Sunday, 4 December 2011

I have been writing this blog for ages…it has been a really uneventful few weeks following lots of read about the adventures

I was really nervous. I love this race and this year was going to be my third year in a row, so I knew what to expect. I guess that’s why I was nervous. I knew what to expect. I knew the good bits, the fun bits, the tricky bits…

Likey’s Brecon Beacon Ultra 45 – Saturday, November 19th

This was my very first ultra back in 2009. The atmosphere is always great, the organisers are super friendly and supportive and the scenery is amazing. The first year I did it, I was innocent to the toughness of the terrain. In some respects, this innocence and inexperience made me power through and without knowing it I did quite well. Last year was an entirely different story. The week before last year’s event I decided to do XNRG’s Druids Challenge; 80+miles along the Ridgeway path split into 3 days. Believe me, that it’s a much ‘easier’ route to do when tackled in one stage rather than split up into about 27 miles each day! Anyway, needless to say, my legs were a bit lacking in any sort of energy by the time last year’s Brecon Ultra rolled around. I had battered them so much all year (well, it really hasn’t stopped this year either…).

So, at last year’s Brecon adventure my legs were extremely tired and this was majorly compounded by the weather; it was a total white-out all day of blinding fog. This proved to be really disorientating. I think I ended up finishing 2010’s race nearly 3hours slower than 2009. To me, races are never so much about the racing as they are about experience.

Having completed 105 marathon distance events – 40 of them have been ultra’s – since May 2009, I have gotten used to taking things more easy during events. That said I didn’t want to be quite as slow as I was last year. It’s not the loveliest thing to be out in the wildness of the Brecon Beacons in the dark and the cold and potentially/ likely bad weather. However, this year, although it did get colder later in the day and it was quite misty on higher ground it never rained once and I never needed my thermal layer or waterproof. This was really great. They were really good running conditions this year.

The first year I did this event it was pouring with rain and on the second lap some of the rocky pathways were submerged under torrents of running rain water. And there are tricky bits on the end of the lap where it’s really not a good place for rocks to be submerged under water…I believe that the tricky little bramble lined pathway strewn with huge rocks and obstacles was nicknamed ‘Death Alley’ the first year I did this, due to the fact that you could really twist something on this bit if you don’t take it easy. This year’s race was pretty much dry underfoot, but once we reached higher ground the mist/ fog did set in somewhat. It wasn’t a constant presence on lower ground though so all was good and as expected. This year’s race was much friendlier, not that this race is ever anything but friendly.

It just seemed that little bit more lively this year. Perhaps it seems this way because I wasn’t majorly at the back like I have previously been. I can’t really explain how thankful I am to the organisers of this event, I really can’t. They’re all so smiley and lovely, driving around the roads of the course with a big smile and a hello; remembering your name and shouting words of encouragement. Just really fantastic race organisers...and they also happen to have an awesome running gear website at ;-)

Nutrition-wise, I really should have taken more food supplies with me - a bit of a mistake on my part. No excuses there really, as I should know how important getting those calories in is. I’ve been getting paranoid that with winter on its way and less races to look forward to that I will end up putting on loads of weight and so I have slightly been underestimating the food needed for these events – well partly that and partly I am just a bit disorganised sometimes. That’s not to say that I have a problem with getting the calories back in afterwards haha…yup, fast food and all sorts become my best friends after events like these, so I certainly get those calories back in! However, during the event itself I really didn’t consume enough. I took on bits of a ‘Boost’ chocolate bar on the first bit and some seedy ‘9 bar’. I had a mini-packet of Haribo on the second lap and a carton of juice on the big hill. I also had a packet of Worcester sauce crisps on the beginning of the second lap, but this really wasn’t enough. I did feel I needed more and was rationing a bit too much. Seeing those guys on the hill with their picnic of sandwiches made me wish I had brought something more substantial. You do learn some lessons.

As a really experienced running friend said to me afterwards with regards to the GUCR 145 miler that I have planned for 2012: If you don’t eat on something like that then you don’t finish, as simple as that! I have to get into that mentality more. Quite frankly, you need to be taking in calories quite frequently, because as I have found in the past, if you leave it too long until you literally feel nauseous because you haven’t taken on enough, then you really don’t want to ingest anything at all and it becomes a vicious cycle of wanting to eat but not being able to get it down.

The main climb within the first 4 miles or so of the event is really brutal. In reality it is just a very big continuous grassy hill…but you really feel it. Even if you have encountered it before, you still don’t remember exactly where it ends and where the ‘summit’ is…that hill just seems to go on and on with many false little peaks. Eventually you get there like you knew you would, but you often have to stop yourself from pausing for too long as your ascend it. This sounds dramatic, but it is a sneaky ‘little’ hill. It is definitely the worst part. It gets you first time around and you conquer it, but it’s bad because you know that in almost 20miles time you will have to conquer the hill yet again! Some guys made me giggle on the second lap; they paused for a bit half way up to eat their sandwiches. They were in really good spirits and explaining that they had an agreed ‘picnic point’ to give them energy for the rest of it :) wish I’d thought of that! I just had a carton of juice, but it was the BEST carton of juice that I have EVER had at that moment in time…I could have drunk a gallon of it. It was really rather thirsty work and although it wasn’t necessarily baking out there, I felt so warm from the climbs that I was roasting up that hill!

Ultimately I had a really great day. I love the spookiness of running through pitch-black muddy fields and forested areas and then finding civilisation again at the end of it. The t-shirt we received at the end is just awesome!

Cornish Marathon – Sunday, November 20th

I had been warned that the Cornish marathon was going to be a hilly one – hilly, but beautiful. I just wanted to take the beautiful bit. It was clear from the outset that this was going to be a real struggle for me after the previous day’s exploits at the Brecon Ultra 45. I was pretty stiff and I was pretty tired, but I wasn’t yet defeated.

I love Cornwall and we always used to visit Cornwall when I was little…Michaelstow, Bodmin, Newquey…Its quite far from where I live, but because I had done the Brecon Ultra the day before, this knocked a couple of hours off that journey, so I took full advantage of it. This was to be my first marathon in or around Cornwall.

It didn’t all start off so great. The race support seemed fantastic as we first did two small loops of the local village…but it was attention I could have done without…I just wanted to get into my stride and with all eyes initially watching, I felt a bit under pressure. And I was really struggling from the beginning.

I felt so stiff and there were hills to contend with straight away…it was definitely going to be a fight to the finish. I really didn’t ‘find my legs’ and conquer some of the stiffness until after the 15 mile mark…this may have had something to do with the rather annoying St. John’s Ambulance vehicle which was ‘stalking’ me. I understand that health and safety is paramount during these events, but there was me with my 100 Marathon Club top on, so as not to appear too pathetic or inexperienced in my mega slowness. I had obviously survived a lot of previous races and although slow, I wasn’t actually going majorly slow.

The entire field was really very fast. They sped off and kept going. I was quite surprised by this on such a hilly course. Good on them. I just didn’t have the energy in my legs. So, I plodded on along the quiet country roads. The problem with the quiet country roads was that the presence of the St. John’s Ambulance vehicle up my bum was all the more annoying and loud.

The engine was so loud and I hated the prospect of these people observing me…I just wanted to run dammit. And it made me feel really uneasy and pressurised. I’m sure they could have dropped back a bit and then caught me up…I’m sure that had I really been in some sort of trouble that nothing bad would have happened, since people were actually using these roads and I wasn’t in the wilderness somewhere. It really annoyed me. SO that’s pretty much all I thought about for the first 15 miles of the event – how to shake off the presence of the medical support vehicle! I did shake them off, however as I overtook a gentleman and further along I managed to overtake a few more people. I became more mentally relaxed and eased myself into a stride that I was able to maintain and before I knew it the end was in sight. Ultimately, on completely trashed legs and a hilly course I managed just fewer than 5 ½ hours…I am not complaining. This wasn’t the best and it certainly wasn’t the worst. There was cake and champers at the end to celebrate a friend’s 100th marathon and a Cornish pasty! All was well and about 72 hilly miles were clocked up that weekend – Woooooo :)

So now, I find myself with not much to do in December. That is not to say that there is not much out there, there are a lot more events this December than there have previously been, but alas, funds are low and organisation has waned on my part and the majority are now full, so I have missed out a bit. I know the rest will do me good but I am getting serious withdrawal from marathons and ultras. I need a massive challenge now to sink my teeth into. I’m impatient. I know the next adventure will sneak up on me sooner than I imagine. Until then, I am throwing myself into the gym and training…effort in = performance out :)

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