, , , , , ,

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.