I started writing up this race report nearly two weeks ago, but now having returned from holiday, hopefully I will finish it tonight. One thing that comes out in all of the Lakeland 100 reports I have read over the last two weeks is that the event has such an impact on all that take part. Every report highlights what the Lakeland 100 means to them, and the enjoyment and feeling of satisfaction in taking on such a tough challenge. My report that follows will no doubt also convey this message, however, where my report may differ is on the increased emphasis on my performance during the race. To me, the Lakeland 100 is a race, and hence my number one focus for the event is to perform. This doesn't meant that I don't enjoy the awesome scenary or appreciate the tremendously supportive ultra running community, but being a race, performance on race day takes precedence. So lets get this race report completed!
In my pre-race blog post I commented how my main aim from this years race was to simply run well. Although I had won the race back in 2010 in a time of 24 hours 10 minutes, I felt that I had slowed significantly over the second half of the course, and therefore I wanted to run strongly right through the entire 105 miles this year. Back in 2010 following my three day recce run I felt that the Lakeland 100 was runable in under 20 hours. I was over 4 hours away from sub20 in 2010, and leading up to this years race, I felt if all went well on race day then I could possibly manage a time of 20:30. Why not sub 20 hours? Well, although not making any excuses, as much as I tried to convince myself that not running for eight weeks wasn't a problem, deep down within my sub-conscious, I knew that it would have at least a minor detrimental effect, so hence the slower ideal time.
Leading up to the race, probably as a result of missing eight weeks training earlier in the year, both my physical and non-physical training was at possibly for me, a record high level. I spent many hours researching the event, each leg, the distances, my split times from 2010 race and recce runs, and extensively used John Kynaston's videos to aid me in refreshing my memory of the route. As part of the non-physical training a detailed leg by leg race schedule was constructed that resulted in a finish time of 20:30. These times are calculated weeks in advance so they can enter the sub-conscious, but come race week, I do not look at them, so on race day I only have a vague recollection of a few of the leg times.
Physical training wise, again probably in order to boost my confidence, my weekly mileage for me was pretty high, with an average of 49.1 miles per week. This included one race, the Endurancelife Classic Quarter 44 mile race, which was five weeks previous and went pretty well. Perhaps I over did the physical training a wee bit following this race, as during the last week of tapering, I usually totally freshen up, and feel great. However, leading into the Lakeland 100 an over-trained feeling existed. So much that after feeling so tired on my last planned run of five miles on the Wednesday, one extra four mile run was needed on the Thursday as confidence was rather low, which for me was rather foreign!
I arrived at Coniston on the Friday mid-afternoon with the plan to soak up as much positive energy as I could, but I was also very conscience not to get too excited and try to chat to everyone prior to race start. One key aspect of a 100 mile event is to get ones' pacing right and not waste any energy. So I spent a mixture of the few hours chatting, but also a lot of time on my own, just clarifying exactly what the aim of the day was to be. In response to a question whilst chatting about my planned pacing strategy, I responded stating that I would be going out fast as usual with the intention to get to checkpoint one in first place, whatever pace it would take! Verbalising this plan, which was one of my many visualisations that I had carried out as part of my non-physical training, actually 'woke me up'! What was I saying, had my 'ego' taken over? Why the need to be first? So the last 40 minutes before race start was really important as it appeared that my 'ego' was taking over. So I went back to the starting point within my planning for all races, what do I want, why do I want it, how much do I want it? And reinforced the goal, i.e. to run well, hence no need to focus on what others do.
So how fast do I start? As you are probably aware, I have this race philosophy of "Run as fast as you can, while you can." I am totally convinced in the successfulness of this approach. Of course "as fast as you can" is relative to the race duration, it doesn't literally mean, "as fast as you can", i.e.10km pace or quicker! The reason for the philosophy is that no matter what pace you run at, after 10+ hours you will be tired, so you will slow. Better then to have covered more miles at the 10 hour mark, hence run fast at the start. The real key ingredient to consider in determining your pace is how much Race Focus Energy (RFE) is being consumed. I have covered the concept of RFE in the post titled Delamere Spartans Weekend – A Bit More on the Race Focus Energy Fatigue Model , but to quickly summarise, RFE has a strong effect on your running pace, and it is when your tank of RFE is near empty that you significantly slow down. So reflecting back to the race start of 2010, my strong memory was that the RFE demand for the first leg was high, too high. So having sorted out my 'ego trip' of needing to get to Seathwaite (CP1) first, I was then comfortable in the plan to start off at a lower intensity, and to use the unused RFE from leg 1 for later in the race. During the first few legs, time gaps between runners are small, and to run just a few minutes quicker requires high levels of RFE, whereas later in the race, the time gaps are huge, and it is quite easy to run 10 - 15 minutes quicker or slower on a single leg, with little difference in RFE usage.
One could possibly conclude then, that the best strategy would be to start even slower during the first few legs, and this is a very common approach within ultra trail races. To me, I love the 'buzz' of the competition. The excitement from racing, the positive energy from being near the front of the field. One important aspect of the RFE model is that you can top up ones RFE tank during the race. So starting out fast allows me to do this. One thing that makes a race different to me is that it is a race. Yes the enjoyment from the awesome scenery and terrain are still present, and the enjoyment from the accomplishment of an internal personal challenge, but in addition, there is the challenge of competing against fellow runners, of racing with them, feeling their responses, testing each other out over the different aspects of the course. Yes, although running well is my overall aim, this running well also involves an aspect of racing well. I think the racing aspect significantly improves my overall run performance.
So I stand on the start line near the front of 263 runners ready for a quickish start but not as quick as 2010. I recognise many familiar faces and there is a strong positive community feeling as 'good luck' and 'best wishes' are exchanged between the runners. It is a warm sunny evening, and it looks like the weather will stay warm and reasonably dry throughout the night and into Saturday afternoon. Having pleasant running conditions does increase my enjoyment level for races, adds to my RFE tank, and so I am in a happy positive mood as the race start nears, but with an underlying feeling of wanting to actually get started. Wanting to settle into the race, to allow any doubts regarding preparation to vanish, and to simply enjoy running 105 miles as quickly as I can. To really challenge myself, and hopefully respond successfully to the challenges I will encounter before I return to Coniston on Saturday afternoon.
Leg1 Coniston to Seathwaite
Race Start at Coniston
Working Hard Just Before Miners Bridge
So I guess largely as a result of some underlying doubt over my preparation especially in possibly over doing it a bit during the last few weeks and the feeling of tiredness, combined with my frequent revisiting of my 2010 race experiences that reminded me of the massive slowing down during the last six legs, the RFE demand to maintain the required pace to run alongside the leader was higher than usual, hence the decision to let the lead runner go. Having also spent time immediately prior to the race start reminding myelf to ignore my ego and focus on what I was doing and not on the other runners, this aided the decision, as not leading the race was no longer associated with any negativity, in essence I was happy not to be leading. Just a brief aside, during all of my races I wear a Garmin GPS watch, and this year used a Forerunner 310 XT which had a longer battery life, nearly 20 hours. However, I now never look at the data whilst racing, as I try to rely on feel during the race rather than heart rate or mile pace data to confirm whether I am running well. The Garmin GPS/HR data is collected for later analysis after the race.
So the lead runner, who from the results I discover is Ken Sutor, quickly leaves me behind, and reaches CP1 totally out of sight in a time of 62:17, which compared to my very quick 2010 time of 63:10 clearly illustrates just how fast he was running. (Note: Ken continues to run very quickly for the second leg, again recording the fastest leg time, before slowing down on leg 3 (only recording the 15th quickest leg 3 time) and eventually finishes in 11th place overall.) As Ken leaves me behind on the first climb, I am comfortable with not leading and also have no problems as a second runner, Ed Batty quickly passes me.
Near the Top of Walnar Scar RoadRunning up the steady climb along Walnar Scar Road, Ken rapidly continues to move away, however, I am able to keep in reasonable contact with Ed. Just prior to the summit Duncan Harris catches up with me and we descend together down the very rocky track towards CP1. Duncan has a pretty strong ultra trail running CV including a win in the 2010 Fellsman along with many other wins, and a third place finish in the 2010 Lakeland 100. As I run near Duncan one thing that I am very conscious of is for my pace not to be determined by the other runners around me. Often it is too easy to ease of the pace simply due to the surrounding runners slowing down. I therefore concentrate on maintaining my pace and slowly leave Duncan behind on the technically demanding rocky descent. Looking at my Garmin GPS data which automatically stores data for each mile split of the race, my one mile rocky descending split time is 6:51. Although pretty quick, especially if you are aware of the terrain, not quite as quick as my 6:48 mile split from 2010. Just prior to entering the checkpoint at Seathwaite I pass Ed as he heads out on leg 2, with the results showing that I am 57 seconds behind. My 2012 leg time is 66:25, 3:15 slower that my 2010. I am pleased with my approach of starting slower, and overall happy with both my position in the race and how I am feeling.
Leg 2 Seathwaite to Boot
After a quick dib, and some water to wash down a gel, I am on my way. As I exit the checkpoint, other runners have already arrived, and more runners are rapidly approaching on the brief 80 metre out and back section along the road, before the route heads off-road onto a potentially boggy leg.
As I start the second leg, I recall a feeling of relief, that all is going fine. I have got over the dilemma of how fast to start. I have no 'side effects' of the tiredness that had been ever present in my training during the last few weeks, and I am simply enjoying the present moment, of running fast along the fantastic route of the Lakeland 100. Leg 2 starts with a steepish climb, then some undulating track before a demanding boggy section. Both Ken and Ed are out of sight, and I am rejoined by Duncan. Again, although running reasonable near each other we are both running our own pace and he slowly pulls away through the bog. As I start the steep descent down to a farm, I am 'left for dead' by a runner who goes flying past firstly me, and then Duncan. Now, although I don't run frequently over rough terrain, come race day I can typically 'hold my own', but not with this runner. I later discover that the rapid descender is Ian Symington, who has run quite a few fell races!
As we run around the farm as the track flattens out I gain a small lead on Ian and Duncan. There is then some confusion over the correct route to take as we reach the bridge. I am confident that we cross the bridge, with this part of the course being changed from the 2010 route, however, Duncan decides to stick to the old 2010 route and not cross the bridge. Ian follows Duncan and so I am back to running on my own, as I pass the photographer prior to the checkpoint at Boot.
All Smiles Enjoying the Sunshine Near Boot
During the last week I have not looked at my 2010 race split times or my 20:30 race schedule, so of the fifteen leg times I am probably only able to recall the first two leg times/ As I approach Boot I am therefore aware that I am slightly down on both by 2010 time and 20:30 schedule, although totally comfortable with this, confident in that I will regain back this time and hopefully more later in the race due to the reduced demand on my RFE.
Leg3 Boot to Wasdale Head
After another quick dib and water to wash down my second gel I am quickly on my way. Duncan arrives at the checkpoint just as I depart, so he hasn't lost that much time by following the old 2010 route. Probably around 2 miles later he rejoins me as we make our way towards Burnmoor Tarn and it takes the pressure off having to navigate to the wooden bridge next to the lake as I simply follow Duncan as he heads in what feels the correct direction.
It is as I crest the small climb before dropping down towards Wasdale Head I am joined by Terry Conway, Paul Tiernay and Barry Murray who are running together. I know all three runners reasonably well, having raced them all before and chatted to them at other events. I am therefore not surprised that they have finally caught up to me, as I have a feeling that they are still on their steep upward curve in terms of learning about ultra trail running, and therefore expect them to improve on their 2011 Lakeland 100 performances. I am also still learning about how to perform during ultra trail races, so also on the upwards curve, however, I do recall thinking at the moment in time when the three of them caught me that maybe the steepness of their learning curve was steeper than mine, and maybe then there was the possibility that I wouldn't finish ahead of them today, in contrast to finishing ahead of them when I raced them all during 2011. Seeing the ease at which they were running also didn't aid my confidence, as although I wasn't working that hard, I acknowledge to myself that I was demanding more RFE than they appeared to using.
We have a brief chat as I join the three of them, and we all take note of the absolutely superb surroundings, with the amazingly colours created by the setting sun. It is enjoyable running within the group and I conclude that running with them for a few hours would be a good strategy. I could then simply let them set the pace and navigate the route, and hence I could just relax and enjoy the running One thing that I have noticed this years compared to 2010 is just how much easier with regards to RFE, e.g. mentally in terms of running, when not in the lead. Back in 2010, I had a clear strategy to lead from the start, gain an 'out of sight' lead, and hold onto it. So for the first few legs back in 2010 there was always the feeling of needing to go harder, to get further ahead, to ensure that I was not seen, get caught. In terms of RFE it was definitely more demanding. The big plus side of leading though was the massive replenishment of RFE whilst running and at each checkpoint, as it was confirmed that I was in the lead in 2010. As we ran as a group towards checkpoint 3 I recall evaluating the two different scenarios and coming to the conclusion that 2012 was less 'mentally demanding'. Whether more enjoyable or satisfying I was unable to conclude as the bonus of there being the feeling of reduced pressure was offset with the reduced 'buzz' from not leading. We entered checkpoint 3 together, fifteen seconds down on Duncan, but with the first two runners Ken and Ed nowhere in sight.
Leg4 Wasdale Head to Buttermere
Terry, Paul and Barry leave the check point a few seconds ahead of me and I notice that I have to work quite hard to pull back the 40 metre deficit. It isn't long before we commence the long climb up to Black Sail Pass. As much as the prospect of running within their group was appealing, the intensity required to stay with them just felt that little bit too high. I therefore had to accept the decision that letting them slowly leave me behind was the best strategy.
Looking back at this point in the race, it still amazes me the way in which the body and mind work together. We were at around mile 21 of a 105 mile race, so at exactly one fifth distance. Yet somehow the body and mind together are able to 'tell me' that the pace I was having to adopt to stay within the group was too fast! What is this message based on? Looking at my heart rate data, the average heart rate for the mile prior to deciding to drop back from the group was 161 bpm. This was quite a bit higher than average heart rates of 154 and 146 during the 2 miles prior to the checkpoint (although these two miles did contain lengthy downhill sections). How high is 161 bpm for a one mile average heart rate? Well not as high as mile 4, up Walnar Scar road where the heart rate average was 167, but higher than most of the miles during legs 2 and 3 where it hovered around the mid 150s. So looking at the heart rate data, it would appear that the feeling of intensity, in terms of whether the pace is too quick or slow is based on ones heart rate in direct relation to the heart rate immediately preceding. But as I have mentioned earlier, it isn't only physiological data, but also includes all of those other aspects that contribute to the RFE usage rate. Simply the decision to try to 'hang onto' the group of three results in a negative response, and hence increases the RFE demand. Even though I had beaten all three runners the last time we had raced back in 2011, whether it was the fact that they were running as a close knit threesome I don't know, but for some reason I definitely felt 'inferior' to them at that moment in time.
Back to the issue of the preceding intensity affecting the RFE demand, just how much preceding is unclear, i.e. whether just the one mile prior or maybe the prior hour? Also, how do checkpoints add to the situation, where the heart rate / RFE demand drops, if only for one minute? Is it easier or harder immediately following a checkpoint? One thing I really noticed this year, was that for me, it was always harder to get going again following a checkpoint. It was as if during the few minutes of rest at the checkpoint, the body and mind re calibrated what intensity it felt was acceptable for the remainder of the race, resulting in 'wanting' to go easier!
So as I continue the long climb, I have to watch the three of them head off into the distance. Then to 'knock me' even further, Duncan who we had passed at checkpoint 3, then moves pass me reasonably quickly. I have typed "knock me even further", but reflecting back to this moment, although it was disappointing not to be able to stay with the other runners, I didn't let it get me down. One thing that I learnt from my experience at Ultra Trail Mont Blanc (UTMB) in 2011 was the importance of enjoyment, the importance of remaining positive. I kept these lessons to the forefront of my thoughts, and re-visited my main focus for the Lakeland 100, 2012, i.e. to run well. I assessed how I was running, and concluded that I was running well. Okay I wasn't able to stay with the other leading runners, but I reminded myself, the importance of focusing on what I am doing, not what others are doing! So I continued along leg 4 happy and content with where I was at, enjoying the evening as it was progressively getting darker. With there firstly being the steep descent from Black Sail Pass to cover and then potentially being a tricky navigation issue following Scarth Gap, my attention switched to racing the fading light and to complete these sections before it became to dark.
Probably around half way down the first descent, down towards the youth hostel, the 'demon descender' Ian Symington again overtook me as if I was descending like a granny. He was indeed very quick, extremely skillful! It wasn't long before he was out of sight and before I knew it my head torch and hand torch were out and I was running along the smooth path through the woods alongside the lake immediately prior to the village of Buttemere. As I approach checkpoint 4 at Buttermere Village Hall I just make out a runner or two leaving. So although I have lost some time on the other runners, I am reassured that it isn't much and I am not out of this race yet! Overall I am pleased with how I am running, but there is some disappointment that I am not closer to the front. At checkpoint 4 I presume that I am in eighth place: behind the two quick runners from leg 1 Ken and Ed: the group of three Terry, Paul, Barry; Duncan, and demon descender Ian. However, the results indicate that I was actually in seventh place, having got past speedster Ken during leg 4. I didn't physically overtake Ken, so perhaps he went a bit astray somewhere during leg 4.
Leg 5 Buttermere to Braithwaite
I leave the checkpoint before any other runners arrive, which is reassuring as it allows me to focus on those in front, rather than being worried about being caught from behind. As much as I know that I should focus on what I am doing, I do find that I tend to compare myself in relation to the other runners. I guess this is where my competitive nature comes in. I can go for an enjoyable run across awesome trails any day of the week, and I frequently do within the South Downs National Park. But it is only during racing that I really test myself, challenge myself to run as fast and as hard as I can, in a competition against others. So hence the competitive element is always there. Maybe I am slightly different here when it comes to ultra trail running, as within the various reports I have read, I haven't seen any signs of this competitive element! This is most emphasised within Terry's excellent and intriguing report on his Lakeland 100 journey. Barry's interesting and excellent report also contains a strong non-competitive theme. I guess one of the key messages with regards to this aspect is just how great ultra trail running is. That the activity of ultra trail running is so inclusive, that it can accommodate all that wish to partake no matter what their motives, and all of us gain and feel richer from the experience, having taken on such a demanding challenge.
Leg 5 consist of another lengthy steep climb over Sail Pass before some quick running as the route gently descends down to Braithwaite. Getting up to Sail Pass requires being totally aware of ones surroundings as there are one or two left turns required to stay on route. This need to be 'within the now' really assists me to stay positive and focused. I can see the three torches of Terry, Paul and Barry together ahead, as well as a few single torches, they aren't too far up the climb, but being uphill are probably around five minutes ahead.
The long climb and the initial descent to the last potential missed junction turnoff at Barrow Door goes well and I am well pleased with myself for successfully navigating the most difficult leg of the entire race. I then get a massive boost of 'energy', I can see three torches probably around only 400 metres of downhill running ahead of me. Instantly, I feel really positive about my performance and my pace automatically quickens. The next mile is a gentle downhill to checkpoint 5 and I am flying in the dark. The Garmin GPS data later shows that I covered the one mile descent in 6 mins 37 secs! Pretty quick considering I had been running for over 6 hours!
I quickly catch up to the group of three, but no 'hanging onto' the group now. I am on a mission. I recall thinking that "I will show these youngsters that they haven't got the better of me yet", although the word "yet" was quite key, as much as as I didn't want to accept it, I felt that once the three of them had got over their negativity at going off course, which I concluded must have happened, and which did actually happen, then probably based on how smooth and rhythmical they were running earlier, no doubt I would see them again! However, I wasn't going to waste the opportunity and therefore I try to add to their negativity by blasting past them! I arrive at the checkpoint around 15 seconds ahead of them, and after a quick dib and wash down of another gel I am quickly on my way, with a friendly 'see ya later' ensuring that Terry, Paul and Barry can sense my burst in positivity.
Leg 6 Braithwaite to Blencathra
The first two miles is flat consisting of road running and then along a disused railway before the steady climb along the Cumbria Way. In an effort to put some distance on the trio before their assumed negativity at going off course subsides, I run these two miles as quite a high intensity, therefore demanding a high level of RFE. I get to the steady climb and realise that perhaps I have overdone it a bit and therefore ease of the intensity up the hill. It therefore doesn't take long for Terry, Paul and Barry to catch and then overtake me. This time I do not even attempt to 'hang onto' their group. Not only am I needing to reduce the RFE demand, but I notice that for the first time during the race my legs are beginning to tire! This is rather concerning as I am only at the 35 mile mark, only one third of the journey. The quads are beginning to feel damaged and the hamstrings are beginning to show signs of tightening. These symptoms are expected during an ultra, but typically not until around the 70 mile mark of a 100 mile race, definitely never this early on!
I then think back to UTMB, and the importance of not to get into a negative downward spiral. I acknowledge the initiation of discomfort from my legs, but then pay it no further attention. I then focus on the positives, the present moment of running in the peacefulness of the quiet warm night, with a million stars above, enjoying what I enjoy doing, simply running. For the next few miles, I am no longer in a race, I am simply enjoying running on my own. I skirt my way gently uphill around the side of Whit Beck towards the un-manned dibber point as the route starts the descent down to checkpoint 6 at Blencathra. At the junction I am surprised to stumble across another runner, it is Ian who flew past me earlier on the descents. He is unable to find the dibber point. I hadn't read this specific section of the road book that carefully so I wasn't totally aware of where the dibber point should be. My plan was to simply look out for a light indicating its location. I look down the track around 100 metres and see a light, and we here down to the dibber point together. Having for the previous 20 minutes enjoyed running on my own, after dibbing I briefly stop and walk for a few moments to allow Ian to run ahead. Reflecting back on this now, it really surprises me that I did this, totally against my competitive instinct. But at that moment in time, where I had been focusing on the enjoyment of running, I didn't want the peacefulness of running on my own to be disrupted. I continue running gently downhill to the next checkpoint, aware of Ian around 100 metres ahead, but not trying to gain or stay with him.
Leg 7 Blencathra to Dockray
Ian leaves the checkpoint around 15 - 30 seconds ahead of me, so for the next three miles or so, down to and then along a disused railway line, he remains 100 - 150 metres ahead of me. I am happy with the situation, happy to be running on my own, just happy to be enjoying the present moment. We leave the railway line and start the steepish and boggy climb up to the Coach Road. Due to the steepness of the climb the distance between us is reduced, and this aids me as I can simply follow the route he takes rather than needing to look out for the corner of the wood, the gate in the fence, or the indistinct path alongside the fence line. Taking advantage of not needing to navigate I am enjoying the night sky and notice not just one shooting star but two shooting stars directly above within a few minutes of each other. Yes, this ultra trail running is quite an experience!
The climb continues a little further once we reach the Coach Road and I notice that Ian continues to walk even though the hill has nearly flattened out. As quickly as I left competition mode on the climb on leg 6, I am back into race mode! I focus on closing the gap and then to go straight past him. The positivity increases again, this time from knowing that I am running well. Especially as back in 2010 during the same stretch of the race I experienced my first 'difficult patch' and struggled along the Coach Road then for a few miles. Tonight, the total opposite. I am feeling good, running smoothly, as the tiredness from the legs has disappeared as my attention is taken elsewhere, with the focus on positivity and enjoyment. I run straight past Ian and then notice a single torch ahead so continue to run at a reasonably high RFE level in an effort to bring the torch light closer. Before I know it, I have reached the checkpoint at Dockray. Whilst running quickly along the Coach Road I compare tonight's leg 7 to 2010 and am really pleased that I haven't experienced the difficult 'patch' like two years previous. As I enter the checkpoint Duncan who I last saw on the climb out form checkpoint 4 is there. He doesn't look happy. He comments to me that he doubts that he will make it to the finish this year. Just at that moment Ian arrives at the checkpoint, so instead of offering Duncan some encouragement, selfishly I ignore him and focus on getting out of the checkpoint as quickly as possible. Apologies Duncan if you are reading this. Sorry that I wasn't able to offer you the support you needed at that moment in time. I am still on the upward learning curve in terms of ultra trail running! Duncan did struggle during the next leg and unfortunately withdrew at the Dalemain checkpoint.
Leg 8 Dockray to Dalemain
I leave the checkpoint on my own and commence running along the one mile downhill road section to the village of Dockray. Whether it was the brief stop at the checkpoint, or the fact that I was now running on the road, or the increase in the downhill gradient. Most likely all three, but instantly my legs were rather uncomfortable! Rather than being able to increase the pace on this smooth downhill section, due to the discomfort from the legs I am having to run slowly! The Garmin GPS data shows that it takes me 9 mins 25 secs to complete a one mile downhill along roads where the elevation loss was 103 metres. Quite different to the 6:37 mile I ran less than three and a half hours earlier.
There is a dramatic switch from the positivity of overtaking Duncan and Ian to the negativity due to my 'trashed' legs, at the 51 mile mark, still not even half way! Although I am putting in the same amount of 'effort' in terms of RFE (Race Focus Energy). As mentioned earlier, the RFE demand is influenced by much more than just the physiological demand. Having to deal with the discomfort from my legs, combined with the massive increase in negativity, significantly increases the demand on RFE. I have no option but have to reduce the physiological demand in order to reduce the RFE demand. The Garmin GPS HR data shows that for the two miles prior to check point 7 my average heart rate was 141 bpm, compared to an average HR of 124 bpm for the two miles immediately following the checkpoint. It doesn't take long for Ian to go flying past me, which further adds to my negative state of mind.
I recognise what is happening, again learning from UTMB 2011, and work hard to get back to a positive state. I am now running along probably the most scenic part of the entire 105 mile course. The single track section that contours around Gowbarrow overlooking the lake below. Not that I can see the lake or the awesome scenery as it is still pitch black, however, I do recall this picturesque section whist on my recce run back in 2010. I gain a further increase in positivity when I compare the level of darkness at this moment of time with the 2010 race. Not memorising any checkpoint times from 2010 or my 20:30 schedule I do not have any 'concrete' feedback on how fast I am running. But I don't need any split times to tell me that up to the end of leg 7 I have been running well, quicker than 2010. This is confirmed with the fact that back it 2010 it was just beginning to get light at this point of the race. Tonight, still plenty dark. I therefore take added pleasure in it being dark, as the longer it is dark, the quicker I have been running.
So as I regain a positive state, my physiological intensity is able to increase, but with there still being discomfort form my legs, even now on the uphills as well, which increases the rate of RFE usage, the average heart rate only increases back up to 135 bpm rather than around 141 for the majority of leg 7. I exit the woods of Swinburn's Park and cross the road into some rather boggy fields. As I struggle to locate the direction of the footpath as it is still very dark, combined with the difficulty of running across the boggy fields, I experience my first real 'difficult patch' of the race so far. I am mentally tired, I am struggling to access the required Race Focus Energy to keep running. It is pretty similar to what I experienced back in 2010 but that time it was during leg 7. I get out my 'security blanket' chocolate covered coffee beans and consume some of these, combined with some Cliff Gel Shots! I have little option but to walk this section, as I need to re-focus and get my mind back into action. I go slightly off course, but not too bad considering it was still dark. Just to note for the entire 105 mile route, this section here was the only time that I strayed from the course, and that was with the road book and map staying in my back pack the entire way. Yes, my non-physical preparation had been very thorough!
Slightly Off Course During Leg 8
Earlier within this report I mentioned how ones race intensity, level of race effort appears to be influenced by the preceding level. Well following my walking section across the boggy fields midway on leg 8 where my average heart rate for the mile reduced to only 115 bpm, from that moment in the race, I was never able to increase the race effort, i.e. get my Race Focus Energy demand up to the levels prior to that section. For the next 34 miles until the Garmin GPS watch battery runs out, my average heart rate for a mile never rose above 128 bpm, with the average being only 117bpm. Considering that prior to leg 8 my average heart rate was 151bpm. Yes, leg 8 was a key turning point of the race.
Once I get back off the wet fields and onto the lengthy road section, I am back into running, and really focus on enjoyment and remaining positive. I try to make the most of the gentle downhill sections and do manage to 'bang out' a 9:17 mile, which does feel quite quick in comparison to my previous walking section. Unfortunately that mile, mile number 59 was pretty well my last decent mile of the race! I arrive at the Dalemain checkpoint and have my longest stop to date of five minutes, compared to all of my previous checkpoint stops of only around one minute. Whether the longer stop helped or not, I am unsure, but probably hindered my progress. Maybe I should have taken even longer, to have a real break, but with my legs rather delicate I didn't want to risk them seizing up.
Leg 9 Dalemain to Howtown
I leave the checkpoint walking, and it takes me a minute or two to get moving. Again the focus is on trying to stay within the present moment and enjoy the experience. I get running again and try to regain some rhythm. I make reasonable progress though Pooley Bridge and up the gentle climb onto the open fell. Although trying to focus on the present moment, I can't help but reflect back two years to the same point in the 2010 race. Back then I had had two difficult and hence slow legs on legs 7 and 8, but then had got my 'act together' and ran really well on leg 9. As much as I recognised the importance of remaining positive, I was finding it difficult to do so, knowing that I wasn't running as quick on this leg as 2010.
My focus then turns to a comparison between my overall performance to date for today's Lakeland 100 in relation to the 2010 race. Although I didn't have any precise split data, I knew that I was significantly quicker than 2010, and bearing in mind that I slower massively in 2010 on legs 10 - 15, unless a disaster happened I was guaranteed to finish in a quicker time. Yes, although my legs were giving me strong messages of discomfort, I was pretty well able to deal with these messages, with the only consequence being that it was increasing the rate of RFE usage dealing with them, hence the resulting rather slow pace, as the physiological demand had to be subsequently reduced. There was never any question of DNFing, which was a real bonus, and a real positive as I slowly made my way to checkpoint 9, and then slowly start on my way to checkpoint 10 at Mardale Head.
Leg 10 Howtown to Mardale Head
I slowly eventually reach Madale Head, although in comparison with my leg 10 split time for 2010 I am over ten minutes quicker this year. This isn't a reflection of my pace this year, but more an indication of my really difficult patch on leg 10 back in 2010.
Being able to run so slowly over leg 10 but yet know that I was still quicker than my 2010 time didn't really help, and in reality probably hindered my performance this year. During my preparation I had spent much time formulating my race goals, my aims/focus for the race. And after much deliberation came to the simple conclusion that my overall race focus was to "run well". The problem is I didn't go into more detail in terms on what running well meant. When I formulated this aim, I clearly knew what I meant by run well, things such as actually running, not walking unless it is a steady climb. Running relaxed, within a rhythm, remaining positive, enjoying the experience, being within the present moment, etc. Unfortunately, I find as I get tired during an ultra trail race, my body and mind tend to work together in a combined effort to deceive me and to get me to slow down. So my clear perception of what running well means, is distorted and changed to mean to simply to run a personal best finishing time. Yes, surely, if you finish with a personal best time for the course then you must have run well. Logical really! Well that was the message that I was being 'told' and in my fatigued state I didn't have any come back to respond to the convincing argument! So as it takes me over two and a half hours to complete leg 10, by the time I reach the checkpoint at Mardale Head, the sole aim of the 2012 Lakeland 100 is to simply run quicker than my 2010 finishing time!
Leg 11 Mardale Head to Kentmere
Arriving at checkpoint 10 at Mardale Head was a real bonus. The checkpoint was manned by runners from the Delamare Spartans running club. Last year I was fortunate to be invited by the club to do a presentation on ultra trail running. It was a great weekend, and I really enjoyed the positive energy of the enthusiastic and friendly members of the recently formed running club. Well checkpoint 10 was no different. I could hear the cow bells ringing loudly as I got close, and the support from the runners was superb, as it was at all of the checkpoints, but the bonus with this checkpoint was that many of the crew were familiar faces who all knew me and gave me tremendous personal support.
I leave the checkpoint on a real high and get to the top of the lengthy and steep climb to Gatesgarth Pass with no problems at all from the legs. Amazing, really, it just confirms that the degree of difficulty I was experiencing due to the discomfort messages from the legs is really dependent upon ones state of mind and how one wishes to focus on , to interpret the messages. Yes, this aspect is one of the crucial components of performing well in ultra trail running and definitely needs my full attention in order to avoid what happened to me for pretty well the remaining five legs!
I get over the top and start thinking after such a strong climb that I can really smash by finishing time from 2010. Then there is the start of the downhill, and the positivity form the Delamare Spartans is now too distant. I simply pay too much attention to the discomfort messages from my legs, combined with my newly agreed race aim of simply beating my 2010 finish time, I just have no argument, and believe it or not, I still find it hard to accept it now, but I start walking on a downhill! To put it in simple terms, there was no need for me to run. I was going to run quicker than my 2010 finish time even if I walked this downhill so why the need to run! It takes me 17 mins 24 secs to cover a one mile downhill section that had an elevation drop of 163 metres. This was after I briefly battled with the discomfort of descending, so it wasn't an instant giving up, by taking 14 mins 52 secs to cover the previous one mile steeper section with a 205 metre elevation drop! Two downhill miles taking over 32 minutes!!!
Yes, performance in ultra trail running is so much more than the physical, hence why I spend significant time on non-physical training. The formulation of race goals, as my experience here illustrates, is crucial in order to have some 'come back' to the arguments one is likely to face during the later stages of an ultra trail race, which strongly want you to go slower. My race goals were just too vague! Yes, they don't need to be massively detailed in terms of specific split times, or heart rates, or race position etc. However, they do need to be detailed in terms of what they mean in actual application come the race. What does the term running well translate to during the race? How can you evaluate this, and determine whether you are doing what is required to achieve this? One of the key things I have learnt from my journey along the 2012 Lakeland 100 route is this importance of race aims/goals.
Opps, I haven't finished the race. I still have five legs to complete! Well not really much to report during these last five legs. After walking on the downhill during leg 11, as you can imagine I wasn't really in a high positive state, but yet knowing that I would still run quicker than my 2010 time seemed to reassure me that I was still actually somehow running well, so overall I didn't feel negative at any time, which I guess is a bonus? But having been convinced that I was still running well when in reality I wasn't, relative to what I know I am capable of, resulted in me not really pushing myself, not really trying very hard! I eventually reach checkpoint 11 at Kentmere which is being run by the crew from Montane, one of my sponsors. Again, it is great to see some familiar faces, and the positive energy received was a real boost. Thanks.
Receiving Positive Energy at Checkpoint 11 Kentmere
Leg 12 Kentmere to Ambleside
This leg is pretty well a repeat of leg 11. The positive energy I receive from the checkpoint gets me up and over the steep climb of Garburn Pass, with minimal issues with the legs. But come the descent I again pay too much attention to the legs, although I discipline myself and refuse to walk the downhills, but the two miles of decent, with 124 and 137 metres of elevation drop still takes me nearly 24 minutes to complete! I slowly make my way to the checkpoint at Ambleside.
Leg 13 Ambleside to Langdale
With three legs to go, I am pretty well on auto-pilot. I am progressing quite slowly, managing to run most of the time, albeit slowly whenever it is flat or downhill. But come any slight incline, then it provides an excuse to walk. Why was I running so slowly I ask myself now, trying to reflect on two weeks ago. Yes, the legs were uncomfortable, but no more than usual, probably the only difference was that the discomfort started earlier. I guess the main reason for running so slowly was that there was no motive to run faster. I was going to beat my 2010 finish time, hence a PB, so a good result! But the problem now that I face, is that I know I am capable of much more. Perhaps it could be interpreted that, "I was soft!" I wimped out, I took the easy option, when the 'going got tough'! Reflecting back now, part of me has this feeling. For the last five legs, well actually the last seven legs, I was pretty well lacking in Race Focus.
An argument perhaps could be made that it is due to my focus on racing, my focus on the competitive side of ultra trail running, that this is the underlying cause of my less than satisfying performance. Maybe there is something in this, as very few ultra trail runners focus on the competition element, but I am not sure about this. To me the Lakeland 100 is a race, and therefore involves competing against other runners in order to get to the finish line ahead of them. Yes, it is also a personal challenge, but the time component of what constitutes a good performance is partly determined by how my finish time compares to the other runners. But one plan for the future is to give some serious thought at looking into establishing clearer race goals which aren't competition determined.
Leg 14 Langdale to Tilbertwaite
Just before starting leg 14 in an effort to try to get myself running faster I ask the checkpoint crew the time gap to the runner in front of me. He informs me that I am in 5th place (which is a surprise as since checkpoint 8 at Dalemain I had been in 6th position), and that I nearly 40 minutes behind. He also informs me that back at CP12 ar Ambleside I was just over 30 minutes ahead of the following runner. Both of these bits of information 'allow' me to continue running slowly. There is no way I can gain the 40 minutes to gain a place, and even though I am running pretty slowly, it is highly unlikely that I will lose 30 minutes, and I conclude that even if the following runner does get close, I will be able to see him on the last climb getting closer and simply increase the pace. So even during the race, I knew that I was capable of running quicker if I had to, but was taking the soft option! So I continue my slow journey towards Coniston and reach checkpoint 14, the final checkpoint with no signs of the runner from behind.
Leg 15 Tilberthwaite to Coniston
I start the tough last climb, which begins with the infamous steps. Two years ago my brother videoed me climbing these steps and I was really suffering. Today, although tired, I am not anywhere near as exhausted as I was back then. I guess further illustrating just how much I have progressed as an ultra trail runner over the last two years, in that I can be quite a bit quicker but with nowhere the same demands on my body and mind.
I make my way up the climb and as I slowly progress across the flatter part of the climb I glance behind me and see the following runner start his climb. Yes he is getting closer to me, but all is fine. Just in case though, for the first time since probably the start of leg 11 I increase my Race Focus Energy and work reasonably hard for the remainder of the gentle climb, up to the summit and start the final descent down to the gravel road we ran up nearly 24 hours earlier. The descent is rather uncomfortable, but the excitement of the chase from behind gives me incentive to maintain a good pace and ignore the discomfort as I head down to the road. I then make good progress along the final mile, running quite hard, and cross the finish line back at the school in a total time of 23 hours 45 minutes and 48 seconds.
Although this write-up and my perception of my running pace gives the indication that I was running very slowly over the second half of the race, and that this was mainly die to me being 'soft'. Reflecting back on the last leg, where I had to increase the effort in order to stay ahead of the quickly finishing runner actually suggests that perhaps I didn't actually have that much left, and I wasn't going that easy, as after the last 30 minutes of increased effort I crossed the finish line pretty shattered! However, the increased effort was necessary as a little under three minutes behind me, Gancho Slavov finishes in 6th place.
Well that was an ultra effort! I doubt many readers will have got this far, if you have you definitely have ultra endurance qualities! I sub-titled this post"Learning From and Planning for the Future". Well hopefully my above report has illustrated that I have learnt quite a bit from this years Lakeland 100. So planning for the future. Firstly, having originally planned to return back to UTMB in 2013, the plan has changed, and I will be coming back to the Lakeland 100 in 2013. In order to run to what I consider my true ability, I however, need to prepare differently to prevent the same massive slowing down during the last 5 - 7 legs.
I see two aspects to focus on here. One is to do with my race goals, to ensure that these are clearly formulated, with sufficient detail to enable me to evaluate my progress towards achieving my race goals during the actual event. I will also give some consideration to my emphasis to the competition element. Secondly, I need to acknowledge that the issues I had with the lack of Race Focus Energy was possibly largely attributable to my physical preparation, in that my legs were pretty well trashed very early on in the race. Although over my four years of ultra trail running, I have been a strong believer in there not being a real need to run large miles, having averaged only around 40 miles per week. I am now having to reconsider this approach. Yes, I have performed well during ultra trail races on this reasonably low mileage, but the majority of these races have been less than 50 miles. In all three 100 mile races that I have finished, I have slowed significantly during the second half of the race. So maybe 40 miles per week is fine for ultra races up to around 50 miles, but perhaps to really perform in 100 mile races, bigger mileage is required in order to 'protect' the legs and to give them that increased conditioning so there isn't the massive increase demand on the Race Focus Energy, simply to cope with the discomfort messages from the legs.
As I have mentioned within my report, I am still on the upward learning curve when it comes to ultra trail running. I guess this is the one aspect that makes ultra trail running so appealing. In that one is continually learning and therefore continually improving. I am really excited about experimenting with some new approaches to my ultra trail running within the coming year.
Time to sign off and finally get this blog post published.
I will sign off with a quote from Barry Murray's Lakeland 100 report. I don't know whether it is his quote, or someone elses, but I can relate to it, and particularly like the emphasis on the expanding and learning. I have just been informed that the quote is by Dean Karnazes.
"Struggling and suffering are the essence of a life worth living. If you’re not pushing yourself beyond the comfort zone, if you’re not demanding more from yourself – expanding and learning as you go – you’re choosing a numb existence. You’re denying yourself an extraordinary trip.” Dean Karnazes, 2006, from his book "Ultramarathon Man: Confessions of an All-Night Runner"All the best with your continued learning,