There’s going to a load of reports from the CCC but I didn’t make the end, I was timed out at about 55km in and it’s fair to say I wasn’t disappointed to have it end. So this isn’t a report as such, more a why it’s not a report.
And this is why… 1. Sunstroke 2. Knee injury after a fall on the first descent 3. Failed to eat 4. Didn’t enjoy the checkpoints 5. I was bored of the race
Let me address my points
Sunstroke: I don’t do well in the heat anyway but the temperatures on the route were high and even at altitude it didn’t seem to ease off. I had the sun cream, sunglasses, the right amount of clothing and headgear and all the water I could need but I could feel my head exploding and over heating and my message home was ‘I don’t know what more I can do’.
Knee Injury: As I descended into the first refuge at about 14km I took a nasty fall and landing on my right – I should have stuck to the rocks but thought I’d seen an easier path and when I lost my footing I was hopeful it was okay but sadly I realised I’d turned my knee unpleasantly Although not a race ender it would get progressively worse through the rest of the journey to Champex.
Failed to eat: I was consuming on average 2 litres of water per 5km (including mountain streams and local water supplies as well as my own water reserves). However, I was eating almost nothing and the French substitutes I had taken with me I couldn’t stomach. The food on offer at the aid stations also failed to inspire me to eat, I tried a little bread at refuge 2 but by then the damage seemed done and the roof of my mouth was so dry I couldn’t swallow any longer. It was my own silly fault for not adopting the eat strategy that has served me so well in this years races – I was very disappointed with myself.
Checkpoints: let me first say that I think that the people manning the checkpoints were wonderful and on the whole helpful but the food and organisation around them was haphazard at best – I felt like I didn’t quite know where to go, if my number had been noted and I was jostled from pillar to post to just try and get my water refilled.
Bored: honestly? I know that so many of you who ran this and the other races will talk of glorious vistas, amazing trails and landscapes to die for and while I thought it was pleasant I didn’t think it was beyond compare. Add to this the ‘big race’ mentality, the need to ‘follow the leader’ for long swathes of the race and the necessity to watch your feet rather than the trail meant I didn’t actually enjoy the CCC. Perhaps I’ve become too accustomed to lovely UK trails, small groups of runners and pleasant atmospheres but this one wasn’t for me. The start line was a prime example – it was horrible and felt like a crush as we all tried to squeeze into a holding pen not designed for the amount of people. The GingaNinja was genuinely worried as runners clamoured barriers trying to get past her – not worried about who they kicked as they leapt part her to the starting line.
There is the issue of being timed out, that’s how it ended … I stayed ahead of the cut off by about an hour and a half up until 42km but by this point I was fully aware that’s knee had abandoned me and the pressure was causing my glutes to flare up. However, I was determined that I wouldn’t stop unless I really needed to and so I set off again with Champex my next stop and the promise of real, good quality food. In hindsight this was an error of judgement and I should have stopped at Le Fouly where my leg was only mildly burning and my much used compressport calf guards had only sliced behind one of my knees and ankles! The last 14km were hard and painful – my knee wouldn’t let me go uphill or downhill with any ease now and I admit I stopped for about 15 minutes cooling my leg under a water fountain to try and ease the burning. I crawled up to Champex with cheers of ‘bravo’ but I just wanted people to leave me alone, I wanted to sit down and I wanted my (ahem) Champex banquet.
Still lessons learned, I gave it a go and despite my whinging I’m glad I went. I wasn’t scared of the heights, I wasn’t too unfit, I could handle the altitude and on another day it might have gone better but the two key factors – heat and falling – conspired to stop me finishing. However, I think that’s itch scratched and I don’t need to go back to the Mont Blanc. Many race directors have pointed out that their races are equal to if not better than this series of races and why should they act as feeders – well I’ve taken note and i’ll be spending a bit more time running smaller, more intimate but equally challenging and probably more fun trails soon.
Finally before I finish a thank you to everyone on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram who sent soooo much support – I was incredibly grateful and while I could respond to all of it on the route be assured it was just what I needed – thanks guys.
However, my second piece of altitude training has gone okay and though I was absolutely terrified I made it up and back down again in one piece. I was advised to make a particular ascent at Tignes as this would take me past the height of the highest point on the CCC at 2700metres. What I wasn’t advised was that the course was actually mostly a ‘black’ marked downhill mountain bike course with terrifying ascent and decent that was barely walkable never mind runnable and with more than 250metres of ascent per kilometre this was some steep shit (well for me it was). I suppose it’s all part of the learning curve of being in the mountains (and falling in love with them) I can very much understand why people like @1elevennorth and @imoutrunning enjoy them so much – it’s simply spectacular in every way.
So today I’m off for a 10km out and back hike instead of run but I’ll be carrying UltraBaby and it’s offers more the 800metres climb out and obviously 800metres back and I’m feeling surprisingly chirpy about this whole adventure and I might even go some way to curing my fear of heights*
*no it didn’t
I’ve DNF’d twice (Thames Gateway 100 and Winter 100) and DNS’d twice (North Downs Way 100 and Race to the Stones), all were for very different reasons and all in my mind perfectly valid but at the time it really mattered to me that I hadn’t raced or worse had failed to complete the distance.
I really struggled to overcome the negative outcome of these events and it haunted me for quite some time – especially the W100 which I was angry and upset about.
Then I was chatting with a fellow runner via Twitter a few days ago and she was incredibly worried and panicked about her big 2015 challenge – so much so that I was concerned she was going to miss out on the pre-event highs as you prepare to face your road to euphoria. This got me thinking about the times I’ve stopped or failed to start, had I panicked too much, had I ruined my own experience and convinced myself I was doomed to failure? Probably.
But what was important was how I have evolved the mental attitude I have to (endurance) running.
I get nervous in the weeks coming up to a big event – sleep deprivation, over eating, starvation, my bowels do weird of wonderful stuff and I flap around like a headless chicken.
But with 2015 now well into the second half of the year I’m on a drive to my final events which include five ultra marathons – two of which are in France (my first foreign race forays) – I’ve had to spend a lot of the last few months building up my mental strength for these events. I’m very conscious I’m doing things that I’m not 100% convinced my old knackered body is ready for and basically I’ve been working to prepare for the possibility of the DNF and ensuring I don’t hit dark and gloomy places in the aftermath of such an event.
You might ask ‘isn’t that defeatist?’
The answer to that is ‘no’ and the reason is that a year ago I was in a properly bad way, the injuries I was ignoring were getting progressively worse and the events I was running were going badly. It’s taken a long time to get to a point were those injuries and problems are intermittent rather than constant and that’s why I’m much more sanguine about my race day prospects.
When I line up at the start of the CCC in a couple of weeks time I know absolutely that if on the day I can’t make to the finish I will stop. The harsh realities are that I haven’t been near a mountain in training for the CCC and so if my body refuses (it’s inclines it struggles with) then I have worked on my capacity to say ‘that’s enough’ and I won’t beat myself up about it or eat a years worth of Dominos pizza.
So does it matter if I DNF a race? Very much so, because if I DNF I’m making a choice and listening to my body.
So how have I been improving my mental run strength?
- Distraction: When I’m not running I do something else entirely different, it stops me thinking about aspects of running I can’t control.
- Avoid too much social media: social media is awesome but it can add a level of peer pressure that won’t help any anxiety you’re feeling and so I’ve been avoiding it a little bit more than I usually might – dipping in rather than giving it too much attention.
- Train consistently: staying focused on me! I don’t be try to beat anyone but myself and I feel better about what I’m doing because I’m reducing the competitive element and saving that for race day.
- Make lists: ordering myself helps me feel more relaxed about my event – they can be in my head lists but they allow me to check off aspects of an event.
- Don’t compare: I used to compare myself to my peers now I just look on at them in awe and congratulate them on their achievements because we are all uniquely gifted and we all do very different things. If I get caught up in worrying what other people are doing (either generally or on a race day) then I’m not focusing on my own efforts.
And what of the constant need to panic and ruin my own pre event experience? Has this all helped? Is my pre CCC party started?
Well my mental (and physical) training is yielding some decent results and I have faith in myself. And let’s not forget if I were going to have faith in a fictional character to get me round a mountain it wouldn’t be God it’d be Batman. Ultimately I’m enjoying running and the pre-amble and I’m ready. Well as ready as I ever get.
I thought we should catch up. I’ve got stuff to tell you. As we both know there have been a lot of false dawns over the course of the last injury plagued 18 months, it hasn’t helped that during that time I was ridiculously stoopid too.
I’m sorry, I want you to know this.
I should have stopped running after I completed ‘The Wall’, that was were I really injured you but instead after that race we did another 15 races of varying distances during 2013 believing basically that we, as a team were indestructible. But even when you were screaming for rest I pushed you further than I should.
Then of course 2014 came and I took it upon myself to enter us in a dozen ultra marathons – 8 complete, 3 DNS, 1 DNF.
In the same year I made you run our slowest marathon time and our slowest 10km race time. We endured multiple dreadful race days together and my over eagerness to race you destroyed our training schedule. It all became patchy at best and eventually you had to succumb to the pain.
The real eye opener was when my physiotherapist (our fourth one) told us that I needed to stop running. I begged her to get us to the start line of the Winter100 and I promised her that after that we would rest and heal properly.
She agreed and with a lot of work and no training we rolled up to the Winter100 and I caused you more damage than was necessary. I regret turning up to the W100 – it was a mistake.
We DNFed at CP7 but I should never have started that race, you, my faithful and injured body, were in agony by mile 3.
I’d like to say we didn’t deserve it but the failure at W100 allowed some proper perspective, allowed me to realise that running is important to me and that if we wanted to get back to it then I needed to put the effort into fixing you my friend, my poor knackered body.
So I’ve given you three months off.
Almost total rest save for a bit of pretty wanky cycling and while I know you’re not quite there yet body, I’ve got a surprise for you – we’re running along the Mont Blanc in the CCC.
Yep we’re off to France, we’re back racing and we’re back in training and this time I won’t abuse you – I’ve learnt my lesson. You’ve been good to me body and now I’m treating you right. Less races, more training, better eating, lighter weight, more determined – we’re going to be fine
It’s good to be back
I originally got into ultra running because of my second rejection notification from the London Marathon, I’ve said this before, but what kept me going was the dream that I’d run the UTMB, but today (trapped on a train) that’s not my dream anymore – far from it. The UTMB (and MdS) as we all know is one of those ‘big name’ races, a bit like the London Marathon and it was the RD at Challenge Running who reminded me that you’ve basically got to run three big distance other ultras to qualify for the UTMB – it was then that I saw the logic of looking round for other ultras and not just qualifiers. For me my ultra running adventure is evolving, it’s become about seeing bits of the world and the UK that I otherwise might never, it’s about a quality piece of metal to hang round my neck and it’s about knowing I can do it.
Now it’s true that I’m going to enter the CCC but the criteria seem more forgiving and the distance more fun for a first mountain race. But the truth is if I don’t get in I really want to run both the TRA Ridgeway 84 miler and the Ring of Fire both of which would mean I couldn’t run the UTMB or the CCC. There’s also the Saintelyon which I’ve had my eye on for a couple of years and I’ve been inspired by Cat Simpson and her Atacama Crossing and fancy one of the big desert races, but probably not MdS.
I’m going to be applying my shorter race logic to the longer races – find those little golden nuggets of races because in them you’ll find glorious experiences. Obviously I’m still running qualifiers for Western States, UTMB and all the other ones you need to qualify for but I’m not so sure it’s a given that I’ll do them even if I get in.
Even my marathon running is adopting a similar strategy – I’ve just discovered saxon-shore.com and there you’ll find lots of lovely looping marathons on trails around Kent. They are inexpensive and I suspect (ask me again after this weekend) brilliant. I’m planning on using these marathons as a way to put a serious dent in my assault on the 100 marathons, now there is a dream I haven’t given up on 🙂
So why do you ultra? And has the change in qualification put you off the UTMB? Or would you rather race the smaller more intimate runs? What’s your reason for ultraing?
I realise the phrase Project: ThunderClunge might be a hint offensive to many but believe me it is very appropriate for the situation I find myself in and in fact Project: ThunderClunge will adapt its name in about 100 days to Project: ThunderPunch which in context is actually probably more offensive but hohum.
What I’m trying to say is that this thing is actually having an effect on my ultra running! Arse!
The Project has managed to knock a bloody big three month window in my schedule without even hinting at injuring me further than I already am and this has meant some rejigging of my running schedule for 2014 and I’m now hoping that my entry into the CCC doesn’t come off because that’s at the eye of the storm. With all this in mind I’ve therefore been looking to cram more running into the first half of the year and towards the back end of the year. Thankfully I’m lucky enough that things like Country to Capital, St Peters Way and SDW50 will remain unaffected and touch wood NDW100 won’t take a hit either. I should then just be coming out of the other end of Project ThunderClunge to be able to compete in the Winter 100 if Centurion ever make any more announcements .. I’m on edge about getting a place for that one .. anyway I was looking round for another 2 UTMB point run and had seen the Pilgrims Way and thought that would be ace but just my luck – it had sold out. I started the search again and not fancying travelling up to the Lakes or Wales because of the distance and difficulty in reaching the start lines I looked a little closer to home. Annoyingly the company Ultra Trails has now folded and so I couldn’t run with them again but there was the Race to the Stones which takes place not a million miles from my OHs parents home. I quickly checked with Twitter who described it almost universally as overpriced and a perhaps not the greatest race to run (especially of the ultra options in the area) and while I agree it is overpriced for the distance it fits in quite nicely with where I need to be and also my qualification aims for the 2015 UTMB. I’ve also managed to chat to a couple of chaps who had competed in it and their opinion that while it wasn’t the best route you’ll ever run it certainly wasn’t the worst and is a well organised and good event to do. Therefore I’m headed to the Race to the Stones in pretty good cheer, although £120 poorer, I’ll let you know in six months if I thought it was good value.
I’m now contemplating a few other bits to supplement my ultra running this year, probably highest priority is a triathlon and there are currently two that catch my eye, the first is the Bewl triathlon where I would hope to banish the much hated ‘Curse of Bewl Water’ and there is the Red Venom event in Southport, near Liverpool – this has the benefit of being near to my dad and I’d have a place to stay, transport, etc. Both have a lovely sprint distance available and there is the standard as well. The only other triathlon that I might consider would be the Midnight Man which is organised by the amazing people who brought us the Dartford Bridge 10km and they too have multiple distances available and I’m pretty sure I could be competitive at one of these.
In addition to this I’ve been invited down to the New Forest to run a 20 miler which could be good fun but the dates I think clash with other races in the season and so that one might be missed but I’m likely to sign up to both the British 100 and the Kent Roadrunner marathon because although I ran it last year I did rather enjoy it and both the National 100 and the Kent Roadrunner are at the Gravesend Cyclopark and I think a track base ultra marathon would be a uniquely excellent opportunity (or perhaps a very dull experience … we shall see). However, I’m normally the one hands out ideas for races but this year I’m a bit stumped, I’d like to a run more new races, so maybe the Ashford Half Marathon, but I fancy a few 10km, maybe a few adventure races like the Major Series or Wolf Run or even the Nuts Challenge but as with all of these there are only so many race days available and I have to be mindful of both my body and Project ThunderClunge.
So runners, what would you recommend for a race day this year? What are you running? And just how far will you push yourself?