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!

Chiltern Wonderland 50

After pulling out of the first two Centurion 50 milers I finally felt fit enough to tackle my second ever 50 mile race, the CW50 (Chiltern Wonderland 50). Training this year has been pretty poor due to the never ending injury and only in May things started looking normal or at least bearable for my shin and ankle. Since then I tried to get back into running seriously. I paced Manu for the last 55k in his epic SDW100 in June, I then ran the NDW Marathon and Chiltern Challenge 50k Ultra in July. In August I had my ass handed to me while pacing Davide on the NDW100 and again racing the Intro to Ultra Peak District 50k. Coming into September I was feeling pretty good. I did some long weeks, culminating with a 40k Saturday followed by a 30k Sunday two weeks before the CW50 that gave me confidence. Especially the run I did on Saturday where I tried to keep my heart rate very low and see how I felt. It felt good and after 30k I was fresh and accelerated happily.

I therefore decided to base my effort on the CW50 on my heart rate. I was going to try and keep it under 140bpm for at least the first 50k and then see if I could accelerate a bit towards the end. Instead of starting too fast and then crawl at the end like I usually do.

Last year I did my first 50 miler in exactly 10 hours (NDW50). At the time I was a lot fitter than this year, but a lot less experienced, so the plan was to try to finish at least under 10 hours.

I love the Chiltern Hills and as this race does not follow any particular national trail we were promised an especially beautiful route and we were not disappointed. Those hills are fantastic and the whole race went up and down beautiful hills, many woodlands and very few boring road or open fields. The views when popping out of the woods were some of the best you can get in the British countryside and definitely kept your mind away from the effort at hand.

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As planned I started slow, keeping an eye on my heart rate. The first 5k were mostly flat on the river side so I needed to stop myself from going faster.

The first real hill came and to keep the heart low I started walking bits of it, eating the first gel of the day. That was basically what I did the whole race, as soon as I felt it was too much effort going uphill I was walking. Walking with intent, but not killing myself. At the same time if the trail was flat or downhill I ran it. No excuses this time. In previous races I always misjudged the pace and ended up having to walk some bits on the flats too towards the end. Not this time. I am very pleased with my performance. I never felt like I wanted to kick myself for starting the race and loved every second of it.

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At the first aid station I basically did not stop, just grabbed a cookie and kept going. I was feeling a bit cold and I did not want to slow down too much.

I ran a big chunk of the race between the first aid station and the second with a very nice guy and we chatted away. Before we knew it we were at Bix’s aid station, 18 miles done, eating watermelon and feeling great.

The real hills started there and I was glad I saved some energy. The steepest one was the one going up to a windmill. It was so steep you could not even walk it up in a straight line.

 

I stuck to my tactic of keeping the effort level, eat every 40 minutes or so and just enjoy the day. I even started overtaking people and at the halfway aid station at Ibstone I had one of the best cake/cookie/whatever it was. I was not cold anymore and I was actually running out of water before arriving to the next aid station which was a bit of a problem. Especially as I was using Tailwind this time so my liquids were even more important towards the end of the race, when I have trouble eating gels.

I had promised myself as a reward/incentive that I would have started listening to music after 50k. I waited a bit longer and only put some music on after the Swyncombe aid station. It was probably the best moment of the race. I realised my legs where still almost as new. I was not tired at all, I was enjoying the day out and I was just moving forward, almost without thinking about it. The music made it even more amazing and I found myself singing.

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I realised I had paced it right when I started overtaking a lot of people. I think I passed almost 10 runners at the golf club in Nuffield. I was pretty excited there as I had run there twice already and I knew how much fun was running down to Grims Ditch.

I got there pretty broken up by the downhill, but I was 41 miles in, only 9 left to go! A couple more watermelon slices at the aid station and I was off.

It was hard to keep running at that point but the excitement kept me going. The last 3 kms I just let myself go, no point in saving energy anymore. When I entered Goring village I felt supersonic, I even high fived some kids. I had done it and I did not suffer too much. 9 hours and 22 minutes. Not amazingly fast but much better than I expected. Now I know that on a good day, when I have no stomach issue, no injuries etc I can run at that pace without too much pain. Now all I have to find out is how much faster I should go and still not crawl too much at the end. That’s what I will find out in November at the WW50. I cannot wait.

As all of Centurion’s events it was perfectly organised, the aid station volunteers were amazing, the route was perfect and the Chiltern hills are my new favourite place.

Here is the Strava log if anyone is interested.

 

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Digdeep Peak District 30 miles

I finally managed to spend a weekend in the Peak District. I am a big fan of the English mountains, even if I come from places where we would call them hills. I meant to visit the district for a long time, finally taking part in a race gave me the opportunity to go there.

I was looking for a longer run to do in August between Davide‘s NDW100 (post coming soon about that) and my September’s CW50. The Digdeep Intro Ultra 30 miles was perfect. It is part of a whole weekend of races so I was also tempted by the social aspect.

I left on Friday after lunch thinking I had plenty of time to get there, set up camp and see the talks that were in the program. Unfortunately the M1 was a continuous single traffic jam and took me over six hours to drive there (instead of three). The weather got worse and worse and when I finally arrived it was raining, I missed the talks and it was getting dark already.


I built the tent in the field near the Whirlow Hall Farm (the race headquarter). The first impact with camping life was not the best. The tent my good friend (and vegan apparel designer) Petr lent me was smaller then I expected. The field was muddy and full of cow poo but most of all it was not flat. I built the tent, had some food at the farm and then since it looked like nothing social was going to happen I went to try and sleep. It took me ages to fall asleep. Once I had to get up and take a walk as I felt too cramped inside the tent but that gave me the chance to see the sky at night with an almost full moon. There was quite a lot of wind so the day ahead was going to be interesting.

At 5am I was woken up by the noise of people getting ready to race the longer 60 mile race that was starting 2 hours before mine. It did not look like it was worth trying to fall asleep again so I got ready for my race too. The air was freezing cold and when we finally started running I was glad.

The course is a 30 mile loop around some of the best looking hills on the side of the Peak District near Sheffield and from the get go it was clear it was going to be a very good looking scenery.
After the painful final I had on the last two races I decided to take it relatively easy at the start. After a bit of fields and woods we arrived at the top of a beautiful hilly area full of Houndkirk Moor.

 

I felt a lot better and started accelerating a bit and at the first check point at Fiddler’s Elbow I was probably going too fast and that made me forget to check were I was going. I had the gpx file on my watch but I kept ignoring it and looking at markers and following people. We took the road and then realised we should have been on the path above. We went back and got on the right track. Good thing we did as that trail was the one following the top of Stanage Edge where it would have been impossible to get to if we had stayed on the road unless we were in for some rock climbing.

At the end of the ridge there was the unmanned checkpoint 2. We dibbed in and kept going. Less than 800 meters later we saw another dibber. I thought it was a checkpoint for the 60 mile race and kept going. That was a mistake. It was our checkpoint 3 too. Time penalty number one.

We ran down up and down a road for some more kms and then reached the checkpoint at the base of Win Hill. Going up the hill was a tough climb. The gnarliest of the race. Not a chance to run that one (the photo below does not do it justice).

Once at the top the view was amazing. The wind was crazy too and I did not envy the marshal waiting for the runners all day long at the top. This was just a bit after 20k and I was feeling relatively well. The climbs were harder than I am used to, but I was doing ok. Eating one gel every thirty minutes (even if I hated them, I will go back to my usual make) and drinking regularly. I made the mistake of not filling up the water bottle at any station yet but I thought I had enough to get to the next.

This is were disaster struck. Coming down from the other side of Win Hill the wind was so strong my eyes were watering and I had to use my hands not to fall on the steep rocks. At that point I might have missed an important sign and kept following the markers and a couple of guys ahead. After a while I saw that everyone stopped and looked at the map. I instantly looked at my watch gpx and realised what an idiot I had been not to look at it earlier. We had been following the 60 mile race markers for at least 3km.

We run back trying to cut down the hill and avoid going back up. We were going to miss checkpoint 6 at Aston but the time penalty (second one for me) was nothing compared to the time it would have taken us to go back. For fear of being lost alone I ran with those guys and not at my pace. By the time we joined the correct route at Hope village I had run 30k, 25k were still to be ran and I was feeling dead already. Mentally I was also a bit down as I hated myself for having run 5k more than needed. I was also out of water! I felt the gels stuck in my throat as if they had clogged my insides and basically felt a bit crap.

I put some music on (as always I waited until I was halfway through the race) which helped and continued running (I also managed to smile for this selfie).

The trail around a massive cement factory felt like lasting for ages but I finally reached the big aid station at Bradwell. I was so depressed to think I lost so much time. I had some real food, filled the water bottle and went out.

A long bit uphill was quite welcome as I had a chance to walk it and talk with other competitors. I ran down the other side feeling like I could not stop even if I had wanted to.

From then on it was an alternating of walk the hill, run a bit, walk again.

Then an endless bit along the river Derwent felt like it lasted an eternity. It was a very nice part of the trail, with the river down on the side, but it was flat and at that stage I would have preferred a bit of walking uphill and running downhill.

My wishes were soon granted and the final 10k of the race arrived, with a very long climb. I never felt so low in energy. I could not eat anything and my head felt light and my legs like made of wood. It lasted forever.

I finally recognised where I was as we got back from the same trail the race started on and when I realised it was actually skipping some parts we did in the morning I finally got out of the low point I was in. I even managed to run the full last 2kms and crossed the finish line completely knackered. Here is the Strava file if you are interested.

It was a beautiful place. The weather had been variable, sun, rain, mostly windy, but it was beautiful being out there. I am not too happy for having taken the wrong path and even less happy for having crawled the last bits. It was definitely a good lesson. I need to do a lot more long runs. The injury from last November really affected my fitness. Last year at this time I was so much stronger. Next month I will do my second 50 miler ever but I don’t think I will have much time to improve my fitness so I will have to be very rigorous in taking it easy and eating regularly. I cannot wait.

After the race I had a sort of shower with a water bottle in the middle of the field under the rain and in the wind. It was even more painful than the race.

Then I waited to see the first people finishing the 60 miler and then went in my tent. Spent the time from 7pm to 7am sleeping. I only woke up at 1:30am to watch Mo Farah win gold at Rio’s 5k race. Amazing stuff.

The day after the weather was slightly better and I went for a hike. I saw from far away places I had been the day before and I was amazed in realising how much terrain we covered.

I then drove back home to finally have a real shower.

I enjoyed the weekend in the Peak District a lot. Shame there was not much social interaction happening at the farm. I guess the weather did not help much. I will definitely go back and do it right next time!