Monday, 7 April 2014

South Downs Way 50 Mile Race(?) Report - The Satisfaction of Challenging Oneself


If you had seen my blog post last week where I stated that I would not being racing the SDW50 due to not wanting to risk re-injuring myself, you may be a bit surprised at the title of this post being the "South Downs Way 50 Mile Race Report".  Well last week after having decided not to race the event, I was planning what training I would do over the coming weekend, thinking maybe a longish run was needed, and then what would be a good training run route.  When I thought, why not just run part of the SDW50.  After all I had paid my entry fee.  I knew loads of people running it,  And it is along a really scenic route.  So I decided that I would do a 'catered' training run.  Yes, I had heard great things about the food that is provided at the checkpoints in Centurion Running races.  So here was an excellent opportunity to sample the food, without there being the usual rush that occurs when I usually race.

It is an earlyish start on Saturday morning in order to get to the start at Worthing in plenty of time, as although I wasn't racing I was giving a friend and one of my coaching athletes a lift.  So I didn't want to leave arriving at the start to the last minute, to avoid any possible panic for their race plans.  For me, it was a really strange feeling.  From the moment I woke up there just wasn't the usual excitement I usually get on the morning of a race.  As I got my running pack ready, (which was by chance the first time trying out the brand new Montane Jaws 10 running pack I had just been sent), I checked that I had all of the required kit, but this time I wasn't weighing every item to ensure I could save a few grammes here and there, as I was only planning to run either 26 or 33 miles, i.e. to checkpoints 3 or 4, so it didn't really matter how heavy my pack was.

At race registration as I get my running pack checked, and pick up my race number, I bump into a few people who comment that they had read on my blog that I wasn't racing.  After explaining a few times that I wasn't racing but just doing a training run, I decide to remove myself from the start area to reduce the feeling of being a bit of a 'fraud' and so head back to the car pack.  Shortly before 9:00 am I quietly head back to the start and hide myself  at around a third of the way back in the field, next to work colleague and training partner Jim.  The tentative plan was to run the first leg of 11 miles with him, and then probably pick up the pace a wee bit, although I would just see what eventuated.

Race Start and I am Nowhere to be Seen! But This Time Hidden in the Bunch!

There is a countdown and we are off!  It is a strange feeling as I just jog off chatting to Jim, as I watch the leaders run off at the front.  The route starts with a solid climb, which although I am only running at training pace I am working at a reasonably good level so I am running with Jim at somewhere around 40 - 50th place from a field of over 300 runners.  After a few miles of chatting we slowly overtake a few runners and catch up with Geoff Gray, a local runner who I used to have great battles with a few years back.  For the last few years we hadn't raced each other so it was good to have a catch up with him, as the three of us pretty well run together, non stop chatting until the first checkpoint.

Running into Checkpoint 1 Alongside Jim 

As we continue running along the race route past Devil's Dyke, I am conscious that although I am finding the pace pretty easy, Jim and Geoff are both working that wee bit harder than me, so when a runner overtakes the three of us I decide it is probably a good time to move on and not disrupt their racing any more, and so I run alongside the faster moving runner.    As I run alongside the runner, Dave if my memory is correct, I am conscious not to disrupt his race.  He however recognises me from my blog and is 'shocked' that he has just overtaken me!  I apologetically explain that I am just on a training run.  He doesn't seem to mind, in fact he is quite pleased with the idea that he is going to beat me in an ultra race once I DNF!

Running with Welcoming Runner Matt at the 31 Mile Mark

So to cut a long story short, this was basically the pattern of what happened and how I felt during my SDW50 training run to checkpoint 4 at the 33.9 mile mark, which I reached in just over five hours.  I would catch up to runners, chat to some of them for a while, before moving away.  To be honest I felt a bit of an 'imposter'!  Running alongside other runners who were giving it their all, (although during these early parts of the race they were all running pretty comfortably), as they were racing, whereas I was just in training mode.

In my blog post last week, I touched on the subject of enjoyment from running.  In that I run over 250 days per year, but only race around seven times per year.  So I therefore gain the vast majority of my enjoyment from running from the actual process of simply running, not the actual racing.  But what I really learnt from last Saturday's experience is that there is something quite special about racing.  That feeling of having really challenged yourself, to complete the race route as quickly as you feel capable of, is really what generates the true enjoyment, the deep satisfaction of 'putting yourself on the line', and really testing oneself.  Yes, there is also enjoyment during the race of getting from the start to the finish, usually taking in some great trails and scenery.  But during a race I realised that that is secondary to the internal challenge of getting the very most out of oneself. 

Did I enjoy my SDW50 training run?  On the whole the answer was yes, as I did enjoy meeting and chatting to many runners along the way, who were all so welcoming and willing to talk to me even though I wasn't racing.  Will I do a 'catered' training run again within a race?  No!  The feeling of not belonging, of not experiencing the same feelings, the same emotion, the same required focus that all of the other runners were going through, or were going to encounter as the fatigue developed towards the latter end of the race, was really quite an uncomfortable feeling.  So the next time you see me at a race, you can be totally sure that it will be the usual UltraStu, running as fast as I can, while I can!

And with only three weeks to the 61mile Fellsman race, having missed out on racing the SDW50, the desire, the hunger, the thirst to be racing again is getting me really excited.  Yes, with it being 34 years this month since I raced my first marathon, that joy, that buzz, that satisfaction from racing is still as strong as ever!  Yes, there is indeed something quite special about ultra trail racing!

Lastly a big thanks to James Elson and his tremendous team for putting on such an excellent event.  And also a huge well done to Paul Navesey for recording such an amazingly quick time of 6:11.  Taking over forty minutes of the course record is indeed quite an achievement.  The race results are available HERE, and as you will see there were some pretty quick times by many runners including Edwina Sutton's time of 7:09, finishing first women, in 9th place overall, taking one hour and fourteen minutes off the previous women's record!

Time to sign off with a quote from one of my favourite books:

"The naysayer's doubts were whispers compared to the screaming within my head.  Did you train too hard?  Did you train enough?  Can you really run 100 miles on just plants?  Did you go out too fast, too early?  Are you doomed?  But - and this is what I had learned - the screaming in my head could be reduced to faint hissing.  All I had to do was remember why I was here, what I wanted - how bad I had wanted it."
Scott Jurek, 2012, Eat and Run, page 94.

Yes, the joy of racing!

Happy racing,



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