I was undercooked for my latest ultra. Really undercooked. Almost blasé. I had a plan of sorts, through December I was planning to increase my long run distance, carry that through to January and be ready.
What happened was I ended up taking 12 days off running in December and then in January after a good 44 mile week a heavy cold then cost me a week. This left me one week before the race when I’d need to relax and taper.
The issue in December was a ridiculous injury. Doing some DIY (very unusual for me) I knelt on a carpet rod that went right up under the knee cap. No major damage just bruising but enough that I could let run. I couldn’t even walk upstairs. Taping it helped a lot but that just felt like I was masking the problem rather than letting it heal.
The cold in January was just that. A miserable heavy cold that left me shivering and aching for a little over a week.
So it was I was on the start line with my good running buddy and fellow Janner, Rob. I must admit that despite knowing I wasn’t trained enough I did think I’d be ok. The weather was good and, crucially, I felt good too.
After a race briefing we were off at 08:30 with nearly 200 runners setting off from Droitwich Lido down the high street. There was then a left turn, under a bridge and onto the canal path. We, I ran the whole thing with Rob, settled into a pace that was around 9’ish minutes per mile. This felt comfortable although Rob said that he was not feeling good at the start. The first 9 miles to CP1 were uneventful, some runners went off like hares with the majority not doing so.
CP1 came and went, I tested my blood sugars had some food and off we went.
I had decided that my blood sugar strategy would be typical to how I do these things. I reduced my basal by 50% as soon as I got up that morning and set it to stay at that level for 10hours; the entire anticipated duration of the race. I cannot go any lower than this as the range of the pump cannot cope with this, my normal life basal insulin levels are quite low. I would then eat what and when I wanted and dispense with bolus. Experience has told me that I just won’t need it. I have commented before that when I run an ultra it is like not having diabetes. This worked. While blood sugars were a bit high at the start they quickly dropped and a CP3 my levels were 4.9mmol.
What I do experience post racing is that my blood sugars will spike. I attribute this to the fact that I have been eating all day and much of it slow release. Once I stop using the fuel my sugars increase. An hour after the race my sugars were 14mmol. A correction dose and they were then fine for the rest of the evening and overnight.
A couple miles past CP1 is the most disgusting thing I have ever encountered on a run. We were warned about this particular farm in the briefing. The warning was that the area around the gate and driveway are covered in slurry (cow dung and water). As we approached the area there was a runner making her way around the fence to avoid the slurry. I started to climb and it looked like Rob just went for the momentum approach and barrelled through. I climbed around on the gate and as I got to the driveway thought that was it, mission accomplished. Except that the driveway wasn’t as it seemed.
What looked like solid ground was ankle deep filthy, smelly, disgusting slurry. Having climbed around I undid everything immediately to find myself ankle deep in cow-shit. Absolutely disgusting and a smell you carry with you for the rest of the day.
At 16 miles and maybe a further hour On from CP1 I started to get some difficulty with my glutes. They were screaming. This was now the longest run I had done in months. I kept going as best I could and was still running more than walking. CP2 was an opportunity for coke and onion bhajis. Off again. It was the section between CP2 and CP3 that was undoubtedly the hardest. It took us through marathon distance and then up and over Bredon Hill.
Rather than just taking gels (33Shake of course) I also decided to carry some savoury items too in the shape of some roasted potatoes with a good dose of salt and pepper. They worked really well and it was good to have a different flavour. There was one moment though where I thought is this how it ends?
I was on my own heading down a slope and decided to take the opportunity to eat. I grabbed my potatoes and took a bite. They were quite dry as was my mouth. As I chewed I could feel the potato getting stuck in my throat. I tried to clear it but couldn’t so ended up making myself just cough it up - it was that or choke. As I did another runner came down the path and was very concerned. I had to explain that I was and not puking I had just had to stop myself choking on a potato.
Bredon Hill was looming and looking up at it the top was not visible as was shrouded in cloud. The path up felt like a wall and the weather changed with rain being driven in waves across the exposed landscape. Keeping moving to keep warm was the focus here. The field started to bunch up here as runners pace ebbed and flowed. At the top was the tower. Barely visible in the low cloud and through the rain. There was little point in stopping although people were doing just that to take a photo of the obscured views. This may have been as evidence for how bad it was as much as anything.
We expected that having hit the top of the hill it would be an equally steep drop back down. This was not the case at all. The route took us across the top of the hill with a rolling down being more the order. The weather continued to drive in and I was now really struggling.
The effort to get up the hill really took it out of me. My quads had joined my glutes in punishing me. Honestly, I wanted out. Well I say that but this is where you learn about yourself.
Did I really want out? Yes and no. I wanted the race to be over but I didn’t want to quit. I wasn’t about to do that when I was ok. The pain I was feeling was pain that is just muscular not pain that is injuring. I wasn’t damaging myself I was just hurting myself. That I can cope with.
The weather was grim, it was windy, wet and unrelenting. I wanted the race to be over. I could have bailed but I wasn’t about to do that.
What did I learn? That I won’t quit. That in that moment it matters more to me to finish than anything else. I don’t want to be a quitter. So I dig deep and keep going. One foot in front of the other. Keeping some perspective this was a 40 miler and there was no real jeopardy. One thing about running in the UK is that you are probably never more than a couple of miles or so from a road or house or something where you could raise help. Similarly there’s nearly always mobile phone reception.
It’s the understanding of pain. The difference between discomfort in muscles and lasting damage. Discomfort, along with everyone out there on Saturday, I can manage. It’s part of they why in why I run longer distances. So much of life is comfortable. We sit down for hours on special chairs, heated seats in cars, warm comfortable beds, it goes on and on. Whilst I like all this I also really like being stressed and pushed out of that comfort. It’s fleeting and at the end of the day I am in a comfortable warm bed having had good food and a hot shower.
In the moments we are stressed and uncomfortable maybe those are the ones where we are more alive. The most connected to our bodies and the simple act of running. A rare time where we are just doing one thing, we are focussed, in the moment and getting it done. So much of life is about multi-tasking. On an ultra while you may send a tweet or take photos you really are just concentrating on what you need to do to get it done.
I was walking way more now but running a bit and still moving. It was a bit like the Peter Kay sketch where he describes how people walk to a dance floor – like a run but at walking pace. That’s what I was doing. I was becoming increasingly aware that I was really holding Rob back. I said to him to press on but to his credit he never did.
CP3 was at the bottom of the hill and the last one of the race. It was a mere 7 or so miles to the finish from here. It was getting dark, the weather was now really taking hold with rain whipping in on winds that had steadily picked up pace through the day. Underfoot the mud had turned really sticky and my shoes must have weighed five times what they would normally with sticky mud. This was sapping what little strength I had and what I was preserving to get to the finish.
The last 3 miles was a walk. A trudge. A slog.
We did run a bit and the last eight hundred metres or so on road to the finish was run. It felt good to be finally done.
Reflecting a day later the obvious thing to say is that this is a lovely course. On a good day it would probably be stunning. The views from Bredon would be magnificent I am sure.
Similarly, the early parts along the river would be lovely in sunshine. The second thing is that quite a bit of the course is on road. I’ve no idea what the exact split is but it felt like maybe 70/30 Trail to Road. That was surprising. Do not be fooled into thinking you can wear a road show though, certainly not in the winter edition of this.
However bad you feel during the race when you think back a day on the trails is a fantastic way to spend a day. The community is great, the marshalls and people volunteering at the aid stations are remarkable. Giving up their time so you can achieve a goal. As always, I never take that for granted and take that away with me.