Categories
Running

North Downs Way 100 2020

I See Stars

It’s around 3am on a warm summer’s night. I’m laid looking up at the stars, with the occasional blinking light of a plane meandering over the sky. It’s not often we get to take time to appreciate the beauty of the sky and how it makes us realise how tiny we are in the big picture of the wondrous universe..

*Record scratch noise*

I’m laid on a bit of grass by the Julie Rose Stadium in Ashford, Kent. I’m covered in a foil blanket. Despite the warmth of the summer’s night, I’m fairly cold and have donned a waterproof jacket. I’m covered in sweat, puke and dirt having run 50 miles earlier on the hottest day of the year.
A few metres away from me a fellow NDW100 runner noisily retches his guts out. The first train from Ashford isn’t for another 2.5 hours. I turn my gaze back to the stars and reflect on how I got here.

Background to my NDW 100 2020 Race

This wasn’t my first rodeo. It was the ninth time I started a 100 miler and, had I not DNFd, been my fourth finish.
I’ve done the Centurion North Downs Way 100 course twice before – once finish (last year), once DNFd (2017 I think).

Also it’s worth mentioning that I HATE running in the heat. My body isn’t cut out for it and I struggle getting in enough electrolytes at the best of times. So as the predicted temperatures went up and up in the week before the race, I was quite nervous to say the least. However, most of all I was just super excited and felt blessed that the event was happening at all, given how many had been cancelled this year.

First Time On A Train Since March

The journey up to Farnham was interesting. I hadn’t been on a train since pre-lockdown so the experience of wearing a mask, seeing all of the social distancing signage etc., was surreal.

Andy Killworth in a lovely facemask.

Got to my hotel with plenty of time to chill, get my gear sorted and relax. I actually had a good night’s sleep which isn’t easy to do the night before a big race!

North Downs Way 100 – Start

This year, due to Covid, James and the Centurion team had worked really hard to ensure the event ran. Part of this involved a ‘rolling start’ (i.e. you could start anytime between 5-7am) and also having your temperature checked at the start.

I actually preferred this to ‘normal’ ultra marathon starts – less nervous energy around you, no worrying about rocking up late – I’m a big fan! The temperature was pleasantly warm when I started around 0520).

The first few miles of an ultra marathon are, for me, a mix of getting a feel of how I’m feeling that day, warming up (both physically and mentally), and generally getting into a nice easy groove. As the sun came up we were treated to a beautiful day on the Downs, with some stunning countryside and views to enjoy.
Additionally, a huge feeling of being blessed to be able to do a race, given how many had been cancelled this year. Here’s me a few miles into the NDW 2020:

Andy Killworth running on the North Downs Way

My aim in the fist 20 miles or so was to a) take it really chilled out (had to catch myself a few times and really dial back the effort) but also b) hoping to do around four hours. Which I did:

NDW 100, 20 miles in

Me in the earlyish bit of the North Downs Way, still smiling (photo by Stuart March, purchased):

Andy Killworth running the North Downs Way 100

Here Comes The Sun

In the weeks and days leading up to the NDW 100 race, the weather forecast showed it was going to be hot. Then hotter. Then hotter still. Late morning once the sun had broken through and a lot of the under-cover areas of the North Downs were over, it became apparent this was going to be quite unpleasant to race in, especially as I’m not great in the heat anyway.

At this point I was still eating and getting electrolytes in OK so despite my glum expression here it wasn’t awful. Yet.

Andy Killworth at Centurion NDW 2020

The heat increased throughout the day, peaking at 33-34c in mid afternoon. I don’t think I’ve ever run in such high temperature, let alone raced in it. It was just brutal and sapping. The photo below doesn’t do the heat justice, but imagine a baking hot day with no wind, and the heat reflecting back off the chalky surface of the North Downs:

NDW 100 Ultra 2020

See this hill below? Hard to tell from the angle how steep it is. I f*cking hate this hill. Did I mention the temperature was 34c?

A steep uphill at North Downs Way 100 ultra marathon

Miles 30-40 was when it really sunk in how hard today was going to be. I experienced tingling in my lips and fingers, which I’ve not had before, presumably due to mild heatstroke. As I had no crew, I had no access to ice or cold water to pour down me to lower my temperature. I found it increasingly harder to regulate my body temperature or heart rate. I then found it progressively more difficult to get food in, or electrolytes. So I was running on empty, feeling exhausted from the heat, with electrolyte levels all imbalanced.

Centurion NDW 2020 – DNF Time!

Cutting a long story short, in the mid-late 40 miles, the heat really got to me. I wasn’t eating, and my electrolytes were all over the place. After spewing into a field so hard I briefly fainted (thankfully there was another runner there who stopped to check on me – THANKYOU SIR!!), I knew I was done.
I death-marched into Knockcholt, took a trip to the village shop, procured two Calippos, tons of cold drink, some crisps, then went and pulled out at Knockholt. Whilst Dan Park did try his best to banter me into not quitting (nice try mate), I knew I was spent.

I was a bit all over the place so they had the race medic check me over. His thoughts was it was dehydration. Apparently my blood pressure etc was fine. After a few sweet teas and some food, I felt tons better as my blood sugar level returned. But again I knew this wasn’t a day to push it and I had no intention of going out there and deathmarching the remaining 53 miles.

Here’s me with an ECG on (and very muddy legs!):

Andy Killworth at Knockholt, NDW 100, 2020

Whilst I didn’t get a buckle or a tshirt, for my troubles at the North Downs Way 100 I got this rather cool ECG printout from the race medic. Sadly there was no printout for ‘overly hot, dehydrated, hungry, tired and pissed off’.

My ECG scan

As I sat there, quite a few others came in and DNFd. The day had been brutal to all of us. I commend anyone who finished, the conditions were super tough for a course that is challenging even in normal weather.

The drive in the ‘DNF Bus’ minibus over to Ashford was long (especially as the driver went most of the way to the wrong Ashford LOL), but it was nice to just be sat down.

Laying on the ground outside the stadium later it was bittersweet hearing other runners finish. But overall I felt blessed that I’d been able to do an event at all, and also of my good health and situation.

James and the Centurion crew are truly amazing. The volunteers at all the NDW 100 aid stations were absolute superstars – it really is like a big family – a true sense of community where everyone genuinely wants to help each other. Blessed.

Where Do We Go From Here?

“I get knocked down, I get up again,” ‘sung’ the God-awful Chumbawamba in their insufferably awful 90s hit ‘TubThumping’. Well, I’m down but not out. I’m still 100% focussed and set on doing a sub-24 hour 100 miler and I will do this in October at the Cenbturion Autumn 100. It’s a faster course (less elevation, less miles – 100 v 103), will be cooler, and all in all plays to my strengths as a runner. I refuse to be knocked back properly by a DNF (Did Not Fail), especially given the heat. Let’s do this!

Categories
Running

5 Things I’ve Learned From Ultra Marathons

Ultra marathons (any running distance above the standard 26.2 marathon), are something I truly love. I made the switch from doing more traditional road races at half or marathon distance a few years ago and I’ve never looked back.
Ultras aren’t easy – they’re not meant to be, that’s the point in them. They take hours and hours of training, then of course the physical and mental work of the race themselves.

During my races, I’ve learned that ultras do an amazing job of breaking you down to the core of who you are. That may sound brutal and a bit philosophical, but when you’ve been on your feet for 85 miles and your entire body and mind is screaming at you to quit, and you know you have hours left to go, it’s what happens.

Not only have ultras really shown me the ‘real’ me, but some of them have taught me really valuable lessons, and that’s what I’m going to talk about today. So let’s start:

1) Gratitude

In any ultra I’ve done, regardless of whether it went great, bad, or I finished or not, I’ve felt a huge sense of gratitude. You may ask yourself why I feel grateful putting myself through such events. I guess it boils down to three things.

Firstly, I’m grateful that I’m physically able to run. I’m healthy, all my limbs work, I’ve been lucky in my life. Knowing I can get out the door after work and run, or do a long run at the weekend, or of course racing, isn’t something I take for granted. My Dad (who passed in 2008) was someone who was healthy and able bodied. He loved hiking. When he was diagnosed with MND it seemed so unfair and crazy that would happen to someone healthy and fit. Seeing all that taught me never to take our bodies and health for granted.

Running at sunset

Secondly, I get grateful for being able to run around the beautiful countryside (OK that doesn’t apply to the Thames Path leading up to Reading, or the canal section of C2C!), in different weathers and different times of the day.
One ‘ultra memory’ that will always stick with me is overnight of Autumn 100, along the ridgeway on a clear night, a nearly full moon and being able to turn headlamp off. A runner near me said “we’re so bloody lucky aren’t we?”. Or during SDW100, walking up a huge hill in late evening, then seeing a fireworks display in the distance.

Finally, I’m grateful for the fact I’m here. As someone who’s bipolar and suffered mental health issues all their life, I’m glad I never took my life and that I’m still in this world. Each time I do an ultra (and especially the two 100 milers I’ve done), it’s like a big ‘screw you’ to depression!

2) Pride

As someone who hasn’t got tons of self-esteem, being able to genuinely feel proud about something or go “yep, that was me, I did something amazing!” doesn’t come naturally or easily to me. I’m very prone to writing things off as luck, fluke or apportion things to someone else.

However, in the case of ultras that I’ve finished, I can’t do that, because the proof is there in the finishing time, the medal, the photo and all the work that went into it. I’m not really one for keeping medals on display but the exception is my two 100 mile buckles which are always on display in my office. They’re a reminder that I’ve done amazing things and that I 100% deserve to be proud of them.

My two 100 mile ultra buckles

I’m proud not only of the ultras I finished, but also the ones I didn’t. I’m proud that I learn things, that I can be self-critical of things I didn’t do so well. And I’m proud of all the thousands of miles I ran in training.
And I love knowing that nothing I or anyone else does, or anything that happens in my life, can change the fact I did these.

3) Determination

It probably won’t surprise anyone to know that to complete an ultra of any distance you have to be pretty damned determined. And you have to be determined before that, to put the countless hours and miles of training in.

Ultras have not just taught me this, but taught me how amazing it feels to know you’ve called up on your determination and seen things through to the end. Not giving up when things are insanely tough, keeping going when every fibre of your being is telling you to stop… there’s a big lesson there for life in general, not just ultras.

One race that springs to mind for this is the first time I did the Centurion Autumn 100. I’d trained, tapered and planned really well. The first half went great – 50 miles done in 9hrs 40mins, nice steady pacing, felt great. Not long after that though I took a downhill section way, way too fast and aggressively, and injured the tops of both my quads. Whilst I could still move, I couldn’t (without a lot of pain) raise my legs high enough to run. Well, I knew instantly my plans of a sub 24 hour 100 had gone – but I also knew I could walk/hike the race in and still complete it.
Which I did, even though the last 50 miles took my over 17 hours.
What I took from this was that if you make a decision to keep going at something, even though you know damn well it’s going to be hard, painful and even boring, you can finish it and be proud of what you’ve done.

The more you do things like that (and I don’t mean ultras, I mean anything in your life that’s worthwhile but takes grit, hard work and determination to get), the stronger you become as a person.

4) Blame

When things go wrong in any area of your life, it’s easy to blame other people, other events, other things – anything but yourself. It takes the pressure of you and means when things don’t go well you can say “it wasn’t my fault!”. It’s easy, yes, but it’s lame.

Not so happy during TP100

When you’re running an ultra, it’s on you. You do the training, you get your ass out of the door when it’s raining/snowing/cold/boiling hot. You decide and commit to do a race. You prep, you taper, You get yourself on the starting line. And you run the race, and you finish it. You.

My first 100 miler (Centurion Thames Path) didn’t go to plan. Why didn’t it go to plan? Because I didn’t follow my own plan! Simple, basic stuff like eating every X minutes and drinking every X minutes. Simple, basic stuff like taking an S-Cap every hour. Basic, easy stuff right? Well I didn’t do the basics and unsurprisingly, my race fell apart.
I near enough crawled in to the half way point, feeling actually faint from low blood sugar. I struggled to keep food down from then on, due to low electrolyte levels.

I opened up my half way drop bag to find just a crazy amount of stuff. Food, cables, chargers, more food. I’d over done it and just ended up confused and annoyed.

I did end up finishing the race (thankyou Dan!) but not before a lot of me blaming anything but me. This included:

  • The weather
  • My luck
  • The course
  • The temperature
  • The universe

Of course, none of this was valid. The only thing to blame was me not following my own simple race plan.

Now I’m not saying this to beat myself up about it. My point is that the events in the race, once I’d reflected on them, made me realise how much I blame other things in my life when really it’s on me. Work, personal – everything. Running an ultra where you’re dependent on your own preparation, fitness, mind, strength and courage brings that home to you.

5) Complacency

It’s easy in life when we’re doing something we’ve done before, or know a lot about, to either go on autopilot, or to just get complacent. Complacency has cost me two 100 mile finishes, and has meant I still haven’t hit a big goal of mine, doing a sub 24 hour 100 miler.

Autumn 100 – my second go.. I’d completed the course before, I was in good shape. Again I did the first half in under ten hours, I felt great and I had 14 hours left to do the next 50 miles. Physically and mentally I felt great.
In the third party of the race, I took a wrong turning. Navigation in A100 is damn easy so this is quite embarrassing. Long story short, I ended up walking around in circles in the early hours of the morning, clocking up extra hours and miles.
Why? Because I had never bothered to put the GPX file on my phone before the race. If I had, I would have been able to work my way out of it quicker.

The second time complacency ruined a race was SDW100, my second try. Bear in mind this race happens in the summer, and you’re running all day in the sun (obviously). You would think that an experienced runner getting ready for the race would take in his race pack a cap and some sunblock, wouldn’t you?
Well, I didn’t. When I was getting my kit ready on the day I thought (at 5 am), it’s not too hot today, I won’t need it.
You can guess what happened – I baked (as someone with a shaved head this is very easy). My race blew up about 40 miles in and all the cold water in the world thrown on my head couldn’t fix it.

Being complacent in any area of our lives puts us at risk of under-performing or not performing at all. Taking the little bit of extra time or thought into things (and not making assumptions) minimises it. All that time, effort and cost of the race and I blew it by not taking two items with me. Insane!

Summing Up

For me, ultra marathons are part of my life and who I am. They have a clear parallel to bipolar disorder (think, the highs of running and finishing versus the lows of DNFs or crawling your way to the end of a 100 miler). As I said earlier, they will break you down to the core of you are, to a point where you can’t hide from it.
They teach you things about yourself – not just as a runner, but as a person. As a parent, child, sibling, friend, colleague or leader.
Sometimes the things are great, sometimes they’re stuff you don’t want to think about. But in ultras you can’t hide from them. The lessons endurance running have (and will) give me are invaluable – one of the many reasons I love ultras!

All smiles before NDW100

Safe running

Andy

Categories
Running

Country To Capital Ultra 2018 Race Report

AKA When A Race Goes Great

I’d run C2C once before, in 2016, finishing in 7 hours 42 seconds. Arbitrary though it is, those 42 seconds really annoyed me!

After DNFing A100 in October, I fancied getting an ultra in early into 2018 and entered for C2C. Whilst January isn’t the best of weather for racing, it does force you to keep your training and fitness going through Christmas and not becoming a fat bastard.

About Country To Capital Ultra

C2C is billed as a 45 miler but in reality is 43 miles or so. The first half of the race is trail, starting in Wendover (not far from Aylesbury) and the second half on the canal (ending in Paddington).
For some reason, the course isn’t marked. For the second half, this doesn’t matter, but for the first it does. The organisers give out paper maps, and you can use sat=nav/GPX, however I think it’s rather silly not marking it. I’d quite happily pay another £2 on top of the entrance fee for it. I don’t see why not marking a course at all is a positive thing – IMO it doesn’t make it ‘cool’ or ‘hardcore’, it’s just annoying. Anyways.

C2C would be a great ultra for a first timer. 43 miles is a challenge but not as huge as a 100k. Also the mix of trail and flat would be good.

My goals

After a shit year racing in 2017, with some DNFs, I wanted to kick the year off strongly. This was also on the back of us losing one of our dogs a week ago, so emotionally I wasn’t in a good place. I needed this to clear my head, race well, and regain confidence for the coming year.
I was aiming for 7 hours again, but more importantly to feel strong, in control and pace well. Oh, and not to puke, shit myself or pass out. Aim high.

The race

Stayed at Holiday Inn in Aylesbury the night before (OKish for £60), taxi to the pub where the race starts. The registration is in the pub and it was a bit crowded and a bit pushy. But quickly done, then outside to drop bag and get timing chip (they use a wrist band system which you pass over the sensor at CPs).
Whilst waiting for the start, had a good chat to the lovely Rob Cowlin, good to catch up with him, he’d also had a crap 2017 race-wise.

The race got started around 0835. First couple of miles were the usual carnage of people flying off way too quickly, the small talk of people trying to outdo one another by regaling stories of obscure races for cool-points, etc.

My strategy for the race was simple – chill the hell out in the first half, not worry about pace at all, get to canal, engage kick-ass mode.

The first half has a few hills and is usually quite muddy, which IMO is good as it forces you to take it slow. Not much I can recall, I just got into my rhythm and next thing I know was at the first CP around 7.5 miles in. The CPs are quite basic (water, gels etc) but that’s fine for a short ultra like this and to be fair, the entrance fee is a good price. I came armed with tons of food anyway so was a case of filling up bottles and moving on.

I mentioned navigation earlier and lack of signage, which, to re-iterate, I think is ludicrous. The best thing to do is run behind someone who knows the course, or someone who is reading the map or following a GPX file. Which is what I did for the whole first half. As they were generally running at a modest pace, this also benefited me by forcing me to hold back a bit.

My gear and ‘nutrition’

  • Ancient Ronhill base layer
  • Gore thermal top
  • Gore Mythos hat (best hat ever, so warm!)
  • Gore Mythos tights (OK, I’m a Gore fanboy. But these are proper warm. Not cheap but so worth it!)
  • Salamon 12 set pack
  • MP3 player for 2nd half of race
  • Brooks GTS 16 shoes
  • Skanky old socks
  • Liberal application of Bodyglide
  • Some jam sandwiches
  • Crisps
  • Couple of Cliffbars
  • Naked bar
  • Sweets
  • A gel
  • Nuun
  • Ibuprofen
  • Caffeine tablets

What shoes should you use for C2C?

This appears to be asked a lot online – I guess it’s not an obvious one due to the two very different terrains. I think the ideal would be trail in first half, then road in second. However if you don’t have anyone to meet you (bear in mind there’s no drop bag access en route), I think road shoes work fine. Yes, the first half is trail and yes it’s muddy, but trail shoes aren’t going to give you a huge advantage unless you’re in the front of the pack. And once you get to the canal it’s easy going from there.

Second half of race

I’d decided that when I hit the canal, I’d get my MP3 player on and open up the pace a bit. I’m not a great trail runner nor do I do hills well (doesn’t help that where I live there aren’t any). But I knew this half would work for me. Also that so many people would be flagging from going out too quickly.
The other decision I made was – no-one would overtake me from here until the finish. No-one.

There’s pros and cons of running along the canal. The big benefit is that you don’t need to worry about navigation (bar one turning at the ‘Paddington – 13.5 miles’ sign where you turn left). This means you can mentally turn off and just get on with business. Other benefit – with a few short exceptions, it’s winding and twisting – so you’re not seeing the miles and miles you still have left to in the distance.

The downside? It’s not exactly picturesque and frankly, some areas are a complete shithole.

Anyway… what I noticed immediately was how good I felt. No leg pain, no fatigue, no bonks. 7 hours seems a bit of a push but I decided to just think about the present, doing the right thing right now, knowing the result would come eventually. Got some tunes on, and slowly upped the pace.

Pretty much immediately I was overtaking people. So many were looking like shit or down to walking. Amazes me how so many people, even experienced ultra runners, fly out too quick in the first part of races then pay the price later.

I really expected to get some huge bonk but it never came. So I just went with it – sticking with an effort-pace but holding back maybe 10%. The miles started ticking by and I was holding pace well, doing some short walk breaks each half hour, and maybe a 30 sec walk every 15 mins.

Actually, I felt pretty bloody great. The only time during a distance race I’ve felt like this before was during my first ever race, San Francisco Marathon, in 2006.
I’m running and running and just expecting to fall apart and (until the end), it never came. Whoop. In fact, some of my split were as good as:

  • Mile 35 – 8m 02s
  • Mile 36 – 7m 58s
  • Mile 39 – 8m
  • Mile 42 – 8m 15s

Love it!!

Had been taking in food every 30mins. Final CP is about 6 miles from finish. Took a gel there. Had mentally calculated I needed to do just over 8 min mile pace to do 7 hours, which seemed doable so I just cracked on.
About three miles from the end my blood sugar crashed out of nowhere so I took another gel. The finish is annoying because it’s just behind a turning into a bridge and there’s no markers before it. And it’s not 45 miles. So unless you know the course or using nav, you wouldn’t know it until you’re on it. So it’s hard to know when to push for the finish.
About 1-2 miles before the end the blood sugar crash was getting to me so I took a quick walk break. My mind started going “chill out, you could just walk this in for a 7hr 5m” but I wasn’t having it!! I vaguely knew from before I was very near, and with no runners visible behind me, kept pushing on.

About 0.5m from the finish I saw another runner in front, but I had nothing in the tank to do a sprint finish, and I think I ended up 10 seconds or so behind him.

I’ve lost my print out and the official results aren’t out yet, but I finished about 8 seconds short of 7 hours.. LOL. Got my medal and sat on the ground feeling very weak from low blood sugar. Kudos to another runner who had to open  my bag of sweets for me and get me a cup of tea!

Got sorted, over to tube and then train home.

Summary

Country to Capital End Result

VERY happy with my performance. I paced it well, stuck to my plan and delivered it. And yep, no-one overtook me on the canal!
Finally finishing a race with my head held high was big for me and kicks off a year of racing well. Next stop – NF50 miler in March. Bring it on!!

P.S – would I race C2C again? Probably not – I’ve done it twice and race it really well. The lack of signage in first half puts me off and IMO is pretty silly. It’s a great ultra for winter but not exactly stunning and is one I’ve gained enough of.

Categories
Running

My Pet Hate At Running Races

AKA “Does it take a huge amount of effort to thank someone?”

Yes I’m a grump old sod but this is driving me crazy. With the exception of ultra-marathons, at every race I’ve done recently I see a large number of runners not bother to thank marshalls and other volunteers.

Now I get that when you’re in the ‘zone’, especially in shorter races like 5ks, your intensity effort is high so you don’t exactly want to be conversational, but other than that, there’s no excuse. If you can’t even find time or effort for a verbal ‘thanks’ at least wave or give a thumbsup or something.

Case in point – New Forest Marathon on Sunday. Amazingly well organised event, great marshalls and volunteers including children manning drinks stations. The amount of runners who basically blanked everyone was shocking. It’s pretty damn arrogant and ignorant to just blank someone who’s taking the time out of their weekend to help you for free. I feel for the marshalls who are out there for your safety, who see runner after runner going past who can’t even bring themselves to express gratitude. Frankly it’s disgusting.

So for the love of everything that’s holy, grow some manners and show some common courtesy and respect to people who’ve gone out of your way to do something for you.

Rant over!

Categories
Running

10 Reasons You’re Lame & Useless For DNF’ing An Ultra

So you DNFd (Did Not Finish) an ultra marathon did you? You put all that time and effort into training and you failed. Here are ten reasons you suck:

  1. You don’t suck
  2. You don’t suck
  3. You don’t suck
  4. You don’t suck
  5. You don’t suck
  6. You don’t suck
  7. You don’t suck
  8. You don’t suck
  9. You don’t suck
  10. You don’t suck.

The Truth About DNFing

There is nothing lame, weak, wrong, pathetic, or crap about not finishing an ultra marathon. Nothing. It happens to every level of runner from elite to back of pack. The longer the race, the more likely it is. For example, with Centurion 100 milers the DNF rate is about 1 in 3. There is so much that can happen or go wrong in an ultra that DNFs are a natural part of the sport, whether you like it or not.

How To Deal With A DNF

Whatever the reason you had to pull out early in the race, one thing’s for sure – you’ll be very dissapointed, especially if it’s late into the race (e.g. 85 miles into a 100 miler). You may also feel upset, guilty, down on yourself, angry, bitter, disillusioned, fed up, depressed or dejected. Or a mix of these feelings. That’s perfectly natural.

It’s a horrible feeling having to DNF for a race you’ve probably spent countless hours and miles training for, only to feel you’re walking (or hobbling!) away with nothing – no medal, no t-shirt, no finish line photo, no glory, no feeling of achievement.

One of the keys to dealing with a DNF of an event is to not allow yourself to wallow in that misery. Sure, allow yourself to feel all the negative stuff – don’t fight it – but at most for a day. Here’s what I think are the key factors in recovering from a DNF:

#1 Acceptance

It’s happened. You DNFd. You can not change that, no matter how much you want to. Accept it and move on.

#2 Don’t Wallow

You gain nothing by holding on to the negative emotions about it. Let yourself have a cry/moan/whinge/pity party/guilt trip/food binge/day in bed, then move on.

#3 Change Your Perspective

‘DNF’ of course stands for Did Not Finish. Which is very negative and implies you achieved nothing, which is incorrect. I prefer to think of it as Did Not Fail. That is, you did your training, you committed to the race, you rocked up to the start line and you then did what you thought was right. You still ran X miles, you still attempted something epic, you still achieved something. Yes, you didn’t achieve what you wanted, but you still achieved something. Acknowledge that.

#4 (Most Important)

Learn from it. You need to (whilst it’s fresh in your head) objectively evaluate what happened, work out what went wrong, and what you could have done (or not done) differently.
Obviously if your DNF was purely down to bad luck (tripped and broke a leg for example) then there’s nothing you can learn from it.
But in the majority of cases, it comes down to factors like pace (e.g. going out too quickly), nutrition (the food/fuel you’re using doesn’t work for you and your stomach), hydration (you didn’t drink enough), electrolytes (didn’t get enough in), or walk breaks (didn’t do enough). There is also the ‘mental game’ factors where you basically convinced yourself you were done, even though you still had it in you to finish.

Go through the race, ask yourself (and others, for a truly objective perspective) what you think caused the DNF. Learn from it, and ensure you put the learnings into use in your next race.
Doing so a) gives you something positive and constructive to come out of the DNF and b) increases your chances of completing the next event (oh yes, there will be another!).

#5 Take Ownership

It’s so easy to blame external factors when you DNF. At TP100 2016 last year, I nearly dropped at 85 miles. My reasons at the time were all nothing to do with me, e.g. “it’s just not my day” (meaningless), “I can’t keep food down” (my own fault for not eating properly early on, “I’m down to just walking now” (duh, it’s a 100 miler, this happens), “I just can’t do this” (yes you can)……..anything and everything but accept the truth, which was that in the first 50 miles, I simply didn’t follow my race plan. That doesn’t make me a bad person but it does mean the responsibility of it fell on me (luckily I got talked out of dropping and carried on to get my buckle).

It’s not pleasant saying “it was my fault/responsibility”. It’s easier to go “it was the weather”, “the course was tougher than I thought”, “it wasn’t meant to be” and crap like that. But it’s a) not true and b) doesn’t help you.

Own it but be objective. You don’t need to beat yourself up about it or feel like a loser. Just realise that it’s on you to train, to start the race, to do the race and finish it. Just you.

#6 Get Positive And Focus On The Next Event

Now your toys are back in the pram and you’ve worked out what went wrong, it’s time to focus on the next event – either one you already have booked, or one you’re about to. Get buzzed, get excited and get back into training. Realise that despite of your DNF, you’re still awesome and you will smash it on the next one. Chin up and enjoy the trails!

Onwards And Uprwards
Image Credit: FitFrom50.me

Categories
Running

The #1 Thing You Should Do After A Race Or Event

Once you’ve finished that big event, whatever it may have been (first 5k, first 100 miler, a PB, or something nothing to do with running) and the buzz and kudos has faded, it leaves you with a big gap and a risk of being de-motivated.
You dedicated all those hours to training, you pushed yourself, you achieved something huge, and now it’s over and gone.

It can be quite an empty feeling. I remember after I’d done my first marathon in 2006 – once the ‘glory’ had worn off I felt quite lost. There’s instantly a gap in your life, both from the training, and also the sense of moving towards the accomplishment. The danger is, if you start to revel in this, the weeks and months pass and you’ve done nothing further. Perhaps you gain weight, lose your fitness, or just get complacent with your life.

There’s a ludicrously simple way around this, and an important lesson I was taught years ago. This applies whether you’ve just finished a sporting event, got a promotion, or whatever it is, as the principle is the same. Here it is:

IMMEDIATELY SET ANOTHER GOAL

Told you it was simple! Let yourself enjoy the buzz of what you’ve achieved, then, before the ‘comedown’ starts, get  goal setting straight away. Don’t put it off for a week, as the week will turn into months before you know it.

Now the goal doesn’t have to be related to what you’ve done, but the idea is just to keep momentum going in your life, if not that specific sport. What I mean by that is, you might have completed your first marathon and have no interest in doing another, which is fine, but it’s still a great idea to set another goal in your life.

What is important though is to make the goal using the principle of SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely – or variations of those). Don’t make a vague goal like “lose weight”, “do better in my job” or “run a 5k faster” – they’re wishy-washy.  And don’t set ones that are clearly not going to happen (“be an astronaut in a week”, “win the lottery three times in a year”, etc.)
The sort of goals that are good would be like:

  • Beat my 5k personal best by at least one minute in the next three months
  • Beat my Marathon personal best by at least five minutes at the race I’ll book in six months
  • Run my first 100 mile ultra at X race in X months
  • Lose 1kg of body weight by X date
  • Be promoted to the next level within my company by the end of the year.

Once you do this, you a) keep yourself pumping and motivated, but b) minimise or lose the risk of post-event/achievement blues. It’s simple but it works great!

Categories
Running

10 Reasons I Love Ultra Running

I’ve been running for over a decade now and I’ve been training for ultra races for nearing two. Whilst I’m still new at ultra marathon races (7) I’m now a full on convert to them, with little to no urge now to run ‘normal’ road races. To many, that may seem strange – why would I want to put myself through the effort and hell of running for insane distances? Well, here’s a few of the reasons, in no particular order

  1. The Ultra Running Community Is Awesome – It’s friendly, welcoming and free of egos. Every runner regardless of their speed or ability is going through the same thing in a race – namely, pushing themselves through barriers, going through tough times to achieve something awesome. People help each other out, look out for each other and encourage each other.
  2. You Get To Talk To People – I’ve had some great conversations and met some inspirational people during races. As the pace is slower (and plenty of walking) compared to say a marathon, you can get chatting to people and exchange banter/whinges/life stories.
  3. Ultra Running Makes Me Feel Alive – In our day to day lives, we go through the motions for much of it, not paying attention to what’s happening around us, or pushing and challenging ourselves. Running for a long time makes me feel truly in the moment and grateful for my life and what’s in it.
  4. You Get To Eat Loads – I love to eat. There, I said it. Ultra races allow us to eat a shitload of food, including sweets, cake, sandwiches, crisps, energy bars, yummy Gu energy gels (salted caramel FTW!) and not feel an ounce of guilt.
  5. You See The Countryside – Unlike a bland road marathon, you get to see woods, forests, paths, fields, hills… being amongst it on the trails you get to truly appreciate what beauty there is in our country and in nature. You get to really feel at one and connected with the land you’re running on.
  6. The Sense Of Achievement – There is nothing that compares to finishing an ultra. Nothing. Knowing that you’ve just run XX miles and run for XX hours and pushed yourself through fatigue, pain and exhaustion is an incredible feeling. Yes, it’s great to get a medal/buckle/t-shirt but what’s even better is knowing that you’ve just done something amazing, something that years ago you thought would be impossible – and that nothing and nobody can take that away from you, ever.
  7. They’re Easier To Recover From – After my first ultra I was surprised how quickly my legs recovered. The difference in recovery times between the harsh pounding of a road race versus the ups and downs and relative softness of the trails is huge.
  8. Ultras Are Addictive – Just after my first 100k I vowed “never again” and then promptly registered for another the next day. Same with my first 100 miler. Your brain seems to forget the pain you went through and craves the stuff above. I want more and more of these races!
  9. Non-runner’s Reactions – I’ll admit there’s part of me that gets a buzz from when you tell people you’ve done 100k/100 miles.
  10. Time Out From Life – It’s proper ‘me’ time – no work, no emails, no Facebook. Me, trails, maybe an MP3 player, and a bunch of other runners going through stunning countryside.
Categories
Running

Country2Capital Ultra 2016

Shamefully I haven’t posted for over a year. During that time I’ve achieved some great stuff with my running and become a much more confident Ultra runner. Here’s an honest summary of the good and the bad. I’ll split into posts – this one covers the C2C Ultra.

Country2Capital 45miler (January)

Time: 7 Hours 38 Seconds
I went into this race with some tib anterior issues. Aside from that, my training had gone really well and in the 6-8 weeks prior, my steady pace had fallen by 15secs per mile. C2C is a 45 mile Ultra (which is actually 42.5miles), almost a 50/50 split of trail/mildly hilly, and canal/dead flat. Popular with many ‘regulars’ in the Ultra community, it’s one of the first big events of the year.

Whilst I felt good going into it, I was rather nervous about the fact that they don’t use race markers, and my navigation sucks. However, my strategy of following other people in the first half worked a treat. Pace wise, I kept to being reasonably conservative during the trail bit (especially the hills), keeping plenty back for the second half. This would play to my strengths of running on the flat (probably due to my history of road running).

We were blessed with a beautiful (albeit cold) day. Not much mud, some ice (which I slipped over, nearly ending my race early). I had wrapped up warm with a singlet, base layer, Gore top, gloves, hat, Gore running tights, and my trust Salamon pack. I had my pack full of nommage as the aid stations aren’t amazing (for vegans, anyway):

Food at C2C

Although there’s no markers, in the second half along the canal, you don’t need them. You turn right onto the canal path, follow it down until the ‘Paddington – 13 miles’ sign where you turn left. Flat as a pancake all the way home. I ran this bit well until the last 8 miles where my walk breaks started becoming more frequent. I passed tons of people though who had gone out too quickly in the early part of the race, which was a great confidence boost.

It’s a very well organised race; I would like to see though, at the final mile or half mile mark, a sign telling you this. Purely because it’s hard to know when to put on a final finishing burst, as you can’t see the finish bit from around the corner of the canal. I put on a great sprint finish when I did see it, ending in 7hr 38sec. I’d aimed for 7 hours so it was spot on, although the 38 secs still annoy me as I’d love to have had a 6: on the result. All good though. A great race, great crowd of runners – I highly recommend it. As well as a nice heavy medal, I also got a nice quality long sleeved top. Boom!

Learning Points From The Race: Taking a headlamp wasn’t an awful idea but in hindsight as I was confident of my finish time, it just added weight. I also hired a Race Drone Tracker – a great piece of kit however this again added weight to my pack and not something I’d bother with again for a race of this distance.

Categories
Running

London2Brighton Challenge Ultra 100k 2015

TLDR: On Saturday 23 May 2015, I ran 100k, taking part in Action Challenge’s London2Brighton 100k Ultra Marathon and Walk. I raised over £1,000 for the mental health charity Mind. I ate a lot. I drank a lot. I hurt a lot. I met some amazing people. I had a great time. I had an awful time. I ran 100k.

Background

In July 2006 I was on a plane bound for San Francisco, on my way to do my first marathon. I was reading ‘UltraMarathon Man‘ by Dean Karnazes. Karnazes is, rightly or wrongly, sneered at a bit in the Ultra community, but I, like many runners, first read about Ultra running in this book. As well as being amazed that people could run that long and far, it made me realise that the marathon distance, whilst long, isn’t the limit of what we as humans can do. And that key takeaway from the book, helped me mentally cope with the marathon I did later that week, finishing in just over 3hrs 30minutes.

Fast forward in time to late 2014 – I’d just completed my 3rd marathon (Bournemouth – badly) and felt the urge for a new challenge. London2Brighton looked ideal – I wanted a 100k as I felt I wouldn’t feel such a sense of accomplishment out of 50k; it gave me a good amount of time to train; and I love the city of Brighton.

I took up coaching with Paul Navesey, which has paid huge dividends for me – I think without that, the 100k would never have happened. Nice one Paul!

I trained my ass off, went from running four days a week to six, incorporating easy and steady pace runs along with hill work and tempo work.

In March this year I did my first Ultra (CTS Endurance Sussex – c.33miles) which was a great learning experience and gave me confidence going into L2B knowing I’d already completed an Ultra (albeit a much shorter one).

On the day

The alarm went off at a disgustingly early time of 5am. I’d done race registration the evening before so aside from eating, drinking and getting dressed, there wasn’t much to do other than grab the gear and head over. I’d said to Sam to look out for a guy with a shaved head and loads of tattoos – managed to confuse him by having the tattoos covered up initially but managed to meet up about 10 minutes before the start.

Just before starting London2Brighton 100k – with Sam (SamStaggersOn.com)

It was a lovely bright, warmish day and thankfully no hint of rain. Before long the race director called us in to the start pen and just like that, London2Brighton 100k was underway!

I ran with Sam until the first aid station (c.12.5k), running along the Thames, everything quite serene and peaceful at that time of the morning. It was great getting to know Sam and his ‘running story’ and exchanging tales of training. Running this part was completely flat, I felt good and carbed up, and it was almost impossible to think that things would be tough going later!

I decided to pick up the pace a bit after aid station 1 as I was worried I’d been a bit over-conservative at the start. Things went OKish until (if I recall correctly) aid stations 2-3 and 3-4, where I ran out of water and got hit by dehydration. Totally my own fault as I should have taken more water in at the aid stations and have planned more about how much time was between them. Lesson learned.

My first ‘bonk’ came at mile 20 (just as it had at CTS Sussex). I assume because of dehydration, I was having major problems keeping food down, and thus ended up in a field puking my guts out. Which was nice.

It took me some time after that do get rehydrated properly (thanks to copious amounts of orange squash at an aid station). Much of the rest of the race was a blur – I’d love to say I really took in the scenery and stuff but for most of the race I kind of switched off and just focussed on the few feet in front of me.

The main aid station at 56k was great as I got to see my wife and there was a nice little crowd there cheering people on. That said, it was fairly depressing seeing runners who were doing just (I don’t mean ‘just’ in a bad way!) doing the 1st half, finish.

My best running was probably around 80-85k, I got a real rush on and was doing a great pace on the flattish trails, felt amazing.

95-100k I ran with (sorry, can’t recall your name!) an awesome guy who really kept my spirits up. This was a mix of run/walk.

When the racecourse came into sight, the last 1k still felt like a lifetime away. There were some ’10….9…8′ signs counting down the last few 100 metres. I did as much of a ‘sprint finish’ as I could, and, just like that, I’d finished my first 100k ultra. After two minutes or so enjoying the glory of the moment, I was overcome with emotion and was crying my eyes out.

Finishing L2B 100k Challenge 2015 at Brighton Racecourse

Finishing London2Brighton Ultra 2015
One of the proudest moments of my life.

And then..

Probably around ten minutes after finishing, I started feeling awful. Shivering cold, light headed, just dire. By the time we got to the hotel I was shivering but sweating, hungry but couldn’t eat, thirsty but couldn’t drink. The whole night was just nasty – if I had duvet over me I felt too hot, if I took it off, I became freezing cold.  It was a long, unpleasant night. At several points I said “I’m not ever doing a 100k again. Ever.”

This is me 15 mins after the race desperately trying to force down some food:

Trying to eat after London2Brighton
“Never again.”

 

Things I learned

  • Ultra runners are an awesome, friendly bunch of people
  • I need to eat more savoury foods at this distance
  • Learn the course more in advance
  • Take in more fluid at aid stations (rather than rely on bottles in my pack)
  • Vary food more
  • Don’t be influenced by other participants – run your own race
  • Focus on effort, not pace
  • There are some awesome people out there (spectators)
  • I’m an emotional mess when I finish a race
  • Plan more for the evening and day after – in terms of how I’m going to feel crap, consider foods I may be able to tolerate

Some key moments

  • Encountering such great staff and supporters at the aid stations
  • The ‘WTF’ moment of running through the train station bridge (can’t recall where)
  • The ‘OMG’ moment of having to run over train tracks (don’t think I’ve run so fast in my life)
  • Can’t recall where but in a village, some children who had set up a table and were offering people drinks and food – faith in humanity restored!
  • Getting a second/20th wind around 80k and flying through trails, feeling amazing
  • Running first 12k with Sam (SamStaggersOn.com) – great guy, enjoyed getting to know you!
  • Doing last 10-12k with a guy called Will who really kept my spirits going and was a legend by not minding my frequent requests for walk breaks. If you’re reading this Will, you’re awesome mate!
  • Seeing my wife at 56k aid station – best support crew ever!
  • The last 200m and of course the finish line – amazing, highly emotional momnent I’ll cherish forever
  • The guy with the rice cakes and bottles of water a few k before the end – LEGEND!
  • Hula Hoops at one of the aid stations – best food ever!

The day after

Ouch. My quads hurt. My ankle hurts. But I want to do another 100k! I slept most of the day, along with eating and drinking.

The day after the day after

Ouch. Everything hurts. Spent entire day in bed, eating, drinking and sleeping. But I still wanted to do another 100k!

Today

Apart from my quads and ankle and a general feeling of tiredness, I feel pretty much OK – albeit I expect my left big toenail won’t be with me much longer. And I can’t wait to do my next 100k!

Achievement tastes great!

The next week

London2Cambridge 100k Registration
“I’m never doing another 100k”. Yeah, right.

Categories
Running

10 Things I Learned Running In 2014

10 Things I Learned About Running & Racing In 2014

Originally posted on my old site in 2014

Me After Gosport Half Marathon 2014Like a hilly training run, I very much had my share of ups and downs  in 2014 during my running and racing. Whilst I was resting my knee recently, I’ve been reviewing my year that was 2014 and what I’ve learned. Here’s what I came up with:

1) Rest (Properly) Before A Race

In the run up to Bournemouth Marathon (an awesome race by the way) I over trained in terms of speed. Also though, I just didn’t rest enough in the week before. I mean, I tapered distance but I was still hammering out race pace mileage. Also I just didn’t get enough sleep or time just relaxing – so come race morning, when I should have been climbing the walls, I was knackered, yawning, and just not in the physical state you should be when you’re about to run 26.2 miles. Compare this to the week before Gosport Half where I really took it easy – was rearing to go on the morning, and did a great performance. Lesson learned!

 2) Don’t Sweat The Hills

I’ve always been pretty OCD about pace – by that I mean I’m almost constantly checking my pace on my Garmin as I’m running. This is a lame habit anyway but made worse by doing it whilst running uphill – makes you think, shit, I’m running slow when, well, you’re going to slow down up hill.

Once little change I’ve made to my training is I slow right down on hills (rather than trying to hammer on through to retain speed) and I never check my pace until I’m back on the level. A little tweak but makes me less stressy. As I progress with my Ultra training this will be increasingly important.

3) Don’t Do All Your Training At Race Pace

A key mistake I made in the run up to Bournemouth Marathon this year was doing all my runs (aside from long slow runs) at marathon pace or higher. It’s insane looking back and something I’ve always done until recently. It’s a stupid way to train (hindsight is a great thing) and contributed massively to my fatigue in the build up to the race (and my lame performance).

It also affected my long slow pace, pushing the mile pace slower by 30-50s a mile. Not a technique I will repeat.

4) Warm Up Before A Race

Me After Bournemouth MarathonOK OK I should always have done this but I’m ashamed to admit that until Gosport Half Marathon in November, I had never done any jogging/running warm-ups prior to competing. I’d always just done walks to warm up and looking back, that was pretty damn stupid.

Didn’t do loads at Gosport – maybe 10mins max – but made a huge amount of difference and was a key factor in me performing well I think.

5) Be Holistic – Stretch & Strengthen

Stretching? Boring. Strengthening exercises? Boring. But, as I learned during December’s time off from injury – vital. One of those things you put off and off and off then suddenly realise your stupidity. I’m now building in all this to my regular routine. Being injured and not able to run majorly sucks, especially if you know you could have prevented it.

6) Don’t Race To Music

I always train to music – there’s always big discussions on runner’s forums about whether this is ‘right’ or not – one of those epic debates that’s actually very boring and inevitably goes nowhere. Personally I love training to music – often embarrassingly dire stuff (S Club 7 anyone?) – but also a lot of EBM, 90s rave and cheesy pop.

Until Gosport Half I’d run every race with music. I made a decision not to with this race and, rather than finding it boring, I enjoyed being able to concentrate better and be more ‘in the moment’ – again a factor which helped me deliver a solid performance.

I’ll continue to train to music, but I think when I’m really putting effort in (both physically and mentally) during races I perform better without.

7) Don’t Whinge Like A Girl

Me MoaningOh booo hooo my race is going badly. Oh booo hoo I’m injured. Oh booo hooo etc etc. You get the idea – any time I have a bad moment in a race (especially Bournemouth Marathon), I get like this. It serves no purpose at all and just makes things worse. It can be hard to feel positive and motivated when you’re feeling like crap but being OTT negative is 100% counter-productive.

8) Seed Yourself Higher Up

It happened at Gosport and probably every other race I’ve done – I place myself way too conservatively in the starting pen and then get trapped in miles 1-2, losing valuable minutes and getting frustrated and annoyed. Lesson learned and for future races I’ll be higher up and not getting stuck – I’m sure in Gosport I lost 1m – 90s in those first two miles.

9) Don’t Do Anything Different On Race Day

This is standard advice, especially for a marathon and something I’ve always abided by before. However, for some reason, just before Reading Half this year, I drank water with rehydration tablets – pretty silly given I wasn’t rehydrated and that I never did it at all during training. I think it affected my stomach and contributed to me chucking up later in the race. Rookie error.

10) Enjoy It & Be Grateful

It’s all too easy to take running for granted – on days when it’s chucking it down with rain or freezing cold, it can seem like a chore. However, when you can’t run due to injury, it hits home how important running is to you, how great it feels, and how much you miss it. One of my promises to myself now I’m pretty much recovered is to be grateful for every run I have.

Not only that, but of course many people can’t run due to ‘real’ injury, disease and so on. I’m fortunate in that I am physically able to run, and it’s something I intend on making the most of whilst I can do so.

11) Wake Up And Smell The Coffee!

A great thing about running is that you get to experience environments in different ways. This may be different climates, seasons, or perhaps seeing places at unusual times (town centres early mornings, for example). Many times I think we as runners forget to look up and actually see what’s around us – the sunlight, sunset; really experiencing and taking in what we’re a part of. I’m fortunate as I live in the New Forest and last year I’ve seen a pack of young deer running through the forest (stunning to watch although it was over really quickly), ponies in the early morning mist, the eerie reflections of a deer’s eyes as my headlamp went past it, beautiful sunsets, crispy frosty grass, fireworks in the sky, and loads more.

When we’re running, we become part of where we are – we’re part of the experience rather than observing through a window. We’re breathing it in and it’s so easy to take it all for granted and forget to look around and see how lucky we are, especially when we’re out of the urban environment.

Bring on London2Brighton!