Lessons learnt from UT100k race

This lunchtime I went for my first run since Saturday’s race. I have been so pleased with the way my feet and legs have recovered from the race. Last night Katrina and I went for a walk and we were both encouraged with how we are feeling.

I ran 5.40miles and kept my heart rate below 130. I had to hold myself back a few times as I was itching to go a bit faster. I’ve learnt the hard way though about pushing too quickly after a long race so I try to be really disciplined and make sure the first 2-3 runs are really comfortable.

I think it is a really good idea to write down what I’ve learnt after an ultra race as we are always learning and relearning. Experts say that you learn more from the ones that go wrong and I certainly agree with that. Saturday’s race went as well, maybe even better, than I had hoped for so it may be harder to learn lessons but I’m keen to try!

This was my third ultra this year after the Highland Fling in April and West Highland Way Race in June. All three races have gone well this year and my confidence and enjoyment of running ultra races has been restored. After the struggle over the last 15miles of both the whw in 2011 and Lakeland 100 in 2012 I have loved the feeling of finishing races strongly this year with a big smile on my face!

So as I ran this afternoon I tried to think about what went right in the UT100k race on Saturday. In no particular order:-

# Physical Training
I had an easy month in July after the whw while we were on holiday in Indonesia. Then there was 8 weeks to build up to the race. I had 6 weeks of good consistent training running 5 times a week and then a 2 taper week of 2-3 easy runs a week.

In the 6 weeks I did a lot of hill work including 5 Munros in a day with Paul Brown, 4 trips up and down Ben Lomond with Jonny and a 25mile out and back with Katrina, Jonny and Frances which included Conic Hill twice.

The other key aspect was back to back runs at the weekend, normally 11miles on Saturday and 16-18miles on Sunday. I’ve been doing that all year and I really feel I’ve benefitted from it.

The other two runs were easy road runs but making sure I ran them with a HR under 130. This stopped me from pushing the easy runs too hard.

So I was really happy with my physical preparation. My quads felt good and were ready to be able to run the downhills on the second half of the course. Plus another big bonus is that I didn’t have an injury concerns.

# Mental Preparation
I’ve always thought that how you approach ultras mentally goes a long way to determining your outcome but it was emphasised when I listened to Stuart Mills being interviewed on The Great British Ultra Podcast recently. Stuart was talking about his preparation for the L100 which he won and said if we say that running ultras is at least 50% mental then we ought to spend as long on the mental side as the physical.

So in the weeks before the race I spent time thinking about the race (often while I was running so multi-tasking!), looking over the route, working out my split times, planning my nutrition, etc, etc

The main thing though was my total commitment to the race and the fact that my main aim was to enjoy it. Yes I wanted to go as fast as I could but it was more important to me to be able to finish strongly as I’d done in the whw race.

I only like to do 3-4 ultras a year so I can really focus on each and every one and do my very best. In years to come I may change that but at the moment I prefer quality to quantity. I love all the preparation, both physical and mentally getting ready for the challenge ahead.

So by the time I reached the start line I was a man on a mission as Andy Cole described me in his race report!

# Taper
During my 2 week I did have moments of doubt that I was losing the fitness that I’d gained but I had to trust I’d done the work and having a couple of easy weeks would mean that I got to the start line as fresh as possible.

I do feel that was the way it worked. I felt slightly undercooked which is far better than overcooked!  I was definitely ready to run and run I did!

# Gear
Over the 8 weeks before the race I ran with my full pack for all my longer runs and it really paid off. Everything I wore and carried was tried and tested and worked well.  The North Face Enduro Pack was very comfy and I never even thought about it which is a good sign.

The combination of Drymax socks and Hoka Mafate’s worked a treat.  I had no issues with my feet despite getting wet a number of times.  The only leg that the Hoka’s weren’t great for was the section towards Watendlath on the wet, boggy ground.  Everywhere else though suited them and they were great, especially the rocky descents.

# Pacing
I was very keen to start really comfortably, keeping my heart rate below 130 and then take it from there.  I didn’t really look at my heart rate over the first 90mins as I was chatting to folk but looking at the figures after the race it was 126.

From then on I basically tried to run as much as I could on the flats and downhills and walkk hard on the uphills.

Looking at my positions at each checkpoint is really encouraging.  Here are my positions on the 10 checkpoints …. 87, 49, 43, 30, 30, 27, 24, 21, 20 and finally 18.

I get a lot of energy from working through the field like this. I know others (Stuart Mills!) love to go off as hard as they can for as long as they can but I prefer to pace it as evenly as possible. Obviously I’m going to slow down over the second half especially when the course is harder like this one but if I can slow down less than others I will be catching them.

I did have some splits to get me around in under 15hrs but it didn’t worry me when I fell behind them because I knew they were based on a lot of guess work especially over the first half of the route that I hadn’t done.

# Dealing with the struggles
I can honestly say I only had one wobble. It was after about 45miles (10hrs 15mins) as I went past Rosthwaite.  Katie, who I’d been running with, left me and I couldn’t respond.  For the next 40mins or so I had to dig a bit deeper, regroup and get going again.

I ate some jelly babies, drank some coke and generally tried to refocus and get back on track.  I think it helped when Dudley caught me and we walked/ran together. It got me going again and even though he went ahead I caught him on the Stake Pass and from then on didn’t look back.

So I got through my struggle and was able to finish the final 12miles or so really strongly.

# Nutrition
A big factor in these races is getting just the right amount of food on board. Too little and you can run out of energy, too much and you feel bloated and can have stomach issues.

I felt I got it just about right in this race. Cara reminded me before the race to make sure I ate regularly over the first third of the race so I made sure I did.  From Patterdale onwards I relied more on Coke. I was so glad I put in an extra bottle so I could have water in one and coke in the other.

Here is a list of what I ate and drank …
3 bananas
4 pieces of flapjack
1 bacon sandwich
2 cups of soup
3 tuna sandwiches
15 jelly babies
2 packs of clif shot bloks
Handful of youghat coated raisins

approx 5l of water
approx 3l of coke

Plus 8 succeed tablets

# Race Focus
Finally I reckon one of the reasons I had such a good race was I stayed in the moment and enjoyed each and every step. The views were superb and the people I ran with were great company.

The marshals and spectators were so positive as well which really lifts your spirits. I tried to high 5 as many as I could as I really feel I get some positive vibes from that. My favourite was a family near Patterdale. A little boy was clapping the runners through so I gave him a high 5 and it was great seeing the big smile on his face.

I plan to reread this before my next race and hopefully I won’t forget the lessons and what helped me enjoy the race so much!

Graham Patton, Race Director, has posted a video which gives yuo a great feel for the race ….

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2 Responses to Lessons learnt from UT100k race

  1. Well done John, not only did you put away some text book preparation and the race obviously went run too. What comes across is that the dedication to run well is really rewarding both in terms of results and enjoyment of the training and racing.

    One thing I can't believe is that you've already done three blog posts since finishing the race. I haven't even download my pics yet!

    One area in today's post you touch upon but don't go into speculating why, obviously this year training and racing all went well, but in the previous years it seemed training went well too, but the racing just didn't come off.

    Do you have any ideas what mistakes you might have made in 2011 and 2012?

    Oh, from a analysis point of view, do you have record of your HR during your ultra races? Average HR and the profile are of interest.

  2. Well done on the UT John! Really interested reading between this & your race report. Find your approach inspiring and planning to cut back on the racing myself next year in a bid for more quality over quantity. Great work 🙂

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