You bastard! I chased you so hard but I just couldn’t catch you!
Now that was a proper fucking race! I’m knackered!
I staggered into a sunny spot after a surprisingly short 12 hours of running in circles. I hadn’t eaten nearly enough food, had spent too much time vomiting, was 8.8 miles over my vaguely realistic target distance and was somehow in 3rd place.
The circles were laps of a standard 400m track in Crawley, West Sussex, with plenty of space to set up your own personal aid station (the stool was a waste of £4 as I didn’t sit in it once).
The organisers were very…organised. Pam Storey and her crew made sure everything went smoothly and everyone knew what was what. I.e they pointed out that each lap only counts as the circumference of the inside lane, we’d be changing direction at half time and after three hours a six hour race would begin and we’d have to share the space with another load of eccentric runners, undoubtably going a lot faster than us.
Faster than everyone apart from Mark Perkins anyway.
This race was the culmination of a training experiment that started towards the end of last year. There are lots of ultra training plans out there, but they’re generally aimed at just getting you round with the minimum amount of mileage. For some reason there is an abundance of sub three hour marathon plans, but no ultra equivalents.
Instead it seems that you either have to know what you’re doing, or employ a coach. Neither of these really fit my situation, and being slightly misery I thought I’d have a crack at designing my own training plan.
First off, there was the question of an inflamed plantar fascia. Long runs made it worse so I spent the months leading up to Christmas clocking up 50 mile weeks with lots of 5-6 mile sessions, usually twice a day (+1 for living 6 miles from work).
My excellent bupa supplied physio / triathlete prescribed an array of stretches and exercises to be performed at least twice a day, to the mild annoyance of my wife.
Once January hit, my body seemed in good shape and it was time to deploy the plan!
It wasn’t complicated:
- Increase weekly mileage by 10% each week
- One week in 4 should consist of short easy runs, 30-40 miles in total
- Aim for 1 sprint and 1 longer tempo per week
- Favour several medium distance (10-12) runs a week, longest run around 15 miles, rather than one very long one
- Be flexible and prepared to decrease mileage when any niggles appear
- Increase the long run in the final few weeks before tapering
- Taper for 3 weeks
I also took the opportunity for a diet change, cutting down my intake of sugar (goodbye lovely lovely maltesers), bread, pasta and rice.
After a few months I was 8kg down and my knees seemed happy with the new arrangement.
Fairly early on I had a rather nasty episode one morning at work. After an uneventful run and before I’d eaten breakfast (it was in front of me, I was even holding a fork), I felt incredibly light headed, confused and started pouring with sweat. After a few minutes it subsided enough for me to get some food down, and I quickly felt normal again.
This was a huge wake up call, calories in were much less than those I was burning in training, and I probably doubled my food intake at this point. It didn’t take long before I felt a lot better (and was much less grumpy too, a bonus for family harmony).
Weekly mileage peaked at a smidge over 100 miles, and I clocked up nearly 1,000 miles in just under 4 months.
No wonder I got a bit dizzy, this was uncharted territory.
The final long training run of 30 miles was horribly painful, punctuated with lots of pit stops to stretch incredibly tight and painful hamstrings and glutes, the foul weather only made me more miserable.
Thankfully a long (and exceptionally painful) sports massage, coupled with a gentle taper left me feeling limber and quietly confident as race day approached.
After a terrible night sleep (does anyone sleep well before a race?), I ambled the mile to the track lugging my picnic table and supplies for the day.
My plan was to settle into what felt like a sustainable pace, and try to gauge when to pick it up such that I finished with nothing in the tank. This was in direct contrast to my disastrous Tooting plan of going out hard and holding on for as long as possible.
Once we were off the temptation to chase the leaders was really tough to resist, but Mark Perkins and Max Willcocks were putting down such an incredible pace, one that would quickly be the end of me if I even thought about tagging along.
I reminded myself to run my own race and stick to the plan.
The hours and miles ticked along, I stopped infrequently for water, 3 hourly UCAN replenishment (that stuff is amazing, makes long distance running much easier when you’re not having to eat all the time) and the odd cheese and ham sandwich.
Every hour the leaderboard was updated and I was consistently around 5th place (of 24), with not much between me and Michal Masnik (a friendly face from the Tooting 24h race last year).
Mark was belting it round and it became clear from his 3 hour distances that he was pacing for 100 miles. Incredible to see and humbling to share the same track – I felt exceptionally guilty whenever I failed to hear him coming and he had to dodge around me (being far too polite to call “track”, or maybe just too focused).
At some point Max dropped out, someone said he was rolling one of his quads, which was a shame for him as he’d been covering some serious distance. It all made sense in a few weeks when he won the TP100, no point spoiling that opportunity with a track injury.
My brother Toby had turned up for the second 6 hours to count my laps, and quickly turned himself into my support crew. He did such a great job I didn’t need to stop at all, keeping me fully loaded with flat coke, sweet treats and plenty of encouragement.
When he told me I was one lap behind third place, with two hours to go, everything changed in my head.
Physically I felt in great shape; everything had hurt after three hours, but quickly subsided and I’d been happily in the zone, feeling relaxed and keeping an even 9 min/mile pace.
Third place up for grabs? This was something different.
It was one thing to finish feeling like I’d had a good crack, but to bag a podium spot too? It would validate all those long months of doubt at the back of my mind “am I doing this because I’m maybe not terrible at it, or is it just another obsessive hobby?”
I won’t lie, I felt a huge surge of emotion, and may even have shed a tiny tear.
Or was it dehydration and sweat? We’ll never know.
Time to channel that energy into my legs and pick up the pace.
Michal looked and sounded surprised as I hared past him putting a couple of laps between us. I’d left this as late as possible figuring that it was going to be a lot easier to chase than be chased. One (of the many) good things about a track was that I could keep an eye on anyone behind me quite easily, just as long as there was half a lap between us.
An hour to go and the race felt like it had only really just begun. Michal wasn’t ceding without a fight (understandably – he’d lost time earlier from sunstroke), and our lap times got faster and faster. My last mile was my quickest at 7:30 and I finished just one mile behind Barry Thornton and half a mile ahead of Michal.
Toby had been fully briefed during the final few laps and when I collapsed in a sunny spot of grass he brought water, cucumber, my down jacket and phone.
I felt truly elated and like I’d given it everything, such an amazing feeling. 78.5 miles in my legs, very happy.
Mark the metronome just missed the 100 mile point at 12 hours but went on to get an official time, the 4th fastest UK 100 miles, a legend in the making! His report is a great read: 99.6 miles at the Crawley 12 hour race.
I found Michal and we had a laugh before agreeing to a rematch in Tooting, so it’s back to the home made training plan for me, and with the power of Strava I can keep an eye on the competition.