It’s taken a few weeks to come to terms with what happened in Croatia. After the race I reached a level of disappointment that I have never experienced. I don’t think I have ever put as much effort into a single event my entire life. To make errors at this level, for me, was inexcusable. It was about a week later when I understood that I had made mistakes. The realisation brought a certain amount of relief but also further anguish.
At the time, when things started to unfold for me, massive thoughts of self-worth flooded my head. Negative judgement came way too easy:
“You’re just not good enough to be here”
“You have blown this by setting off way above your ability”
“You’ve had your chance and you have destroyed it”
I couldn’t shake these feelings, but it was important to put them aside. I was there as part of a team and some of those team members had a race to remember. Of course, the omni present Mrs T saw just how raw I was, she saw how close I was to falling, deeply, into a pit. The self-pity party was in full swing and I was the host!
I’ve always been inquisitive, curious and eager to find out how things work. As a coder and data analyst I’m often working out why things don’t work. Testing, reconciling. Or I’m looking for patterns and trends in information. Arranging large amounts of data into something that is understandable. These are tasks I do daily. I had to work out what went wrong.
If we rewind a little I could go into great detail about the whole event. I’m not going to do that in this blog, but I might in the future. Despite the problems I faced during the race, everything was wonderful. The organisation, the location, the people, my team mates, even the undulating course. It really was a weekend I will never forget.
The course was an undulating 2.5k first loop then 13 7.5k loops. Support stalls for each country were just before the start/finish line and at the loop half way point. The race was going well and to plan for the first 60km. I was aiming for a time around 6:50-6:55 and I was running slightly quicker than that, but comfortable with the pace and effort. I was taking on gels and hydration as per my pre-defined plan. I was running with a group that dwindled over the duration, but we kept each other going in those early laps.
At around 65k I felt a deadening in the legs. Something I’d never felt before, it was like a car going instantly from high octane petrol to diesel. My initial thought was, ok, that’s the tiredness coming on, I can handle that, but within 10k, I was stopped by the side of the road in agony as I couldn’t purge my legs of cramps. It was everywhere, quads, hamstrings, calves and inside thigh. Those last ones are very painful as you must allow them to subside themselves, no stretch helps. Stopping became more frequent in those last 30kms, cramp would cripple me then subside and I did all I could to keep going to the end. I’d lost 25 minutes in those last 4 laps and finished 30th in 7:18, my slowest 100km. I was devasted. I was in the shape of my life and I hadn’t been able to prove it.
The rest of the team had differing results, Ant Clark ran a stunning race to finish in the top 10 and made the top 10 in the UK all-time list, truly phenomenal performance. Sam Amend making the top 15 despite not having her best race, Carla and Sue had similar races to me for different reasons. If you come into 100km racing with a slight injury it will show itself at some point in the race and Lee, unfortunately experienced that and had to drop out as well as his luggage (including all his race nutrition) not making it to Croatia with him!! It all stacked up against him. The support team of Adrian, Jo, John and Mrs T were superb during the race. Jo gets a special mention for her efforts as she traded with people from other countries to acquire race nutrition for Lee. The whole weekend was wonderful despite my failure in the race.
But what happened?
I took some time to analyse the available data. It raised 4 questions:
- Did I set off too fast for my ability?
- Have I raced too much this year?
- Was Comrades too close to this race?
- Did I get my food and hydration strategy right?
Did I set off too fast?
That doesn’t appear to be the case, effort was less or similar to effort at the ACP in March. The increased pace from ACP pace would correlate with an increase in fitness level which I knew had happened. I checked my heart rate regularly to make sure I was staying well under threshold and that the heat and humidity were not affecting my effort. They didn’t appear to be. My pace was quicker than the ACP, but my heart rate was on a par, actually a little lower at the same distances up to when things went wrong. I was lighter (4kgs lighter), paces were better, I felt awesome before going out to Croatia. So, I don’t think I overcooked it even though the pace was quicker than initially planned. I was on for 6:50-6:55 pace before falling off a cliff!
The salient points are:
- The early effort, up to about 60k was slightly lower than ACP in March.
- The early pace was way higher than at ACP, showing my fitness level.
- This was not caused by fitness levels.
Have I raced too much this year?
This probably is something not tangible, it can’t be measured. I’ve had 2 fairly long races since the ACP; a massive one in Comrades and a small 50k, where even though it was a training run, I did push it harder than I should have, both requiring some time for taper and recovery. Maybe my racing had an effect, that will always be hard to tell unless I go for a year with one or two races and everything else stays the same. This is the most amount of racing I have done in a year, ever. Maybe the additional racing has had a knock-on effect. Something to take into the future.
Jan – Gloucester Marathon – Comrades Qualifier, run hard, not flat out.
Mar – Anglo Celtic Plate – Left nothing out there, took 6 weeks to recover properly from this race.
Jun – Comrades – Picked up injury, still completed the 90km race. 5-6 weeks to recover properly.
July – Run the Blades 50k – Ran hard, not flat out.
Sep – World 100km Championships.
Was Comrades too close to this race?
I haven’t been able to do any scientific stats on this, but almost every person who had doubled up in Comrades and the Worlds had a shocker. There was “Comrades Carnage” everywhere. Was it too close for a lot of athletes, including me? Probably.
Did I get my food and hydration strategy right?
Hydration, did I get this right? My plan was to start taking on gels at 10k and then each lap alternating gels with Active Root and any other fluids I might want. Taking on fluid every 2 laps (15km) in this heat was, on hindsight, not the best approach. I should have been taking in fluid at the very least every lap (7.5k). I chose a strategy that I now think to have been completely wrong.
I should have taken a gel at the lap half way point and fluid at the end of each lap FROM THE START. Probably more as the race went on. I got this completely wrong. I know that now and that was my fault. It was questioned by my wife and by the support team prior to the race starting but I thought I was correct, I thought it would be enough. I had 2 toilet stops in the first few laps and didn’t want any more stops, so refused more water/fluids earlier in the race. A few more pee stops would have been preferable than what happened in the last 4 laps!!!
You can have the best sports performance products in the world but if you don’t utilise them properly, you can’t expect to perform at your best.
The result of this scrutiny is that maybe I’ve raced a little too much this year, but I have recovered. Maybe Comrades was too close, and it took a little edge off my World Championship performance. By far the biggest weighted problem was fluid/salt intake and lack of food in those early laps. Once you are in a deficit like that, it is impossible to recover.
The positive aspect to this is that I can take this knowledge into my next challenge and ensure that there is no repeat. Should I be lucky enough to gain a selection for Scotland or GB in the future, or any ultra for that matter, there will be no repeat of what happened in Croatia.
I’ve been very lucky to have been invited out to a race in China in a few weeks time. It is not a target race, I don’t expect any outstanding performance, but it is a lovely way to end my racing season. A season that I can only describe as the running year of my life.