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,



  1. Have a great family trip to NZ Stu and return to running stronger - i know my year off with injury has taught me a few useful things! And to be back on the trails with my hounds now is even more enjoyable than before! Britta

  2. Tough one. Hope you heal quickly.

  3. Like Britta I've been off running for ages and ages through injury. You certainly did the right thing by stopping (but maybe should have stopped earlier. Easier said than done, of course). I think I've managed to maintain a pretty positive mental attitude whilst off running (apart from one minor setback) and that has really helped with my recovery. So, hopefully, you will be able to identify and focus on the positives arising from this on-the-face-of-it negative experience; and this will help you in your recovery and return ~ though it may take some time......

    Murdo tM

  4. Hi Britta, Duncan, Murdo

    Thanks for the positive comments. I always look for the underlying meaning of why things happen, and there are always positives that eventuate from what initially is a disppointing event. Hey Duncan, maybe we can compare foot stress fracture x-rays prior to lining up on the Lakeland 100 start line in July. Good thing there is still quite some time until July, to hopefully allow the foot to repair and to then return to full running. Time will tell! Stuart

  5. Been there - mininmum 5 weeks off running but great for weight-bearing cross training. I had multiple stress fractures of metatarsals diagnosed just 5 weeks from a 100 miler planned in South Africa - cross trained and probably rested and had my easiest race so IMO you'll be back rested, stronger and fitter!

  6. Tough news Stuart but well done on staying positive. I've been having my own battles through winter with the Achillies and I've generally managed to stay positive, though there were times where I succumbed to crushing self pity. The rest has sorted out a whole bunch of underlying niggles I had been carrying for some time so once I am back to full strength I'm sure the time out will have done me good.

    Hope you bounce back quickly. Plenty of time until July.

  7. hey Stuart, get well soon. At least you know exactly what the injury is and how to make it better which is a major positive. you will be back running fast in no time. Enjoy the trip home


  8. Hi Stuart, you gave me a bit of a pep talk in the changing rooms at the start and I took that with me as I plodded round - and really enjoyed the event (conversly my pal who didnt hear your words fell apart in the last 5 miles). I'm really sorry you picked up an injury - but that does allow me to have a 'beat Stuart' on my running CV ! Rather bizarely, after finishing the race my dad told me I may have a hereditry heart conidition (hydrotrophic cardiomyoptahy) that may stop me running - so your thoughts on the fluctuating journey of life really chime with me !
    Good luck, see you at Beachey Head...

  9. Sorry to hear about your injury. I hope you recover quickly, and I look forward to meeting you at the Lakeland 100 later this year.

  10. Like everyone else reading this thread I guess, the coping strategies with injury can sometimes be the biggest battle. It is true for me anyway!
    Put in perspective with life, its just a blip, but I hope you heal quickly Stu!
    Greetings from Delamere

  11. Hi, thanks to all of the positive comments left above. Now two and a half weeks of non running the foot is slowly getting better. I won't be racing a 100 mile race in 2 weeks time like Niandi above, but I have already pencilled in a race in May, assuming all goes well with my intended over cautious return to running. To those of you doing the same races as me, I look forward to meeting you later in the year, and Andrew get ready for a re-match to amend to your CV!

  12. The London Ultra for me was the most bizarre race. So many dressed for the Yukon, it seemed! Hope that you are on the road to recovery. I fear that I have done something similar to my first metatarsal at the Steyning Stinger last week and you have prompted me to check it out so many thanks.

  13. Hi Stu,

    Many thanks for your talk at the Tarawera. Your ideas on running come over so much better now having heard you live. Truly inspirational.