Saturday, 2 July 2016

Every day is a school day

So, I've been umming and ahhing for a few weeks as to how to go about writing a report on the Keswick Mountain Festival and the 50k trail race.

I was really keen to have another bash at this race having enjoyed the event so much last year. Being able to run in a big event in my own town is just too good an opportunity to pass. The whole weekend took on a special importance a couple of months before, when I was asked by Berghaus, in conjunction with Mountain Fuel, to do a talk during the Mountain Festival; something along the lines of an introduction to ultra running, or as I see it "what I wish I'd known five years ago".

In preparation for the presentation, I spent a good few hours at various times being filmed on the trails and fells around Keswick, with a film put together featuring a few local athletes and our playground. This was played just before the talk and seemed to go down well and acted as a nice introduction.

Berghaus shoot (James Appleton)

I was a little worried that, with a time slot of 3:45pm on the Friday afternoon, there might not be many folk there for the talk (Tracey agreed to come so there would, at least, be someone there). I needn't have worried; it was a full house, with some even sitting on the floor.

Talk in progress (James Appleton)

It was tricky to know how to pitch the talk. sitting in front of me were some runners making their first attempt at an ultra in the 50k race that weekend and others who have won 100 mile races; a potentially tough gig.

Anyhoo, it seemed to go down really well, lots of questions and, in fact, I stayed around outside the tent for another 45 minutes chatting. The area of most interest was the core conditioning that I've been doing all winter. We even did some demonstrations on request.

I must admit, despite standing up in front of people every day for my job, I got a real buzz from the whole event and would definitely jump at the chance to do something like this again.

Tracey and I spent most of the weekend at the Mountain Festival, which has grown into a spectacular celebration of all things mountain. As well as Friday evening for the talk, we spent most of Saturday afternoon on site after I went down to register for the race and, finally, I arrived at 5:30am on Sunday for the 6:00am start and left the event at about 7:00pm on the Sunday evening. The weather helped; the views from the event site down Derwentwater were just stunning.


In last year's race, I ran a very conservative first half and smashed the second half, but gave myself just a little bit too much to do and finished second, just over 2 minutes down in 5:08 hours. As I have documented previously, I have held back the training so far this year with more than one eye on the TDS race in Chamonix at the end of August. it would be interesting to see what shape I would was in after running just four days per week in training. I hoped to be able to run a smidge quicker than last year but wasn't sure if that was realistic or not.

The field was stacked, including UK champions Donnie Campbell and Beth Pascall. I generally know my place in the pecking order, but I still hoped to go out a bit faster than last year and see what happened. From the start, the pace was frantic to say the least. I was 7 minute miling and the leaders were waltzing off into the distance - this could have disaster written all over it for me. I thought I was easing back, but the GPS data says otherwise.

My nutrition plan was to use Mountain Fuel Xtreme energy drinks throughout, supplemented with some fruit bars and pancakes during the first half, with a homemade gel in a soft flaks for the second half. I've had some good training runs with my homemade gels (based on some pureed fruit, Mountain Fuel Xtreme Energy and Morning Fuel), also using one during my win at the Kielder 80k, so I was confident with this for the final few hours of the race. However, after about an hour, I felt in the pocket of my race vest to find .... nothing! Disaster - the soft flask had bounced out somewhere on the trail and my nutrition plan had fallen out with it.

I've been running/racing/training since I was 14 years old, I teach A-level psychology, I teach A-level sports psychology, so how come I dealt with this incident so badly? As I think back, I seemed to panic and, for some reason,  put the hammer down for the next hour or so. The only thing I can liken it to is when you fall in a shorter, faster race and, with the rush of adrenaline, go full gas to catch up again.

Going full gas! (Rupert Bonnington)

What all meant was that I was constantly gaining time on last year, but wasn't thinking about how this might impact later in the race. To put it simply, I didn't deal well with the incident from a psychological point of view, which, to be honest, really rattled me for a week or so. During the race, I just tried to fuel myself from the drinks I had with me, making no effort to try the food at the checkpoints. So, as I look back in the cold light of day, the inevitable drop-off in performance that came over the final hour and a half, was catalysed by the speeding up after dropping the bottle and the refusal to adapt my fuelling strategy - both should have been dealt with much more efficiently.

The upshot was that after being around 6 minutes up on last year's time, I ended up finishing in 5:21 hours, some 13 minutes slower (losing 19 minutes on last year's pace over those final stages). I still managed to dig deep and finish in 8th place, so not disastrous, but not quite what I wanted.

As you can tell, I'm disappointed with the outcome and the way I dealt with the whole situation, but I feel I have learnt from this and will be better prepared to cope in the future. I'm certainly going to run through more scenarios of what might happen and how I might deal with them - good psychological preparation.

Interestingly, I have been absolutely loving my training since the race. I always intended to ramp things up after this race and have my mind firmly fixed on Chamonix. Perhaps this was just the kick up the back-side that I needed at the perfect time. I'm now clocking up 10 to 12 hours of training per week (which is a lot for me) and am coping well. Bring it on ;-)