Druid Challenge 2015

After the last 10 mile race it was time to prepare for my first multi day event, the Druid Challenge, three days of running on the Ridgeway for a total of 84 miles.

I have been looking forward to this race for more than 6 months and I wanted to prepare well. The four weeks leading to the race went really well. I ran 6 times a week with a weekly average of more than 100k and did back to back long runs during the weekends. I started the first week with 30k on Saturday and 20k on Sunday. Then the week after 35k and 30k and the third week I did 40k and 20k. During those week I also did speed training twice a week, a couple of hill repeats and tempo runs.

Basically I prepared very well and I felt super confident. So I packed my bag and I was ready to go! Actually packing the bag has been quite a challenge as having to run 3 days in a row with no idea of what the weather was going to be like I brought a million things, plus an inflatable bed and sleeping bag.

Day 1

The train trip to the start at Tring took ages. I met another guy at Clapham who was going to the race too and we could not even get on the first train. It was so packed.

When we finally got to Tring we were just in time to get ready to start with the Elite group, which was fine for me as I registered as “elite”. Anyone that thought they could do the first day in less than 5 hours was elite. The idea is that the fastest runners start later so that everyone sort of finishes together and the checkpoints are ready etc. So walkers always started first, an hour later the runners and another hour later the elite. Depending on how you finished each day you were put in the elite or not. It was my aim to always be in the elite and it was not that hard to achieve.

From the Tring station we were taken by mini-bus to a farm where we could change (inside a silo) and listen to the race briefing. We were then driven to the start of the race, on the Ridgeway. It was pretty evident from the start that it was going to be a wet and windy day, but everybody was excited. We started with a bit of downhill that was probably the most dangerous of the whole race as it was on that white slippery chalk terrain that is characteristic of the Ridgeway. After that the rest was mud for the best part of the three days.

The first day was the longest, almost 30 miles and as I did not know how I was going to feel running for 3 days I took it relatively easy. The race leaders disappeared pretty quickly. Even if the whole race is on the Ridgway and I had the GPX file on my watch I managed to get lost many times. The first time after not even 3 kms and the second time 1km later.

The first half of the day went pretty well. After 20km we entered Wendover. It felt a bit strange as it was a Friday, kids were in school, people were in offices and we were running in the rain. After Wendover I think I took the wrong path again (I got lost there on my second marathon in February too), but after a while on the top of the hill I managed to get back on track. At that point we started overtaking quite a lot of walkers and slower runners which in a way gave me quite a boost.

I saved the mp3 player until halfway through the race which was exactly crossing the fields in front of Chequers. While trying to put my headphones on I lost one of the yurbuds. Sad, but I did not stop.

The rest of the race was a mix of emotions. The wind sometimes was very strong and the terrain slippery. I stopped to put my jacket on and felt terrible for a couple of kms. Then on a downhill bit I felt fantastic, then terrible again.

The last checkpoint was 10k from the end and I was really dead. The 8 or so km after that were the worst one, on endless flat fields with muddy bumpy terrain, hard to run on. Then it started getting dark and I did not want to stop and get my headlamp on so I started accelerating and felt I had more energy than expected and decided to race the darkness. The last 1.5k were on tarmac and I was happy to finally have some grip on the terrain.

I arrived at the school in Watlington were we were staying for the night pretty spent. 48km in 5:01 in pretty atrocious conditions.

After a hot shower and setting up my bed in the gym I started socialising a bit and it was a nice evening. I met a lot of nice people, the food was not too bad either and the evening went by pretty fast. A lot of people do this race to prepare for the Marathon de Sable so a lot of discussions were about that.

While eating dinner I also discovered I finished the day in 15th position which was a lot better than I expected.

shoes  mud

At 10pm the light were switched off and everybody tried to sleep the best they could. Not easy with all the snoring and people moving about. Even with ear plugs it took me ages to fall asleep. The excitement and the novelty of my inflatable bed did not help.

Day 2

The second day was the shortest (just a bit over a marathon) and that was positive as I was already afraid of being out of steam. I knew the rest I had during the night had not been enough. I even tried to sleep more in the morning as I was leaving with the 9am elite group. It did not help. I only managed to miss breakfast and I had to eat just two croissants with some water. Luckily half of my luggage was food. I had enough snacks to survive for a month.

The route on the second day started from the school where we slept so no need for a bus drive. It was raining very heavily and it was very windy. It was not going to get better any time soon.

I started easy as I did not know how fit I was after the day before but I pretty soon got into a good rhythm. The first half of the route was actually the best of the whole three days. Up and down hills in the woods. Even if the weather was terrible the woods were lovely. Autumn is the best time to run. We kept on going between forested bits and open fields where the wind was moving you sideways.

We then arrived at the golf course in Nuffield where I got lost this summer when exploring the Ridgeway and it was a morale boost. I knew that there was going to be a nice long descent for a while and I really enjoyed it and picked up the pace. Then there was a long bit on the river which I had found very boring and I was afraid I was going to suffer. Instead I just concentrated on following the people in front (mostly Laura, the girl who placed second at the end) and when we got to South Stoke I was glad that part was over. I barely stopped at the checkpoint and kept going. Faster and faster. I felt good. I put my MP3 on and started overtaking some of the people that started with me. I was so into it I took the wrong turn at Goring but luckily recovered quickly. Beautiful town on the river by the way.

After that, at the 27th km there was a long climb. I ran most of it. Fuelled by some wafers and the thoughts I was well over halfway through. When I got at the top a Metallica song boomed in my ears and coupled with the descent made me do a fist pump and grin like an idiot. That high point did not last long. I had to walk a bit and lost some time before the final check point but then I knew it was almost over.

After that it felt like it took ages to get to the finish line. The final kms where on open fields beaten by such a strong wind I had to remove my hat and I kept on losing my footing in the mud. I was glad when it was over. It had been shorter and I did not finish spent, but I was so happy to be handed a hot cup of tea at the end!

Finished the day in 14th position: 43km in 4:32.

We were then driven to the leisure center in Wantage where we were staying for the night. Luckily I arrived early and managed to get a nice hot shower. Others were not so lucky. I have maximum respect for those people walking most of the route. They spend 9 or so hours in the mud, rain and wind and when they get in they risk of not having a hot shower! Even crazier were the two guys pulling a tire for 3 days, training for the Yukon Arctic Ultra.

The rest of the afternoon was spent resting, chatting with fellow runners and mending the various painful bits. I had a sport massage that I found fantastic. It was my first one but it will not be my last.

I had a little pain in the right shin but there was nothing I could do.

After a nice dinner (hat off to the organisers, everything was like clockwork) we attended two talks. The first one was from course record holder Nathan Montague who talked to us about his latest victory at the Kalahari Augrabies Extreme Desert Marathon. Very interesting and inspirational stuff. The second talk was from Rory Coleman. I have to say, I did not enjoy this last one much.

Then we were off to bed. This time I managed to fall asleep pretty quickly and never woke up during the night.

friends  sleepday2

Day 3

The third day I woke up with a bit more pain on the right shin, but not to terrible. The weather was still quite abysmal but everybody was pretty excited to finish the challenge. Again I started in the 9am elite group. We were driven to where we finished the day before and the first part of the run was basically in the same boring terrain as the end of the day before. I really tried to take it easy (sticking to around 5:30/5:40 min/km) and save enough energy to get to the end, but after a while I felt pretty good (same thing as day 2 basically). The pain on the shin went away. I kept on eating my salt sticks and gels and avoided the check points food. I had been very diligent all the other days and avoided eating strange stuff and that meant no issues at all with my belly this time.

After the first 16k in the undulating fields we started going up and down nicer looking hills and I accelerated a bit and left the group I was with behind. For a second the sun came out but then the rain came back. It was colder than the days before but that was actually better. At around 27km we arrived a Liddington where we had to run on a big busy road which was not fun, but I had a banana from the check point and kept on going.
Then a very steep hill had to be climbed, very muddy and windy, rain was heavy and everything was clouded in fog. It was a pretty tough part of the race. I was surprised to see people having a Sunday walk in those conditions. A bit surreal, you could not see that much ahead and then people walking their dog popped out of the fog, or people on horse back, all this in a killer wind.

Then when the fog cleared a bit I realised I was 15k from the end and I just felt like I could not run slow anymore. I had to go fast and I just went for it. I overtook a couple of people that had started with me and never looked back. At the last check point I did not even stop, I just showed my bib and kept running. I only noticed later I was going at under 4 min/km pace.
Then I saw a guy that I know was close to me in the race timing and decided I had to overtake him. I think he saw me and started accelerating too, but then he stopped to open a gate and keep it open for Niandi and I went pass them. We talked for a bit and I tried not to look tired and accelerated in the fog.
After a bit more of up and down on grassy hills there was the much awaited tarmac road leading to the end. The first half km was a very steep descent. People were walking down it but I could not stop, I just bombed down it.
I think that is where I injured my shin even more and now after almost 4 weeks I am still not running. But whatever happened to my leg that day it was worth it. Those last 15km were probably the best in my running “career”. I was dead and at the same time full of energy. I just ran as fast as I could, uphill, downhill, everything. I never felt so alive. Overtaking people, saying hi to the ones I had met in the evenings. It felt so good. I also felt it was the end of the week end. 15k and then it was it, I had to make the most of it.

The last couple of kms on the road were quite flat and I just went as fast as I could. It felt fast but it was actually just around 4:40 min/km but after almost 135k it felt fast. When I got to the finish line I was very happy: 46 more km done, in 4 hours 29.

The last part of the third day was really an amazing experience and finishing the whole 3 day race felt like an achievement to be proud of. I got my medal, went for a shower. Noticed my shin was a bit swollen, but ignored it. I watched the prizes presentations to the winners and then took the mini-bus to Swindon. The train trip back home was endless.

I only found out a bit later I had finished 13th in the whole race which is fantastic. I dreamt of being in the top 20 and I could not ask for more.

end

Unfortunately I was not lucky enough to be captured in any of the nice photos taken on the hills and wood, but if you want to see how beautiful and wet it had been, check these albums out: day 1, day 2, day 3.

For people interested in kit and nutrition I do not have much to say. I had to change every piece of clothing each day as nothing dried during the night. I only had one pair of shoes, the fantastic Saucony Peregrine. They worked really well, but sometimes I wished I had bigger slugs. Even with 3 days of wet feet I had no problems, the injinji worked as well as always. In three days (during the race) I ate 10 High Five energy gels, 12 Cliff Shots, 1 packet of Powerbar wafers and 12 saltsticks. I took very little from the aid stations apart from water and the occasional salty snack or half banana.

Now I have not been able to run for almost a month and it looks like it will take bit longer to recover fully. X-rays have not found anything so I guess it’s just a question of taking a rest. It’s hard not to run but I am seeing it as a forced off season before I start preparing for next year Centurion Running 50 mile Grand Slam.

See you on the trails!

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.

mao

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.

boar

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.

spotorno
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.

Luigi

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.

IMG_6716

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.

IMG_6720

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.

IMG_6724

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.

IMG_6727

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.

IMG_6728
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!

North Downs Way 50

After months of training and thinking about this crazy adventure the day finally came. Saturday was race day, my first ultra marathon, the North Downs Way 50. I chose to try that particular race as it is quite close to home and I knew friends were doing it. Some people said it also was quite good for a beginner as the elevation gain is not too extreme.

The day before the race was spent (half of it as I only took half day off) preparing the pack and spent with two friends from Italy who came to run the race, Davide (@unknowndest) and the man known as “Cinghiale”. We spent the afternoon discussing their various racing experiences and I kept on asking for hints and tips. I was pretty excited/scared.
I checked for the final time the race pack and then we had an early dinner.

pack

I tried to go to sleep early but the excitement was too much. I slept very little and when the 4:30am alarm clock went off I was already awake. I had my usual pre-race breakfast (tea and two toasts, one with jam and one with peanut butter), spent a lot of time in the toilet (everything was going as planned), prepared the water bottles (one with just water for the race and one with salts for the pre-race snacks) and left the house. I picked up the two pros and off we went to Farnham.

As usual (for me) we arrived super early for registration. The race pack check went very quickly and we had our bib numbers. More waiting, chatting with people, more toilet breaks, a banana and energy bar, more waiting and then Emanuele (@manuontrail) finally arrived. I had been waiting to meet him for a long time. We sort of prepared this race together, from two different countries, via the power of the internet. It was time to see how ready we were. He had already run the SDW50 so at least he knew he had the distance in the legs, I did not.

We walked to the start line and had a quick briefing from race director James and then boom, we started. My race plan was to take it easy and save energy in the first half and get to Box Hill still full of energy and then see what I could do in the other half. I had run 50k in training and I knew I still had plenty of energy at the end if I did not go too fast, so I planned to run at a pace just below 6:00 min/km. In my dreams I thought I could do the whole race at that speed, slow down uphill and make up time downhill. I was dreaming of finishing it in just a bit more than 8 hours. How wrong I was!

Davide and Cinghiale disappeared in front straight away, like missiles. I ran 2k with Emanuele and then went on my own.
My confidence was shattered pretty quickly. I realised straight away that it was going to be a lot harder and that I should have done more hill training (mistake number 1). By the 20th km I was already walking uphill and I was feeling as tired as at the end of a marathon! I realised I was not saving any energy for the second half. I was already burning everything to get to it!

CR-NWD50-2015-77

While I did not stop at the first aid station I did a quick stop at the second. Took one of the gels available there and had my water bottle filled again. The gel was a caffeine one and it worked quite well. I got into a rhythm. If going up was too hard I would walk and run the rest. I really struggled and started suffering even on flats and downhill. I kept telling myself that once I was at Box Hill and half of the race was done I would feel good and as a prize I would start listening to my mp3 player. I really was looking forward to the music. It became the reason why I wanted to get to Box Hill as fast as possible. I suffered like crazy going down the private vineyards road near Guilford (I cannot remember the name) and I was telling myself “if you are struggling going downhill in the first half of the race, what are you going to do in the next 50k?”.

I arrived at the Box Hill’s aid station (24 miles) in 3:49 minutes. If I think about it now it was not too bad, but at the time I felt so tired it seemed like it took me ages.
Fortunately the friendliness of the volunteers at the aid station helped a lot. They gave me more water and words of encouragement. I started eating different things from what was available. I really appreciated the peanut butter sandwich and loved the water melon. I left pretty quickly but very happy.
The day was amazing, blue sky, sunny but not too hot. Plenty of people around cheering us, beautiful vistas from the hill tops, amazing single tracks in the woods. It was a perfect introduction to ultra running.

I was halfway through. I felt tired, but happy. The river crossing on the stones and the water melon gave me a boost. I walked up the Box Hill steps thinking that they were not that hard and then started running again with an extra spring.
I took out my mp3 player and all excited I told myself it was time to kick some asses. Mistake number 2: check the batteries work! Disaster, I had no music. I had to carry an mp3 player for no reason and I was not going to have any help from the music. I soon got over it and started running well. That was the best part of the race for me. I felt good. I ran quite fast where I could and walked pretty well uphill. I overtook a lot of people. Someone coming the other way told me I was in the top 50 and that gave me an extra boost. Even the killer Reigate Hill did not discourage me and I arrived at the next aid station (50k) quite comfortably. Unfortunately there was no water melon, ever again. I was definitely slower than my dream plan but not too bad. The GPS was playing tricks so aid stations arrived earlier than I expected, which was a bonus. I had more fruit from the station, some crisps and filled the bottle with an energy drink.

Then the real trouble started. I had been very good at eating a gel every half hour, drinking a lot, a salt stick every hour and so on, but I probably did a mess at the aid stations. The more I got tired the more I started eating random stuff and drinking coke (mistake number 3), which is something I never do even in a normal situation as I get terrible hiccups. So I started having nausea and belly cramps and really struggled running. I alternated a quarter km walk with 1 km run, but I was getting slower and slower and when I realised I still had hours, probably more than 4, to go I had a real low patch. There were some bits on the road that seemed endless, I remember a very bad bid in the middle of a golf course and then between houses. It seemed infinite. I would have lost the path at some point if a lady with a pram had not shouted me where I had to go. I was spent. The legs were hurting, but the real problem was the belly.

At the Caterham’s aid station (61k) I did the biggest mistake, I had ice cream. Disaster. The belly problems got worse and finally I had to stop and hide behind a bush and … But then I felt a lot better and when I got to the last aid station I started thinking about the end. I was going to make it! The nice volunteers made me a hot tea and it went down so well I was almost in tears with happiness.

The next 12/13k went a bit blurry. I kept on running where I could and walking were I could not, including downhill, which had become a pain. A guy in front of me was even more in pain and did the downhill steps backwards. The GPS was unreliable so I could not know if I was almost there or not. A 2k difference at that point seemed a lot.
Then there was an endless stream of potato fields. They never ended! Luckily it was all flat and as it was almost the end I started smiling inside. I went into machine mode. I was talking to myself loudly, counting the step, 1 to 10 and then again 1 to 10. I became louder but I kept running. I overtook people (that probably thought I was crazy), but I kept going. The legs where almost to the point of explosion (funnily I never had any cramp, which was my most feared scenario), the knees wanted to come off, but the belly was under control.

At some point I entered another potato field and saw the finish balloon at the other end. I could hear people screaming, but the path was not taking me there. Painfully there was still one mile to run around the field and then in the village of Knotholt. CR-NWD50-2015-725But finally I saw it in front of me and people started cheering, I saw my super fast friends there waiting for me (they had finished in 3rd position together, heroes), shouting, I had to resist the temptation to cry. I was so happy when I crossed the line. An indescribable feeling, 10 hours and 1 minute.

If you put together all the happiness I felt at the finish lines in my 40+ half marathons and marathons you do not get even close to what I felt Saturday.

It had been an amazing day. Amazing people, weather, location, pain, happiness, self discovery etc. I sat on the grass, in the sun, with my medal and everything was perfect.

resultsWhile waiting for Emanuele I had a sausage sandwich and a recovery drink and felt like new. I checked my phone and found many many messages from friends and family that had been following me on the live website. It was very nice to know people had been thinking about me all day.

We took the bus back to Farnham (wonderful organisation by Centurion by the way) and we had a fish and chip dinner. I could not eat much due to a killer hiccup that had finally got hold of me. I did not even sleep much during the night, too much adrenaline and hiccups.

We spent the next day in the pub, in front of beers and a Sunday Roast reminiscing the events of the day before. Then it was time to say good bye and I finally felt very tired. By 9.30pm I was sleeping in bad.

If you are interested, the official results are here. My Strava of the race is here (but my watch lost 2km somewhere).

Thanks to everyone who helped during the day. You made it special.

CR-NWD50-2015-726  CR-NWD50-2015-887

No rest

There is not much to report this week. I kept on running regularly every day. I did not rest on Monday and basically ran 9 days in a row, a little record for me.

Monday I did 12k at 4:26 min/km. Nothing special.

On Tuesday I tried something different that I had never done: longer repeats. After my usual warm up I did three 2km repeats at around 3:45 min/km with 2 minutes of recovery. Finished with a bit of cool down. It was a good experience. I am happy I managed to do them faster and faster and felt good at the end.

Wednesday I went out for an easy 13km run. I did it at an average of 4:32 min/km. Even if I was feeling a bit tired it was a good kind of tired, not the type you feel like breaking, but the one that makes you feel like you are doing a good job and pushing yourself further without killing yourself. Once I get to the recover/tapering week I am sure I will get rid of this tiredness and be stronger at the end, ready for the marathon.

To do a bit of hill training I went to Kingston Hill on Thursday. I did five 500mt uphill with the downhill to rest. I could not do them as fast as last week, but I did an extra one.

On Friday I did 10k of recovery as the hills the day before had left a lot of tiredness in my legs and then on Saturday I went for a 21.1k (not casual) run in Richmond Park. It was quite a good day. Running in the daylight is always a plus after 5 days running in the dark. So even if tired (my right hamstring really was asking for a rest) I managed to do the half marathon distance at a 4:18 min/km average, pushing a bit in the last three km.

And that was it for the week. I completed a 9 day streak, ran 6 times this week for a total of 81km and now I am ready to rest. Next week I will only run 8/10km three times and then Saturday I’ll be ready for my second trail marathon. I cannot wait.

Have fun!

Before the festivities

It has been another good running week. The weather has been relatively good and I felt good the whole week. It was the last week of serious running before the rest and all the crazy eating for Christmas.

I started easy on Monday with a recovery 11km run. It was the first winter day cold enough to wear the full thick winter gear.

On Tuesday I did some interval training. The usual warm up and then five 2′ run at around 3:30 with 2′ rest. Quite tiring. Strangely it was around 10 degrees at 5am. I ran with no gloves and hat with my medium gear and was still sweating like crazy.

On Wednesday for the easy recovery run went on a new route on the other side of the river on the Kingston bank and then up to the Teddington lock on the road instead of the usual towpath which was too dark. It’s nice to change once in a while. I was very happy after 11km. Again super warm for December.

Thursday was cold again and it was time for interval training again. Warm up and then four 6′ run with the heart at 155/158bmp and 3′ rest. A lot of fun but at the fourth I was ready to go home.

Friday unfortunately the alarm clock did not wake me up and I slept until the second alarm, the one that says it is time to go to work.

This meant that Saturday I was full of energy and very keen to go out. I did 30 minutes to Richmond Park and then 5 one minute repeats on the hill going uphill as fast as I could. Then when I was tired enough I went all around the park and then back home for a total of 25km.

hilly

It was a good run. The hill repeats were a killer and until I had a gel I could not really get some speed back in the legs. I tried a new flavour, banana. I loved it. I have a big stash now and I am trying different flavours. So far I have to say that my former favourite, green apple, has been beaten by the banana ones.

IMG_5153

Overall it was a good week. I ran a total of 70.5km and now it is time for some rest. I will run a bit during the holidays next week but not much. The last week of the year I will start seriously again.

Have fun and have a nice Christmas!

Dirt Running

This has been a very nice running week.

I did not train much during the week as I was getting some rest for Saturday’s race.

Monday I did an easy recovery 11.5km run. It was also the first run with the new Asics Nimbus 16. It is early to say if they are still the best shoes for me but they felt really good. I am going to alternate using them and the old ones for a while now.

Tuesday I rested and then Wednesday I did a bit of warm up and then tried to do a 5k fast run. I felt really good. In my old way of training I never did slow recovery runs like the one on Monday and I have to say, that was a mistake. You really feel energised by those easy days and Wednesday I felt really good, no pain anywhere, and did those 5k at a pace of 3:50 min/km which is not amazing, but it was all about feeling good for the race. Plus I had two pints of beer the evening before! I know, I broke my rule of “no alcohol 2 weeks before a race”, but I had to.

Thursday I did 10 easy km and then after work went to the pub again! I know, big mistake, but I was invited to a party, I had to drink.

Friday I rested, had pasta for lunch and dinner and went to bed early. This was the plan:

plan

The race was a bit far from home so I left quite early, good thing the start was at 10am. It took me a lot less to get there than expected and had to wait a long time. I ate a banana, an energy bar and used the toilet before the usual massive queue formed. I hate waiting.

The day was perfect, cold and dry. The location seemed very nice too. On the way there I passed a lot of nice little old villages, all of them made of a couple of old houses, a church and a bridge. Loads of tiny bridges over little canals. Really nice.

When it was about time to start I went to take my place on the starting line, in the group that aimed to do it under 90 minutes. I was confident. My half Marathon best is under 85 minutes and I was hoping the trails and hills would not affect me too much. The plan was to run at a steady pace around 4:10 min/km but as always the pull of the other runners made me start faster.
After a couple of km it was already possible to see the leading group forming in front and gaining distance. I stayed in the second group. Last of that lot, maybe 25th.
The first half of the race was on flat, on a very nice towpath on a canal. It was not a trail but it was very slippery, especially under the many bridges. Being very narrow the path made it hard to overtake but after a while I was feeling so good I started running well under 4:00 min/km and started gaining places until after a while I was the first of the second leading group. At that point I went crazy and decided to give it all. I was not even halfway through the race and decided to dig in and run fast. All the time I kept on thinking it was a mistake. I could see the people I was overtaking thinking the same. “Where does he think he is going? Doesn’t he know the hard part is still to come?”. No, I did not know and did not care. In these cases ignorance is a good thing.

Finally we left the canal and went into the fields and after a while the path started climbing and I thought “OK, this is the end for me. I overdid it and now I will pay for it”. I was wrong. All those hill training on Kingston hill paid off. I slowed down a bit obviously, but not that much. I was not looking at the road. I just looked at the feet of the people in front and one by one I overtook five of them and found myself at the top of the hill and, cheered by the small crowd, I started running down. This is where the best part of the race was. Up and down this hill in the mud, skipping roots, jumping between puddles, running through cattle gates, in the wet fields sometimes with the feet completely under water. It was exhilarating and as I knew I could not catch the leaders I, at least, ran as fast as I could to avoid being caught up by the people behind. Really, I could have not run faster and I did not care that there was still quite a bit to go.

dirtrunning

I was so into it that at one point I missed the correct trail and started bombing down a tarmac road. Luckily one of the marshalls shouted at me “Ehy! It’s a trail race not a road race!”. I laughed but had to go back up. I only lost probably 25 seconds, but one guy behind me caught up and we were entering the small path at the same time. I have to thank him for being such a good sportsman. He stopped and waited for me to get back into the path and run ahead of him. Very nice stuff. It was the highlight of the event for me.

We then run all the way to the end together. After a bit more wet fields and slippery wooden bridges we rejoined the towpath for the last 4k of the run.
Here the competition started between us, or at least I felt like it. We ran close to each other at around 4:10 min/km pace. Going faster was either not possible because we were too tired or we both were waiting for the other to do his move. We ran together until we were 500 mt from the end. There was a small slope there, very muddy and slippery and he lost his momentum and slowed down a lot. I overtook him and he shouted “Go go! You won!”
I saw another guy in front but it was impossible to think to accelerate at that point and just enjoyed the feeling of crossing the line and finishing my first trail race.

I finished in 14th place, 6th in my category, in 1 hour and 26 minutes. It’s a result I am really proud of as I gave it all and loved every second of it. I hope this is the first of many. I will definitely go back to do this one next year.

For some stats have a look at Strava.

Cannot wait to do more. My next race is a full marathon! Unless I find another race to do before then 🙂