Busy few months. Understatement.
Grab a brew, have a read.
The first half of the year was mainly spent working towards passing final exams for medicine and my ‘A’ race: 110km Ultimate Trails in the Lake District; whilst finding commercial sponsors for SPEAR17 and planning all the nutrition for the expedition… I had to be pretty sensible and prioritise medicine, and with the Antarctica Traverse looming, training for the race was going to be a bit different.
A few things had to change:
- stress: I was going to be stressed enough studying for finals. I didn’t need to make things worse by worrying about running too much
- weight: I needed to NOT lose weight. I wasn’t trying to gain weight per se, but I certainly wasn’t trying to lose it. I’ll need a lot of mass for the winter, so although being light will have helped during the race (sort of), it would’ve lessened my chances for Antarctica…which is slightly more hostile than the Lake District. Also, losing weight is another stress on the body, so we (the team at the Bosworth Clinic, coach Phil and I) decided it would be best not to
- strength: this is often overlooked by ultra runners anyway, but I needed to keep up good strength training so I didn’t miss the boat training for Antarctica
- time: I had very little of it
So we had a bit of a challenge; to try and make best use of the little time that I had to train for quite a hefty ultra whilst not impacting on studying. I had to be quite disciplined to make it happen, as I eluded to in the Week in a life of blog, and concentrate on keeping healthy by eating and sleeping well.
In the weeks leading up to finals I ran the XNRG Pony Express , a 60mile 2day race in the New Forest. It was there more for enjoyment and to have something to concentrate on other than studying, after which I could put running to bed for a few weeks during exams. Unsurprisingly I didn’t feel fit at all during it, and it was struggle both days. I came 4th by 5mins, which, given the circumstances, was OK.
After that we were straight into finals, then all of a sudden I’m walking away from my final exam, after 5 years of medicine, 8 years of university and, unless I’d failed, soon to be starting in the real world.
I’d picked up a dodgy hip during exams – I blame all the sitting – which was annoying as I’d planned to spend all summer running in the mountains. I had a couple of visits to the Bosworth Clinic to try and get it sorted, and head to the mountains anyway. What ensued was pretty much a month of running more and more in fantastic places, in what can only be really recorded in photos:
Time spent in the Peak District, Brecon Beacons and 10 days of hard training in the Alps got me in pretty good condition to head into the Lake District 110km race, which although I was much heavier than I’d like to race at, I felt very fit for.
Setting off at midnight I’d planned to cruise for the first 50-60km, before putting my iPod in, slowly winding up the pace and attacking at the back end of the race. I was confident I could get a good performance out of myself after those long days in the Alps, and wanted a top 10 finish, but didn’t know how long it’d take to get round the course. Usually, training in Bournemouth, the climbs would’ve been a huge worry, but having just spent a fortnight on much bigger climbs I was actually quite excited to get stuck into them.
I stuck exactly to plan and settled into a comfortable pace for the early hours of the morning. A lot of people set off fast, what seemed unreasonably fast. I knew there would be some good runners here, but this amount of people at that pace was ridiculous. I didn’t worry myself with what everyone else was doing, and enjoyed cruising around during the night. We came off one climb about 2/3am and one of the volunteers at the aid station asked how the ‘brutal climb’ was? This gave me a lot more confidence – it was pretty chilled! Clearly working hard day-in-day-out in Chamonix on course like their vertical km only that week had put me in great shape.
I came through the first couple of aid stations in 30th ish place, didn’t panic and kept at a relaxed pace. The sun slowly came up showing off the lakes and bit by bit I took places. The weather was pretty harsh at times, with very high winds and cold piercing rain up top, but I was in pretty good nick. I kept eating and drinking and cruising.
When I came into an aid station just after half way, the volunteer told me I was 6th, and 5th was only a couple of minutes ahead. There were awards for the top 5 (as if I needed more motivation to catch him…), so I put my iPod in at this point. I caught him on a climb then put the hammer down to go past. I had a huge running high at this point and felt like I was FLYING! Amazing to feel like this again. I hadn’t felt this good in such a long time, especially when racing. I finally felt like I could run on and on.
The difficult part now was I still had about 50km of pretty difficult terrain to get over, and had 4/5 people nipping at my heels the whole way. I had some pretty low moments in the last 30km where I felt I could hardly move and just wanted to lie down and go to sleep, but knew I’d let myself down doing that. The weather kept switching between downpours and the high winds stayed to keep us on our toes over the high, wet slippy ground.
I was still in 5th coming into the last aid station with about 10km to go, and aid 6th and 7th come in immediately after me. They looked pretty fresh, but I knew I could dig deep to the end. I was hoping to a fast and flat run into the finish, which wasn’t the case. Each step hurt; I had a blister on one of my toes burst with about 5k to the finish. It was a sudden sharp and burning pain, making me run funny for a while, pushing my legs closer and closer to refusing to move and stiffening up, with the soles of my feet so sore from all the sharp rocks of the day.
As I descended into Ambleside I had another huge running high, and even though there was no-one around to share it with, I came into the village with a lot of pride as it’d been a hard day out but I’d got through it in a good state. I thought about my Dad a lot during that race, and imagined him coming out to see me run well and support me. He passed away last summer, but was my biggest supporter and had helped me from the beginning of this strange hobby, even though he had no interest in running.
After the race I had planned to take a week off before turning all my concentration towards Antarctica. I popped over the Iceland to help out Olly Hicks with some logistics on his Greenland to Scotland Challenge, so spent a week driving round Iceland in a 4×4 exploring the place and sleeping in my small racing tent. Stunning country.
That takes us up the end of July, as I start work in the real world. A week of shadowing and inductions as a junior Dr: so far so good.
I’m very glad I spent that time off well; I went to some amazing places, and thoroughly enjoyed running properly again. Now we’re 100% focussed on training for Antarctica, back in the gym working hard and eating hard to get strong enough and fat enough for the Traverse…
Finally, a huge thank you to the Bosworth Clinic for keeping me healthy, Tri Training Harder for coaching and supporting me, High5 for providing racing fuel and VeloChampion for clothing me, I couldn’t do it without you all.