Sunday, 29 March 2015

Hardmoors 55 race report

Training has certainly been a bit up and down since the Hardmoors marathon race in February. I was more jiggered after that race than I thought I'd be and was forced into a really easy week following the race. The confidence boost I got from my performance in the race easily outweighed the lack of continuity to my training and the week after that I was right back on it with my biggest week of the year so far, including my first back to back long runs over the weekend.

What I was very concious of was the relative proximity of the Hardmoors 55 which I had targeted as one of my main races for the year; I had only five weeks between them and was keen to get in at least two bigger weeks of training. As I've got older, I have realised how much I need to listen to my body and make the required adaptations to my training. I try to think in terms of long blocks of training which need to be done, rather than each individual session - if I need to make a change in order to allow me to keep training, so be it. I made a few adaptations, still keeping my main sessions in and managed to get from those weeks what I wanted.

I might have just bitten off more than I wanted to chew on the Sunday before the race when I was out training with some mates and what should have been a 2:30 hours run turned out to be an hour longer than that. I was very good, realising this was a bit much for me as part of a mini taper, I told the lads to run on ahead of me and I backed off the pace with one eye on the Hardmoors race a week away.

Not hard to see why I overdid the taper run on a day like this!

I spent most of the final week before the race making sure I was properly hydrated and getting enough protein in to repair my muscles after a good training block. Even though I knew I have had a good winter and was running well, enjoying the benefits of speed sessions with Keswick AC, I still found that my head wasn't really focussed on the race, getting a bit too stressed out about work and wondering if running a race of this severity was a wise thing to do. However, as I knew, and as everyone said, once the gun goes, I would be in race mode and forget about everything else.

One factor that did play into my hands was the logistics of the race day. Last year, I slept in the camper van at Helmsley, woke at 4:30am to catch the 6:00am bus to the start. This year John, Katrina, Tracey and I stayed with friends of ours in Yarm, only 30 minutes from the start. Soooo much more sociable. We arrived at the race HQ at about 8:00am, were processed efficiently and spent a relaxed half an hour chatting to Andy.

This year my focus is to try and "race", start nearer the front, not carry my mini camcorder and worry less about splits. I'm trying to think about those folk around me and how am I going to beat them, which seems to take my mind off the nitty gritty of putting one foot in front of the other. I think it has taken me a few years of running ultras to serve my apprenticeship and the speed work I have done this winter means I now have the confidence to have-a-go. In the two races this season, I have been running faster at the start but, fortunately, I am still able to push on and have a good second half to the race as I have always done - maybe I was holding too much back in previous years!?

I'm not doing a step by step account of the race but will report on some of the significant points of how the race panned out. I settled into the top 12 or so, like most others, watching Kin Collison and Paul Nelson disappearing off into the distance - I'm more confident now, but not that much. Things were uneventful until the first dropbag point at Kildale (1:40'ish hours) where we were informed that due to a problem, the bags would be further round the course. Initially, I didn't know what to do; my whole race plan was out the window. As part of the "racing" strategy, I had parred my kit, including nutrition, down to a minimum and was only carrying what I would need for each section between dropbags. I have been working over the last year with the guys at Mountain Fuel, trying to improve my race and training nutrition, one of the key features is that I'm trying not to take very sugary foods so I can avoid blood sugar spikes; I'm working on a more consistent blood sugar level. I realised this was going to be a problem over the next 10 miles due to the options available. I popped in some flapjack, filled my bottles with water and grabbed two gels. I must admit that this played on my mind for 30 minutes or so, but I was running well, picking off runners and starting to enjoy myself. I was later told that I was 13th'ish at Kildale.

I made good progress with the wind behind out to Bloworth Crossing and was quietly impressed with the min/mile pace I was keeping up. I met Jayson Cavill not long before Clay Bank and he informed me that the dropbags were there. Phew!

Photo by Jayson Cavill

After that bonus I was well-up-for-it as I hit my favourite part of the route over the Three Sisters. As soon as we started going up, I pulled back a few more places and found myself running with my friend Adam Stirk who I know from mountain marathons. By the time we reached Lord Stones Cafe, we were in equal 3rd with no one immediately behind. Game on!

Adam and I shared the lead over the stretch to Osmotherley and in my head I was getting myself fortified for a push out of the village, on the climb to Square Corner. I suffered a bit on the climb last year, but was feeling much more positive this time round. To add to the good vibes, Tracey and Katrina were in the village hall in Osmotherley, helping out with the drop bags in the checkpoint and it was great to see them and get some hugs.

I left the checkpoint about a minute before Adam and decided to make a bit of a push up the hill to see if I could open a gap. I plugged my MP3 player in as a little treat and by the top I had pulled away a little but knew I needed to maintain this for a couple of miles if I was really going to break the elastic. By the time I got to the marshals at High Paradise, I was chugging along nicely, thinking I was just going to take it home from here for 3rd place; the final 15 miles were going to prove anything but a cruise in.

Firstly, at High Paradise, I was informed that I was less than 10 minutes behind Paul Nelson. Right, time to put my game face back on. I set off with an outside hope of catching him, I thought I could give it a go since I was secure in 3rd place. WRONG!

I tried to estimate how far ahead I could see along the escarpment edge, hoping to catch a glimpse of Paul, but nothing doing, so started to play it safe for 3rd place again. However, I took a look back as I went through one on the small gates and noticed, to my horror, that a new beast had entered the fray. Casper Kaars Sijpesteijn was closing fast. This was one almighty great kick up the backside. Well, I suppose if I am adopting a race strategy, at some point, I'm going to have to race. Time to see if I have another gear. Fortunately, I was able to find a little something left in the tank.

I spent the last 12 miles of the race working hard to hold Casper at bay, telling myself not to give him any psychological boosts by reducing the gap. It became important to get to each corner before he could see me. This was a bit stressful, but also good fun and extremely motivating. Only in the last mile did I allow myself a smile of satisfaction as I finally felt I had managed to hold him off, though Casper had run the section from Osmotherley 11 minutes quicker than me - and I thought I was going well!

Photo by Jayson Cavill

I was obviously delighted to get a podium finish, but to run 8:24 hours, some 33 minutes quicker than last year, was way beyond expectations. Tracey commented that I looked a little shell-shocked after the race and I think part of that was just trying to get my head around the time I had run. Well-chuffed!

John had a great run too, and his tactic of running to heart rate has kicked off a very interesting debate about ultra running strategy. Check out the comments here. As I watched the race unfold, there seemed to be a number of strategies playing out at the front. Kim, as the class act in the field, obviously had the confidence to set off fast from the start, run solo and smash the course record. Paul too, is a quality runner and seems to like the race approach, mixing at the front of the race from the gun. Casper had a much more conservative approach for the first half of the race but finished like a train, running the 2nd fastest split from Osmotherley. I seemed to be somewhere in the middle, racing those around me in the first half but still having a strong finish (just).

There were a few things that I was particularly pleased with for this race. I really enjoyed the buzz of mixing it at the front end of the race and I'm sure that head to head racing is dragging me along to a faster times. My finish time was way beyond expectations and has given me a real confidence boost going forward into the rest of the season. A few years ago, I think I would have got really phased when my race nutrition strategy was compromised, however, this time I coped pretty well (after the initial panic), trusting that my body would cope. I loved the fact that I got myself ready for a push out of Osmotherley and was able to execute it and then, when required, I was able to lift it over the last 12 miles to keep that podium place. Lots of positives!

I've now got a couple of months to my next race; the 50k trail race at the Keswick Mountain Festival. I've built in a couple of weeks of recovery before I start my next training block and am ready to get more of a focus on 100 mile training with some big back to back sessions in preparation for the Lakeland 100.

Happy running everyone :-)