Thursday 29 March 2012

Endurancelife CTS Sussex Ultra - Fun in the Sun

The Endurancelife sun-god mojo is back, and the weekend it was back with a vengeance!  Sun, sea, and trails make for an amazing combination, and Saturday's CTS Sussex ultra had it all.  I had been approaching the race with regular alternation between a nervous tick and smug calmness.  As the weather report continued to show sunshine and warmth, I couldn't wait to tackle the hills without needing to worry about staying warm.

Being me, though, I took three choices of top and two choices of long-sleeve windproof (mandatory kit), and mentally changed between short-sleeves and vest repeatedly in the pre-race lounging period.  In the end, Nic (in her 2nd marathon) and I both opted for to replace sleeves with sunscreen as the temperatures edged into the teens (>50F).  Thankfully, I was in the early start, so I didn't have time to vacillate further.  Unfortunately, I was still a bit vacant and neglected a few pre-race plans that would come back to get me a little later.

I lined up with the other ultra runners for the first time with a bit of trepidation and a clear race plan.  I'd only run over 30 miles once before, in last summer's Trailblaze on the Cotswold Way.  Then, it was a rather lonely start line.  This time, there were a few familiar faces from other CTS events, so it didn't feel too much like a new experience.  The only difference between this and the other races would be that, upon reaching the finish line of the marathon, I would keep going and take in the "10K" route (more like 8 miles than 6.2).  With an extra 7 miles and around 2000ft of extra ascent compared to last month's effort in Devon, I'd already decided to run the ultra at around 40 seconds per mile slower than I had the marathon.  I figured that would see me comfortably through the first 26 and leave me a fairly manageable task to get around again to the finish line.

Don't look back, those hills are for much later! (Pics by Nic)

We set off, dibbing in at the start rather than as a bunch.  This meant that we would be ranked in chip-time order. With a staggered start, there were no pinchpoints on the path and I started off fairly steadily, easing along the flattish start before the attack on the Seven Sisters.  As usual, my plan was to speed-hike the steep ascents (or slowly walk, depending on the distance into the race).  This tactic resulted in a fairly rhythmless first 10K as the course took us up and down the hills like some sort of demented fairground ride.  The highlight of this first section, aside from the excellent views, was when I cracked open the larder for my first bite of the run - a yummy, garlicky hummous (hummus to the North Americans) wrap.  I've grown tired of only sweet foods, and have been playing about with savouries for a little while.  It was quite pleasant to hike up a hill in the sunshine eating food that reminded me of the beaches of Zakynthos.

See hills, run hills.

With all the ups and downs, I managed to keep an average of around 10:40min/mi until we hit the largest climb of the day, starting just after 7 miles and climbing a mere 680 feet over the next three miles.  It wasn't the hardest climb, but it took us to the highest point.  It also provided me with a chance to open my first aid kit and get out some micropore to tape my nipples.  I generally do this as a matter of routine before the race, but somehow forgot.  Wearing a vest meant that I had a bit more flapping fabric on my chest than normal, and so I noticed at about 10K that I would have a problem in a few hours if I didn't protect myself.  That's the great thing about uphill hiking - your hands can work on running repairs if necessary.

The bad thing about going up hills is that your feet move slightly differently in your shoes to when you are running.  In my case, this exposed that I'd also forgotten to put a blister plaster on my heel.  I'd planned the prophylactic plaster to avoid any issues with the hole I'd put into the shoe liner a few weeks previously.  Oops.  It's not particularly efficient to make running repairs to your feet.  So, upon reaching the top of the hill I promptly sat on the grass to tape the vulnerable heel and just as promptly lost about eight places.  A couple of runners kindly offered help if needed, which eased the annoyance of dropping so many places.  Normally, I don't bother too much with placings in the early part of a race.  However, when you've been keeping people at bay for miles, only to see them trotting off in the distance ahead of you, it's pretty galling.

Over the next eight miles, which were mostly down even though they included five short, steep hills, I concentrated on keeping my pace up and trying not to get lost.  A few near misses where signs had kindly been "adjusted" by passers-by only added a few hundred yards. There were a couple of handy water stops that slowed me down as I re-filled but meant I never had to struggle to stay hydrated.  By now, it was lunch time and there were plenty of hikers and picnickers offering support as we passed.  Then came "the hard part".

The eighteen-mile point in a marathon is traditionally where things start to get properly hard.  At this stage, you've worked through the excitement of the start, the "easy" 2nd 10K where your body is flowing well and you (hopefully) feel like there's plenty in the tank to get you through.  The 3rd 10K is where you realize you are actually running quite a distance.  Typically, from around 18 miles, you're into the realms of your longer training runs and your mind and body are subconsciously preparing to wind down for a meal and celebratory beer.

Tired legs love this sort of stuff!

So, how better to celebrate reaching 19 miles than to climb some hills?  It's only 500 feet, and it's only half a mile.  What's the problem?  To be honest, not much.  The run down to the foot of Beachy Head was not unduly uncomfortable.  Then comes the 350ft climb over a mile up Beachy Head.  Again, it's not that bad. The half-marathoners were running up full of huff and puff.  But, with 19 miles in the legs and at least 15 to go, I just watched them speed away into the distance.  As I found last year in the marathon, this section just draws the life out of the legs.  Steeply up, steeply down.  Repeat.

Running in a rhythm didn't really happen again until around mile 22, when a nice long downhill gave me a chance to get the legs moving for a while in a normal running motion.  I carried on merrily towards the finish line, knowing that I had less than a half marathon left to go.  As I neared the finish line (first pass), I noticed I was still in the 11 minute/mile range I'd set myself as a target, and that I was also faster than when I only had the 26 to do the previous year.  I stopped to refill my water again, and then carried on past the finishers heading towards their cars.  The extra 10K loop was looking pretty lonely, with only 2 runners in view.

Once more into the breach!

Back onto the Sisters I went, struggling to gather myself into a good rhythm.  I kept the nearest runner in my sights, but couldn't seem to reel him in fast enough.  He provided a good target, but with the penultimate check point at 28 miles, I lost more time as I refilled again. In hindsight, I'm not entirely sure why I stopped here.  I'm pretty sure I had plenty of water.  I can only think that the closer I got to running further than I ever had before, the less sure I was about my decisions.  However, from this point, I was back into the course I'd already run, and immediately felt more confident about what lay ahead.  I started to get it back together and tried to steadily get back some time.

By now, I knew it really was only around 10K left to go, and all I had to do was get through it.  The downhills didn't feel great, but I was able to run them.  I pushed hard again to hike up the hills (only a few left now), and turned around quite happy at the final check point near the top of Beachy Head (again!).  From here it was basically down hill and with the breeze.  I also noted that my target had made one last bio break, which had him within catching distance.  So, I sped up to catch him.  After about a minute, my head went quite light and fuzzy and I realized that a full-speed 800 to finish and catch up would be more likely to result in a spectacular fall than gaining a place (due to the chip-timed placing system).  So, I eased back just enough to not feel like I would pass out and carried on to finish about 100 yards behind  him (1:37 in chip times, though) in a solid 17th place.

Oh, so very happy to get to stop at the finish line this time!

All told, it was a pretty good experience for my first time over 33 miles.  Certainly there were some good learning points for next month's Exmoor race.  Who knows, I might even keep it together long enough to do some racing after 18 miles.

No comments:

Post a Comment