After discovering that I felt at home on trails, was comparatively good at running ultras (compared to my personal performances at shorter distances) with the epiphany that I thoroughly enjoyed putting myself through the suffering involved in long distances I had decided to focus on them in 2016 and aim to complete 12 in the 12 months. The method in this seeming madness was that it forced me to run long distances regularly, so building the necessary endurance to complete my 1st 100 mile race in June and with the MdS also booked for 2017 is made sense to continue the strategy throughout 2016.
I had selected a variety of races, several around the 30 mile mark but this increased over the summer with my big 3 events over 3 months but all were on challenging terrain.
My challenge started very early in the year. 7am on January 1st to be exact, with the Hardmoors30 and boy was it was an eye opener! I knew my preparation hadn’t been great as I’d suffered with back pain in the summer of 2015 & shin-splints late in the year but I blew up in such spectacular style at 18 miles after starting too quickly that it was very clear to me that I wasn’t fit enough for what I was undertaking and my race strategy needed reviewing. I limped home in the dark after 7hrs 3mins… well outside my target and spent the following weeks licking my wounds and working hard to improve.
This effort paid dividends with stronger performances in my February races. Pilgrims Challenge was alright, Day 1 was a little disappointing but I completed the return 33 miles just 3 mins slower than Day 1 which I was very happy with. Mixing it and passing many who were obviously in final preparation for MdS helped boost my confidence for next year too. A stronger performance than 2015 on a tougher Meon Valley Plod route and a new HM PB running as part of Team Vitality at Brighton Half Marathon followed and my self-confidence was rising quickly.
Unfortunately so was the pain in my knee.
I’m shit. My body is shit. Injuries are shit.
I concluded that although there were many performance benefits to racing often, the negatives of injuries outweighed these so I needed to reassess my plans between ultras.
I didn’t have much time to recover before number 3 of 12, the Imber Ultra in early March which I started with heavy strapping on my knee and despite finishing ahead of renowned & talented runner Damien Hall (he was only out on a social) I had struggled and had to get the knee looked at. During an extended and expensive bout of physio I was invited over to Poland for the Warsaw Half Marathon, the experience was a lot of fun & the run was mostly enjoyable but my performance was below par on a comparatively easy route and this set me up for the next couple runs.
I returned to racing in April to complete Brighton Marathon, which I believed at the time would be my final road marathon. Sadly the PB I’d hoped for was not to be after the knee injury was aggravated and the wheels fell off at 21 miles & leaving me to hobble over the line in 4.41. I rested before taking part in my 1st ultra abroad, the Gozo 50k, which although I didn’t do particularly well in was a lot of fun, passing some fantastic alien and beautiful landscapes. I had more downs than ups during this race, which in retrospect is always good to build mental strength and I did get good experience running an ultra in the heat plus my finish was reasonably strong, so there was a final silver lining.
A scant fortnight later I completed my first Centurion Running event, the North Downs Way 50 which surprisingly went very well and bar a low point early in I felt comfortable throughout, enjoying it immensely. I ran with a friend who struggled in the last 10 miles but despite keeping him company it was still my fastest 50 miler and this provided a great boost in confidence before the big one the following month.
But in retrospect, possibly too much of a boost.
After the NDW50 I decided to pace for a 24hour finish in the SDW100.
The South Downs Way 100 was definitely my running low point of the year and although I completed the first 35 miles on my target pace the heat & humidity took it’s toll at 40 miles. My personal care was lacking and I suffered heatstroke, vomiting continuously and unable to hold anything down. I walked for about 15 miles with extended stops at the CP’s but finally threw in the towel and DNF’d at 55miles. It only took hours to bounce back physically, but weeks to pull myself together psychologically and in the meantime I accepted a job in Malta and emigrated.
6 weeks later I returned to the UK for Lakeland 50 in July and I was hungry for a success. Learning from 2015 I took my time for the first section and remembering how it nearly ended my race before headed up Fusedale with trepidation. Although I was suffering again as I arrived at the CP2 I wasn’t in danger of withdrawing this year. I went from strength to strength in an event I adore and although I was destroyed in the final few miles I finished 2 hours faster than 2015, easily the high point of my year.
I then had a big wobble and missed the next 3 ultra’s. This was in part through minor niggling injuries, cost of travel back to the UK in peak holiday season, commitments at my new job and then lack of a job at all. The main issue was non-existent motivation to return for a string of minor ultras marathons that didn’t really excite me when I felt that I’d effectively failed the 12 in 12 challenge after the DNF in the SDW. I became despondent and although I maintained regular short runs, longer distances were missed due to missing mojo.
October finally came around and I was kept busy organising Lakeland Four Passes, Ascend Events (the company I had set up) inaugural race. It went better than I had dared dream, seeing the enjoyment on many runners faces as they finished then getting their gratitude and positive feedback made all the hard work worthwhile giving me a motivation injection, firing me up for training again.
I returned to racing in November for Druids Challenge, during which in a full circle from my first race of the year I went off way to fast and blew up early on Day 1, I suffered for this stupidity on Day 2 but pulled myself together by Day 3, getting both my pacing and for once my nutrition intake right to put in the fastest average pace of the weekend. It was another great weekend with XNRG and I got to meet some lovely runners also taking part in MdS 2017.
My year was a rollercoaster of positive and negative events, some I enjoyed while others I endured and when I plot how I felt after them it resembles the elevation profile from a particularly gnarly event. I am disappointed that that I didn’t complete 12 ultra’s in 12 months but I’m more frustrated that once this wasn’t achievable I allowed myself lose impetus with lethargy becoming habitual. Something I will pay the price for in the first couple of events in 2017. Again.
However, I have learnt a lot about myself and what works for me:
- I had known for some time that traditional tapering does not work for me and I’m better if I maintain activity throughout. Completing tough sessions or event prior to big races often improves my performance but I discovered this year that there is a fine line between improving and overdoing.
- I understand my nutritional needs far better now and am more disciplined in eating during events
- Although my pacing can be excellent when I don’t allow myself to be swayed by external influences I have made mistakes when I try to do more than I’m able to. I need to stay mindful of this and try to run my own race at all times.
- I knew that the camaraderie in ultra marathons was one of the things I enjoyed about them, but this year I found that I like to complete the long distances with people and the company makes ticking off the miles far more enjoyable.
- Injiniji socks are outstanding!
- I need to maintain motivation and filling my year with races that don’t excite or scare me won’t do this… so I need to pepper my calendar with tough events that force me to continue pushing myself.
When I look at how I felt at the end of 2015 I am already in a much better place and this year has been a dramatic improvement on the previous 12 months. Now I’m more settled again, have a decent job with a good company and have more spare time to train I just need to build a consistent regime again so I can successfully complete the lunacy that I’ve scheduled for 2017…
- January – Spine Race Challenger
- February – Pilgrims Challenge & Multi-Storey Marathon
- March – Malta Marathon
- April – Marathon des Sables
- May – Gozo 50km
- June – SDW100
- July – Lakeland 100
- August – Matterhorn Ultraks 46k…