Having wrapped up my racing year a week or so ago I wanted to take a little time to reflect on the events of the past 10 months or so before running through a quick debrief of the year from a different perspective perhaps from which I wrote at the time.
As per the last couple of years the start to 2013 was a slow one for me. Following the Glen Ogle 33 race back in 2011 I had contracted bronchitis which knocked me sideways for several months. I had put this down to surrounding myself with grotty students at Warwick University the following week. After the 2012 edition though I experienced very similar symptoms, culminating in my lying in a ball on the floor struggling to breathe on the evening of the race. I was not surprised to be ultimately diagnosed with exercise acquired asthma. After all, the medication that had fixed my previous episode was not the antibiotics prescribed, but Salbutamol, an asthma reliever, which had also proved quite handy at allowing me to breathe after to 2012 edition.
Training started quite slowly, despite having obtained a ballot place in the London Marathon, and didn’t really get going much until February. Towards the start of the month I met up with my revolutionary new running buddies from the dark side of Kintore, hill repping away as much as my chest would permit. Later in the month I arrived in Vietnam where, warm and dry, I put away a considerable number of miles on various air conditioned treadmills while also getting in a memorable road run out to and along the beach at Hoi An.
The Vietnam treadmilling had put me back in better shape, although returning home at about 13st 4lb I was still far too heavy. Training continued pretty well on my return to Aboyne up until the London Mararthon, not as quick as maybe I had run previously at times, but fairly solid.
Around a week before the London Marathon I engaged Karl Zeiner to coach me, and i’ll come back onto this a little later. Obvoiusly in the five days pre-London there was very little that Karl could do to influence that race other than to provide some reassurance based upon the data I had managed to get into Strava at that point. Our race plan was broadly to head out at 9 min/mi aiming to still be under 10 min/mi by the end of the race and broadly I slipped a little from this, but not too much, coming home in around 4:25:00 on a day that I found to be quite hot.
Getting back from London my next ultra, the Cateran Trail was just 4 weeks away and at 55 miles was always going to be a tough ask given the previous 18 months. Training went really well though up to the race, and although it was always going to be tough, and I wouldn’t be setting any records, I thought that I could finish it.
The Cateran race started ok, but I always felt more laboured than normal, but I headed through the first checkpoint at Dalnagair Castle just about on plan. The road section after here I took pretty quickly, and felt quite good, although on hitting the trail it began to become apparent that I was overheating and feeling nauseous, symptoms I recognised from previous accidents involving heavy handedness and electrolytes. I dropped into CP at Kirtkton of Glenisla about on time, but feeling pretty rough, and continued on after a pretty disjointed hydration bladder refill in which I could not get the cap back on properly. I felt even rougher heading on out and up the hill and decided there and then that I would be dropping out at Alyth, none of the prolonged debating with myself which I had gone on to ignore in previous races. I had replaced my electrolyte with largely water at Kirkton of Glenisla, and although I began to feel better on the drop into Alyth the weather began to worsen, and I didn’t really fancy a long slog in the rain and wind. So in short, although I’d had a pretty rough and unfortunate start to the race, the main reason that I did drop out was that my head wasn’t in it. A bad day at the office, and my first DNF.
I had a couple of months until my next race which would be the Clyde Stride Ultra at the start of July. Training continued to go well, and along with ongoing physiotherapy sessions, particularly on both tibiali, along with various attachments running into the right knee, I was quite optimistic going into the Clyde Stride, hoping to hold onto 10 min/mi throughout the race. I hopped on the train from my hotel in Milngavie down to Partick on what was a lovely morning. I hit the first leg of the race pretty hard, but I didn’t feel too hard, but the middle section of the race from the first checkpoint, through Strathclyde Country Park particularly to the last checkpoint I found very hot, and very tough. The last leg was little short of a death march. There were some plusses from the race, in particular my fuelling and hydration strategies had gone very well. Ultimately I need to run better in hot weather, particularly with some of the races planned for 2014. My race placing too was much improved from previous races, but I couldn’t help but be disappointed with my overall time, and my flirtation with heatstroke for most of an afternoon – despite my silly dessert hat.
The period after the Clyde Stride defined really the remainder of the year. A house move from Aboyne down to Dunfermline resulted in 3 weeks without training, in part due to 14 hour round trips in a van full of materialistic possessions, and followed by a less predicatable bout of infected bursitis in my left elbow brought on by manhandling bookcases. Ok. It was predictable.
The loss of training at the point put my key race for the year, the Ring o Fire, beyond reach I felt, and so I opted to grab a late entry into the Speyside Way Race from Ballindalloch into Buckie. Again hoping to hold onto around 10 min/mi I would fall slightly short of that, but overall the race was a big success, and but for a slow down between Fochabers and Spey Bay could have been so much better. I was pleased with the race, and with a strong kick at the finish, but also a little frustrated with myself for time lost in the latter stages of the race.
My focus after Speyside turned towards hillrunning with the Pentland Skyline race pencilled in at the start of October. On the whole I enjoyed this, but my key goal for the remainder of the year was to run well at Glen Ogle at the start of November. My goals for the skyline race were limited, and I missed my target by about half an hour. Given the bad weather this would probably have been acceptable except that again it should have been so much better. On this occasion I got my fuelling wrong, and bonked all the way up the final climbs losing oodles of time as a result. However, this was never a race that I was going to finish, and given a bug-riddled September was on that I had thought long and hard about whether to start. In the end I decided to man up.
I was not much better fortunate with wee bugs during October, and although when I was running I was running faster than I had ever run before and I was 1st 4lb lighter than at London, I was struggling to obtain the level of consistency that I had managed upto the Speyside Way Race. This was in part due to illness but also business commitments. So when Glen Ogle came around I knew that I could run fast, but was slightly pessimistic about how fast I would run.
The start of the Glen Ogle race went really well. I dropped out of the forest into Kingshouse well under my 10 min/mi target, and arrived at the checkpoint at the top of the glen similarly ahead of target, and gained even more time into the drop into the forest. I knew that I would lose a lot of time on the big hill at the back of the course, and so I wasn’t too concerned to drop back to the 3rd checkpoint at 10:45 min/mi, knowing that the remainder of the course was downhill, and that I was planning to ‘drop the hammer’. Sadly the weather came in at this point and I lost any power in my quads on the descent, ultimately slipping to 11 min/mi. This was not the deathmarch finish of previous Glen Oglee 33’s, but in reality the last 9 miles of the race was no real improvement either. I am disappointed with the overall result, but also recognise that a better September and October would have probably delivered the step change in result that I was looking for here. The result was a big improvement. But again I’m frustrated because it could have been better.
Therein lies the dilemma then. In short I am disappointed because I have improved so much in training this year, but do not feel that my results show that yet, although on several occasions I’ve been pretty close to delivering. Running the skyline race in October was probably a mistake ultimately, and probably prejudiced Glen Ogle, but I enjoyed the race and it fits well with some of the big mountain ultras that I am hoping to race in future. I also ran the hills at Glen Ogle far stronger than I have ever run them before – the time that I lost was on the downhill, and but for that my PB improvement would have been more like 1h30 than the 45min achieved.
So, reflecting finally on what has driven my improvements through the year, there are 3 main factors – training, maintenance and nutrition.
Firstly, since I began working with Karl my training has a much more realistic but consistent edge to it. Yes I still do long runs, but I also do a lot more shorter stuff, hillwork and speedwork, and this has helped me to better condition myself heading into races, as has much more back to back work and double run / double discipline days. No longer is running about distance, its also about how well I can run that distance, and I hope that heading into 2014 we can replicate the gains made this year and translate them into the longer races planned in 2014. On a personal note I find Karl very knowledgeable and enthusiastic across the ultra endurance disciplines, realistic, pragmatic and adaptive in planning, and sufficiently scary to keep me training when I otherwise wouldn’t.
My maintenance strategy has been much more proactive, and I have gennerally booked physio sessions post-race as routine, as well as identifying niggles earlier and getting them fixed before they impacted upon training more generally. I have spent much of the year under the care of Richard Batho of Deeside Physiotherapy and Victoria Davidson although I also need to identify more local support having relocated to the central belt.
Finally, my wife Vickie has done a lot of work on my fuelling strategy helping to create (and cook) fantastic eloctrolytic flapjack which has helped to reduce my hydration problems since the Cateran Trail Race, as well as following me around and helping me at race weekend through the year, and this has also manifested itself in my slow but sustained move away from the bottom of the results table.
2014 then starts early with a tilt at the Barcelona Marathon in March, where I expect to be substantially below 4 hours, followed by the Highland Fling Race, Devil o the Highlands and culminating with the Ultima Frontera 166 in Andalucia in October.
As mine starts on 19 November 2013…
¡Feliz Año Nuevo 2014!