Ladybower 50 - 2014
There's something inherently terrifying about failure. It grips me in it's vice, anxiety being the symptom, disappointment the final evil. It's only now that it truly looms large on my horizon. Every ultra I've run to date has been a first time of one type or another - a first new distance, elevation, elite field, championship event; unbeknown to me these factors all worked to remove any real personal pressures. My only mantra being 'don't DNF' throughout these events, I had little fear of disappointment as they generally resulted in a PB or some other goal amongst other factors dictated by the terrain, environment or competition. Yet Sunday 21st September brought me a fresh challenge, a repeated event, same course, similar weather, yet a full years training to justify. It was time to find the proof in the pudding. had all my hours spent in the surrounding hills made any difference at all? I managed 5th place last year in 8:41 minutes. A result at the time I was thoroughly pleased with but anything but a marked improvement this year would fall well short of my own expectations. At times like this I don't really need external pressures as well, but I could hear family and friends suggesting certain aspirations as to my finishing position. Position is something that while satisfying I try not to attach to much relevance too. At the end of the day I could break a course record, but if Killian Jornet turned up he would surely make me look very silly (amongst other elites I'm sure). So my expectations had to be held within some level of control. This is the remedy for fear, give yourself as much control as you can, then just let go of the rest. Why worry about what you have no power to alter?
With the 'fear' in relative control, I set myself the heady goal of knocking 41mins off my time from the previous year. The way I saw it, 8 hours got about 3rd place last year so should stand me in good stead to improve my time and maybe grab a podium place. The build up this year has been good on the whole; some actual tempo runs to reflect the speed of the course and the mountain ultras would put the hills into perspective on race day. A marathon distance training run about 2 weeks before the event revealed a weak IT band crippling me over the last 6 miles or so. Adding to the fear! However the time was 3:37 I think which is well above the pace I would need for the 8hour goal. All I'd need was that ever absent discipline to hold off early on with the pace...
Race morning began with an early rise, not a bad nights sleep. All the better for being at home, one of the inherent advantages of this particular race. Peanut butter and jam on toast would kick start my metabolism, and a banana before the start meant I was loaded with sugars. I'd also done the prerequisite Cost Co pizza the day before, so hopefully my glycogen stores were overloaded at this point. A brisk but gentle leg warmer to the toilets at Fairholmes and I could tell my legs were ready for this. Last year I was nursing a badly sprained ankle which meant I had to hold back on any sort of early charge.
As we lined up it was cool, yet I could feel the day would warm as the sun rose along with my heart rate. As the start kicked off I pulled off in front and after a few hundred metres I could feel a couple of runners nipping at my heels. I was keen to keep the pace relaxed and manageable, having been stung too many times by an early frenetic charge. 50 miles is a long race to play out and if I could ease into this thing all the better. But neither did I want to let any whippets disappear into the distance. So with some runners at my heels I just tried to control the pace for the first lap. Nobody seemed desperate to pass but clearly want to keep in touch. Eventually holding the speed back a notch was unsustainable and a guy in an Ironman cap came past. As we crossed the bridge on the A57 I dropped in next to another guy whose name I failed to get. We discussed our previous races and other running related topics. He revealed to me he'd achieved a sterling 17th place at this years TDS. At this point another dude came past but didn't really want to chat. His name I later learnt was Gareth Bowden. As we came through the first 5 mile loop I grabbed my race vest, a banana and trogged on. In my haste to not lose too much time to the leaders I managed to stop my Suunto GPS when throwing my vest on. As I tried to settle into a comfortable rhythm I slowly gained on the TDS guy and Ironman who were running together line astern on the single track towards the A57 bridge. As we rounded the end and began the first full climb to Slippery Stones I let the two in front go a little, now in fourth place myself with Gareth Bowden a little ahead of those two.
As we gained ascent I could see the race unfolding a little with Gareth Bowden, TDS guy next and Ironman behind them with a 50 metre or so gap between all of us. I just tried to be disciplined with my pace and effort, holding back but still trying to keep in touch somewhat. As we did the last ascent towards Slippery Stones I could see Ironman coming back to me. His gait appeared a little laboured showing he may have bitten off more than he could chew with the early pace so far (about 7:30m/mile). As we dropped the last little descent to Slippery Stones I took the incentive and moved past with a positive move, pushing up the little climb past the bridge to make the move stick. As I sorted the gate I glanced back to see if I needed to hold it for him, but to my surprise he'd already dropped off in the space of 30-40metres. It reinforced the psychological factors in racing, once I'd come past he immediately slowed. Another lesson learnt, maybe...
And that was it. All of a sudden I was running, 15 or so miles into an ultra, comfortably in a podium position. I also felt strong and confident I could hold it to the finish unless someone unforeseen pushed from back in the pack or my ITB flared badly. I continued to hold my pace back a little, concentrating on flow and the "just don't walk". It was early for this, but I was determined, that no matter what, I wouldn't submit to aches and pains until after 35 miles. At which point I would pick up my pacers and maybe they could push me through any problems. I also ensured I stayed on top of my nutrition, a gel every 30 minutes or so, salt caps and a banana planned at every 15 mile loop. As I neared the 20 mile marker I could tell the ITB was threatening, but not yet crippling. As I passed Fairholmes I saw my Mum and Dad 50 metres from the aid station walking the dogs. It's always a lift when family and friends make the effort to come and support, and this was no exception. My Dad (a cracking half marathon runner in his day) had only seen me at one ultra, so I wanted to show him today that I was working hard to make him proud of me.
As I hit the aid station, it was a hive of activity. The race organiser, Steve King and his team told me to ease off. They said the two leaders looked in a bad way and the pace was unsustainable. This was in all honesty a weight off my mind. I saw Emma and the kids, grabbed a nana and moved on quickly, but this time consciously knocking maybe 30 seconds a mile off to maybe 8-8:30 min/miles. I'd come through 20 miles in 2:38, which for me was pushing for a 50 miler, so backing off seemed logical, and maybe the two in front would come back to me. Slowing a little seemed to correlate with my ITB flaring up. It was at this point I did the only logical thing - I necked some anti-inflammatory drugs. I wouldn't normally advocate the use of pain killers but I could tell it was going to get worse if I didn't intervene. The rest of that lap was fairly uneventful - Mainly in that it didn't seem like torture like it had the year before. I was happy with my position, I was enjoying my tunes on the iPod and the sun was getting a little warmer (but not too hot).
Then I arrived at the 35 mile mark and Stan was waiting for me with Emma to pace me round the last 15 lap. I was really happy to see them both and ready for the company. I also had some surprising news that TDS had dropped, putting me in second place. I asked for the gap to 1st, Bowden, only to be told "he's gone, don't worry about him". But part of me, in this for the competition, wanted to have a crack anyway. So I dumped my vest and charged on. Emma and Stan struggling to catch me over first quarter of a mile or so. However as we rounded the bottom of the reservoirs the ITB got much worse again. I slowed to a walk a couple of times along this stretch, but when we saw my parents at the water station by Derwent dam my Dad asked how long it might take us to finish. I gave a conservative time, which I can't remember, but it gave me the last push I needed to just go for it. So again I charged off, up the hill this time, but all of a sudden the adrenaline erased the pain and I managed to clip some decent miles off again. As the final few miles passed Emma and Stan amused me the best they could, both trying to find toilet stops - typical, lol!
The final section of rolling road that stretches maybe 5 miles is a little past Slippery Stones. As we hit the road, Emma and Stan stopped to top the water up. All I could think about was how strong I felt, against everything I expected at this point in the race. All I could think was how much effort and determination it took at this point in 2013 to muster any sort of running. With this in mind I took what I thought was maybe a selfish decision to run on, but I 'd put myself in this position to do the best I could so the decision was made. I pulled my shirt off to make myself as comfortable as possible and just concentrated on a smooth and sustainable running form.
It was apparent that Emma and Stan were struggling to catch me, but this just pushed me more. Eventually Stan managed to close the gap, but i told him to go back to Emma to make sure she was okay. I'd previously agreed with Emma that if I felt strong I was going to go for it, so it wasn't anything she didn't expect, but I still felt guilty. A few minutes later Stan returned again, under instructions from Em to come and pace me (he also had the water at that point the poor guy). So me and Stan charged together for the last 3 miles or so, pushing out 7 or so min/miles, but it never felt really hard. This was a revelation to me and probably the most pleasing aspect of my day. I was improving as a runner, all the training was paying off. Time to cash in!
I finished with my usual sprint finish (maybe showing I'm still leaving a bit out on the course?!). Also after finishing I immediately turned around and ran back down the hill to find Emma. To my delight she was about 200 metres down the road, so I met up with her and a 35 miler and ran in as a group back to the finish line. Love coming over the line with my wife, she's the best and always inspires me to give my best x.
The final result - 2nd place and a course record (other than the winner this year) in 7:15. A full hour and 25 minutes faster than 2013 and 45 minutes faster than my ideal goal race time. A great days work, and something to build on I'm sure.
I'm completing this report nearly a month after the race, and although still buzzing in general from the performance, I think I've got more in me. And the 2nd place, despite my rationalisation of performing to time not position, still irks a little. I've entered for 2015, after I'll have run my first 100 miler (Lakeland 100), so looking forward to pushing that time back a bit more maybe -
Cue fear of Failure...