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.