I always like to look back on my ultra races and write down a few things that I’ve learnt. This helps me in the future and if it helps anyone else then that’s a bonus!
So a week on from finishing the Hardmoors 110mile ultra race what did I learn and what can I do better for the future? These are in no particular order.
1. Thankful to have finished
The over riding lesson was I’m so pleased to have finished the race. If you have read my report you will know that it wasn’t a given when I was lost in Scarborough and feeling a bit sorry for myself. This week meeting friends and family I was able to say that even though the race was hard and it took me longer than I’d planned I did finish. I’ve wondered a few times how I would have felt telling people that I got to Scarborough and stopped because I was lost, cold and tired.
I also took great delight in ticking off the Hardmoors race as part of my 2009 challenge on my blog title. It has been pointed out that the big red cross that could have been there would have been a constant reminder of my failure to finish.
As I’ve thought about my decision making last Saturday I realise that at the time it made perfect sense to stop. I look back now and wonder what was I thinking? So a big lesson is don’t make decisions when you are tired and cold. My decision making process was flawed and in other situations I would never have even considered stopping.
This bring me to my next big lesson …
2. The Importance of a great support team
Caroline and Neal were superb throughout the weekend. At each and every checkpoint they had all I needed and made sure I was taking enough with me. They suggested various things (like changing shoes at Robin Hood’s Bay) and were pro-active in their support.
Neal had walked/run with me for the final 30miles and at Scarborough gave me time to think through what I was deciding and didn’t try and bully me into going on but offered support. When he saw that I was reconsidering he got me moving again and kept me looking forward. Caroline who had also been up right through the night and day was then willing to walk the last 10miles into Scarborough to make sure I got there.
So I couldn’t have asked for anything else and I hope to be able to repay the favour for them one day.
I also learnt the difference friends and family can make from a distance. The texts and phone calls I received where so helpful and Ian’s call when I decided to stop was crucial in getting me going again. I was chatting to John McL, my friend from Kilbarchan, this week and he was telling me that his wife and kids were asking after me all day wanting to know how I was getting on.
So thanks to everyone who encouraged me on throughout the race. It is a lonely sport in lots of ways and it makes all the difference knowing people are willing you on.
3. Knowing the route
Another major lesson is the importance of knowing the route. All my previous 8 ultra have been on the West Highland Way route and I know the route very well. I can lie at bed at night and visualise the whole route. I also have markers every 3-4 miles which I use as targets to aim for. I know when the hills are coming, when I should be running, how far to the next checkpoint etc etc. With the Hardmoors I had none of that.
My original plan was to spend 3-4 days running over the route in the summer but it didn’t work out. Then my second plan was to use this year’s race as a recce run and go for it next year but in the end I decided to give it my best this year and see how it went.
I did find not knowing the route and what was coming hard. In particular I found I had nothing to break up the 12 mile or so sections. I was taking a photos every 30mins for my video diary and that became my marker. Keep going to the next 30mins, have a look at my garmin and see how far I’d come since the last checkpoint and how far to go.
So I think there is a massive benefit in knowing the route, having some idea of how long each section should take, what the terrain is like etc.
I reckon I lost 1hr 45mins getting lost, looking around and waiting for Jon to come. The majority of the route was fine but it would have been so much better to be familiar with the route.
I decided to aim for a sub 26hr schedule. Looking back now it was obviously very ambitious! I wrote before the race that I’d try and stick to the plan for as long as possible and then deal with it if I had to.
I hit Saltburn after 55miles just 5mins down on my plan – 12hrs 10mins. I was feeling good, running with Dave (who went on to finish in 2hrs 23mins) and confident I could keep it going. But it wasn’t to be and I started to slip behind my schedule from Runswick Bay onwards.
So looking back it would have been more sensible to have started on a sub 28hr plan but you never know.
My main source of food was Hummernut’s product ‘Sustained energy’. I suppose the jury is still out in the sense that I could drink it okay but I wonder whether I drank enough or didn’t eat enough other food.
I hardly ate anything after Robin’s Hood Bay (the last 30miles) as I was having trouble eating. It can be a vicious circle. I’m running out of energy and need to eat but my body is sending everything to my working legs and there is nothing left for the stomach!
So my nutrition is definitely a work in process and I think it will be for as long as I’m running ultras. I can’t ever imagine feeling that I’ve cracked it.
6. 2009 Plan
I always thought that it was going to be a real challenge running 5 ultras in one year, especially as I wanted to do my very best in each and every one of them.
I think I can either go for quality or quantity. I could probably do 5 or more ultras a year if I was willing to ‘just get round’ but if I want to push as hard as I can then for me doing 2 long ones a year is too much.
I would like to be able to run ultras for another 10 years or more so I need to be careful. At this point I have decided to aim to run one long one a year (whw or another) and maybe three to four 40-50 mile races.
I find running a 40-50mile race is a lot easier than 100mile. I find for the shorter ones I can run the whole way, eat enough to keep going and recover quickly. Whereas the 95/110 mile races are so much harder on the body.
Friends have asked me whether I’ll run the Hardmoors again. I will only do so if I’m prepared to make that my one long run of the year and I just love the whw race so much that I’d not be prepared to give that up to run it.
I spoke to Shirley Colquhoun after the Hardmoors and she said that she has decided to alternate between running the whw one year and the Hardmoors the next. That sounds really sensible to me but for the next few years I want to do the whw.
The big decision will come when I want to do the UMTB or Lakes 100. If I keep to my plan of one long race a year I would have to miss the whw to concentrate on those. I know I could run the whw as a training run but I’m not prepared to do that.
7. ‘Guess My Time’ Competition
Katrina came very, very close with her dnf guess but in the end Graham Fotheringham was the closest. Graham is a PE teacher in one of the schools where I work. His small prize will be given the next time I visit the school.
I wanted to do something a bit different this time with my video/photos. I was inspired my a youtube clip I saw on Tomo’s blog. I wanted to give the feel of how long this race is and the variety of background so I took a photo of myself every 30mins right through the race. What did you think? Did it work? Any other ideas of how to capture an ultra race on the run?
I’m sure there are many other lessons I learnt but I think that’s enough for now.