Three weeks after my last race and I was back on it. This time for something completely different; a 10km around a nearby farm renowned for being tough (we started by running down a very steep hill and then turning round at the bottom and coming back up again). On the day it wasn’t very summery, it had at least stopped raining but there was still a decent breeze. It was just cool enough that some were debating wearing more clothes, but if you’re cold then you aren’t trying hard enough!
I did this race in the winter of 2019 in an old pair of road shoes as my first ever run off road. This year I was back with trail shoes and a year of trail running in my legs… it wasn’t enough!
As always I went well down the hills but lost time on the climbs, and the climbs were brutal, after a km I think I was in 4th but two ascents that left me light headed at the top found me back in 6th. Then at about half way we had to run across a hill where I struggled on the slant and was over taken again. I wasn’t standing for that and took the place back on the subsequent decent. I pushed down a steady hill and just gave myself enough of a lead to maintain my 6th place at the top of the last hill and the finish line.
For the first time ever after a race my thighs burnt and ached for days, I’m usually not too bad at going fast and easy downhill but some of these were just brutally steep! Would I be recovered by the following weekend to run across Dartmoor? Was I recovered from the last 100km race? Was I recovered from my first 100 miler? Probably not to be honest.
Fast forward to the following Friday night, inside a tent in South Devon laying out my race kit for the next day and I don’t have a bloody survival blanket. I knew there was a pre-race kit check in the morning so figured I was buggered, and weirdly I was quite relieved (and very embarrassed). I called the race directors in the morning and one of them kindly lent me one, so that was a bit of a storm in a teacup, thankfully I was able to return it at the end. At 9am Saturday morning I toed the start line in Belstone and headed on up into Dartmoor.
I really enjoyed the first 25km, but it was taking its toll my legs from the start. Every ground contact required thought as no two steps were the same; there were big stones, little stones, grass, soft grass, lumps of grass, boggy puddles, wet mud, hard mud, rivers, and the occasional road. This race was a similar distance to the Big Way Round I enjoyed in May, but I knew this would be a slower course. At just under 60km I would have loved to have gone sub 6 hours but knew sub 7 hours was a more reasonable target given the terrain and my current fitness (I was on an upwards training curve in May, since SDW100 in June I’ve been on a slow and steady downwards curve). At 25km I saw the family at Dartmeet and then almost instantly knocked my knee climbing over a wall and then had a decent incline that drained my enthusiasm. At that point I’d been in 12th place, the guy in front was within reach and I’d pulled a gap on the guy behind. A lot of boggy terrain and my usual 30km bonk and that changed, over the next 10km I must have dropped 10 places.
Due to the inaccessibility of most of Dartmoor aid stations were few and far between, so when I was having real trouble I was well passed the last proper aid station and the quickest way to finish was to get to the end. Otherwise I think I would have just quit. My running form was shot with the uneven terrain, I wasn’t injured but I had multiple twinges and was really worried running with poor form on uneven terrain was going to leave me hurt. A slight slip or ankle roll here or there just reinforced this.
I just didn’t want it enough. When it got tough on the South Downs Way I eased off but kept going and it never occurred to me to stop, just wasn’t an option. Even going around the Isle of Wight, where I struggled for a bit, stopping was never an option (logistically I could have stopped at any point easily). On Dartmoor my central controller wasn’t happy with the effort and I didn’t want it enough to overrule them.
I think anyone who’s read any of my other blogs can guess how this one was going to end. At some point the bog gave way to some hard packed stone and I started rediscovering my form. Pace wasn’t great and walking breaks were frequent but I was getting back in the groove. At the last water station (just two guys with a lot of bottled water) the rubber behind me caught me up. I hadn’t been overtaken since I’d hit terra firma but had seen someone catching me up, turns out he wasn’t looking to zoom past but figured we were going similar pace so had pushed to catch up. I was happy for the company so happily fell into his run a mile walk a bit routine, hard to tell if it was more or less running than I’d have managed alone but it was definitely a quicker pace than I’d have managed. At the 5 hour mark I’d calculated I needed to do 7km/hour to get in on 7 hours. I was embarrassingly close to that for the first hour but now we were comfortably within the time window. I say comfortably, whilst I was happy to have fairly consistent ground underfoot it was rock (literally) hard and killing the soles of my feet. I don’t think they’d fully recovered from the beating they took on the Isle of Wight Challenge as it was only 7km about 50km in, wouldn’t have been a problem at all in May. So yet again my race had been helped along by a fellow runner.
We were promised the last 9km from the water station was all downhill, and according to Strava it pretty much was, but it didn’t feel it. Then we left the path and took a mighty decent, 125m down in a kilometre, and I was pleased to see I still had some bounce in my step downhill on some grass. Then we hit the road for a plod to the finish and formed a gentleman’s agreement not to race each other for the finish. I interpreted this that we would finish together and forgot all about it when my kids joined me on the finish straight. I ran in carrying the 2 year old, holding hands with the 4 year old and with the 6 year old following close by. Josh kindly eased off to let me finish a fraction of a second in front of him despite my hindrances!
I had a good day out, disappointed by how hard I found it but aware I wasn’t giving it my best. I learnt I need to give myself longer to recover after an ultra race, planning one a month is a recipe for waning performance. Partly because of the recovery time but more because of the lack of running in between; there’s a recovery week, then a low mileage training week, then a taper week, and then race week. I didn’t find it long enough to recover and maintain fitness. I was also reminded that I really need to sort my ultra nutrition out to minimise those bonks! With this in mind I decided not to run a marathon in October (or at all this year) as I don’t have time to do a proper training block and my next target race is a half marathon in November so a marathon a month before would not help. So I transferred to the 10km distance instead; the family still gets a day out and a 10km race forms a good part of a half marathon training plan.
I had nothing to prove on Dartmoor and ended up proving nothing, I ran a steady enough race (finishing 21/94) in the time I set myself, had a nice day out and it helped me decide on my near future running plans.
As always, Strava link here if you’re interested.