January = pre-season test month. See where we are. What we’ve got, and more importantly, not got. Practice nutrition. Practice pacing. Practice racing. Make mistakes. Learn now.
After a good bit of base at the tail end of 2014, rounded off with a christmas holiday wobbling over fells in the Lakes and Peaks, January was on. On in a big way. I felt fit, light, and ready to test the legs.
The month started well with my yearly jaunt round Tadworth 10, a local XC race – 7 minutes off last year, and 27 places higher coming in 10th/615. Getting there. Ultra = slow or ultra = speed?
Next up was Country to Capital. A great tester of fitness early in the season; you can’t really bluff 45 mile race (or 42… argue at will).
Shamefully, I’ve got lost in all 3/3 times I’ve done the race. “Map? I won’t need this” = “I’m lost and so is everyone around me”.
This time to avoid being a mug for the 4th time I ran the more-difficult first half out-and-back a couple of weeks before to properly make sure I wouldn’t go wrong. That ended up being a 70k run in just over 6hrs. I seemed to be getting faster.
After cramming carbs down my throat for a few days following the instructions of Helen Money, our in-house nutritionist, I seemed pretty set, rested and uninjured. I believed I could break 6hrs. I’ve been trying to break it for a couple of years now, rolling in previously with 6:38 (22nd), 6:16 (14th) and 6:22 (23rd).
The first half of the race brought us some joyous blizzard weather with some of the ground still frozen so we could make good progress. January is for testing, not performing. This is a training race. So I duly experimented trying to find what’s going to work for me. The first half was for fueling. Eat, drink, pee and don’t get lost. Simple?
I was sitting quite happily in 5th with some trail blazers up ahead out of sight when we hit the canal – pretty much the half way point where the terrain is easy-going into the finish. After-burner time.
I felt ok, nothing special, just kept pushing seeing what the legs had in them. Then things started going quite well. While I was concentrating on eating, drinking, peeing and not getting lost, the guys ahead seemed to have been pushing it and were now suffering. Slowly, one-by-one, I’d see one of them in the distance up the tow path, reel them in then push past. As time went on I felt better and better, digging down into knackered legs and just kept accelerating. Just before the final check-point I took the lead, which to be frank, scared the Jesus out of me. I wasn’t expecting this. Oh well, this was my race to lose now. I ran for my life.
Some 45 grueling minutes later I staggered over the finish line only a minute ahead of the guy in second. I couldn’t believe it. This was the second race I’d ever won, this time against a big field, in a race I’d been coming back to year after year. And I’d broken my 6hr target. By 53 minutes. Happy doesn’t come close.
I felt on fire. Got straight back into training. I was invincible. 3 days of semi-failed training later and a calf niggle, I realized I’m really not invincible. Or anywhere close.
I headed out to the Tri Training Harder base in Portugal for The Team weekend to meet all my new teammates, and the ultra-runner could hardly run. I was crashing and burning in a big way. That effort had taken more out of me than I thought.
The Team weekend was amazing. Mixing with some really inspirational and talented athletes (albeit triathletes…I suppose someone’s got to do that sport!) and getting to know the Integrated Support Team guys from the Bosworth Clinic really well – an amazing set up for the year.
By the time I got back I was pooped, and getting set to hit the 3rd race for the month…the XRNG Pilgrim Challenge. 66 miles in 2 days over the North Downs Way. This was home terrain, having done the Centurion NDW100, so I knew the course, knew it was hilly and would trash the legs, and knew it would be muddy as hell.
Was this going to push me over the edge? I was red-lining it for sure. On the edge of an injury and knackered. But hey, January is for testing right? Could I make it 3 wins out of 3 ultras?
Mini-taper and carb load later – I toed the line with Danny Kendall, UK ultra running legend…. This was going to be a hard weekend out. If Danny was on form, I knew I didn’t stand a chance. But its racing, things can always go wrong, and after all, I just wanted to see what I could pull out the hat.
I spent Saturday running through the snow, sleet and rain wanting to curl up in bed. I jumped on the turbo Saturday evening to ease the legs out, refueled like a boss, slept well and shook the legs out Sunday morning back on the turbo before heading up to Sunday’s start. I felt fired up. Ready to give it everything. Dig deep.
I’d lost 26 minutes to Danny on the first day, and was 8 behind Edward Kerry (The Run Doctor) in 2nd. If I had a screaming day, and they had hard days, I was in for a chance. What really happened is I spent Sunday feeling pooped, and they both ran like kings. Danny broke the course record, Ed came in 40mins behind and I followed 20 minutes later.
But January is for testing, practicing, learning. Nutrition worked perfectly, and so did kit. So really, it was a success.
2 podiums in 2 weeks? I’m a very happy, but tired man. That effort at C2C took a lot of digging, and took a lot out of me. At least I’ve learnt where I’m at for the beginning of the season, and it’s a damn sight better than last season.
Fail harder now. Succeed easier later. Great YouTube video. A sentiment I had stuck in my head through January. Did it pay off? Hell yeah.
Now time to rest hard before getting to work properly.