Well exactly six months ago today was post number one! The last six months has been quite a journey, firstly in terms of ultra running, but also in terms of blogging! A little over six months ago I hadn't even read a blog, didn't know what they were. It all started with trying to find some information about my first ultra race of the year the Hardmoors 55, where I came across John Kynaston's blog. Since then it seems that quite a lot has happened. Tonight's post is a chance for me to look back, at both my running and my blogging!
Although I was new to blogs back in March, I was not totally new to ultras. Those of you that have read a few of my posts may have noticed within my Final Preparation for the Lakeland 100 post that I actually ran a 67km trail race back in 1992. However, it wasn't until 2008 when I decided I would become an ultra runner. In 2008, I ran three ultras: Downland Challenge 30 miles, Ridgeway 85 miles, and London to Brighton Trail 56 miles, and won all three of them, so it was an exciting start to ultra running.
I then decided to aim higher in 2009. I ran five ultra races in total, but the main focus for the year was Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, 167km of mountain trails, the most amazing race I have ever ran in, to date!!!
So come 2010, the problem was, how do I surpass UTMB? How can I aim even higher? The answer was to have two key focuses for the year. Firstly the British equivalent of UTMB, i.e. UTLD - Ultra Trail Lakes District - 167km of hill trails; and secondly the UK Ultra-Running Championship - The Runfurther Series.
Therefore it was Friday 19th March, as I drove up to the North Yorkshire Moors, with my wife Frances, and two boys, Robert and Chris, for the start of an adventure! As you are probably well aware the UK series is based on points earned in your best four races. So the Hardmoors 55 was my first of four ultra races planned for 2010.
The conditions for the Hardmoors 55 were pretty demanding. For the first time ever in a race, I ran wearing a balaclava! My race report sub-titled Reflections on Pace Judgement not only described the race, which I managed to win and earn 1000 points, but also publicly announced the first of my 'less accepted' ideas on ultra running. The "Run as fast as you can, while you can" motto, generated a wee bit of a response, and my follow-up post which I titled Ultrastu or Ultrastupid still rates as one of my favourite posts!
Ultra race number two was the Marlborough Challenge 33 mile, eight weeks later. In between the two races, I touched on a few topics within my Ultrastu blog, including a bit on running economy, motivation, and a look back to my first ever marathon at the age of 17! Come race day, it didn't quite go to plan, which is expanded upon in my race report.
One thing not mentioned in my Marlborough Challenge race report is, that at the time of the race, I was under the assumption that the 2010 UK Ultra Series was using the same scoring system as 2009, with there being a 100 point bonus for the Lakeland 100. Although disappointing coming third, I was not really that worried about losing 15 points, as I was going to get 100 points bonus at the Lakeland 100, to more than make up for the 15 points lost. It was only following the Marlborough race that I checked with the Series organisers and discovered that they had removed the 100 point bonus for 2010.
However, I think removing the 100 point bonus was the correct thing to do, as 100 points was too much of a bonus, and resulted in that one race influencing the overall series result too much. Although I still believe the Lakeland 100 should have some bonus points attached, maybe say 40 or 20 points. Why 40 or 20 points? Well this value, could represent one point for each mile (or two miles) further than the second longest race of the series, i.e. the 60 mile Fellsman race. But more importantly, I think it would be great if all of the top ultra runners in the country all turned up and ran the same race, at least once each year. Without wishing to upset all of the other race organisers that put on superb races, the Lakeland 100 is in reality THE ultra race in the UK, and therefore, by having bonus points, it would hopefully attract the best field to match the best race.
Shortly after the Marlborough race I posted what I consider my best post to date, titled What Determines Performance in Ultra Running - Part Two. It was a followup to the previous post that introduced the topic. Although it sounds like I am 'blowing my own trumpet', if you haven't read the two posts, I would encourage you to do so.
My next race was the South Downs Marathon. Looking back to that race, I still find it quite amazing how one's perceptions can change. I would have never thought even one year earlier, that I would be treating an undulating trail marathon as 'speed work'! Well the 'speed' session went really well, with a really high race intensity throughout, resulting with me winning the race for the third time. All summarised in my race report which I sub-titled The Importance-of Race Preparation.
There was then five weeks to the number one focus of the year, the Lakeland 100. There were a few posts in between the races, including some memories of my younger days as a runner, a feature on Chris Howarth and his Run Kenya charity, but probably my favourite during this period was the post titled What Training is Appropriate? where I attempt to provide rationale for my "Do Not Train Hard" philosophy.
The BIG day arrived, I was totally prepared, the self belief was there. I had not only Frances, Robert and Chris to support me, but my brother was also over from New Zealand to cheer me on. It was all set for an awesome experience, and that's what it was. A little over 24 hours after starting on a beautiful sunny Friday evening, I was first to cross the finish line. Taking longer than planned, but mission accomplished, and an extremely enjoyable time the whole weekend, which I will treasure within my memories. This race report was a ultra length report to match the race, sub-titled The Importance of Preparation - Developing Positivity and Self Belief.
The photo below is now one of my favourites. It was taken at around the two and a half - three mile mark, just as we dropped back down to Walna Scar road, after the first of many climbs. I remember that moment clearly, in fact I remember just about every moment of the entire race clearly! I was in total focus, total self belief, that my fast start was going to set me on my way to achieve my thoroughly planned out goal. As you can see I'm working pretty hard, and loving every moment! (Thanks to Paul from Montane for permission to use the photo. Copyright Mark Gillet Jungle Moon Photography)
Following the Lakeland 100 I had a little break, as I definitely needed one as it still amazes me just how much 100 mile races take out of you! So it was lots of sandcastles, swimming reading etc. on the beach!
Then it came to the 'Series Showdown' at the Pumlumon Challenge, as I battled against Jon Morgan to earn 1000 points, as we were exactly equal on points going into the race with 2985 points. Now this race report sub-titled The Importance of the Journey - Not the Destination, which described my third place finish, of all my 32 posts generated the most reaction! In all of my posts I try to write honestly. I usually write the posts when everyone else in the house has gone to bed, so it is peaceful and quiet. As I write, on my own without distractions, I am often amazed at how my thoughts develop and end up typed out. Now this race report resulted in some disapproval/displeasure of what I had written. As mentioned in my comments following the post, I expressed my apologies for one or two of my statements within the report being too 'strongly' worded. However, looking back now, I feel there are still some important messages within the post which we can learn from.
My final Ultra race of the year was the High Peak 40, just last Saturday, where I finished fourth. This race report sub-titled What is fatigue - The Integration of the Body and Mind, tries to explain possible causes of my 'difficult' six mile patch! The one thing which I was most pleased with in terms of last week's race, was my acceptance of what happened to me during the race. Firstly, running of course and going from being probably around 4-5 minutes ahead to being 9 minutes behind, and secondly briefly suffering severe fatigue, which literally brought me to a walk. Although there was disappointment, I was able to accept that it happened and immediately move on. A demonstration of what I have learnt over the last six months of ultra running and ultra blogging!
Although this post includes a summary of my year of ultra racing, I still have one race left, the Beachy Head Marathon, that takes place in four weeks time. One of my favourite races, I have run it eight times since moving to East Sussex back in 2002. So look out for my Beachy Head Marathon race report. In addition, no doubt I will add a post or two in the coming weeks, maybe a few memories of past races or past running friends.
To everyone I have met during my Ultra Running adventures this year, thanks for sharing in some amazing experiences. To all of the hundreds of people that have worked so hard to put on such great events, thank you very much. And, to all of you readers out there, thanks for reading!
The aim of my blog, when I started it exactly six months ago was: "I hope you find some of my "words of wisdom", or probably as more appropriately titled "Millsy's Memories and Mutterings", thoughtful, helpful, enjoyable, interesting, and hopeful worth your time you spend reading them." Well with now over 8,000 hits, I know some of you have found my blog worth reading".
Time to sign off with the quote I used at the end of Post Number One. Still as applicable now as it was then.
"For years I had assumed that my failure to run better was down to a combination of injuries and not training hard enough; but I started to wonder if it was my own self-image that was holding me back."
Charlie Spedding (2010), page 75. From Last to First. CS Books: Newcastle-upon-Tyne.
All the best with your adventures,