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.

170312175222_H

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.

CENTR-17-SDW50-Aid1-Bololphs-84

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!

CENTR-17-SDW50-FINISHv2-297

1..2..3…GO!

New training regime

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

Races

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

The Denbies 10

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the Strava of the day.

North Downs Way Marathon

Last Sunday I went back to the North Downs Way to run the NDW Marathon. The first edition of this race organised by Hermes Running, the same people that organised the Thames Meander I ran in March. I loved the NDW when I first ran on it during the NDW50 and I was keen to get back there.

The day started with pouring rain but by the time I was at the Reigate Golf Club (where the race HQ was) the sun was out and it looked like it had no intention of raining again.
I had to park quite far away from the starting line, but that gave me the chance to get to know a couple of other guys including one I ran the first kms with, which is one of the reasons I like going to races.

After a bit of pre-race briefing by race director David Ross with his cool Western States buckle we were off. Some people in front just disappeared straight away. I had no intention of letting the excitement make me run too fast and I decided to stick to a 5 min/k on flat, run fast downhill and do whatever possible uphill.

150719223431_H

I was feeling quite good. The sun was shining, the woods were thick and the paths were perfectly dry. I did not even feel the first uphill bit. After around 5k we were at the first big downhill, Reigate Hill. I remember doing it uphill during the NDW50 and it was as steep as I remembered it. I decided to go down fast. A lot of small steps and boom I was at the bottom pretty fast feeling like a hero.
I started overtaking some people. I remember hat part as being the bit I liked the most during the NDW50 but doing it the other way round I did not remember it much. I was going to do it again on the way back so I was curious to see if I was going to get some flash back from May.

At the 10th km there was another climb and on top of that I should have gone right and kept at the top of the hill until the famous Box Hill steps. Instead I took the wrong turn and went straight down. I thought I was going fast and instead I was overtaken by two guys (not taking part in the race) that were going at least twice as fast. Amazing speed. My eyes were watering, I could not go faster than that, I was scared of tripping and these two guys went down like missiles. I later discovered they were @TheGingerKenyan and @kendall_danny. At the bottom I found myself with the first lady and we both realised we were in the wrong place. The two guys told us how to get back to the Box Hill steps and off we went. I don’t think we lost much time, but we had to do an extra climb to find ourselves back on Box Hill.

150719213406_HThe downhill on the steps was fun, but my legs were starting to complain a bit. I was happy when I got to the stepping stones.

After crossing the A24 we ran up the asphalt road that I hated doing downhill at the NDW50, the bit through the vineyards. Doing it uphill was not too bad and after 2 more flat kms on top of the hill and through some woods we arrived at the halfway point where we turned around and started running back. I felt quite good. I was 10th (I counted the runners coming back). Stupidly I forgot that the worst part is after the 30th km and the good feelings I have at 21k do not count. Like an idiot I tried to keep my 10th place and ran a couple of kms at 4:30 but then the downhill via the vineyard really killed my legs and I started losing positions. I was happy when I arrived at the stepping stones again and I stopped for the first time at an aid station. I took some extra water and started going up the box hill steps, walking for the first time in the race.
When I arrived at the top I had lost 2 more positions and my legs were broken and still had 15km to go.

The rest of the race was just pure suffering. When I was running I was doing 6 min/km, but when the trail was uphill I had to walk and ended up doing some very slow kms. Cramps were always around the corner and I started eating salt sticks every 20 minutes, I even chewed one and almost puked, disgusting.

At the 37th km I walked up Reigate Hill. It felt like vertical, a lot harder than when I did it at the NDW50 even if I only had 37k in the legs and not 50+. At the top I could not get the legs moving and spent too much time walking and chatting with a guy on a horse. I then shuffled for a bit until I got to the last aid station, 1.6 miles before the end. I probably stopped to drink there for too long and two more runners caught up with me. As it was the end I tried to fight not to lose more positions. One guy stayed behind but the other one, a 60+ veteran, was just too strong. We did some bits at around 4:15 min/k and still as soon as there was a uphill part he was too strong for me.

I finished 22nd in 4 hours and 8 minutes.

150719204135_H

As always I think I should have paced myself better and saved my legs a bit more on the downhill bits. It’s quite a difficult trail, but I really enjoyed the day. I had a couple of kms where I hated myself for being there, but the rest was fantastic. The belly, for the first time in a marathon, have not given me any problem. I stuck to my gels and just water and did not get anything strange form aid station this time.

The medal at the end was also the biggest one I have ever received. Beautiful day on the trails, met some nice people, seen some nice scenery, wasted my legs a bit, all in all: a happy day.

If you are interested here is the Strava upload you can check it out here.

CKSdu0BWoAAkH_r