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!

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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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.

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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!

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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.

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101%

Here we are. A few days before the big race. The one that changed my life’s routine for the last 9 months. The one I started this blog for. The North Downs Way 50. Soon I will know if I have what it takes to run an ultramarathon. I will find out if I trained enough to run 50 miles. I though about this blog posts for months and now I am not sure what I should write.

It has definitely been an amazing journey. Last year I was racing a half marathon a month. A couple of races were a bit longer, 16 miles, but not much more. Then I decided to try something new. To test myself and I became addicted to the whole ultra and trails running idea.  I went from running less than 40k a week to running 120k.

I did it scientifically. I read books. I listened to old and new friends who knew better. I think I did well. I never got seriously injured. I almost improved my diet too. I definitely feel stronger. I feel ready, physically at least. Is my head ready? I will find out Saturday.

Since last summer I have been running 6 times a week all of the weeks except a couple, either because I was not home or I was not well, but I did stick to my training plans virtually all the time. I am proud of the effort I put in.

But this journey did not just start last summer. I think this is the culmination of a longer journey. I have started running roughly seven years ago, when my dad passed away. The idea was to try and do something to keep my head from thinking too much. I needed something to fight that horrible time. It did not work. Running gives you too much time to think. You spend too much time alone and you cannot run away from such a loss. Even seven years later the pain is still there, with the same strength.

What did change was the fact that I realised running was fun. After the first weeks where I could not run more than 2k I started improving and a new world opened up and I got addicted.

I think I needed it. You can have a fantastic family (like I do), a career you are happy with (like I do most of the time :)), but you need an addiction in your life. You need something that is all yours. Something that keeps your mind busy when you need it busy. You need a passion and I believe passions should be almost unhealthy, otherwise they are not a passion.

When I was young I had two passions. Video games and skateboarding. Video games are so important in my life that I made a career out of them so that’s a passion I feed daily. Skateboarding was all my life for ten years. Everything else was less important (as my school results can attest). I was skating every day. I was good at it. I had people giving me free stuff. I won some contests (small ones) and could not think of anything else. I was not the only one. All my friends had burning passions. Some were skating like crazy like me. Some were into music and we knew all the most obscure bands, we played rough music, we went to gigs. I learnt from my friends that passions are worth feeding. All my friends are still crazy about something. Someone runs more than me, others snowboard like pros, others were into art and keep on creating. I don’t know if I was lucky or what, but my friends and my family always made it possible to do things 101%.

I always wanted adventures and I think that, slowly, running has become my way to go for adventures, even short ones in the park behind my house. It slowly became my passion and something I wanted to do with 101% effort. That’s why I think it is not surprising that I finally got to the point of preparing for an ultra. I always knew one day I wanted to jump from half to full marathon. I did that in 4 months and now it is time to go for an ultra. A bit quick maybe, but passions make us crazy.

Whatever the result of  the race on Saturday I will be happy. I had the chance to make new friends. I broke my records. I made myself more disciplined. I feel better as a person as a whole. Some people might think I am silly and that there are more important things in life. Yes there are, a lot of them actually, but running is not making me lose sight of what’s important. On the contrary it gives clarity and purpose.

I’d like to thank all the people that supported me in this journey. All the people that gave me hints and all the people that have asked me questions. I hope my daughters will not think that they have a crazy dad, but will hopefully see that cultivating a passion is good. That doing things 101% is how things should be done. And you do not need to win to be happy. You do not need to run a marathon sub 2:30 to be a runner. You can be happy for your career even if you are not a CEO. What counts at the end of the day is that you have put in your effort and a bit more, if you do that something good will come.

Ok maybe I am over-thinking this. This post might be too much. It is just a run after all, but for me it’s been a long journey and it is just the beginning!

This week I have been mostly resting with only 2 short runs, so no usual post this time. The next post will be my race report. If you want to follow it in real time you can check out this page on Saturday.

I hope I have not bored you too much. See you out there, giving your 101%.

Another marathon in the bag

Being a race week I took it easy this week and only ran twice before the week end.

On Tuesday I did 10k at 4:32.
On Thursday I did only 8k and tried to keep my heart rate very low, 136BMP average. I ran at 4:41 min/km and I thought that was what I was going to aim for during the marathon on Saturday. Obviously things were not as easy as I planned.

Saturday was a wonderful morning. Cold, but sunny. I went to the start of the Thames Meander Marathon by bicycle. Had my usual menu of snacks, water and banana getting ready for the race. I had a chat with a guy that I had also met at the first Rail To Trail marathon I did in January and then it was time to warm up.

The race was taking place all along the Thames, from Kingston to Putney and back. I know the route very well as I’ve done it many times before. It is all flat and mostly off road. There was not going to be any mud this time, but the terrain is not my favourite as in many places there are a lot of solid ground with rocks sticking out. The first time I ran 25k over that way I had a sort of plantar fasciitis and stopped running for 2 weeks. I have done that route many times since then but I am always a bit afraid.

This time there were no excuses, no unknowns regarding hills or mud. It was just a question of running at the correct pace. I did not. I did stick to my plan of running around 4:40 min/km, but that was not a good plan. Everything went well until the 23rd/24th km. It was the bit in Putney where we had to turn around and come back.

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Unfortunately there was also a boat race that day and the bank of the river and the road was packed with people, cars and boats. To run you had to squeeze between bystanders and rowing boats being loaded on cars. It was a mess. Plus there were also the 40 or so runners ahead of me coming back too. I think those two messy kms really punished my legs and from then on it was a downhill spiral through pain.

I went slower and slower. Tried to drink and eat gels, but nothing helped. I started being overtaken and demorilised. When I got to Richmond I overtook a couple of people that paced themselves even worse than me, but it was a slog. 5:30 was the maximum I could do. The 40th km I basically ran on the spot as I was starting to feel like cramps were coming. Then I looked at the watch and realised I was not going to make it under 3:30 like I hoped and that gave me a  motivation to run a little bit faster, but the damage was done. I got to the finish line really spent. This time I could not even drink or eat anything for the next 30 minutes. My stomach was upside down.

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I ended up running the race with an exact average of 5:00 min/km for a final time of just some seconds above 3:30. Very annoying as last December I did 40k of this route a lot faster, around 4:40 min/km, so I was pretty sure I could be well under 3:30.
It was anyway a good experience. As soon as I finished it I was thinking about the next and then realised the next one is 50 miles!

So now I have a bit more than 2 months to prepare for the North Downs Way 50. I will try and learn to run slower but for longer. I will try and do 2 long runs each week end and as @manuontrail keeps telling me, I have to practice patience!

Trailscape Wendover Trail Marathon

This week was a race week so I had to take it easy until the week end.

Monday I did 10k at 4:31.
Tuesday rested.
Wednesday ran for 9k a 4:48.
Thursday I did 7k at 4:49.
Friday I rested and started worrying about all the things that could go wrong in my legs and feet, but nothing felt wrong.

I felt in a good shape and ready for the Trailscape Wendover marathon.
I prepared my bag with the cold temperature kit as the weather forecasts was predicting temperatures around 1 degree and possible snow fall. Ate lots of pasta and potatos and went to sleep early.
The race was in the Chilterns hills. I knew it was a nice area as I had been there for a long walk a couple of years ago.

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I also knew it was going to be quite a hilly race and as it had rained the days before I was again expecting mud. I was just hoping it would be less terrible than the previous one. I was soon going to discover that there is worst mud than the one experienced before.

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I got there quite early and it was pretty cold. It had snowed a bit during the night and it looked very nice. I went to take my bib and register and then went back in the car to get warm, listen to some inspiring music and get dressed.

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I packed more gels that the last one and this time I tried to run with electrolytes in my water bottle. I ate a banana, a power bar, drank more water, did a quick warm up and then went for the race briefing. As last time everything was very well organised and everyone was friendly.

And then we were off. Around 70 people started running on a nice field that gave the wrong impression that it was not going to be too muddy after all.
Two guys in front just shot off and even I knew there was no point in following them. I stayed a bit behind and after a bit the track started going up hill and we thinned a bit. I think I was fourth when at the 6th kilometre I encountered the first problem. By then I had already realised the mud was going to be a problem but on a long downhill slope that looked more like a small river bed there was also a bit of snow. I gathered too much speed and at the bottom lost control, slipped and fell on the ground. Like an idiot I was worrying about cleaning my gloves (so that I could grab my gels and water without problems later on) and did not notice a small sign and took the wrong turn. I run for 200 meters uphill and then realised there were no signs, I turned around and saw 20 runners going completely the other direction. It took me a lot of effort to catch them all. On a long large uphill track I overtook almost everyone again: error number one.
By the first checkpoint I think I was in the top 7 and I was running with four other guys.

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The next 10 km were a mud fest. Probably the hardest of the whole race, even if on flat ground. It was impossible to run with consistency. We had to jump puddles, change direction, hold on trees not to fall in deeper mud. It was very tiring, the sucking on the shoes was terrible, I tfeared cramps again. At that point I should have slowed down a lot and I should have run by myself instead of trying to stay with those guys. Instead I pushed and pushed and ran with an average of 5:30 even in that mud and uphill. That was error number two.

At the time I did not realise I was doing a mistake and I felt quite good when me and one of the guys arrived at the halfway point. As the race was basically a figure of eight with the start, end and middle race in the same spot we were back at the start at around 22km. A nice lady marshal shouted at us that we were doing great, so well we were 3rd and 4th (someone had retired). In my own sick mind I thought “that’s cool, I feel super good, the worst climb was in the middle, I am close to third, now it is just a race between me and this guy, if it goes badly I will just finish 4th and he will finish 3rd”. I was so wrong. the only correct assumption I had made was about him, he did actually finish 3rd.

We run together for a bit but while chatting we did not notice we had taken the wrong path again. Error number three. We had followed the signs that we were supposed to follow at the end, on the way to the finish line. So back we went and again I killed myself running uphill on the slippery mud to catch all the guys that had overtaken us.
By the 30th km I was dead. There was no gel, no water, no aid station snacks that could help me. I could not run anymore. I walked uphill, shuffled in the mud on the flat and sort of run downhill and people started overtaking me. Then the worst happened, I started having cramps in my belly. Terrible ones, I could not even walk. I started feeling cold. I stopped and put my jacket on and then discovered how low you can feel when wet, tired, cold and alone in the mud. That’s what I love about trail marathons. They make you feel stuff that half marathons don’t do. States of mind that are completely new. I hated it at the time, but I am treasuring those moments now. It’s all experience.

I started counting every step I did running, up to 10. then back to 1, 2, 3… again. If I was not running I was not counting, but then my head started counting by itself and the legs had to follow. I stopped thinking about my legs and my belly, I only wated to count, which made me want to run too.

I made myself run/walk for the next 10km and then saw a sign that said “Last mile”. Yeah, finally, I could not believe it!
I started running fast towards the sign and then boom, the track turned 180 degrees and went up the hill again. I wanted to kill someone.
At the top of the hill I found myself were I went with the other guy by mistake 20km earlier and I knew it was the end. As it was downhill it was a pleasure to let myself go, thinking about the hot tea and cake slice waiting for me at the finish line.

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I finished 14th in 4 hours and 34 minutes. A terrible result, I finished an hour later than the first guy! I hate myself for having wasted so much energy in the first half. I really need to learn that 42km are a lot, there is no point in trying to catch up people ahead, there is time. I have to learn to run my race and when it is hilly and muddy I should not just add 30 seconds to my minutes/km pace, I should add 1 minute and run consistently at that speed.

Anyway it was a blast. I hated and loved it in equal measure and I am already looking forward to the next one (which is flat, so I might again calculate my pace wrong).

The organisation was fantastic and I will definitely take part in some (if not all) of the races they will organise next winter. I would like to thank the organisers and marshals for the wonderful work and Maurizio Crispi for the two photos of me above.

Overall I ran 69km this week. I will now rest a bit the next week.

See you on the trails/roads.