I was shivering so much in the camper van at the 20 mile checkpoint more of my cup of tea went on my feet than in my mouth but on what turned out to be a truly grim day of driving rain, high wind and hail a really challenging and fun ultra was born. Continue Reading
When I tell people I like running long distances and ultramarathons, I’m sure like most I get the same look of “you’re a bit mental” followed by the “why on earth do you do it?” question.
It’s a fair enough question in the face of telling people the stories of pain, stomach complaints and recovery time following things like the 60+ miles in the Hardmoors ultra or the inevitable pain the White Rose Ultra will cause or the amount of training I’m going to have to do in order to attempt a Bob Graham Round attempt next summer.
The answer though is simple. I can’t believe it took me so long to realise it.
I like running. I really enjoy it.
I like the sport and I like that the rewards you reap are directly related to the effort you put in.
I run a long way because I enjoy the journey to the start line as much as the run.
To date I’ve been more than happy with my running progress having only taken up the sport in Jan 2012 I’m well aware of my place in the pecking order when I stand at the start line of a race and I’ve found in smaller local races I can sometimes sneak into the top 10-15 but this time, I won! Continue Reading
I was keen to try this top because it comes with some pretty bold promises about the effectiveness of it’s new “omni freeze” technology that wicks sweat away from the body and at the same time creates a cooling sensation. Not far off the perfect top then if it does what it says on the label! Continue Reading
I love the Marsden 10 mile challenge for a few reasons. It’s on my doorstep and I know the course inside out, it’s got a great mix of challenging climbing with around 1500ft of total ascent over the first 6 miles and then 4 miles of downhill and flat trail to the finish and the organisation is second to none with the results published while you’re having you free cake and coffee after the race.
Take note race organisers, this is how it’s done.
10 miles, 1500ft of ascent and a course profile that’s not too far off being 6 miles up, 4 miles down, I ran it as a novice runner with 5 months experience last year in 1:28 and placed 42nd. I’d written in my aims for 2013 that I’d like to improve on that by running sub 1:20 or getting into the top 25 and I managed 1 of those yesterday with one of my best runs to date – finishing in 1:14:49 which on the day showed the depth of the field this year because improving by 14 minutes was only good for 36th this year!
It’s a really tough start climbing out of Marsden but I was keen to go out fast knowing that once you get to the top of Wessenden Head Road it’s all downhill from there for the last 4 miles and I felt confident enough that if I could pace myself to the top I’d make up places going downhill and so it transpired.
I went out reasonably close to the leaders but slowed back quickly and dropped into a small group heading up to Deerhill Reservoir where I took my first little walking break for a minute just to lower my heart rate before the top and then onto the flat around the reservoir and down to the catchwater trail through to the beginning of the brutal climb up to Wessenden Head Road and another walking break for a minute or so to grab the one gel I’d carried and a drink of water at the second of 3 drink stations as it was roasting hot in the sun.
I’d managed to settle into a 10min/mile pace shuffling up Wessenden Head Road which goes on and on and up and up for a long time. I know it well as I live further down it and train on it but it doesn’t make it any easier. On reaching the bit where the incline starts to ease off, I definitely felt the benefit of those couple of little walking breaks and immediately started pulling away from the guy I was running up with and started my race plan which was to try and catch and take as many people as possible on the downhill from there knowing my downhill speed has improved massively since last year when I had none and was overtaken myself on the final 4 mile stretch by several people.
A quick drink at the top of the trail and my actual race began … I’ve been practicing running downhill since I saw a great tip from Ian Sharman on how to run downhill and I’ve gone from a slightly jarring style running at about 6:30/mile pace to flying down easier and at about 5:20/mile instead. Knowing this I took a place on the first downhill section and the momentum carried me along the trail at a good 6:20-6:30/mile pace where I think ultimately I took another 3 or 4 positions and finished more than a minute clear of the man who was a good minute or so ahead of me only 4 miles earlier so I’m happy with that!
Walking is still ok. I have no qualms about taking a minute or so to walk on a steep climb because more often than not it’s a chance to grab a drink and more importantly lower the heartrate quickly as you work very hard going up steep hills like these. I know most of the people who finished in front of me ran the full course and I guess that’s the step up I need to make next but compared to last year where I walked large stretches uphill my walking this year was less than 5 minutes of the total time so I’m happy with that.
Organisation and value
As with last year, this is a superb race. It’s a great course, well marshalled and with results being processed while you’re eating free cake and drinking tea you simply can’t go wrong for a tenner. Thanks to the Colne Valley Lions for organising another great one.
With time being at a premium at the moment, my plans of upping mileage significantly in order to prepare for a shot at placing high on the Hardmoors 60 leaderboard have had to be modified a little but I’ve not been wasting what time I do have during my morning run commute to work.
This is my unscientific and anecdotal report of the 6 weeks or so since I decided after the Manchester Marathon that I what I needed was to improve my fitness so that my slower runs were faster. The theory being that it represented a “step up” from cruising around at about 8:00-8:15/mile on slow runs to running closer to the 7:30/mile mark. My thinking is that if I could up the effort level just a notch to make 7:30 the new 8:00 a lot of things would happen speed wise over a range of distances. Since running Manchester Marathon in 3:36 which included staying at a comfortable 8:00 pace for the first 20 miles,
I’d also run the first 31 miles of the Dusk til Dawn ultra before withdrawing but found that even in the short space of time since upping my slow run pace, my fitness and strength as well as race speed have improved noticeably without having to really alter my mileage which remains a modest 30-40 a week.
It’s been a bit of an effort but actually not that big a change after a week or so and sometimes it’s worth checking your effort level on slower runs because it’s all too easy to plod on a slow run because that’s what it’s called. I knew I could run comfortably at 7:30 pace for a couple of miles and it be considered “easy” so I figured increasing the amount of time spent at that effort level/speed over a few weeks (with some slower runs in there too to avoid over doing it) would be ok.
Since making the switch in pace, I felt comfortable running in the Dusk til Dawn for the 31 miles (and 5700ft ascent) I completed, I ran the Dovestone Diamond 10k (a tough multi-terrain race) in 44:50 (I’d have been happy with sub 50!) and I managed to sneak in a 18:58 parkrun 5k last weekend. In addition to that, I’ve just done my normal run commute (10k) at a decent but not full on effort and run it in 42:36. That’s only 20 seconds off a PB from the last 10k race I did last year.
So, if you’ve been stuck at the same speed for a while, try running a little bit faster. The results might surprise you.
Talk about tough.
The Dovestone Diamond is a 10k, multi-terrain route with about 500ft of ascent/descent and with the days rain it had turned the offroad parts of the course into a pretty muddy slop-fest so while it was tough, this was definitely my sort of race!
I’m not a fan of evening running but when it’s a classic race a few miles down the road an effort must be made so off we went – me, the wife, Amanda and Simon all with varying goals and aims for the evenings running. For me, I’d run the Lactic Flashback a while back and figured if I went full bore here as I did with that race I might sneak into the top 25 although this field seemed to be a lot more competitive and stacked at the front end as it hit the full 250 runners limit before the day but having not run the actual route I didn’t know what to aim for particularly other than to survive the first 2.5 – 3 miles of uphill and then be on flat/downhill on the way back.
Sprinting at the start line
I started at the front of the line because there’s a short sprint along a road and you funnel into a very narrow, very muddy path before hitting a narrow gateway and a thin path so having found in previous trail races it’s well worth making an effort to avoid getting caught up in a mass of legs and bodies trying to squeeze through a gate early in the race and so it proved. I went out with the front runners for the first half mile and settled into a hard working pace but felt reasonably comfortable although the first mile and a bit are hard hard work for sure!
The climbing continued but not quite as steeply as we headed into a wooded section and it while still puffing and panting I did enjoy some reasonably technical trail through there and along the side of Dovestone reservoir leading to a final little switchback before you hit the relative relief of knowing you’re halfway there and the remainder is downhill or flat!
Trail spirit and a split field
Thank you to the racer behind me on the final little uphill bit who when I took a little breather by walking up a few steps encouraged me to keep running. I love offroad racing for just this sort of spirit.
There was a definite split in the field at the halfway point with me and a couple of guys at the back of the top 20-30 racers and then a gap where you could be reasonably confident that if you didn’t fade badly you probably wouldn’t lose position much. Probably an indication that a bit more speed training would be required to step up into the top 20.
The run around the 3-5.5 mile point was around the reservoir and was a case of getting into a consistent pace and calming down the breathing from the climbing and then came the great fun of the traverse down the side of the big grass bank at the side of the reservoir. I’d always wondered what it would be like to do that and it was reassuring to take back all of the 100m lead the person in front had in a matter of around 20 seconds. Thank you downhill practice!
Forrest Gump survival finish mode
I wish I’d known the last last km of the race better though, I kicked waaaaaaaaaaaay too early with a km to go and while I think I held the two places I gained, there was nothing consistent about the pacing now, just Forrest Gump survival mode. Still, I managed to out-sprint the chap in 25th and crossing the line at around a 3:20/mile pace even for a few seconds was a great way to finish off a really tough but enjoyable race in what actually is my 3rd fastest 10k time of 44:50 and the other two were road races so to say I’m happy with that would be an understatement.
I can race uphills reasonably well these days and I’m glad I decided to start at the front to have a chance to stay clear of any queues at the first narrow path. Hard work but definitely worthwhile. Apart from that, I probably got a bit carried away kicking early at the 9km mark and faded badly so probably worth leaving it a little later next time but ultimately no real harm done as I’d have been more than happy with a couple of places and even a minute or two slower in the conditions and terrain.
Me: 24th in 44:50
Simon: 182nd in 1:02:21
Amanda: 193rd in 1:03:46
Ally: 202nd in 1:05:58
Thanks as ever to all the marshals and volunteers who help organise and support the race, standing around in the rain is never much fun but each one gave me a bit of encouragement as I went past and I always appreciate the little boost you get from it.
Gutted doesn’t cover it. Not by half.
I retired from this extremely tough 50 miler after covering 31.25 miles having run pretty much all that distance with a small group of guys in joint 4th place and while I was feeling extremely comfortable at that point. I suspect it would be foolish to speculate that I’d still be that far up the field after another 20 miles but you never know in ultras.
The reason I am so deflated about the race is because I’d retired when in a good position and running strong but this was a course that required at least competent navigational skills and the weather in the Peak District yesterday meant that as someone who basically couldn’t navigate their way out of a paper bag I felt a little insecure in the fact I was essentially relying on following other runners and trusting in their skills and yesterdays conditions were basically a thick layer of mist with visibility of around 100 meters and with it being so easy to get split up from a small group I erred on the side of caution and called it a day knowing having learnt that if a race says you need navigational skills, I should probably have some.
Tough to say the least but I vaguely know some parts of the Peak District and with 9000ft of ascent over the 50 mile route it’s not really surprising there was a lot of walking and indeed by the time I’d retired, I’d already done nearly 6000ft of the climbing. Shame about the grim weather and mist because some of the views in the area are nothing short of stunning on a good day.
Pacing and nutrition
In what is only my second ultra, I wanted to make sure I paced myself better and find a balance of how much food and drink to take on because in all my long runs to date, once I get to around the 17-18 mile mark my stomach starts complaining and it’s something that I’m sure is down to getting the right balance.
I actually managed that and reached the CP where I retired feeling great in that department too. No stomach issues, still had an appetite for food and generally felt well hydrated and good to go. I think I probably over-hydrate slightly on many of my runs and this time I basically carried a 500ml bottle which I refilled at each 10 mile CP and sipping as I went seemed to work.
As the course required a lot of walking due to amount of climbing, I tucked in with a group of guys who seemed to be getting along at a reasonable but steady pace and jogging where it was flat, running around 9 minute/mile pace on the downhills and taking it steady uphill. Definitely slower than I’d probably have been running if left to my own devices but left to my own devices I’d have no doubt burnt out long before 30 miles!
As I mentioned, I feel a bit deflated about the day because there are a lot “what if’s?” when you retire from something. Should I have been a bit braver and not wimped out over my ability to read a map? After all, the worst that might have happened if the guys I was following disappeared would have been that I could have waited for someone else to come along and I could have followed them but frankly that just felt like a shitty way to try and run a race where it was my own shortcomings in navigation were to blame for the feeling of insecurity.
Who knows, maybe I could have clung on and finished in the top 10, maybe the proverbial wheels would have fallen off later in the day. I’ll never know. I felt confident I’d finish the distance even if I’d had to slow down, to be honest, once I get past halfway in a race my mindset changes a little and even if there’s a long way to go I think about it as a “home stretch”. I just didn’t feel confident in my navigation ability in the conditions and while I probably would have been fine in the end I erred on the side of very cautious in my first crack at this distance and a navigation race.
The organisation and staff
Simply brilliant, thanks to Richard and Wendy for putting on a great event and to all the marshalls who no doubt had a long day in some grim weather but offered support and advice at all the right times. For £28 entry fee (all profits are actually donated to McMillan) this is a really great event.
There’s a night time edition of the race run on the course in reverse direction overnight in October which is a tempting option for closing out the unfinished business of yesterday but in the meantime I’m going to spend some time and effort learning navigation skills which I hope will open up a range of other race options to try and I’ll stick to heavily marked races in the meantime.
I hope at some point the feeling of frustration with myself fades and while I learnt a lot in my time on the course yesterday and can take a lot of positives from the race to the point of retirement, I suppose I’ll have to live with the decision I made.