Sometimes you learn the most when things don’t go to plan. I had planned on doing the Lakeland 50 as a hard effort in the build up to the Trail World Championships in Portugal in October, but a cold in the 10 days prior to it put paid to my race. I ran to half way but was so glad I decided to drop here. Instead of being stubborn and running the immune system down further, I was able to come away, recover quickly and start to re-evaluate. It just so happened my local ultra was in 3 weeks time, the Dig Deep UTPD. This is 60 miles with over 10,000ft of ascent and would give me the perfect opportunity to get my confidence back, trail nutrition and get some good time on feet training for the TWC.
So to race morning, here’s where it didn’t quite go to plan. I was loving the olympics and as previous hockey player, I couldn’t resist watching Team GB in the gold medal match. I watched the first half, then as the race was due to start at 6am I set my alarm for 4am and went to bed listening to the 2nd half on the radio alarm clock. In a dazed state, I switched both the radio and alarm off! Maybe fate played a part, but something woke me at 5.34am, 26 mins before the start, which was about 20 minutes away! Fortunately, I had all my kit ready, so changed, grabbed my pack, my drop bags and a Mountain Fuel Xtreme drink and left the house at 5.40am. No traffic on the road allowed me a clear run to get to Whirlow Farm at 5.53am, phew, 7 minutes to spare. Quick toilet stop, ditch the drop bags and I was on the start ready to go!
I’m a big fan of breakfast, and for an ultra I would usually have a big bowl of porridge, maybe some toast or maybe a banana as well. I don’t normally drink a lot of coffee, but always have one on race morning, except this time, no time for that! As I had missed out on my breakfast, I started eating right from the start and sipped a Mountain Fuel Xtreme drink. I like a fast start, and usually don’t need to eat until 2 hours or so into a race. This time, conscious of eating and digesting food early on, I started at a much more conservative pace. The weather was windy, but the gusts hadn’t picked up early on and it was dry so I was happy running to the first aid station in my t-shirt. However, I looked over towards Back Tor and could see the mist and rain coming in. We were in for a wet and windy time over the tops. Maybe because of my more relaxed start attitude with not pushing hard, I was willing to also take time at the aid station to get the arm warmers on and dig out my Minimus from my pack. I’m normally in and out of aid stations in seconds. That was a great move as over the next 10 minutes the weather changed for the worst. I was in third place here, I could see the other guys in front but as they ran I walked sections of the gradual climb onto Derwent Edge, eating a Cliff bar.
Over the next few miles, I noted how good I was feeling. In pretty much every other ultra I have done I get a bit of a dip at 25-35 miles and start to flag. These next few miles passed by without that lag. Even approaching Win Hill, the 2nd aid station at 32 miles, I was feeling great. I grabbed my marzipan bar here and noted the time I was starting my climb. Win Hill is a regular climb I do, 0.75 miles with around 1000ft of climbing. My fastest time is 13 minutes but my reps are usually around 16 minutes. I went from the finger post to just below the trig point in 17:36, fantastic! My waterproof had briefly come off, but looking ahead, I could see we were in for more weather as I looked up to Crookstone Knoll so again made the early call to put my jacket on. It never came off after this point.
The long descents, firstly from below Ringing Rodger, down The Nab to Edale, then from Hollins Cross to Castleton, were areas I had highlighted as important sections for Portugal training. With that in mind, I took off down the Nab, and not being a confident descender, I think I can probably say for the first time ever, I was loving descending! I put this down to the steadier start, I hadn’t trashed my quads early on so I was able to make the most of the descents.
I carried on nibbling food, drinking Xtreme, and still no lag. I was forced to walk all of the Cavedale climb due to the wind, it was like being in a wind tunnel. There were some good running tracks after this though so I was able to get to the third aid station at Bradwell feeling good for 46 miles. Getting here just inside 8 hours was the first time I thought about time. I had previously finished in 10hrs 43mins, 2 years ago, but that was in perfect conditions. Here, I was on for a better time despite the weather so that gave me the impetus to climb strong up Bradwell Moor and run as hard as I could in the flat miles along the river to Hathersage. The final climb over Burbage was tough, it was my only low of the day. I’m putting that down to the weather, I saw on the local news that evening there had been reports of 48mph gusts in Sheffield. It felt every bit as strong as this, and I was drenched to the core. I ploughed on for the next 3-4 miles, willing them on and it was only as I hit Limb Valley for the final undulating couple of miles my mood changed, I realised I was going to be well inside 10:30. In fact, I was only 7 minutes outside the female course record, despite the weather!
I finished in second place overall, 10 hours 21 minutes, 13 minutes behind fellow Dark Peak runner John Bottomley who ran a brilliant first ultra. It was a 22 minute PB for me.
So what did I learn from this race:
- Sensible pacing from the off, there’s no need for the fast start!
- Have only a small breakfast but instead eat from the first half hour,
- Caffine is not necessary for me and perhaps contributes to the lag in energy after 25-35 miles,
- Take time at the aid stations if needed, making those early judgement calls on clothing etc.
All in all, I ate: 4 sweet potato Mountain Fuel mini pancakes, 4 banana Mountain Fuel mini pancakes, 1 Cliff bar, 1 pack of Shot Blocs, 1 chocolate covered marzipan bar and drank 4.5 Xtreme drinks. That was ample despite no breakfast!
Photo credit: Jez Malins and Dig Deep Races.
Huge thanks to Dig Deep for organising a great race weekend, especially the marshals out for several hours in those conditions, Montane for the kit, Beta Climbing and Injinji for the socks and Mountain Fuel.