Course profile

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What lies in wait on 2nd July - The 110k course profile

Friday, 17 June 2016

The final countdown begins!

I've been looking forward to this. For the last three weeks of training, which I entered a few days ago, I am in 'the taper'. It's a commonly (but not universally) accepted way to prepare yourself for the big run, counter intuitively by doing less. It’s not a sudden stop of training, but a gradual reduction over the three weeks until for the last 4 or 5 days you actually do no running at all. The thinking is that you have time to let your body recover after the many months beforehand, repair any minor injuries and niggles that might have been building up and get properly rested for the big day. There’s also something about eating lots of the right kind of food, but I have to look into that.

So I’ve made it to the taper, but it was the weekend before it that I was worried about. This was planned as my peak training weekend and it’s been looming almost as large as the ultra itself – especially after getting heat stroke on the Coniston marathon the week before.

Smiling but nervous in Glenridding at the start of Saturday's run
My main concern wasn’t physical though, but mental. Ever since I started this I’ve been reading and getting advice about how completing an ultra marathon relies as much on your mind as your body, something that I couldn’t really believe at first but that has become increasingly apparent. It’s back to my big spreadsheet, with the whole training programme mapped out. I know that I’d have struggled with the last nine months if it wasn’t for that and as the date has approached it has become more and more important to me that I stick to it.

The last bit of the course I'd not run, up the valley towards Grisedale Tarn
If I’d have been so weakened by my few days of illness after the marathon that I was unable to complete this last big weekend of training, it would have been a great psychological blow that would have knocked my confidence right down. And it’s not particularly up anyway …..
Murky conditions at Grisedale tarn

So it was with some considerable trepidation that I set off on Saturday morning for my planned 7 hour run, following the final 30 miles of the course. And it was with some considerable pleasure that I found myself meeting Janet in Ambleside at the end of this (admittedly 8 hours later rather than 7, but I did stop for a cup of tea in Watendlath) and still functioning. Even better was heading out on Sunday and running a further 20 miles over 5 hours and actually feeling better when I finished than when I started.
A very welcome break in Watendlath

I’ve still got no real idea if I can complete the 68 miles, but getting past this day and starting on the taper at least makes me feel I’ve done all I can and if I fail then it won’t be because I ducked out of things or didn’t take it seriously. That’s very important to me as this is something I’m doing to remember my sister and I’d feel I’d let her down as well if I’d not put the work in. All these questions will be answered in a few week’s time though. Then I can have a proper rest.

Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Tough lessons on the Coniston marathon

As I write this I'm recovering at home, two days after completing my first 'official' marathon, the Lakeland Trails Coniston. I'd gone into the race with a feeling of quiet confidence - after all, I've run over a marathon in training now - but, as I'd hoped really, the whole experience taught me quite a lot. But not in the most pleasant way.

The weather has been warming up steadily for weeks now and by the time it was race day was forecast wall to wall sunshine and high twenties. No great shakes for lots of the world but for us Brits and especially those who've done all their training over a Cumbrian winter, quite a shock to the system.

So I had good reason to be glad I'd entered the 'Challenge' version of the marathon. It follows the same course but with much more generous cut off times than the more competitive 'Race' and crucially, starts 2 hours earlier at 07:00. Even so, it was already pretty warm by the time the fairly low key and rather sudden start was announced and we were off, jogging through the flat meadows towards Coniston village.
Lovely gentle start towards Coniston village

This early part of the race was crucial. Part of the reason I'd entered this event was to get some experience of running my own race and not getting carried away trying to keep up with much faster runners. So I was very happy to spend the first 7 or 8 miles up to Tarn Hows meandering along, walking the uphills and chatting to fellow runners. Many of them had the same idea as me as almost everyone I spoke to had also entered the ultra in a months time, albeit the 55km version, and were using this as a training run.

I saw Janet again at Tarn Hows (she'd been on the Yewdale bridleway to cheer me on, then walked up for this second rendevous) who had a surprise bonus of some grapes for me, very welcome. After this I realised that I'd started to overtake quite a lot of runners, not really deliberately but just through settling in to a natural pace. This continued up into Grizedale forest, along the wide tracks and through a lovely shady singletrack until we suddenly popped out of the trees high above Coniston water. This moment stopped most runners in their tracks, partly because of the view and partly because of the sudden exposure to the day's oven like heat.
Runners rather distracted by the view ...

It really was properly hot now but I felt fine and kept pushing on through the pack. I really noticed all the training I've been doing on trails paying off on the downhills, where I was able to fly down at full pelt while most of the other runners were picking their way down very gingerly. Past another feed station (there were four with snacks and a further two with just water) and I was on to the final climb to Beacon Tarn. During this I started to develop that all over glowing feeling you get when you're really too hot, so was only too pleased to dunk my head in the tarn at the top. To my surprise the marshalls there said I was one of the first to do this!
Beacon tarn - refreshing!

The marshalls also said that I'd 'reel quite a few more in at that pace' so by now all thoughts of running this at the same pace as a normal long training run had gone out of the window. After the rough descent to the last road crossing for the final few miles back along the lakeshore some spectators informed me that I could be in the top ten if I could pass 5 more people, so I carried on pushing on, pleased to discover I could still run up as well as down the many undulations in the path.

I did pass more people, all of whom were walking, and it was only within sight of the finish arena I started to feel quite odd. Pins and needles in my hands and a dizzy head led me to realize I'd not really eaten anything all race, except crisps at the feed stations and an early bit of home made flapjack. It felt wrong to stop now, but I didn't want to pass out on the finish line, so I got myself a bar out of my bag and scoffed it down with literally 500 metres to go.

Hot and bothered - coming in to the finish line

It worked, and I was able to complete the unexpected loop of the finishing area, now packed with people, in reasonable style. The results showed I came in 14th, with a time of 4hrs 53mins. To put this in perspective, the winning time was 4hrs 20mins but last year's winning time was 3hrs 37mins - a difference I'd put down entirely to the heat.

I think pretty much every runner ended up in here ...
At this moment I felt fine. Ten minutes to sit down, a quick leg soak in the lake and I was ready for a falafel and an ice cream, after which we settled down for the afternoon to cheer on all the other finishers making their way in. I don't know if the damage was already done when I finished, or whether it was the further sessions of sitting round in the sun, but it was later on after getting home and having my tea that I started to feel pretty awful. A night of vommitting and diarrhoea saw me in a very miserable state the next morning, something I'm only just recovering from now after two days off work.

So all in all a very positive experience - the run itself that is. I was pleased that I held up very well during the running, pleased that I kept to my own pace and especially pleased to do so unexpectedly well. But it's really taught me a good lesson about looking after yourself (I didn't have any hat, sunglasses or suncream on), something that will be especially important in the upcoming ultra marathon. I've seen a quote about ultras saying they're really 'just eating and drinking competitions with a little light exercise thrown in' and while I'd quibble the lightness of the exercise this whole experience has drummed home the importance of this other side of things. Get that wrong on the day and I'm toast, especially if it's as hot as this was .....