Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Video of Lakeland 100 - A Demonstration of High Self Expectations

Hi again,

A bit of a 'detour' from my planned Self Expectation Part 2, however, I am continuing the 'Self Expectation' theme as I expand upon the Lakeland 100 video clip.

On Sunday afternoon, as it was pouring down outside, I was getting a few odd jobs done. One of them was to convert our family videos from miniDV tape to DVD.  So for the first time I viewed the video footage my wife Frances took of me racing the Lakeland 100 race back in July.

YouTube Lakeland 100 2010 Video Link

The post titled "Lakeland 100 - The Importance of Preparation - Developing Positivity and Self Belief" went into some detail regarding my preparation for the Lakeland 100.  Watching the video the other day, simply confirmed to me just how successful my preparation was in terms of developing self belief and subsequently high self expectations.

During my preparations, having given some serious thought to 'what causes fatigue during ultra running?', I had total self belief that the pace one starts at, (within certain limits, obviously one can't start at 5 km race pace), will not affect the level of fatigue later on during the race.  I know this view is quite different to many other ultra runners, however, I had total belief in my theory.  Due to this total belief, I was then able to formulate a race strategy, where no matter who was on the start line of the Lakeland 100, I was going to start the race, at whatever pace was necessary, in order to be in the front.  For how long I would maintain this fast pace for I hadn't really focused on, but the intention was for at least the first hour or two!  Coming into the race my self expectations were that pretty well without doubt I would be leading at Checkpoint One.  Now these are pretty high self expectations, bearing in mind I had no idea on the capabilities of the other runners in the field.  But with this self belief, that starting fast will do me 'no harm', these high self expectations were totally realistic, as was demonstrated on race day.

If you watch the video you can see my fast start intentions within the first few metres, and then at around the 2.5 mile mark as I approach the carpark at the start of Walnar Scar Road leading the field.

The advantage of the fast start in the Lakeland 100 is that it then creates 'loads' of positive energy.  It helps to build tremendous confidence during the race, in that my preparation has been effective, i.e. the expectation of leading into checkpoint one has been confirmed, therefore, I can expect positive results for the remainder of the race.

As I mentioned in my race report post, how long would I stayed at the front of the field was unknown.  What I did know as I was leading the race, was that the onus was on the other runners to catch me.  What were my self expectations?  Did I expect them to catch me?  Thinking back to race day, which watching the video has aided in terms of the 'crispness' of my memory.  As I had to slow my pace down to a more realistic pace for a 100 mile race at around checkpoint 2 near Boot, I honestly felt that they would catch me, as it felt as if I was having to slow my pace down quite significantly.  However, I never let these distant thoughts get near the forefront of my mind.  It is only now as I deeply reflect, that I appreciate that there was this negative expectation, all be it deeply 'buried'!

My main focus of my preparation in terms of developing positivity, self belief, high self expectations, was not focused on my finishing place, but more on my finishing time.  Having recced the entire course (apart from part of leg 10 - see post titled "Lakeland 100 (UTLD) Course Recce - My Mini Adventure!" for details), I was able to set expected times to complete each leg.  Only problem, come race day, the conditions underfoot were very wet and soggy, which therefore made my target times unachievable.

Chris Carver left some interesting 'words of wisdom' in his comment he left on my previous post: 
"To avoid these situations arising I try to formulate coping strategies, in the months before a race, so that should anything untoward occur I know exactly how to deal with it."
In hindsight, this approach of his has some merit, as I hadn't considered how to deal with my target time no longer being realistic due to the conditions.  I guess I don't pay any attention to formulating coping strategies in case something goes wrong during the race, as to me, thinking about what could go wrong seems to be encouraging negative thoughts.  My whole approach in my preparation is to develop positivity, NOT negativity!  I'm not sure how to resolve this issue, as I do see the wisdom in planning for things that could go wrong.  For me during the Lakeland 100, I didn't have an alternative approach.  When my leg split times were no longer relevant, the focus then became simply to run as quick as I could feeling comfortable.  Only problem with this was, come later in the race, actually during leg 9!, due to the soreness in my quads, nothing really felt that comfortable, so what then became my focus?

Thinking back now, I can't really recall what did become my main focus from leg 10 onwards.  One thing for sure was that my pace slowed quite significantly!  Apart from a rather negative leg 10, legs 11 - 14 seem to simply fly by.  One often reads about sportspeople being 'in the zone' whatever that means.  Looking at the video clips of me near Elterwater, near the end of leg 13, and during leg 14, I was definitely in some form of zone.  A few days after the race, Frances asked me "Do I enjoy having her and our boys cheering me on?"  Of which I reply an absolutely positive YES.  She then asked, "Then why is it that you totally ignore us as if we don't exist!"  I was not aware that this was the situation, this is what I did.  But looking at the video clips, I do pretty well totally ignore them, apart from during leg 1!

Although it makes is less satisfying for my supporters, I see this deep focus I exhibit as one of my strengths.  During the last 5 legs of the race, although my legs were rather sore, deep down I didn't feel as though I was really fatiguing!  I had total self belief in my preparation and my ability, and my high self expectations that running 100 miles around the Lakes District was 'going to be a breeze'.  This helped keep any self-doubt regarding my ability to finish completely 'at bay'!

Watching the video clips of my running during the later stages of the event, I can now see why Frances doesn't really enjoy watching me race ultra races, as it really does look like I am suffering quite a bit.  The amazing thing is that, even as I watch the video, I know that it looks 'heaps' worse than it was.  In fact right up until the last leg, ignoring a bit of negativity on leg 10, I was pretty positive and believe or not, enjoying the overall experience quite a bit!

Come the last leg, things do begin to go a bit 'astray'.  This is something I need to work on.  As I get near the end, the negativity begins, as I think about finishing, think about the massive distance I have run.  All of a sudden it is as if the mind is saying you should be exhausted by now, so instantly, I become exhausted!

As I have become to realise, my performance in Ultra Running, especially these long races, is pretty well entirely determine by my self expectations.  "Expect to run fast, I do!  Expect to be tired, I am!"

On that note, I will sign off.

All the best as you develop your positive high self expectations.


Monday, 8 November 2010

Developing Positive Self Expectations - Part 1

Hi again,

Yes after 5 weeks of nothing, there are three posts within a week!  I wasn't planning to write another post so soon but this morning I was interviewed by David Bradford, a local runner who is also a freelance journalist, who is in the process of writing an article on training and mileage for Runners World.  During the interview he asked me some good questions that got me thinking, with some of my answers being new topics that I hadn't addressed on my blog.  So before I forget what I spoke about this morning I thought I would try to highlight some key points. 

David came to speak to me about physical training, but I ended up talking mostly about mental training, self belief, positivity etc.  So I  am not sure how much will end up in the article.  Also I think he said it was restricted to only 1300 words.  I would have spoken more like 13,000 words or even double that this morning!  Lastly if you are like me, you probably no longer buy Runners World or any of the running magazines as they tend to be the same old story repeated time and time again, with only the occasional excellent article.  Here's hoping that David's article, I'll let you know when it is published, is better than the standard magazine article!

We spoke about what training is needed, the bare minimum to be able to perform to a 'reasonable level', although we never attempted to define what we meant by a 'reasonable level', as this will vary immensely dependent upon the aims and expectations of each individual runner.  I found it hard to come up with an answer as I tried to explain that performance in endurance running, with the longer the event the higher the importance, is more about the mind, the mental approach, self expectations, positivity, etc.  He wasn't totally convinced, but thought that the mind has a role to play but felt that the physiology, the physical attributes were more important.  David's responses were a bit like the comment left by Andy Cole on my blog the other day in response to my Beachy Head Race Report -
"I'm beginning to believe your expectation theory, but doesn't it still link back to training - expectation comes from confidence, confidence comes form having done the work?"
Yes, Andy's comment is largely true, but one can develop confidence in other ways.  Although what is probably more important and relevant is that people can do the work, but still not end up with positive / high self expectations!  So what is happening there?  And how much work is required to gain confidence - positive self expectations?

Another question David asked was "Did I always have these beliefs about the importance of the mind in determining performance, and how did I come to these conclusions?"  Now these questions really got me thinking, I started trying to recall, when and how did my current ideas develop?  I never used to think this way.  I was like everyone else.  I used to believe running performance was all physically determined!  To try and expand on these questions I guess I need to go way back to when I started running, in 1977!  Not sure how far I will get in answering these questions and getting back to strategies to develop positive self expectations, but I'll simply keep typing, and maybe this might end up being a part 1, 2, 3 post, as it is such a big area!

I started running back in 1977 at the age of 14 when I joined Hutt Valley Harriers.  I joined the local harrier club as I was too small to be any good at playing rugby.  My lack of skill and pace probably also didn't aid my rugby performance.  So after 6 years of rugby, harriers, i.e. cross country and road running, was to be my new sport.  I distinctly recall now, picking up the club race calendar and there listed at the end of the season was a race called the Consolation Race.  It was a specific club race for only those athletes that hadn't won a prize, i.e. finished 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in any race during the season.  I immediately thought, maybe I could perform well in the consolation race, as I had clearly established within my perceived self expectations that I was a low performing athlete, even before I had begun running as a sport!  The club information also referred to an Attendance Medal.  Where if you attended and ran every Saturday during the season, club and inter club races and the club training runs, no matter what level you performed at, you would win an Attendance Medal.  I again have strong memories of me thinking, yes, I can win one of these medals!

So why at the age of 14 did I have such low expectations of my ability as an athlete?  Around that time in New Zealand, John Walker, one of the greatest milers of all time, had just set the world mile record (3:49.4 in 1975) and had won the 1500metres Gold Medal at the 1976 Montreal Olympics.  So all New Zealanders were basking in the glory of a New Zealander, from a country of only 3 million people, who was the best runner in the entire world!  Winning, success, was what sport was all about!  It is amazing how the media's portrayal can influence how people think!  Not only was the emphasis on winning, but the media also 'made up large' the importance of one's physiology, the importance of "choosing the right parents"!  How many times have you heard that expression!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  John Walker was reported to have one of the largest VO2max values recorded.  Physically he was tall, muscularly strong, with a big barreled chest which enabled him to breathe in and consume massive amounts of oxygen.  It was these physical attributes that he inherited, that he was born with, that made him the best in the world!

So little old me, 4 foot something and aged 14, had obviously chosen the wrong parents.  My Mum was largely overweight and never done any physical activity or sport in her entire life, apart from gardening.  My Dad played tennis at the local club, but for recreation, fun, at a social level.  How poor was that, he never won any club or county championships!  So these messages I saw on the TV and in the papers, led me to have a real distorted view of what sport was about.  The over importance on performance, and how it was beyond ones control.  Tough luck if you chose the wrong parents!  Just an interesting side question.  Are things any different in the UK now in 2010 as opposed to NZ in 1977.  What are all the messages given out leading up to the 2012 London Olympics?  What is the message? Yes, you are right!  How many medals will the UK team win!  Messages being sent to young athletes, and reinforced by the media.  If you aren't any good by the time you are 10, or 12, or 14 at the very latest, then you are never going to be any good.  Tom Daley the World Champion Diver from the UK who was World Champion at the age of 15, British champion at the age of 13!  Then you have all of the child superstar footballers, Joe Cole, Wayne Rooney, David Beckham, Michael Owen, and on and on!  I think things have got even worse than what they were in NZ in 1977!

Not only are there these messages about the necessity to perform at a young age, and the imporance of genes, but the hereditary message is even stronger now than ever with regards to running.  The simple message is, if you aren't from Africa, then you can not expect to perform to any high standard in endurance running.  Many people are asking the question, why can't the UK produce any top endurance athletes (apart from Paula Radcliffe), maybe it is as simple as that they have very low self expectations from everything they encounter throughout their lives in terms of the media's portrayal of sporting success and it's determinants.  It takes a pretty strongly minded young person to have the self belief to conclude that pretty well every message they encounter within society regarding sporting performance and ability is simply misleading!  Well, I said this could be a multi-part post.  I am really going 'off course' tonight!  But deep down it is relevant, as all of these messages influence one's self expectations!

So back to 1977, the 14 year old short kid, not much good at rugby, starting out running.  Hutt Valley Harriers was very good in terms of encouragement.  It still had a focus on performance and the need to be good, but I joined just at the time of the fun run boom at the end of the 70s where running simply for the fun of the participation was valued.  So I felt welcome, and was encouraged, with the aim to improve through training.  Bearing in mind that I was never going to be any good due to my genes!  Beyond my control!  Just to confirm what all the messages were telling me, there were two brothers Mark and Peter Lucock and they were both awesome runners, they both had the right genes, given to them by their parents, and with Peter in my school year I was never ever going to beat him! or even get close to him.  Not my fault, blame my parents!  Evidence for my low self expectations.  In 1975, in my first ever proper cross country race as a 12 year old, the Hutt Valley School Cross Country, Peter finished in 2nd place.  Me, I finished well behind in 47th place out of a field of 57!

The question I ask now is why did I finish in 47th place?  Lets change the question slightly, to something like:  You are running your first ever 10km road race or half marathon.  How do you know what pace you should run at?  How do you know what pace is right to ensure that you can make it to the finish without 'blowing up'!  What exactly is 'blowing up'?  What is fatigue?  What determines how fast you can run?  I used to have answers to these questions which I thought were correct.  The only problem is that even the cleverest sport and exercise scientists around the world are not in agreement to the last three questions.  Those who have carried out loads of research have PhD and you name it many other letters after their name do not know the answer!  So if no one knows what actually causes fatigue in endurance running, or what actually determines the pace I am able to run at, then how can I the runner decide what pace to run at!!!
What I have used in the past is that after I had run a few races, I based my pace on what I ran previously.  Thinking if I had completed a good period of physical training then I expected to run a little bit faster than before.  If my physical training hadn't been going very well, I expected to run a little bit slower than previously.  Quite simple really.  And as I have tried to explain, my running pace was determined by my self expectation of what I thought I could achieve.
Getting back to my first ever race. What pace did I run at?  I can't exactly recall what I did, but I am trying to think what your typical novice runner would do.  They haven't got any previous running experiences to help them.  So they formulate a self assessment of themselves as a sports person.  They look at the physiques of the other runners, and depending on what their self assessment is, in terms of how high, how confident it is they will determine their pace in relation to the other runners in the event.  I doubt they would go out with the leaders, I also doubt they would run at the back of the field with the massively overweight runners.  Again, the pace is solely determined by their self expectation, and how good they perceive themselves in relation to others.
Now, I have been running for many years.  I am running my umpteenth half marathon.  What pace do I run at?  Simply a pace similar to my previous runs in half marathons.  How do I know that this is the right pace.  It simply feels right!  What happens if I find that I am closer to the front, quite a bit ahead of all of the other runners that are usually around me?  I question, should I be this far near the front, in front of the others, and relate back to my expectation of what I expect I am able to achieve, and then adjust the pace accordingly, in most occasions probably easing of the pace, being conservative, so I don't 'blow up', even though no-one is able to actually define what 'blowing up' is!
So the real secret to running performance in endurance events is simply changing one's self expectation of how fast they expect to run!  Many readers may be thinking what absolute rubbish,  UltraStu is definitely Ultra Stupid tonight. What does he mean, no one knows what causes fatigue in endurance running!  It's running too much above one's lactate threshold, thereby producing too much lactic acid, which then inhibits the enzymes and the chemical reactions, which then causes the muscles from contracting, hence fatigue!  Only problem, is that the latest research now quite clearly concludes that this simply model is no longer correct!  It must be due to glycogen depletion then.  No carbohydrate left in the muscle cell to burn, so then one has to resort to fat, and therefore due to the increased oxygen demand to burn fat can not regenerate the same amount of ATP so must slow down.  Now this can be the case in some instances, however, with carbohydrate gels and drinks now being available during marathons, excessively low glycogen levels are no longer commonly found at marathon finish lines.  And what about all those events, half marathons and less, where it isn't likely that the glycogen stores will become depleted.  What causes fatigue in these races???  If anyone out there is able to tell me, supported with scientific evidence, NOT what their running mate has told them, or NOT what they have read in the running magazine, who an elite athletes book, then please add a comment, so we can all know the answer.  As within my readings of the scientific literature, although I must acknowledge that I do not read as much as I should, and therefore may have missed the latest understandings, I am still wanting to find out!
I think, at this moment I will finish this post - part 1 - to be continued!
I will sign off with the quote I signed off with last week, as it is probably a lot more relevant to tonight's post.
"There was a time, not so long ago, when we really did know everything about human physiology. After all, it was all so very simple. ...... But the more compelling challenge for the traditional model (of fatigue) is that it simply cannot explain the obvious." Tim Noakes (2007) From the foreword for the book:Brain Training for Runners, by Matt Fitzgerald.

All the best in your development of positive self expectations,


Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Start of My Ultra Trail Running Journey

Hi All

The last few weeks I have been organising things for our family holiday to New Zealand over Christmas.  Coming from New Zealand we try to get out there every 2 - 3 years to catch up with family and friends.  As I am in the process of planning a few long trail runs in NZ over Christmas, it reminded me of the run about four years ago that was really the start of my journey into Ultra Trail Running.  First though, you may have seen an UltraStu post titled Lego racers.  Apologies for this. It was my son Robert playing around on the computer within U-tube and clicked publish on Blogg.  So with one click the lego racers video was published as I hadn't signed out.  A good reminder, always sign out!

So back to January 2007, while staying at Kaiteriteri beach near the top of the South Island in NZ. I decided to run the Abel Tasman Coast Track as it was close by.  The Abel Tasman Coast Track is classified as one of the New Zealand Great Walks, so I knew that it would be a great run, through awesome scenery, on a well maintained track.  The total track distance is 54 kilometres, with sections that can only be passed at low tide.  However, I decided that running from the start Marahau, to Totaranui at 41 kilometres, so just short of a marathon, would be sufficient.  Looking at the tide times, meant I had to leave at 5:00am in the morning in order to cross the low tide section.  For some strange reason, Frances my wife wasn't too keen to get herself and our two boys up at that time to drive me the 11km to the start of the track.  No problem, I'll just run the extra 6-7 miles, so now my run would be around 32 miles!

So at just after 5:00am I start my journey into Ultra Running, with simply a small bum back with a few muesli bars, and 'magic biscuits', which I used to eat during cycle racing many years earlier, (the beach resort shops didn't stock gels or energy bars!).  The 'magic biscuits' are sometimes known as 'squashed fly' biscuits, or Golden Fruit in New Zealand, or Garabaldis in the UK.  Now I'm getting a bit side-tracked here, but I'll continue as its a good 'nutritional' story.  When I was a competitive road cyclist I used to empty a packet of these biscuits into my back pocket of my cycling jersey and munch on them during the races.  Cycling road races tend to be quite long, typically between 2 - 4 hours of high intensity effort.  So as you can imagine one tends to get quite hot and get quite a sweat up.  So, yes as you have gathered, the biscuits in my back pocket get rather soggy as they soak up my sweat from my back.  You may think 'yuck', but I used to actually look forward to them getting sweaty as it made them more moist and heaps easier to digest, rather than the quite dry biscuit, straight out of the packet!  I also thought that it must be good for me nutritionally, re-digesting all of the salts and minerals I have just sweated out of by body.  The perfect replacement nutrition!  Well I recall from way back in 1986 or 1987 when I was racing in Dunedin one particular occasion, which I'm not really sure if I should tell this story, just in case anyone from the Dunedin Cycling Club by some chance is reading this blog, but well here goes!

From 1986 - 1988 I was a student at Otago University, and as with most students, I always tried to save money whenever possible.  One of the highlights of cycle racing back then was that following the race, we would all go back to the clubrooms and eat cake, biscuits, etc, along with our cups of tea.  As part of the entry fee you had to provide a 'plate' of cake or biscuits.  I typically would buy a cheap packet of biscuits.  On this particular occasion, I hadn't eaten many of my 'magic biscuits' during the race.  So as I was getting changed, ready for the cup of tea and prizegiving, I removed the soggy biscuits from my jersey, and was all set to throw them in the bin, as although edible at the time, keeping the soggy biscuits for the following week's race was not very appealing,  However, I recall I then had a 'brain wave'.  Why not put these biscuits from my pocket onto the plate, and therefore keep the unopened packet of biscuits for next week's plate.  So that's what I did!  I was so pleased with myself at saving probably all of 99 cents (35p)!  In addition I do recall having to retain my amusement as I observed the fellow cyclists consuming, (and enjoying!), the biscuits that had been in the back of my cycling jersey for many hours!  Sorry about that memory, the joys of being a student!  My blog after all is sub-titled "Millsy's Memories and Mutterings"!

Now, back to running the Abel Tasman Coastal Track, and as expected it was fantastic!   In my 30+ years of running, the run that morning, as I ran from the darkness into a beautiful sunny day, through tremendous bush, overlooking idyllic sandy bays and crystal clear water, rated as one of my top five runs ever.  Right up there with the Kepler Challenge run, another one of NZ's great walks down in the Milford Sounds, and since then UTMB (Ultra Trail Mont Blanc).

I get to the Department of Conservation (DOC) centre at Totaranui where I was to be  picked up, and discover that the road to the centre is 14 kilometres of winding twisty gravel (unsealed) road.  Now Frances doesn't really enjoy driving on gravel roads, and the boys aren't great fans of winding roads, with the sick bag needing to be near by.  So I think, no problem, I'll run out along the gravel road and meet them.  At least I will shorten the distance they have to drive along the gravel road.  So having completed 52km I continue this most amazing run.  Although no longer on beautiful bush track, I am still buzzing as I steadily climb, as the road winds up a significant hill.  Surprisingly I am still full of energy and still loving every minute.  I reach the summit and then descend down the other side, and before I know it I have reached the end of the gravel road, and the road is now sealed.  So now 66km running and no car in sight!  By this stage, I am now only one km short of my longest run ever, this being the 67km Kepler Challenge from 1992 (now only 60km due to GPS!), which I ran two months after racing the Hawaii Ironman, when I was supremely fit and 14 years younger!  Although the Kepler Challenge race was my first ever Ultra run, at the time I was an Ironman, and the race, although I rated it as one of my best runs ever in terms of enjoyment, for some reason I never considered doing more off-road trail ultras.  I got back into solid training for the New Zealand Ironman and never gave ultra trail running another thought.  That was until kilometre number 66 as I was searching for the car to pick me up!

By this time, as you can imagine, I was getting pretty tired, but I wasn't going to stop.   The thought of walking just doesn't seem right, and of course I only needed to go a little further to be able to record in my training diary my longest run ever!  So I run for another km or two, and then just as I start to walk, around the corner comes Frances and the boys in the car, after being delayed due to trying to find a petrol station in this remote part of NZ.  The following day I am a little stiff, but overall amazed just how easy it felt and how enjoyable it was.  I begin to think that maybe I should do some more ultra trail runs, but mistakenly thinking that ultra trail racing is for oldies with bushy beards, I decide to have one more year racing ultra-trial marathons, and then the following year I can join the oldies and casually jog some ultra trail runs.  So after having a great year running five trail marathons in 2007, the following year 2008, the continuation of my ultra trail running journey took place, and I have been jogging ultras since!  Well maybe at times a little faster than jogging!

Most of my posts I try to have a theme or a message to convey to you readers out there. Tonight's message?  I'm not sure really.  Possibly there are a few, maybe: If you enjoy something then do it, don't just think about, but actually do it!  Or possibly: It only takes just one event / one run to change your direction.  Things happen for a reason, and always look for the positive in things, and build upon and continue on the journey initiated by that one event.  Or simply, no real message, just an opportunity for me to reflect on a great run from the past, in anticipation of some upcoming awesome runs I hope to have this Christmas out in New Zealand.

Time to sign off with a quote:  "Running means different things to different people.  Ensure you know what running means to you.  And as you run, knowing why you run, whether for the relaxation, the peacefulness, the scenery, the challenges, the friendships, the competitiveness, or in my case, for them all!, may you get much enjoyment and satisfaction as you run through your journey!"  Stuart Mills, (2010).

Enjoy the journey,


Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Beachy Head Marathon - The Importance of Having Positve Self Expectations

Hi again,

Well yes it has been quite a while since my last post.  In fact over 5 weeks!  I got to post number 33, exactly six months after my first post, and since then??? well I have just been taking it easy! In both the running and thinking sense!  Tonight's post consists mainly of my race report on the Beachy Head Marathon which I recently ran.  Although with most of my race reports I will try to link it to a theme.  For tonight - The Importance of Having Positive Self Expectations.

The Beachy Head Marathon took place on the 23rd October, a little over a week ago.  It was promoted as the 30th Beachy Head Marathon, although the first 21 of these were known as the Seven Sisters Marathon.  The course is entirely off-road and has loads of climbing, with the best bit of the race being the last 8 miles, which involves running over the Sevens Sisters, (short sharp hills) and then the lengthy climb up to the top of Beachy Head.  The image below shows the course profile.

It is a great event, with over 1700 starters.  There is a great atmosphere, before, during and after the race.  With good support along the course, and great views throughout, one can't really ask for more!  Last week was the ninth time I have raced it.  I have won the race on numerous occasions, in fact six times prior to last week, and I have a personal best time of 2 hours 57 minutes in 2007, finishing 2nd, and a personal worst time of 3 hours 11 minutes in 2006, also finishing 2nd.

Going into last weeks race, I felt fully recovered from all of my ultra races earlier in the year.  I was therefore expecting to run reasonably well.  Chatting to colleagues at work, (we had seven of us doing it from Chelsea School, University of Brighton), I mentioned to a few of them that I felt a sub 3hour time for me this year was probably not quite possible, and that 3:02 was more likely.  The reasoning for the 3:02 was that I felt that after running five ultra races this year, where the race intensity is so much lower than for a marathon, that I had become a wee bit 'soft'.  I wasn't expecting to be able to sustain such a high intensity as usual, having got used to 'taking it easy'!  This combined with the fact that I hadn't completed any 'quick stuff' in training prior to the race, led me to believe that sub 3 hours was not possible.

Come race day, with the race immediately starting with a 100+ metre climb up towards Beachy Head, straight away I am puffing and blowing hard, but not really enjoying it!  At the top of the first climb there are three of us together.  Myself and Matt Bradford from Lewes AC gradually pull away from the third guy.  The pace feels rather 'uncomfortable' and rather than pushing hard, I decide not to push the pace and simply let Matt decide how fast we should run.

At around the 3.3 mile mark there is a nice long descent down into the village of Jevington.  During the descent, I put a small gap on Matt. He quickly pulls me back in, up the next climb, but then on the following descent I pull away again.  The next climb shortly after is quite lengthy as we run up to above the Long Man of Wilmington.  Matt not only pulls me in again, but goes pretty well straight past me.  I try to stay with him, but after a pretty pitiful attempt to stay with him, I decide to let him go.  For the last two years, 2008 and 2009, which I have won on both occasions, I  have 'let' the lead runner go ahead.  The term 'let' is probably a bit misleading as I recall on those two occasions I didn't really have much choice, with my heart rate hitting 184 and 182 bpm respectively, rather high, considering my max is only around 187bpm.  This year, I let Matt go at a heart rate of 176bmp, so as you can see, not really after the same 'fight'!  However, I am not overly concerned, as I have the expectation, that as for the previous two years, I can catch and go past the lead runner later on in the race.

Matt therefore gradually pulls away, to around 20 - 25 metres and then surprisingly appears to slow down and wait for me as he pauses for a few seconds holding a gate open for me.  Shortly after this I catch him up, where upon I drop him again, on the long descent into Alfriston. 

Coming out of Alfriston (9.5 miles) there is a long climb of around 2.5 miles.  Shortly after we begin climbing Matt again goes straight past me.  But this time as the climb is so long, by the time we reach the top, and the checkpoint/feedstation, at Bo Peep carpark, he must be around 1 minute 15 seconds ahead.  On the long descent I gradually gain on him, and just before the next checkpoint at Litlington (16.5 miles), after being in second place for the previous 45 minutes or so, I pull up level with him.  Matt gives me a friendly welcome, with a comment something like "Hi Stuart, I wondered how long it would be until you caught me up".

Shortly after the checkpoint there is a short steep climb.  Realising that Matt was expecting me to catch him, I thought I better not disappoint him by allowing him to pull away from me again on the uphill.  So I decide that now is the time to up the intensity, to reinforce his belief that I am just cruising and that as he expects, I will just run away from him.  So I up the intensity, grit my teeth, not that he can see how hard I am now working, and pull away from him.  About two minutes later there is another steep climb and then a few minutes later there is an even steeper climb, up the Bagpipe steps, as every year there is a bagpiper playing, which really adds to the occasion, on probably the steepest part of the whole race.  After really 'giving it heaps' for the last 10 - 12 minutes, I am expecting that Matt by now would have given up, quite happily accepted 2nd place, and I can return to a more comfortable intensity.  Unfortunately, he hasn't yet given up, and he isn't that far behind me as we approach Cuckmere Haven.  I therefore keep the high effort up quite a steady climb before we actually start the first of the seven short and steep climbs of the Seven Sisters.

As I start climbing this initial climb, finally, I am back to my usual racing self.  I am enjoying running hard, I am no longer worried about Matt behind me.  I am now wanting to run as hard as I can from now until the finish.  From that moment on, I don't even take a glance behind.  I am running now solely for the joy of running hard.  Not running for the win, but running for the feeling of running as hard as I can.  It is strange, that once I start running for self satisfaction, and not being 'worried' about my finishing place, the running not only becomes more enjoyable, but feels easier, even though the intensity remains high.  With the renewed self expectation that I am capable of running fast, and that I can run strong all the way to the finish, this enables me to focus on running faster.  There is a massive increase in positivity.  No negative thoughts about will I get beaten, no thoughts on comparing myself to the other runner.  Simply positive thoughts about how fast I am moving at this later part of a rather undulating marathon.

As I climb over the Seven Sisters I am really attacking the short steep hills.  It is as if I am doing repetitions. Really attack up the climb, recover on the descent.  After being 'loads' down on schedule for a 3:02 marathon, I am gaining back time fast.  It now becomes apparent that a 3:02 marathon, as expected prior to the start is possible.  As I begin the drop back down to the start line in Eastbourne, I know I will run 3:02.  I am literally 'flying' down the hill, running the last section at 5:28 mile pace as shown by the GPS trace.  I cross the line in an official time of 3:02:15.  Although my watch indicates 3:02:25.

So what have I learnt from the 2010 Beachy Head Marathon?  The marathon has reinforced my philosophy that how one performs on the day is so so very much influenced by their self expectations.  What you achieve is literally what you expect!  Not what you want, but what you honestly, deep down expect to achieve.  Did Matt Bradford expect to win the marathon?  I don't think so.  In fact chatting to him after the race, in which he did finish in second place in 3:10, I asked him about his hesitation, holding open the gate for me.  His reply was that, he thought he better slow down, as he must be going far too fast, if he was leaving Stuart Mills behind!  How much did his expectation that I would beat him contribute to the expectation becoming reality?

For me, during the first half of the race, I was not running well.  For whatever reason, my mind was not in 'the right place'.  By checkpoint 2 at Bo Peep car park I was 4 minutes down on my 2008 time of 3:02:55.  I had run slower on 11 of the 12 mile splits.  Then coming back to Eastbourne, I ran faster on 13 of the 14 mile splits and ended up running 30 seconds quicker than 2008, in pretty well identical conditions, with a tail wind blowing us back to Eastbourne.  Although the tailwind was probably a wee bit stronger this year, which may account for some explanation on why I ran quicker than 2008 during the second half of the race.  However, I think the main reason for running quicker was due to the changed 'mind set' during the race.  The increase in positivity, and increase in self expectation of my capabilities, the increased focus on what I was doing, not on what others were doing. 

I always state that prior to race day, you can never know in what position you will finish or on whether you can win the race or not, as it is largely out of your control.  It is dependent upon the capabilities of the other runners that turn up.  If someone simply better than you turns up, as occurred in 2007, when Tim Short ran amazingly quick winning in 2:47, then there is nothing you can do about it.  Therefore it is not wise to generate a self expectation that you will win the race, or of a certain finishing place.  (Although, what is surprising on a number of occasions in the past, where I have had an expectation of a certain finishing place, this finishing place has resulted.  How this happens I don't really know.  Is the influence of self expectation actually strong enough to result in creating a reality of the expectation!  I'll leave an attempt at expanding and explaning this for another day.)  But the benefit one gains by having a strong positive self expectation of one's performance, is that it allows the body and mind together to run unhindered, without there being any doubts, any worry about; am I running to fast, have I carried out the necessary training, can I last the distance, etc. etc.  These doubts, created by low/negative self expectations, therefore contribute significantly towards the less than ideal performance.  If you have the positive self expectation, everything will just flow, as if by 'auto-pilot'! 

Try to think back to your best performances, when you ran faster than normal.  Did it feel harder?  Or did it seem easier?  What were your self expectations that day?  When those days occur, it is important that you learn from it.  Too often, the improved performance is credited to the increased physical training people may have carried out prior to the event.  Marathon running performance, and even more for Ultra running performance is largely determined by self expectation.  I believe it is the heightened self expectation following a good bout of training that leads to the improved performance, not the actual training per se!  So only indirectly has the increased physical training lead to the improved performance. 

But are there other ways, more direct methods to generate high positive self expectations that you deep down truly belief?  That really is the secret to ultra and marathon running training and performance.   I have some ideas.  I have discovered/stumbled on some strategies, but these will have to wait until another post, once I have a clearer understanding of how it all works!  Until then, work on your own strategies to develop positive self expectations.

Time to sign off with a quote; "There was a time, not so long ago, when we really did know everything about human physiology.  After all, it was all so very simple.   ......  But the more compelling challenge for the traditional model (of fatigue) is that it simply cannot expalin the obvious."  Tim Noakes (2007) From the foreword for the book:Brain Training fro Runners, by Matt Fitzgerald.

All the best with your training,


Saturday, 25 September 2010

Post Number 33 - Six Months of Mutterings

Hi  All

Well exactly six months ago today was post number one!  The last six months has been quite a journey, firstly in terms of ultra running, but also in terms of blogging!  A little over six months ago I hadn't even read a blog, didn't know what they were.  It all started with trying to find some information about my first ultra race of the year the Hardmoors 55, where I came across John Kynaston's blog.  Since then it seems that quite a lot has happened.  Tonight's post is a chance for me to look back, at both my running and my blogging!

Although I was new to blogs back in March, I was not totally new to ultras.  Those of you that have read a few of my posts may have noticed within my Final Preparation for the Lakeland 100 post that I actually ran a 67km trail race back in 1992.  However, it wasn't until 2008 when I decided I would become an ultra runner.  In 2008, I ran three ultras: Downland Challenge 30 miles, Ridgeway 85 miles, and London to Brighton Trail 56 miles, and won all three of them, so it was an exciting start to ultra running.

I then decided to aim higher in 2009.  I ran five ultra races in total, but the main focus for the year was Ultra Trail Mont Blanc, 167km of mountain trails,  the most amazing race I have ever ran in, to date!!! 

So come 2010, the problem was, how do I surpass UTMB? How can I aim even higher?  The answer was to have two key focuses for the year.  Firstly the British equivalent of UTMB, i.e. UTLD - Ultra Trail Lakes District - 167km of hill trails; and secondly the UK Ultra-Running Championship - The Runfurther Series.

Therefore it was Friday 19th March, as I drove up to the North Yorkshire Moors, with my wife Frances, and two boys, Robert and Chris, for the start of an adventure!  As you are probably well aware the UK series is based on points earned in your best four races.  So the Hardmoors 55 was my first of four ultra races planned for 2010. 

The conditions for the Hardmoors 55 were pretty demanding.  For the first time ever in a race, I ran wearing a balaclava!  My race report sub-titled Reflections on Pace Judgement not only described the race, which I managed to win and earn 1000 points, but also publicly announced the first of my 'less accepted' ideas on ultra running.  The "Run as fast as you can, while you can" motto, generated a wee bit of a response, and my follow-up post which I titled Ultrastu or Ultrastupid still rates as one of my favourite posts!

Ultra race number two was the Marlborough Challenge 33 mile, eight weeks later.  In between the two races, I touched on a few topics within my Ultrastu blog, including a bit on running economy, motivation, and a look back to my first ever marathon at the age of 17!  Come race day, it didn't quite go to plan, which is expanded upon in my race report

One thing not mentioned in my Marlborough Challenge race report is, that at the time of the race, I was under the assumption that the 2010 UK Ultra Series was using the same scoring system as 2009, with there being a 100 point bonus for the Lakeland 100.  Although disappointing coming third, I was not really that worried about losing 15 points, as I was going to get 100 points bonus at the Lakeland 100, to more than make up for the 15 points lost.  It was only following the Marlborough race that I checked with the Series organisers and discovered that they had removed the 100 point bonus for 2010. 

However, I think removing the 100 point bonus was the correct thing to do, as 100 points was too much of a bonus, and resulted in that one race influencing the overall series result too much.  Although I still believe the Lakeland 100 should have some bonus points attached, maybe say 40 or 20 points.  Why 40 or 20 points?  Well this value, could represent one point for each mile (or two miles) further than the second longest race of the series, i.e. the 60 mile Fellsman race.  But more importantly, I think it would be great if all of the top ultra runners in the country all turned up and ran the same race, at least once each year.  Without wishing to upset all of the other race organisers that put on superb races, the Lakeland 100 is in reality THE ultra race in the UK, and therefore, by having bonus points, it would hopefully attract the best field to match the best race.

Shortly after the Marlborough race I posted what I consider my best post to date, titled What Determines Performance in Ultra Running - Part Two.  It was a followup to the previous post that introduced the topic.  Although it sounds like I am 'blowing my own trumpet', if you haven't read the two posts, I would encourage you to do so.

My next race was the South Downs Marathon.  Looking back to that race, I still find it quite amazing how one's perceptions can change.  I would have never thought even one year earlier, that I would be treating an undulating trail marathon as 'speed work'!  Well the 'speed' session went really well, with a really high race intensity throughout, resulting with me winning the race for the third time.  All summarised in my race report which I sub-titled The Importance-of Race Preparation.

There was then five weeks to the number one focus of the year, the Lakeland 100.  There were a few posts in between the races, including some memories of my younger days as a runner, a feature on Chris Howarth and his Run Kenya charity, but probably my favourite during this period was the post titled What Training is Appropriate? where I attempt to provide rationale for my "Do Not Train Hard" philosophy.

The BIG day arrived, I was totally prepared, the self belief was there.  I had not only Frances, Robert and Chris to support me, but my brother was also over from New Zealand to cheer me on.  It was all set for an awesome experience, and that's what it was.  A little over 24 hours after starting on a beautiful sunny Friday evening, I was first to cross the finish line.  Taking longer than planned, but mission accomplished, and an extremely enjoyable time the whole weekend, which I will treasure within my memories.  This race report was a ultra length report to match the race, sub-titled The Importance of Preparation - Developing Positivity and Self Belief.

The photo below is now one of my favourites.  It was taken at around the two and a half - three mile mark, just as we dropped back down to Walna Scar road, after the first of many climbs.  I remember that moment clearly, in fact I remember just about every moment of the entire race clearly!  I was in total focus, total self belief, that my fast start was going to set me on my way to achieve my thoroughly planned out goal.  As you can see I'm working pretty hard, and loving every moment!  (Thanks to Paul from Montane for permission to use the photo. Copyright Mark Gillet Jungle Moon Photography)

Following the Lakeland 100 I had a little break, as I definitely needed one as it still amazes me just how much 100 mile races take out of you!  So it was lots of sandcastles, swimming reading etc. on the beach! 

Then it came to the 'Series Showdown' at the Pumlumon Challenge, as I battled against Jon Morgan to earn 1000 points, as we were exactly equal on points going into the race with 2985 points.  Now this race report sub-titled The Importance of the Journey - Not the Destination, which described my third place finish, of all my 32 posts generated the most reaction!  In all of my posts I try to write honestly.  I usually write the posts when everyone else in the house has gone to bed, so it is peaceful and quiet.  As I write, on my own without distractions, I am often amazed at how my thoughts develop and end up typed out.  Now this race report resulted in some disapproval/displeasure of what I had written.  As mentioned in my comments following the post, I expressed my apologies for one or two of my statements within the report being too 'strongly' worded.  However, looking back now, I feel there are still some important messages within the post which we can learn from.

My final Ultra race of the year was the High Peak 40, just last Saturday, where I finished fourth.  This race report sub-titled What is fatigue - The Integration of the Body and Mind, tries to explain possible causes of my 'difficult' six mile patch!  The one thing which I was most pleased with in terms of last week's race, was my acceptance of what happened to me during the race.  Firstly, running of course and going from being probably around 4-5 minutes ahead to being 9 minutes behind, and secondly briefly suffering severe fatigue, which literally brought me to a walk.  Although there was disappointment, I was able to accept that it happened and immediately move on.  A demonstration of what I have learnt over the last six months of ultra running and ultra blogging!

Although this post includes a summary of my year of ultra racing, I still have one race left, the Beachy Head Marathon, that takes place in four weeks time.  One of my favourite races, I have run it eight times since moving to East Sussex back in 2002.  So look out for my Beachy Head Marathon race report.  In addition, no doubt I will add a post or two in the coming weeks, maybe a few memories of past races or past running friends.

To everyone I have met during my Ultra Running adventures this year, thanks for sharing in some amazing experiences.  To all of the hundreds of people that have worked so hard to put on such great events, thank you very much.  And, to all of you readers out there, thanks for reading! 

The aim of my blog, when I started it exactly six months ago was: "I hope you find some of my "words of wisdom", or probably as more appropriately titled "Millsy's Memories and Mutterings", thoughtful, helpful, enjoyable, interesting, and hopeful worth your time you spend reading them."  Well with now over 8,000 hits, I know some of you have found my blog worth reading".

Time to sign off with the quote I used at the end of Post Number One.  Still as applicable now as it was then.

"For years I had assumed that my failure to run better was down to a combination of injuries and not training hard enough; but I started to wonder if it was my own self-image that was holding me back."

Charlie Spedding (2010), page 75. From Last to First. CS Books: Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

All the best with your adventures,


Friday, 24 September 2010

High Peak 40 - What is Fatigue? - The Integration of the Body and Mind


Well a few days late, but tonight' post largely consists of my race report for last Saturday's High Peak 40 mile race.  As mentioned in my quick update, it was a bit of a learning experience!

The High Peak 40 was race number eleven of the Runfurther UK Ultra Championship Series.  For me the outcome of the series had been decided, I had completed my four races.  Points earned in the High Peak 40 could increase my overall points tally, but not enough to overtake Jon Morgan's score.  So the race was purely for the joy of running, without the necessity to earn points.  Not that it made me less competitive. The intention was still to run as hard and fast as I could.

What was going to be a new experience was racing two ultras on consecutive weekends, having run the Pumlumon Challenge in Wales the previous weekend.  Although the Pumlumon Challenge was only 26 miles, taking over four hours to complete it took a fair bit out of me!  However, I had prepared well for the High Peak 40, in terms of mental focus, ensuring I had developed a positive approach.  So I was anticipating a strong performance.

Having not run the High Peak 40 race before, or had an opportunity to complete a recce run, I carried a race map in my hand as I made my way to the start line, at the front of a full field of 250 entrants.  There was quite a gathering of runners, probably not 250, all appearing quite relaxed, within the very picturesque area of Broad Walk and Pavilion Gardens, within the centre of Buxton.  I had had an enjoyable time prior to lining up at the start chatting to various runners who I had either met at previous races this year, or  had just met that morning, some of whom who had read my blog.  A number of them asked me if I was going to 'blast off' at the start like I usually did.  I can't remember what I replied, although I knew that for today the intention was to start slower!  Not because I don't belief in my philosophy of "Run as fast as you can while you can", but more due to being a little cautious due to the slight chance that the effects of the previous weekend's race may still be evident and reduce my level of performance.  As you can see, my mental preparation hadn't been 100% successful in terms of giving me my usual total self belief that my preparation had been ideal.

After a few words from the race organiser 'about discovering oneself' during the race, (which I thought to myself, no not me today, one does that in a 100 mile race), we were on our way.  As we set off through the very pleasant Pavilion Gardens, immediately Duncan Harris (3rd in the Lakeland 100, and winner of the Fellsman) and myself are running side my side at the front, well only briefly at the front as Brian Cole (UK 100km Road Champion) decides to ignore the paths and the race direction arrows and runs straight across the manicured grass.  Fortunately no one else follows him, otherwise no doubt the grass would have been rather churned up, as although it was not raining, and it didn't look like it would rain, the ground was rather wet.  Duncan and myself quickly overtake Brian and we head on our way out of Buxton towards the first climb of the day.

Although we are heading at a reasonable pace, it just feels too easy.  It doesn't seem right to be running comfortably, after all, my intention is to go as hard and as fast as I can.  So I am pleased to find that I ignore any self doubt about fatigue from last week's race, pick up the pace, and head up the road on my own.  The course climbs steadily before reaching a disused railway line.  Once on the flat of the railway, rather than easing off after working hard up the hill, I decide to push on.  It therefore doesn't take long to reach the first checkpoint at 3.1 miles where we have to get our small plastic card clipped.  As with other races where I have led the field, there is a real buzz as I enter the checkpoint.  I receive loads of positive energy  from the marshalls and the spectators, which I find really gives me a boost.  I quickly head off, running hard, puffing and blowing loads, and really loving it.

Not long after the checkpoint there is a rapid descent down to the Errwood Reservoir.  I try to control my pace to protect my legs from the eccentric damage caused by the steep descent on a sealed road, but decide that this is making it worse.  So I just let gravity do it's work and I am really motoring downhill.  I glance at my Garmin GPS watch to see what mile pace I am running at and see that my GPS watch isn't working.  A few pushes of the buttons and it finally starts recording my distance.  You can see my GPS trace of the race route by clicking this link, although approximately the first 4 miles are missing from the race route!

I try not to look behind when I race as I want to focus on what I am doing, not what others are doing, but today I seem more conscious of wanting to know where the other competitors are.  It's as if deep down, I know that I won't be able to run strong for the entire race due to the previous week's efforts.  As I head up a short but steady climb after leaving check point 2 after 6.5 miles, I really up the intensity in an effort to get over the top of the hill and therefore out of sight, so 'out of mind' from the following runners.  It works, I calculate that I must already be over two minutes ahead.  There is a short, but muddy drop back down to rejoin the road, before the start of the next climb, which this time is quite long up towards Eccles Pike.  Looking at my GPS data, it does show that I similarly worked pretty hard up this climb, with an average heart rate of 166 bpm and only taking 9 minutes and 2 seconds for the mile split, that included a vertical height gain of 109 metres!

The course immediately drops downhill, I pass through checkpoint 3 (9.2 miles) in a flash, simply getting a quick drink of water, having consumed a gel at checkpoint two, and with the planned fuel strategy of a gel approximately every second checkpoint.  I continue running along the road following the frequent bright pink race direction arrows clearly showing which way to go.  Due to the frequency of the race arrows, although I had a race map in my hand, I hadn't been referring to it, as there was no need.  As I run under a railway line at around mile 11, my race map is rolled up in my hand, and even if I did open it out, it was showing the first few miles of the course!

As I exit from under the railway, my focus is ahead looking out for cars and seeing which way the road bends.  In deep focus, in an effort to gain as much time as I can before I decide to adopt the 'sensible' pace for a 40 mile race, I miss the arrow showing that the race route turns an immediate sharp right down a small country lane.  Meanwhile, I continue on along the road, up a long steady hill.  My GPS watch beeps to indicate the mile split.  I am pretty pleased to see it show 7 mins 40 secs for quite a significant climb gaining 63 metres of height.  Again working hard with an average heart rate of 165 bpm.  Becoming more aware that I should be getting back to an off-road trail, I start to unfold my map to see where the turnoff is.  As I crest the hill I am running up I realise my mistake!!!  It is hard to describe that feeling, the moment when I realised I have 'stuffed up'!  I am instantly reminded of the Highland Fling back in 2009 where I went significantly off course near the start of the race by 28 minutes.  On that occasion, I got angry, and ran negatively the rest of the race, hence not running well at all that day!

The two images below show: first, the sharp right I missed after coming out from under the railway; and secondly, the extent of my detour!  One red trace is mine on race day, with the mile numbers being out due to my GPS watch not working at the start.  The other red trace is a GPS trace that I downloaded from the web of the actual race route.

As I realise my mistake, I am very conscious not to repeat the negativity of the Highland Fling race.  I therefore try to relax, and study the map to find the best route to get back onto the race course.  Luckily I simply had to follow a bridleway I was standing right next to, to rejoin the race route.  I try to maintain the same intensity, but all of the excitement, the joy, the energy, the 'ego' of leading the race was now gone.  As if instantly, running hard becomes a bit of a struggle.  As I run uphill to rejoin the course, I am aware that I will miss checkpoint 4 (11.5 miles).  I am in two minds to whether to back track along the course to get my card clipped, or to ignore the checkpoint, and head onwards to checkpoint 5.  As I rejoin the race route I can see no one running ahead. I look back down the hill towards checkpoint 4 and see runners coming up the hill.  I decide to head back towards checkpoint 4 so start descending to meet the on coming runner.  As I get near I recognise that it is a guy whom I had been chatting to prior to the start (Mark Collins). I ask him what position he is in.  He replies either 4th or 5th.  I immediately decide that no one could accuse me of gaining any advantage from by detour from the race route, so I change direction and continue towards checkpoint 5.

As I run along the at times rough four wheel drive track quite high above the valley below, I am a bit concerned that I can not see any runners ahead, even though I have clear visibility for quite a distance.  At checkpoint 5, as I consume another gel, I am greeted with the news that I am in fourth place, nine minutes behind the leaders.  From looking at the map, I knew I would have lost significant time, but to be nine minutes behind was quite a shock!  Checkpoint 5 was at 14.4 miles, and with an official race distance of 40.5 miles, there was exactly a marathon to go.  I positively try to convince myself that nine minutes isn't a problem.  I think that's fine, I have won many trail marathons over the last few years by more than nine minutes, so I'm just giving Duncan and Brian a nine minute head start!  Although deep down I truly know this is highly unlikely due to the high running quality of Duncan and Brian.

The next section of the course is really quite spectacular, as I continue to climb up and then along the top of the ridge, before passing over the summit of Mam Tor and then a steepish descent to checkpoint 6. The sun is frequently breaking through the high cloud, and with a strong tailwind behind, combined with a coolness in the air, it is really enjoyable running with great views in all directions.  At checkpoint 6 (18.6 miles) I am informed that the lead of the two runners, who are running quite near to each other, has dropped to eight minutes.  I am happy with the time gap update. Maybe it is possible to catch the runners ahead.

I run quickly down along the road through the quiet village of Castleton, knowing that this is nearly halfway (19.1 miles), before the last big climb of the day up Cave Dale.  As I run up the steady climb of Cave Dale, into what seems a pretty strong headwind,  I pass quite a few walkers.  I get a few words of encouragement as they turn to see what is creating the loud noise they hear, a result of my excessive puffing and blowing!  Again it doesn't seem long until I reach checkpoint 7 (23.1 miles) at Bushey Heath Farm, to get my next time gap update, and to consume another gel.  Oh no, it is back to 9 minutes!

Although the marshalls are only measuring check-in times to the nearest minute, so I acknowledge to myself that I may in fact have lost only a few seconds, I decide that now is the time for a big effort.  I had looked at the profile of the course, and had driven the next few miles which is along the road the day before.  I was therefore well aware that it was a gentle downhill all the way to the next checkpoint, CP8 at 26.2 miles.  The next two miles are covered in split times of 5:59 and 6:12 for gentle downhills involving a vertical descent of 43 and 35 metres respectively.  During the first mile I absolutely 'motor' past Ian Bishop as though he is standing still, as I move into third place.  We exchange a few words, but the large difference in pace means we are only alongside each other for a matter of seconds!

A quick drink of water at checkpoint 8, and the important time gap update.  Disappointment, after absolutely blasting the last 3.1 miles I have only gained one minute, the gap is back to 8 minutes!  The course then leaves the road onto a really pleasant and scenic track, firstly still gently down hill, and then pretty well flat as it travels along another disused railway and then alongside a meandering river.  Again checkpoint 9 arrives very quickly, I am still 8 minutes behind. As it doesn't seem long since my last gel back at checkpoint 7, I skip having a gel, or any of the variety of food available at the checkpoint and push on along the enjoyable track.

Leaving checkpoint 9, which is at 29.2 miles, I consider that I have been pretty well running at an identical speed as the two leaders, still running quite close to each other, for close on 2 hours.  It reconfirms my belief that no matter what speed you start at, everyone slows down at the same rate.  Hence my plan to gain loads of time at the start, before slowing down.  Only problem today is that instead of being say 5 minutes ahead, and running at an identical pace, with the other runners hopefully getting demoralised that they can't catch me.  It is me getting demoralised being 8 minutes behind due to missing the right turn way back at around mile 11, nearly twenty miles ago!

It is at this point that I seem to acknowledge that I am not going to catch the two ahead.  I think to myself how well I have done to stay positive for the last two hours plus, but it seems with these thoughts, that the race for me today is over.  My intensity drops, as indicated by my average heart rate for the mile split dropping form 157 bpm down to 151 bpm.  Time now starts to take longer, it seems to now take ages until I finally reach the busy A road, which involves patiently waiting for a break in the traffic before crossing.  I think this is the wise thing to do, as trying to out sprint a car at the 30.7 mile point of an ultra race, although I had probably ran an extra 1.7 miles on top of that due to my detour, could be disastrous.

Little did I realise that my acceptance that my race was done shortly prior to the A road and then probably a 30 second wait to cross it would have such a dramatic effect.  As I start to climb up Deep Dale, my drive, my determination, is gone.  It is as if instantly I am tired.  As I continue up the steady climb through a narrow valley, I am getting slower and slower.  Although the ground is at times rough underfoot and quite boggy and muddy on occasions, there is really no excuse for walking, as it is only a gentle climb.  I literally shout to myself to start running again.  I slowly plod up towards checkpoint 10.

I am relieved to finally reach checkpoint 10 (32.2 miles) where the course rejoins the road.  It seems to have taken forever to reach the top of the climb and the time gap of 15 minutes confirms that I have taken forever!!!  Having run pretty well identical pace to the two leaders for 20 miles, within exactly three miles I have lost 7 minutes!  The marshal sees that I am struggling and tries to encourage me by telling me that the guy in second place is in a far worse shape than me.  I presume he is referring to Duncan, who is now trailing two minutes behind the leader whom I presume is Brian.  I get out my magic chocolate covered coffee beans, grab two pieces of flapjack and slowly depart the checkpoint not really looking forward to the next three miles of undulating road that I had driven the day before.  Although the thought, that the coffee beans will zap me back to life within a few minutes gives me some hope!

Whenever there is a gentle, gentle uphill along the road, I am reduced to a walk!  It is unbelievable, my magic coffee beans haven't worked!  I look at my heart race trace, it is way down in the 130s, even in the 120s at times.  It is as if the message from my brain to run is not being transmitted.  It is a little bit similar to the last leg of the Lakeland 100 back in July from the 100 mile mark to the finish at 103.9 miles.  However, back then it was more by choice that I decided to walk, plus I had an excuse, I had been running all night, and coming up to 24 hours non stop.  But today, as I walked along the road, I seemed to have no choice.  It was truly a new experience!  The GPS trace shows a mile split of 11minutes and 25 seconds for an elevation gain of only 46 metres, quite different to my 5:59 not too long ago!

Then, one of the aspects of ultra running which makes racing so enjoyable occurs.  Ian Bishop gets his revenge on me, he catches me as if I am standing still, which isn't really too far from the truth!  Then amazingly, he slows down to run alongside me and he does his utmost to encourage me to start running again.  His words of encouragement include something like "Hey, your blog is inspirational, it gives me inspiration, use some of it on yourself now.  You can do it!"  I kindly thank him for his encouragement as he leaves me behind as I plod along the road.  His words get me thinking.  I think back to some of my 'words of wisdom' that I have written on my blog.   "Ultra performance  is all about remaining positive, not letting any negativity develop".  I think about the negative state I am in at the moment.  I can't quite work out how it happened so quickly.  I decide well lets really put what I write into action.  I really focus on regaining some positive energy.  Instead of thinking how far there is to go, I decide I am going to overtake Ian.  I briefly think that this is rather mean of me, considering that it is due to his encouragement that I am getting myself back into action.  I convince myself that at least trying to beat him is paying him respect, in that he can say he beat me, or nearly beat me, with me putting in a complete effort, not just because I had given up!

So I manage to start moving again, not fast but at least I am running.  Slowly the pace gradually quickens, I am holding my own against Ian, he is probably around 400 - 500 metres ahead.  Then as we leave the road for the last 4 miles along tracks, and paths again, Ian frequently comes and goes out of sight.  Each time I see him again, I seem to be slowly getting closer.  We drop down the steep ditch of Deep Dale, as it is a hands on knees climb up the opposite steep side of Deep Dale, Ian is really close in distance, but still quite a time gap ahead.  We both run quickly through checkpoint 11 (37.2 miles) to stop only long enough to get our cards clipped.  The time gap is probably around one and a half minutes.

I am back in focus, the heart rate is back up to an average for the mile of 153bpm with a maximum value during the last three miles of 161 bpm.  Nowhere near the max value of 176 bpm recorded during the first three miles of the race, but significantly higher than the 120/130s just a few miles back.  I am working really hard as I get closer to Ian.  We are now within the houses of Buxton, there is one last short steep climb up past the hospital.  I really put one last effort in to catch him.  He must be only 50 metres away from me at this point.  However, as we reach the top of the small climb we run across the flat grass field, he is back out to 100 metres.  As he has done for the last two or three miles, Ian is constantly looking back to check my progress.  He isn't giving up his third place without a fight.  He accelerates away from me, as I resign myself to fourth place.  About a minute of two later I cross the line with a time of 5:49:52, exactly one minute behind Ian!

Well, I had a feeling that this might be a rather lengthy race report, as I experienced quite a few emotions during the race.  Before I try to summarise and explain what happened, firstly I need to clarify who won.  Well, the winner wasn't the current UK 100 km champion Brian Cole, but Duncan Harris.  Duncan won easily in a time of 5:20:15, running strongly to the end.  The marshal at checkpoint 10 was semi-correct.  Brian was struggling a wee bit, with the official results showing him finishing second in 5:30:55.  First women finisher was Cat Lawson (2nd place woman in the Lakeland 100) in 6:56:48.  Closely followed by Karen Nash (currently 3rd placed women in the Runfurther series) in 6:59:15.  With Siobhan Evans third in 7:05:47.

So what caused me to slow down to a walk, which resulted in  me losing 21 minutes over the last nine miles!  What really is fatigue?  Chatting to my physiologist colleague Rob, a one-off ultra runner, but frequent marathon runner.  He put it simply down to a lack of carbohydrate.  The higher the intensity, the greater the carbohydrate usage.  I have previously mentioned how during the Lakeland 100 race I didn't really consume that much fuel as the intensity was so low.  Well during the High Peak 40, my intensity was definitely quite high.  Checking out my heart rate data by clicking the Splits tab on the Garmin page linked above, shows I was working hard.  I took on four High5 gels, some chocolate covered coffee beans and a bit of flapjack during the race, which isn't really a lot, so Rob could be correct. 

Well I don't think it is that simple as to why I got reduced to a walk!  I think it is a combination of factors.  Firstly, it has been a long racing season, with my first race of the year, the Hardmoors 55, being way back in March.  Since then prior to the High Peaks 40, I had raced three other ultras including the Lakeland 100, and one marathon.  So I had been quite demanding on myself in terms of all of this racing.  Secondly, the Pumlumon Challenge, my most recent ultra was only the previous weekend, so without doubt I had not fully recovered by the time I was on the High Peak 40 start line.  However, my preparation for the High Peak 40 had been extensive.  Although not total belief, I had pretty well convinced myself that these previous races would not be detrimental to my performance on the day.

During the early stages of the race, I was running well.  I was working hard, really attacking the climbs and things were looking good!.  I was probably having to focus a little harder than usual, but with it being only 40 miles, I didn't see this as a problem.  Now going off course didn't help.  But probably one of the most satisfying things that came out of the High Peak 40 race was the positive manner in which I dealt with this error!  I definitely had learnt from the Highland Fling, so in reality running  an extra 1.7 miles wasn't the cause of the problem.

I attribute my extreme fatigue between 31 and 37 miles due to a combination of my mind and body as one, telling me enough was enough, at the same time as I accepted that I wasn't going to catch the leaders, so my race for today was over!  Speaking to other runners they often express how the last mile over whatever ultra race they do, they are pretty well absolutely exhausted, they couldn't run another mile more.  What is surprising in this last mile feeling always occurs no matter what the race distance is, whether 30, 50 or 100 miles.  It is as if the recognition that it is the last mile actually causes the exhaustion to occur.  What I think happened to me was that as I accepted that my race was done for the day, just prior to crossing the busy A road.  This resulted in my body and mind assuming that I was running my last mile of the race.  Then having to stop to cross the road, convinced my body and mind that yes I had finished, it could 'shut up shop' for the day.  Only problem was, that there was still nine miles to go!

Fortunately with some encouragement from Ian Bishop, and after some very thoughtful thinking, and as the race organiser suggested  on the start line "discovering a bit more about myself",  I managed to get back into action, and run quite strongly during the last 3-4 miles.  Or was it as Rob simply concluded, I simply came right over the last few miles as the chocolate covered coffee beans and bits of flapjack 'kicked in'.  I'll let you come to your own conclusion!

Well, the High Peak 40 was overall an enjoyable experience.  Yes, I wasn't really getting much enjoyment during those difficult miles.  But as I have learnt from previous race mishaps in the past, I'm sure that I will gain from the overall experience ot the High Peak 40, for future races to come.

Time to sign off:  "No matter what the situation, whatever the experience, try to look deeper into why it happened, what was the reason, it's purpose, and treat it as a learning process on your journey of discovery".  Stuart Mills, 2010.

All the best with your journeys.


P.S. I have two last but worthwhile things to mention before closing:

Firstly, I am extremely pleased to report that Chris Howarth completed his 1600 km run across Kenya, in his charity project Run Kenya - Hear Our Voice Kenya.  Click HERE or the link at the top right of this page to find out more.

Secondly, I received an e-mail asking me to promote what looks like a very worthwhile charity which involves running.  Especially to those readers out there who live in America, click the following link to find out more about the Fresh Air Fund-Racers charity

Saturday, 18 September 2010

High Peak 40 - Quick Update


Well the High Peak 40 was definitely a new experience, and a repeat experience!  I won't elaborate now, you will have to wait for my full race report, however, the new experience - do not try to run two ultra races in consecutive weeks!!!  The repeat experience, you guessed it Kev, yes I got lost again!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Another 'bulls up', a repeat of the Highland Fling 2009!

The race was superbly organised, excellent course marking, that is if you keep your eyes open, fantastic checkpoints with great supportive marshals, and good food at the end, very hot showers, and a prize giving on time.

Well the results:  Duncan Harris ran an awesome race, even without going off course I wasn't going to beat him today.  He just seems to be getting better and better, I will have to be extra prepared for 2011.  Duncan finished in 5:20:15, ten minutes ahead of Brian Cole (5:30:55), who was last year's winner.  It was close for third with Ian Bishop, another runner who is improving rapidly, finishing in 5:48:50, just over a minute ahead of me in 5:49:52, and then fifth place was Rob Sellars in 6:06:25.

With regards to the womens race, first was Kat Lawson, recovered from her second place in the Lakeland 100, in a time of 6:56 (sorry I don't have the seconds), closely followed by Karen Nash in around 6:59.  Third place was in around 7:05, unfortunately I haven't got her name as it was not announced at the prize giving.

Overall, a great course, although a bit too much road for my liking.  Some awesome views at the top of Mam Torr, and apart from going off course, a great day out, and well worth the effort going all the way up north for the race.

To everyone else that raced today, hopefully you didn't go off course, and you had an enjoyable and satisfying day. 


PS A quick note to John Kynaston, well done on your 6:34 result today, but please check your e-mail, my amended guess sent at 3pm Friday, was 7:07:07, which puts me in 5th place.  The 8:08:08 guess I sent earlier, had an ulterior motive, and it seemed to have done the trick!

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

High Peak 40 - A New Experience

Hi Again,

Yes another post so soon after my previous one!

Thanks to those of you who have commented on my blog, and especially Jon.  As Jon concludes it was a "shame the way it has worked out", but I think we may have all learnt something from the event.  I find that it is always useful to reflect and learn from our experiences, and then to use the wisdom gained in the future. So what is next? 

Well, for me I am trying something I have not tried before; Racing two ultra races in two consecutive weekends!  Yes, I am racing the next race of the Runfurther UK Series, this Saturday, the High Peak 40.  The race is actually 40.5 miles, and involves a circular route of the Peaks District, starting and finishing in Buxton.  It looks a really good course, over a mixture of paths, grass, and road, with a few hills thrown in.

Back in May when I lost 15 points at the Marlborough Challenge, I added the High Peak 40 race to my 2010 racing schedule, in a planned attempt to regain some of the lost points.  Since then I have prepared myself mentally to this new challenge.  In the past I have always given myself plenty of rest between racing, so this will be a new experience for me.  As I often comment within my posts, I feel the mind and body work together as one. So my belief is, that as long as the mind is all prepared for this new challenge, then therefore the body will be prepared.  Time to put my beliefs to the test!!!

A few of you may be asking the question, why bother, as it is no longer possible to win the series, as the points earned at the Pumlumon Challenge must stand as this was my only 'short' race.  Even my eight year old son, Christopher, happily came up to me on Monday and said "Daddy, there is no need for you to do the race up north this weekend now!"  I tried to explain to him my philosophy on running/racing, and why I run/race, but I don't really think he understood my message about the 'journey' being important, not just the 'destination'.  Those of you that haven't read my earlier post in May titled Motivation - Why do I do this? may want to have a quick read, and more importantly may want to have a read of Jim Wallis's brief comment which is linked to, on Julia's website where it appears.  My post and Jim's comments may help clarify the often misconception, that one who is very competitive, can't have other qualities/characteristics.

A brief thought to sign off with:  "Enjoy your running and racing, whatever challenges they may bring."  Stuart Mills, 2010.


Monday, 13 September 2010

Pumlumon Challenge - The Importance of the Journey Not the Destination


Well here is my race report from Saturday's Pumlumon Challenge.  The original sub-title was "Dealing with Disappointment" however, by the time I finished writing this rather lengthy race report, the disappointment had been resolved, so I have come back to the top and given the post a more appropriate sub-title.

As I planned my racing calendar for 2010 at the end of last year, there were two key focuses.  Number one, was the Lakeland 100, and that race went pretty well back in July.  The second key focus for the year was the UK Ultra-Running Championship Series which involves earning points over four races, based on your finish time in relation to the winner's time, with the winner receiving 1000 points.  As I highlighted in last week's post Pumlumon Challenge Excitement - A Strong Field, based on the points of runner's best three races, I was in joint first place with Jon Morgan, with 2985 points.  The Pumlumon Challenge was to be the Championship 'show down', the decider of the series!

The morning of the race I only had a short drive as I was staying with friends who lived reasonably close.  At the race registration we received: an A3 sized map with the route clearly shown by a red dashed line and the seven checkpoints that we had to visit as we ran around the circular course of approximately 26 miles, some final additional instructions regarding the race route, and a free meal voucher for after we complete the challenge. I read the instructions, took a quick look at the map, but folded both up and put them away into the top of my camelbak as I knew the route reasonably well.  Four weeks earlier I had travelled all the way up from East Sussex and ran in the rain for seven hours to ensure I knew where the route went.  In addition I had spent some time inspecting my GPS trace on Google Earth identifying where I had gone astray on my recce run.  I was all set for what promised to be a very competitive race.

There was a really good atmosphere around the start area which was located at the Nant yr Arian Forestry Centre.  I got a nice shock when one of my ex-students from ten years ago, Stewart Bellamy, re-introduced himself, as although I easily remembered his face, I couldn't recall his name!  I then met in person various runners who I had either read about, or had read their blog, including Mark Hartnell, Martin Beale and Nick Ham.  Shortly before the start, just to reassure myself regarding the rules of the race, I checked with Wynne Jones the Race Director to confirm that we had to follow the route indicated on the map.  However he replied by saying that runners should follow the route, but as long as they visited the seven checkpoints and didn't climb over any fences (apart from the two fences at 14-15 miles) then that would be allowed.

If you have read a number of my previous posts you will be well aware that I place a large emphasis on positivity, and the importance of remaining positive throughout the race.  A little bit of doubt rises due to my now apparent poor preparation.  When I ran my recce run I focused on the race route, not checking out possible alternative routes that may be quicker.  This bit of news regarding the race rules confirm that my previous planned intention, of not to run off too fast at the start and to run with other runners in case they know a less boggy route, is the best option for today.

I guess there must have been around fifty runners lined up ready to start in dry conditions, following the torrential rain of the day before and what seemed to continue throughout the night.  There was a strong wind and threatening of showers, but it looked as though visibility would be okay.  Wynne casually says Go, and we are off, and as expected, Jon Morgan and myself move immediately to the front.  (Adam Perry the other runner entered who had also won two races in this years series was not on the start line as he has apparently cracked a rib.)  The pace is quite quick, but comfortable, as Jon and I, closely followed by Ben Abdelnoor move away from the field.  I am a bit surprised at how quickly we drop the field as it didn't feel that fast.  Then as we approach the trees at the end of the lake, I see why there is no one immediately behind us, somehow there are around ten runners in front of us!!!  Jon and I go from leading the race to being around 50 metres behind!  We both quickly move through the field to regain the lead as we attack the first muddy climb.  Then as we enter the forest at the top of the first short climb, again one or two runners get in front of us, as they manage to cut a few metres off by going down a steepish bank.  A nice descent on a gravel road follows as we run through the forest and Jon, Ben and myself leave the rest behind, this time for good!

We then hit the next climb, a bit steeper, but not that long as we head up to the summit of Dinas.  I am working hard at the front on the steep section, but then as the hill levels off a bit, first Jon and then Ben run past me.  I try to stay with them , but decide that upping my intensity takes me too much into the uncomfortable zone.  Although the race is only 26 miles, nothing like the 104 miles of the Lakeland 100, and therefore one is able to run at a much higher intensity, it is still going to be a duration of around 4 hours, so I decide to ease off.  Although my motto is "Run as fast as you can while you can", this mainly applies to longer distance ultra races.  Today's race is pretty well only a marathon, so one doesn't really automatically slow down as the race progresses, so running a more constant pace tends to be my strategy during trail marathons.  The heart rate trace later shows I reached 179 bpm going up the hill, not far from my max of 187bpm, so letting Jon and Ben move ahead was the sensible decision.

Those who have read some of my other posts, are probably thinking that my inability to stay with them is due to my "Train Easy" approach to physical training, and yes you are partly right.  My training during the year had been for my key focus race, the Lakeland 100.  The limitation to performance in that race was totally different to what was going to limit performance in today's short race.  The shorter the race, the greater the emphasis on the physiology, and the lesser the emphasis on the positivity of the mind, the wisdom, the experience.  With my age being now well into my forties, it isn't difficult to detect where my strengths are going to lie, hence my focus on the longer Ultra events.  So the Pumlumon Challenge was always going to be a challenge for me, but one thing that does develop with age is the experience of racing, and knowing not to panic because alot can happen in four hours!

Jon and Ben gradually pull away, but then as we start climbing the big climb of the day up towards Pumlumon Fawr at 752 metres, I get close to them again, in distance but not in time, as we have to walk up due to the steepness.  As we first near the crest of the smaller summit at 654 metres the mist comes in and they are now out of sight.  I reach the summit of Pumlumon, visibility is minimal, there is a strong wind, beginning to try to rain, and I find two or three marshalls sheltering within the cairns at checkpoint three.  I thank them for the water as I consume a gel, decline their offer of waffle biscuits and head off thinking how amazing it is that marshalls would volunteer themselves to be battered by the wind and rain at the top of an isolated hill in the middle of nowhere!  Heading east and losing some height the mist clears allowing me to see the red and black tops of Jon and Ben as they run together, dropping down towards the weather station. I can see them probably now around two minutes ahead, as they head into the forest, which follows another gravel road before the route joins the Severn Way up to the source of the River Severn.  I am a little bit concerned that they have put such a gap on me by mile 11, indicated by my GPS watch, but I feel as though I am running strong, and try to remain focused on what I am doing, rather than what they are doing.

The next section of the course is really great.  It somehow feels kind of special as I run along the Severn Way, over large flagstones, next to a small stream to the very start of the River Severn as the mist by now has fully lifted.  I am working hard running up to the source of the Severn.  I am enjoying the puffing and blowing of the higher than usual intensity, enjoying the surrounding environment.  Then as I am probably around halfway down the hill towards the Hengwm Valley  I can see Jon and Ben crossing the river distantly below, probably around three minutes ahead, but hard to accurately gauge, but further than before.  Seeing them ahead distracts me, as I am starting to begin to pay too much attention of their whereabouts.

The run along the valley goes well as my recce run pays off, as I am able to find quite good footing along some reasonably worn trods.  It doesn't seem long before I am making a small descent down to the new footbridge over Afon Llechweld Mawr.  As I make my way up the steep climb to the top of Drisgol, I start to get close again to Jon and Ben, who are still running together, although pretty well every time I have seen them it is the red shirt of Jon  leading, with the black shirt of Ben around 10 metres behind.  They now don't seem so far ahead which is pleasing, but I attribute most of this to the steepness of the climb, and having to walk again.  They are probably still around 3- 4 minutes ahead!

My descent off Drisgol goes reasonable well, although looking at the GPS trace on Garmin Connect my route down shows a few distinctive kinks, not really the straightest of lines down to the reservoir.  After crossing the top edge of the reservoir I climb up to the easy to follow four wheel drive track and decide that if I am going to try and pull Jon and Ben in, I better do it now as my GPS watch is showing nearly 19 miles, so only a little over 7 miles to go!  I pick up the pace, with the GPS later showing a 7:13 mile which isn't too slow considering the extremely wet underfoot conditions, and a gate or two to stop at.  As I approach the north eastern point of the reservoir, before turning left uphill to Radio Point 5 I can see the two of then together leaving the radio point on the other side of the reservoir, they are definitely closer in time now. 

At the radio point I decide to change from taking on gels to my 'magic' chocolate covered coffee beans.  Although I lose a bit of time stopping to drink water to wash down the coffee beans, I am all hyped up ready to chase down Jon and Ben.  My next mile along the rough rocky four wheel drive track, complete with ankle to knee deep puddles is covered in 6 minutes 57 seconds.  Jon and Ben are now on the same stretch of semi flat road as me as we head to Radio Point 6 where we have to turn left off the road, back to the boggy tussock, as we have to run around the east of the hill Disgwylfa Fawr to the final checkpoint.  I have managed to pull Jon and Ben back to within probably around no more than one and a half minutes. 

As we leave the road heading east towards the north side of Disgwylfa Fawr, Jon and Ben are on a higher up track than me, but it appears that the two tracks will soon converge as we have to skirt around the east of the hill, without climbing unnecessary height to reach the last checkpoint.  I lose sight of Jon and Ben but expect to see then shortly at the bottom of the north side of the hill.  After a minute or two without them appearing I realise that they must be taking a different route around the hill.  I recall the reply Wynne the race director gave me just prior to the start of the race. "As long as you go to all checkpoints without crossing over a fence you won't be disqualified".  I think should I stop, turn around and try to follow the path they are going?  How do I know if there is a fence needing to be crossed or not?  The map which I haven't needed during the race is in my back pack, should I stop to get it out?  Is it actually detailed enough to clearly show the fences?  I have seconds to make the decision, but really by then it was too late, as I had already started to skirt around the north side of the hill.  I had recce this part of the course, so I decide to stick to the route marked on the map.

Although the route skirts around the east side of the hill it still actually climbs quite a bit, gaining quite some height, so the pace is slow, before losing what seems loads of height to drop down to the checkpoint.  As I start dropping down and have a clear view all around me and a wee bit ahead of the checkpoint I am surprised that Jon and Ben are nowhere to be seen.  I can't understand where they could of got to, as the last time I had seen them on the other side of the hill there wasn't that much distance between us.  The image below shows the section of the route map where the route passes around the east of Disgwylfa Fawr.

It is then as I run around the smaller hill after the checkpoint P7, that way off in the distance, climbing the last climb before the short descent down to the finish, I see them.  They are absolutely 'miles' ahead!  I cannot believe that they could be that far ahead.  I think that maybe they have missed the last checkpoint, but knowing that this was highly unlikely, as this would lead to disqualification.  As the points for the UK Ultra-Running Championships are based on my finish time in relation to the winner's time, I continue to run hard, but I find the positivity that I had had prior to then, was no longer present!  I am not a happy runner as I run the last two miles or so to the finish line. 

I cross the line in 3rd place and see that I am around six minutes behind Jon and Ben who finished together in a race record time of 3 hours and 56 minutes.  I aggressively challenge Jon and Ben asking them if they visited the last check point.  They confirm that they did and that they got there taking the west side around Disgwylfa Fawr as they could see that the direction they were heading in around towards the east side was bringing them closer to me.  Wynne senses the slight tension in the air and comes over and confirms that as long as all checkpoint were visited then all is fine.  At that precise moment in time, to me all was not fine, I know instantly that finishing six minutes behind Jon means that I have now lost too many points, so no matter what happens in the remaining two series races I cannot exceed Jon's points tally of 3985 points.

As I head off to my car to get my clothes and to have a shower, I find myself feeling really angry.  Firstly, and mostly, I am angry with myself for not following Jon and Ben around the west side of the hill.  If I had simply followed their exact path I wouldn't have lost six minutes, which equates to around 25 points.  But I am also angry with Jon and Ben for deliberately not following the route to take a short cut, (which when looking at the contours on the map afterwards, not only is it a shorter distance, but it actually climbs 50 metres less in height), and thirdly at that moment in time I am angry with the race organisers for the confusion over whether the Pulmulon Challenge consists of a defined race route or consists only of checkpoints that require visiting.

I am writing this race report, now a few days after the event, but I am trying to reflect my actual emotions at the time.  Looking at what I have written, it amazes me just how negative I was, during the last part of the race, and then to quite an extreme immediately upon finishing.  I like to consider myself as a positive person, one that gives off positive energy, not the opposite.  Sensibly, following my shower, I decided to sit on my own briefly within the cafe, to get things into perspective, and to get back to my usual positive self. 

Yes, the UK Ultra Running Championship had been decided, and had been won by Jon Morgan (with the only possible exception being Adam Perry winning the final two races, although with him apparently suffering from a cracked rib, this doesn't seem likely).  But I then begin to think deep down, what do I run for?  Why do I enjoy ultra-trail running so much?  It isn't the winning, that is not the major aspect.  It is the personal challenges I set myself, of running hard and fast, to my best ability on the day.  Did I do that during the Pumlumon Challenge?  Yes, I felt I ran strong, and ran well, at a pretty high intensity most of the way, considering the difficult terrain, which made it hard at times to keep the intensity consistently high. 

I run for the enjoyment of being outdoors, the freshness, the scenery, the climbs, the descents.  Did I experience that during the Pumlumon Challenge?  Yes, the route was fantastic, a real challenge with some great climbs, descents, and tremendous scenery at times as the mist disappeared.  But I also run to be part of the Ultra-Running community.  To enjoy the positivity and friendship of the other ultra runners, the marshalls and organisers, who generate and transmit loads of positive energy. Are these people here today at the Pumlumon Challenge?  Yes they are?  I consider, at this precise moment in time, am I here today with this positive energy?  Upon this reflection I realise I haven't been, not for the last 30 - 40 minutes! 

I get up from the table, with renewed energy.  There is still some disappointment at no longer being able to win the series, but this disappointment is now in perspective, with winning not being the major motive for why I run.  I leave the cafe and join the other ultra runners, as we chat and share experiences of the race over the very welcome free cake, pasty and coffee provided by the race organisers, on the outside decking, watching the Red Kites above, as the sun makes a welcome appearance.  I learn that Kate Bailey has won the womens race, in a time of around 4 hours and 26 minutes, smashing the womens course record, beating the current series womens leader Nicky Spink into second place by around 30 minutes.  There is good banter amongst the runners as it is proposed, not sure by who, maybe by me, that all points for the race should be void, as Martin Beale's GPS watch has recorded the course as being less than 26 miles, so technically not qualifying as an Ultra race, so therefore can't be part of the series! (Although my GPS watch did indicate a distance of 26.34 miles.)

Well, writing this rather lengthy race report has helped me with my reflecting on the Pumlumon Challenge.  Within my quick update on the afternoon of the race I referred to there being "a little bit of controversy over what were the race rules, what was the actual course, what was the moral thing, the correct thing to do within the spirit of Ultra running".  As we chatted following the race, it became apparent that I was not the only runner surprised by the late ruling regarding there being no need to follow the marked route.  This seemed rather strange when the Additional Instructions given out on the morning of the race, together with the route map clearly stated "head east around Disgwylfa Fawr".  So yes there was controversy, it was interesting discussion amongst the runners gathered.  Were Jon and Ben running within the rules of the race?  Yes, as confirmed by Wynne, the race director they were.  Was it the moral thing to do, within the spirit of Ultra running, i.e. deliberately not taking the intended race route in order to gain a clear advantage over another competitor?  Now that question does not have such a clear cut answer!

To summarise, the Pumlumon Challenge was a great race, over a very demanding course considering it was only just under or just over 26 miles. The performances of the three winners Jon Morgan, Ben Abdelnoor, and Kate Bailey, all breaking the course records were outstanding.  I would like to take this opportunity to congratulate Jon for his excellent run on Saturday, which looks like will pretty well result in him winning the UK Ultra Running Championship, as due to my rather negative state of mind immediately upon finishing the race I did not congratulate him, and by the time I had returned to my usual positive self, following my shower and self reflection, he unfortunately had had to leave.

I will sign off with one thing I have been reminded of from the Pumlumon Challenge last Saturday.  "That it is the actual 'journey' during the race, shared with the other participants, which is most important.  Although winning or finishing high up in the field is pleasing, the actual 'destination', i.e. the finish place, must be kept in perspective and should not dominate one's enjoyment and satisfaction gained from the overall occasion."  Stuart Mills, 2010.

May you all enjoy the 'journey' of ultra trail running,