Advertised as a marathon with +2,500ft of elevation.
Well, the distance is right (although I got lost and did an extra couple of miles) but the elevation is way off. Closer to +3,400ft! The Winchcombe Cross is a set of race distances all run in the same day on similar courses. A half marathon, marathon, 37 mile ultra and 50miler.
I was doing the marathon having made the decision earlier this year to not do ultras for this year at least.
Registration opened at 7:30 with a start time of 8:30. I was up early and stressing about the day so headed over earlier to catch the Ultra start and see Rob who was doing the 37miler.
Training for this event has been good from an overall mileage perspective (around 600 so far in 2019, but distinctly lacking long runs. I’d done a 15 and a 20 miler prior to the event and have been averaging maybe 38 miles a week.
There was a race briefing at 8:20 before we started at 8:30.
The route starts with an easy section down to Winchcombe high street, across the road down a hill then onto the trails. Leg 1 was an out and back to Temple Guiting, I was surprised at the amount of tarmac but the views were stunning.
The weather was perfect really, slightly cool with some cloud but dry and little/no wind.
The field strung out as runners settled into their own pace. I had a plan to run 9min miles for as long as I could figuring I could get to 20 miles at that pace and then just finish the last 10km by any means.
I had a thought that I could do something between 4hrs and 4.5hrs. Come the end I was slower than that but happy enough with my day.
Heading into Temple Guiting I somehow missed the arrows marking the course and ran past the turn for the checkpoint. By some distance too, maybe by 3/4 of a mile. Realising my mistake i turned around ran back but knew that any chance of hitting my targets just got harder.
I was doubly disappointed though as at the point I went wrong I was in 2nd place. I only knew this as I had crossed on the route with Rob who told me. By the time I righted myself on course I was way back, it was only 7 miles in and so there were plenty of runners piling in behind me. I don’t know if there was a bit of distraction in hearing I was in 2nd and believing my own unfounded hype. I was trying to just keep my pace steady and stick to targets because it was early in the race and genuinely as much as I would love to do well in a race I don’t ever have expectations of doing so.
To compound the issue, I then went wrong leaving Temple Guiting! Just not paying attention and thinking too much about how to make up lost ground rather than focusing on the moment I was in. Another turn round when I realised and more emotional drain. The physical impact would happen a little later in the race.
Making my way back to the race HQ for the next leg I made up ground on some runners and was pretty comfortable. I went through the checkpoint as quickly as I could, keen to continue to make up some ground. It was at mile 15 that I had a physical problem of sorts. There were runners ahead of me and as I crossed a field that was pretty rutted I took my eye of what was in front of me for a second and twanged my ankle. I say ankle but on reflection and examining where I have some soreness it is actually on the outside of the shin a couple of inches above the ankle bone. My foot gave way and I felt my leg twang, like elastic as I corrected the instability on the ground. The pain shot up through my leg and for a second I thought that was it.
It calmed down and I set about walking to see if I could just walk it off. I have had situations like this before and have the mindset that provided it’s not hanging off I will finish. This is primarily borne of not racing a lot and so when I do, I want to finish. I think that if I maybe raced more often I would be less concerned. I walked a bit and it eased. The rest of my race would fall into a pattern of run walk, running on tarmac and downhill was quite sore but uphill and flat was fine (although I walked the uphills too!).
Leg 2 was, for the marathon, a loop. Running through leg 2 and then rather than coming back, if I was doing the ultra, continuing around into leg 4. This made for a better running experience as while the terrain was stunning it’s nice not to retrace your steps. Plus the 4th leg took in the famous Belas Knapp.
As I approached this there were more people around as this is a spot for tourists and walkers. Up to this point there had not really been anyone around other than those in the event itself. As I got to Belas Knapp I did think about the ultra-runners coming up that way. The climb out of Winchcombe is pretty brutal gaining close to 750ft in the space of maybe a mile or two. Running down this was hard enough.
As you pass Belas Knapp there’s a steep field that takes you down to a small wooded section, you clear that then it’s downhill past the cricket club and back onto the high street. Running down through the field I could hear thunderous footsteps behind me. My first thought was that cannot be one of the event runners? It wasn’t. It was a small bout maybe 10 years old running full tilt through the long grass and having the time of his life. His sister, slightly older, was behind him and much more tentative. He stopped just in front of me and as I got close I asked him if he was racing me. He replied that he was and took off again. So fast! I think that even if I had not run at all I could not have let the handbrake off enough to run like he was.
He was just running down hill without a thought for his knees and ankles or anything. It really made me smile and was quite uplifting. When you try to explain to someone why you run it’s because sometimes it feels like that. That being an intangible thing really, something you have to experience to understand. A combination of being immersed in the moment without a thought in your head, a flow state where the action of running is for that moment all consuming. You’re doing it but it doesn’t register as conscious thought or physical feeling.
Reaching the woods I knew the route back having run this previously. It’s a short hop to the high street then up to the aid station and the finish.
I crossed the line with 4:57:20 on my watch. The total distance I covered being 28.75 miles and with +3,471ft of elevation gain.
It’s not often I finish something and think I want to do that again but for this one I really did. I think it’s because I know if I didn’t get lost I would save around 15 minutes and if I do more longer runs I can probably take another 20 minutes or so off that time and maybe get closer to the 4:30 I thought achievable.
My blood sugar control through the event was excellent. I was up at 6am and tested with a blood sugar of 5.5mmol. I had something to eat undercutting the carbs count by around 50%. This meant I would be higher by the time I got to the start line but not an issue as once I start running it drops pretty-quickly. I also put in place a -50% temporary basal for a 7hr duration. Because the doses of insulin that I use are quite small this is the maximum reduction the pump can accommodate. At the start of the race my blood sugars were 14mmol, high but for a short period and not concerning.
Nutrition strategy was pretty simple and a combination of 33Shake gels and Tailwind with a couple of bars with me just in case. The plan was to sip tailwind and have a gel every hour. At the half marathon point I tested my blood sugars and they were 7.2mmol. Perfect!
I set off again and did not test until the leg 2/4 checkpoint where they were 5.5mmol. This was probably the most stressful blood test I have done. There was an ambulance crew there and one of them spotted what I was doing and came across to check. He was stood on my shoulder watching. I have never felt under so much pressure to deliver a good reading. When it popped up with 5.5mmol I was so relieved. He just said “that’s perfect” and seemed happy enough.
Because I was out for longer than expected the pump notified me when the temp basal had ended. I set another -50% for 3hours and continued. My blood sugars at the end were 11mmol. A combination of my slowing pace and probably taking on too much food. There was a creeping upward trend for a couple of hours but it soon righted itself as I had something to eat and administered correct bolus amounts.
Later in the evening I set a -25% basal for the overnight period as knew from experience that I would go low otherwise. This was borne out with a waking blood sugar on Monday of 3.1mmol.
I was using the OmniPod through the event and had no issues. In fact, for this race an alert that a temp basal had finished and then being able to set up another while still moving was pretty awesome. There is no fire and forget that you get with pens. I had the pod on my arm but the conditions were such that it was not over exposed at all so performed as it should. The facility of being able to administer reductions on the fly proved invaluable not only during the event but in the period post event and then through the night.
I really enjoyed the event, the course was beautiful, the conditions couldn’t have been better really and the organisation was perfect. I want to do it again next year and that’s a first for me really. No higher praise?