The Hampshire Hoppit Marathon

I decided to run the Hampshire Hoppit Marathon after running the Thames Meander in March. I don’t remember how I got to find its website, I was browsing some other runner’s webpage I got to via the Thames Meander photos or something.
The pictures on the Hoppit Marathon site were really inviting and it was taking place just in between the NDW50 and the Race to the Stones, a perfect slot, so I entered.

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I had never been on those hills so I did not really know what to expect. I got to the race start very early in the morning. I woke up at 3am to take my wife to the airport and then drove straight to the race. I got there at 7am and I had 3 hours to kill before the start. I tried to sleep in the car. I parked on top of a hill through which the race was running. It was a good indication of the type of undulation we were going to run on. I did not sleep much, 30 minutes probably, before the car became an oven, the day was already very hot and it was still early morning. I started worrying for the day: 10am is quite a late start for a Marathon.

Race HQ was in a beautiful horse stable grounds, with endless horse race tracks, beautiful grassy fields and nicely trimmed bushes. Everything very well organised, everyone very friendly, but no shade anywhere. By 10am I was already drenched in sweat and I had not even run yet. It did not help that the car park was quite far away from the start and I had to walk there twice.

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When we finally started I felt tired already. After one mile there was a very steep climb, luckily the only one so steep in the whole day, but as a start it was a killer.

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I then settled in a nice running pace that I knew was a bit too much, but I was enjoying it. The terrain was a mix of nice easy dirt road and very ankle breaking single tracks in fields, tracks that are large enough for a tractor wheel but not enough to run comfortably in.

The heat was the real killer of the day. I don’t know how high the temperature was but I guess 33 degrees and most of the race had no shades at all, no wind either. Luckily the sky was not completely cloudless.
I kept on running out of water before getting to the aid stations. I sweated so much I had the worst chafing between my legs ever.

I had decided to race with no vest and just carry a water bottle. I did not want to wear any more layers than needed. I am not so keen on handheld bottles and I have to say, I hated the decision as my right shoulder complained a bit after 30k.

I don’t remember any particular part of the first half of the race except that the views were really nice and the hills not too tough.

Hampshire Hoppit 2017 by Sussex Sport Photography 9:14:59 AM

Finally at around 28/30k there was a long stretch inside a wooded area, I was very thankful as it was quite fresh. It also helped that it merged with the half marathon race for a couple of kms and it mentally helped a lot to overtake people.

Hampshire Hoppit 2017 by Sussex Sport Photography 12:27:27 PM

Once that bit finished, the hard part started. This is where I suffer the most, after the thirty-second km. I had very little water, I was over heated and my legs where jelly. I walked 400m with another guy but then felt better and started my 1-2-3-4-5 counting routine that makes my legs move. Legs gone, no water, it was just a mental game.

I started overtaking some people, got to an aid station where they showered me in water and gave me an ice lollypop (which I did not eat, I just kept it in my hand to cool me down) and raced at best I could. I was suffering but I was enjoying it too.

After a final climb it was possible to see the finish line, but it was still quite far away, down the hill, but I was relieved to see the end and started running faster and crossed the line in 3:56:11.

Hampshire Hoppit 2017 by Sussex Sport Photography 1:55:34 PM

I sat down on the grass and could not move for 20 minutes. It was hard even to recover, having to sit in the sun, but I finally got up and went to get more water and bananas. I did not opt for the free beer as I knew I could not handle it in that condition.

The walk back to the car was endless. It felt far away in the morning, but after the race it was a torture. I had to stop twice, light headed and with my usual hiccup.

I got home in time for some father’s day celebrations. Thanks to my daughters for the wonderful cake and dinner. I did not do much apart from racing that day. Just kept my legs up, slept a bit and ate a lot.

And now it is time to prepare for next month race, my first 100k!

See you on the trails.

North Downs Way 50 and how I redeemed myself

This is going to be a relatively short report as it comes so late after the event, but I wanted to say a couple of things about the my run on the North Downs Way 50 last May. Spoiler alert: it was my best 50 miler to date, for many reasons. But as usual let’s start by talking about the days leading to the event.

After the performance on the SDW50 (I wrote about it here), I was really upset. I had trained very well for what I wanted to be my main race of the first half of year and I felt I was going to enjoy it and do well. The fever that caught me the days before the event ruined everything. Luckily training is never wasted so I decided to just wait a month longer to check if my training plan worked: the NDW50 was going to be even more important. I had to keep the level of fitness.

The week after the SDW50 I took it relatively easy, no speed training and just 60k in the whole week. It was Easter holidays so we went to Italy and I had a nice run with Davide on the Giro Dantesco, nice trails and no wild boars this time. During the Easter week-end I also went to reclaim the CR on Salita Bergeggi that was stolen from me for just a handful of seconds. It is mine again by more than a minute, so I should be ok until next year at least!

Then I had two strong weeks of 105 and 110 km each with solid SSR sessions (like this one) during the week and longer runs during the week-end. Nothing super long, but both week-ends I went to the NDW, once with super tired legs and still managed a solid 25k run and the next week-end 32k on the NDW with two new friends and a dog.

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Action selfie

Then I had one 73k easy week to start the tapering and finally race week arrived: 10k a couple of times but the rest was doing nothing and sleeping as much as possible. I also had the excitement of changing job that week.

On race day I woke up very early as usual and the classic pre-race routine of toilet – breakfast – toilet went perfectly well. I got the Race HQ early enough to find a nice parking spot outside the school at Farnham. I had enough time for a chat with various friends and then after the race briefing we walked to the start.

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Race Briefing

Unfortunately some of us got delayed at the train crossing and by the time we decided to take the overpass we got to the start too late. The race had started at least a minute before we got there.

Note to self: listen to the race briefing from the back of the room, near the exit, so you can leave as soon as it’s done and not get stuck.

The first couple of kilometers were then a bit frantic as I did not want to be so behind everyone else, but then I made myself take it easy as the day was going to be long and I had enough time to make up for that lost minute.

I settled on a nice easy pace. Some flat or downhill bit at just under 5 min/km, some slower bits around 6:30 if I was walking uphill.

I basically walked everything that was making my heart go over 140 bmp. The plan was to be consistent all day, no crazy rush in the first half and no death march at the end.

At the first aid station in Puttenham (at around 11k) I did not stop as I still had a full bottle of water and kept going at that sustainable pace. At around 20k we arrived at the St Martha hill which I had visited 2 weeks earlier. I remember in 2015 in my total ultra-ignorance I ran up all the way. This time I walked it easy and bombed down on the other side. So far so good. Very warm day but I was feeling great.

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At the top of St Martha’s hill

A bit of up and down on big grassy hills and I reached the second aid station (23k) at Newlands Corner. I stopped very briefly for a bottle fill up and some water melon. This time I was not going to get anything else, no coke, no solid food. I had all my gels and Tailwind to drink, I wanted to avoid stomach issues this time.

The next part of the trail is probably the one I ran the most in training. I find the flat woodland there a bit boring except the final part before Ranmore. I like the single track bits there, full of roots and speedy downhill. There was a very fast race going the other way round so we had to stops once in a while and let the other runners go by.

From the 35th kilometer or so until Box Hill there is a lot of tarmac and a lot of downhill that usually kills my legs. I was not looking forward to that bit even if I enjoyed bombing down it in January’s race. Luckily I started chatting with another runner, very friendly Kevin, and the time went faster and even the under-pass before Box Hill was gone before realising it (I usually hate it).

I was looking forward to Box Hill. Psychologically it feels like you are halfway through the race (even if it is around 40k out of 82k) and with the excuse of the long steps section I was looking forward to eating a bit more and take it easy.

Instead it was the worst part of the whole race. I felt really dizzy going up, even walking easy I could not eat anything and felt so tired when I got to the top that I could hardly start running again.

It took around 5k of slow running to feel better but by then my stomach was went a bit strange. This time I solved the issue straight away, I jumped behind a bush and the rest is history. I felt much better and got to one of the hardest climb (Reigate) feeling strong. Walked to the top and run the rest of the way to the 50k mark where the Reigate Hill aid station is. More water and watermelon and off I went.

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Just one of the climbs, enjoying it

Apart from a couple of km on the road this is my favourite part of the race, especially the last wooden bit (Old Park Wood) before Caterham’s aid station at around 61k. It went relatively fast even if my pace was much much slower than the first half of the race. But I was running everything (except the hard climbs) and that is what made me very confident.

At Caterham I had to sit down a bit at the aid station as again I was feeling super weak. I probably spent 2 minutes there longer than I wanted, but I felt I was at the limit, I could not push too much. This is where in 2015 everything went wrong and I suffered the rest of the race. This time I was not feeling super, but I was moving, always. The legs were in pain, but my head was in a good place. And I think this sums up the whole day pretty well. The body was in pain, but my mind was set to do well and made my legs go, just go all the time. And the more I realised I was going and going and the more I felt good.

I started doing the math and while 8:30 hour (my dream scenario), was an impossible task I was happily going for around 9 hours which was much better than the 10 hours of 2015. After a bit I even realised that I could make it in under 9 hours and that was a pretty good boost too.

The climb to the last aid station at Botley Hill (69k) was endless but the end was in sight. I had a quick cup of tea there, preparing for the last push.

The final 13k were the most painful. I remembered from 2 years ago how hard the final fields were, but even if I was prepared it felt like they were going on forever.

Finally after a million fields the finish line was in sight and for the last 2k I just gave it all I had. I even ran the last mile at around 4 min/km pace. I was so happy to see the end and even happier to have made it in 8:51, one hour and 9 minutes faster than two years ago. Training definitely had an impact, but I believe most of this PB performance is due to experience. Running your fifth 50 miler is definitely different than running your first.

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It had been a nice sunny day all day. I had a long time to wait for the bus back to the car so I quickly changed and then collapsed on the grass for hours. I probably drank 8 cups of tea and then had the mother of all hiccups, but I was the happiest man on the planet.

As always the Centurion people and volunteers put together a wonderful day for us runners and everything was fantastically organised. Everyone at the aid stations and at the finish was so friendly and helpful. Thanks! I cannot wait to run the next one in September. Now I only need to survive my first 100k race!

Even the best of plans can fail

Here is the story of how a good solid couple of months of training went wasted on race day.
After the Denbies 10 mile race I had just over two months to prepare for the South Downs Way 50 miler. Things were all planned.

I did two more weeks of interval training with some longer runs in the weekends (for a total of 88k and 104k) and then started the tempo runs block. I loved them. I did one solid week of 108k with a nice long run in the snow with Craig in Wimbledon common, then took it easier by skipping two days to do a very tiny tapering before the February race, the Hampton Court Half Marathon.
I wanted to do well and see if I could beat my PB. I had not done any flat half marathons in years, so this was a good occasion.
Things went fine for the first 13k. I kept an average pace around 3:50/3:55 min/km and felt ok, but I could not hold the pace long enough and did the rest of the race just above 4:00 min/km. I finished in 1:24. My target was 1:23, so I was not too far off, but still, I was a bit disappointed. Here is the Strava of the race.

Hampton Court Half Marathon February 2017 by #SussexSportPhotography.com 10:30:19 AM #racephoto

The week after I did a couple of easy days and then resumed the tempo runs sessions. Here is an example if interested. In the weekend I did a longer tempo run session up and down Richmond Park and then went for 30k on the NDW (saying that it was muddy is an understatement), completing a 96k week.

The last week of February I was feeling a strange pain on the soleus and Achilles tendon in the left leg, so I took it a bit easier but still managed to run 33k with Craig which is always fun. And that was the end of the tempo runs block, time to start the Steady State Runs part. Here is an example.

On the 11th of March I ran the Thames Meander Marathon with almost no tapering and with the left leg still a bit sore. I was not sure whether to do it or not as I was afraid to get even more injured but I went anyway. Good thing I did as I enjoyed it a lot. I started slow to see if the left leg would behave, but when I saw all was fine I just kept running at a steady pace actually accelerating quite a bit in the second half.

I suffered in the last 5k and slowed down a bit too much, but overall I am happy with the result: 3:17, which is also my marathon PB. I think I can do better than that, but probably not break 3 hours like I had planned at the beginning of the year.

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At this point there was only one month left before the South Downs Way 50. I really enjoyed the Steady State Runs even if it meant waking up at 4:30 in the morning to be able to run 20k before going to work.

The week after the marathon I ran 127km. On Saturday I killed myself by running 1:30 easy and then do the usual SSR training, for a total of 35k with a massive negative split and then, not tired enough, on Sunday I went on the North Downs way for 26k of pure joy.

The week after I did even more, 138k. Concluded with 40k on the river on Saturday and a killer SSR session on Sunday. You know when Rocky runs up the stairs and knows he is ready? I felt the same. I reached the top of Richmond Hill with many km in the legs and still sprinted up like crazy. I felt invincible, ready for the SDW.
And invincible I was not, sadly.

I started 2 weeks of tapering. First I did an easy 67k week and then disaster struck. I got ill!
The Tuesday of the SDW race week I was in bed with a fever. Months and months of training, rigorous every week, I probably just skipped 2 days, woke up at silly hours, killed myself in the weekends. Did everything right, foam rolled every evening, fixed minor injuries, kept a relatively good diet, I did EVERYTHING right for four months and I end up in bad 3 days before the race?
I was sad, very sad. I hoped it was going to go away quickly and I actually thought it might have been good to sleep for days before the race, but on the Friday I was still feeling like my head was going to explode and my legs were made of rubber. I went to the office to convince myself I was fine, but I was not.

On Friday evening I packed all the race kit with the plan to see how I felt the day after.
I really did not want to miss the SDW50 again. Last year due to the shin splints injury I missed it and lost the chance to do the Centurion 50 mile Grand Slam. So even if I woke up a bit energy-less I went to the race anyway.

The weather was amazing, not a single cloud in the sky. The South Downs are some of the most beautiful hills and when I got to the starting line and sucked all the excitement from the other runners I forgot about being ill and I really looked forward to racing.

After a couple of miles my head cleared and the legs seemed ok, so I decided to race it as I had originally planned, which was quite fast. I reached the first aid station at Botolphs (11 miles in) in just over one hour and a half. Almost 17 minutes faster than planned. Was this worrying me? No, because I am not smart enough.
I reached the second aid station at mile 17 in 30th position. Now only 8 minutes ahead of the race plan. Maybe it was time to get worried as it was clear I could not keep the pace.

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Then things started going horribly wrong. My legs decided it was time to go in flu mode and everything started aching. Even my knees were painful in the downhills. As if that was not enough my stomach felt upside down.
I painfully reached Housedean Farm (26 miles) hoping to find a toilet. When I was told there was none I felt lost.
The South Downs are not like the North Downs. There are no trees or bushes big enough to allow people to hide and do what they do when there are no toilets around! I had 7 more miles to run before I could find a toilet at the next aid station and this is where the worst part of the race started. I could hardly run uphill and I was super slow.

Even after the long toilet break I still felt bad and the long climb after Southease was a long death march. At the top I felt better and actually ran 5k under 5 min/km but when I left Alfriston (mile 41) my stomach was not having it.
Luckily I was joined by Tim, who kindly decided to wait for me and finish the race together. I am sorry I made him do the last 8 miles so slowly, but every time I tried to move faster the stomach made sure I knew I was not in charge of the day.

We finished in 9 hours and 18 minutes. 48 minutes slower than I was aiming for. I was actually convinced I could do it in 8 hours. I have the excuse of the flu but I was really disappointed with my performance. Less than 4 hours to run the first half, more than 5 hours to run the second? Not good!


It was an amazing day, beautiful vistas, plenty of nice people to meet, but not the race I wanted to do. I will have to go back next year and do it right.

Now I need to concentrate in keeping the form and not getting ill for the NDW50 next month. I will not have any excuses there and I will try to race smarter. I always say that!

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1..2..3…GO!

New training regime

It took me days and days of planning but I finally came up with a nice and challenging plan for 2017.
I am a big fan of excel tables and making plans and stick to them, but this year I went one step further. I am now using Training Peaks for all my planning and the amount of data that comes out of it is amazing and lovely.
Towards the end of 2016 I read the new book by Jason Koop and I liked everything he says so I decided to base my training on his ideas. I have always been a big fan of repeats and speed training but I tended to do it once, maybe twice a week and mix it with other sessions. The concept of periodisation was new to me and I am trying it now.img_8983
I am now almost at the end of the first block completely dedicated to quick speed interval sessions at above threshold and I have been doing sessions like those for 3 times a week!
Sometimes it’s been really hard, especially when done early in the morning like I do. Basically for 3 times a week for the past month or I have been doing 5k of warm up and then 5 times 3:00 at killer speed and 3:00 of rest. Then a cool down between 3 and 4k to get back home. Once you finish a session like this you are happy to be alive. I have also tried to do them uphill if I can. To add to the fun and get the heart rate go up faster.
It seems to be working well.

Races

I have also planned most of the races I will do this year. The main ones are going to be the four 50 milers organised by Centurion. Last year I wanted to do all of them and complete the Grand Slam but due to the injury, I have only done the last two. This time I will try to stay fit and do them all. Since I now have a bit more experience on that distance I want to try to push myself a bit more, hence this new training regime. I would love to do one under 9 hours (8:30 is actually my target, I say it here now so I have to do it!). Nine hours I think are feasible as I would need to “just” shave 22 minutes from last year CW50.
In July I will also try to do my first 100k. I entered the Race to the Stones as I love the Ridgeway.
In between those “A races” I entered other shorter ones, trying to match them to the training block I will be doing at the time. The first one was a 10-mile race on the North Downs Way I did last week, the Denbies 10 miler.

The Denbies 10

What attracted me to this race was the location and the length. Ten fast miles were perfect for the type of training I would be doing in that period and the race takes place in bits of the North Downs way which I love.

The morning was super cold. When I got into the car it was -4 degrees, but the sky was clear and the sun came out by the time we started running which made the temperature better the views stunning.

I started strong as I wanted to be towards the front by the time we hit the single track trail. The first couple of km were uphill on the tarmac. I managed to run at a decent pace and kept my eyes on the people in front. I wanted to try and stick to the top ten group. The first 3 guys disappeared pretty quickly and the fourth person was gaining terrain and it was clear it was going to be hard to catch up with.

By the time we reached the top of the hill I was in 8th position but really struggled to accelerate, partly due to the legs refusing to do so after the uphill start and also because we mostly ran on frozen mud, which was really a killer for my ankles. Luckily that was my favourite part of the trail as it goes through some very nice wooded land in the Ranmore Common.

At around the 5th km, I started accelerating and catching up with the group in front and when we go to the White Downs Descent, which is a 1km long steep descent I let myself go. I felt like one of those young Salomon runners, no braking, no fear. I overtook everyone in that descent and by the time we reached the bottom I was in 5th position and the others were back by a bit. I tried to keep running at a good pace for the next three km that were up and down, muddy and tiring. I almost tripped on a stile and was very close to disaster but I did not want to slow down. I was running strong, almost always under 4 min/km and I felt that all those repeats really made a difference.

Unfortunately, we then reached the bit of the race I was most afraid of. What goes down must come up at some point and the two km climb up back to Ranmore were really tough. By then the mud was not frozen anymore and my feet weighed a tonne each. I was overtaken at the top of the climb and could not stay with the guy.Events to Live Denbies 10, Jan 2017 by SussexSportPhotography.com  11:54:50We then reached the final tarmac descent and again I was overtaken there too even if I really bombed down that road, 2kms at around 3:20 min/km. It felt fast, but not enough to catch up with the guy that just overtook me.

I finished in 7th position. Dead, but very happy. I was so tired I even said “grazie” to the lady giving out drinks.

I only found out later in the evening that I was the first in my category (MV40), which is nice. I hope I have not missed anything by not staying there for the prize giving. I am very happy with the result, I was a couple of minutes faster than I expected and that gives me great confidence in the first part of my training.

Here is the Strava of the day.

2016 summary

Here is the usual end of year post, but late. 🙂

It’s been a year of two halves. The first half consisted of the most painful months in my running “career”. It took me ages to recover from a combo of shin splint and ankle impingement caused by pushing a bit too much at the end of 2015. The second half has been a much more enjoyable combination of experiences, from being able to run again, trying new races and doing some pacing for friends.

Here is a quick summary.

January

Still convinced injuries go away if you ignore them I tried to run, but every time I did I had to stop for a day or two.
I only clocked a total of 60k in a month and the pain was still there.

February

I started going to see a physio and he slowly managed to get me better and better. I spent every evening doing at least 45 minutes of strength training for my feet, shins and core. I even got to run almost 18k in one go. I thought the future was going to be bright.

March

I gave up with running. For every step forward I was doing two backwards. The pain was still too unbearable. I decided to do something else and started cycling or swimming every day. I even went to the gym on Friday mornings for classes of Boxercise (killer but fun).

April

More cross training and hiking. More cancelled races. Gave up on doing the Centurion 50 milers Grand Slam. Very sad.
The last weeks of April I was starting to feel like I could run again and started cycling to Richmond Park, run a bit and then cycle back. At the end I was doing more than 50k a week. I was back!

May

I was a runner again! Weeks of: 56k, 66k, 77k and 91k! I dedicated my time mostly on improving my form to avoid getting injured again.

June

I was finally running more than 100k a week. I paced Manu on his first 100 miler, the SDW100. I ran 62k that day and it was probably the best running experience of the year. Going through the night on those beautiful hills, seeing the sun come up and with it Manu’s morale and speed. Being there when he crossed the finish line, I still get goose bumps now thinking about the last 5k of ecstatic running.

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July

I was finally ready to do some racing myself. So I did the North Downs Way Marathon one weekend and the Chiltern Challenge 50k the week after. I suffered a lot in both but really loved being back wearing a bib and those hours spent on the Chiltern Hills were worth all the pain.

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I spent the last week in Puglia where on a normal day it was 40 degrees. I ran almost every day but not more than 10/15k. Even at 6 am the heat was too much.

August

August was a busy month. I paced Davide on the NDW100 but unlike my previous pacing experience, I felt I was not that useful. I also ended up not running the full 50 miles I promised him but only 41k in the middle of the race and the last 12k. It was still fun and a good lesson for me.

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Then at the end of the month I went to the Peak District to run the Dig Deep 50k. I ended up running 55k as I got lost. To date, this is the race I suffered the most, mentally and physically. Beautiful places, though.

September

I ran the Centurion Chiltern Wonderland 50 mile which was probably the best race experience I ever had. I paced it to perfection and basically ran it all (apart from the craziest hills). Beautiful.

October

I ran the Wimbledon Common Half Marathon finishing 7th overall but with my slowest time on this race I have now done three times. A lot of fun, but too muddy to try and do a PB.

November

Another trail half marathon: the Dirt Running Half. A lot of fun, first part fast, second part hilly. I finished 15th overall but 1st in my age group. Nice.

At the end of the month, I ran the Centurion Wendover Woods 50 mile. Very interesting experience, five laps of killer hills. It’s been a mental journey from start to finish. I cannot wait to go back next year.

December

I took this as a “month off”. I did not run too much the first three weeks. Mostly 40/50k a week. I did a Parkrun that killed my legs and was more than 20 seconds slower than my PB from last year. In the last week I ran again almost 100k, to get back into action and start with the real training in January.

Overall the second half of the year has been very good. Being able to run again after so much time injured has made me appreciate the sport even more. I feel very lucky every day I can go out the door and enjoy running, whether on the road or the trails, I love it all.

Summary of the year racing:

  • 1 Park Run (5k)
  • 2 Half Marathons
  • 1 Marathon
  • 2 50k
  • 2 50 mile

 

medals

I only noticed today I was given the wrong medal at the Chiltern Challenge, it says 25k!

 

Stay tuned for a future post with my plan for 2017, it will be a super running year!

Five laps in the woods

When I woke up for the final race of the year (Wendover Woods 50) I was pretty scared. The week before I was pretty confident and excited (as can be read from my previous post), but when at 4:15am I opened my eyes I started being worried. Darkness and coldness does not help to get pumped for a 50 mile race.

I was scared of everything this time, not just the distance. I was afraid of the cold, the mud, the fact it was a five lap race, my stomach being funny for the last couple of weeks, my old injury coming back, the hills etc. While still in bed I had time to think about a million things that could go wrong. Luckily 30 minutes later, after having had breakfast, all the positive excitement came back and I felt ready, got into the car (after defrosting it) and left very early.

By the time I arrived at the start it was still dark and all my fears came back. The start of the race was in a field with a couple of tents, pitch black. I left the car for kit check and registration and stepped on a cow poo straight away. By the time I had my bib, left my drop bag and got back to the car I was frozen and my feet wet (and smelly). I set the phone alarm clock to wake me up in 15 minutes and closed my eyes and tried to relax and get ready. When I opened my eyes (I did not actually sleep) daylight was coming but visibility was still bad due to the thick fog.

Quick visit to the portable toilets and off we went. The start was not where the race ended, to avoid a bottleneck at the start due to a small stile. I managed to warm up a bit on the way to the start. The race briefing was the shortest ever and we were off. It was time to relax and put the training to the test.

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The Wendover Woods are quite nice. Small but nice. I had been there for one of the Rail To Trail marathons and I remembered steep hills and a lot of mud. Luckily this time the mud was not terrible, the trails were a lot better than I expected, soft, leafy, slippery in places, but never too muddy.

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The woods are quite small but the guys at Centurion managed to create a nice 10 mile loop that is very varied and fun. I only realised after the first lap that we were always running quite close to the centre of the woods, which made it fun as we kept on encountering the same people going for a stroll or walking the dogs. Most of them were nice and supportive of the race, asking us how we were doing and stuff.

So one of my fears, the mud, was unfounded. My apprehension of steep hills, on the other hand, was not. This is the race with the most climbs I have ever done. I am sure it’s nothing compared to real mountain races, but for me it was quite a lot. I think more than twice as much as any other 50 mile race I have done.

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Usually the uphill bits are good to walk, eat some food and in a sort of way almost rest. Not this time. The hills were so steep that my heart rate while walking up hand on knees was a lot higher than while running on flat.

After the first lap I realised my objective to finish in 10 hours was a bit too optimistic. I did the first lap in 1 hour and forty something minutes and I knew I was going to have to slow down if I wanted to finish.

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During the second lap, knowing the terrain, I started planning how I was going to survive running the same spots 4 more times. The first part was the easiest, almost flat, but I found it the least fun to run and I could not wait to get to the first big downhill, down what seemed like a dry river bed. Very steep and slippery with some hidden traps under the fallen leaves. Then after a small climb where I usually had a gel, there was an even steeper descent (called Powerline) that ended in a field, the only bit not in the woods. Then a steady but easy climb and a bit of up and down took us close to the fist aid station, but we could not stop, we could only see it 10 meters away. There were some more kms around the woods before we got there again.

One of the climbs soon after was not even on a visible trail and even after 5 laps I did not know what the best way to tackle it was. The first time I went zig zag, the other times I just went straight towards the next tree with a course sign. No idea what was best. More downhill and then a nice very runnable dirt road finally took us to the aid station. There was only one in the whole race, apart from the one at the start line. So getting at the aid station was quite a morale boost as it meant more than half of the lap had been done.

I only ate fruit and got hot tea (in the last two laps) from the aid stations, the rest was all about trying to eat my own gels and drink my Tailwind powered water.

The long easy climb after the aid station that I ran the first time around became my favourite place where to eat and relax walking for the other 4 laps.

The rest of the lap was first made of a larger bit of dirt road that was very runnable (Boulevard of Broken Dreams), most of it downhill, then a long climb that took us to a nice single track trail (Hill Fort Loop). The craziest climb was at the end of the lap. It was so steep I had to stop and catch my breath just to walk it, grabbing trees and branches to help me stop from sliding down.

More up and down and then a final climb to the finish line. After the first lap I was already dead. The second lap I barely survived. The third lap I was struggling to eat. I looked forward to finish the third lap as I had decided to grab my drop bag and change my top, get the headlamp (a must have after 1pm) and get my MP3 player.

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I felt like a new person, but only for 5 minutes, then I felt s**t. I suffered from not having eaten enough the lap before and the 4th lap became very painful. I was seeing blurred trees and I struggled a lot. I was in the top 30 by the end of lap 3 but I was losing places in the first half of lap 4. When I got to the open field I felt like I was not going to be able to run anymore. I made myself eat more. I had one gel, one salt stick, one Cliff Shot and 3 almonds all in one go. Drank half a bottle of water and Tailwind and walked for 3 minutes to let it all go down. I slowly got better and got into gear again. By the time I was approaching the crazy final climb I was running super excited.

I knew the trail by heart then. Seeing certain rocks or trees that I knew were going to be there gave me strength. I also got to a point where running downhill was so painful I managed not to think about it. I went in a sort of trance where I was thinking of myself as only being made of two arms, with no legs. I let my feet go by themselves and did not think about them, floated. It worked quite well and I finished lap 4 on a high. One more lap to go!

One final cup of tea (I never stop at aid stations, I eat and drink walking away from them even if it means carrying a paper tea cup folded in my pockets) and I was ready for the final push.

After twenty minutes in the final lap I had to turn on the head torch as it was very dark and everything changed. The woods became even more magical. My MP3 player was playing the right music (instead of the boring podcast I had on lap 4, big mistake) and I tried to enter that special “made only of 2 arms and no legs” trance. And it worked. I felt like I was going fast (later I discovered it was the slowest lap I ran, but it felt much faster than the 4th) and started overtaking people again that I knew where on my same lap. Running down the river bed I was almost in tears of happiness, I could not believe I could still run and I was so happy of being in the woods in the dark. When I got to the descent before the field I slipped and fell for the first time and I thought it was about time! I was too excited to be at the end to care.

The fourth lap was painful in places, especially the downhills, but otherwise it was the most fun, magical and emotional of the day. I loved it. Almost at the end, in the middle of what seemed like nowhere, in the dark, a family with kids were there with cow bells encouraging me, I was so dead that it felt surreal and I could not stop thanking them while I running away.

I got to the end so excited I even sprinted the last one hundred meters. I could not believe it, the day was over. It felt eternal but at the same time short. I finished in 10 hours and 27 minutes. 30th place (which I am very happy with).

I collapsed in the car and sent messages to everyone to let them know I was alive. I changed as quickly as I could into warm and dry clothes and went back to the starting tent aid station for a very well deserved minestrone which tasted like the best thing I had ever eaten.

I cannot thank the Centurion people and volunteers enough. It had been a fantastic day and I cannot wait to finally try and do all four of the 50 milers next year.

I have plans. Stay tuned!

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In between 50 milers

What have I done in the past two months? My two readers will be asking.

After the Chiltern Wonderland 50 it was time to rest and prepare for the next 50 miler, the Wendover Woods 50, which I will run this Saturday.

I was quite happy with my performance at the CW50. I did not do an incredibly fast race, but as my second 50 miler I think it was a good exercise in patience and careful pacing, which is not what I am usually good at. So I decided I did not need to do anything special to prepare for the WW50 except run consistently in the two months in between. Obviously I could not let 2 months go by without doing a race, so I decided to do two trail half marathons.

After the CW50 I was pretty tired and due to a nasty cold I ended up running only twice the week after. One run was particularly fun as I found myself in Richmond Park so early in the morning it was still pitch black and I had to run blind. I was not ready for winter darkness yet!

The following week I felt better and ran my usual six times including some nice tempo workout, a wet 21k on Saturday and a 17k on Sunday for a total of 74k.

The week of the 3rd of October I killed myself: easy Tuesday, repeats on Wednesday, recovery Thursday, tempo run on Friday and finally 30k on Saturday and 20k on Sunday with very tired legs (103k in total). The real enemy of the week had been the stomach. Every single day I had cramps after 10k. Not good.

Then came the week of the first half marathon. I took it easy running only 2 days and then on Saturday I ran the Wimbledon Common Half Marathon for the third time. I really enjoy that race. I love the woods in the Wimbledon Common and the organisation is always spot on. Nice little race. I ran it last year in the summer too (it is held twice a year) and finished 9th. I wanted to do better this time. It was raining and muddy so it was going to be tough to finish in a better time, but I was aiming for a top 10 finish nonetheless. I stuck with the lead pack as much as I could and settled for 5th place for the first 5k. I was then overtaken by two guys and tried to stick to them. The race is made of two laps with a climb at the start of each so halfway through you have to run up a muddy hill again. This is where I managed to get to 6th position again, unfortunately I lost it to another person a bit later.

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For most of the second half I was alone. The guys in front where too far to be seen and I could not see anyone behind me. In my mind I settled for 7th place and in a way stopped pushing. I could have probably done a better time if I had had someone to race with but I was happy crossing the line in 7th place in 1:29, almost 6 minutes slower than last year. It had been a lot of fun, but I was spent. Half marathons kill me more than longer races and I spent the rest of the day going from my bed to the sofa like a zombie with an upset stomach.

With another half marathon to do a month later and 6 weeks to go before the next 50 miler it was time to ramp up the kms.

The next week I ran 88k, the highlight was a nice Autumn 20k run on North Downs Way early on Sunday morning. I really like those trails, but I had to cut it short as there were a lot of cows and I am scared of cows when I am alone, so I turned around a bit earlier than planned.

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Then it was time for another serious week. I ran 102km including a nice uphill repeat session, a tempo run and a 42k run to celebrate my 42nd birthday. It had been a nice solid week which I followed with another even better one of 120k with nice back to back long runs during the weekend (28 on Saturday and 39 on Sunday). That was it, enough long runs for the WW50.

On the 12th of November I ran the Dirt Running Half Marathon. I really enjoyed it two years ago, it was actually my first race on trails. I had fun again this time, even if the weather was not very good. The first half of the race is along a canal so it’s really flat and you can run it fast. Then there is a hill that takes you to the woods. I killed me and I lost a couple of places. The second half is in beautiful woodland. I loved it, especially the breakneck downhills in slippery mud. The race ends with a couple more kms on the canal where I managed to get some speed back in and dropped the guy I had run the woods with. I finished roughly 5 minutes slower than the previous time. In part because the course was slightly different, in part because it was more muddy, but most of all because I am not as fast. Strava showed that I had been faster on the canal bit last time and there are no excuses there, no mud.

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I was pleasantly surprised I finished 15th overall and first in my category, SM40. It’s the first time I win anything and I was happy to step on the podium for once!

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Last week I took it very easy, trying to taper well. I ran 6 times but never pushed too much. I did a total of 85k while this week I will run very little before the race, just the 11k today. I will try to sleep as much as possible, stretch and foam roll every evening and just hope I can perform on Saturday as well as I did on my last 50 miler.

I will surely do a post about the WW50 and then it will be time to talk about 2017!

See you!