High Weald Challenge 50k Ultra Trail

Sunday morning the alarm clock went off at 4:20am. My second ultra was waiting for me, exciting. After the usual breakfast I drove to pick up @craigjmcelroy and together we went down in Kent for the High Weald Challenge 50k Ultra Trail.

I have been preparing for this race quite well with a lot of climbs while on holiday and quite a bit of long runs the month before. So I felt pretty confident and was aiming for 4:30 (ah ah ah!). Once we arrived at the beautiful Groombridge Place we picked up our bibs and in the freezing morning prepared for the challenge (with a visit to the portaloos).

At 8am the race director walked us to the start line and we were off.

We ran most of it together. Took it relatively easy at the beginning. Walked most of the uphills, speeded up a bit in the middle part, but in general we were trying to save some energy for the end.

I did not eat anything strange this time at the aid stations. Only drank water and ate my own gels. The day got warmer and we got into a nice rhythm. We even managed to chat a bit.

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The course was really nice. Not too hilly, something like 700mt of elevation in the whole 50k, so not too bad. The trail was muddy here and there, but nothing compared to the last time I was there (see my first marathon), but it was still quite a tiring terrain with very few fast runnable bits. Most of it was on uneven tiny trails on fields or in woods with plenty of roots and branches. A lot of fun.

Even if it was not marked particularly well (still better than expected) we managed not to get lost too much, either following someone else or looking at the navigation tool on the watch. Which is great by the way, the Fenix 3 is proving to be the best piece of kit I could buy. Luckily we did not need to look at the 20 page long road book given to us at the start.

Check out this video to see how wonderful the course and the day was. You can see me and Craig at 4:55 in one of the best downhill bits.

In the last 12k I struggled quite a bit but did not crawl, I just ran slower. Craig went ahead as he wanted to do it in 5 hours (and managed to do it). I went as fast as I could. The stomach was fine, the legs too, but they felt like they were coming off the hips. Every time I got into a rhythm I had to stop and climb over a stile. There were probably 25 stiles in the whole race and after a while they were really a pain!

I finally got to the end in 5 hours and 9 minutes, 24th place. My target of 4:30 (as always) was a bit too optimistic. Check out the Strava stats here.

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Overall I loved the race. I would recommend it to anyone looking for a nice 50k, especially on a sunny day like last Sunday. The scenery from the hills is beautiful, the forests are fun to run and you get to cross Winnie The Pooh bridge too.

I felt good for most of it and even the bits I suffered were nothing compared to previous races. I just regret not pushing a bit more at the end, but I think it was a good test for the Druids Challenge.

The only negatives, as far as I am concerned, are that the course could be marked a bit better and that there were no refreshment at the end. No bananas! Nothing, just some water. Strange as the aid stations were very well stocked, plenty of water melons, my favourite ultra distance fruit! The ceramic mug received with the medal was quite nice actually.

We went to the pub for a quick beer and pie and then drove back home. It was a good day and going to a race with someone you know is definitely more fun than going alone.

The days after I felt fine, no pain anywhere, which is also a good indication that I should be able to run the second Druids day. Not sure about the third!

I decided not to go to the Cardiff Half Marathon next Sunday as I have not heard from Brooks about the bib I was supposed to get for free. Plus it is a bit too far and I would need to dedicate the whole weekend to it. I will instead do the Kingston 10 mile race that is just outside my door. I can do it and get back home as if I just went for a training run. I am aiming for a 10 miles PB. We’ll see.

Have fun!

Pre-50k race post

In the last two weeks I have tapered to get ready for my second ultra, the High Weald Challenge 50k.

Am I ready? Yes I am!

Last week I ran a total of 87k. Still a bit, but no speed work. I ran 10k on Tuesday (5:11 m/km) to recover from the previous hard weekend. Then I did 12k on Wednesday (4:37 m/km, felt good) and then Thursday and Friday I ran the same 15k route. I wanted to try out the navigation tools of my watch as the High Weald race looks like it is not going to be well marked. The website provides a big pdf with instruction to navigate the course but knowing me I will get lost in the first 5k. Luckily they provide the gpx file of the course. So I tried my own gpx file from Thursday and told the watch to make me run that route again on Friday. It seems to work quite well. I don’t think it will make me not take the wrong turns as the map is quite tiny and the arrow that indicates the direction is only changing when it’s too late, but at least it will tell me straight away if I am off course.
On Saturday I did an easy 13k run (4:34 m/km) as I did not have much time. My hero of a wife was graduating that day!
Sunday I ran 21.1k in my trail shoes, so Bushy and Richmond Park as usual. I felt good, ran a new trail I had never tried and saw the biggest deer ever. After almost 4 years of running in Richmond Park I still find new places to explore, amazing.

This week I took it even easier. I don’t want to do the mistake I always do and get to race day already tired. So I only ran three times. I wanted to do Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, but on Tuesday it was raining so much that I decided to go back to bed. After all it was not a training week and I wanted to take it easy and avoid getting a cold. So I ran Wednesday, Thursday and Friday (today). 10k, 8k and 5k respectively. Going very slowly. It is fun to do that sometimes, arrive home when it is still dark, not tired at all, no heavy breathing etc.

So, I feel ready. I have never tapered so well. I tried to sleep more (not always succeeding), I drank more (water), ate pasta and pizza, foam rolled every evening etc. I also feel the last 2 months of training, with loads of trail and uphill running, have been very good.

I will be going to the race with Craig and I am looking forward to running with someone for a change. Hopefully he will not run away and leave me behind straight away.

I think it will be an interesting race, it is my first 50k after all. The place looks amazing. The race director is a kick ass ultra runner so I am sure the route will be a lot of fun. Let’s just hope we do not get lost and the gpx file in the watch does the trick.

I’ll update this blog with news on the race as soon as possible.

See you!

Holidays!

Here is a post with a quick update on what I have been up to in the last 3 weeks. Obviously I ran a lot, which was made easier by the fact I was on holiday for 2 weeks. I went to Italy to enjoy some rest. The weather has always been amazing and very hot. I managed to run a lot on the hill behind the seaside. I explored some amazing locations with beautiful views on the hill son one side and the sea coast on the other. It’s a shame I never bought my phone with me so I do not have any photos to post.

The main issue with running the trails this summer was the amount of wild boar I encountered. There is a real invasion right now in the Savona region. You cannot go for a run anywhere without meeting some boars, even on the road or on the sea side, and they are quite scary when they are big and are with their young ones. But let’s go in order.

After the long run with Craig and South Downs Way recce I rested for a day and then ran a 10k recovery run before leaving for Italy.

The first full day there (Thursday) I went for my usual 10k loop on the coast with a couple of hill climbs. I wanted to acclimatise to the hot weather before doing anything longer. Then on Friday I put on the trail shoes and went for the highest hill, the Monte Mao (400 something meters) behind our place.

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Photo stolen from the internet

I took the straight path which required a lot of power hiking more than running. It’s a shame this summer (again) someone tried to set fire to the hill and part of it is all burnt and black. From the top I kept running on the crest and went up and down 2 more “peaks” and then run back going around them for a total of 13 tough kms.

On Saturday I went back to road running and did 20k on the coast at 4:32 m/km.

Sunday I did more road running but going up and down the hills and spotted the first boars: 15k to complete a 68km relatively easy week.

Most days during the holidays I also tried to improve my swimming, but I am really not that good. I used the Open Water feature of the Fenix 3 to record my swims and they are really disappointing performances.

The week after I did another rad hilly run of 13k and then on Wednesday I went again up Monte Mao. This run was really adventurous as I first had to change path to avoid a boar and then when I was on top of a hill I took the wrong turn and found myself stuck with nowhere to go. I turned around and found another boar in front of me. This time I got scared. The “beast” started making noises and coming towards me. If I went right it moved left and vice versa. It was always in front of me. I tried to circle around it and when I got up again on the path it was there waiting for me. My heart went racing. I decided to run down the hill in the middle of the bushes as fast as I could hoping it was not where the boar wanted to go. Luckily after a while I crossed a dirt road and took it all the way around the hill and back home. It was a 14k run with a scary encounter.

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Photo courtesy of Mr. Angsat

The day after I went for a 16k road run at 4:34 to avoid more encounters, but then on Friday I decided to go trail running again. I was told to try the “Passeggiata Dantesca”. It’s a 12k loop on the hills behind Noli. I added to it 4k to get there and back from home. It was beautiful. Not too steep, but the views were amazing. The trail goes from rocky parts to single tracks in the woods and ends with an old Roman road. I loved it.

In the evening we went for a 6k walk up the same hills in the moonlight and torches. Amazing night. Full moon, clear sky, you could see half of Liguria from there.

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In the meantime I kept on checking my phone for UTMB updates and messages from friends in Chamonix. It was an epic race for my friend @unknowndest. He finished 27th, second Italian!

On Sunday I went for a long 24k run with my sister Alice (she is a kick ass biker). She followed me on her bike and we went up the hills and then down to Finale Ligure and back home on the coast. It was a very hot morning, around 30 degrees at 8am. And that was the end of the week, for a total of 83.5k and the holidays were getting to the end.

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Photo courtesy of Alice

On Monday I did the “Passeggiata Dantesca” again, but slightly changed it to get back to Spotorno faster, so I cut out the Roman road and did the normal road. Still a very nice loop, 15k at 5:58 with 400mt elevation.

On Tuesday, our last day in Italy, I went for a quick run on the coast: 15k at 4:27. Even there, on the promenade, I had to run away from wild boars! There were 6 of them, 4 young ones who ran away and 2 massive ones who ran towards me!

We flew back to London on Wednesday. All in all it was a very nice holiday, very hot, I ran in new places, swam a bit, ate a lot and mostly had a chance to see friends and family for a bit.

Thursday I went out for a run in my usual places, but the impact after the holidays was too much. Instead of 30 degrees it was 12. It was dark already, the park was closed. Back to reality! I did 15k at 4:37 m/km, not bad.
Friday I did a bit of speed training, which I had neglected while on holiday (having focused on up and down running). I did a 2k warm up and then 7k tempo run at 3:56 m/km. Tough, but rewarding. Concluded with 3 more km of cool down.

For the weekend I had planned to do two long runs back to back. I partially succeeded. On Saturday I did 35k at 5:00 m/km going around both Bushy Park and Richmond Park with some bits on the river. I enjoyed it a lot. I suffered a bit in the middle part, but then felt good and strong the rest of the way. When I got home I thought I would not be able to do a long run the day after. I still tried. I wanted to do 30k, instead I did only 23k. Still, it was a good running weekend that concluded a nice 116k week, one of my longest.

I will do more long runs and speed work next week and then start tapering before the High Weald Challenge 50km Ultra Trail. I am looking forward racing again!

Have fun!

Adventuring (part 2)

At the beginning of the week I was not feeling too well so I took it quite easy. Rested on Monday, ran 13k on Tuesday (with no energy at all) and then rested again on Wednesday.

On Thursday I was feeling myself again and went to do some uphill repeats in Richmond Park. I first did a 3k warmup and then five 400mt uphill and then rested 400mt downhill. Quite intense. On the way back home I also did some sprints instead of just doing a cool down.

In the evening I went to another Like The Wind event where The Montane Spine Race movie was shown. I liked it a lot. See the trailer below and if you get a chance to see it do not miss it. The film makers were there to answer questions, one of the runner was there too to tell us about his experience. All in all a very nice evening.

On Friday I took it easy. I ran 11.5k at 4:48 in Bushy Park. Very strange morning, very foggy. At one point a white stag ran out of the mist and into the bushes, quite spectacular.

Saturday I finally managed to go for a run with Craig. We have meant to go for a run together since last year, preparing for the NDW50. We never managed to until this week. We ended up doing 32km from Kingston to Mortlake and back. We did not go too fast but I was very tired at the end, maybe it’s because I am not used to talk so much while running. We then went for a cold beer on a river pub, in the sun, it went down really well (I had a killer hiccup in the evening, but that’s nothing new). Craig: nice one, let’s do it again.

Then on Sunday I went to explore new trails. I have never run on the South Downs Way. I have walked part of it, but had not seen enough. So I woke up very early, 5 am, drove down to Eastbourne, left the car there and then took a train (2 actually) to Falmer and then looked for the SDW. The plan was to run the second half of the SDW50 which I will race next year. Falmer is perfectly halfway and the train station is close to where the SDW meets the A27.

I started running straight outside the train station but after less than 2k I stopped as my watch had all the settings reset from the previous firmware update and it was in miles and showing me data I did not want to see etc. I did not want to run 40k+ without the right settings so I stopped, fixed the issue and started again. What I did not notice was that where I stopped I should have crossed the A27 and go into the SDW, instead I kept running on the side of the road until I arrive to Kingston Near Lewis where I asked a friendly lady how to find the SDW. I was not too far, I only had to climb a hill and I would cross it.

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The sun was shining and it was quite hot. I knew it was going to be a long run and I was still a bit tired from the day before so I forced myself to take it easy. I also knew I was not going to cross much civilisation and there was no point in going back or taking shortcuts. The car was at the end of the trail, I had to run it all. It was quite a good exercise in pacing and I am very happy I managed to be consistent. I never felt like I was going to crawl. I ran well on flat and downhill and run most of the climbs.

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The view from the top of the various hills was amazing. I have to say, I like the North Downs Way, but on a day like Sunday, the SDW is ten times better.

I steadily kept on going. I did not force myself to eat too many gels and my stomach was happy. I might try not too eat gels every half hour during races like I always try to do. 45 minutes, an hour is probably good for me.

It started getting cloudy and windy and at times it felt quite chilly. I had a jacket with me in case I needed it, but I did not use it. I felt that if I kept on moving I was not going to get cold. Another reason to keep going. At times I felt very far away from everything. I met people walking around but it felt very lonely at times, me versus nature. I listened to some music and loved the whole feeling.

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At the 24th km I arrived at Alfriston. Looking at the map the days before I had planned to stop here to refill the water bottle and maybe get some quick food. The village centre is really nice and tiny. I went into the only little shop I saw and bought 1 litre of water, a packet of crisps and a box of jaffa cakes. I had run out of water half an hour earlier so I was quite thirsty and drank half a litre straight away and ate the crisps in two seconds and then started running again. I think I stopped for 5 minutes but it was enough to give me strength. I knew I was over the halfway mark. While running I ate some jaffa cakes. They work really well for me. I carried the packet almost until the end and I ended up having an orange hand at the end.

After 4 more kms and a couple of tough climbs/step I arrived at Exceat. A place I know well as I walked there a couple of times. It is very touristic and was packed with people.IMG_6725

Knowing the area made me fell like I was almost at the end, but the toughest 10 miles were waiting for me. Running up and down the Seven Sisters is really hard. I walked 2 climbs but ran all the others. Very tough after 35k, I cannot imagine how it will be at the end of the SDW50.

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The view from there, even without the sun, is amazing and it makes you forget how tired you are. I finally ran into Eastbourne. Did a couple more kms in town and then stopped. I had run 43.5k in total and I had enough. I wanted food. Unfortunately the town was over crowded due to an airplanes show or something. I was hoping to get a shower on the beach and then go for some fish and chips, but you could hardly walk around. Too many people. I bought a massive cappuccino (proteins!), had a banana and some snacks and drove back home. Happy.

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Overall a very good week. Two nice long runs in the week end, one in good company and one in beautiful settings. I ran a total of 105km. Next week I will rest a bit and then start the build up for the next race in September: the High Weald Challenge 50k.

See you!

Adventuring

It has been a nice week. Quite a bit of running and a nice week end of adventuring in new places.

On Monday I decided non to rest as usual and instead I went for 14k run entering Richmond Park from a different gate than usual. Then I went up and down my new favourite hill. I ended up with an average pace of 4:44 m/km. I took it easy at the start and accelerated towards the end.

On Tuesday after a 3k warm up I did a 5k tempo run at 3:49 m/km. Finished the session with 2 more kilometres of cool down to head back home.

On Wednesday I did a relatively quick 13k at 4:37 m/km and on Thursday I ran 11k easy.
Friday I rested to have more energy for the week end.

Saturday I decided to run somewhere new. In November I will run the Druids Challenge, which is a 3 stage race on the whole length of the Ridgeway. I have seen part of it in previous hikes or races, but I wanted to explore more of it. I could not find any way of using a mix of car and public transports to avoid having to run back to the car. So instead of doing 2 hours by bus or train I decided to leave the car in one place, run out for 15k or so and then run back.

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The day started a bit cloudy but I knew it was going to get better. Unfortunately I did not manage to leave as early as I wanted. I drove to South Stoke, just a bit north of Goring. I wanted to start running on the path, with no bits of road and that was the closest place I found. I started running north.

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The first part was on flat ground following the Thames. Very nice area, nice houses, rowing boats, cows etc, but the path was super slim and on very uneven big bunches of grass, so it was not a pleasure to run. I can see it being an ugly bit to run with 70+ km in the legs from the day and bit before.
After 4km the path goes through North Stoke, that is a nice “boutique” village with beautiful cottages, church, water mill, etc. Then after a couple of boring km through a golf course the best part of the run started.
The path turns abruptly east and leaves the river and goes up toward Nuttfield. That part of the trail goes through woods and a dry river bed and it is a lot of fun to run.

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Then when I arrived at Nuttfield the trail went through another golf course but this time actually very close to the greens. Trying to follow it without running where I was not supposed to I lost it. I went on another trail (which was fun too) and after a couple of kms I realised I was not going in the right direction. I asked a couple of mountainbikers that almost run me over but they had no idea where the Ridgeway was so I ran back to the golf course and once there I decided to run back to the car.

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Going back was even more fun and once I got to the river the sun was shining and it was very hot. At the end I did not run the 30k I wanted, but 29k at 5:12 m/km was good enough. Beautiful places, beautiful day.

Here is the Strava of the run.

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I also took a very motion-sickness inducing video with my phone while running on the way back:

Sunday me and my friend Jamie went for our annual hike. We do one every August, this is the third one in a row. Chilterns Hills two years ago, South Downs Way last year, Kent this time.
We left the car just outside Rye and walked out on a very large, grassy and flat area full of cows and sheep. I have never seen so many sheep or sheep poo in one place. The sky was blue, the sun was very hot, but there was a bit of wind that made it bearable. We got sun burnt without noticing it basically.
After about 10km we reached the cost at Camber Sand. It’s a very large beach and that day was full of people. We sat on the sand to rest a bit and then we walked back to Rye following the harbour.
We walked a total of 15k. It was quite an easy walk as it was all flat, but very enjoyable. I would not do it on a rainy day as the beauty of it is in the large expanse of fields which are nice in the sun, but might be a bit boring and sad in the rain.

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We did a small tour of Rye which is very nice, very much a tourists attraction with old English houses and a castle. It’s a shame the view form the top of the village is ruined by the industrial/harbour bit below.
After a pint and fish and chips (me) we went back to the car and drove to a crazy place: Dungeness. It’s quite a surreal place. Almost looks like a nuclear blast aftermath. I cannot imagine how it is to live in those small houses in the middle of nowhere, but it is worth visiting as there are not many places like that.

Overall a very nice week. I will try and run somewhere new next week end too.

Have fun!

The future

It took me quite a while to recover from the half marathon I ran last week end. I don’t know if it was the effort I have put in ti or the fact I ran it a week after a tough marathon on the NDW. Maybe both, but I could not even walk without pain in my legs for two days. I decided to take it easy and rested Monday and Tuesday. Then the rest of the week I ran relatively all easy stuff.

Here is a quick summary:

Wednesday 10.5k at 4:48 with wooden legs.
Thursday 11k at 4:38 on the Bushy Park trails.
Friday a very nice 14k at 4:35 in Richmond Park. I have never seen so many young deer.
Saturday I pushed a bit and did 22k at 4:26. I finally felt like I had recovered.
I finished the week with an easy 11k run on Sunday at 4:43.

Overall a good week of recovery. I ran a total of 69k.

From next week I will start increasing the mileage again. Why? Because it is time to seriously start training for the races ahead. And I have a lot of them coming up.
I have basically decided what I am going to do for the rest of 2015 and most of 2016 already. I enjoyed the NDW50 so much that I want to do more of the Centurion 50 milers, all of them actually and try to complete the Grand Slam.

But that is next year. First I need to prepare a 50k run I will do in September and then the 3 day Druids Challenge in November!

Here is my semi-definitive list of races I will do next:

DATE

RACE

27/09/2015 High Weald Challenge 50k
04/10/2015 Cardiff Half Marathon
06/11/2015 Druids Challenge
05/12/2015 Rail to Trail East (Cuxton, Kent) Marathon
23/01/2016 Rail to Trail South (Ashurst, East Sussex) Marathon
05/03/2016 Rail to Trail West (Wendover, Buckinghamshire) Marathon
09/04/2016 SDW50
14/05/2016 NDW50
17/09/2016 CW50
26/11/2016 WW50

I only have to find something to do in June, July, October and December 2016!

It will be fun.

Hope to see you in one of those races!

Wimbledon Common Half Marathon

Last week I ran the Wimbledon Common Half marathon.

Last year I really enjoyed it and it was my first experience of a race on trails (sort of) and not flat. I wanted to do well as last year’s 12th position and time could definitely be improved on.
As I had ran the NDW Marathon the week before I had to rest and take it easy for the six days in between.
So I only ran three times:

A very slow recovery 10k on Tuesday. My legs were really dead. I could not run faster than 5:12 m/km.

On Thursday I felt better but my quads were still knackered. I need to train to run downhill more. I did 15k at a nice speed nonetheless: 4:27 m/km, but every little downhill step or section was a killer.

On Friday I did the 10k loop around Bushy park at an easy 4:48 m/km.

On race day Sunday I woke up pretty early and feeling really well. On Saturday I cycled a bit just to keep active and I was full of energy. I had to drive to the race even if it was not that far as the weather was going to be very wet.

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I arrived pretty early to the race start, got my bib and then went to the car to spend half an hour reading tweets. At that point it started raining a bit and when I started my warm up routine it was really pouring down. From then on it never stopped raining. I like running in the rain and the temperature was good for a race (super cold to be July), but I was afraid of mud or slippery bits.

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The race took place around Wimbledon Common which is a bit hilly and it was made of two loops. I started in the front group but pretty soon I had more than 20 people in front.

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I stuck to my race plan which was very simple this time. I just wanted to finish the race with an average below 4:00 m/km so I was going to go fast on flats depending on how much time I had lost in the climbs (2 small climbs per loop, but enough to slow you down considerably).
I am very happy to say I stuck to my plan and after 5k I was starting to overtake people that had started too fast or were not expecting to run in the muddy slippery trails. I was wearing my Saucony Peregrine that performed extremely well.

I was really putting in maximum effort. My heart rate was constantly above 165bpm and I made sure that every single step was pushing me forward. I never felt like this, I was running closer to a 5k effort than a 21.1k effort, but I felt like it was the right way to do it.
At around the 8th km some people tried to overtake me and I fought back, actually overtaking more people myself in the process. I soon started running with another guy and we run all the way together to the end. I don’t know what he was thinking but in my mind we were both trying to help each other to push ourselves to the limit. I was very much in race mode, as soon as I had someone in my sight I slowly but surely started catching up and overtook him. When my new companion was overtaking me I made sure I kept super close to him.
We kept overtaking people, finished the first lap, kept a good pace uphill (4:30 m/km) and a fast pace under 3:50 m/km the rest of the way.
In an hour we ran 15k, which then made it my second best time for 10 miles. Basically I did my second best time on everything that day, 10 miles, 15k, 20k and finally Half Marathon.

I was on fire, very wet and muddy, but on fire. In the last 2 miles my companion took the lead and I struggled to stay with him but there was no one behind so I was not afraid to lose positions.

I finished in 1:23, in 9th position. One minute slower than my half marathon PB, but on a much harder course than the one I did the PB on, so I am very very happy. Amazingly if I had done this time last year I would have finished third.

I was so wet and cold that I did not do any stretching (I paid for the mistake), put my legs under a water faucet to get rid of the mud and drove home.
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I am very happy with the result and with the “racing” feeling I had. While running I kept on telling myself “when you are home later on this afternoon you definitely cannot complain about not having gone fast enough or put enough effort this time”. Which is all I can ask for.

Thank you @RunThroughUK for organising the race.

If you are interested here is the Strava of the race.

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See you!