I always find it helpful to reflect on what I’ve learnt after an ultra race and I have a feeling I’ve learnt a lot from this one!
Firstly though I’d like to thank everyone who has left a comment or spoken to me. The whw family is very special and I love the fact that everyone is keen to encourage everyone else.
For the first time ever I had over 1,000 hits in a single day on Monday as people read my race report. It just goes to show how popular this race is and whether you are a runner, marshall, supporter or ‘lurker’ we can’t get enough.
There are a number of race reports being posted now and I’m sure I’m not alone in loving reading each and every one. I wish everyone would write down their story as everyone’s race has its own ups and downs and we can all learn from each other.
Anyway on to the subject of this post.
I set off at 1am on Saturday 18th June with a sub 21hr plan. I felt that was a challenging yet reasonable target given my training, experience and commitment. In the back of my mind was the thought that if everything went really well then sub20hr might be possible.
But also in my back of my mind was the thought that things weren’t quite right and I wasn’t convinced that I was going to be able to keep the pace going right through 95miles. I knew the schedule to run sub21hrs didn’t leave much room for any struggles.
I finished in 27hrs 36mins 00secs … a good 7hrs longer than I’d hoped or planned. I can also honestly say that I didn’t really enjoy the race at all.
The first 6-7hrs were okay but once I was past Inversnaid and started to slip behind my sub21 plan it just got harder and harder.
Obviously I’m proud of the fact that I ground it out and finished and have my 5th goblet but this is my hobby and I want to enjoy it!
I know Ultras aren’t meant to be easy and I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of pushing myself and achieving goals I’ve set myself. Pain is part of the process but this felt very different. For 20hrs I was just keeping it going running (shuffling) when I could and walking the rest.
I’ve been asked a few times what went wrong. Was it the shoes? food? pace? mental attitude? age? weather? training?
To be honest I’m really not sure. Maybe it was just one of those days. Maybe it was a combination of the above.
So here are some thoughts about what I’ve learnt …..
# Unrealistic expectations?
In each of my first three whw races I improved. 2007 – 22hrs 45mins 10secs to 2008 – 19hrs 59mins 33secs to 2009 – 19hrs 51mins 59secs.
In 2010 I decided to do things differently to see if that would help me to go faster. It didn’t and I finished in 22hrs 15mins 10secs.
I decided this year that I would give it one more go at breaking 20hrs again. I went back to what worked in 2009 and basically repeated the training.
I made the whw race my main focus and trained accordingly. I have hardly missed a single planned session. I’ve done all my long runs in very similar times to 2009 and if anything felt fitter and faster than 2009.
But mentally I knew things weren’t quite the same. In 2009 I was so positive and on top of every run and expected to break 20hrs. I knew I could do it and did.
This year I’ve spent the year trying to convince myself I could do it. But deep down I knew it wasn’t quite there.
I find it hard to put down in words and maybe it’s only a slight difference in attitude but it has been different.
Maybe I should have been more honest with myself and set off with a more realistic sub 22hr or sub 23hr plan but it was hard to do that when I felt capable of running faster.
So I set off with a sub 21hr plan and decided to see how long I could keep it going. To Inversnaid was the answer! After that as I slipped further and further off the pace, as more and more people went past me it became a mental challenge to keep going.
It was very similar to the Fling and silmilar to last year’s whw race. Maybe I need to accept my days of running sub 20hrs are gone and I need to readjust my expectations.
One of my givens is not to try anything in a race that I’ve not tried and tested in long training runs.
After the Fling I realised that my inov-8 Rociltes were so badly worn on the heels that they were useless.
So I bought a new pair of shoes knowing I had 7 weeks to run them in and be happy with them. I decided to try a different shoe – Saucony Peregrine. They had a more durable sole and were quite light.
I really enjoyed running in them and ran over 130 miles including the whole of the whw in three runs.
Then 6 days before the race I discovered a one inch hole on the outside of each shoe. I took them back to the shop who kindly gave me a full refund.
But now I had to run in a new pair. I’d lost confidence in the Saucony so decided to go for a pair of Salomon’s. They felt a bit heavier but with a nice wide fitting felt comfortable.
I only had one 6mile run in them before the race. Not ideal. It’s hard to know how much of a factor they were. I did end up with some blisters but I’ll come on to that.
I changed them at Bridge of Orchy for my road shoes but more out of wanting to just try something different.
So I’m not blaming the shoes as that would be too easy! But I think it didn’t help my mental attitude knowing that they were untested.
Peter Duggan has told me in no uncertain terms that I should have more than one pair of shoes on the go at one time. That makes perfect sense and I will be putting that into practice.
In my first whw race I really suffered with blisters. The following year I noticed that Hugh Kerr plastered his feet with Sudocrem before a run and said it really helped.
So since then I do the same … but only around my toes. I’ve hardly suffered from blisters since and have become a bit blaise about it.
I did my normal practice of sudocrem around the toes, a thin pair of cotton ankle socks next to my skin and a thicker pair of socks on top.
I didn’t do anything about my feet until Bridge of Orchy when I changed shoes and put on a dry pair of socks.
Looking back this was a big mistake. I’ve read others reports and chatted to friends who said they changed socks and shoes regularly making sure they kept their feet as dry as possible.
I didn’t do that and suffered as a result. I just didn’t take into account how wet the track was and what damage it was doing to my feet.
But I don’t think new shoes or blisters were the reason for my struggles. Certainly it made the last 35miles a lot harder but my problems started well before that.
This year I’ve worked a lot harder on my food with my friend Cara. I didn’t have any stomach problems and ate all I planned to.
I took in enough calories that should have keep me going. The idea of splitting the race into thirds with different food for each third worked well and meant I was always looking forward to something new.
Cara commented afterwards that we never had a plan for 27hrs of running!
I also took a succeed tablet every 1.5hrs and drank enough water. My pee was a light enough to indicate I wasn’t dehydrated.
Once again I realised how important a good support team is.
Katrina and Laura met me at Balmaha. They were willing to go to Rowardennan but I was happy with drop bags at Rowardennan, Inversnaid and Beinglas Farm. It meant that they could head home at 4.30am and get some rest before Katrina headed back up again in the afternoon.
Stevie and David met me at Auchtertyre. This meant that they were fresh for the second half of the race. In the end David had to leave at Glencoe and Katrina took over.
All four were brilliant and helped me get to the end. Stevie ran with me from Glencoe to Kinlochleven and Katrina walked with me from Kinlochleven to Fort William.
Stevie, once he’d pitched the tent, got a lift to Lundavra and ran back to meet us so all three of us walked the last 9miles or so together.
I honestly don’t think I would have made it without them. Or if I did I would have been another hour or two!
So I’m still uncertain as to what went wrong and why I struggled as much as I did.
Last year I went through a tough patch between Auchtertryre and Bridge of Orchy but was able to get going again from Glencoe onwards. This year even that second wind just didn’t come.
So what now? For the first time I’ve not mentally signed up for next year. I’ll come back to this question in a further post.
It’s now Thursday and my feet and legs feel a lot better. I’m sure I could run but I’ve decided to have at least 10days off maybe even a full two weeks!
My friend Chris pointed out that while I might be able to run my whole body needs a rest and I’ll be susceptible to any virus going round.
Thanks again for your support. If anyone has any theories as to why it didn’t work out feel free to comment!