Finding my own way

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Ever feel like you’ve lost control? I’ve been struggling with something for a while and only recently realised how to resolve it. More on this later.

Truth be told, 2014 has not turned out to be the year I hoped.

North Downs Way 50

I started the year with high hopes of a sub-11 hour finish at my second North Downs Way 50. I trained hard, putting in much more time and distance on the trails and with significantly more elevation gain than in 2013. Then I suffered injury 10 miles into the race and ended up finishing in just over 13 hours.

Learning point:

A lack of core/flexibility training contributed to my ITB problems. After seeking and receiving advice on ITB rehab exercises from the ever helpful ultra running community I self-treated with resistance band exercises, didn’t run for 4 weeks and grew increasingly frustrated. Once I was back running I got out of the habit of these exercises and I know I have to make core/flexibility/strength training a key part of my training moving forward. Discipline is needed here.

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Learning point:

I am developing and improving my mental strength. A year ago I would never have imagined I would be strong enough to deal with significant discomfort and pain, alternating hiking and running/limping for 41 miles to finish the race.

Endure 24

My A race of the year was NDW50. I signed up for Endure 24 to see how I would cope with running around in 5 mile trail circles for 24 hours as I prepare for my 100 mile race debut next Summer. The goal was to run 80 miles. Going into the event 6 weeks after NDW50, I was a little concerned at how my ITB would hold up. Although I had managed to run since NDW50 I had only been able to do 6 runs totalling less than 30 miles in this period. In the end, rest turned out to be good for me as I hit the 80 mile target and the ITB problem didn’t rear its ugly head again. My feet, on the other hand, were battered and I lost 4 toenails and couldn’t run for another 4 weeks.

Learning point:

If training is less than planned it is still possible to complete a race. Maybe it is better to be undertrained than overtrained?

Learning point:

Hoping that your feet will be okay on an ultra marathon is not a reliable strategy.

Royal Parks Foundation 50km Ultra

This was a bonus race, with free entry obtained as a fundraiser for Tommy’s charity. No pressure. Just a chance to run a flat road and trail ultra. I trained almost exclusively on roads for my long runs in order to prepare my body and mind for this kind of terrain. I hadn’t run a road race this long since my marathon debut in London in 2012. Due to my post-Endure 24 toenail issues I only trained for 12 weeks. Having said that, I enjoyed this as I was training using a combination of tempo, steady, interval, recovery and long runs. This was running by feel. I just wanted to see what I could do. Oh, and finish in under 6 hours.

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Race day came and I managed the first 10 miles in 96 minutes, running with Phil Hall (@BigPhil137, my running partner at both NDW50 and Endure 24) and Simon Welch (@funkysimmm). These guys were pushing the pace as we started the race 15 minutes late and we wanted to catch the other runners (we started to after 2 miles, just past Big Ben). I had trained at an average pace of 10:15-10:30/mile in my long runs, which would take me to a 6 hour finish with time to spare.

Running at this pace for the first 10 miles felt comfortable but I was concerned that I would pay for it later. Sadly, I was right. In the middle third of the race I struggled really badly mentally. Even though I was still running at a pace I would have been happy with pre-race I kept falling behind Phil and Simon. I would catch up with them every so often but then I’d see them running off ahead as they were clearly fitter and more comfortable with a faster pace. Although we planned to run the race together this was clearly hard to achieve. In the final third of the race Simon went ahead to run with some other friends and Phil and I continued on together. Phil was stronger in the first part of this section while I got a second wind in the final 5 miles when he was struggling. We stayed together and I finished the race in 6 hours 2 minutes.

Learning point:

I’m mentally stronger when I run my own race. Just me and my own race plan. I need to stop comparing myself to other runners.

Learning point:

Even though I didn’t plan to go out too fast I did and almost hit my time goal. Maybe even paced ultra marathons are a good idea but it’s worth pushing the pace (within sensible limits) for the first few miles. I’m not convinced this is the best plan for a hilly ultra marathon.

Great South Run

2 weeks after the Royal Parks ultra marathon I ran the 10 mile Great South Run in Portsmouth. This is my hometown race and the first race I ever ran, in 2005. I ran it every year from 2005-2012. Last year I decided I no longer wanted to run road races like this one and sat it out. This year is the 25th Great South Run and I knew that my brother Greg (@draytonblue), who supported me at my NDW50 debut in 2013 and has since started competing in triathlons, was running it for the first time so when a place came my way in the week before the event I snapped it up. Greg was hoping to run it in 90 minutes so I offered to pace him.

It was a joy to run a race with my brother. I managed to sustain a 9:00/mile average pace for the whole race and was overjoyed to run across the finish line with Greg in 1 hour 30 minutes. In that one race I felt like a weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I wasn’t focused on my own target but on helping my brother to achieve his. Proud of you brother. I ran at a sustained pace which I found comfortable and could have run faster, which shows how far I have come in my running since the last time I ran the race. Then again, when I last ran the race I had only run 1 marathon. Now I’ve run 4 (3 trail marathons), 2 x 50 milers and 80 miles in 24 hours.

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Learning point:

Running has to be fun. The challenge has to be personal. It’s all about the journey.

What now?

As 2014 draws to a close I am refocusing on aerobic base building to kick start my South Downs Way 100 training in 2015 with a solid base. I’ve been running by heart rate for a week now and feel brilliant. Even more reassuring, I am running around 2 minutes per mile faster at my target heart rate than I could when I started Maffetone Method training last Autumn. Today I ran for 90 minutes without my Garmin (the battery was dead) and had an excellent ‘freedom run’. Sometimes it’s important to just run and see where it takes you.

Learning point:

Maintain perspective. By running more I have got faster, built a solid base and am setting myself up well for next year.

Now I need to refocus on what I want. SDW100 is the only goal for 2015. I will run it. I will finish. On my terms. I’m ready. I’m back. Let’s get started.