Finals, Lakes 110km, Junior Dr?

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.

XNRG Pony Xpress Stoten

C/O XNRG. Terrible photo caught half drinking half smiling…

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.

lakes110elevation

110kms, 3374m ascent/descent

 

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.

Ollie Stoten 110km lake district

C/O Ultimate Trails. Lake District 110km

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.

Autumn 100

A hard end to a hard year.


Autumn 100 is a trail race held in the UK based out of Goring & Streatley that takes you along the Thames Path and the Ridgeway national trails. Lets have a quick look at the numbers:

  • 100 miles of fully marked trail
  • 4 x 25 mile spurs
  • 1170m elevation gain
  • 16 fantastic aid stations
  • 73 incredible volunteers –> thank you all SO much for coming out and helping
  • 302 runners entered; 205 started; 156 finished
  • 28hr cut off
  • 8 friends = 1 amazing support crew

As far as these races go, its quite flat and fast course, and as my last race of the year I was hoping to nail a fast time and place highly. I’d had a great build-up to the race, was in the shape of my life with a lot of speed and endurance in my legs, but come the day, I just didn’t have it.

Why?

I was emotionally spent. Its been a very long and painful year. My Dad had been suffering from bladder cancer, and became very unwell last winter. I moved home in February to spend some precious time in his final weeks with him. Like the trooper he was he fought on for an incredible amount of time, passing away in late May. He was an inspirational man and I truly miss him. He was my original and biggest supporter, crewing all of my early races, and I spent a lot of Saturday’s race thinking about him.

The week before Dad passed away, our dog of 10 years and my running buddy suddenly became very unwell one morning and passed away that evening, most likely from a brain tumour.

Just after Dad passed away, Mum was diagnosed with lymphoma, a form of blood cancer. She had just dedicated her life to looking after Dad whilst he was unwell, so this felt even more raw. She is currently having chemotherapy and handling it all really well.

Cancer and I aren’t friends.

The week after Dad’s funeral I had to move into a new flat to start my final year of medical school, when one of our race team members, Katie, was tragically killed in a car accident.

So its been an awfully draining year, and between all this suffering and trying to become a doctor, I’ve been using running to keep me sane and keep enjoyment in my life. So in hindsight, its no surprise I was pooped for this race, but still love running and all the great it brings.

Anyway, heres how it went:


Spur 1:

Exciting start to the race, James Elson, the race director, would be running the race too. The field was already deep with some extremely talented runners, and with James joining us, we all knew it would be a great race.

As always, some runners shot off the front of the race at a very fast pace, most of which we knew it wouldn’t be sustainable for. Predictably, most slowed a lot. I settled into a comfy cruise and spent a lot of the leg running with James; I was running with a celebrity!

Although I felt like I was cruising, I didn’t feel particularly springy or energetic. My right knee had started hurting that week as I swopped bike for trainers in my commute (damn cycling!), and was already quite painful. It was like having a screwdriver being driven into my knee. Not the best.

Heading back on spur 1 was great as, due to the out-and-back nature of the course, you got to see all of the runners in the race. Makes for a great atmosphere!

Back into Goring at the 25mile point I was feeling quite comfortable. Saw my crew of Gail and Goose and set straight out for the next 25.

4th.


Spur 2:

This is where the suffering began. I just felt rubbish and couldn’t get my head in gear. Nothing was particularly wrong: I wasn’t vomiting or having diarrhoea, my knee was hurting but wasn’t that bad; my legs just felt kinda stiff and I was pretty grumpy.

I slowed the pace down and just concentrated on eating, drinking and cruising. I was running by myself for this and just wanted to settle into an easy rhythm, and practice some damage-control for the second half of the race. I saw James heading back, who’d picked up the pace and had already overtaken the front runners and looked like he was flying. This guy’s running was incredible all day. He flew in to set a new course record in a epic masterclass in ultrarunning.

8th.


Spur 3:

Met more of my friends who’d come to support, got handed a double espresso, and wanted to enjoy this running party. Pacers are allowed after 50 miles, so from now I was always going to be running with a good friend. Hopes of getting a fast 100 were pretty much out the window, and I just wanted to enjoy it as much as I could and try to get a reasonable time in the process. Night fell, the temperature dropped, wind picked up. I felt flat; no race in me at all.

Turning round at 62.5 miles I started really suffering. Everything hurt. A lot. I’d intended to get to this point in great shape, and let if fly back to Goring, attacking the last marathon. I wasn’t sick, the knee was hurting less (amazing how powerful the brain is), had great company, but no race in me. Demons had started haunting me, telling me to drop. I’d had enough suffering, and just wanted it to be over. I’d been a very long year of suffering, and I wanted it over.

When I got to 75 miles I told my crew I was dropping. A second DNF in a couple of months. I was done for. Not physically broken, just emotionally completely exhausted.

The only problem was they wouldn’t let me drop. Point blank refused, fed me red bull and shoved me back out the aid station. I begrudgingly agreed and put a game face on, but felt a bit miffed at the time. In hindsight, its all quite funny and I’m very pleased they did! Gail was the main orchestrator of this, saving herself me moaning and sulking no end for months if I’d dropped.

14th.


Spur 4:

Supreme sufferfest.

‘Running’ to Reading was more of an awful hobble. My conversation was dropping off completely. I was telling myself 100 milers just weren’t my distance and to only do shorter races. I wanted out.

Hitting Reading was a bit of a lift. The final ‘out’ section done, and now all I had to do was run 13 miles home.

18th.

The pace on the way home started picking up. I was searching deep inside the hurt locker for the will to run faster. Just get back to Goring. Completely non-verbal. It was a very painful slog home.


Finish:

18hrs43. 14th.

A lot slower than I wanted, and a hell of a lot more painful that I wanted. Of course it was going to be painful, but I thought I would at least have enjoyed some of the running and felt like I could race.


Autumn 100 finish Ollie Stoten

I shouldn’t be disappointed with this race, as its still a pretty reasonable effort, and is a personal best for me. With time from the event I feel better about it, and I think I’ll feel quite happy with it in a few months. The part I am most proud of is that I survived slogging it out for such a long time. The urge to quit was overwhelming, and I obviously got pretty damn close. This will be a memorable race, maybe just for the wrong reasons.

It only took a couple of days for me to be tempted to crack another 100 next year for redemption, but I won’t allow any decisions like that to me made so soon. I was telling myself shorter and faster for next year, maybe I should listen?

Rest for now, then time to switch focus onto training for the Polar expeditions. That should give me a decent break from running 🙂

When all the training is done…

T-3days until Centurion Running’s Autumn 100.

My final race for the year. The race where I hope to get the best out of myself.

I did my final bit of ‘training’ this evening, a short interval session, and all thats left between now and saturday is some easy commuting on the bike, a short run on thursday, a lot of relaxing, eating, sleeping, stretching and studying.

Its been a long and tiring season, but the end is in sight. I’ve had a good block of training over the last few months: some stunning days in the Alps, exploring the Dorset hills, going back to routes in on the North Downs, and recently some back to back marathons along the Ridgeway and Thames Path getting a look at the course for the race.

I’m looking forward to a change in focus after this race: a break from running, a justified relax, but also a complete change for the winter, preparing to go to the Arctic in January for the final team selection for the Antarctica expedition. It’ll be a good change and I’m sure my body will be very pleased with me for giving it a break; a break from intense running at least, a different focus with a lot more strength needed for the Arctic.

But before that happens, I’m going to put myself on the line this weekend, and give this race a massive final effort. Put into motion all the hard work from this year. And I’m excited.


Will I do well? No idea. That depends if I pull it out the bag on the day, and who else turns up. I cannot control how fast other people run, or if I feel great on the day, but I can control how much effort I put into it, and I’m sure as hell going to nail myself in the process. Thats all the satisfaction you need.


Relaxing ahead of the race gives you time to think deeply about why you are about to obliterate yourself over 100 miles of trails. Are we trying to prove something to other people? To ourselves? Is there anything to prove? What are we searching for? Or is it just that we enjoy having to dig deep and execute a well crafted plan, years in the making. Its healthy to have these conversations with ourselves, and affirm what is at our core (something Mark got me to do). As the layers get stripped back this weekend through shear attrition, you’d better have a solid core if you want any chance of making the finish line.


I want to enjoy this weekend. Enjoy running for the sake of running. Enjoy putting yourself up against something so demanding. Enjoy doing something that scares you. Enjoy the freedom of being brought back to the basics of what we have evolved to do.

See you on the other side.


Ultra check-list

Last weekend I volunteered at the TP100 and saw an amazing effort by all the runners having a good crack at a different section of the Thames Path, in what was another very well organised event by Centurion Running, and it got me all fired up ready for T60 this weekend.

It also got me thinking of a simple check-list of what needs to be done during the race (and any ultra/endurance event for that matter…) for it to go well:


1. Run. Just run fast from start to finish, simples.

Really this is about pacing. A negative split would be ideal; not sure how much of a proponent I’ll be of that at mile 50, but the key part is I need to make sure I don’t try and zoom off at the start then blow up horribly.

With no running ‘training’ done since January, I really need to make sure I am in good enough shape to go the distance, and not screw myself by hammering it at the beginning. Feeling pretty sluggish and the thought of the long night ahead should keep me from doing that!

Ultimately, whoever maintains the highest average pace will win the race, and will likely set a new course record in doing so. Finding that high average pace is a bit of a black art…


2. Eat. 60 miles is a reasonably long way, and I’ll do some serious suffering if I get my eating wrong. Sticking with what is tried and tested, and what I know works in races, this shouldn’t be too much of an issue. But this is what came unstuck last year for T60, leaving an unsightly mess in a few bushes en route. I’ve been doing a bit of ‘gut training’ on the bike recently, but nothing beats race-conditions specificity, so hopefully I’ll be well enough practiced.

After all, ultras are just long-distance picnics right?


3. Don’t get lost. Seems straightforward, its the Thames Path after all…follow the big river? Sadly its not quite the case as the path does leave the river quite a lot, and there will be no extra marking out on the course, just the official Thames Path signs, a map and compass.

I always try to get out on a trail before the race so I can memorise it and leave no room for error, but that hasn’t been an option this time round. I’ve done the route before so should be able to remember it… at 2 am…after 6 hours of racing… fingers crossed…

And by ‘path’, I mean flood plain. This section of the path isn’t quite the same as the London bit and gave me a nasty surprise when I tried to cycle it!



Overall I know I’m not particularly fit going into this race, but I am reasonably healthy. I’ve just started using the InDurance kits to try and quantify ‘healthy’ (very useful, + I love it as I’m a geek), so I know whats in working order and what needs work.

My vitamin D was low thanks to the great British Winter, so we gave it a boost; my B12 (keeping cells and nerves in check) and magnesium (turning stuff into energy) are up at good levels, proof I’ve been eating well and don’t need to change anything there; my testosterone was borderline low, especially for a red-blooded 24yr old male doing S&C 3 times a week! This is a can of worms, and probably down to some chronic stresses going on, but more on that another time.



So, I’m in good shape. As long as I don’t have to spar with anyone half way through the race, I should be ok.


Run, eat, don’t get lost. Simple?