About Me

Harpenden, England, United Kingdom

Saturday, October 27, 2012

It’s all true, kind of… (Lakeland 100M)

Stats first:


I am not sure how this happened, but it has been exactly three months since I ran this amazing race, and sitting in front of a blank page (OK, screen), everything I remember feeling and thinking while running and after finishing seems awfully trite. Maybe this is a sign of having spent too much time reading ultrarunning blogs, but hopefully it just means that I need to find a way to delay my race reports a bit less. I any case, my memories have now been condensed to the confirmation of the following clichés about running 100-mile races (and no, I am not going to mention the joke of how even driving this distance makes some people tired):
1.     Gotta train! I realize this is not exactly a revolutionary idea, but I guess what I mean here is that my decision to sign up for a 100-miler was a bit of an experiment whether I could do this well (by my standards, obviously) on training of 60-70 miles per week. The answer is yes, I think I ran a very good race. But the main reason I was not able to compete for the win, or at least a podium spot, was that I was not quite fit enough for it. I think I will train a bit more next time I decide to run this distance. So make the answer to this one “yes, kind of.”
2.     Gotta do hills! This one is easy and the answer is “absolutely.” The main change in my training this year is that I probably doubled the amount of elevation gain in my runs. This has made me fitter, stronger, and more patient. I think I can also translate the hill training into better speed, but that is still just a guess. The Lakeland 100 presumably has about 6850 m (22500 ft.) of vertical, and I felt great on most of the climbs. This is where I caught and passed people, which is in stark contrast to what was happening in 2010 and 2011.
3.     Gotta take care of your mind and body! Yep, it’s an expedition alright, and attempts to ignore this would probably result in a disaster. But I don’t really know – I didn’t dare try that. Staying positive and eating/drinking continuously are obviously even more important than in shorter races. One thing I have changed recently is to drastically cut the amount of salt/electrolyte drinks that I take while running and not worry about drinking too little. Thank you, Dr.Noakes
4.     Patience, patience, patience! Another easy one. I was finally able to pace a long race well, running a nearly even split! This is probably the single thing I am most happy about. I honestly didn’t think I was physically and mentally capable of doing this. Of course, having a relatively early low point (7-8 hours in) probably helped with that.
5.     The darkest hour is just before dawn. I was particularly skeptical about this one because some of my worst patches in the Vitosha 100K over the years have been right after sunup. But this time was just like in the proverb. Around 4 am, I was trotting down the road after the Dockray checkpoint, mentally scanning my body for the slightest trace of serious/unusual pain and feeling distinctly miserable. I just wanted to quit and was looking for an excuse. It is funny what games our brains are playing with us though - even after more than 10 hours of running and more than two hours of having felt pretty lousy, there wasn’t anything in particular I could point my finger on and psychosomatically blow out of proportion! Then Alan Lucker appeared literally out of the blue, and his company and encouragement rescued my race. One of the first things he said is that we would feel much better after day break, but the (silent) response of my negative mind was “yeah, right.” Turns out he WAS right. The guy had done this quite a few times, including some really solid finishes at UTMB and the classic UK fell-running rounds, so he clearly knew what he was talking about. It probably helped that the sunrise came during one of the most beautiful sections of the course (contouring Gowbarrow). In any case, I gradually started feeling much better and started thinking that I still had a chance to finish in under 24 hours, my pre-race goal. So after running  with Alan for a couple of hours, I decided to keep going while he was making a long stop at Dalemain to change shoes. I feel a bit ambivalent about this – I was happy to just barely sneak under 24 hours in the end, but part of me wishes that I had just run it in with Alan, whatever the finishing time.
6.      It ain’t over till it’s over. After running well for a few hours, it finally occurred to me to ask about the gap to the runner in front of me. “Stuart Mills left about 40 min. ago” is what I heard at Kentmere. “Alright, nothing to get worked up about then, no way I am going to close that.” I also knew that I was pulling away from Alan and Kevin Perry, so I just proceeded without worrying about my position too much, if at all. But when I got to Ambleside, I was told that I was now only 20 min. behind Stuart, who was apparently having a bit of a rough time. “It’s a race, remember?” Here I was again calculating speeds, strategizing, and pushing hard after 20 hours of running. So it came to me as a bit of a surprise when I heard “half an hour” at the next check point. Really? And all of a sudden, things took a turn for the worse, I sat down and didn’t even want to finish. Fortunately, the thought that stopping at that point would be nonsense somehow got through the haze in my head, and I got up and started running again. Catching Stuart was not at all important to me, but letting go of that idea really made things a lot worse. So I decided to chase him down as hard as I could, which is pretty much the main reason I did manage to break 24 hours (even if I didn’t quite catch him). I felt like it was either that or just taking a nap by the trail. It is silly what things can motivate a depleted brain, and lesson learned – stick with your motivators, no matter how delusional they may seem, and never fully trust people about gaps in a race! 

A final footnote about the event: This has to be the best race organization I have ever seen, and the atmosphere was amazing throughout the weekend. I would love to go back and do it again, but the one thing that will make me think twice about it is the fact that the race course and rule enforcement allow for substantial shortcuts, which I am fairly sure at least some runners used. 

Finally got him! Well, almost. Stuart finished 3 min. ahead of me, although his gap 
at Howtown (mile 66) was 1h22! The actual gaps at the last four checkpoints were 
47, 31, 23, and 9 min. Photo courtesy of Nick Ham.

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