Two months after this race, I am still not quite sure what to make of it. It was the longest distance I have run in a single day (officially 85 miles, 87 according to GPS-holders, and more like 90 for directionally challenged dummies like myself), and I was very pleased to not experience any major meltdowns, finish reasonably strong, and gain some confidence that I could (maybe) compete in 100-mile races. But calling my 16h05 finish time anything other than disappointing would be a lie.
My decision to enter this event was somewhat dubious. The course, despite its historic aura, was not particularly appealing compared to the trails in the mountains of West Virginia and Wales that I have been running on. But it was one of only two relatively local races that would give me enough qualifying points for the 2012 UTMB and were not sold out when I moved to the UK earlier this year. Although I never considered dropping out, I found it difficult to stay motivated just by the prospect of collecting qualifying points for a future race that I may or may not do. In retrospect, I should have been much more excited about this race than I was. It was impeccably organized (thanks Anthony, TRA, and wonderful volunteers!), the competition was strong (even if most of the ambitious starters dropped), and the course was much more challenging than it looked on paper.
I started conservatively enough. As I was chatting with another runner, enjoying a few last seconds off my feet and marveling at the enthusiasm of people who warm up for a 87-mile run, there was a whistle and everybody just started running, leaving the two of us dead-on last. That’s what I call low key!
After the initial frenzy subsided, I moved into fifth position and started comparing the paces of the people ahead of me to what I thought my sustainable pace was going to be. The first three were moving way too fast for me, and the fourth was a bit slower than I wanted to run, so I passed him. This point (about a mile into the race) was the last time I knew how many people were ahead of me. And with the exception of sharing a very strange hour of running with Cliff Canavan-King, this was the last time I could see runners ahead of or behind me.
Cliff caught up to me during one of my many episodes of staring blankly into my map and trying to figure out if I was still on the right trail/road. We chatted for a while, and he very casually assured me that all runners ahead of us would blow up because they were moving too fast. What a confident guy! He ended up being mostly right too, except for the fact that Nathan Montague ran the second fastest time ever on this course and won by two and a half hours. Wow!
While Cliff and I were leapfrogging and pretending that we were not interested in racing just yet, he also put me back on the right track a couple of times and made me realize that competing in this thing was going to be impossible without prior knowledge of the course and with my poor navigation skills. I tried to ignore this thought for a few hours, while running perhaps a bit too hard on some remarkably sticky mud (how did you do that Nathan?!). But after letting Cliff go at Checkpoint 4, I sat down (something I try to avoid during any long runs) and finally had to face the fact that my competitive drive had quit on me that day. So the rest of the way was a long, dark, hallucinogenic, and strangely enjoyable affair.
1. I should have paid more attention to the signs of overtraining I noticed about a month before the race. Tim Noakes’ Lore of Running has a very informative chapter on this, including some semi-objective self-assessment techniques. I might have to start using these.
2. In the future, I will avoid running long races for reasons other than to try to win.
A picture says a thousand words:
Not really enjoying myself with ~80 miles to go. Courtesy of Ian Berry.