The Oxford English Dictionary defines perseverance as follows:
“Persistence in doing something despite difficulty or delay in achieving success”
This was planned to be a post about how I finished my 2nd North Downs Way in under 11 hours, knocking over 50 minutes off my time from last year. However, things don’t always go according to plan and this was one of those occasions as I finished in just over 13 hours, over 1 hour longer than last year. I’ll keep my race day summary short and instead focus on what I learned from the experience and how I think it can make me a better runner in the future.
Before I go any further though I want to say a huge well done and thank you to my running buddy and training partner Phil Hall. 1 year ago he drove me home from the NDW50 and I could tell from our conversation that he would enter this year’s race. He decided to do so shortly afterwards. Phil asked me to help him train for the race and worked so hard to get ready for this challenge. You did it buddy. Thanks for your company and support on a testing day in the running office yesterday. You deserved better but stuck with me. You are an ultra runner. It was never in doubt.
Race day in summary:
Arrived at the start with Phil feeling calm, confident and ready to run 50 miles again. Met up with other runners I tweet regularly and/or have met at other races in the past including Stewart Leisnam, Martin Bamford, Matt Buck, Kevin Matthews, Ashley Hurd. Spoke with Simon Welch and Beth Pirie who I’ve had the pleasure of running with in preparation for this race. Walked down to the race start and chatted with Sam Robson, who has been very supportive of me and Phil in the build up and hopes to run with us (probably ahead though as he’s a quick runner) on our local trails sometime this year.
Started running. Ran steady, controlled and on target for 10 miles. Right leg started to feel strange after 8 miles or so. By 10 miles in I was limping. IT band problem. This led me to run/limp and hike the remaining 40 miles (well, 41 in reality) to get to the finish and from this point on my race was frustrating, painful, scenic, enjoyable (strangely) and, ultimately, rewarding. I did not stop (the dreaded DNF never entered my mind). I did not push on regardless and keep running to hit my target time, risking a long injury lay off in the process. I did finish. Was it unlucky 13 (my race number)? I don’t think so, even though I did end up taking 13 hours to finish.
After a hug from the one and only Nici Griffin at the finish line I thanked James Elson, Race Director for Centurion Running, for yet another fantastically run event. I told him about my IT band problems and the fact that I had run/limped and hiked it in. He replied:
“A finish is a finish.”
That’s exactly why I kept on going. I had trained so hard for this year’s event. I was in good shape. Until mile 10 anyway. Ultimately, the finishers medal I got from this year’s NDW50 (on the right in the photo below) means so much more than the one from my debut ultra last year. I had to work so much harder for it and mental strength was key.
Belief is key
I listen to a number of running podcasts but mainly Ultra Runner Podcast and Trail Runner Nation. On a recent edition of the TRN podcast they focused on Lanny Bassham’s “Mental Management” techniques for building mental strength, with a particular emphasis on positive self image, visualisation and the ability to adapt to circumstances. I listened to this particular interview 4 times in the 2 weeks before NDW50 and this proved incredibly helpful when I encountered the IT band problems during the race. Not only did I have confidence in my race preparation and training but I never doubted that I would finish.
“Things happen for you, not to you”
Lanny Bassham said this in the interview on TRN when sharing his journey from school sports reject to Olympic shooting champion and then entrepreneur and coach. Having had time to reflect upon how the race developed for me I have already taken several positives. If the race had gone to plan then I might never have considered these.
It really is 90% mental
I’ve heard it said many times that once you get into running the ultra marathon distances success – whether that be winning a race, setting a new PB or finishing – is 90% mental. I know my physical preparation for NDW50 was better than last year but can still be improved (some strength and conditioning work is definitely needed and this might have helped me about the IT band issue). My mental preparation this year was far better than last year. While I never doubted either last year or this year that I would complete the 50 miles of the race I was really tested on this yesterday. I don’t think I’d have been able to keep going last year if faced with the same issue. I like to think that I am now a calmer, more focused and rational runner than before but I know I am increasingly determined.
100 miles is definitely on
From the blogs and race reports of 100 mile ultra marathons that I’ve read (mainly for Centurion Running events) it seems that the majority of runners end up running (slowly) and hiking or walking the last 30-40 miles of their race. Having been though this for 40 miles yesterday I am better prepared for the challenges faced here. Slow progress can lead to frustration, panic about cut offs and self doubt. I know that I can keep moving forward and what it takes to do so in adversity. The forthcoming Endure24 race – a 24 hour trail event where runners (solo, pairs or teams) run a 5 mile loop as many times as they can (or want to) in 24 hours – was always intended to be a dry run for my SDW100 in June 2015. The challenge of running all day and through the night into the next day is not one I’ve yet had to deal with but I’m even more confident now that I can do it.
Thank you for all of the support, encouragement and advice from everyone since I started my ultra running journey. There are too many of you to name but each and every text, tweet, Facebook comment and message makes such a huge difference. After a tough day yesterday to see the good luck messages and comments after the race was so uplifting.
Rest assured, I’m going to be back. Stronger. Fitter. Faster.
It’s all about the journey and I’m loving every single minute of it.