Lessons learnt from the whw race

Tonight I went for an easy run with Katrina and her friend Tracey. This is a weekly run for them but the first time I’ve joined them. I thought it would make sure I didn’t do anything silly! We did one of my regular 5mile loops.

Tracey asked me how the race went so that covered a few miles!  Poor Katrina must be sick of hearing the same story! It was a lovely evening and my legs felt really good.

One of the things I like to do after an ultra marathon is to write down things I’ve learnt from the race so that I don’t make as many mistakes the next time. As this was my 6th whw race and 23rd ultra overall I hope I’m getting more right than wrong.

So here are some of the things I was really happy with …

# Training
I can honestly say I wouldn’t change anything about my training over the past 5-6months. A few things stand out for me.  Firstly my long runs once a month on the route are the key to my preparation. Secondly running back to back at the weekend has really benefitted me. Thirdly introducing runs up and down Ben Lomond in the last couple of months paid off as my quads were great right to the end.

# Mental Preparation
It’s hard to know which comes first, feeling positive or being physically fit but I know that I went into this race feeling very positive that I was going to have a good run. The Fling and 2 day training run gave me a lot of confidence.  I also spent a lot of time thinking and preparing to be able to run strongly from Kinlochleven. I didn’t want to have to walk in as I did 2 years ago.

# Weight loss
I’ve never really bothered too much about weight but I find as I’m getting older I just don’t need to eat as much and if I do I’ll put weight on easier.  I’ve lost over 1 1/2 stones since Christmas and I really felt it made a massive difference especially in the second half of the race.

# Pacing
I think I was spot on having a sub 22hr plan to follow. I was 8min ahead at Drymen and I was able to take a few minutes off in most sections.  I’ve been looking at the overall splits today and created a spreadsheet to show runners pace from Milngavie to Auchtertyre (50miles) and from Auchterytre to Fort William.

I’m really pleased with that as it shows I was pretty consistent in relation to the field. I was 28th fastest to Auchtertyre which is just over half way and then 23rd fastest over the second ‘half.’

# Gear
I was really happy with all my gear from top to bottom. Head Torch and buff worked well. Chaning my tops worked a treat and kept me dry. Shorts and skins were great and I didn’t change them all race. They dried quickly when I got wet.  My Drymax socks were superb. There were a few times when my feet were wet but within minutes they were dry again and I had no blisters on my toes at all.

I can’t praise my Hokas highly enough. I know they are not everyone’s cup of tea but I love them.  They are just so comfy on the rocky ground.  They made the downhills to Kinlochleven and Fort William so much easier.  Plus I was able to run a lot more on the Lairig Mor than I have in the past.

I’m so glad I decided to run with the ultraspire vest/rucksack. It was so comfy and all the pockets are so easy to access.

# Nutrition
I ate the majority of what I had planned. At a couple of the checkpoints (Balmaha and Rowardennan) I only managed 2/3 of mashed potato and then maybe 1/2 a pot of beans and I didn’t always eat all my ‘on the go food’ but I think I ate something every hour at least.

Katrina’s homemade soup and bread at Auchtertyre was just what I needed and powered me on to Bridge of Orchy.  From there onwards I relied on flat coke and a milkshake and that kept me going to the end.

I also took a succeed tablet every 90mins or so.

# Stops
I pretty well kept to my plan for 3-4min stops. I had a bit longer at Auchterytre but in total I stopped for 40mins which I’m happy with.  I know some runners will stop even less than that but a lot more will stop for longer!

We got a couple of things wrong! I had two water bottles. I smaller 500ml one which I used for the frst 40miles or so and then a larger 800ml one that I planned to take from Beinglas. I think I mentioned it in our planning meeting but I didn’t write it down and because it wasn’t written down it wasn’t brought from the car. So I need to make sure I write all I think I might need. It wasn’t a disaster as I was able to get it at the next stop.

The other thing was I decided I needed a coke at Bridge of Orchy and I again I thought I’d said that at Auchtertyre but it was missed. Again not a diasaster as Katrina and Lesley drove round to Inveroran and met me there with my coke.

# Support Team
David was superb from Milngavie to Balmaha. He had everything ready and got me in and out quickly.  Katrina and Lesley (and daughter Jenny) met me at Beinglas and stayed with me to the end. I really appreciated how supportive and encouraging they were sending me out with positive vibes.

It was clear they were enjoying themselves which makes the runners frame of mind so much better. Katrina ran with me from Kinlochleven and was absolutely superb. We have a run a lot together over the last 2 years and it showed. She knew what to say and when to keep me going right to the end.

We had such a good time that the miles flew by and before we knew it Fort William was in sight.

You may think it was a perfect race reading all this but it wasn’t! I had a real dip in energy from Glencoe for about an 90mins when I struggled to run and thought my sub 22hr goal was slipping away.

I’ve thought quite a bit about what caused it and I’ve come up with a couple of ideas.  To be honest though if you run a race of this length and not have any dips you have done very well indeed.

The first reason I identified is that I maybe pushed it a bit too hard over the final couple of miles into Glencoe. I was going well and so pushed a bit harder than maybe was wise. Katrina and Lesley both mentioned (to each other after I’d gone) that for the first time they thought I was sweating quite a bit and it looked like I’d ran hard.

This meant that it took me the next 5-6 miles to recover and get going again. If I’d been 5mins slower to Glencoe could I have been 20mins faster to Kinlochleven?  Who knows?

The second reason I’ve come up with involves my mind.  I know this may sound strange but it was almost as if my mind decided that in order to finish strong from Kinlochleven, as had been my mental preparation for the last few months, then I needed to slow down a bit now!

It was as if my mind had switched off the flow to my legs and I was forced to walk/shuffle for a while. Then once Kinlochleven was in sight the tap was switched to full and I was ‘allowed’ to go again.  All I do know if that from Kinlochleven it felt as if I’d only been running for 20-25 miles and not 80.

I ran the final section from Kinlochleven to Fort William faster than I did when I broke 20hrs a few years ago.  All that mental preparation paid off!

So lots of lessons to learn and I’ll be taking them into future ultra races.

Finally I wanted to finish with copying part of an email my friend Dave Troman sent me the other day. Dave has followed my running for a number of years and we ran a lot together last year in preparing for the Lakeland 100 so he knows me well.  This is is what he wrote …

Glad you are feeling OK and it’s great to have the super positive and confident John back after missing him for the last two years!! When you were talking about the race, everything was positive, whereas over the last two years it seemed to be that you were looking for reasons as to why things didn’t go the way you planned. Remember this sport is 80% mental and the rest is just in your head!!

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3 Responses to Lessons learnt from the whw race

  1. Thanks for the review of how things worked out.

    With the dip and recovery might your heart monitor record provide another bit of information. It could well be that you worked a bit too hard before your dip and burnt carbs quicker than you were absorbing them.

    I have found that my digestion slows down quite dramatically as intensity goes up, if I stay around 10 beats per minute below my lactate threshold I can still digest light foods, above this my insides begin to complain.

  2. Santababy says:

    great review John, so happy it all went to plan (better than) for you. Have a wonderful time in Indonesia 🙂

  3. Flip says:

    Excellent write up as usual and another excellent run. Well done mate.

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