Even the best of plans can fail

Here is the story of how a good solid couple of months of training went wasted on race day.
After the Denbies 10 mile race I had just over two months to prepare for the South Downs Way 50 miler. Things were all planned.

I did two more weeks of interval training with some longer runs in the weekends (for a total of 88k and 104k) and then started the tempo runs block. I loved them. I did one solid week of 108k with a nice long run in the snow with Craig in Wimbledon common, then took it easier by skipping two days to do a very tiny tapering before the February race, the Hampton Court Half Marathon.
I wanted to do well and see if I could beat my PB. I had not done any flat half marathons in years, so this was a good occasion.
Things went fine for the first 13k. I kept an average pace around 3:50/3:55 min/km and felt ok, but I could not hold the pace long enough and did the rest of the race just above 4:00 min/km. I finished in 1:24. My target was 1:23, so I was not too far off, but still, I was a bit disappointed. Here is the Strava of the race.

Hampton Court Half Marathon February 2017 by #SussexSportPhotography.com 10:30:19 AM #racephoto

The week after I did a couple of easy days and then resumed the tempo runs sessions. Here is an example if interested. In the weekend I did a longer tempo run session up and down Richmond Park and then went for 30k on the NDW (saying that it was muddy is an understatement), completing a 96k week.

The last week of February I was feeling a strange pain on the soleus and Achilles tendon in the left leg, so I took it a bit easier but still managed to run 33k with Craig which is always fun. And that was the end of the tempo runs block, time to start the Steady State Runs part. Here is an example.

On the 11th of March I ran the Thames Meander Marathon with almost no tapering and with the left leg still a bit sore. I was not sure whether to do it or not as I was afraid to get even more injured but I went anyway. Good thing I did as I enjoyed it a lot. I started slow to see if the left leg would behave, but when I saw all was fine I just kept running at a steady pace actually accelerating quite a bit in the second half.

I suffered in the last 5k and slowed down a bit too much, but overall I am happy with the result: 3:17, which is also my marathon PB. I think I can do better than that, but probably not break 3 hours like I had planned at the beginning of the year.

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At this point there was only one month left before the South Downs Way 50. I really enjoyed the Steady State Runs even if it meant waking up at 4:30 in the morning to be able to run 20k before going to work.

The week after the marathon I ran 127km. On Saturday I killed myself by running 1:30 easy and then do the usual SSR training, for a total of 35k with a massive negative split and then, not tired enough, on Sunday I went on the North Downs way for 26k of pure joy.

The week after I did even more, 138k. Concluded with 40k on the river on Saturday and a killer SSR session on Sunday. You know when Rocky runs up the stairs and knows he is ready? I felt the same. I reached the top of Richmond Hill with many km in the legs and still sprinted up like crazy. I felt invincible, ready for the SDW.
And invincible I was not, sadly.

I started 2 weeks of tapering. First I did an easy 67k week and then disaster struck. I got ill!
The Tuesday of the SDW race week I was in bed with a fever. Months and months of training, rigorous every week, I probably just skipped 2 days, woke up at silly hours, killed myself in the weekends. Did everything right, foam rolled every evening, fixed minor injuries, kept a relatively good diet, I did EVERYTHING right for four months and I end up in bad 3 days before the race?
I was sad, very sad. I hoped it was going to go away quickly and I actually thought it might have been good to sleep for days before the race, but on the Friday I was still feeling like my head was going to explode and my legs were made of rubber. I went to the office to convince myself I was fine, but I was not.

On Friday evening I packed all the race kit with the plan to see how I felt the day after.
I really did not want to miss the SDW50 again. Last year due to the shin splints injury I missed it and lost the chance to do the Centurion 50 mile Grand Slam. So even if I woke up a bit energy-less I went to the race anyway.

The weather was amazing, not a single cloud in the sky. The South Downs are some of the most beautiful hills and when I got to the starting line and sucked all the excitement from the other runners I forgot about being ill and I really looked forward to racing.

After a couple of miles my head cleared and the legs seemed ok, so I decided to race it as I had originally planned, which was quite fast. I reached the first aid station at Botolphs (11 miles in) in just over one hour and a half. Almost 17 minutes faster than planned. Was this worrying me? No, because I am not smart enough.
I reached the second aid station at mile 17 in 30th position. Now only 8 minutes ahead of the race plan. Maybe it was time to get worried as it was clear I could not keep the pace.

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Then things started going horribly wrong. My legs decided it was time to go in flu mode and everything started aching. Even my knees were painful in the downhills. As if that was not enough my stomach felt upside down.
I painfully reached Housedean Farm (26 miles) hoping to find a toilet. When I was told there was none I felt lost.
The South Downs are not like the North Downs. There are no trees or bushes big enough to allow people to hide and do what they do when there are no toilets around! I had 7 more miles to run before I could find a toilet at the next aid station and this is where the worst part of the race started. I could hardly run uphill and I was super slow.

Even after the long toilet break I still felt bad and the long climb after Southease was a long death march. At the top I felt better and actually ran 5k under 5 min/km but when I left Alfriston (mile 41) my stomach was not having it.
Luckily I was joined by Tim, who kindly decided to wait for me and finish the race together. I am sorry I made him do the last 8 miles so slowly, but every time I tried to move faster the stomach made sure I knew I was not in charge of the day.

We finished in 9 hours and 18 minutes. 48 minutes slower than I was aiming for. I was actually convinced I could do it in 8 hours. I have the excuse of the flu but I was really disappointed with my performance. Less than 4 hours to run the first half, more than 5 hours to run the second? Not good!


It was an amazing day, beautiful vistas, plenty of nice people to meet, but not the race I wanted to do. I will have to go back next year and do it right.

Now I need to concentrate in keeping the form and not getting ill for the NDW50 next month. I will not have any excuses there and I will try to race smarter. I always say that!

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Adventuring (part 2)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See you!