Sometimes you have those moments in life where everything slots into place and for a short while it feels like the puzzle is complete. The last 7 days have been precisely one of those moments and I’m going to keep surfing the wave for as long as a I can so make no apologies if this post is very happy and positive!
Broadway marathon 2016 goal achieved
Last week was my last week working for a company I’d worked for since graduating 11 years ago. I’ve taken voluntary redundancy and been job searching for the past month which I can confirm is exhausting when you have a family and a day job to keep going too. But last Tuesday I was offered a new job that is just perfect, no commute and a really good role that will challenge me. Already a great week hen on Sunday I took on the Broadway marathon 2016, a final goal race for the year and one where I’d racked up more miles than ever training for. My goal was sub 4 hours and a top 10 finish and I smashed it finishing in 3:53:49 for 5th place. I’ve never been in the top 20 of a race before let alone the top 5, so bloody happy.
When you find yourself thigh deep in a bog in the Brecon Beacons at 8pm on a Saturday night you do have to question your sanity. Especially when you’ve voluntarily ended up there and are doing it for ‘fun’. Although in a strange, slightly sadistic kind of way it actually was fun, I may even have laughed as I tried to climb out of the bog and find some ground that was a bit more solid.
The reason I found myself in this situation was the Sleepwalker night race, quite a low key event with about 45 entrants that starts and finishes in the small village of Talybont on Usk with just the 20 miles and 744m of ascent in between. As the name suggests it’s run at night with the start at 6pm, I’m told the route has some beautiful views but all I saw was the 2 metres of mud and water in front of me lit up by my head torch. That was of course when I wasn’t trying to keep the driving rain out of my eyes or shelter from the 40mph winds. This really wasn’t a race for the faint hearted and I’ll be honest I was glad I was running it with my brother and not completely solo.
It’s taken me a few days to recover and reflect on the Race to the Stones and my perspective has evolved over the last 5 days with it. My first reaction on finishing was pure relief, relief to have finished and be able to stop and sit down. But this then changed to disappointment at not being anywhere my time goals and not performing as I’d expected. Now however I am happy and I’m proud, the time might not have been what I hoped but I finished. I ran 100km which is quite honestly a bloody long way and it’s easy to forget that achievement and get caught up in time comparisons.
A year ago I hadn’t run more than a half marathon, now I’ve finished 2 marathons and 2 ultra marathons not to mention crossing Scotland in a day on bike and foot. I think these moments of reflection are important to our development as runners, the chance to enjoy the achievement and also think about what could be improved before you start focusing on the next goal.
If I didn’t have the GPS tracking to prove it I’m not sure I’d believe that I ran 40 miles on Saturday but I did and I finished the Ridgeway 40 in 6 hours and 45 minutes. I was very calm and relaxed before this race but even so I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to do it. When you spend most weeks listening to ultra running and marathon running podcasts plus following some elite ultra runners on Twitter you can get quite casual in talking about ultra running. Yet no matter if Killian Journet is knocking out these distances on a regular basis or David Johnston is running 350 miles in Alaska virtually without sleeping 40 miles is still a bloody long way. It’s also 14 miles longer than I’ve ever run before.
So right now as I sit here and write this I’m going to remain a little bit proud of myself and enjoy the look on people’s faces as I tell them how far I ran. I also feel surprisingly ok today, sure I’m stiff but no more than after a marathon and the worst ache is actually the front of my left ankle which I’m told is linked to a tight planta fascia. I’m also in that post race period where the true pain of running it is forgotten and I’m looking back with the rose tinted glasses of success.
But it was definitely a tough day at the office; I loved the casual start with no big countdown or even fixed start time, just collect your card from the officials and get going when you’re ready. As the event is organised as a long distance walk those people running it are advised to start a bit later so that the checkpoints are all open. The first 3 miles or so is a long gradual hill, nothing too difficult but with fresh legs I focused on not getting too carried away with pace. Besides there was 100 or so walkers to weave past first before emerging into the open trail beyond them.
I passed a few other runners in the first 5 miles and then latched onto 2 guys who were running around the same pace as me and had a good chat as we ran along what are my home trails. Barbury castle was about mile 6 and you can see my house a mile or so down the valley, quite odd passing so close and knowing I was heading 30 miles away to the finish. I decided to push on from there on some of the downhills and try to keep my pace close to 8min 30 sec miles in the early stages and passed a few more runners. Got to make the home turf advantage pay haven’t you?
At checkpoint 1 I was the 4th person in and on the hike up the steep hill out of the checkpoint could see the first 3 guys ahead of me. By checkpoint 2 at mile 15 I was in 1st place which is unknown territory for me but actually quite nice as I like running without the pressure of other runners around. I was also pretty darn hot at this point with the weather a lot warmer than expected and none of the forecasted rain anywhere to be seen.
The four faces of an ultra
I ran probably the next 10 miles on my own at the front until 2 guys passed me around mile 27 at which point I was having a low point. Struggling a little with the heat and feeling my legs going meant walking hills rather than running them. But I was determined not to wimp out and walk lots so made an effort to restrict the walking periods to just steep hills. As it turned out it actually felt more comfortable running at 10 minute miles than trying to walk strangely. There were a couple of long flattish sections which were particularly tough when you can see exactly how far you have to run and it seems to take an eternity to get there. They also coincided with a change in the weather with the clear blue skies replacing by cold driving rain and a big drop in temperature.
I took a quick stop to put a long sleeve layer on and also my buff around my ears as driving rain and 30 mph gusts of wind was quickly cooling me down. I also made sure to up the food intake a little as I headed into the final quarter of the race. Nutrition actually went really well for the whole race, I topped up with water a couple of times at checkpoints but otherwise ignored the food and drinks on offer preferring to stick to the chia gels and flapjacks I’d brought with me. I’ll do a full review at a later point but I’m now a huge fan of the Chia Charge flapjacks, so tasty and easy to digest on the move. Perfect for this sort of race and I prefer having some real food rather than energy bars or gels.
Mentally I felt a lot better once the miles started with a 3 and knowing that I was now counting down in single figures to the finish. Although it’s amazing how long the final 2 miles feel isn’t it? Desperately hoping for a sign that you’re almost there and constantly watching the numbers tick over on your watch. There was a long descent down to Goring for the finish which I don’t think my quads appreciated before a final 2 miles on tarmac where surprisingly I was able to knock out some low 8 min miles.
Then it was over, 6 hours 45 minutes of running culminating in being given a certificate in a village hall followed by a free cup of tea. Sure it may not have the glitz of many ultra races these days with a tannoy at the finish line calling out your name before you’re handed a big shiny medal but it is a great event and awesome value for money.
The checkpoints were great with a fine selection of cakes, fruit, tea and coffee if you wanted them and some lovely middle aged folk telling you how well you were doing. I also like the non competitive nature of it, covering the distance simply because you want to rather than focusing on times or places. Plus at £10 I’m not sure you can get a better value race can you?
Tomorrow I’m going to attempt to run 40 miles, a full 14 miles than I’ve ever run before and yet I feel strangely relaxed about it. Even though I’m running it in shoes I bought this week and with a knee that has been aching all week I still feel confident. Maybe it’s the fact that the first 20 miles is on a trail that I run on 5 days a week, taking away the unknown factor makes a huge difference doesn’t it? It might also be the lack of hype, the build up to Taunton marathon was quite intense with so many other spring marathons happening Twitter was buzzing with people talking about it. This time it feels like it’s only me racing this weekend.
The main reason for choosing this race was to do an ultra to bridge the gap between a marathon and then the 100km of the Race to the Stones. With the added bonus that it’s also on the Ridgeway like the Race to the Stones so is the perfect preparation and practise. Although I’m not sure if I prefer the wet and windy weather that tomorrow is promising or the 30 degree heat that last years Race to the Stones was run in.
In my mind running 40 miles is going to be ok, not easy clearly, but achievable. I’d like to do it in under 6 hours which means doing 9 minute miles, a minute slower than I ran my last marathon so as long as I pace it right from the start I think I can do it. Either way I like going into this race not having a time target or even many other runners to run with (it’s organised as a long distance walk). Means I can just enjoy being out on the trails and the beautiful English countryside. It’s also quite nice that there isn’t a fixed start time, you turn up from 7.45am and just, well, start. No big countdown or nervous waiting, just hit the trails when you’re ready and off you go.
However despite being relaxed and reasonably confident it did freak me out a little plotting the route on an OS map and realising the race is longer than the width of the map! Just have to keep telling myself it’s one foot in front of the other, nothing more.
Parenthood is the perfect training for ultra running