encounters, as the word suggests, just moments.  So my memories of my ultra trail racing consist of joy, of moving quickly, of feeling good.  To complete this portion of my ultra trail running journey with many many hours of discomfort, of struggling, of suffering, of moving very slowly, for me would not have been the right option.  So looking back now, I am still pleased that for me I made the correct decision.  When I think of Stuart Mills the Ultra Trail Runner, I associate with joy, excitement, moving quickly.  Pain, suffering, struggling has never played a major role within my ultra trail experiences, and for that I am very grateful.

As I started writing this post I was possibly toying with the idea of providing an explanation behind my reasons for having a break from ultra trail racing, but I think that that is best left for a future post.

Time to sign off.  I guess one of my lasting memories from last weekend's UTMB is simply seeing the determination in so many other runners as they persevered along their journey of Mont Blanc.  These runners have truly earned my respect with their ability to do their utmost in order to achieve what they set out to do.
"Challenging oneself is the first important step.  The journey continues with the commitment in order to be fully prepared, and then the joy and excitement of the experience follows.  The sense of accomplishment is a totally personal issue, and only oneself can establish the measure of success in relation to one's own wants and needs."  Stuart Mills, 2014
I wish you all the best as you take on future challenges.  Enjoy.

Stuart

PS The four other British runners who I accompanied at the start of the running journey all completed the entire circuit of Mont Blanc.  Their finishing times and places were:  Jez 24:14:17 (20th), Andy 24:45:27 (27th), Robbie 26:48:36 (54th), and Dan 28:07:40 (70th).

Monday, 1 September 2014

Quick Update - Ultra Trail Mont Blanc

Hi,

Well I guess the update isn't that quick, considering I finished my racing on Saturday afternoon.  Unfortunately, my UTMB race didn't finish at Chamonix, as I notched up another DNF, stopping at La Fouhy in Switzerland after 110km!

I had a variable performance, with the first four - five hours going really well.  But then encountered a few 'difficult' patches, interspersed with some really good patches.

I will expand a little in what I will expect for a change will be a rather brief race report later this week.

Thanks to everyone that supported me with their comments, e-mails, best wishes, etc.  It is appreciated, and does really help, but 'at the end of the day' I just didn't have the 'finish at all costs' motivation that is often really needed on such a challenging route.

To everyone that completed the UTMB, or CCC, TDS, PTL or OCC, a massive well done!

Stuart

Friday, 8 August 2014

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

Hi

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.

Stuart

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!