Sorry, it’s been a while. Hope you’re all well? It’s been over 2 and a half months since my last
confession post, which was after my first ultramarathon at the Stort30. I’ll try and give you the highlights of what’s been happening quickly so we can catch up and get on with the important task, of me boring you with my latest race report from Ranscombe.
After Stort in late October I was a broken man. I fell apart in the final few miles, due to poor pacing and nutrition, and had to slog my way to the end causing a fair bit of damage. Rather than rest and recuperate fully though I thought the best thing to do was to try a new low carb diet… Combining that with a bout of lurgy that stayed with me for 2 weeks (and may well have been a result of the new diet, or pushing so hard at Stort thinking about it) I felt fairly poo for a while. I only ran lightly (and slowly) for most of November and took quite a few days off to let my body recover and adapt to burning fat rather than sugar and/or starch. It was hard work not eating sugar (I even stopped it in my coffee) and all those lovely carbs I usually built my meals around, but my body slowly came around and I got used to it. I even began enjoying salad!
After a month I’d lost nearly a stone (14 pounds for those familiar with imperial units) and my legs and running were back at around the same level as before Stort. I ran a parkrun to test myself out in late November and ran fairly comfortably (and without looking at my watch, 20th century style. Although I still wore it to record for Strava!). I finished just outside 20 minutes for 5k, which is a good time for me, without having to give 100%. Whether it was a benefit of the lost weight, or moving to fat burning, I was feeling better and this continued in December. I allowed myself to run harder and not worry about sticking to MAF Miles (a form of heart rate training I’ve used for a while) all the time and occasionally picked a fast-ish pace and just went with it.
I ran consistently at around 30 miles a week for a few weeks and added in some long runs again of 10, 13, 15 miles etc. Things were back on track and on Christmas Eve I ran a 12 second parkrun PB of 19:23 in windy conditions dressed in (a less than aerodynamic!) Christmas jumper and hat, and also the day after a quick (for me) half marathon training run. I was really pleased with this and rewarded myself with lots of beer and mince pies… for about a week.
But I also used the time off over Christmas to rack up lots of miles and completed a long run of just under 23 miles with a big lap around Medway. That was at under 8 minute mile pace, which would have beaten my current marathon PB time of 3:35 odd by around 7 minutes if I’d have managed to keep going at that pace. I was tempted to, but my hip and knee had been sore for a good hour or so and I was worried about pushing too far and breaking something. I had done the same almost to the day a year ago and I didn’t fancy being unable to run for nearly 2 months again.
…Where am I in this quick recap? Right, yes, so I did that long run which saw me cover 47 miles that week (a record for me). I then followed that up with a few more weeks of consistent running, with some longish runs at the weekend. In the first week of that period Claire and I went to Shorne Woods parkrun for it’s 200th event (we are going to try and run at a different course each month in 2017) and I managed to get on the podium! Well I came third, on a lightly attended day and the winner and second place finisher were a minute and half and 50 seconds in front of me; but still I medalled! (No actual medal was received) I’ve been trying to do that for ages after a couple of 4th place finishes at Great Lines, so I was pleased (probably disproportionately) with my time on what was a muddy and twisty course.
So think that’s all the catching up done (and showing off)… Which gets us to the Ranscombe Winter Challenge which me and Claire had signed up to on the basis of it’s awesome medal and the fun we had at the Spring Edition last year. I had tapered the week before but the rest was slightly undone by the disturbed sleep I endured the night before, with a pitched battle erupting on our road for 10 minutes at midnight (no idea what that was about) and some overhydrated students singing at half 3 in the chuffing morning. So we were both a bit bleary eyed when we slumped out of a our warm bed to face a very cold and dark start at 6:30 on the Saturday.
But by the time we had applied hot water, food (and some caffeine for me) and scrapped the car of its thick frost we were feeling a bit more invigorated. It was only a 15 or so minute drive and we got to Ranscombe Nature Reserve, with the sun still not quite up yet. We were treated then to a glorious sunrise of oranges, pinks and purples on the mile walk from the car to the start area, which meant we were suitably inspired by the time were collected our race numbers and got out kit ready (you can kind of get a sense of it from the blurry picture I took below).
Things were still very frosty and bitterly cold as we milled about waiting for the off. Last time I ran here in April 2016 it started wet, got very wet and ended up saturated (and muddy) as we went round on the 4.4 mile laps. I was just coming back from injury and was lacking fitness, so I settled for 3 laps for a half marathon and an aching knee in 2:14-ish. This time I was looking to complete 6 laps and the full marathon, and at a faster average pace of between 9:30 and 10 minute miles for a time of 4:10/4:20. That’s short of my best time, and the pace I set in my recent long run, but this course has some severe climbs to deal with as well as all the mud, gates and hole punching of lap counters after every loop to contend with so I was trying to be realistic and not push and burn.
With one last kiss for Claire (who bless her was waiting to use the facilities still – I could just nip into the woods!) we gathered on the road leading to the trail proper and were set loose. I really enjoyed my last run here, with the continuing changes in scenery and terrain as you looped around the reserve. The route didn’t disappoint here, and as we trundled round to the first big dip and climb back up the view out across the frosty landscape was fantastic. I tried to maintain a consistent effort and not worry to much about my pace, and made sure that I walked when I needed to on the hillier bits (of which there were plenty) and to be careful on the steep downhill sections to avoid falling over (which I nearly did a couple of times a few laps later).
Once you got through the first 2 miles of the lap the going was fairly flat and then got nice and downhill for a good mile and a half, as you followed the path through the woods to the edge of the reserve and you followed the train line back to race HQ (where you could see HS1 and Eurostar hurtling along). As the laps were fairly short I opted to just have hand bottles and energy bars at the ready, rather than wear a racing pack, so at the end of the lap I picked up the bottle of hydration fluid and opened a SIS bar I had at the ready. I kept that up for the rest of the race and added in some gulps of water at the end of each lap to make sure I was hydrated.
I settled into a rhythm fairly quickly and just tried to remember not to launch myself up any hills and waste energy, and that I would get the time back on the second half of the lap where the going was much easier. I kept an eye out for people I knew from other SVN events and made sure to say hello and made an effort to keep looking and appreciating my surroundings (where I wouldn’t fall and get in the way and make a plonker of myself).
As the day wore on the sun rose and the chill went from the air and whilst it never got warm it definitely got warmer, meaning some layers could be shed. I was running with gaiters for the first time in a race and although I didn’t need them early on (as everything was frozen solid), as the ground thawed and became muddier they were worth wearing to keep the mud and stones out of my trainers – even if my feet got a bit sweaty towards the end. I was also glad I wore my more rugged trail shoes, as again the ground was hard to start with but began to soften and get trickier as things melted in the winter sun and I was glad of the extra grip.
I wasn’t consciously aware of it at the time but looking back now I finished the third lap in 1:56, nearly 20 minutes faster than 9 months before and well ahead of schedule to get in under 4:10. I must have been aware of that on some level however because I celebrated with a run-selfie with Claire, a toilet break and a new energy bar. I felt strong and was enjoying being out in such a pretty place and testing myself on a tough course.
Despite the challenging and diverse course things did get a bit Groundhog Day in laps 4 and 5. That was partly as I was getting tired but also the course was getting tougher as a 100 or so people had run on it a number of times and things were getting muddy and slippery. It was taking more effort to keep to the same pace and gentle rises now became hills and the steep bits felt mountainous. I nearly stacked it on a number of occasion, particularly on the downhill bit at the beginning and end of the lap, as my trainers were retaining mud and I had to use the walk breaks to try and clear off what I could to back some grip. I didn’t have the energy to take in the views as much now.
I kept drinking and eating to try and ward off the fatigue I could feel setting in and before I knew it lap 5 was done and had just one more to go. I got to see Claire (who had finished her run with three laps for the half marathon, a good 12 minutes quicker than her time last year!) and pick up some Lucozade Sport to get some sugar in me. As I set off one last time, I could see that my watch hadn’t tracked my run fully and was about a third of a mile down on where I should have been. It didn’t really matter in terms of the result, but it did mean I had to work out where I was in terms of pacing in my head which is difficult at the best of the times, let alone when knackered.
The last lap didn’t start well as I got very close to falling on the steep downhill at the beginning of the lap. As I fought to stay upright I managed to pull my calf and groin a bit and make my thigh cramp up (and scream in a less than manly manner; luckily no-one was about to hear me) which was a nice addition to the experience. Fortunately I had the walk up the steep downhill to compose myself and my legs settled down a bit, but I was feeling quite beat up from then on. I was walking more and not covering the difficult sections anywhere near as fast as I had been. There wasn’t much to do though except keep taking on some liquid sugar and carry on.
About halfway round the lap I was desperately trying to work out if I was going to get in under four hours, but I couldn’t reconcile the distance on my watch to the distance I knew I had actually run and the time that had elapsed. I gave up eventually (although I appreciated the distraction) and resolved to just keep plodding along and hope it was enough. On the downhill section I even gritted my teeth, and ignoring the protests of my legs and hips, picked up the pace again. I managed to not kill myself on the now treacherous final downhill stretch next to the train line and was in the final wooded section for the last half a mile home.
At this point I was joined by another runner who I had been toing and froing with (but mostly following, apart from on the final lap). We’d been offering encouragement to each other as we went along and as he came alongside me he checked if I too was on my sixth lap and was running the marathon distance. I had half had it mind to got for an ultra but the last lap had extinguished any grandiose ideas I may have had. I said yes and he did in return and all of a sudden I was in a race to the finish; bugger!
He began to speed up after a few hundred yards and I kept with him. My legs felt like they were going to cramp but my breathing was fine, so I decided to just keep pace and see what he had left. I didn’t want to risk accelerating hard and my legs giving up on me. We came out of the woods onto the lovely flat, tarmacked road back to race HQ and I sped up a bit more and felt him begin to falter, which was a relief. I kept going to the finish and towards Claire who was shouting me on (as usual) and I crossed the line and rang the bell to signal the end of my run. After 26.4 miles and 3 hours and 52 minutes and 25 seconds I nicked 2nd place in the marathon by a second! (Disclaimer some people did more laps for ultras)
I was done in after that and had just enough energy to get my medal and goody bag, and then tried to get my rubbery legs over to my bag and something to drink and eat. Me and Claire wandered the mile or so back to the car which felt like purgatory at the time, but probably helped keep the blood flowing and remove some of the gunk from my legs. It was a relief to get back to the car for a nice sit down and even more so to get back to a lovely hot bath to celebrate my sixth ever marathon (5 marathons and 1 ultra – thank you pedantic brain).
I felt pretty broken that afternoon, but the goody bag helped and I sat around feeling very pleased with the time and the average pace of just under 8:50 per mile (ok pedantic brain, 8:48!) which was nearly a minute and half quicker than I had managed only 9 months before, and over twice the distance. Admittedly the going was a bit easier than last time (at least for the first half of the run) but it was hard going towards the end and required over 2,500 foot of climb in total. It was a great run and the atmosphere and the organisation from SVN was spot as usual. I would recommend it to anyone. Claire enjoyed it so much she has signed up for the spring, summer and winter versions later in the year and the chance to get one super-medal made up from the 4 earned at each event!
I’ve rested up the week after and just did some steady runs, avoiding anything too quick, and my legs are almost back to normal now. I’ve got another marathon (hopefully – if I manage 7 laps) on the 12th February, at the Music Legend Challenge… Bowiethon in honour of the late great David Bowie. It’s again with SVN, based out of Gravesend Cyclopark. Fancy dress is encouraged so might have to start making some plans… I haven’t run two marathons so close together before so trying to not overdo things or set unrealistic goals, but hopefully on a flatter and drier course I can go that bit quicker and get in under 3:45, or even 3:40. We shall see…
Anyway I’ve gone on long enough, it’s taking me nearly a week to get this together! Thanks for sticking it out to the end if you have got this far and all the best with your running. Cheers, Adam 🙂