Dearly beloved runners...
A change from the advertised blog this week due to an overwhelming desire to warn against severe delusions of grandeur. Those used to reading my sermons will appreciate I speak from within and this week's blog is especially from recent personal experience and will hopefully prevent those making similar painful mistakes. On entering a 'baby ultra' some months previous, I had all good intentions to train hard and after recent, fairly successful, races (a first and a second place albeit over short but challenging terrain), I set my goals high... Place top 5? Why not?
The distance was only 34 miles over Dartmoor, my own back yard so to speak. Over such a route, that I had run many times previously, even on a couple of occasions with 35lbs on my back and shod in combat boots! "Really?" came the response. Absolutely. I've run the Bob Graham Round (72 miles in 24 hours in the lakes) twice, the 62 mile Yorkshire Fellsman twice and the UTMB (105 miles in the Alps) in approximately 30 hours! 34 Dartmoor waymarked miles will be a sprint! "Have you trained?" Had you not listened? My running cv is long and distinguished! To my knowledge I am the only fool to run two 20 mile Grizzly circuits back to back! I used to run a 17 mile commute to work and then run back... Anyway, I did train... some. I ran/walked across Dartmoor for 20 miles in the weeks leading up to the race, jogged 16 miles home across the moor and ran my daily commute... once or twice... (two road miles one way). "Don't hurt yourself... please" were the final words as I gathered among lesser mortals at the start of the inaugural PureTrail Crossing!
A tremendous race and event organised by a great couple of guys in Mark Brooks and Steve Skedgell. A perfect cool Saturday morning run across Dartmoor set off at a very sedate pace, so I took up the front position. After less than a mile, the field stretched out and I was accompanied by 3 or 4 others who upon reaching the first climb inched away in front. Okay - happy with that, I thought, I feel great and will come into my own later in the race. Mile 11, in 4th or 5th, and I was flying and feeling complete again as I had of old when running at great speeds in mountainous terrain many years previous. By the halfway point, however, my legs began to complain, and after the longest 4 miles in my long running career, I reached mile 21 in a bad way. The sun was at its highest and hottest; my legs, untrained for such speed over such a distance, throbbed, and the shadow of the former ultra athlete began to fade away. The first 21 miles had taken me 3 hours. The last 13, downhill most of the way, took me the same again and more. I thought about stopping many times in the last 13 miles as I was passed by fresh limbed athletes whose faces I had kicked dust in on the first hill. I stopped sweating, became nauseous and started to feel the effects of the heat and of over exhaustion. I had over cooked myself. Yet the biggest pain was the knife sticking in my rib cage - pride. My last ultra race was back in 2008. What did I expect? I was 8 years older. I had not had a constructive training programme for over five years! Work, deployments over seas, moving house, marriage, kids, mental illness... could all have been to blame. But each of the above were just excuses. What was really to blame was ego. Yep - so I knew I could manage the distance. I also thought I could compete. Completion was a struggle and competition was never a reality. I let arrogance and delusions of past achievements cloud my better judgement. I know how to train for such events and have advised many to do likewise. Age might have been a factor but over such distances this is less of an issue, often older meaning wiser! Not on this occasion. So have I learned a lesson? I hope so. My wife certainly hopes so. Please do as I say and not as I did. Train hard, race easy. If entering a race of any length at any speed, make sure you check you have already trained sufficiently or have the time and inclination to train leading up to the event. Be realistic and manage your own expectations in line with your own abilities. Don't sulk if you fail to meet those expectations. There is probably a reason, such as failing to prepare or setting yourself too high a goal. Sulking not only makes you look ugly, but also diminishes everyone else's achievements. Grow up. Remember why you run. Is it to win? If it is, you have to train and commit to train. If it is to complete, then train for just that regardless of how long it takes you. If it's for fun, then enjoy it whatever your performance. Or why bother? I will leave you with the seven "P"s as a reminder to make sure sure you never have to put up with the battered ego and physical bruises of taking running any race for granted: "Prior Planning and Preparation Prevents Piss Poor Performance" Here endeth the lesson. Note: I finished the race in 14th and will enter again next year. I also plan to train for and enter another Ultra in September 2016 with a view to enjoying and not enduring. Next week: training for your first race!