That's not to say of course that nothing has been happening on the running front this year, on the contrary: I mentioned entering the Spine Race (Britains Toughest Foot Race!) in my post MDS writeup, a 270 mile race along the Pennine Way in 7 days at the start of January 2014. So this kind of set the scene for the type of running I intended to do this year.
Starting with a great run out at the South Downs a few weeks after the MDS, my friend Simon McKenzie and I went over and ran from Worthing to Eastbourne which was about 40 miles. This was my first time on the Downs and I really enjoyed it, encouraging me to enter the South Downs Way 100 miler in June of 2014! So far there are 6 of us going across from Jersey so will not only be a great race to be a part of but will also be great to share with some of my good running friends here.
In June I ran the Yorkshire 3 Peaks with fellow MDS veteran Graeme Harvey, the 3 Peaks starting in Horton in Yorkshire takes in the 3 peaks of Pen Y Ghent, Ingleborough and Whernside. We were lucky and the weather was amazing that day, a real good first experience of the Pennine Way for me.
|At The Top Of Whernside|
Later on in June I took part in the annual ITEX walk which is a 48 mile walk around Jersey, a friend Phil and I ran this as we both had ultra races coming up and saw this as a great sharpener for those. We ended up being the first to cross the line which although most of the 1000 entered walked there were probably 40 or so people who chose to run. The conditions were very un June like with rain, winds and generally quite a miserable day. I felt for the walkers, some of whom spent 18 hours plus out there in that!
|Phil Taylor and I (Notice How Pleased I Look To Finish!)|
The main focus of my summer was the Round The Rock Ultra Marathon which is in its 3rd year here in Jersey and was my first ultra back in 2011. I love the race, I know the cliffpaths well and so this year I decided to try and make it a focus to try and further improve on last years time of 8 hours 25 for the 48 miles. I think over the last 6 months I feel I have made great leaps forward in my running both physically and mentally having looked at the lessons learnt from the MDS and trying to apply them to my training. I also have been working with local coach Bruno Francisco for nearly 3 months which has given me a real shake up in the training sessions that I am doing and providing a point for each session.
|Me During Round The Rock|
I therefore was looking at Round the Rock as "The" race to try and take all I have learnt and to try and hit the next level (whatever that may be!!).. The race itself turned out to be a massive learning curve regarding mental preparation, my expectations of myself and also responding to external stimuli in races:
Having done the MDS I recognised a few key areas where I could have improved: The biggest being was "Belief," I think in my heart of hearts I didn't truly believe that I could achieve the goals I had set for myself despite having high expectations of myself. Over the last few months I have been thinking alot about this and analysing my thoughts when the going gets tough during a run to try and head off any negative self talk before it jeopardizes my state of mind completely. Previously as soon as I started to feel fatigue I would envisage in my mind the slippery slope to decline so would be in a negative state for the rest of the run, when in actuality fatigue can be helped by eating food or stretching or whatever the situation calls for at the time. I think this was quite liberating for me and it has helped to keep my performance at a sustained level for longer which I hope will equal quicker times and less physical decline over distance. I have recently been reading alot about the power of positive thought particularly a really interesting blog by ultra runner Stuart Mills, which seemed to answer alot of the question I had about the mental side of running, I think the preparation side of things is a key part but also being able to maintain a positive frame of mind whilst running by deflecting the gremlins in my head telling me its all going wrong or whatever message of doom it might be..
Stuart has talked at length about maintaining positivity and I think the key message I got from his blog as well as other sources is that preparation, visualisation and having strategies to deal with the problems that may arise during a long distance run are key to this. I wont go on too much about these as these are things I have learnt from other people, suffice to say that they can be very powerful aids.
I think with this being my 3rd Round The Rock I was starting to focus on trying to get a better result in both time and race position than perhaps my previous outings. I felt a definite shift in my mental attitude from "Will I finish?" to "How well will I finish?" which was nice as it meant that my confidence as a runner has developed, however I think this then led me to have slightly unrealistic expectations; I think the key lesson I learnt was to always have expectations that I can control, e.g. time based rather than external e.g. a position in race. The main thing being that you cannot control who turns up to a race, who has a good day and who ultimately places better or worse than you and focussing on this is a surefire recipe for breeding negativity as invariably races done really go to the plan you set!
Responding to External Stimuli
This feeds on from the expectations point previously; being aware of what other people and being affected by them overtaking you for example is another surefire way of breeding negativity. I recall during the race being overtaken by somebody and me then proceeding to berate myself as I wasnt dancing up the steps as quickly or as well as he was. I think this then fed into my state of mind and I think as negativity increased performance, energy, desire and general enjoyment decreased.
I therefore think that in answer to the points raised above I have been thinking about, reading about and actively trying to implement changes so that leading into my next race I hope to be a lot mentally tougher having applied the lessons I learnt from Round The Rock. I placed 10th overall in the race in a time of 8 hours which a year ago I would have taken with both hands, however I was 1/2 an hour slower than my predicted/goal time but I took so much away from the race. I think the expectation I have of myself is high, I expect myself to perform higher and to push my boundaries and I believe this is one of the big things that has got me from being a 17 stone non runner 4 1/2 years ago to the point that I am now.
|This Was Me In 2009...|
So next up now is the Cotswolds Way 100 Mile Race on Sep 21st. It is just over 4 weeks to go and another opportunity for me to push my boundaries. I have never run this distance before and whilst training has been going well I am unsure what to expect. Well I guess it will probably hurt, but apart from that?? So I go into this race with no expectations which is a nice way to be, I would like to complete the race within the 30 hour time limit and that is all the pressure I have. I am looking forward to this race though, I have trained well and feel strong and as ready as I can be for the distance. Running 100 miles under your own steam is an amazing thing to have done, particularly along the Cotswolds Way which is meant to be beautiful, and I think finally doing the 100 mile distance will be an interesting experience..
I was in the Peak District over the weekend just gone and was training there for 2 days with a couple of guys from the MDS, Paul Minns and Adam Prentice and over the 2 days managed 55 miles with 9000ft of elevation. The Peak District is a beautiful place and the routes on both days whilst challenging and hilly were great. I take this into the Cotswolds as well as the Round The Rock race as a great platform. During my time in The Peak District I decided to downgrade my entry into The Spine Race to "The Spine Challenger" as I feel the full race might be slightly beyond my capabilities. The mountains are unpredictable places, as I witnessed last weekend even in the middle of summer.. I think good navigational skills, awareness of the route and general mountain craft are essential to complete the Spine Race, and whilst these are all things I intend to work on and have been working on I feel that the Challenger will give me a great insight into the race.
So whats left for 2013? After the Cotswolds Way 100 I will be doing the Round Rotherham 50 race, which is a Western States Qualifier, and then in December I go back to Dorset to do the Endurancelife CTS Dorset Ultra. This will be the third year I will go back to do it and after taking a wrong turn last year and placing 11th I have some unfinished business!!
Good luck to my friends Simon McKenzie and Shane Hugill who are taking part in The Ultra Trail Du Mont Blanc TDS next Thursday!!