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31 January/1 February

Reading on fabulosity scale: 10

Level of awesomeness feelingness: 10

Muddiness: 10

Conqueredliness: 10

Meltdowns: ZERO

State of feet: Pass

Did I mention that I had quite a good Saturday??

But it wasn’t all marvellous. The photos were shit lol Mind you, I always look shit in running photos. Just when I think I’ve lost weight and am looking ok, here comes another pic of me mid-race and OMG – words fail me. I’m thinking of suing. They must’ve photo-shopped some of that, surely! Surely??

Moving on ………

It was a shaky start. In fact, I can quite honestly say that I almost didn’t start at all. Due to some rubbish planning on my part we had visitors the night before. They very kindly left before midnight but when it’s a 5 a.m. start that makes midnight quite late. And it was at least 1 before I wound down and managed to sleep. And then there was the Garmin fiasco. Garmin Connect, I official dislike you lots and lots. Could I upload/download/whichever …. my maps to my watch? No!! I even had Karim working on that one for an hour and he couldn’t get it to work, either. Boo!

And then of course there was the drive there – without any maps!! My GPS decided on a timely malfunction which left me driving aimlessly around Farnham for a good half an hour as I watched the ‘Race Briefing’ time slip by …

In short, I arrived, parked, grabbed race number and timing chip and … kept my overnight bag OFF the truck because I honestly did NOT want to start. I had four and a half minutes before the start gun. I decided that no decisions should be made while one needed to pee. So that’s what I did. With one minute to go, I flung my bag onto the truck and made it to the start with my race number still in my hand and my hydration vest over one shoulder!!

Well … from then on, things could only get better – and they did! Yes, there was mud. There was NO escaping the knee-deep mud. There was also snow (gorgeous), hail (not so gorgeous), rain (wet), cloud (dull) but … but … but … I COULD SEE RUNNERS!! Yes. Me. Runners ahead of me and some behind me and …………. this is unheard of for me. I was keeping up (kind of). Of course, the real importance of this was that THEY knew where they were going. It meant that I wouldn’t get lost. Do you know, I lost sight of those runners for about half an hour mid-race – and you would not believe it, but I came up to fast-racing, icy river with stepping stones across it (under the water). I crossed the stones and came back onto the track with more runners – and you know what? Later on, when I checked the route map, what did it say? Go through the car park and take the left fork. DO NOT CROSS THE STEPPING STONES!!! I swear I cannot be left alone!!!
The trail was every bit as beautiful as I remembered from two years previously – lots and lots of woodland and fields and glorious views. Having done a few races now, though, I still marvelled at how molly-coddled roadrunners are in terms of aid stations etc. There were no water stations every 5k here. Brilliantly organised, fabulously detailed ‘route cards’ provided (for those who actually read them properly lol) … but the first water station was 8 miles in, the second one at Mile 18! You do not want to run out of water in between – and this time I made sure I didn’t!! As usual, nothing was too much trouble for the marshalls at these aid stations. Many were sponsored athletes and bottles were whipped out of vests and refilled almost before we’d ground to a halt; food pushed into hands and nobody got through those stations ‘unfed’ without some very pointed questions: ‘Are you sure?’ ‘What have you eaten so far?’ ‘What’s in your pack?’

I had just a few we targets for myself for this race. I wanted to beat the 8 hours 55 from my previous Day 1 when I had completely lost the plot at one point. I wanted to get up those Boxhill steps without collapsing and having to finish them ‘backwards’. I wanted to get up the following huge incline without crying (tall order) and I wanted to finish feeling proud of myself.

In my own particular way – with MY goals, not anybody else’s – I aced it. I got up the 268 steps without stopping once! I then did the same on that darned hill – no stopping, pausing and definitely no crying (although there was swearing!!). And after that I ran again. Slowly as always, but I ran. I ran the last 5 miles and I was just so chuffed.

They say you should never decide to DNF at an aid station – and neither should you do it the night BEFORE Day 2 of the Challenge (best wait until morning)! But I broke the rule. I decided in those final five miles that I was going to celebrate this 50k, relax and enjoy the evening, the talks, the meal … and NOT race Day 2. And I have to say that although I had a few small regrets the next morning, I was completely happy with this decision.

(a) I clocked 6:40 ‘moving time’ on my Garmin – but total time was 7:40 (I still can’t work this out as I didn’t stop for more than 5 minutes at any water station?) – Anyway, that aside, it STILL gives me a PB of 75 minutes – that’ll do!
(b) For the first time ever I had runners around me for a WHOLE RACE!
(c) I conquered the 268 steps AND the hill.
(d) I did everything I set out to do.
(e) I finished in daylight! (Wow!)
(f) Hilariously, and also for the FIRST TIME EVER (and probably the last) … I made the Day 2 start time in the FASTER RUNNER slot!!!! That made me laugh out loud when I saw it posted – I snuck in with five minutes to spare but I did giggle a lot!

With that in mind, I simply had nothing to prove to myself by racing Day 2. I knew if I started that I would finish, but I also knew it’d be slow. My shins were threatening shin splints (I could feel them being ‘challenged’!) and my ITB was VERY tight. Another 50k would do nothing other than increase my chances of injury and with such a big goal in 20 weeks’ time I really did NOT want to risk any time off (I can’t afford even a few days’ rest at this stage). I could’ve walked it, of course – but then neither did I fancy 8-9 hours on the trails, being on my own for a lot of it, possibly getting lost again …. and for what?

Ironman! June! This is my focus. Pilgrim was not by any means my ‘A’ race. What would I have achieved Day 2? Nothing really (other than a lovely medal).

Completely happy with my decision and totally and utterly chuffed with a great time (for me) on that course. End of.

Learning points

Two elites gave talks on the Saturday nights. Both very interesting. I took away three key points …

1. An oldie but goodie – NEVER train without purpose. If there’s a race in the offing, then ‘I’ll just do a gentle ten miles today’ is useless. It’s ok to do a gentle ten miles but make sure there’s a purpose (recovery run? ‘learning’ to run more slowly/hold back?’) In short, if there isn’t a purpose to it, either don’t bother or make one up. Either way, decide.
2. When something goes wrong in a race and you’re recapping … it’s not enough to just say ‘I ran out of fuel at 15 miles and that’s where it went wrong’. Sit down and back-track all the way. Why did you run out of fuel? Did you forget to fill up or did you drink more? Why did you need more? When did that start? You might find you can track these ‘causes’ all the way back to a night/week/month before (something that happened in training? Something that didn’t work? Wrong strategy?) … Go back until you can go no further. Only then can you see ‘where’ and ‘when’ things started to go wrong.
3. Cold weather running (long distances). If you’re drinking and drinking and peeing and peeing your body is going to shut down from cold!! Constant ‘peeing’ means your body is trying to get rid of that bloomin’ cold water you keep chucking down – because with the torrent of cold water it CANNOT WARM UP!! It’s desperately trying to get rid of the water so it can concentrate on warming up your core! Eventually, it will shut down from the cold unless you rectify this. Stop drinking cold water. Get hold of a warm drink pronto!!

That’s it from me! Thanks for listening. Gotta go now …. Ironman training awaits. And yes, that IS my ‘A’ race!!


Pilgrim Challenge, ultramarathon

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