There have been countless times when I have done a run, hit the wall and struggled over the finish line. See pretty much all previous blogs. I can probably count on my hands the marathons that have gone well. For one to go well the following criteria has to be met:
- A good time for my ability
- No noticeable fatigue, pain or struggle that impacts my mind to turn to negative thoughts or impedes performance.
- No feeling of sickness during or at the end
- No visible signs of wear and tear or injury
- Successful resistance of domino’s pizza and a few pints in the evening after the race.
You can probably see why I only have a handful that go well! One such run that was so close to perfect when scoring against the above was the Phoenix Leviathon 50 mile ultra-marathon. I was on good form on the lead up to this one. I had been first in the last three marathons I had run with some strong finish times as well.
The race is 50 miles along the Thames tow path between Walton on Thames and Hampton court. The weather forecast (which I had neglected to look at) was cloudy with big, strong rain from around lunchtime. Being October it was rather chilly as well. You would think for a long one I would take more care in the preparation and pack my bag accordingly etc. I think the problem was that I was on cloud 9, having performed well in the last three races I felt untouchable. This is the first big mistake. Never neglect or disrespect the distance. Turning up to the start line ill prepared could potentially cost you big time. Not having the right bits in your kit bag, no drink, no calories, no warmth, Vaseline, pain killers, tit tape even down to the foil blanket could see you in trouble. OK the only people I know of who use the foil blankets are my twins. They love them and have one each in their toy box.
I get to registration. Rik hands me my race number and tells me he has 50 runners in for the ultra-marathon and 50 who are running the marathon distance. We were to all start together. I hadn’t run a decent ultra for a while with the majority of them going wrong at some point. I had to go as far back as 10 months to pick out the last well performed ultra. With this I took the first half very conservatively. I saw a few regular faces and it was great to run a slower pace with the marathon runners and spend some time with people I knew from the scene but had never run with as our natural pace would always separate us.
Ultra marathons (a distance of 27miles or more) in my opinion are a lot more laid back than the pure marathon. No one in the pub cares about your 50km PB time or what your best 40miler time is. The conversation with these types turns to questions such as “how far, how many hours, what do you eat, when do you sleep blah blah blah”. People running them are also more prepared for a chat to pass the miles. I have had some very personal conversations with complete strangers on the ultras. It’s like going to confession. The aid station scene is also completely different. You don’t tend to see gels, chews or any of that scientific nonsense. Cakes, crisps, nuts, fruit and anything in between.
The race starts and I go slowly. I see a few 50 miler runners distinguished by their race numbers bolt off and tut to myself thinking they’ll regret it. Amongst the pack of 50 is running friend Gareth Allen. Watching Gareth run is always a pleasure. I never really used to carry a watch or measured anything when running. Pace, calories, minute miles and heart rate are somewhat still alien to me. What I love about Gareth is that he is the total opposite. Whenever I bump into him at any start line he will have planned a strategy, have all the gear on, the best running watch in the business, his own electrolyte drink (half tail wind, half coke), posh base layers and proper kit including a race pack carrying a satellite dish to bring all his gadgets to life. Ok I joke about the satellite dish but to be fair to him this strategy of running makes him a very competent ultra-runner with a number of long runs and 100milers under his belt. Here was me today turning up in just what I had on and a very light gym bag, not really knowing the contents of it. Who is the bigger idiot!!
I get to the halfway point in 4hrs:20mins and am nearer the back of the 50mile race. The weather is still holding and the marathon runners start to leave as they finish their race. The course starts to get quite lonely, the weather closes in and the flood gates open! Sporting just a baseball cap and t-shirt I start to cool down very quickly. To avoid the chill I pick up the pace and make it to the aid station. I have a rummage in the gym bag. Hmm there is nothing. Just a plastic carrier bag containing my sports direct tracksuit bottoms (how Gareth would shudder I thought) and hoodie. Fellow runner Steve Hunt sees my predicament and offers me some clothing. I cannot accept and with 20 miles left of this and the weather continuing to piss it down I have a Blue Peter moment.
I take the plastic bag, tear a few holes and hey presto a homemade body warmer. I continue the run at pace knowing that if I slow I will start to feel the cold. The course was emptying by the minute. Runners were feeling the cold and dropping to the marathon distance. Out of the 50 starters only 26 would finish the race. I managed to maintain the fast pace, taking a number of fatigued runners all done in by their fast starts. Worrying that I too may fall due to the fast pace in order to keep me warm I see 1st and 2nd place and realise I have taken most of the field. Madness. What a well-paced run and thanks to the total lack of kit I could either slow down and freeze, maintain and finish or maintain, run out of steam and then freeze. My body chose to maintain and finish with no problems (thank you!!) and I came in third!!
For me going against the above criteria of what makes a good run this was a good race and one I will always remember for pacing well. Ok my kit bag would probably fail every kit list inspection at an ultra race on the planet. Maybe I should add that for a good race I should always carry a well-stocked drop bag and whilst it’s all tongue and cheek I really need to learn the art of race preparation. But for now I think a trip to the patent office for my new Waitrose body warmer (modelled below).
Always respect the race distance. A lot of people didn’t that day, paced incorrectly and probably finished fatigued.
Preparation is important. Be like Gareth. Have a plan and all your gear.
Look at the weather forecast before a long distance run