This was my last race for 2016. There was no aim and no agenda, just a weekend away with my hubby and friends to race a few miles around the beautiful Gower peninsula. No matter how often I tell myself this however, I find it hard to keep my competitive side at bay. Peeking at the woman's course record the night before, I realised I could beat it. A modest 10km an hour over 56km will do it comfortably! Grrrrr....relaxation gone!
Although I've been running marathons since I was 19, I am still learning (I don't think as athletes we ever stop). I started Ultras in 2015 and this is my 4th to date. One huge problem and barrier to upping the distance is my feet. I over pronate and although I am lucky that I escape injury, I do get nasty blisters. After the endless medic attention during and after Race to the Stones in the July, I realised if I was going to continue being competitive in ultras, I needed to reduce the blisters that crippled me from early on in RTTS. My plan involved three changes, Hoka's, Injinji toe socks and Rock tape. This was a big change to old tatty trail shoes, cheap socks and not a bit of tape in sight in my previous races. All hope was on the Gower that I would remain blister free so I can go up the distance next year. Reports on that later!
As a Sports Dietitian that specialises in endurance sports, I formulate many fuelling plans for my athletes, I had in fact done it for 3 of my running clients that were joining me to race in the morning. My greatest confession is that I have never found fuelling easy when I run despite the fact I have been racing for 16 years. I have to work hard at developing a tolerance, in essence I have to train my gut as much as I train my legs! It generally all goes well in training and then race day, when my head is down and focus on, I find it much harder to fuel. Endurance life events encourage you to bring your own nutrition as the check point nutrition is minimal and if it rains, they won't even put it out so it's all down the runner to bring their own fuel. Sports nutrition products work for me, they don't for all but I try to mix them with real food and the odd grab from check point tables. One serving stick of Tailwind gives 50g Carbs. The aim was to have that over 2 hours, 1x isotonic gel per hour and then top up with what I call my moral boosts, the Snickers make me smile and the salty pretzels are a welcome break from the sweetness of the drinks and gels. All in all, that pretty much gets me to 50-60g carbs per hour which is a good amount for me. It works in training. lets see how much I manage on race day.
The rain fell and the wind blew all night. Most of my ultras and marathons have been in the Spring and Summer (strategic planning!), so this was going to be different. We woke to thick fog and light rain...still no views! Reaching race HQ, we had a thorough briefing from the Endurance Life crew..we were to run the marathon route then the 10km route (though neither distances were true to their name - 27miles & 7 miles respectively). In perfect Endurance life style the start was light hearted and friendly, one of the reasons why I love the ultra community. However, the friendly jokes and banter were silenced as within 600m we were forced to a brisk march as we faced the first ascent of the race. As we reached the summit we realised quickly the state of the ground. Flooded paths and energy sapping mud with the added limited visibility could mean a slow run. I was with the front group all along the top ridge until we faced a very steep, rocky, muddy descent to the bottom. I am useless at downhills. Being light, I am pretty good at the ups but on the downs the brakes go on! As a result, I went from the front pack, to probably 15 down! We came to the first beach crossing with luckily the tide out. It was energy sapping but I realise could have been a lot worse.
The rest of the race to be honest was a bit of a blur. I would say mainly because it was in mist and fog which, when running alone was quite isolating and at times disorientating. I almost felt cheated that I was running 35 miles around the Gower, a place I have never explored before and I got to see maybe only a snippet of the beauty people endlessly boost of the area. Due to the lone running, terrible footing and limited views, I found it a tough race. There was a lot of inner monologue going on and when you don't have a running buddy to distract you, this voice that endlessly analyses how you feel gets quite loud! However, on the plus side, the fact that I was well within my target of 10km an hour, I knew, although I felt at times I could have crawled faster I was going better than I felt!
My nutrition went relatively well. I started off with 2 x 600 mls bottles with a Tailwind serving stick split between the two (25g carbs in each bottle). My aim was to have these both finished by 2 hours (my aim to get to the 2nd check point) so I could re-fill my bottles. I really found it hard to drink this much fluid. Although 1 litre of fluid isn't a huge amount to drink in that time (also considering it was warm and I was wearing a thick thermal) it was jiggling about in my stomach which didn't bode well for later in the race. I resorted to plan b at CP 2. A full serving stick in one bottle and water in the other, This way, I could be sure I was getting my planned carb quota over the next two hours from one 600mls bottle and then I could drink the water as needed. The gels went down well, although I only took 4 (the last hour all I could concentrate on was navigating through the horrendous shin deep marsh land!). All supplemented by my moral boosts, my energy levels were maintained and average 10km/hour pace target met head on.
You'll be pleased to hear that I am not one of those runners that like to show off their blistered feet to the world (no-one needs to see that!). Although my feet did pinch through the race, once the mud had been scrubbed off and they no longer resembled shrivelled prunes (the entire race I had wet feet from start to finish), I had only one blister on the arch of my foot. This was a considerable improvement from previous races. Still some refining to do but it has given me hope on upping the distance in 2017.
All in all, on reflection and wonderful hindsight it was a great race. I beat the course record by 30 mins coming in at about 5:45 and was 1st lady and 5th overall. Every race I do feels like my hardest, but I guess when progressing in the world of ultra running where we are all seeing just how far we can push these limits, the battle will always be there!