Sunday, May 6, 2018

A new hope!

A new hope... and another marathon signup!



London = done! An amazing experience and one I will never forget. I loved the race and loved the experience. However, I didn't get the time that I wanted and, by mile 6 (when I realised that sub -3 was off the cards), I was already planning which cold and flat marathon I'd like to do in the Autumn!  

On reflection, I think Autumn marathons suit me better. It's easier and nicer to get out and train in the light and in the sun. Plus, being a teacher, I have the huge bonus of the summer holidays. 6 weeks where I can train like a full time athlete! Out of the 5 marathons I have ran, the two best performances have come in the autumn after a summer of excellent build up. Hopefully the pattern can continue...

Within a week of finishing London and signing off another campaign (5 marathons ran to date), I started looking ahead to the future autumn marathon fixtures. John and I have already entered the Snowdonia marathon but that race is going to be more about the challenge than the time. Ideally I was looking for a marathon 3 -4 weeks before Snowdon so I could recover in time to still give Snowdon a good crack. A few options: Abingdon = too close to Snowdon, Bournmouth = too hilly and possibly too hot? Frankfurt = too close to Snowdon... and then I came across Chester!

After extensive review and  internet conversations with various forum groups, it became apparent that Chester is the best possible option for me this year. Despite the course profile looking pretty flat, I have heard that it's slightly undulating. This, for once, doesn't bother me too much as I will be doing lots of hill training over the summer anyway to get ready for Snowdonia. 

I'm planning on doing an intensive 10 week block of training for Chester which will start on day 1 of my summer holidays. 

I entered the Chester marathon the other day and was delighted to receive an email saying that 
I qualify for the elite start!  

With a couple of months until I start marathon training again, I've been thinking carefully about what challenges to embark upon. I've decided to do a few months focusing on 10ks. With lots of interval speed sessions and shorter runs, I'm looking forward to a change of pace and some different training sessions. My first 10k is this coming weekend - the Bristol 10k. 

Having just received that very exciting email from Chester, I then got a similar one from Bristol saying that I've qualified for the elite start in this race too! Really excited - my first race as an 'elite!'  Although now I'm feeling the pressure to produce an impressive performance. 


Bristol 10k is going to be my B race - a test to see how I've recovered after London and how much work I need to do before my A race - Clevedon 10k in June. My main goal is to get sub 38 at Clevedon so for Bristol, I'm going to go out at 6:05 pace and see how long I can 'hang on' for - worst case scenario I bank a good speedwork session in prep for Clevedon!

My other main aim for the next few months is to get my foot fully recovered from the plantar fasciitis that I've been suffering from for a number of weeks now. It's definitely getting better but not going away at the moment. I'm hoping that running less miles, alongside lots of physio, continued golf ball rolling, yoga and icing will sort it before marathon training starts again. I'm hoping that I don't have to stop running completely for it to go...however I am prepared to do that. I've mentally blocked out the first three weeks of July whereby, if my foot isn't healed, I'm going to stop all running during those weeks and see if that will get rid of it! 

Similar to Kelly - London was a great experience for me but another marathon where I didn't get the time I wanted. Not to worry, there's bound to be a new race to focus on soon... How about the following Saturday?

For those who didn't know, I turned 30 this year. This milestone prompted me to set myself some challenges, one being; to run 30 races at 30

Within these 30 races are a few stand outs: London Marathon, Ring of Fire and the Cotswold Way 100. London was a standout for obvious reasons; I love marathons and London is as big as it gets for us Brits. The other two races are new to me, slightly different and definitely challenging. The Ring of Fire is a multi-day 150+ mile coastal run around the Isle of Anglesey (all of it!) and the Cotswold Way 100 is what it says on the tin, it's a race running the whole length of the Cotswold Way (100 miles) as quickly as possible.

The purpose of signing up to all of these races, other than to challenge myself throughout this landmark year, is to try and qualify for UTMB. The UTMB is the mecca for all ultra running trail enthusiasts. Every year, 2000 runners line up in Chamonix to try and complete a 100+mile race with 26k+ feet of climb across the French and Swiss alps. To be one of the lucky runners on the start line, you need to qualify. Completing RoF, CW100 and another race will allow me the necessary criteria to qualify for this bucket list regular epic adventure.

The week after London, I set out to run and complete - the other race. At the end of last year, I signed up to the Butcombe Trail Ultra as soon as they released the news that the race was going to be a UTMB qualifying race. Qualifying criteria, less than an hour away from home and it follows a trail sponsored by my favourite beer - awesome. (Not only does this race act as a UTMB qualifier but also as qualification to enter the CW100 later in the year.) One thing I didn't consider and ignored up until after London - was how close to London it was. With the UTMB being 100+ miles across difficult mountainous alpine terrain, the qualification isn't exactly easy going. The Butcombe Trail Ultra is 50 miles across the Somerset Mendips with 7k+ feet of climb - ouchie! 

So the race starts just 6 days after London and I'm shivering away on the start line with fellow clubmates Maestro (who is also running CW100), Gary and Cat (both are running RoF and looking to qualify for UTMB.) I've done no specific training at all, the last 10+ weeks have all been on pancake flat pavement with the exception of one muddy half marathon back in January -  How am I gonna get through 50 miles?!? 

I've ran ultras before (Green Man for example) so I did know what to expect, I just wasn't sure if my body was ready for it, what with the lack of specific training and the marathon just 6 days before (Have I mentioned that yet?) These issues aside we started the race with a steady uphill walk - lovely. Maestro and I started the race together and stayed together throughout (nearly all...) of the race. We were chatting away nicely and agreed if we just walked the rest of the race we'd qualify for the CW100 later in the year but probably wouldn't be finished in time for tea - so we started to run. 

The first third of the race was testing but fun. After the steady start, the body was warmed up and I was enjoying the scenery and the company. We saw Kelly and club mate Jenny at all the aid stations along the way which was great as it gave us something to focus on in between each aid station and it meant also that we always had spare kit to hand and extra food and drink should we need it. 

The second third of the race we are through the marathon distance of 26.2 miles and it's gone lunch time. The aid stations where we were stopping to see KD and fuel up on crisps and water were located at Butcombe pubs - we now added beer to the menu! We were plodding along at a comfortable pace in reasonably good conditions, through lovely countryside and getting drunk - bliss! It's at this point that we start to look at our running watches and review the day so far, considering current pace and possible finish times. Things were going really well and we decided to stick together and aim to try and finish the race - 50 miles - in just under 10 hours.

The last third of the race - the challenge begins. We got through 30 miles feeling pretty strong, walking the uphills but running a good pace along the flat and down hills. We got to 40-something miles and came across one of the most discussing inclines I've every faced. Steep, muddy, technical, long - gross. This really set us back and we were starting to struggle. This part of the race had a 10 mile gap between aid stations so no short reprieve to stock up on calories and beer. We were on our own but luckily I had a stash! Races of this distance require you to carry mandatory kit, this includes food. I always carry a Mars bar which Kelly gave me a couple of years ago for when I ran the Green Man 30 and I always carry a bar of Kendle Mint Cake which my mum gave me a few years back also. I won't be carrying them in the future. They are gone! Once over the aforementioned disgusting hill, we were on the home straight, just a mile-or-so from the final aid station and only 5 miles from the finish. I inhaled the Mars bar and shared the Kendle Mint Cake with the Maestro. Full steam ahead - revitalised. One last beer and check in at the final aid station and I'm feeling great. The ultra so far has been a day of ups and downs - terrain and feeling. I now feel like I'm just getting started. I checked with the Maestro that we were defo on for Sub10 hours and that he was OK for me to push on -  he gave me the thumbs up and off I went. 

I stormed off and was catching up with runners and over taking them. First off was club mate Gary who I'd been swapping positions with the last few hours, next up was third lady and then another chap who I didn't have time to chat to - cus I was in the zone! A last photo opportunity from the photographer who we'd seen at various points throughout the day and I know at this point I only had a couple of miles to go...

This paragraph should read: I flew down the hill into the finish line to the glory of finishing strong and beating my mates, it doesn't. Being so close to home and with the race being so well marshaled and signposted I decided not to consult with the map on my watch properly, rookie mistake. I got my head down and just ran as quickly as I could, running right and up the hill... ( I should have gone left!) a couple of miles later I was counting down the seconds to where I thought the finish line was, I was really excited to have had this surge of energy and to finish ahead of Gary and the Maestro but also looking forward to being able to stop running and sit down. Another mile passed and I'd ran 51 for the day... something's not right? Nah - it's fine - the course is long and in these sort of races you inevitably do a lot of weaving and GPS isn't too reliable over longer runs. Another half mile passes and I come away from the trail and the footpath - I'm in Cheddar... I should be running through the finish line at the Cider Barn... in Draycott.. a couple miles up the road! This is CLASSIC JOHN; I didn't finish Boston, I got too hot again at London and now I've over run my first ever 50 miles race in the last couple of miles! I stopped and asked someone which way I needed to run to get to the Cider Barn - the person I spoke to had no idea and said "at least a couple of miles that way" - reaffirming - I was lost. I got my phone out and Google-mapped my way to the finish. 1.5 miles at pace along the main road, I finished. 53 miles in 10hours and 10 minutes - 27th place and comfortably beaten by Gary and the Maestro.

My initial reaction upon finishing was to be very angry with myself - I'd thrown away some precious and rare glory. This lasted all of 10 seconds. I was greeted with a massive hug and a well done from Kelly and a pair of happy (not cruel) grins from the Maestro and Gary. Also - with news that club mate Cat had won - she was first lady! 

I quickly reflect: A week after London, a great day out with your mates, great views and plenty of grub and beer - on top of it all you've qualified for the Cotswold Way 100 and you're on your way to qualifying for UTMB - another story to look back on and plenty of feed for the gang when they feel the need to bring up all the Classic John-isms... 

GBRM & The Maestro

The next day the Maestro, Gary and I all signed up to the Cotswold Way 100. Since starting running properly in 2014 and falling in love with off road running, reading Dean Karnazes books and Kilian Jornet I've always wanted to run a 100 mile race. This year seems like the perfect opportunity.

I hope you like our website, with the success of our previous joint blogging we thought this was the next step. Follow our progress and mistakes (probably just me!) over the next few months whilst Kelly does some speed work and I do some more crazy distances.

Some links...

A video showing what UTMB is...

From a long distance marvel to a slightly shorter one, 64 years since Roger Bannister ran a Sub4 minute mile...