Lessons learnt from RAW Race

I find it’s always good to look back over a race and note down what I learnt which hopefully will help me in future races.

So what did I learn from Saturday’s River Ayr Way Race?

The route was really interesting but the picture below was my main view for the first 20miles!! It could have been worst … I might have been following Tim Downie wearing his skins.

So in no particular order …

Realistic expectations
I went into this race feeling very under prepared. I’d been struggling with a foot injury and just four weeks before the race feared I wouldn’t be able to race at all. Plus on my 22mile training run with Ross two weeks before the race I’d found it hard work running at 10.10 pace.

So I decided to aim low stating that my goal medal goal was anything under 7hrs 30mins. I knew that was on the slow side but I honestly wasn’t sure how it would go. Apologies for all those who were mislead on my ‘Guess My Time’ competition. For the first time ever in 14 races I was actually faster than the fastest guess!

In fact this year I think I’ve mislead people in most of my races! In the Fling I aimed high and ran slower. In the Cateran I aimed slow and ran quicker than planned. In the whw I aimed high again and struggled. Now in the RAW I aimed low and finished a lot faster. Maybe there is a pattern emerging here.

But whether I was right or not to aim for a slower time it helped having a low expectation on the day. I didn’t have a target time to aim for. I set off wanting to run comfortable, not setting the pace with those around me and I found that as the race progressed I was feeling more and more positive about not only being able to finish but to get well under 7hrs.

As I think about future races should I adopt a similar tactic of just starting comfortable without any real goals and see how the race unfolds? Or have my schedule and try and keep to it from the start? That’s a question I’ll be thinking about over the coming months.

Recce the Route
I felt it was really important to run the second half of the route from Catrine two weeks ago. In all these ultra races the onus is on the runner to know the way. This race was very well marshalled and signed posted by Tim and Ayrshire Council but even then I know of at least one person who got lost.

Running ultras on trails is not like a 10k, half marathon or marathon. There are always some navigational decisions to make and it is up to the runner to prepare the best he/she can. I made some bad decisions in a couple of races this year, most notably the Hardmoors 55, which was entirely my fault. I relied on my memory rather than getting out the map!

But for me just as important as knowing the way is having some sense of what is coming. On the whw route I know every up hill and down hill. I know where I should be running and when a walking bit is coming. I know how far each check point is, etc and it makes such a difference.

On Saturday having run the second half of the route I had an idea of what was to come, especially over the last 10 miles or so. As I went through Annbank I knew it was about 7.5miles to go.

I knew there was a road section coming up (which I wasn’t looking forward to with my sore foot) but prepared myself for it. I knew once we’d gone under the A77 there was about 2.5miles to go. I remember taking a photo on the final foot bridge and the end was in sight.

All this helps and wherever possible I think it’s really important to recce the route before a race, especially if I want to do myself justice, time wise.

I carried Tim’s maps with me but didn’t need to use them so at Catrine I gave them to Marco.

I find it really interesting to see how much I slow down during a race. If I slow down too much does that mean I should have started slower and slowed down less? Would I be faster by adopting a slower start? Or should I accept the fact that I will slow down so go as hard as I can for as long as I can as a certain Stuart Mills advocates?

Here is a graph of my overall average pace at 5mile intervals through the race ….

There was a sharp decrease in pace from 10miles to 15miles and then it stayed constant for 20miles before slowling down over the last 5miles.

Here is my breakdown for each of the 10mile splits

0-10miles in 1hr 28mins (8.48pace)
10-20miles in 1hr 35mins (9.30pace)
20-30miles in 1hr 40mins (10.00pace)
30-40miles in 1hr 48mins (10.48pace)

As expected each 10mile section is slower than the one before. But if you look at Debs’ splits they would be the same except the final one when she ran it 9mins faster than me. So Debs’ final split would be 1hr 39mins at 9.54pace. So she was able to maintain that pace longer.

I think the majority of that is down to fitness. Debs is in better shape than me and so could keep her pace under 10mins miles whereas I was having to take some walking breaks thus took longer for that final 10miles.

Having said all that though I was very pleased to be able to run the first 30 odd miles as well as I did but it didn’t surprise me that I was finding the final 10miles hard. That was the longest I’ve run since the whw race in June.

So more to think about as I plan further races. What is the best way to run an ultra? To be able to run the last 10miles or so strongly you have to train and be in good shape plus have that discipline not to get pulled along too quickly at the start. I lost a minute a mile to Debs over that t last 10miles because I wasn’t as fit and strong.

I find in a race of this length and time food is not such a big deal. As long as I’m eating something and drinking enough I feel I have enough energy to keep going. In this race I drank plenty of water - probably about 500ml every couple of hours. Plus I ate 2 bananas, some energy sweets, an elevens bar, a flapjack, 3 glucose tablets and an orange. I also took 2 succeed tablets.

I ran in my Asics road shoes and they were fine though I did notice that my little toes were sore at the end so maybe there is not as much room around my toes as my inov-8’s.

I ran with my normal combination of bum bag and water bottle. At one point Marco mentioned that I had blood on my back. It seems that my bum bag was rubing and caused some irritation. It didn’t hurt but something I’ll keep an eye on and change if necessary.

One thing I experimented with was sedning some updates on the run. I sent a text to twitter at 10, 20 and 30miles. It was fun to get some texts back from friends who had read them. It didn’t take me long as I’d saved the most part of it as a draft and just filled in the numbers.

I also took some photos but decided against doing some video clips as I felt I would have lost too much time.

As I look back on the race I’m really happy to have finished it and it was a real bonus to run in the time I did. I will definitely be back and reckon with an injury free run I could go under 6hrs 30mins which will be a good target to aim for!

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4 Responses to Lessons learnt from RAW Race

  1. Johann says:

    Love your first 20 miles view! This is a great post and a good review of race details. Learning from experience can only be beneficial.

  2. Great to read your blog John. Good to know that the seasoned runners are still learning as they go as well as us novices!

  3. Thanks for all the nice comments, JK.

    You've had a really tough year, but you've still kicked off your boxes. You've got amazing drive and strength. Go back to what works best for you and I'll be posting pictures of your back 🙂

    Enjoy the stag.

  4. Mark C says:

    I couldn't agree more about recce'ing at least the second half of the race routes. This is the first race(ultra) were i haven't done this, and a wrong turn cost me time and places. lesson learnt! For this race i went back to a heart rate limit and it worked very well. far more relaxed. I tried to run the Speyside as a race with paces in mind but crashed and burned in the last 5 miles, in that last few miles 'beating myself' up per say watching the average pace for the the 3rd quarter of the race and average pace the whole race slip drastically. Mark C

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