In The Woods (Dukeries Ultra)

May 31, 2015

After two very tough marathons in April I was looking to get the 15 in 2015 challenge back on track with the Dukeries Ultra and 40 miles across the Robin Hood Way National Trail through the beautiful Sherwood Forest and Cresswell Crags. 10 miles in I was flying and the sports massage looked to have breathed new life back in to my legs. But committing two of the deadly sins of running would come back to bite me in the arse, and after stopping at the second checkpoint 18 miles in my legs refused to get going again and made for a very long day.

A poor, interrupted nights sleep seems to be a recurring theme before races these days. At the height of my anxiety the insomnia was a mainstay, leaving me with at most 3 hours of terrible sleep on a good night. These days I tend to get much more sleep, but that doesn’t stop the old friend returning before big occasions. Once again I found myself still awake past midnight, despite going to bed at 8pm. Coupled with an 17 hour work day earlier in the week, where I left the office at 3am, my body was far from rested when I stood at the start line at 730am.

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After running both the London Marathon and Huddersfield Marathon in a pair of trainers that were very much past their best, I’d tackle the Dukeries Ultra in a shiny pair of Saucony Peregrines that still had that brand new smell. Before race day I’d only put 6 miles in them, but foolishly I felt they would be suitably broken in to get away with running 40 miles in. The first few miles flew by incident free, after two heavy marathons my legs felt nice and light, I felt great and was passing people at a steady rate. I almost fell upon the first checkpoint at 8 miles, stopping briefly to grab a couple of biscuits and a drink before continuing on my way.

One of the main reasons for signing up for this particular race was the scenic course, in particular the opportunity to run past the Major Oak tree in Sherwood Forest, Britain’s favourite tree. Yet despite spending the majority of the first half of the race looking out for it I managed to miss it. I’ve no idea where exactly along the course it was meant to be, if we ran right past it or if it was set back a little from the path, all I know it’s massive, but apparently not too small for me to right straight past it. I didn’t see anyone particularly slow down at any stage either, so I guess it gives me a reason to run it again to see if I can find it next time.

Whilst I completed the first 20 miles in 3 hours 13, the next 20 would take almost 2 hours longer, in 5 hours 6 minutes. An average pace of 9:42 minute/miles for the first half dropped to 15:21 minute/miles for the second half. It was the clearest case of ‘hitting the wall’ sports science has ever seen. I was forced into adopting a run/walk strategy to get through each mile. It started as picking a tree in the distance to walk to and then running until the end of the mile, but became much more sporadic as the race went on. Physically I was losing the battle and soon I would be losing it mentally as well. I’d find myself leaning up against a tree or gate trying to stretch some life back in to my legs, but knew it was having no affect. Over the last 20 miles I must have taken the trainer on my left foot off at least 5 times to try and retie the laces as it felt too tight and the top of my foot was hurting, but no matter how many times I seemed to retie the laces nothing seemed to change.

Cresswell Crags

Cresswell Crags

Whilst I may have missed the Major Oak tree in Sherwood Forest, there was no missing Cresswell Crags at the 22 mile mark. It came at a good time as I was definitely starting to flag, I didn’t stop to read all the signs for feat of not being able to get going again, no matter how tempting it was. Less than half a mile after leaving the penultimate checkpoint I took a wrong turn through some trees and towards Welbeck, thankfully so did several others so between us we were able to get back on our way. It was the only issue I had with signage throughout the race and even then once we got back on the right track it was clearly marked, we all just blindly followed the runner in front. Those I got lost with would soon slowly, but surely disappear off into the distance as my legs were still stubbornly not playing ball.

The final checkpoint felt like an eternity away, I had roughly remembered at what points to expect the checkpoints but with every twist and turn it never came in to sight. I began questioning whether I had gone off course slightly as it just never appeared. Eventually I started to see people in the distance behind the trees and by the time I finally reached the last checkpoint it was a good 2.5 miles later than I thought it was. I made sure to stock up on food to make the final leg just about manageable, it was my longest stop at a checkpoint by far as I struggled to battle with the idea of leaving the comfort of jam sandwiches and biscuits in exchange for running the final 10k.

With 5 miles to go the lack of sleep and tiredness caught up to me and I found myself yawning several times. Had there been a bed, or hell even just a comfortable looking patch of grass I wouldn’t have had to have laid down for long before I would’ve fallen asleep. (Un)fortunately there wasn’t so instead I opted for the next best thing and plowed on towards the soup that was waiting at the finish line back at the Walesby Social Club. On the way home I pulled in to a McDonalds for an emergency Big Mac as I needed a drink to try and quash an incoming headache, it helped briefly and allowed me to continue the drive home. Post Race Meal #3 would come in the form of Dominoes later that evening, because fuck it, what’s the point of running all that way if you can’t indulge a little.

Recovery food, every sweet, delicious calorie of it

Recovery food, every sweet, delicious calorie of it

If there is one thing I learnt from the Dukeries Ultra it was how much setting off too fast will come back to bite you in the arse. Priority number one for next month’s 100K is just to finish (priority number 2 is to finish before the Ice Cream shops shut), so I’m hoping I’ve learnt my lesson and I’ll be setting off much slower. I have a rough target of finishing in 12 hours, but I have no idea how realistic that is, if it’s either too ambitious or too ‘safe’. After getting a bit lost during March’s Canalathon I ran frustratingly close to 50 miles in 9 and a bit hours, so allowing another 3 hours for the remaining 12 miles may be overly cautious. That said after the past few races anything can happen and in three weeks time I’ll be doing my best to pay as little attention as possible to my pace. Which is good as my Garmin won’t last 12 hours, so I’ll either have to double up on GPS watches or find an alternative.

Since the race I’ve been icing and bandaging up my foot when possible to try and sort it, the first couple of days after the Ultra it was a bit sore to walk around on and resulted in me walking around the office at work in just my socks on Monday and Tuesday. I’ve also purchased some elastic ‘Lock Laces’ which should hopefully prevent any future issues with my laces being too tight. The fact I got to the 20 mile point before my legs started to play up and things started to go wrong gives me some hope for the 100k, if I take it steady I should be fine, as any issues I encountered during the Dukeries Ultra were entirely self inflicted.

This Tuesday I had my second follow up phone consultation with the IAPT, where I had to answer the same questionnaire as before to give them a wider insight to my depression and the issues surrounding it. At the end of the phone call they said that I would be referred to CBT as that seemed the more effective line of treatment for me, as opposed to straight up therapy, so hopefully I’ll get my appointment in the post for that in the next week or two.

On Thursday I treated myself to a little race, the Apperley Bridge Canter. At 10K it’s a far cry from some of the races I’ve been doing recently but running it served multiple purposes. Firstly, to test how my foot is healing up a week and a half on from the Ultra. It seems OK walking about on it, but 6 trail miles gave me the answer as to how close it is to fully recovering. It also helped, temporarily at least, take the fear away from my next race being the 100K and given that it started and finished only a few hundred metres from my doorstop it would have been rude not to attend. It was a bit of a shock to the system as I had little idea how to pace it as I hadn’t run a 10K race for a while. It was a good challenging course, with a mixture of terrain and both long uphills and technical downhills. I threw as much of myself into the race as I could and made sure to give my foot a good run out, and thankfully it seems to have held up well.

After running the Dukeries Ultra I am now 7 races in, with (at least) another 8 races to go. The 50K stage of next month’s Norfolk 100KM will mark the halfway point of my 15 in 15 Challenge, so if you want to help me simultaneously reach the halfway point of my fundraising target for Mind, please visit my 15 in 2015 JustGiving page.

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