Well, it is the eve to the 40 mile Glasgow to New Lanark Clyde Stride Ultra. Tomorrow morning I will be heading to Partick from Edinburgh by train and running all the way to New Lanark. I have a mixture of excitement and fear building up. Excitement from the race itself, racing is exciting, that adrenaline rush that lasts. On the day I need to get the effort right, the food right the hydration right, I need to be able to manage the pain that always comes from running long distances. The mental fatigue battle will come too, where your head tells you with every morsel to stop and you fight it every single step until the end. This time I have a strategy for that, it’s simple: I tell myself to “Just keep moving”. It doesn’t matter what pace, just keep putting one foot in front of the other until you reach the end.
I am still learning this sport and it isn’t easy to get it right, the Glasgow to Edinburgh Ultra earlier in the year is testament to that. When the pain and mental battles come on in 10k or half marathons, you know that it will be short lived. If you are in the hurt locker at 8k of a 10k race, then you know that you only have 2k to push on to the end. I’m not saying that this is easy, it is not, and you really have to dig very deep some times. But you are only digging deep for 6-8 minutes, however long it actually feels in the race. When you get into the pain cave in an ultra and you have, for comparison purposes, a fifth of the race still to do, that could be 8-20 miles or more. That translates to 1 to 3 hours or more of torture.
You might read that and ask, why on Earth would you want to do that? It is a question that I have asked myself many times, especially on those long 3+ hour training runs and races beyond 20 miles. Why am I up at 5:30am drinking coffee in my shorts and t-shirt, waiting for a GPS signal to come on my watch and filling a water bottle with all manner of unnatural products in the hope that it will keep me going to the end, while outside there is a gale force wind with torrential rain or snow? It’s simple: the challenge. I rack my brain for a different answer to this question every single time but I don’t seem to be able to dream one up. Maybe I don’t actually want to find a different answer. I know that when I get back to the house at 9 or 10am I will be ruined. For the remainder of the day I will hobble around struggling to play with my kids, struggling to help out around the home, but I will do it and I will help and I will play. My muscles scream at me for rest, just stop, lie down, bring it all to a halt. But the temptation to challenge myself is overpowering because the feeling of conquering a race, the terrain or the distance brings a sense of achievement that I struggle to describe.
I used to get that same feeling for times or race positions in the shorter distances but as I have gotten older and slower I’ve had to refocus where I get that challenge from as I can no longer really compete over these distances. Six, seven years ago, I was all about the time and race position, I wanted to win, go faster, beat competitors and I did for a short while do pretty well, but injury after injury for a number of years brought that to a stop and by the time I was over the injuries I had aged quicker than I thought too!! My biggest missed target was the sub 2:30 marathon. In Berlin, in 2009, it should have happened had it not been so hot, I was on for 2:28 until about 35K and then the dehydration started to really kick in, the dry and cracked lips should have been a sign from about half way that things were not good, but I ignored it and pushed on.
I still kick myself every now and again about that mistake as I don’t think I will ever get back into that kind of shape again. Too much has changed in the subsequent years, changes for the better I should add. I have two beautiful daughters to play with and look after and that provides its own challenges and compromises with regards to training and races. This is my hobby after all, but a hobby that is so diverse, so vast that I can keep testing myself, physically and mentally, regardless of age or ability, until it is time to put me in a box!! The added pressures of work and family only add to that sense of achievement for me. That is why I am up at 5:30am on a Sunday, drinking coffee and waiting for a GPS signal, that is why I will go out and run in 3 degrees with 40mph winds and monsoon style rain for 3 or 4 hours. By 10am I will be ready to have the rest of the day with my family albeit operating at 70% of max!!!
So, the Clyde Stride Ultra. I am really looking forward to this race, the weather looks pretty horrendous and I have a very difficult choice to make with regards to shoes. There is a real mix of terrain on this route: flat tarmac cycle paths, to mud paths, to fields, to wooden stairs and steps. Judging by the weather out here on the East coast, and assuming it is worse through in the West, I should opt for trail shoes. But the trail shoes I have in mind have not completed more than about 15 miles. I have no idea how they will perform after 30 miles. My alternative is the comfortable road shoe, but they won’t be good in the wet or off road and will soak up water like a sponge. The wrong decision could be costly. I’ll take both and decide tomorrow after speaking with some of the other runners.
The route itself is flat with only a few undulations in the first 30 miles, but the last 10 miles are tough, it has a real sting in the tail and I have to take that into account when I set in my head the pace I think is achievable. I don’t have that pace dialed in yet, I will get it tomorrow once the gun goes. I will need to find the level of effort that will take me to the end without too many bonks. I know a bad patch or two will come, they always do, but I need to fight through these this time and concentrate on the end goal. Whatever happens, I will reach the end, there won’t be another DNF (Did Not Finish) because all I need to do is put one foot in front of the other.