The Countdown has begun….(finished and a new started)

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As much as I enjoy writing these, I couldn’t seem to find the time with moving house and race prep. So the following is what I had wrote but didn’t finish.  2 weeks today it will be over. 50 miles will either be my furthest race yet or a challenge I failed. It still seems such a long way to run. But what’s the worst that can happen. To be honest, a lot. 

I’m not a fan of sand, it’s just sapping and uncomfortable to run on, this has loads. I’m not very good at navigation, this race needs a bit more self navigating. Add those to the different training and lack of long runs and you’ve got yourself a concerned entrant. But then fear is useful and good. It helps you focus and respect the task in hand. 

Three weeks ago I started to worry about this race. Moving house has added extra items into the todo list and made running often a bit more noticeable and harder to just fit in. Before Brecon I had a couple of 20’s in my pocket and a 33 miler. That all felt good. I turned up for my 23 miler late and that ended up being about 16. I had the Roman run which was tough and worth a few extra miles, but I still did 11 the next day to work on conditioning. Although it can be good to get a few long ones in the tank, I’m not sure they are essential. Ultimately you need to keep going when your tired. The long runs push back when tired will hit, but lots of medium ones make you more used to running tired and therefore mean you can cope better. As with other ultras I included one heavy block of running. This time was to be at least 10 miles a day for 7 days. I managed 83 miles which was wrapped in my normal running so gave me a sequence of about 10 days.

That short blurt pretty much sums up my thinking in the lead up to the Gower. I had no idea what to expect and honestly could just remember how much the vale hurt for the last 10 miles. This was going to be potentially 26 miles of pain if that happened again. 

I’ve a poor lack of geographic perspective and therefore sign up for races assuming I can just jump in car and be there in no time. This was the same. A pre race start recce found it was a good 90 minutes away. I’m not a fan of super early starts and thought the day would be long enough so opted to camp the night before. I know others do that, so it must be workable. The weather had been bad in the days leading up to the race and was expected to be horrendous overnight and during the race. So a last minute change of heart and it was a 4am alarm. 

The drive was very straight forward and it was still dark on arrival. Rain was coming down in heavy blasts but I was expecting snow awful day of weather. As always sign up was straight forward and painless. I scanned the additional instructions to accompany the map and began to panic. Too my choices to misinterpret, shall I sack off racing and just stay with a group and get around. Head all over the place I lined up at the start. I knew there were some speedy people around so made sure I started well within myself. Last thing you want is to blew up early. Far better to have a fast last 5 miles than the first. 

Previously running to HR had worked and this was my choice again, I’d love to do sub 10, but impossible to really pace these distances. We made are way across to the first of a few beaches and the group was already stringing out. The pace felt tough in the early parts and HR wouldn’t drop, but I continued, trying to relax into it and consciously slowing when I could see it rise. Hydration and food were to follow the same plan as last race also. Sip alternating drinks and gel every hour on the hour. I constantly tell myself that I need to eat before I need it and nutrients need fluid to travel. Often if you feel you need something, then it’s already too late. Walking the steeper of the uphills I used those to eat on these intervals and also drink. The route was quite undulating. The first time I saw familiar faces was about 15 miles in and I was feeling very comfortable now. A quick update said I was in 27th place. The first 10 had felt tough, but I was warming into it. The weather had subsided and coat was back in the bag. I plodded along and chatted to people as I caught up with them. After a wrong turn that most took, a decent bundle of people had formed and were all in sight of each other. Luckily each beach was compact in the most part and not too draining . At 30 miles I swapped to light trail and fresh socks. There was a fair bit of road to come now but also some sections of trail. I’d prefer some grip over all out comfort. First refill of the bottles and away again. I’ve quite a light hearted approach to the aid stations. I stop, chat, snack and then go. No rushing and just being polite and greatful to the energetic people who give up their day to stand in the middle of no where to look after us. 

If bumped into a runner who had finished just behind me at Brecon. We seemed to be going similar pace and started to chat and run together. Missing the turning off the coast path and having to go back was the 2nd wrong turn of the day. I had the route on my phone as a backup. It’s accuracy really helped and will be a permanent fixture for future races. As we went along the cycle track we started to pick up other runners of similar pace and a small grouped formed. Whenever unsure of the route, someone near by would should out. In gowerton the phone was to help the whole group as  it wasn’t clear from the instructions if the mile of bogland was corect and most wanted to go back. We all held faith in the phone and it paid off. We started to have the odd walking break now. Very welcoming and handy to keep the body ticking over. The stretch to around 41 miles seemed to drag. My iPod was now in my one ear, but constant stop starting it chat. I found the music helps. I save it for as late as I can and it’s generally when race mode starts. Time to zone out and focus. 

After the checkpoint the group of four pushed on. We all seemed to be running and walking at the same times. Subconsciously agreeing to run together the path through the fields was long, flat and never ending. Eventually we were caught by another 3 runners and we all chatted and made our way through the fields. As we ran,  myself and Danny seemed to pull away a bit then regroup near the gates. I was a bit uncomfortable now about the size of the group and always want to finish as high as I can. As we ran through more fields the last checkpoint was due. I told Danny that I wasn’t going to stop longer than to swig a drink and then go again. He agreed. We flew in to the station and out with no sign of anyone else. We pushed hard now knowing there was less than 3 miles to go. The route was very uneven with rocks in the mud, almost cobbled type parking. Then switching to boggy marshland. We missed coastal path diversion by about half a mile and immediately thought all our hard work would be undone. Again we pushed hard through the forest. The finish was now getting close, had to be around one of these corners. I’d beaten Dan by 2 places in our previous race and wondered if that was in his mind or just mine. We chatted and I told him of my intention to sprint at the end, he seemed keen to race it out. As we approached the final stretch a huge sandy hill appeared, this was the time. I dug in and just kept turning the legs, I was getting the exciting finishing buzz I always get at the end of races. Bit of a cold shiver and start to smile. Glanced over my shoulder and the gap was huge. That sand dune had taken his legs. I pushed hard to the top, rounded the corner and opened the gate for the 50m sprint to the finish. I ran as fast as I good and was pleased to see how well the legs were. Great support from Cwm Ogwr at the line and someone thrust a beer in my hand. 

Before the race I wanted a sub 10hr time. My watch had died after 8 and half hours, so I had no idea what time I was on for. A chat with the finish marshals suggested around 10:10 and 14th place. Over the moon to hear that. Official times confirmed 10:12. Looking at my moving time that was 45 minutes quicker based before watch died. That was easily the toughest run I’ve done. Physically the first 15 were hard on the body. I followed the same approach of walking all significant uphill sections and trying not to let HR get too high. In a race it’s difficult to know yet if HR is high as racing or if it’s even ok at that rate and I can sustain it for long periods of time. 160 was just a number that seemed sensible. The majority of Gower seemed to be closer to 170. The gels every hour worked good and the refill of both bottles at half way was a well timed. Although on a hotter day, I may have needed 3. 

Having finished and looked back, I definitely could have pushed harder at times and I wasn’t completely destroyed afterwards. The Vale still holds that honour of breaking me. Now to focus on Snowdonia Marathon, my 1st and probably the distance I most apprehensive about. 

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What next?

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Both Brecon and the Vale ultra were huge learning experiences for me. Not just the races but the training too. I’d never ran as far or pushed my body that hard. I’ve always thought that I’m more natural as a sprinter. So lots of high mileage and tired runs didn’t seem the way I wanted to go. Have to say I enjoyed both in different ways. 

The few weeks following B2C were difficult, I was back training after 4 days and racing within a week. But body wasn’t ready. I’ve spent weeks feeling under cooked for every race and even training. Always feeling like something is missing. I’m not sure if I have lost some speed or maybe I’m expecting things to happen post ultra that never were. But it’s been a struggle. Mentally as well as physically. The success is part of the enjoyment and not getting PB’s starts to challenge you. 

I’ve raced alot of short distances since and quite a few hilly races. But only got 1 PB and equalled a PB once too. I’m hoping this is part of the cycle. Improve, Plato, change something, improve. I’ve enjoyed not pushing my body too hard and to be honest I’m not sure I could have coped with anything more than the 3 sessions a week including races. 

This weekend before last I completed the Merthyr Mawr Trail Running Festivsls “The Witches Run”. This was jointly set up by my club Bridgend AC and the owners of the Merthyr Mawr Estate to showcase the beautiful area. The weather was ideal for a distance run, light drizzle and a little breeze. I’ve not done any real long runs for a while as still felt I wasn’t recovered from the ultra, lesson learnt about pushing it too early after. 

The race started well, taking it easy up the first hill and then the next down. We then came to a wooded element and this was mud. Mud 6″ to a foot deep. The kind that rips your trainers from your feet. I ploughed through  the seemingly never ending mud and was relived to hit some normal trail. At this point I was caught by 2 other runners and we chatted as we ran for the next few miles. Although I felt a bit tired I was comfortable. As I started the 2nd longer lap I felt that I could sustain the pace and pick it up later after the mud. But then it all changed, I rolled my ankle on some stones poking through the grass path. Immediately I felt a burn and stopped. The other runners disappeared without question and I gingerly started again. As I got moving my mental focus had changed. I’d now be one annoyed at being left and not focusing on the race. This slight mood change was enough to drain my motivation. I hit the mud again but this time without interste. Each step see mile pointless and wasteful of my energy. As I made my way slowly through to oncoming sand dunes, beach and more sand it was a constant battle to keep going. Other runners came and past, some with motivational chats others with a swift prompt. However i just wanted to finish. Eventually I made the river crossing which made the whole second lap worthwhile. I mustered a bit of a lift in pace and clawed back 1 of the 14 places I had lost on that lap. The chimp won that day. That’s the closest I’ve ever come to a DNF. Easily the hardest 18 miles I’ve done. 

I’ve learnt that I hate sand and maybe i need to be more prepared going into these races. Just cos you ran 43 miles once, doesn’t mean you can turn it on  whenever you like. So this weekend Gower 50 training commenced. Parkrun Saturday with my boy and 9 easy mile on the bike later on, followed by a hilly 13 miles Sunday. I’d hoped to just take it easy, but hard to keep HR low on uphills I just sacked it off and ran to feel, easing of a bit here n there. Club training down the lanes and a bike commute added in today. I’ll look to rest wed and Friday, with maybe a long run at weekend or two medium runs. Just need to keep upping the mileage each week. Next week I’ll commute 2 days on bike and week after I’ll swap 2 bike legs for a run home and a run in. I plan to train for Gower 50 miles,  then just minor top up from that for Snowdonia Marathon and then straight into Brecon Ultra (46 miles). Going to be another interesting set of races. But a few more lessons I’m sure. 

Brecon 2 Cardiff Ultra

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It’s was a  strange month after the Vale Ultra. It took a little while for my legs to feel like they were ready again. Training didnt go as planned and was a bit haphazard. I’ve been lucky with injuries and niggles over my short time running so I must be grateful. But since an awkward step early in the San Dom 20 race my knees have alteternated giving me some discomfort. This led me to the usual runners way of trying and doing everything we should do regular,  all at once to fix me ready to race. I’m very lucky that I run at a club full of experienced people to glean information from. One being the cracking Mr Gates. Via A few written messages he was able to diagnose and advise a way forward. Fixing my one niggle easily. This helped me to finally be brave enough to go for a proper sports massage with him. I’m not a fan of pain and much prefer a gentle leg massage than a full on pain fest. Although I know each has its merits. 

I’d planned to do a long week of training hoping to hit about 100 miles over 8 days with a lovely middle section of 20/25/15. This was a bit more than the vale prep but I was racing a further 10 miles. Pain in my left knee had now started so I knew I needed to manage this. Training would need to be balanced so not to risk damage and missing the ultra. I’d listened to a few podcasts were they had used cycling as a substitute on injured ultra runners so had to be worth a try. Thursday and day 1 I trained with club. No pain to start but with a few miles in it started and got worse. I made it to the end but sore. The Friday and day 2 I cycled to work the long way and home the even longer way, clocking 23 miles. I’d figured 1 mile on the bike was equivalent effort to half a mile running. So wanted to get closer to 20. I decided to do a brick session. Dumped bike in the garage and immediately set off for a 5 mile local loop. Legs felt so strange could get them going for a good mile. I know appreciate those tri people even more. Already knew they were machines. Day 2 I toyed with a run or bike and finally decided to bike. If your body isn’t used to it, this is were the fun starts. I couldn’t sit properly. I was sore from the previous day’s 23. I managed to keep it up for 11 miles. But that was it. Knee was feeling tender and butt. I’m staring to fall apart. Day 3 was a long run with some guys from club, I’d already sacked up the expected mileage and was now focusing on running tired. Unfortunately knee was getting better. But always fine for first 3 miles. We went off road for a few miles and this helped, but a lovely 13.1 around Ogmore. Day 4 was an undulating club run, group fartlek really but with multiple terrain and plenty of up and down. Nice to explore a bit of Bridgend and another 8.5 in the bag. I’d spoke to Gav and managed to get myself in for a massage after training on thursday. Things weren’t improving and I was getting worried. I was now stretching and rolling morning and night.  As we were switching to summer Thursday’s session would be short. I decided to rest for two days and see how I was then. I’m always more comfortable in a cushioned shoe, so decided to try out the Hoka brand. They looked a bit unusual but once I tried them on I was sold. These seemed to be a tried and tested ultra model so worth a go. A few sessions before race to break them in as well.  It was a short session 3xK and I did a mile to finish. Tough mentally for first time and pleased to get 5:44. My pb for a single mile is 5:38.  Hokas we’re lovely, light and comfortable. The massage was great, some good stretching tips and away I went feeling 100 times better. I waited until Saturday and decided to go for a longish run exploring knee started off fine but again got painful the further I went, was plenty of uphill so I good workout. In the week leading up to the ultra I had entered a local hill race. As it was local had been disappointed to miss it a recent years. 1150ft of elevation gain over nearly 7 miles. The Pentyrch hill race also formed part of the South Wales hill running champs. Race started ok, lots of down and I felt good. On the first up it felt tough, these seemed never ending. Legs were heavy from weekend but this was strength I needed to build physically and mentally. No where to hide if it gets tough on the ultra. I dug in and enjoyed the downhills. I finished in 35th from 220 runners with 54:21 and 10th in South Wales champs. Pleased with that after some tough training. I took Thursday training very easy ready for the big day. 

It’s safe to say I was a bit nervous, all kit checked and double checked and nutrition laid out. I decided to change things from the vale slightly. Instead of 2 bottles of electrolyte, I swapped one to being energy and also packed my own Jaffa cakes, shok blocks and wine gums. Everything else was the same. Short drive to Brecon and we were at reg with plenty of time to spare. Toilets hadn’t been opened but I thought I could just utilise some local ones on route. Again I’d not looked at the route, but was expecting taffrail signs all the way of hopefully other runners. We started at the canal with a lovely view. I ran out of gas at Vale so wanted to start more steadily and knew the first 18 were the toughest. I started with a group of friends and we chatted but I felt uncomfortable at the pace. I felt like I was forcing slow. So I stopped talking and settled in to my own pace, slowly pulling off but not going too fast. I knew I had to be reasonably fresh after the hills as there will still be a marathon to go. In the past I’ve dabbled with a bit of HR training and knew about 160 was a good market for pushing but not hard. So set my display to HR any stuck with that. Every time it crept up I would ease off. I wasn’t constantly watching but you get used to the the feeling of the pace and know when to check and ease off. Following the canal I would chat to people I caught up to and then continue on my way. Consciously making sure I wasn’t chasing each one down and was sticking to my own pace. At end of the canal was the first checkpoint. Saw Sarah here for first time and I was feeling great. Very early doors, but good start. The climb kicked in from here and after a very rocky path for a mile or few, turned into gravel tracks. I knew it was a long climb but this seemed never ending. I was being mindful to sip at my drinks every so often and when I heard watch beep. Gels were to be taken on the hour every hour. It spotted to rain so I stopped to get my coat to top of my bag. Next time I won’t put it at bottom. These took a little while I was faffing getting everything back in. I caught up with a few that had passed me back and carried on. As we got near the top of the climb weather was showing worse so stopped again but this time to put coat on. Any time there was a serve climb I walked and had a drink. The route was lovely in the early stages Brecon is a great place to run. I stopped at the aid stations to drink Coke and water and also sample some flapjacks. Not eating too much, but having a good few bites. We were all quite spread out now and at 20 miles I rewarded myself with my iPod. I love running with music, but felt not having it from the start would improve impact when it came. I was ticking along nicely, knee pain had been and subsided and I was now just focusing on the route. Running down through Merthyr it went a bit wrong. I followed the signs I thought then they disappeared, I stopped. Guy behind me caught up and we discussed where we were in relation to the route. Having asked a passer by, he was non the wiser either. Dave pulled out phone and found route. We managed to find way back to checkpoint and on arrival another 6 runners were coming from the wrong way too. Glad it wasn’t just me. The next couple of miles were not clear to the unfamiliar and a group of 10 had formed. A few discussions at fork points and we found the trail again, I’d done these bits in opposite direction at San Dom and Merthyr half. Once on the trail I settled back into a rthymn. Dave seemed to be about the same speed so we ran and chatted. He had a few ultras under his belt and it was good to hear his experience. I tried the shot bloks and they went down fine. We had pulled away from the others and when we got to next checkpoint were told we were doing well. Intrigued we asked and were shocked to find we were 10/11th. This filled the next few miles as we discussed out delight at being so high up and how great it would be to finish top 10. As we progressed we started to pick off another and then another. About a mile from the last checkpoint we passed a group of 3. This was serious now but also exciting. We stopped at the last station and Dave refilled his bottles. Mine were still containing enough from my starting fill. A few drinks and a chat and we headed off. Both feeling a little pained at this point. A runner went past, but it didn’t matter, we could maintain this pace and get a decent finish. Top 10 would be awesome and Dave had never finished that high before and neither had I. This was ultra no.2 for me and first time at the distance. We each offered the other to push on if we felt OK, but neither of us wanted to risk blowing up. This was looking like our best runs to date. Dave was struggling at times now but the walking bits were a welcome break to my legs too. The straight trail to find nantgarw seemed to go on forever and was the only bit I had recce’d. I agreed with Dave I’d show him the way and once clear I would push on. I’d already prewarned I can sometimes sprint, after all this was a race. We made it to the bridge and Dave announced he was fine from here. With about a k to go I knew he’d be fine and I pushed. Immediately pulling a huge gap, I was excited. Top 10 in only my 2nd ultra. As I closed in on the finish I could hear the Cwm Ogwr supporters cheering and I pushed. No point taking an energy home. Almost as soon as I crossed the line I was greeted with a beer. A very welcome site. Marshals at the finish advise I was 7th and I was ecstatic. Possible close to emotional but super proud. I cheered Dave in, finished my beer and headed to the car. By this point I was ceasing up like an old engine. I needed help to remove shoes and socks and add warm dry clothes. The drizzle and sweat had soaked me through. Food and a hot bath for a significant time were my reward. As my body returned to normal I attempted a walk to a local race to watch friends compete in a 5k. Again very sore knee caps post race but this eased after 2/3 days. Fresh from the pain of the race I signed up for another. Beacons ultra. I really enjoyed the beacon section but do need to work on my navigation. 

The Vale Ultra 2016

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Well this took a while to write, not sure if it’s due to the pain of the race or the sheer disbelief that it’s done. I even penned the title and placed into draft over a week ago. 

The build up to this race couldn’t have been better. I was confident that I had some speed in the legs and strength to maintain it for a large proportion of the race. What that would mean in the actual race is no idea. Thursday before the Saturday race I did a final kit check. Weather was supposed to be quite decent but I was concerned about rubbing from my vest so had bought myself a Bridgend AC t-shirt. I still wanted people to know who I ran for. The last trading session was the Thursday before. Given I was running so many miles in the race I guessed it would be fine to train but at a lower intensity than normal. This meant alternating reps of 800 & 900 at a pace between 7:45 & 8:00 minute miling. I was doing this by feel. No attention to the watch. This all felt comfortable and left me feeling good but nervous. 

The day before there were lots of social media chat about the race. Lots of people I knew would be running and thoughts and weather forecasts were shared. Cool but dry morning expected. The usual meatballs and spaghetti for tea and an early night. Alarm was set for 5:30 with race to start at 8. I was conscious that reg closed by 7:30 and usually there are delays at these things when I’ve been to larger races. 

Waking up on the day and the ground was wet. Looked like it had been raining most of the night. This wasn’t what was planned. I thought about changing shoes from my soloman ultra daps to something with more grip however, it had been quite dry lately and these had some grip. I stuck with the plan. In training I’d filled one flask with water and the other with electrolyte. Given water was to be at every station and I’d assumed cramp to be a huge risk in a race like this, I thought this was a wise choice. I also attached 6 gels to my SIS gel belt and put a pack of shot blocks in my bag. I’d not raced with these but thought better to have too much than not enough. I assumed a gel an hour with one spare, the target always had been 5 hours. The usual 4 rounds of peanut butter on toast. Standard for any race over 10 miles and headed off for the registration. On arriving at penarth it was still raining and looking dark. My nerves were building at this point but I headed in to kit check and reg. This was super swift, a clockwise movement around the room had me with checked, registered and back out in what seemed like minutes. 2 numbers, a map and a punch card. Given I’d be wearing a race vest I put big number on the outside of that and little number on my shirts. Even if I changed top. I’d still have the hydration vest on so made sense. I worried about when to hit the toilets as always, given numbers were low and the pier had some I’d wait. I saw others I knew at reg and headed to start. There was a welcoming bunch at the start. Everyone looked in good spirits despite the weather and lots of chatter. 

When the race started I realised I had left my map in the car, but luckily it was parked at start so could easily grab. I knew I wouldn’t have aclue what to do with it, but as it had emergency numbers on it I Couldn’t risk leaving it behind. Over the first mile or two I chatted to people I knew and and tried to make a conscious effort not to go too fast. However I settled into a pace just over 8MM. I knew that was faster than planned. But it felt comfortable and in my head that was key. At the first aid station I put waterproof in bag, gloves off and had a quick drink. It seemed every bit of advice I had ever had and read all came into my head during this run. Not like I want out there long enough to think was it. The markings through Barry and the early stages were clear and the marshals great. I felt fine and made sure I sipped fluids often and took a gel on the hour. I gad my watch set to HR and didn’t bother with times. Aslong as I could see effort that was fine. The race flowed quite well in the first half. I tried sweets and even a Jaffa cake. I constantly had “if it’s feels too fast it probably is” and “if your hungry/thirsty it’s too late” these helped me to be sensible and frequently drink. As soon as the tarmac disappeared I was regretting my shoe choice. Not only was a wetter under foot it was a mud bath in places. I’m not sure any shoes other than maybe my fells would have been suitable but they would have hated the Tarmac. A few people had planned to swap shoes at Barry, in hindsight a great idea and one is consider in future. As the miles ticked by is lowly caught and passed people. At the halfway stage I felt good. This was actually the 18.5 mile start place. Not half way, but in my head it felt it. I often questioned and changed my effort on the uphills not just cos I was skating but I’d read a few times that you walk the up and run the downs, unless your racing. Was I racing? If no real idea how many were in front of me. But as I had past a female runner is known to have done a few ultras and be quite nippy, I thought I must be doing ok. My plastic fold up cup was a saver at the aid stations without cups and a great tip to have had in advance. At each aid station I was more adventurous or greedy or hungr, not really sure which. I took more sweets and ate them all. Having never run longer than 20 miles s knew I’d hit the pain zone at some point. But when was a mystery. It actually came about 24 miles in. Id had enough of no grip and sliding everywhere even on flat surfaces. I love mud and wet, but in the wrong shoes, in a race. It’s not fun and worked against my usual buoyant manner when running. As the terrain got more undulating the the grip seemed to be less and less. There were times I wasn’t even sure it was safe to run the paths, so tiptoed  and ran when I could. From 24-30 I really felt it. Questioning why I was there, was this the stupidest thing I’d done and why was I letting people pass me. After 2 people had flown past, I’d realised the 18.5 runners had a diff colour number. This helped to lift my mood. Not all that were passing were racing me. I was trying to focus on the positives. I now had complete marathon distance in a respectable time, 4:05. This helped me to push on and I was aware the ideal target of 5 hours had gone. I was lucky that the 3rd placed runner of the shorter race passed me and was a from a local club. That was just what I needed, a target, a focus. I lifted my feet and tried to stay with him, chatting a bit but pushing on. I knew I had to run hard to stay in front and was pleased I could. Every mile felt like it must have been the last but the path seemed endless. Eventually I could see the line and even managed a sprint of sorts. Pride was back and crossing the line was amazing. 5:25 on the watch and all my rivals (friendly) were still out there. For someone who feels at home doing a 200 this felt an enormous achievement. After a few cups of water and a chat to a few finishers I heard home. Changing at the car was challenging, but also fun. Official results had me in 16th position with a time of 5:25:31, not bad for my first attempt at 20+ miles (32.8 on strava) and great practice for the next. When the wheels fell off I must have been about 10th, these little positives will be great for my mental games in Brecon to Cardiff. 

Although it’s a 42 mile race so 10 longer than the vale, In some ways it will be easier. More shelter and much easier terrain. But there is a further 10 miles to consider. 

Strava for the vale below

Vale Ultra

Countdown 

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I wrote this the week before the Ultra, but forgot to post. Thought I’d share it while I write up my ultra.

So it’s nearly here. The race that was months away, plenty of time to train. Easy to get myself ready. Just a bit of fun. It’s now this week and my next race. Nerves have started already. First unsettled sleep last night thinking over kit and route for the day. I’m as prepared physically as I can be, or maybe as I will be. The long week seemed to have been a rewarding stretch and will be a feature of training before the next ultra. Well that’s providing this Saturday doesn’t finish me off.
My last bits of training have gone well. San Dom 20 Miler, 2 weekends back was my first real test as to how training as gone. Having never ran that far in a single non stop run or having raced that far, I set a plan of running 7:30 mile pace unti the wheels fell off. 4 pieces of peanut butter on toast for brekkie and a nice easy drive to Merthyr for the start. My mate Dan had kindly offered to pace me the distance. The weather was dry and cool. After 2 little laps of the start area we were sent off down the trail to get the miles. I felt comfortable and at times made a conscious effort to hold back. The first real test came about 8 miles in. A long hill, what to do? I kept effort the same and pushed up. Lots were walking already and I passed 7/8 people on the way up. On reaching the top I glanced around. Dan was gone. As I decended I decided he was probably being more sensible and would reel me in soon. As each mile passed I felt OK. The gels were timed great at 1 hour and 1:45. Perfect to match my aim of 2:30. Always good to have a goal and a target. Goal was sub 2:40 but 2:30 was target. At mile 14 the steps of death. These same ones blew my legs in the Merthyr Half the year before. I made it up in one peice but legs were shot. Was mentally great timing, I was on new ground. Felt tired but ok. Each water station came I slowed and took a good gulp of water but kindly refused gels and stick with my own brand and strategy. As I neared into mile 17 I was tiring, a glanced at the watch and was hitting 7:20’s. Amazed I carried on with same effort. I’ve started to be better at not using the watch all the time and running more by feel, I leave it did paying current HR. We were all strung out quite a bit at this point of the race and I was checking over my shoulder to see how my fatigue was fairing. As I approached the last 600m there was one final little incline, made worse by the 19 miles prior. A passed another and could see the end. The finish 200 was downhill and helped me to put in a sprint. I could see 2:29 on the clock, amazed and slightly over whelmed I crossed the line. Having composed my excitement I went back to find Dan. He’d pushed his body to its limit, sometimes an admirable ability. I ran the last K with him and gave him my spare gel to help ease his fatigue. How he crossed the line I’ll never know, but if was a top effort. 

After San Dom my confidence was high but I’d never set a target for Cardiff Half. Being the worlds I wanted to run it. Being able to take part in such a prestigious event was an opportunity not to be missed. I thought of maybe just doing ultra pace or maybe trying something different and running with a pacer for as long as possible. I had no expectations so any outcome other than injury would be fine. In the early part of the week I had pain in my knee cap. Some quick chat with the fixer gates and I was pointed to foam roll the ITB band. As the week progressed I rolled twice a day and a Thursday test wasn’t bad at all. My last roll was Friday night and by this time I’d not had any pain for a whole day. 

On the day the weather was forecast to be quite wet and windy. I prefer this to the heat, I always find that I overheat and struggle in the warm. As it was an afternoon race, I had breakfast twice. I’m used to running off my standard peanut butter on toast but not much else. I use a quantity based in race distance. Two for a 5K, three for 10k – 10M & four for everything else. Concerned that the usual car park woul be more busy due to time day and time if race I left early. In fact it was quieter than I’d ever seen. Having watched the elite female rave go past I warmed up and did my final loo stop. In my pen nice and early after a dash through the crowds I still wasn’t sure of the plan. I was tempted to see if I could manage my failed time of last year. I had nothing to lose and I’d only missed it by 21 seconds. As the race started I just tried to run close to 4:20 a k. 4:21 is 7 minute miles. Although it was quite crowded early on I could see a few from club near by and also the 1:30 pacer. At the 2 mile mark I’d caught up with the pacer and felt OK. With last week still fresh in my kinda thought it would be worth trying to stick with the pacer. I’d been running ok in training and was sure I was stronger than the last Cardiff half. Having never run this fast for as long before I didn’t want to push too hard too early. So choose to stay next to the pacer and not look at the watch. Often when I see the faster splits showing I start to believe it’s too fast. Sometimes just seeing people who are normally further ahead close by can trigger the panic of going faster than you should. Often these worries are unfounded and you just need to realise consitent training brings progress and your not always doing it wrong and maybe just doing it more right than usual. As I was consciously making an effort not to run in front of the pacer it felt like I was running within myself. As the miles ticked over our group was reducing but I still felt I was strong enough to stay. I made sure I hit my gel at 45 mins and was pleased to get a good soaking from the rain as we crossed about mile 8. Every now and then I seemed to push on front, but quickly slowed to level with the group. At mile 10 we hit rate park, my legs were feeling tired but nothing like usual attempts at this distance. I took my other gel and started to think about how great it would be to run a PB or get close to sub 90. It was only 5k surely I can hold this now. The hard work is done. Approaching mile 11 I saw another from club, normally he was long gone. I gave a few words of encouragement and hoped he would use me as a trigger to push on. It was starting to feel real. I felt excited and had to compose myself, I knew that I needed to just hold pace and stay strong. After another shout out from a mate watching at 11.5 I decided I couldn’t risk running 1:30:01 and had to see how well I felt. Immediately I spotted a man in Lycra with a buzz light year pack on. That had to be my target next. I passed him easily and continued to hold pace even up fairoak road. Lots were slowing around me but I seemed to feel stronger as I headed down cathays terrace I felt better than ever friendly shout outs certainly helped me and gave me another boost. A little incline over the bridge and the final turn was in site. I was geared to sprint, I turned the corner and could see 1:29 something. I sprinted, no way was I missing the sub 1:30. I crossed the line delighted. A bit emotional and amazed. I’d lie if I didn’t say I’d wondered after last week if it was possible. But I didn’t think it would be and certainly not as comfortable as that felt. Your always uncomfortable but it’s relative. I didn’t feel at my limit until the final sprint. My watch said 1:29:09, if I’d known I was that close to 1:29 I’d have pushed harder earlier. 

Long Week

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Knowing that you can’t really run full race distance in training, most people suggest doing some decent distance runs back to back. Simulate running on tired legs but not pushing your body to break. With New York being total rest for 8 days (from running atleast, 18-20,000 steps a day) I felt it would be ideal to put my tough week following. It was never going to be sensible to go from 0 to a lot, so I built up sensibly, well sort off. 

I didn’t follow the 10% rule, but my legs had been to 50-60 miles a few times now. So wasn’t too much of a leap. With rest day moved to a Wednesday I began with training. Long week Day 1, 7×900. Legs felt quite heavy but times weren’t too bad. Certainly didn’t feel as fresh and rested as if hoped. Not ideal for day 1 of 8. Times ranged from 3:14-3:20 and gave me 8.8 miles at the end of the first day. LW D2, 10 mile run home from work. Follow the normal route and add a bit on. Easy 10. Felt like I covered most of the surrounding streets just to get near the needed miles. For run commutes I dont focus my food on running I just eat whatever. So I never find these particularly easy. Tried to use a sub 170 HR as a run guide. 10.6 in the bag (19.4 total). LW D3, this was easily the hardest of the lot. A run to Porthcawl Parkrun and back. Never tried this before but was confident I could last the distance. It was tough. I decided to split watch in 3 parts, as don’t like having a hidden rest that isn’t captured for my run. Can make misleading viewing and difficult to look back on accurately. Part 1,   9.3 miles a smidgen under 8MM, knew it was too fast but that pace feels normal. Part 2, my 50th Parkrun in days prior I’d hope to run hard. But thinking about what was to come a conservative 22:39. Part 3, the run back to the car. Lead legs, and a never ending route. Hardest run for a long time. After adding on streets and Laps of the Rec and club, I was relieved to see watch tick past enough miles for 20 on the day. I sat in the car consuming every liquid I could find. I did wonder if I had maybe planned a bit too much. The challenge is easily part of the motivation too, 20.2 bringing me up to 39.6. 

LW D4 was a surprise, I struggled to get up. I was aching and everything felt quite tired. Getting it done early was the plan to allow as much time to recover before Monday night. I’d never run so much in s row already. Planned 15 and felt strong after the first 2 or 3 miles had passed. A gel after an hour probably helped. That certainly was a lesson learned from the day before. Fasted runs seem to suit me, one day I’ll try it for a race. When I’m feeling brave. 15.5 miles and the last 2.5 were my fasted. 55.1 miles in 4 days. I struggled to walk properly for the next few hours. This was either great training or just stupid running. Monday morning I was a little sore, but no where as bad as expected. I wasn’t hurting as much now just a little tender. Perk of working in an office is having to get out of the chair and test your quads often. Hill reps for club training, how lucky could I be. Easily the hardest and slowest set I have done. Each a struggle going up, but a pleasure to come down. 5.8 from whole session and now 60.9. 

LW D6,  first of the doubles. Doubles have become a regular part of training. Work commute is ideal for this. I’d decided it was light enough to try the taff trail again, I followed the usual route then fancied some variation. Thinking some off road may be a nice reward for tired muscles. It felt great, something special about the feeling of being off road. Even if it’s just the adjacent track. Road shoes were great going in but not great coming home after all day dampening. But still a great new route. Legs also stopped hurting now. Groin was tender but no DOMs. 5.8 on way in and a first Royal flush (each mile faster than next) 5.9 home and both around average of 8MM pace. (72.6) LW D7, the 2nd double, same routes but trying out some S-Labs. I wanted a new shoe to use for the ultra. Salomon seem to fit my feet a lot better than inov8. They felt fine in the house, but you can’t tell until your running in them. Concrete wasn’t great but they felt lovely on the mud. Not as much grip as I thought or cushion. Can’t go back now though as caked in mud. Maybe a few more runs and they be ok. I have strange feet and sometimes shoes just need to stretch a little around them. A mix of conditions going in and no real sign of gale force winds. Fastest run of the 4, 7:48 average.  They were hiding until home time, headwind all the way but I was feeling positive. I would slow but not break. I’d already surpassed mileage I was used to and feeling decent. 11.8 done 84.4 all in. LW D8, the rest between evening run to evening run seemed great, almost like a rest day. I had 7×1100 to look forward to and then I had done it. The weather was perfect, first use of  summer warm up route at tidy pace for settling into the slog. I knew this wasn’t going to be fastest set, but I knew I also wasn’t going to quit. After each one I felt legs struggling but getting back to start with 45 secs to go was just enough. The group I usually chase were pulling away each rep, but mind was straight and knew it was a different game. First 6 reps between 4:05 & 4:10 with a 3:58 to finish. A nice gentle cool down and long week complete. A final 9 to take me to 93.4. I did consider doing a day 9 just to hit the magic 100, but it wasn’t in the plan and I didn’t want to push my luck. 100 will come when it’s ready. Rest day Friday was gratefully received. No time to recover and prep for a trio of races. Long run for the weekend was a gorgeous Coastal reccie from Nash Point to Ogmore and back. Easy paced, stunning views. Perfect recovery. Shoes performed great and no issues with my drinking tube on vest. All my worries elimanated in one long tiring week. Run tired, seem to be ready. Shoes, don’t like Tarmac but love trail, I can cope with decent socks. Tube stayed in place so no need for new vest. Final task, see if I can get a t-shirt or cycle jersey version of my club vest. Just for a bit extra protection from carried vest. 3 weeks and it’ll be done. 

4 and 4

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So I signed up for an ultra. It’ll be fun, like a tour with some food and a chat. It’s months away, ages of time to train for it. It’s next month, 4 weeks and 4 days to be more exact. Where did the time go? When was I going to train? Have I even trained enough. As a runner you always battle with mind and body. Most of the time you don’t feel you have trained enough or with as much intensity as you’d like. The truth is that you’ve done as much as you’d expect but not as much as planned. January and February have been great in opposite ways for me. Lots of miles, mud and hills. One section of the ultra recced and 20 miles in a single day. Can’t really say a single run as minor breaks for a Parkrun in between. Each week I’ve looked to increase small elements. First it was dropping the bike for one day and then no bike. Friday also remaining as rest day and adding miles where possible. I hope I’ve given legs lots of practice on running tired. It’s been a strange time as I have only been looking at miles or elevation. No race has been for my pace. The day after my first 20 miles I completed the beast run. A gorgeous 10k route organised by a local club. I wasn’t expecting much as legs were feeling the day before and nearly 1300ft of climbing is never easy, but managed a decent 6th and a time of 47:13. I’ve gained confidence from putting those 2 runs back to back, I can see I’m stronger than before this journey started and maybe faster. Training has continued with minor tweaks. 800’s are now 900’s and k’s 1100’s. Recoveries the same and the push is hard but rewarding. Often Thursday is my 6th day in a row so it’s tough to get them done but always pleasing that I could that late into the running week. 

After a break of 8 days with no running for a trip to New York, March is the business time ready for the ultra. Eased myself back in to training 6×1200 ­čś│ with no sense and ended with dehydration and cramp. Not the best start, but knew in my head I would be ok. I just needed to rehydrate. Pleasing to keep them around 4:20 after the break and cramp. I did a test run after a day’s rest and 7 miles went ok. Charity football match the following day woke up all the dormant muscles from footie and left me struggling through Monday’s session and long warm up/cool down. Tuesday was double day, 6 miles in and then 6 miles home. Probably the toughest two runs ive done for a long time, groin was not happy and I wanted chicken. Another rest day today all ready for my planned tough sequence. I’ve tried to listen to as many people as possible about there tips and training for an ultra and the mention of a heavy 3 day sequence is repeated by most. So this week is mine. Last max heavy week before races commence and easing down starts. Friday 10 mile run home, Saturday 20 including Parkrun, Sunday 15. Monday training as normal. Tuesday double day 1 2×6, Wednesday double day 2 2×6 and finally Thursday training. Friday as always will be a rest day. This should either fill me with fatigue and confidence or fatigue and dread. Either way, miles will be in legs and I will be as ready as I can be. I know this month will be tough, but it’s needed if I’m going to put in an effort I can be proud of. I plan to race the 2 weekends prior to the ultra but at a set pace. San Dom 20, two weeks prior will be my 3rd time at that distance and my first race that far, sub 2:40 the target. I’ve no idea if that’s in there, but only one to find out. Cardiff world Half the following week and I may have a crack at 1:31:42 again, but will have to see how fresh I feel as its 6 days before the ultra. It may just be an expensive training run. When it all seems a bit daunting you need to increase the excitement, so 3 pairs of new trainers and some new jackets and I’m bursting to get out there. This is one exciting but scary month of discovery. 

Plan

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It’s been a while since I typed anything for here. Have actually had a couple of runs where I’ve just thought about what should or could I write. That’s enough for me to know not to write. It just happens, sometimes you want to empty your head. It’s a new year and lots of people are setting goals. Times, distances all that they hope to accomplish this year. Ive considered a few, but ultimately I just want to be better. Better than I was last year, better than I was last time. If I can continue to work hard, I must get fitter, faster, stronger and in turn that will make me perform better when I run. 

I’ve always felt that I lacked speed endurance and strength. So this is where I’m hoping hill work and off road will help. I’ve never been a high mile person and I’m a big fan of the rest day. This time of year there are alot if road races and plenty with a few hills. Enduring the pain of pushing up a hill in mud and not quitting will help build mental strength too. I’m a big fan of mud too. 

January sees me run 2 fell races, an off road mud fest before ending on a pan flat road race. With 2 ultras looming in April and May, I really should be considering some long stuff. But there’s always time isnt there? In 12 weeks time I will be celebrating having completed my first ultra. I ran my fest long run last week of just over 16 miles. I’ve done a few hilly 10/11 miles but this was properly long. Decent effort and made it to the end. That was officially my longest ever single run and only have to run twice that distance for my race. I’ll look to get to 20 soon and maybe try one of those long ones to parkrun and back. 

I’ve had a good start to the year, Cardiff parkrun on New Year’s Day saw me run a PB. 19:42 on watch and officially 19:46. I’d gone with no expectation and started I middle of pack. After a few holds up I was able to get into free running and felt quite relaxed. I just seemed to slowly pick off people and remember thinking the front seemed closer than normal. I finished in 48th, not bad from a field of 501. First K was 4:08 and last 3:36. Nice to finish feeling a lot more was to come too. I really hope to push closer to 19 this year, but what comes will come.

First step to getting better is changing training. A group is a big jump from where I am. But it’s where I want to end up. So after a quick chat with Steve and a few sensible folk and i aimed for in between. 8×900 off 4:45. It was interesting. I tried to be sensible starting each one and tell myself i was going to be tired as that was my 7th day of running in a row. It was hard and felt it. But I got it done. Consistent reps of around 3.18 and a 3.06 burning up everything I could God to finish. Certainly felt good to complete and felt like a huge achievement. Easy to do once, the hard part is to stick at it and push the next session in similar fashion. If you want different results, you’ve got to do things different. 

I’ve started using a parkrun pacing session as a chance to get extra miles without too much effort. It allows me to practice running at a prescribed pace and also not burn out for the next day. 25 minutes is my fav and the feeling off helping others get to a time they want far out weighs a PB for me every week. Both great feelings but in different ways. I’ve been lucky to have so much free help and advice as I’ve run. So providing someone else with a chance to do something they want is the least I can do. 

Winter

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This is my favourite time of year to run. My biggest problem when running is over heating. Took me a while when I went through my first winter to realise that just because a lot of people will be cold, you may not be. I tried wearing thermal base layers etc as they seemed to be what you should wear. However you soon realise less is more and always dress for a mile down the road. I only use a light base layer under a vest for exceptionally bad race conditions, but that’s it. More for protection than need to be warm. Dont want to stop you running. 

Training takes a change for the winter schedule, club sessions are about strength and endurance. Longer faster reps. 6/7 times 1K, 1200 or even a lovely 2×1200 down. Focus is to improve endurance ready to speed up in the summer. Also means less focus about PB’s and the introduction of more off road and XC. I really enjoy XC although with most other people I find it challenging. 

I’m conscious that I’m not the strongest of runners so try hard to improve this anyway possible. The ultra is going to be the hardest thing I have done to date, so I need to be stronger than I ever have. I’ve started to get some regular loops of a route down near margam. Friendly known in the club as the cobra. Gorgeous route out of the way starting at Craig Yr Aber. 500m of elevation gain over about 11 miles. Mostly trail track so forgiving on the legs too. A few recent visits have seen the times slowly dropping and a good measure of progress. Here I’ve started to really enjoy the downhill too. I’ve always enjoyed uphill, always felt like I was decent at it. Not fast, but able to keep going without a stop for a long time. With this in mind a was looking for races and spotted a fell series. I’d heard a little about these but thought they were for people with no fear, not me and my usual getting passed by snails downhill approach. A few looks at the crazy elevation and short distance and I was convinced. 

The next race in the South Wales Hill Running Series was to be Blorenge. I’d heard of this but never seen it or been they’re. Having spoken to a work mate who is a master of these type of events I couldn’t see a reason not to. 1400ft of climbing in first mile to come straight back down sounded fun but tough. I decided that I would still aim to run twice this weekend to help work on my strength and increase famalirity of running on tired legs, well atleast not fresh in this case. The day started with volunteer pacing at Porthcawl parkrun. This is my regular and favourite parkrun. I have numerous a lot closer, but enjoy the route here, relatively lower numbers and running with people I know. I’d picked 25 minutes, as this should be quite easy for me to achieve even if I felt off once started. Last thing I’d want is for someone to miss a PB because I wasn’t hitting my times. My race approach is always even splits and this is a perfect strategy for pacing. No fluctuations too push someone over the edge who is already at the limit. A few came and went but the wind seemed to push people a little hard. Crossed the line 24:59 on the watch and 25:00 official. 

After wolfing down my now usual soup and bread I zipped of to Llanfoist to find the race HQ. On parking in a muddy overflow field I spotted another BAC runner Andrew Tuckey. Luckily he advised that a hat was on the kit list and leant me a spare. Kit in bag I headed in. First mandatory kit check and then sign up. Easily sorted. Weather wasn’t the best, but looked to be brightening at the start. A quick on/off dance with my waterproof top and finally decided to put it i my bag. After a short briefing we were off, slow climb up concrete paths and through a dark tunnel. Unusual, but can’t say I’m a fan of not seeing where I’m going. As we started to climb up steep rocky paths I managed to pass one or two. It was very narrow and slippy. The further we went I could see the leaders pulling further away. I’ve never seen a path claim so steep. As it rose I needed to use my hands to stabilise. All the way up wondering how it was possible to run back down this path as it was too steep. Legs feeling fine, but lower back in agony. It’s that steep your slumped forward to balance yourself. When I reached the top I was hit by a furocious wind that took me off my feet. Having gathered myself I rounded the marker and head across the plains. At first it was a little downhill and slightly slippy, but as incline got worse so was footing. I started to loose places but could go any faster. After 4/5 falls I felt like I was getting the hang of the descent. To be honest a lot was more luck than judgement but great fun too. As the descent started to flatten I started to catch those in front of me. I tried to run as fast as possible to the line, knowing that would be strength. My new fell shoes not giving much grip on the slippy concrete. 

That was both the most scariest and fun thing I have ever done. Bring on Skirrid for the next. I’m hoping that I don’t have DOM’s for another 4 days after the next. This winter trainings not all bad. Plenty of mud and hills. What’s not to like? 

Recovery

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With Cardiff a Half seeming along time ago, all thoughts now turn to what next. I took it easy for a couple of weeks post Cardiff. Felt like everything had been building to that this year, so a rest for body and mind was needed. It was great, nice to have a beer and not worry about the run the next day and even turning up to training quite fresh. Forgot how good it felt just smashing out a session and then resting for a few days. I know I’m not exactly a high mileage person at the best of times, but it’s all relevant. 

So now the next target is the ultra. Ages away, months and months. But then today I read a beginners ultra plan started last week. Oops, I’m certainly in that group. I’m intrigued and little nervous at how I’m going to handle going from battling my way around 13.1 to completing 32 ish. If it was easy everyone would be doing it. That will be my mantra. I’ve started upping the frequency and mileage slightly now. Bike/run commutes are back alternating the activity over two days and they will eventually turn to run/run commutes. 

In all the excitement of not running I’ve also signed myself up for a second ultra, just in case the first doesn’t kill me. 42 miles Brecon to Cardiff. What’s another 10 miles I thought, I can run 10 easily. How hard can it be? I know I will soon understand the pain. As with all my running, a goal has been set. 9min miling average is what I want to go for in both ultras. 

Lots of off road will be a great help I think. Handy way to build up strength and done resolve to running in tough conditions. Gwent League XC providing the perfect opportunity. Decent middle of the pack finishes in both the first two races. Bridgend was a treat, no rain, no mud no wind. Gorgeous day and a very gentle introduction to the season. Cardiff was back to the norm, rain for days leading up, slippy patches, trees and struggling from lap 2. Both great fun and good to be there. Coming next will be the Welsh XC relays, something a bit different but hopefully a lot of team fun. Going to get my first longer run in tomorrow, aiming for about 10. Be the first time since Cardiff I’ve run that far and will take me over 50k for the week. First time in a while for that too. Everything coming back together at a nice relaxed pace.