Wednesday, 22 February 2012

London Ultra - A Different Experience

Hi All

If you were wondering what happened to my London Ultra Quick Update post, well there wasn't one, with the picture below probably immediately explaining why!

Those of you who have been following my blog for a while may have noticed that there has been one running related topic that I have never mentioned.  Yes, you guessed it, injuries.  There are probably two reasons why I haven't written about them within my blog posts: (i) Injuries are usually associated with a negative response, and I try to focus on the positive aspects of running, and (ii) Since writing this post I haven't experienced any running injuries to prevent me from running.  Well at around the six and a half mile mark during Sunday's 50km London Ultra race I had a new topic to write about!

Due to heading out to New Zealand for three months (now moved forward to this coming Saturday), the opportunity to race all of the top Kiwis, Aussies, a top Yank (Anton Krupicka) and a top Brit (Martin Cox) over 100 kilometres of trails in the Tarawera National Park was really exciting.  In order to feel fully prepared for the Tarawera Ultra Marathon I felt I needed an ultra race, hence me being on the start line of the 50 km London Ultra in the South East of London, ready to race clockwise along the Capital Ring walking route to the Perivale Athletics track in the North West of London.

After a quick drive from my mate Dave's house to the finish, I boarded the coach along with around 60 other runners that transported us to the start.  It was a beautiful crisp morning, not a cloud in the sky, and with the sun adding some needed warmth.  Although there were four drinks stations on route I decided to run with my inov8 bumbag that enabled me to to carry some water, a jacket, some gels and an energy bar.  Just at the last minute I also put in a £10 note, with the thought that I might arrive at the finish before the van that was transporting our bags, as I was planning to race the 50km pretty quickly.  So some money to buy some coffee and cake at the end would be useful.

Last year the race was jointly won by fellow GB teammate from the IAU World Champs Craig Stewart in a time of 3:42, which works out at only 7:08 mile pace.  Being in London I was expecting mostly tarmacked paths or pavements, but also some off-road trails, so not entirely road.  However, with only limited off-road running I was expecting to run a lot quicker that my usual ultra trail races, but I thought, it could only be beneficial for my Tarawera preparation.

We have a ten second count down and the field of around 250 runners slowly depart.  I am immediately leading but I don't have much of a gap with there being three runners only around 15 metres behind me,  The route follows the Capital Ring walking route so there are green finger posts / signs to follow.  In addition there are some red arrows spray painted occasionally on the ground, and we were also provided with a detailed map, although just a wee bit too small!  Not knowing the course it was a bit tricky for the first mile leading, looking out for signs, arrows, and cars as we were crossing a few roads.  Then all of a sudden I hear a shout, "this way".  I look behind and see the three runners head off up a side street.  I was obviously very grateful for them shouting out to me, but then realising that they didn't shout out until they had actually made the turn, rather than immediately upon seeing that I had not turned left, when I regained the 20 or so metres to rejoin them I wasn't really in a talkative mood.  I therefore decided that I wouldn't do any more leading of the race and I would just sit at the back of the pack and let them lead me along the route.

Looking back now I'm not really sure why I had such a negative response, but I think it could have been due to my left foot feeling a little bit uncomfortable.  For the last two weeks my left foot had felt a little bruised, nothing painful, just a dull ache.  I attributed it to running a bit too much on the frozen uneven ground, but I wasn't overly concerned about it prior to the race.  However, already after one mile it was beginning to gain my attention.

Just two nights earlier, I had had a great evening presenting my ideas on running to 70 runners at an event put on in conjunction with local running club Uckfield Runners.  My talk was really well received and the idea of maximising positivity and dealing with / not focusing on negativity seemed to resonate with many runners.  So as my foot began to feel worse, and with there also beginning to be a feeling from within asking "Where is the scenery? Why am I running along these pavements / running across roads?"  I was experiencing high levels of negativity.  I thought back to my presentation from the Friday night, knowing the solution is not to focus on the negative aspects, but to focus on the positive.  So I focused on running fast, breathing hard, feeling a high heart rate.  This was after all the reason I was doing the race.  To have a blast out, to extend myself, to run hard and fast.  And we were running quite quickly.  After the slowish first mile of 6:28, the next two miles are 6:09 and 6:04.  And these miles involved many sharp 90 degree turns and passing through kissing gates etc!  Nothing too fast when compared to road marathons, but compared to ultra trail pace it was a little bit quicker than I was used to.

So as the miles continued I ignored my foot and focused on smashing Craig Stewart's winning time consisting of 7:08 mile pace.  After the first four miles the pace eased off a wee bit.  Although the pace had slowed I was still finding that my race focus energy usage rate was still quite elevated.  I visualised my Race Focus Energy Fatigue Model which I had talked about on the Friday night.  Due to the pain from my foot, combined with my other negative thoughts the RPE-RFE arrow was definitely rotated upwards, thereby increasing the RFE usage rate even though the actual RPE had declined following the first few quick miles. I then started questioning the wisdom of running another 25 miles, on a foot that by now had become quite painful.  I knew what I should do, and that was to stop.  But with my first Ultra DNF still fresh in my mind form Mont Blanc, a second DNF was definitely not welcomed.  Luckily I knew deep down what the correct decision was, so this decision was made and I simply stopped running.

So here I am somewhere in the South of London, 25 miles from my car.  I locate my position on the race map, and as I realise there is a train station just around the next corner, I feel for my £10 note, and I am very grateful to my thoughtful sub-conscious or maybe another influence, for provoking me to carry some money probably for the first time ever in a running race (apart form UTMB where it is required kit).  As I travel on the train and then the tube to the race finish, I experience a strange feeling.  There isn't any shock or extreme disappointment like that experienced at UTMB.  I know that I have suffered a serious injury as immediately upon stopping the pain has significantly magnified.  I know then that the anticipated excitement of racing the Tarawera Ultra Marathon just four weeks later is highly unlikely.  But again I simply accept it, without any real sense of disappointment!

Come Monday with the pain not decreasing, combined with increased swelling, a quickish visit to the local hospital (yes, I was pretty impressed with the service provided by the NHS, thanks), for an x-ray confirms what I suspected; a fractured metatarsal (to be precise, a fracture slightly distal to the proximal head of the second metatarsal) was clearly visible!  So it is probably a minimum of six weeks of non-running and then a very cautious return to training.  My warm weather training camp in New Zealand will have to be on hold for a wee while!

So, as I reflect on last Sunday's experience, two aspects spring to mind: Firstly, I am more convinced than ever that my Race Focus Energy Fatigue Model immensely helps to understand endurance running performance.  Although the RPE wasn't excessively high, the RFE being demanded during the six miles I raced definitely was.  Yes, as I tried to convey to the audience on Friday night, endurance running performance is much, much more than simply VO2, lactate threshold, and running economy.  And secondly, as I am all set to depart to New Zealand to spend time with my father in law as his health declines, what is truly important within ones life really stands out.  As I sat on the train travelling through London, rather than the intended running, I couldn't but help think to myself that there are more meaningful things to get upset about and to focus my energies on, than simply me not being able to run for a few weeks and miss an awesome ultra trail race.  And I guess one of the real lessons I have learnt over the last week or so and what I hope to carry forward during the uncertain times in New Zealand, is the need to focus on the positives, to process effectively any negatives, to fully live within the present moment, and to have my goals of What do I want? Why do I want it? and How much do I want it? clearly established to allow them to guide my way, not in terms of an endurance running race, but to assist me in maximising my experiences, that I share with my friends and family, along the amazing and fluctuating journey of life!

Well on that rather 'different' note, I think it's time to sign off.

May I wish you all the best with your journey,


Tuesday, 7 February 2012

Plans for 2012


Yes, another post already.  Yes, thought I better sort out  my plans for 2012 before the year was half over.  Tonight's post will only look at my planned races for the year, my following post will consider my planned training.

In looking at what I hope to achieve for 2012 I first spend quite a bit of time reflecting back to the previous year, i.e. 2011.  As my last post indicated 2011 was a mixture of a year, with some great highs, but overall there is a feeling of not achieving what I set out to do.  At the start of 2011 I had two main focuses: (i) Get selected for and then perform well whilst representing GB at the World Ultra Trail Champs, and (ii) Perform well, improving upon my 2009 performance at UTMB.  So for 2011 it was a tick for (i), and a still to be achieved for (ii). 

Initially it was tempting to go back to UTMB in 2012 to complete what I did not achieve, however, I believe that it is only possible to race well in one 100 mile race per year.  I'm not really sure what has led me to form this opinion, but sticking to only one 100 mile race fits in well with all of the other commitments I have during the year.  Although from having raced and completed two 100 mile events, both times it took a minimum of seven weeks before I felt recovered, i.e. I didn't feel tired at the start of a run! 

Anyway, with only one 100 mile race per year, I decided to stick with my original plan, to race the Montane Lakeland 100 in 2012, and then go back to UTMB in 2013.  The Lakeland 100, although only having raced it once, (although also watched it 2011), it really is the UK premier ultra trail race.  There is such a strong positive friendly spirit, a real community feel for the event.  With the recce weekends really adding to the overall positive experiences from being involved with the race.  I am already looking forward to the evening of the Olympics Opening Ceremony, where I hope my preparations will have gone well and at 5:30pm I will have the confidence to 'blast off' in accordance with my ultra pacing philosophy and fully enjoy ever moment!

This therefore leaves six other races to decide upon.  Why six?  Well, having got back into racing in 2007, after only racing one or two marathons per year for the five years prior to that.  It was when reviewing years 2007-2009 that I noticed that I had raced seven times in each of these years.  With these three years being my most successful in terms of race performances, I decided then that seven races per year must therefore be the ideal number.  Nothing scientific, based on little evidence, but it just seemed to feel right.  So now I simply stick to seven races, with the marathon being the shortest distance I race.  In essence the marathons are my speed work for the ultra races!

First race to add is the Beachy Head Marathon ( ).  My local marathon that is entirely off-road within the South Downs National Park.  I have mentioned this before, but trail marathons don't come much better than this event.  Having run it ten times, all ten Beachy Head Marathons (it was formerly known as the Seven Sisters Marathon for 21 years), I feel a bit like 'part of the furniture'.  The last few years this race has just sort of been 'tagged on' to the end of my racing season. However, after being beaten into second place in 2011, the plan is to give the race increased focus for 2012.

The other five races?  In order to perform well at the Lakeland 100, a race is needed around 5 -6 weeks before.  The Endurancelife Classic Quarter 44 mile ultra trail race at the end of June is therefore ideal ( ).  Having raced three Endurancelife races, their courses are spectacularly scenic, well organised, and there is always a really good 'buzz'.  The Classic Quarter race has been going for around five years now, but this year it is on the same day and course as the Endurancelife Coastal 100 mile race, so the buzz on  the day should be even greater!  The Classic Quarter is also part of the Runfurther National Series, which I try to support whenever I can, as with the race being part of the series it often results in a slightly stronger field which is always a bonus.  Trying to fit in four series races is not always possible, and with Lakeland 100 no longer being part of the series (I guess due to being sold out prior to the series being announced), unfortunately I will not get four series races in during 2012.

What about the early part of the year?  Well it got down to deciding between the Highland Fling ( ), a great event that I have raced twice, or the Fellsman ( ) which I haven't run, and for 2012 being the 50th anniversary.  Both events were on the same day.  Just as I had finally decided on the Fellsman, we received some news from New Zealand that the health of my father in law was declining.  After evaluating what is most important to us as a family, i.e. me, my wife Frances, and our two boys Robert and Chris, we made the decision to head out to New Zealand for a significant length of time, i.e. three months, in order to spend quality time with our extended family.  So come the start of March we are off to New Zealand.

The initial prompt to go to New Zealand although negative and worrying, we have decided to make the absolute most of our time whilst there and are therefore really excited and looking forward to this great opportunity to spend extended quality time together.  Just by chance, the Tarawera Ultra Marathon ( ), what has now probably taken over from the Kepler Challenge as New Zealand's premier ultra trail race, is taking place two weeks after we arrive.  So some quick communication with Paul the race director, and I am added to the elite field, just in time for the latest press releases:

Then to top it off, Anton Krupica, as well as all of the top Kiwis and the top Australians will also be on the start line!  The first time I heard of Anton Krupica was this time last year, when after I posted by 2010 review, feeling pretty pleased with my 2276 miles, a comment is left on my blog saying check out this Krupica guy, who has completed triple your mileage.  So I checked out his Riding the Wind blog , well worth a visit.  So now I have the opportunity to race against him (and all the other 300 or so runners), I just can't wait!

In order to be fully prepared for the Tarawera Ultra Marathon a quick search of the race calendar was required to find a race, to get in some speed work, and to develop the important confidence.  So in one and a half weeks time I will be lining up on the start line of the 50km London Ultra ( ).  Checking out last year's results it was jointly won by Craig Stewart (GB team mate in Connemara, Ireland) in 3 hours 42 minutes.  So this gives me some indication of the demands of the course in terms of race duration. With regards to terrain, undulating or flat, muddy or dry, I will have to wait for the day to find out.  So an early start to my racing this year, prior to hopefully some warm weather training in New Zealand.  I'm not totally sure of what other races I will do whilst in New Zealand, however, with trail running just at the start of a boom out there, I'm sure I will be able to find one other exciting event.

This now just leaves one more race for the year, in between the Lakeland 100 and the Beachy Head Marathon.  For a wee while, following UTMB, there was some thought to maybe moving into multi-day ultra events.  I have never raced a multi-day event and the idea to give it a go seemed appealing.  Probably the most prestigious multi-day event I have heard of is the eight day Trans Alpine Run ( ) at the start of September, that runs through Germany, Austria and Italy.  Being only 5 weeks following the Lakeland 100, would I be recovered?  Another concern was would the prospect of running such an big event detract me from the Lakeland 100 being my key focus for the year.  In the end I decided to leave the Trans Apline Run until 2014 (well that is really long term planning!).  But the idea of a multi-day event within the UK still sounds appealing, so I am tentatively thinking about the three day Ring of Fire Ultra Trail event ( ) at the start of September, that invloves one complete circuit of the Isle of Anglesey, North Wales.  However, no firm commitments will be made until our return from New Zealand in June.

So all sorted, my seven races for the year:
19th February - London Ultra - 50 km
17th March - Tarawera Ultra Marathon - 100 km
May - Race in New Zealand
23rd June - Endurancelife Classic Quarter - 44 mile
27th July - Montane Lakeland 100 - 104 mile
September - Ring of Fire 3-Day Ultra - 131 mile
27th October - Beachy Head Marathon - 26 mile

It looks like it should be another great year of trail racing.  Remember if any of you are doing these races, please say hello and introduce yourself.  It is always nice to meet readers of my blog, as with over 40,000 hits I know there are at least a few people that read my 'words of wisdom', but until I meet them they are simply a number on the page counter!

Just a couple of things before I sign off.  A week before Christmas within the blog post I gave my views on the negative split.  Starks asked the following question; "If you were to run a road marathon next week, what would be your estimated splits for both halves? How fast would you run the first half? As if you were running a half marathon? Similarly, how fast would you run the first 10K?"  Having not raced a road marathon for quite a few years I didn't really know how to answer, so I dug out some data from the 1995 London Marathon where I set my personal best time of 2 hours 29 mins to try to look at how much of a positive split is required to take into account fatiguing during the event.

I looked at my average heart rate and average mile pace for five different 5mile blocks during the race.  I ignored the first and last miles.  I looked at how much I fatigued, how much I slowed down, and how that related to my heart rate for the slower pace.  During the race I did a massive positive split, being 71:16 and 78:18 to give me my 2:29:34.  The table below shows the data.  Really interesting in that for every 30 minutes of racing, for approximately the same heart rate, I slowed 13 seconds per mile! 

I don't think having this much of a positive split is really ideal as I must admit that I wasn't really doing proper marathon training at the time, as I was training for Zofingen Duathlon, which at the time was like the Unofficial World Champs in duathlon, consisting of 13km run, 150km bike, 30km run in an undulating and snowy part of Switzerland. (By the way I finished in 34th place!)  So I was doing quite a bit of cycling at the time.  What is interesting is that the fatigue is evident even for miles 6-10 where I require an increase in heart rate of 4bpm to run at a mile pace 4 seconds slower.  Remembering back to the race now, I still recall that the first half just felt relatively easy, and a real buzz, as the miles just 'flew' mile literally!

So what does this data tell us.  Not sure really apart from confirming that to run a negative split in race time requires a massively unbalanced split in intensity / effort / race focus, what ever you want to call it.  No wonder less that 5 percent of runners achieve it, and I would expect that most of those runners would have achieved a faster finishing time if they hadn't gone so slow during the first half!

So I'm not sure if I have answered Starks question, but it was interesting for me, going back nearly 17 years!

My second aside before I sign off is that I am doing another talk.  Yes, having presented in Lake District, Yorkshire, Cheshire and Dorset last year, I was approached by a fellow runner within my village, whether I would like to do a talk to help promote the recently renamed running club UCKFIELD RUNNERS (formerly Utopia Runners).  So at 7:00pm on Friday 17th February at Uckfield Civic Centre I am doing a presentation titled "Marathon Running Preparation Principles to Enhance Personal Achievement"  The talk will be relevant for both novice and experienced runners.  Click HERE for more details: 

E-mail Peter Wilkes to reserve a place.

Time to sign off with a quote from 2010 Western States winner Geoff Roes on his thoughts on speed training.  Relevant as I have been giving some thought to my planned training for the coming year:  "Racing 50 or 100 miles is about strength and endurance.  It's about nutrition and hydration. It's about patience, stubbornness, and determination.  It's about lots of things, but it's really not much about leg speed. ... I do believe that doing speed work in training for 50 and 100 mile races (especially hilly, technical ones) does nothing to make us "faster" on race day." (Geoff Roes, 2011)  Pg 42 from the book titled Relentless Forward Progress by Bryon Powell (An okay book overall, but it does have a few pretty good sections).


Friday, 3 February 2012

Review of 2011 - A Year of Many Highs and the Occasional Low!


About time I can hear you saying.  It is now February, 2011 is long gone!  Well yes, a wee bit late, but hopefully better late than never!

So tonight I will briefly(?!) look at last year in terms of both training and racing.  Firstly training.

First statistic: Total Mileage = 2217 miles.  This consisted of 259 runs so an average of 8.6 miles per run, and with a weekly average of 42.6 miles.  Comparing to 2010 it is very similar:
2011 - 259 runs, 106 rest days, total 2217 miles, average of 8.6 miles per run
2010 - 260 runs, 105 rest days, total 2276 miles, average of 8.8 miles per run
2009 - 195 runs, 170 rest days, total 1783 miles, average of 9.1 miles per run
2008 - 199 runs, 167 rest days, total 1806 miles, average of 9.1 miles per run.

This mileage was 59 miles less than 2010, but was my 5th highest running mileage year since I started training in 1978, with the previous highest years being: 4th 2276 (2010), 3rd 2300 (1983), 2nd 2520 (1981) and 1st 2588 (1984).

Since I got back into racing in 2007 my mileage has averaged 1935 miles per year, with the last two years being significantly more than they previous three years as illustrated in the figure below.  The reason for the increase I guess was the acceptance from 2009 that to perform at the next level up in 100 mile trail races I felt I needed more than 35 miles per week.  How much more I don't really know.  But I don't think that that much more is needed, as the most important physiological attribute for ultra trail racing is running economy, and this is mainly influenced by the total miles ever run, not specifically in the previous 16 weeks prior to the race. 

The table below shows how my training changed during the year, with some good months leading up to August, but following UTMB, the training tended to ease off.  The month of June from the numbers definitely looked like the best months training, and thinking back to then, I do recall feeling confident leading into the World Champs.

Yes, one of the key benefits from the physical training is to develop ones self confidence, self belief.  Therefore planning to do more miles during the year was to bring me a wee bit closer to the typical weekly mileage other ultra trail runners of similar standard were reporting to be doing, and would therefore raise my self confidence.  The added physiological benefits would also be a bonus.  One key aspect of my training for 2011 was to ensure that I didn't increase my mileage too much, so I felt tired all the time, lost my desire to run, or developed an injury from doing more than I was used to.  Fortunately during 2011 none of these negative possibilities eventuated.

That didn't mean I didn't get injured though!  No, at the beginning of February, after a really good build-up in New Zealand over new year, followed by a good month's training in January, it all came to a crashing stop for 3 weeks, as I was 'wiped out' on the ski slopes and fractured my shoulder.  I had in total three weeks off training.  Even though I was well aware that I wouldn't lose that much fitness during the time off, it still knocked my confidence and therefore affected my first two races of 2011.

The first race of the year was the Endurancelife Sussex Coastal Trail Series, that took place on my home training patch, around Beachy Head within the South Downs National Park.  I was reasonably satisfied with race, running the entire race on my own to finish first.  However, it was my inability to remain totally race focused throughout, with my focus and subsequent pace dropping off substantially during the last 40 minutes that was a concern.  It wasn't a physiological problem, and I guess this was the start of me really trying to work out and identify the role of 'Race Focus Energy' in relation to ultra trail running performance.

The second race of the year was the 53 mile Montane Highland Fling.  This probably had the strongest field of any ultra trail race in the UK during 2011, with it being a UK Athletics selection race for the 2011 World Ultra Trail Champs.  Throughout my blog I preach the message "Run as fast as you can, while you can".  I usually put this into practise and 'blast' off at the start. Thinking back now I don't really know what led to me lacking the confidence to adopt my usual strategy, probably a combination of the time off training back in February, and the concerning 'losing it' during the latter stages of the Sussex Trail Marathon.  There really was a lack of self belief.  If I couldn't keep focused for 26 miles, how could I expect to keep focus, and therefore keep the pace up for 53 miles? 

So come race day, my strategy was totally different, simply run alongside Jez Bragg for as long as possible.  You can see from the wording of this strategy that immediately it was flawed.  It was rather negative, implying that at some stage I would not be able to keep up.  And remember one of the 'golden rules'; one performs to their self expectations!  The race was going to plan, with three of us, Jez, Andrew James and myself out in the front.  Then at around the 24 mile mark I just 'lose it' in a big way.  Often I think people 'blame' lack of carbohydrate energy for their slowing down, where it is most likely a lack of Race Focus Energy that causes them to slow down.  However, on this occasion I had fed like a total novice, and had neglected my carbohydrate intake, so me 'losing it' was definitely carbohydrate related.  I managed to struggle for three miles to the next feed station, take on some food and get back into a reasonably pace.  But it really knocked my self confidence from the already pre-race low, so my performance for the second half of the race wasn't really as good as what I would usually expect from myself, and I ended up finishing quite some time behind the winner Andrew James, in 6th place.

Fortunately UK Athletics were selecting a team of five male runners for the World Champs.  With Jez not being available due to his racing in the States, that provided the opportunity for me to just 'scrap' into the team.  So a few weeks later, there in black and white on the UK Athletics website was my name Stuart Mills representing Great Britain and Northern Ireland, listed in fifth place!  Yes after watching Dick Taylor win the Commonwealth Games 10,000m at the 1974 Christchurch games, and then reinforced by watching John Walker win the Olympic Gold medal over 1500m at the 1976 Montreal Olympics, the dream to run for my country was finally realised, all be it having swapped nationality during the intervening years!

Even though I had been selected for the British team, I knew I had to up my performance from the Highland Fling.  Knowing that it was the development of self belief that was needed I decided to try to run every day, rather than the usual one day a week off, and put in one decent long training run of 41 miles, being a Trail-blaze run along the South Downs Way.  But what was really needed was a confidence boosting performance at my one and only race prior to the Worlds, being the 35 mile Northants Ultra, part of the Runfurther National Ultra Trail Series.

Leading up to this race I therefore spent loads and loads of hours preparing.  This consisted of inspecting the Ordnance Survey map in detail, noting all of the contour lines.  Searching on the web for previous race reports/results, and calculating my splits for each of the checkpoints.  Based on my calculations I worked out that I should be able to complete the distance in 4 hours 17 minutes.  Now the race record was jointly held at 4 hours 45 minutes by Andrew James, no 'mug' of a runner.  Remember he was the guy that beat Jez Bragg up at the Highland Fling.  Hence why it took me hours of preparation as I had to double check my calculations.  Yes they were correct, I should be able to take 28 minutes of the course record!

So come race day, the plan was totally clear.  Blast it from the start, and that's what I did, with the GPS data showing that I ran the first 4 miles in 24:09!  I got a significant lead, and then went off course, so was caught by Dave Jelley during the middle stages.  We ran together for a while briefly chatting before I went ahead and then I ran off course again, so some more chat.  Then with around 5 miles to go, I was able to significantly up the intensity again, back into race focus, and finished running strongly in 4 hours 20 minutes.  Yes, not 4:17, but I was pretty happy.  My self belief was back after being able to run strong at the finish, although I did take it a bit easy during the middle stages.  I was well aware that come the World Champs five weeks later, I would require total race focus throughout the entire seven hours of racing!

The World Champs quickly arrived, and again leading up to the race I had spent many, many hours doing non physical preparation.  It had taken me ages to get it clear in my head that I had to adopt my usual strategy, blast off at the start, regardless that I was running with the best runners in the world!  As the race started, it wasn't really too fast a start, so without too much effort I was leading the World Champs.  With a camera right in my face from the cameraman on a quad bike, combined with the noise of another camera crew above and the down draft from the helicopter, I was totally buzzing!  Fortunately the buzz lasted for the next 7 hours, and I was the first British runner to finish in 15th place overall, to achieve probably my best ever running performance!  What a high!  Running satisfaction doesn't come much better than that.  From 'scrapping' into the British team, I was first from the team of five GB male runners to finish, totally illustrating the 'Power of Positivity', with Enjoyment Being the Secret Formula!

Then within seven weeks I go to the totally opposite extreme.  UTMB DNF!  It took me ages to recover from those seven letters.  Eight weeks after UTMB at my local Beachy Head Marathon, although at times I ran well during the race, deep down I had not recovered, I ran without any desire, without any buzz, without any passion / purpose.  I guess I was fortunate to finish second.  Yes positivity is important, but the underlying physiology also plays it's part.  I was still able to run a 'respectable' time, I guess due to the consistent physical training I had carried out from March through to August.

My seventh and final race of the year was another Endurancelife Coastal Trail Series Marathon, this time in Dorset.  In some ways it was a bit like the Northants Ultra, I just had to get it right on the day, so I could go into 2012 with renewed confidence.  Two weeks before the race I was up in Cheshire, having been invited to do a talk by the Delamere Spartans running club.  Whilst there I had a really enjoyable and cruisey 34 mile trail run along the Sandstone Trail.  So at least I had completed one training run longer than 13 miles since my DNF in August.  I also reflected on many of the messages I gave out during my talk, and decide that I needed to put them into practise!

So after finally getting my desire and focus back, I run pretty well for not too far off 4 hours, over a very demanding but enjoyable coastal trail course and am pleased with my performance, and therefore feel back on track for another great year of running in 2012.

In trying to summarise my 2011 year, it is quite difficult.  In terms of my race performances I had two extremes, the amazing high at the Worlds and the 'crushing' low from the DNF at UTMB.  However, I don't base my evaluation of my year of running simply on race performances.  Overall it has been another great year, with I guess the real highlights being meeting loads of great people either at the races, or at the number of talks I did during the year.  Yes, race performances are important, as it is always good to challenge oneself and to try to continue to improve as an ultra runner from year on year.  But it is the fellow runners within the ultra running community, which really provides me with the most enjoyment.  I have met some great people during the year.  So to all of you that I have met, thanks for making ultra running such a great sport and such a friendly community.  I hope to meet you all again in 2012, as well as meeting loads of new runners.

Here's to 2012.  I haven't got time to go into detail now, otherwise it will be March before I get this post published, but there are some changes to what I had originally planned.  Take a look at the following two links to get an indication of where I will spending a few months of this year.

It all looks really exciting!  My next post, whenever that will be, will expand on what I have planned and will outline my goals for 2012.

I wish you all the best as you strive to achieve your goals this year.

Time to sign off:  "The first step is to establish ones goals, the next step is to put a plan in place and then attempt to implement this plan.  Achieving the goal can be and often is rewarding, but I guess the true satisfaction comes from the actual process, the striving towards the goal.  The experiences you have, the challenges you encounter, the people you meet, the enjoyment you share.  Yes, there is more to ultra trail running than simply the running!"  Stuart Mills, 2012.

A rather belated, Happy New Year,