I think I have started this blog at least four times over the last 3 weeks but not got round to finishing due to life getting in the way….so here it is.
As some of you may have been aware I raced the North Downs Way 50 mile just over 3 weeks ago. The NDW 50 is a 50 mile point to point run along the North Downs Way National Trail from Farnham, Surrey to Knockholt Pound on the outskirts of Greater London with a total elevation gain of 5,800ft.
The route varies between undulating and hilly. There are, however, no ascents lasting more than a few minutes except for Box Hill. There are also some short sections of stairs involving climbs or descents from the steepest points on the course. In terms of terrain, 80% of the course is on trail and around 20% on the road. The course had a mixture of road, pavement, soft woodland trail, mud, sand and more hard packed chalk trail. The scenery on the North Downs Way is phenomenal. There are individual sections particularly early on that show off some of the best of the English Countryside, however the extremely varied, sometimes difficult underfoot conditions as well as the number of sharp turns and short and steep climbs and descents make for slow going in places and push runners to lean on many different skillsets. Road running, crushed gravel, rocky trail and soft sand trail feature alongside smooth and rolling non-technical single/ double track running. The race can be described as a tail of two halves as just before half way you reach the famous Box Hill which really sorts the field out. A long climb with steps and from then on that’s where the hills really start. The day started off cool but contrary to weather forecasts it turned out to be a lot hotter than expected. For me the day went really well, I felt super strong and in control from the start with exception from the last 10 miles where I had a few pit stops due to funny stomach (I think this was due to dehydration). At one point I thought I might get under 7hrs but this just wasn’t possible with those stops and I did slow in the last 5k as I tried to chase down the guy in front. All in all though I was super pleased with the win and taking 38 mins of the previous CR. James at Centurion running put on a great event, first class marshalling and the CPs were spot on, but more importantly I didn’t get lost once……probably a first in a trail race!
I was amazed at how good I felt the following days after the race but tried to keep a lid on it and recover properly before getting some quality sessions in. With Lavaredo Ultra Trail looming I wanted to get another long run/race in so I managed to get a last minute entry into the legendary Dartmoor Discovery 33 miler (last weekend). The Dartmoor Discovery is the UKs longest single lap road ultra and has gained somewhat of a cult status on the running circuit and is one of those races that runners have to have on their CVs. The race starts and finishes in Princetown and takes you up and down some of the toughest hills that Dartmoor has to offer, over 1200ms of elevation gain. A good friend of mine, John Ward who holds the CR had warned me about how tough it would be but I have to say I was surprised at how brutal the hills were. In hindsight I realise now that I hadn’t done much road running these last few months and this really showed in the second half of the race. The very steep descents really took a toll on my body and just over half way my SI joint completely locked up resulting in some uncomfortable running. I could barely lift my right leg meaning the climbs were super difficult to stride out so little choppy strides were all I could muster. With the last 5k a gradual climb back into Princetown I could see my sights of getting under 4hrs slipping away….I turned the corner to miss the CR by 25secs.
Several lessons learned from this race……
1. I can’t expect to run on road for 4hrs when I haven’t stepped on tarmac for over 8 wks without my body complaining.
2. Respect the hills….steep descents on road are hard on the back
3. I got my nutrition right for once (gels and tailwind)
4. Remember to put in place a good recovery strategy straight after the race. Don’t sit in a car for hours, then go to a party drink lots of wine and dance until 2am…
So that was last Saturday and unfortunately my SI joint is still a problem…it’s not bad but it’s not resolved. I have 2 weeks until I run the longest and probably toughest race of my life to date, Lavaredo Ultra Trail (120k). All I can do is continue doing what my physio says and stock buy Voltarol at Sainsbury’s. I would be lying if I said I was cool, calm and collected about Lavaredo….im bricking it but I really want to go there and enjoy the experience. I have no expectations as its very much outside my comfort zone, what will be will be