About Me

Harpenden, England, United Kingdom

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Looking for Dragons

I had a great time running the Brecon Beacons 40-miler last weekend. The race itself did not pan out as I was hoping, but I was happy with my effort and I learned a few lessons.

As it turns out, there are plenty of hills in Britain!

The race did not start at the ridiculously unsustainable pace that I am used to from ultramarathons in the US. So I decided to stretch out the field a bit and led the first few flat miles, probably running low to mid seven-minute miles, but feeling fairly comfortable. Just as I expected, the people with ambitions to win the race followed, and I got to run with or behind them in order to get a feel for their styles. We hit the first climb as a group of five or six, and everyone was looking fairly strong.

I was excited by the prospect of an exciting race and was feeling mentally and physically ready to compete hard. Just like at Highland Sky last year, I had no idea who the runners around me were. For example, I had chatted with Andrew James before the start, without realizing he just won two tough ultras in a row, including a UKA title at the Highland Fling after a good battle with Jez Bragg

After 14 years of ‘rabbit’ pacing strategy in races, I have recently been experimenting with a more patient approach, so after the pace settled, I decided to hang back, keep the leading trio (Mark, Andrew, and Daniel) in sight, stuff myself with as many calories as I could, and put everything I had in a big push in the last 10 miles. This seemed like a very sound strategy, but it did not account for getting off course, which interfered with the plan quite a bit.

This being a race with an unusually well-marked course for the UK, I still struggled with following the markers throughout. I got significantly off course on at least three occasions, which is really three too many, given the strength of the runners competing at the front. 
 I loved the aesthetics of the course markers.
But I need to get a LOT better at following them.

After losing about 10 minutes with the first wrong turn I took, I tried hard to not let that affect me mentally and I patiently reeled in two of the three runners who had passed me while I was off course. But the second time that happened, I realized my race was over, so I just focused on running the harder second half of the course as smoothly as I could and finishing strong. The two runners behind me kept catching me because I kept missing turns or having to stop or backtrack to make sure I was going the right way. Every time that happened, I would get competitive again and open a small gap on them, and this little game was sufficient to distract me from the inevitable fatigue and muscle pain.

Happily sporting my WVU raceware.

I finished in 6:45 and was satisfied with my running, even if I was also a bit disappointed to miss out on competing with the top four (not that I think I would have necessarily been able to). Ironically but also fairly, I was penalized by 25 min. for one of my jaunts off course. The ironic part was that I still ran at least two extra miles overall. But it was also fair because in one occasion, I inadvertently took a shortcut in terms of both distance and elevation gain, which also misled the runner behind me (sorry Barry!). 

In the end, it was a great day of running across some stunningly beautiful mountains. The race was organized impeccably, and hanging out and chatting with the other runners at the finish line was really nice. I guess I will have to pull the map out of my pocket next time and start using my brain a bit while I run.  Thanks again to MCN and the course marshals! I look forward to the next event from this series.


  1. Excellent race Gancho. Can't wait for more RR! Is this part of your mighty Blanc ambitions? I recently read an article detailing the carnival like atmosphere around the Blanc and got jealous no such thing is here in the US. Perhaps I should try to qualify for it next year...

  2. Jim,

    Yes, this race gives me 2 out of 5 points needed to qualify for UTMB. The remaining 3 should come from a single race, which will have to be 100k or longer, I am afraid. It will probably be the Ridgeway Challenge.

  3. Great job Gancho!! Look forward to following your achievements! JB