Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Montane Lakeland 100 - Knowing and Preparing for the Challenge


With there being only a few days left until the Montane Lakeland 100 I am in the final stages of my preparation.  In tonight's post I will consider how my preparation has gone and what I have done.  Well I am not planning to do a long post tonight, as I am in taper mode, but I will attempt to reflect on my preparation concisely! 

In order to prepare for the Lakeland 100, the first and probably the most important task is to decide on what the challenge is.  What do you want?  Yes, we would less likely do these events if they weren't challenging, however, depending upon your goals, the race can have different challenges for different people.

Obviously the first aim is to finish the event, to complete the 105 mile circuit.   However, although there is a cut-off time limit of 40 hours, for most runners they will have an additional goal of completing the course in as quick a time as possible.  I have observed from my many years of running that this aim "to do ones best" is a common trait amongst runners.  Even if the runner publicly states that all they want to do is finish, deep within, they actually do want to run to their full potential, and therefore a speed/pace component is also involved.

Although I tend to finish near the front end of the field, clearly identifying what "running to my full potential is" is as equally important for me, as it is for the mid-pack runner or the runner towards the tail of the field.  As part of the Lakeland 100/50 recce weekend June last year I gave a presentation on my Lakeland 100 experiences.  One of my slides was titled "2010 Lakeland 100 - What Went Wrong?", and it created a bit of interest considering I won the 2010 event by nearly one and a half hours!  Yes, although I did win the race, when reflecting on the race, I didn't consider it as one of my better performances, which I attribute to my poor preparation in terms of knowing what did I actually want from the event!

In trying to be specific in terms of my goals for the event, it doesn't have to be quantifiable, in terms of say a certain finishing place or a certain finishing time.  This was where I have gained in experience and wisdom since July 2010.  Back then I assumed that in order to have specific goals, the goal had to be quantifiable.  I therefore spent significant time trying to determine how long each leg would take me.  The problem with this is that the time to run each leg is so heavily dependent upon the weather conditions, especially the underfoot conditions, i.e. whether the track is hard and dry, or as most likely this weekend, wet and boggy!  So back in 2010 at the end of leg two, which is prone to being rather boggy, the time goals I had set I realised were not possible.  I therefore had a dilemma as my time goals were no longer applicable.  I also had a sub goal of winning the race, however, as your finish place isn't totally within your control I try not to adopt finish place goals, although the desire to win was obviously attractive. 

So due to having not clearly identified what I wanted from the race, I simply ran at a pace that was sufficient to win, and I convinced myself during the race that as I was leading, I therefore had to be running well!  This is not always the case.  So what am I trying to say within this blog post.  I guess the key message is that it is important to clearly establish your goals for the event, however, what is most important is that you are able to gain some feedback during the race, to assess whether you are attaining your goals, and if not, implement a strategy to enable you to get back on track and to achieve your goal.

I therefore now simply adopt a rather vague goal for the race of "To Run Well"!  Yes, as simple as that.  However, what I have spent significant time developing is the process of assessing during the race, if I am running well.  This is not based on leg split times, or current race position, (although they can provide some feedback), but based on FEEL.  How am I feeling, my overall feeling, but probably the most important, is being my sense of enjoyment and the level of positivity at that moment in time.  If I am running well, my sub-conscious, my deep down feelings will reliably tell me this, but only if I allow these feeling to be displayed, without them being inhibited due to other less reliable feedback. Aspects I will pay attention to are some physiological feedback, such as level of breathing, heart rate, and physical senses from the legs.  But what is more important is my perception of effort, how much Race Focus Energy (RFE) is required in order to maintain my current running pace, and combining this RFE perception with the actual feeling of how I am running.  Does my running feel fast, feel flowing, feel rhythmical, relaxed.

One aspect is assessing my feelings/perceptions, but being able to respond to this assessment is the key to a successful performance.  During a 100 mile trail race, ones feeling will fluctuate, possibly to quite extremes.  There will be some absolutely amazingly awesome moments, but then also some very challenging moments. So within my preparation I have spent time visualising different scenarios that could arise during my journey of the Lake District.  And for each possible scenario I have tried to develop a strategy to maintain the positivity, or if during a difficult moment, an approach to regain the positive experience.  It is hard to explain the process I have gone through, but it involved reflecting on my experiences during my previous races.

Since July 2010 I have started twelve marathon or ultra races, with the experiences ranging from severe disappointment with two DNFs (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc in August 2011, and London Ultra in February 2012), to strong feelings of satisfaction, with probably the IAU World Trail Championships in Connemara, Ireland in July 2011 being my overall best performance.  Reflecting on what the overall experiences of the races were allows me to continue to improve and develop as an ultra trail runner.  An interesting observation is that my two extremes during the last two years were separated by only seven weeks.  Physiologically not much would have changed during this short time period, hence why my preparation focus is on the non-physical aspects of training.  This doesn't mean I ignore the physical training.  No, the physical training is obviously important, however, it is the translation of the physical training and it's impact on the other variables that strongly influence performance such as confidence, self-expectations, positivity, etc. which is the key.  The importance of the physical training isn't solely to develop ones physiology!

I appreciate that a number of you prioritise your training differently to mind, with the physical training being the prime focus.  Some of you may be interested in the level of my physical training during my previous 14 weeks since returning to running following my stress fracture.  During my time off running, I formulated my training plan for the Lakeland 100, and the 15 week preparation phase seems to have worked out as being ideal.  The perfect duration of time in order to be on the start line in Coniston feeling TOTALLY prepared.  In total I have run 688 miles, averaging 49.1 miles per week.  This average has probably been the highest weekly average I have ever carried out leading into a focus race.  So you can see the importance I do pay to the physical training.  In addition to this high level of physical training, the extent of my non-physical training has probably equally be more extensive than usual.  Hence why I am able to conclude that my TOTAL preparation leading up to the Montane Lakeland 100 has felt ideal.

I mentioned at the start of tonight's post that I would try to keep it concise.  I'm not sure that I have really achieved this, as my thoughts at times have been rather random.  Hopefully to those of you racing this weekend in the Lake District, my 'mutterings' above provide either a boost in confidence with regards to the preparation you have carried out.  However, if it has the opposite affect, and has led to some insecurities in terms of perhaps the lack of non-physical training conducted, with a few days left before race day, some last minute non-physical training may still be beneficial.  Whatever situation you are in, remember, the importance of clearly knowing what challenge you have set yourself this weekend.

May I wish you all the best this weekend as you strife to achieve the challenge you have set.

I will sign off with a quote I wrote leading up to the 2010 Lakeland 100.  Re-reading it now, it feels even more relevant in terms of influencing ones overall performance:
"Staying confident in that your preparation has been sufficient for the realistic goal you have set yourself, and feel assured that the fast, but comfortable pace you have started at, is correct. Listen to your own 'deep and inner beliefs', and ignore the comments, views and actions of others if they are in conflict with your well thought out and planned strategies." Stuart Mills, 2010
Hopefully see some of you in Coniston.  Please say hi.


PS  Those of you that have been following the Real Relay, will be as pleased as I was seeing that the Real Relay managed to reach the Olympic Stadium at London at the end of the non-stop 55 day journey.  Endurancelife provided a challenge to the UK running community and the response was overwhelming.  I was fortunate to be involved in the Real Relay twice.  Firstly last Wednesday early in the morning as a group of five of us ran from Seaford to Eastbourne, and secondly, yesterday, as me and my son Robert joined in with around 200 other runners on the final leg, nearly reaching the stadium before we were stopped by security!  Overall a great experience, a truly unique event, achieving its aim of successfully accomplishing the demanding challenge set, whilst at the same time uniting the running community.  Thanks to Kate and others at Endurancelife, and to all the runners that were involved.  Ckick HERE to see the BBC coverage of the final leg.

The Real Relay at Eastbourne Pier.  From the left of the photo: Andrew Tolley, Stuart Mills, Steve Morgan holding the Real Relay baton that contains the GPS Tracker, and Jonathan Davidson.

The Real Relay on the final leg not far from the Olympic Stadium.  My son Robert and I are in the front row, 3rd and 4th in from the left of the photo.


  1. Superb post, Stuart! See you on Friday.

  2. Hi Stuart,

    have fun with the Lakeland 100. I really enjoyed our run for the real relay and hope it has boosted your RFE.

    Having had the opportunity to talk to you at length about your running ideas, I found your philosophy very useful this weekend at the Dowland 30. Firstly, I re-read your blogs on pacing and RFE, and then aimed for a fast start with a big positive split. With a curious, experimental open mind. Fortunately, I held on for a relatively big PB. The RFE stuff really did work (for me) and I was surprised at how slowly I could run the 2nd half and still only be caught by 6 people (really only 3 people after reaching Jack and Jill). I'll be even more interested to read your post race blog and see again how you experience your method over a longer distance.

    Thank you again for sharing a great run,

    Jonathan Davidson

  3. Stuart, thanks for your comment on my blog. That quote above does fit my own race strategy perfectly.
    Good luck for your Lakeland 100 (105?) attempt. I will follow the race as good as I can and as long there is information available.

    It will be very interesting to see how you put your theoretical/mental approach into practise! And you actually reach your full potential.
    And this time you have some serious competition in Terry Conway. He will not go off slowly! How will that affect your racing?

  4. Thanks for the comments above. Steve, what is this finish in 37 hours rubbish!!! Didn't you listen to anything I said last year at the Delamere Spartanes talk!

    Good to see that you smashed your PB Jonathon by 48 minutes! Yes, the attempt to run an even pace is more than often not the best strategy. Remember, "run as fast as you can, while you can"!

    Hi Tom, good to see such a good performance you had at the Anglo Cletic Plate 100 km. Also good to see that you ran a massive positive split. Eventually people will see the wisdom in not tryng to run even paced. Yes it will be interesting to see how my ideas are implemented this weekend. Should be a great race!


  5. Hi Stuart,

    Cant make it as an elite supporter this year, but I will follow it on line. Run well Stuart but make sure to enjoy the race whatever way it goes.