Wednesday 13 July 2011

Ultra Race 100: Unfinished Business

Or how I registered my first ever DNF.

Well, where do I begin?

It turns out that between my last post and the start of this race, I was essentially out of action. No more than the odd couple of miles here and there for 7 weeks. You could look at this in one of two ways: I was either starting this race very well refreshed, or grossly under-prepared. It turns out it was the latter!

The day before I'd travelled down to stop at a farmhouse in the grounds of my company's head office, which just happens to be in Stratford, where this race started and finished. That night, me and the missus went into town for some pre-race stodge (fish & chips) before coming back to the room and getting all my kit sorted into 4 categories: wear, carry, drop-bag, pre-race. 

Next morning I got my 'wear' stuff on - including Compressport calf sleeves to manage my existing injury (which wouldn't give me any grief throught the event), packed my 'carry' stuff, and started eating my 'pre-race' stuff. The 'drop bag' would be given to the ROs who would take it to CP5 (52mi). Morning food consisted off porridge, wholemeal toast with honey, a sweet tea, two packets of biscuit browns (to stave off calls of nature), and a Powerade. It wasn't all scoffed at once as the race started at midday. This just gave a good opportunity to fuel up beforehand, hopefully avoiding any mid-run bonking I've experienced in the past on long runs. 

We got to Stratford Race Course to register and started to mingle with other nervous runners. As ever at these things, everyone seemed very nice, and there was a lot of anxious chatter about training, food, race strategies, etc.

This goes here...

What?! How far?
Playing it cool

After some last minute checks, the RO briefings and last minute goodbyes, it was time to line up. As midday came round, the horn went off and so did we; round and across the racecourse and on to a cyclepath, before we finally settled onto the country roads and lanes that would take us away from Stratford.

What are we waiting for?
And they're off!

My plan was to use my Garmin to keep me at or around 10min/mi for as long as I could maintain that pace, and to hang on for as long as I could with any kind of forward movement once I couldn't. On the whole, I managed to stick to this. My mile breakdowns and Garmin details are here. The only wild deviations from my ideal pace were miles 12, 22, 32 (checkpoints); 28, 33 (loo breaks - more of that later, but not too much more!!). After mile 39 my pace started to deteriorate as the wheels inevitably fell off, but all in good time...

At the first CP I replenished my PSP22 (planned to go through one of these every stage), had a quarter of a porridge/banana/soy milk/protein powder smoothie (planned to have a quarter at each stage until a full one at halfway and picking up another bottle for the second half of the race). I then left the CP at a walk as I knocked back half a buttered malt loaf (planned to alternate this with 3 pork pies at each checkpoint). As I broke into a trot again I was pleased with my CP routine and my discipline in sticking to my pace meant I was feeling great. 

After that though, things one-by-one gradually started to go wrong. After 13/14mi my stomach started feeling a bit dodgy. This was in spite (because?) of the biscuit browns I ate, and may have been down to the quantity of food I was eating. I managed to keep this at bay until mile 28 (phantom loo break) and mile 33 (real loo break). After this, I felt better but still not 100%, and by this point I'd already abandoned my eating plan, missing out my second malt loaf half at CP3.

As I left CP2 (mile 22) - where I also rolled out my right-ITB with my portable roller (beer bottle) as a preventative measure - the bone in the outside of my right foot became very sore as it made contact with the ground and got worse as the race progressed. This has continued to cause me problems long after the race and I suspect it is a bruised bone.

At around the 32mi mark (CP3) the warm humid air had given way to rain, and more bits started breaking: this time my left-ITB (never had a problem with before, it's always been the right one) and the inside of my groin, also on the left; both possibly as a result of trying to take pressure off my right foot.

I was still able to plod on though, until the final nail in the coffin: getting lost. At 35mi I had fallen into a bit of a rhythm with two other runners, and we stuck together for a few miles. After mile 40 or so, we realised we had not seen a route sticker for some time, and began to question ourselves. With the RO's words from the briefing ringing in our ears ("if in doubt, straight on"), we continued. At mile 42, we should have come across CP4, but we didn't. At this point we sat down and got my phone out for a bit of Google Map-age. After a call to the RO (who found our predicament very funny - another snippet from the RO briefing came to mind: "you'd have to be an idiot to get lost on the course") we established we were well off route. However, with RO's consent, if we could make it to CP5 by whichever route, we were back in the race.

Now, here is where I look a bit foolish as what happens next is pure schoolboy navigation error. To get to where we needed to be, we needed to head East along the A40. One of us recced ahead from where we were sat and had found the A40. Knowing our route was generally South, and none of us recalling crossing the A40 previously, we quickly decided to turn left once we hit the A40. However, it turned out we had unknowingly crossed the A40 before, turned North and therefore were approaching the road from the South; meaning our left turn 'East' was actually taking us West. Our mantra should have been (as it is on the fells) 'if in doubt, compass out'.

Before we realised any of that though, I had already made the call to quit. After having been sat for 20 minutes or so as we sorted all this out my body went into recovery mode. Basically, as we started off again my knees and groin had siezed up, my foot was unbearable on impact and to add more injury to injury, my ankle ligaments were very sore as well. So my plan was to make it to CP5, then retire. Up to this point I had covered 42mi in a respectable if not mind-blowing 8h17.

The next 3 miles were a very slow and very painful hobble along a main road in the rain. A far cry from the easy running through lovely Cotswold vilages only a few hours before. We came into a town and on a whim, I thought we'd call in on the petrol station to check we were going in the right direction. They had never heard of where we were heading. They got out a local A-Z and it was at this point we realised we had gone in the completely wrong direction. 

My compadres who up to now were planning on carrying on once they got to CP5 also decided to call it a day. So I put a call into the missus to pick us all up and collect our drop bags from CP5 before heading back to the farmhouse. We waited in the chippy next door to the garage and had a nice sausage in batter and chips, all served up by some friendly staff - though they did wonder if we were all sane. All over after 45mi and 9h46.

The next day me, the missus and my folks (who, rather optimistically, I got up to see me across the finish line) had a lovely day in Stratford in the sun: drinks, good food, and plenty of comedy at my expense as I made a right spectacle of myself, walking like a 90 year old and taking rest stops every 10 yards or so. 

Since then, I've done some investigating and realised the precise moment we went wrong. At 38mi, we all missed a crucial sticker on a signpost directing us to follow the route. I have even found the offending sticker on Google Streetview! (The small yellow on black stickers on the post below - incidentally, we carried on following the road to Cheltenham)

He went thaddaway *points*
Overall this was a great event, a lovely route through a lovely part of the world (albeit all on road). It's got a great atmosphere, and I will definitely (maybe? GUCR plans notwithstanding) be back to try again next year - this time with some training under my belt! Ultimately, I think this was too much to ask of my body after 7 weeks no running. Live and learn...

I was supporting my work's team attempt at walking the Yorkshire 3 Peaks the weekend after the UR100. I went up Pen-y-Ghent with them - evenstretching the legs for a bit of a run off the summit. Being sensible, I then missed out Whernside and met them with tea and cakes with the rest of the support crew at the final road crossing before Ingleborough. I decided I was still feeling okay, so thought I 'd do the home stretch with them as well. Was great going up and managed to drag a few people along with me, but coming down, my foot and left ITB flared up again. It was a long painful slog back. 

Complete rest methinks for at least 4 weeks. This throws out plans for a 3-day recce of the entire BGR route I had lined up for 4-6 August. Also makes my plans for a BGR attempt 16-17 Sept very doubtful. Still, I will listen to my body. Planning a busy year next year. I may still be able to do everything I want to if I go sensible with my recovery in the second half of this one.


  1. Hope the shoes were okay Gary ;) ?

  2. Hi Gary. Thats an impressive role call of running symptoms for your first DNF. Great effort though in light of how your training had been affected in the lead up to the event. Fro your tweets it sounds like you have taken a new approach to your training and rest days, I'm sure this will be the way forward. Time and time again we see running inures in the clinic caused by too much too soon. All the best marathon runners have thousands of miles in their legs before they reach their peak.

    Looking forward to your next post

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