Friday, November 15, 2019

right here right now

I have talked about how i struggle with the aspect of racing that is the mental side. When things are not going as i want or maybe the miles are not ticking over quickly enough i start to focus too much on that rather then the why i am out there in the first place. I experienced this a little at Roly's Run only last weekend. It's like race-fatigue really but i don't race that often at all... anyway those clever people at 33Fuel have a blog about this very topic and one of the strategies is to focus on what you are doing in that moment. 

This is a central tenet of mindfulness and "right here right now" will be my mantra as i head into the Broadway Marathon this coming Sunday. 

The 33Fuel blog is here by the way;

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Roly's Run (9th November 2019)

I was talking to someone who had done the 20mile edition of this new event, it being the farthest he had ever run. It was now Monday morning some 48hrs after this race had started and he was, in his own words, “still buzzing”. That sums it up perfectly.

Roly’s Run, a beautiful race with an even more beautiful sentiment.

I am not going to go into that here but would urge you to read the About from the race website here; The race HQ was Swanmore, a place I have never heard of and am thankful to the sat-nav for getting me there. This is one of those places where, for me at least, I actually have no idea where I was with any accuracy, somewhere between Basingstoke and Southampton being the best I can do.

There were three race options; 15, 20 and 40miles. Routes that were expertly devised and were predominantly on trails but with a real mix. There was woodland, exposed ridge-line, steep hills, muddy paths, farm track, an electric fence to climb over(!), stony trail, some compacted gravel path, and a small section of good old fashioned tarmac. 


Add to that fact that there was some +2,700ft of elevation gain in the 20mile race and it made for a really challenging course. That this was RD Carlos’ first race in the role was quite a feat.

The 20mile distance was quite an interesting one for me because, and this is all about context right, it’s not that far. I had the route on my watch and not having used this before saw that there was a number on the display. I wasn’t sure if this was counting up, down or even if it was miles or kilometres. It turns out that it was counting down and was in miles. Over 20miles I really liked this feature and it did give me a psychological boost on more than one occasion, “it’s less than 5 miles to go…”.

At the race briefing before the start there were some words from Carlos then Rich’s dad spoke and read an email that he had received from someone in the aftermath of Rich’s passing. The email he read was one I had written and sent to them. This floored me and I went through a range of feelings but mainly felt like an impostor of sorts. Whilst I knew Rich I didn’t know him well, something I made clear in the email, that said I did see him more or less every day and we did speak every day. There will be people that knew him far better than me which I think is why I feel a bit of an impostor. It was a lovely moment and I will be forever proud, in a small way, that I made a contribution.

The best words though were reserved for Anna, Rich’s sister. With the crowd having moved from the hall to the start line she told a story of how Rich if he heard someone moaning about how they couldn’t do something would always mutter “not with that attitude” – this got a loud cheer. Everyone stood there had the right attitude for sure.

With that we were all off – a mass start with a lap of the field before heading into the woods and off.

As much as I like to take part in events and races I struggle with them a little. I pretty much want them to be over and start counting down immediately. I do not know why I feel this way but it happens every time. I have thought that maybe it’s because I don’t race enough because when I am training I have no issue whatsoever with the running and will run all the time. I am definitely intrinsically motivated and like doing my own thing. If anyone can shed some light for me please do!

Much like the Cheltenham half I found myself running alone, not fast enough for the lead pack but faster than the throng behind me. This suits me though, I train mostly alone and am comfortable with that.

The woodland sections were a highlight for me, running along twisty trails and jumping over roots and puddles is great fun. There were a couple of sections like this and they reminded me of some of the more pleasant aspects of running the Wendover Woods 50 a couple of years ago. Running in the woods always feels fast, maybe it’s the proximity of the trees and bushes or the agility and responsiveness that you need to avoid the obstacles that come at you with no pattern. Stride length and rhythm cannot be consistent as you adapt to the terrain just to keep each step as sure footed as it can be.

The aid stations were amazing and well stocked – as was the race HQ with tea and coffee flowing, cake and enough fruit to keep this vegan happy :) – the Marshall's were all lovely and super-positive on what started as a bitterly cold day for them and ended as a bitterly cold and wet day as the forecast rain moved in. 

The rain started with a bit of drizzle and I had around 3miles to go. I did think about stopping and putting my jacket on but figured that would be hard as my hands were frozen and it would be a lot of faff for what would be, hopefully, 25 minutes. I can cope with being wet for 25minutes. It was the right decision but by the time I reached the race HQ it was coming down pretty heavily. I was so grateful I finished when I did as for the rest of the day it was relentless and would have been miserable for anyone still out there.

That’s why we do this though isn’t it? This is not a unique thought but we spend so much of our time sat in comfy chairs and comfy environments that to truly know what you are about and what you are capable of takes disruption. Moving from a heated car to a heated office or home is nice sure, we all like that, but really what does it tell you? It takes real determination to finish something when it hurts, remind yourself that you paid for the privilege to be there, your suffering is what you paid for. You get it done not because you paid, that’s the last thing on your mind, you get it done because it matters and because giving up is not an option. It doesn’t matter if it’s a 5km or a 50mile it’s your discomfort and what you derive from that which keeps you moving. The joy on finishing makes it all worthwhile and pretty soon you will be looking for the next event.

The people that don’t get it are missing out. 

I often find myself getting lost in races. I stop looking for the signs and switch off a little. I had the route on my watch which vibrated every time I veered slightly off course (these were minor adjustments rather than wrong turns) but there was so much signage and route marking it was pretty impossible. Again, Carlos and his helpers did a fantastic job.

The 20mile included an out and back up Old Winchester Hill. Quite a climb in two parts with an exposed ridge line joining them. The wind on that ridge was howling and cold. Fortunately it wasn’t a particularly long stretch but for those coming along an hour or more later when it was raining that would have been horrible. At the top of the hill there was a stretch over some softer terrain to a checkpoint where it was then a case of turnaround and head back. This meant that you could see other runners coming through on the 20mile course as you passed them over this 5 or so miles out and back. What surprised me most was that there weren’t more runners. I am not sure what the split was of 15/20/40 mile runners but I didn’t see as many as I would have expected. It would be a long day for some.

Back at the final checkpoint and into the last 5 or so miles to the finish there was possibly my favourite section. Having commented on how running in the woods is great fun. There was a section on whati assume was an old railway line or something similar. Flat, straight and tree lined it was a beautiful stretch of trail with just the occasional dog walker. There was time for one final sting in the tail with a short sharp climb on wooden steps up from a field onto the lanes and the way to the finish.

The finish was in the field where we started. The rain was now coming down pretty heavily and yet there were a couple of hardy souls cheering and shouting. Possibly the most enthusiastic man I have ever met shouted my finish time as I crossed the line. I thanked them for cheering as I ran in then made my way to the hall to change and get some food.

In the hall there were a few finishers sat eating and talking about their races. I grabbed a veggie chilli (really tasty!) and some coffee, sat and ate. After a litre of 33Fuel energy drink and a couple of 33Fuel gels something savoury was welcome.

I ran this race at a high limit, based on heart rate, I was certainly working hard all the way around and did the whole thing on a litre of energy drink and 2 chia gels. I keep saying it but the products from 33Fuel are just excellent. No stomach issues and easily palatable. I am running the Broadway Marathon this coming weekend and will adopt a similar nutrition strategy. As for my diabetes, I started with a blood sugar of 12mmol and finished with a sugar of 5.9mmol. Nothing too excitable all the way round and, more importantly,  no issues. I set my Omnipod to a -50% basal rate for 7hours and used my phone to read my Libra patch as  ran. Perfect! In my kit bag I was carrying the libre reader (in case my phone died), my PDM for the Omnipod and also insulin pens (both Levemir and Novorapid). I have been in a situation before where on a really cold day the Omnipod has failed and I didn’t have any pens or anything in my kit bag. I often talk about the do-learn-do mantra and this is something that I definitely learned from. The other tp, and this was from the people at Omnipod, was to actually wear the pump on the abdomen when doing something like this as it is less exposed than it would be on the arm so less likely to succumb to colder temperatures. Needless to say I did this and it worked a treat.


Back in the hall I was handed a goody bag with some chocolate, a cap (Rich always wore a cap when he ran), a discount voucher for a run store and a rock.

The rock is significant as, and this is taken from the race website;


so everyone that participates will get a rock instead! Some time ago when Rich (Roly) and I were packing for an 86 mile coast-to-coast hike I saw a huge rock next to his backpack with a smiley face on it. I asked Rich what it was and he said "...oh that's 'Boris the Rock' ... we're taking him with us". His pack was so heavy that he sometimes had to be pushed up to his feet to get him going!

No-one knows what happened to Boris, but every runner/walker will get a 'mini-Boris', as a memento of the race. Feel free to carry it around with you on your next big run/hike!

Someone near opened their back and took the rock out. Each piece of rock was personally engraved. A lovely personal touch that frankly capped (see what I did there) a fantastic race and even better event.

I did ask Carlos if this was going to lead him to a new career as an RD to which he answered no but he did say that he would continue to put this race on. I, for one, will be there next year.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Cheltenham Half Marathon - September 2019

Whenever I race I over think it. I am constantly doing calculations in my head, “at this pace it will take me this long to finish” and “I am this far from the finish which means I need to run an x minute mile to hit my goal.” I know I should just relax and be in the moment but I rarely if ever am. This is a total opposite to when I just run for my own fitness, recreation and training. I like to make sure I am not dawdling but just work within the time constraints I have. If I have an hour or two I fill it. If running was split into two parts, training and racing I am much more about the training and the process of that than I am the racing. I don’t race often and probably for that very reason.

So to the Cheltenham Half.

I started over thinking it when I saw the weather forecast. It was forecast to be wet and windy. Not just wet, thunder and lightning. I fretted and stressed deciding that while it might be wet the temperature would be ok so I was going for a t-shirt, a gilet and cap. That made sense and was sorted. I reconciled that if the rain eased then I could probably pack the gilet into my flip belt. Inside the race village I bumped into someone I knew who said that the weather had changed and there was some blue sky there now.

Panic. No sense of perspective whatsoever. I didn’t even check for myself, and there was time. I just retrieved my bag from the bag drop and put my gilet and cap away.

It actually turned out to be the right decision but cost some mental energy before we had even started.

The race was due to start at 9am. The crowd made their way out there ahead of this to warm up, do any final prep and find the right starting chute. I joined the 1:30-1:45 start. I was hoping for sub 1:30 but wasn’t really confident enough to join that group or to put it out there formally. After a slight delay due to a car being on the course the race started and we were off.

There was quite a crowd for the first part and I settled in behind the 1:30 pacers. My initial thinking being that if I could hang with them for a few miles I could then push on if I felt able. Being ahead of them would guarantee a sub 1:30.

This plan lasted about 500 metres. It actually, weirdly, felt very slow. I guess that was a combination of adrenaline and that the start is downhill. A quick rethink and the plan changed to being; if I get ahead of the 1:30 group I can push on - if they then catch me I know what I need to do to get to sub 1:30. Off I went and put down a 6:38 for mile 1. I maintained this tempo and had a pretty comfortable and uneventful race really. I went through 10km in around 38:30 and that was when I started with the sums again. I was trying to calculate a finish time and how much I could afford to slow down. More mental energy.

The crowds through the town, particularly Montpellier, Leckhampton and  the Suffolks were great. I had a lot of shout-outs as I had found myself running alone. I was behind a group of around 50 or so that were leading and the rest of the field were behind me. The strong start I was having being not quite enough to get me to the front but quick enough to keep me from the masses. It was great to see friendly faces out there and particularly those from the Bath Road Beers run club massive!

This was the first race I have done as part of a run club and it was really good fun doing so. It was good to head to the course with the group and then meet with others once there. At the finish there were volunteers from the club handing out medals, water and even a hug!

Back to the race; it was around mile 10 that I started to struggle a bit, the course loops up and down and crosses the roads around Pittville Park. This was quite demoralising as the racecourse represented the finish and yet it was out of reach with yet another loop. It would get worse.

I hit the racecourse and really ran out of power. Mile 10 had been 7:07, mile 11 was 6:58 then 12 and 13 were 7:02 and 7:04 respectively. While they are good mile times in context they are a drop off from where I was at the start. I had paced totally wrong and was running out of juice. To make it even worse as I hit the race course with some 2+ miles to go I heard the announcer call out the winner! Brilliant!

The section around the racecourse was pretty grim. Some short muddy intersections to exposed tarmac service roads where the wind just blew into your face whichever way you were facing. It was only 2 miles on this section and I was again doing maths to calculate what I’d need to do. In the end I was glad it was over and felt like I trickled over the line. I did get a shout out from the announcer as I did though which was cool.

My finish time was texted to me pretty much instantly; 01:27:53. Good but 38 seconds outside my PB set at Tewkesbury around 10 years ago. Closer inspection of the Strava file revealed that my half marathon time was actually 01:27:01 with the race coming in at 13.23miles and not the regulation 13.1. 

It is around 10 years since I last ran a half, my finishing time then was 1:27:15. Whilst I was really happy with the time I know I can do better if I can do it smarter. There is also that feeling of dread that comes with a race like this. Running hard for 13.1 miles is, well, hard. I run a lot, most days in fact, yet rarely get close to sub 7 minute-miling. That I averaged 6:38 is, to me at least, quite something. I have generally been able to turn a pace when needed and this is not through specific training just through strength of running. The fact that I run a lot and have some strength from that means I can turn a pace – it’s just not something I do very often. I also have for the past few years not done any events where I needed to run fast. Ultra’s being about getting it done, for me, and not racing.

A lack of experience told for me in this race. I didn’t really understand what my race pace could and would be so just ran. Knowing what I know now I would start at around 6:40/45 pace for the first 3-3.5 miles or so and then look to up the pace finishing stronger. On that basis I think I could take a minute off that time as while I was spent at the end of this I was strong for the majority of it. Better pacing would have helped that.

I also need to relax a bit (a lot); I run all the time so not sure why I find races so stressful. Maybe because I don’t race often I always feel like I have to do something. When I say something I mean against the context of my own performances. I am still chasing PB’s and want to do well. I have an uneasy relationship with being competitive. I don’t consider myself competitive but I clearly am. I hope that this doesn’t manifest against people I know and run with because ultimately what I want is only to do the best I can. What goes on around me is almost irrelevant I am only racing myself in these circumstances.