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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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!

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!

Richmond Park Half Marathon

It was time to put my speed training to the test. After the NDW50 I stopped doing 100k+ weeks and concentrated on speed work. To check if it all worked out I was going to run the Richmond Park Half Marathon organised by RunThrough. They are the same cool guys that organised the Wimbledon Common Half I’ve ran last summer and really enjoyed. So I was sure it was going to be a small event like I prefer, but well organised. By the way, I will run the Wimbledon one again next month.

In the week leading to the race I took it easy:

Tuesday I ran 12km at 4:48/km on very tired legs.
Thursday I felt a lot better after a day rest and ran 15km at 4:28/km and on Friday I did an easy 10km at 4:44/km. On Saturday I rested and ate a lot of pasta.

So race day arrived. I was quite thrilled, I had not run an half marathon since last November and I was really looking forward to it especially as it was taking place basically in my backyard. I have run in Richmond Park so much that I was quite curious to see how it would feel to actually race in it.

The day started very sunny and hot and I cycled to the race start. When I got there there were already quite a lot of runners basking in the sun lying in the grass waiting for the start.

The race was made up of 4 laps. I do not usually like races with laps, but I found out it has its advantages.

The sun was shining and the day was hot when we started. The first part of each lap was uphill, gently, but still uphill, on a large gravel path for a couple of km, then at the top of the hill near Richmond Gate it turned left on pavement going mostly downhill and then the final bit was on a grassy, very uneven path.

The plan was to run around 4:00/4:10 m/km for the first 3 laps and then accelerate in the last one. As usual the plan was forgotten straight away.

The first lap I kept a pace just below 4:00 except for the final grassy/sandy last km that I found super hard on the legs. In the second lap I really found it hard going uphill again. It was also very hot. Every lap I would take a small bottle of water and by the end of the lap I would have drunk half of it and splashed the other half on my head. I have become too used to British weather, when I’ll run in Italy this summer I will melt.

The cool thing about it being a laps race was that I could adapt my pace to what was coming and my strategy became: do what you can uphill and then bomb it downhill. So I alternated slower kms at 4:21 going up with well below 4:00 m/km in the downhill bits.

I really enjoyed it as it became a real race between me and a couple of other people. I ran a lot of km with a guy and we were pushing each other quite a bit. I had to run faster than 3:40 for a couple of km to be sure he would not catch up with me. I am sure he could feel we were fighting too, and I enjoy that, especially as I finished faster then him. After the first lap I also learnt where it was better to run on the grassy final bit (avoid the central sandy part!) and it became much easier.

After the second lap we started lapping a lot of people so I could not really guess in which position I was. I started the race hoping I would finish in the top 15 so I was pretty happy when I crossed the finish line and heard the speaker say I was 10th. Even happier when the official results showed I was 9th! It is always good to finish in the top 10, I love it. richmondhalf

I was not expecting to do a PB as it was not a flat race so I was not too surprised by not even finishing with an average below 4:00 m/km, but I am very happy with the final result and the “racing” feeling I felt. You know when the legs go faster than you expect and they feel like they know what they are doing, you feel good. I could have pushed a bit more uphill in the second and third lap. Easy to say now!

Overall a very good fun race, very well organised and as always Richmond Park was amazing.

If you are interested you can see my Strava of the race here.

I cycled back home and had a massive barbecue with friends. Unfortunately all the sun that made me sweat the first 2 laps was gone and it was actually raining. Not ideal for cooking sausages, but I really enjoyed the company and the cold beer.

See you on the trails!