Tuesday, 17 June 2014

South Downs Way 100 Race Report - Processing the Frustration


As I start typing up this race report from Saturday's race I'm not that sure what I will end up writing.  Often I let things 'settle' for a few days or perhaps a week, to allow time to fully process what happened during the race, in order to learn from and to continue to improve.  However, due to there being some frustration with my performance on Saturday, I find I am wanting to analyse what happened as soon as possible, so I can adjust my preparations so as to 'get things right' for my next race, which is only six weeks away.  So if this race report ends up being a bit 'jumbled', it is because I am analysing the race 'live'! 

Please note that although I publish my race report posts on my UltraStu blog which enables others to read my race reflections, the number one reason for writing the post is to assist me with improving my ultra trail running performance.  So yes, the post maybe rather lengthy, probably a bit repetitive, and even at times boring, but it serves it's purpose for me.  And if others are able to take on board some useful bits of information from my experiences and the mistakes I have made, then this is a bonus!  Be prepared for an ultra analysis!

This year was the first year since taking up ultra trail running in 2008 that I decided to race two ultra races of 100 miles duration, these being the South Downs Way (SDW) 100 and then at the end of August, the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc 166km (103 mile).  With the majority of the SDW race travelling through Sussex, passing just a few miles from where I live and finishing at Eastbourne where I work, it seemed an obvious race choice to include as one of the seven races I race would race during 2014.

The SDW race was first organised by Centurion Running in 2012, when it was won by Ryan Brown in a time of 17:04:26.  Last year, Robbie Britton just a few weeks after he ran for Great Britain at the World 24 Hour Championships where he finished in I think 19th place, ran one and a half hours quicker and won in a time of 15:43:53.  So as I started my TOTAL preparations for this year's race I knew that to achieve a finish time of around 15:40 it would require quite a bit of focus.  As with all of my races I carry out extensive research on the event, looking at past results, race route descriptions, and if possible recceing of the course.  With the race being so local to me, I knew the route pretty well, having raced over portions of it during the South Downs, Three Forts, Steyning Stinger and Beachy Head trail marathons , as well as having mountain biked the entire route from Winchester to Eastbourne a few years back.  However training partner and work colleague Rob Harley who was also racing the SDW100, hadn't run much of the route, so during May we scheduled in three recce runs which covered from Winchester to Housedean Farm (Checkpoint 11, as the SDW crosses the A27, not too far from Lewes).

Before the Start With Training Partner Rob

With the terrain and elevations fresh in my mind, together with an assessment of my current physical fitness, I then calculated split times for each of the fifteen legs assuming I have a 'perfect day'.  I have used this 'perfect day' approach for I guess the last year or so.  It is not specifically a race goal, but used more as an expectation that if everything went well, then this finish time is possible.  I prefer this approach rather than calling it a race goal, so it avoids any possible disappointment that may result if one doesn't achieve the target time set, as one wouldn't expect to achieve the perfect result every time they raced.  I have mentioned before why I think it is important that one has a 'ball park' idea of what finish time one can expect to achieve in relation to the sub-conscious, so won't repeat it here, rather than stating that it is important!  In terms of specific race goals, I try to establish non time related, or non place related goals.  With the specific race goal being more of a 'journey' goal rather than a 'destination' goal.

Well following my detailed split time calculations, my 'perfect day' finish time came to 14 hours 50 minutes.  Okay, pretty quick in relation to Robbie Britton's 2013 finish time, but looking at the calculations on paper, the numbers seemed to be pretty realistic.  For those interested in how I calculate these split times, firstly in order to have any reasonable accuracy one needs to have a thorough knowledge of the route, so for the SDW100 I had no problems there.  Then due to my "Run as fast as you can, while you can" pacing approach, I schedule into my calculations significant slowing down.  With the minute mile rates for the SDW100 starting at 7 minute miling for the first two legs, i.e. up to Checkpoint 2 at Queen Elizabeth Park, the first timed checkpoint at 22.6 miles.  Then progressively slowing down to 10 minute 30 seconds per mile for the last two legs from Alfriston at 91.6 miles.  I also factor in the approximate time lost on the climbs, and time stationary at checkpoints, and so add on these extra minutes to each of the checkpoint split times.  Now I know many people adopt the exact opposite approach, and aim to try to maintain a constant running pace throughout, but I am not convinced.  Even after Saturday's result I am still adamant that slowing down is a reality, and not slowing down during an ultra event is actually a sign of a poorly paced race.  Although the amount of slowdown is obviously important.  Excessive slowing down is clearly not what you want, but you do want some, or perhaps better phrased as, you should expect some.  If time allows I will try to expand upon this later on.

So even though I spend a significant amount of time calculating my checkpoint split times, come race day I try not to know these times precisely.  For Saturday's race I knew my schedule times at CP2 QE Park (2:44), at Washington CP7 after 54.0 miles (7:10), at Southease CP12 after 83.2 miles (12:00), which I had to know, as I was going to be cheered on by my family at Southease and my boys Rob and Chris don't appreciate me not keeping to schedule, and lastly the finish time at Eastbourne.  But the scheduled times at the other 11 checkpoints, I didn't know.  I didn't need to know them.  I guess in essence I didn't really need to know any of the split times as come race day I try to run by feel.  But I have found that it is quite difficult to race without any objective feedback on how one is performing, such as split times, hence why I memorise just a few split times for during the race.  Just an aside, although I do wear a Garmin Forerunner 310XT GPS watch with heart rate monitor.  Whilst racing I never look at my heart rate.  I wear the watch for later analysis of the heart rate, mile pace, and elevation data.

So how did the race progress, and why the frustration that I have indicated above?  Well standing on the start line I was in a 'good place'.  I felt that my preparation had gone well, both physically and non-physically (mentally).  Since getting over the injury I picked up during the Steyning Stinger marathon back at the start of March, I had run a total of 783 miles during the 12 weeks leading up to the race.  So with a weekly average of 65.3 miles per week, it was probably one of my biggest weekly mileage periods of training.  But what was more significant was that I didn't feel run down from, relative for me, the high mileage.  I was actually feeling really good during the majority of my training runs  There wasn't really a deliberate intention to increase my weekly mileage.  It more came amount as a result of the lengthy recce runs with Rob, long runs checking out the Weald Challenge Trail Race routes, then marking the route and collecting in the route markings, and finally doing an ultra guided running weekend as part of my Trail Running Sussex website.

I also felt pretty comfortable with my plan to start reasonably quick, to hopefully get ahead on my own, so I could run my own race.  Gaining a lead as a result of running quickly for the first few hours during previous ultra trail races had worked quite well for me.  In a number or races, for example in the Montane Lakeland 100 in 2010 and 2013, both of which I won, I was able to get around a 12 minute lead by around the 3 hour mark and then pretty well hold that time gap for the next 4 - 5 hours (in 2010) or for the next 15 hours (in 2013), before extending the lead.  In the past, running faster than a 'realistic' 100 mile race pace for the first three or so hours hasn't seemed to do any 'damage',  In fact it did the exact opposite, as the joy I would receive from running quickly, whilst still feeling good, is huge and provided a massive positive boost.

I was also really looking forward to the race, from the competitive aspect, the scenery aspect, but also the banter aspect that I was likely to receive form friend Brendan, who being a road cyclist, was going to cycle on his road bike from Winchester to Eastbourne and randomly 'pop up' along the way where the SDW crosses various roads.  Even though I had told him there was no need to, he had come prepared with lights on his bike, and with a thick novel to keep himself entertained while he anticipated lengthy delays in waiting for me at the road junctions!

Standing on the start line at Winchester, although happy with my preparation, there was however some doubt about how competitive I would be.  Although I try to simply focus on what I am able to do, pretty well everyone else you speak to about the race is interested in how you will do in relation to the likely winner of the race.  What position do you think you will get?  Will you win this 100 mile race, like you did at last year's Montane Lakeland 100?  Don't you perform better in 100 mile races than you do in the shorter races, such as marathons, so surely you are expecting to win?  So even though I try not to focus on the opposition, it is quite hard not to!  So who were the opposition?  Last year's winner, Robbie Britton wasn't racing, but on the entry list available to view on the race website, I did recognise a few names of some high performing runners.  So I knew that it wasn't just going to be the case of simply turning up and winning.  Not that it ever is like this!

Then a few days prior to race day, James Elson, the race director posts on the Centurion Running blog his thoughts on the main contenders.  Yes, I am listed as one of the contenders along with five or six other prospective leading men runners, and the likely leading women runners.  Although I was aware of many of the other runner's recent achievements, the recent sub three hour Three Forts Trail Marathon performance listed for Mark Perkins, together with his pretty quick SDW50 time attracted my attention.  Back in 2007 when I had won the Three Forts Marathon (actually 27 miles), I remember that I felt that I had run reasonably well that day to record a finish time of 3:07.  During the last two years, I have found that my trail marathon times have slowed quite dramatically.  So I know that I no longer would be able to run the Three Forts Marathon in 3:07, more likely around ten minutes slower at 3:17.  So I guess this is where some of the doubt about my likely competitiveness initiated from.  It appeared that possibly I was giving away 17 minutes over the marathon distance. 

Now I know there is a big difference between racing a marathon and racing 100 miles.  Usually being aware that another runner could possibly beat me in a marathon wouldn't really bother me.  As the longer the duration of the race, the greater the contribution ones non-physical preparation plays in determining performance.  And I see this aspect as perhaps one of my strengths.  But for an unknown reason, possibly due to my 'below par' performance at the Fellsman back in April, my self belief was lacking a wee bit, and so the doubt was there.  What was my solution to dispel this doubt, this lack of confidence?  Try to maximise the possible interpretation by others that I am a 100 mile specialist, and therefore a difficult competitor to beat.  Which I felt would be enhanced by getting a substantial enough lead over the main contenders at the first timed checkpoint at QE Park after 22.6 miles.  Then hopefully once they receive the anticipated large time gap feedback, they might just accept that they are only racing for second place and so 'forget' about me and pay too much attention to each other.

Perhaps you can begin to sense why I am frustrated with aspects of my performance during Saturday's race.  Planning ones race strategy on other runner's possible actions is probably one of the first DON'Ts of successful trail running.  Everyone knows that one should simply focus on what they are doing, not on what others are doing.  Yes, you know that, I know that, but sometimes even when we know what we should be doing, it doesn't mean we end up doing it!

Race Start at Winchester

So, the race starts and I take off pretty quickly.  It felt easy and I would have thought that it was somewhere around 6:20 minute mile pace.  Quick, but not too fast.  My GPS data, available to view on GarminConnect, actually shows that the first mile was run in 6:04, so a little bit quicker than planned.  As mentioned I was really looking forward to the race, so maybe this excitement lead to running that quickly.  Anyway I felt good, and continued to feel good as I settled into a comfortable pace, quicker than one would expect for a 100 mile race, but that was always my race pacing approach.  Start quick for the first hour, then ease of the pace for the next hour, then ease of a bit more for the next hour.  So by the time one is three hours into the race, I would eventually be running at 'proper' 100 mile race pace.

Unfortunately, with this 'obsession' with getting to the QE Park checkpoint with a massive lead, to hopefully demoralise the following runners, I kept on pushing, probably running at a slightly higher intensity than I would usually maintain during the second and third hours of a 100 mile ultra trail race.  I reassured myself, that all was fine, everything was going to plan, and that I could 'ease off' once I passed through the QE Park checkpoint.  I reached the checkpoint in 2:42:29, so just a little over a minute quicker than my scheduled 2:44 'perfect day' split time, feeling pretty comfortable, but with the beginning of some doubt that perhaps I may have gone that little bit quicker than usual.

Still Running Strong After Around 11 Miles Through Exton

I remember trying to make comparisons to the intensity I raced the first two or three legs at last year's Montane 100.  So again, another big mistake.  Rather than focusing on the present moment, I was being distracted, and not 'staying within the present moment'.  Probably one of the most important non-physical determinants of ultra trail running performance.  Yes, again I know what I should be doing, but again not doing it!  Oh the frustration!

Having 'promised' to myself that I could ease off once passing through the checkpoint, the easing off of the pace was more pronounced than it should have been.  This confirmed to me that yes, I had gone that little bit too quick.  Now I know that I promote the pacing strategy of "Run as fast as you can, while you can!"  So surely then you can't run too fast.  Well I know, that this philosophy of mine can create some confusion.  What I am trying to get across with my approach is that, pretty well no matter what pace you run at, unless ridiculously slower than what you are capable of, then you will slow down during an ultra trail race, as you will gradually fatigue.  So it is best to make the most of feeling strong and fresh at the start of the race, and run quickly.  Obviously, the "As fast as you can" literally doesn't mean "As fast as you can", i.e. for me a 5 minute mile, but it means faster that what you would expect to be able to maintain for the duration of the ultra race.  How much faster?  Now that is the interesting debate.

You can interpret from my planned schedule above, that my how much faster was quite a bit faster.  A 14 hour 50 minute finish time gives an average minute mile pace of 8:54, which includes the time one slows when running up the hills.  My planned starting pace of seven minute miling was without the time lost running up hills, as I include this extra time afterwards.  Once I have added in this extra time my planned average minute mile pace to QE Park at 22.6 miles was 7:15 miles.  So 1:39 per mile quicker than the overall average pace.  Then towards the end of the 100 mile race, I am planning to run 10:30 minute miles, plus around 15 seconds per mile slower due to the hills, so more like 10:45 minute miling, so 1:51 per mile slower than the overall average pace.

Now I am not trying to state that this percentage faster is the ideal ratio quicker that everyone should go at when starting an ultra trail race.  These are just some numbers/ratios that seem to 'work' for me based on my previous twenty five ultra trail races.  Looking at the GPS data from last Saturday, I think the 'problem' wasn't so much due to an error with the above numbers, but more due to the error in my interpretation of the pace I was running at.  Possibly due to being too anxious on creating a big lead.  With the first few miles consisting of mile split times of 6:04, 7:33 containing a 68 metre elevation gain, 7:11 containing a 38 metre elevation gain, and then another 6:04 mile.  It is definitely quicker than the planned flat running pace of 7:00 minute miles!

So what effect does this quicker than planned race start have?  Yes, it will result in increased glycogen usage, and also possibly increase the level of muscle damage.  But in relation to the pace I am able to run at, even running a 6:04 minute mile isn't relatively that quick, as I am still able to run a sub five minute mile, just!  But the damage that it does create is within ones mind!  Now I know that probably the most accepted approach to ultra running in terms of pacing strategy is to "Take it easy to half way" and then the 'racing' can begin.  Well even though I totally disagree with this approach, although I had arrived at the QE Park checkpoint pretty well bang on schedule, I found that the moment I started to question whether I had actually worked at too higher an intensity, the mind started to wander.  I was thinking back to the miles just completed, trying to assess whether I had "gone too hard", (yes the term hard, being a negative term doesn't really help!), and then thinking ahead trying to predict what the possible consequences could be for the next 70 miles.  Again, I know what I should have been doing, simply staying within the present moment, staying within the 'here and now'.  But for whatever reason I wasn't!  And the moment this happened, I had the "bad angel" on one shoulder, as Ironman triathlete Chris McCormack describes it as, screaming at me telling me "You have blown it", "You are going to suffer for your ridiculous fast start", and as much as I know physiologically my quickish start wasn't going to be that damaging, sometimes it is just gets too difficult to continually battle against these "bad angel" arguments!  I therefore accepted, that the only way to perhaps salvage my race was to slow down by pace, which I had always intended to do, but it just so happened that the resulting slowing down was more than planned.

Looking back at my 'perfect day' schedule, the planned arrival time at Cocking CP4, the next timed checkpoint at 35.1 miles, was 4:24, which means that the 12.5 miles between checkpoints would take 1:40, so an average minute mile pace of exactly 8:00 per mile,  So 45 seconds per mile slower than the planned average pace up to QE Park.  In terms of elevation gain and loss, although there are a few climbs during the first 35 miles, there isn't anything really major, apart from a bit of a climb up to the top of Old Winchester Hill, so probably not much difference between the first 22 miles and the next 13 miles.  In fact although not physically possible, there seemed to be more significant downhills during this portion of the race, in relation to any of the climbs, such as the drop down from Beacon Hill immediately after CP1, the drop down from Buster Hill immediately before CP2, and the drop into the Cocking checkpoint (CP4).

Shortly before dropping down into the Cocking checkpoint, I get a big surprise as Mark Perkins appears beside me.  Up to that point, the only information I had received was that at about 7 - 8 miles into the race I had around a five minute lead.  Having gone through the QE Park CP in 2:42 in relation to Robbie Britton's QE Park CP time form 2013 of 3:09, I thought that my lead could possibly be anything as great as up to 15 minutes, if the same rate of gaining a lead up to the 7 - 8 mile mark was maintain throughout to QE Park.  Note; the official results actually show that my lead at the checkpoint was only 9 minutes and 13 seconds!  Which I didn't know on race day, so to be caught at the 35 mile mark was a bit of a shock.  Looking at the split time for arriving at Cocking, based on my data, as the official Cocking CP data isn't available, which was at around 4:32.  I had lost 8 minutes to my perfect day schedule, but more importantly had lost ALL of my 9 minute lead from QE Park.  It had taken me 109 minutes to cover 12.5 mile miles.  So instead of my average running pace slowing down from 7:15 min/mile to 8:00 min/mile, it actually slowed substantially more down to 8:44 min/mile.  Meanwhile Mark Perkins' pace only slowed down from 7:37 min/mile up to QE Park to 8:00 min/mile.  Interestingly the 8:00 min/mile pace he ran at between QE Park and Cocking was identical to my planned 'perfect day' pace.  So as planned, if I had managed to control my slowing down during this portion of the race to 8:00, then the time gap would have been the same, which I have noticed is what typically has happened in a number of my previous ultra trail races.

What caused the excessive slowdown is the big question?  Was it largely due to the negative thoughts, the wandering of the mind, the doubt, concern, worry about having gone too fast?  Or was it simple physiology, I just wasn't physically fit enough to run at the pace I had planned?  Probably a combination of the two.  All I know, and where the frustration comes from for this portion of the race is, that with better mind control, the slowdown wouldn't have been as excessive.  And this is something I can remedy before my next race.  Trying to correct the level of physical fitness is a lot more difficult.  As mentioned above, with increasing age I have found that my physiology has declined, and during the last two years especially, this decline as been more rapid!  Maybe with turning 50 last year, there is also a possible mental expectation component that has magnified the decline, although in my mind I still feel as young and as competitive as I always have! 

Mark's stop at the checkpoint is minimal, and so he departs a minute or so before me, and that is the last I see of him!  Although disappointing to have lost the lead, I am fine with it, and in some ways a bit relieved, as I was aware that I was slowing down more than I should have been, so with my mind wandering, I found that I was trying to predict, with minimal data, when I would get caught.  Not a good sign, having this negative expectation of being caught present within ones thoughts!  So at least now I didn't have this distraction.

I therefore continued along the South Downs Way, yes at an even slower pace.  It still amazes me just how much leading a race can have on how one feels.  Maybe it is just my big ego.  But when leading a race, everything just feels so much easier.  The moment one loses the lead, all of a sudden little things became more of a struggle.  And it isn't just me with these sensations.  How many times have you seen the current leader of a race drop out.  Very seldom.  But the moment they lose their lead, then all of the sudden the discomfort from the injury or illness becomes just too much and they drop out.  Yes, it is all in the mind.  But that doesn't mean that these feelings, emotions, sensations aren't real!

So I make my way towards Eastbourne, briefly chatting to Brendan at a number of different road junctions.  And I guess shortly before descending into Amberley at around the 45 mile mark I encounter my first challenging moment.  Up to that point I had felt okay.  Although at times I felt a bit warm, my hydration using the new Montane Jaws 10 trail running pack with drink bottles on the shoulder straps, and my nutrition using TORQ gels had been effective.  But after over six hours of running, even with the TORQ gels being a lot less 'offensive' than all of the other gels I have used in the past, the thought of consuming more gels wasn't that appealing, which then creates concern regarding whether I am taking on sufficient fuel.  There also at the same time seems to be a lack of excitement, and lack of enjoyment.  I guess partly due to having lost the lead but hopefully I would expect more due to the fact that I was running slower than planned.  I usually establish a race goal of running strong, running confidently, running positively for as much of the race as possible, ideally the entire race.  But on Saturday, obtaining that goal was no longer possible due to the negative thoughts that had 'taken control' shortly after QE Park with the acceptance that I needed to slow down!  So in combination with this reduction in joy, I was finding it difficult to maintain the motivation to keep the intensity at a race pace level.  The "bad angel" was doing it's best to convince me that there was no purpose in trying to run quickly.  It wasn't possible to achieve any of the race goals I had established, so the best option was to simply slow down, look at the scenery, totally forget any time component to do with the race, and therefore maximise your enjoyment!  It always amazes me how the "bad angel" always somehow manages to construct a pretty powerful argument to get you to slow down!

Fortunately climbing the big climb out of Amberley, although not moving that quickly I get back on task.  The increased focus to get up the hill re-engages my racing mode, and things are therefore pretty well okay all the way to the Washington checkpoint at 54.0 miles, which I reach after 7:31.  Now being 23 minutes behind Mark, and in relation to by 'perfect day' schedule, 21 minutes behind schedule.  Taking on board this time information, at first pleases me, as it confirms that even if I was running well, I would still likely be behind Mark as he is running really well.  But then it disappoints me, as I realise I am missing an excellent opportunity to have a great battle in what could have been a closely fought race.

I guess I am stopped at Washington for around 3 - 4 minutes.  I used to always try to minimise the time I spent at checkpoints, but now I am not too sure if this is the best approach in long 100 mile races.  At the checkpoint is an excellent opportunity to really soak up some positive energy from the volunteers and other spectators.  And as long as the time spent there isn't too long, the 2 - 3 minutes of 'down time' can allow your mind to briefly switch off from the required 'race focus', and can rejuvenate you.  However, taking a 'break' at a checkpoint can also be risky, as it can result in when you attempt to get back into race mode, that you don't return to the same race intensity, and from that point in the race onwards, it is as if your 'intensity thermostat' has been reset.  So where as for example in last year's Montane Lakeland 100, where taking 2 - 3 minute checkpoint breaks made a significant positive impact on my overall race performance, I think possibly with the SDW 100 race route not being so physically demanding.  Due to smaller climbs, the lack of night time running (for me), and the much reduced overall race duration.  Then taking slightly longer breaks last Saturday didn't really pay off!  For those situations in more demanding, long races, I would suggest that 3 minutes should be the upper maximum time.  The only problem is that it is so easy for the 2 - 3 minutes to extend to 5 - 6 minutes, and then it may become even more difficult to get back into race mode!

Leaving Washington CP at 54 Miles (Photo courtesy of Javid Bhatti)

Being at the Washington checkpoint for that little bit too long does result in me taking a bit of time to re-engage with the race, but overall I am reasonably happy with the progress I am making towards Eastbourne.  Yes, a lot slower that planned, but at this point although not moving fast I am still racing.  However, on the decent to the Boltophs checkpoint at the 61 mile mark, the amount of discomfort in the legs seems to be the 'final straw' in my ability to hold off the 'slow down arguments'!  Now in every 100 mile race I have run, towards the latter end of the race, I have always experienced discomfort due to extensive muscle damage.  Yes, sometime it is worse that others, but reflecting back now, as I descended down to Bolthophs it was nowhere as challenging as usual, and this 'giving' in without really trying to process the discomfort, is another source of frustration.  Interestingly even though I don't think slowing ones pace down to pretty well a minimal shuffle actually reduces the level of discomfort that much, it at least feels as though one is doing something positive to make things more comfortable.  So that is what I do.  I absolutely take forever to drop down to the river and into the checkpoint. 

The Massive Drop in Heart Rate as I DNF the Race Decending into Boltolphs Checkpoint at 61 Miles

Then to 'top things off' as I leave the checkpoint and glance back across the river, I spot an approaching runner.  Do I then immediately get a move on, get back into race mode?  Unfortunately not.  I walk out of the checkpoint, walk across the busy road, and yes walk up the hill up toward the youth hostel on Trueleigh Hill.  Although the hill is reasonably steep at the bottom section, I know that I shouldn't be walking it, but I do!  I no longer have the incentive to maintain my race focus.  In reality my racing is over for the day! Even though I am still in second place overall as I walk up the climb, it doesn't seem to hold any significance for me. And this is what is possibly the most frustrating aspect for me from last Saturday's race.  This lack of desire to continue to race hard, regardless of my race position.  Yes, a very disappointing realisation!

Racing the Mountain Bikers At Ditchling Beacon At Around 72 Miles

Having a 'Picnic' at Southease Checkpoint at 83 Miles With Cyclist Supporter Brendan and Chris

However, I do continue to run, all be it, at a slower than usual pace, all the way to Eastbourne, apart from walking up the very last climb out of Jevington.  As I had lost the incentive to run as quickly as I could, pretty well the only motivation I was able to create to keep me moving along at running pace was so I didn't miss any of the football that started at 11:00pm and so after 17 hours.  As I left the last checkpoint at Jevington, I knew that I could literally walk all the way to Eastbourne and still not miss any of the football, hence the lengthy walk up the final climb/  I officially finish in fifth place overall, in a time of 16:33:30, which I guess for 228 of the runners from the field of 233 starters on Saturday they would be really pleased with finishing fifth in such a quick time.  But everyone's motives and challenges for running the SDW100 are different, and therefore everyone's levels of achievement and satisfaction are also different.  So for me, the finish time was not satisfying.  I know I am capable of a better performance.  Yes, I know that maybe I have finally reached the pinnacle of my ultra trail racing performances, and so from now on it may be all downhill.  But, I guess it gets down to the fact that I am not quite ready to accept this.  The desire to continue to perform at a high level that has provided me in the past with immense satisfaction is still strong.  Fortunately through this detailed analysis of last Saturday's race I am able to see that I can make some simple changes which can enhance my performance quite a bit.  So I am not quite ready to 'throw in the towel'.

So yes, the SDW100 was frustrating for many reasons, but the best way to deal with these frustrations is to put in action the necessary changes I need to make to my TOTAL preparation.  Specifically my non-physical preparation in order to 'bounce back' from two consecutive 'below par' performances, as physically I feel in pretty good shape.  Look out for the next lengthy instalment of my continuing learning experiences at the end of July, as I look to 'get it right', to do what I know I need to do, over the fantastic trails of the Lake District at the Montane Lakeland 50.

Well I did warn you at the start that this blog post was being typed 'live'!  As a result I am feeling a lot more positive towards my next race, which before commencing these race reflections, there was just a wee bit of doom and gloom!

I will sign off with a quote from one of my favourite books:
"You can either live the safe route that many others have done and continue to do, or you can take that leap of faith: jump off the cliff that can send you into a World that is unpredictable, extremely challenging, and altogether unsupported by those who see risk as a negative.  Do that and you can truly live the life that you were put here to live".  Mark Allen, Six Times Hawaii Ironman Champion.  From the book titled I'm Here to Win, by Chris McCormack, 2011.
Was running the first mile in 6:04 the safe route?  No, probably not, but it was a lot of fun!

All Smiles - Out On My Own at the End of the Starting Lap of the Field at Winchester


Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Weald Challenge Race Report - The Joy of Trail Running


Although this post is a race report, it is slightly different as it is not from a runner's view, but this time from the perspective of being Race Director.  Yes, the Weald Challenge Trail Races, started with a simple thought following a training run, and two years later, it took place.  And as the subtitle of my post suggests, based on the feedback received from those that took part, it brought plenty of joy to many runners.

It was Monday 4th June 2012, and it was the Diamond Jubilee Celebrations, so the Monday was a holiday.  I was in training for the 2012 Montane Lakeland 100, and as I had lost two months training earlier in the year due to a stress fracture in my foot, I had been 'playing catch-up' since getting back into running at the end of April.  So I was wanting to make the most of the Queen's celebration, and so run that little bit further than I usually would from home.  I got out the Ordnance Survey maps and saw that I could head out along the Wealdway long distance path that passes my front door, which I usually run along.  But if I ran that little bit further, to enter the Ashdown Forest, I could run a small road section along a country lane and then join onto a second long distance path, the Vanguard Way, and follow this pretty well all the way back to my village of East Hoathly, before turning off the Vanguard Way at Graywood, just one mile from home.

So at 6:01 am I started my run, and 3 hours and 18 minutes later I was back home, having completed 22.02 miles.  How do I know this?  Well, because I was going that little bit further than I usually would in a training run, I wore my Garmin GPS watch, which I tend to only wear for races and special training runs.  So the run is stored on Garmin Connect.  I got back from my run and as I was thinking how fantastic the run had been with such a variety of great terrain and scenery, I noticed the distance of 22 miles and thought that it wasn't too far short of a marathon.  Our neighbouring village Chiddingly is two miles away, so there and back would add the extra 4 miles needed to make the run up to the marathon distance.  And at that moment, the Weald Challenge Trail Marathon was created.  Although the name I originally gave to the run was the "Vanguard of the Weald Trail Marathon", acknowledging the names of the two long distance paths.

Shortly after that discovery run, I proposed to training partner Kev that we do the run one Saturday morning, starting and finishing at Chiddingly, in order to measure the exact distance.  So around four weeks later on Saturday 7th July 2012, at 5:04 am, Kev and I commenced the running of the very first Weald Challenge Trail Marathon, starting and finishing at Chiddingly Primary School.  Later that morning, after running 26.35 miles, completed in just under 5 hours, Kev and I had the 'honour' of being joint course record holders!  Click HERE for the inaugural course record Garmin data.

So that was the beginning, and since then, until two weeks ago, I have been on a Race Director's journey; turning an idea into reality!

Although I have been race director for our village 5km road race titled the 'Kings Head Canter 5K' for the last eight or nine years, this is a pretty straight forward race to organise.  I have support from the East Hoathly and Halland Carnival Society, who provide the volunteers for the day, and with it being a road race along quiet country lanes, it requires I think a grand total of four direction arrows at the four road junctions along the route.  Organising an off-road marathon, and also a 50km ultra event and a half marathon as well, was a much more challenging task!  The additional 50km and half marathon distance events simply seemed the 'natural' thing to do, after discovering that these were the distances that resulted if runners either continued further into the Ashdown Forest to directly join the Vanguard Way before starting to head back to Chiddingly, or if they turned earlier at Blackboys where the Wealdway and Vanguard Ways meet.

I won't bore you with the 'million and one' things that were done prior to race day some 22 months later.  But if in the future, I hear anybody perhaps questioning the worth of a race director, I will just ask them if they appreciate just how much is involved in putting on a running race.  From: getting race permits; informing the police, councils, Ashdown Forest; sorting out first aid, volunteers for the day, race entries, race numbers, finisher momentos, prizes, feed stations, portaloo toilets, car parking, registration venue, etc.  You can be guaranteed that just when you thought of everything, something else needed to be done, or you discover that you have upset someone, for example local horse riders extremely upset at the flapping red and white barrier tape hanging from trees that 'spook' their horses, or runners that wish to enter after entries have closed, even though entries had been open for six months!

Now the above paragraph may come across as being a bit negative.  I don't mean it to appear negative, as it was my decision to take on the race.  It was my challenge, and as with running a race, if it wasn't a challenge, the satisfaction upon completion wouldn't be as great.  However, looking back now, if someone had told me that it would take so so many hours of time and mental energy to put on the event, then perhaps I wouldn't have taken on the challenge.  Fortunately, nobody told me about the reality of being a race director for a new event.  But now with the Weald Challenge Trail Races having successfully taken place, I am very pleased that I did complete the journey from thought to fruition.

I don't want this post to sound like 'The Oscars' with loads of thank yous, but I will just thank one or two people, which clearly isn't everyone, as the list would be far too long.  First and foremost I would like to thank my family Frances, Rob, and Chris.  To those of you that ran the race, the majority of the cakes that you enjoyed upon finishing were homemade by Frances, and the two photographers that were taking your photos, which are available to download by clicking HERE, were our two boys Rob and Chris.

Chris the Photographer

Rob the Photographer and the Medal Designer

In addition to these specific tasks, they provided non-stop support and positive encouragement, right from the concept, all the way through to creation.  They, along with running friends such as Kev, Rob, Jim, and physio Luke, were my 'market research'.  I would sound an idea with them, and following their comments, the decision would be made.

The Original Medal Design Concept

The Weald Challenge Medal

Hopefully if you finished the race you would have recently received the finisher's medal, designed by Rob.  Which although two weeks late, I am pretty pleased with it.  Also before I forget, a big thanks to the potter Trevor who created by hand all of the Weald Challenge coffee mugs and trophy plates.

A Proud Trophy Winner

In terms of putting on the race, one of the very first things I needed to sort out were the many volunteers required for race day.  Being a member of the recently renamed running club Uckfield Runners, I raised the idea with them regarding jointly putting on the Weald Challenge Trail Races.  They were really keen on the idea, so it was mainly Uckfield Runners who were the friendly encouraging volunteers that were so widely praised within the extremely positive post-race feedback provided on facebook, or via e-mail.  Although in addition to members of Uckfield Runners, there were also four injured runners, or runner's partners who also volunteered and provided great help on the day ensuring the event was a success.  So many thanks to all of the race day volunteers.

Will there be a 2015 Weald Challenge?  Well, I am pleased to say YES.  The intention is to hold the event on the same weekend next year, so please enter Sunday 24th May 2015 into your diary.

Although it was a tremendous amount of work, seeing the amount of enjoyment that so many of the 311 runners that took part on the day experienced, although a cliche, did make it all worthwhile.  Yes, my number one running passion is my own personal racing, and the joy I get from the competition with others, whilst challenging myself to complete the race as quickly as I can.  But having been fortunate to experience so many excellent trail races over recent years, the least I could do was to put that little something back into the trail running community, through organising the Weald Challenge Trail Races.

Time to sign off. 
“The reason we race isn't so much to beat each other,... but to be with each other.” 
Christopher McDougall, 2009, Born to Run.

Hopefully see you at a trail race during the coming year, or at the Weald Challenge next May.


PS  Shortly before the Weald Challenge Trail Races took place I was fortunate to receive from Mizuno a pair of their newly released Wave Hayate trail running shoes.
Mizuno Wave Hayate Trail Shoe
The timing was perfect, as although I do the majority of my training and racing wearing my Mizuno Wave Rider 17 road shoes.  When the ground is a bit wet and slippery, I prefer to run in trail shoes.  Therefore on the Saturday prior to Weald Challenge race day, following loads of overnight rain, I was able to test out the Hayate Trail Shoe as I finished off marking the race route.  

So following around eight hours of running, all be it very stop-start running, on at times rather muddy terrain, what were my feelings on the shoe?  Well probably one key bit of feedback was just how 'responsive' the shoes felt.  I am a big fan of light shoes, and with an official weight of 252 grammes (Mens size 9) they are pretty light.  Although one can find shoes that are plenty lighter than this, I find that it is the lightness in combination with the feeling under the forefoot, that creates the perception in terms of whether I like the shoe or not.  The Hayate seems to feel about right, with their being sufficient cushioning under the forefoot, so one feels light and responsive to the underlying terrain. without either the soft spongy unresponsive feeling one gets if there is too much cushioning, or alternatively the dis-comfortable feeling in sensing every sharp rock or uneven surface that often results if there is too little forefoot cushioning.  So my initial feeling, is that with the Hayate, for me, Mizuno seem to have got the balance pretty well right. 

Will I therefore be wearing the Mizuno Hayates this Saturday in the Centurion Running South Downs Way 100 mile ultra trail race.  Well unless there is non-stop rain between now and Saturday, which is looking unlikely, the answer is no.  With the South Downs Way tending to be pretty smooth underfoot, and consisting of mainly a chalk based surface, there isn't really the need for a trail shoe.  So as I have done in the majority of the trail races I have recently raced in, unless there are muddy conditions, I will be wearing my Mizuno Wave Rider road shoes.  Which with an official weight of 244 grammes are a tiny bit lighter than the Hayate trail shoe.  But the reason I like the Wave Rider shoe and why I have predominantly trained and raced in these shoes over the last six years, is that to me they are plenty responsive, but also, especially important when racing 100 miles, they feel pretty comfortable. 
Mizuno Wave Rider 17 Road Shoe

Look out for my South Downs Way 100 mile race report here on UltraStu next week.  Where hopefully the many hours of physical training spent marking the Weald Challenge race route, and then collecting in the route markings following the event, will have paid off with a strong race performance.