Tuesday 1 October 2013

Stour Valley Path - September 2013

It's no secret that I've been struggling with injury for the last few months since Transvulcania. I have been rehabbing like crazy, and things have gradually been getting better, suggesting at least that it was nothing serious. But with two big DNFs under my belt at the SDW100 and NDW100, and being unable to run longer than 10k without things starting to ache, I was starting to go a bit crazy. But with some help from my physio Chelsea Harding, September proved to be a good month. I had a whole week of "proper running", including some exploring down on the Monarch's Way and SDW near my parents. My first 70+ mile week in a long time - and it felt great!

So the following week, I hit the start line of the Stour Valley Path 100 km race (SVP100) with not a single niggle. No spasming calves, no painful knee, no plantar fasciitis. I was finally starting a race without worrying about something going wrong.

Okay, that's not entirely true. James Adams and Gemma Greenwood were helping out at the race and had come to stay with us since the race starts not far from my house. Since they would be there throughout the day, I had stored a bag of clothes in their car "just in case". But despite this I was going in with a positive mental attitude, determined to get a good finish in before the end of the year.

My previous 100k time was 9:57:26 at the Norfolk Ultra last year, so I figured that somewhere between 9 and 9.5 hours was doable. But I wasn't going to worry about pace, instead focussing on running to feel. At the end of the day, my main focus for the day was finishing and having a good time.

Every photo of me at the start has me checking my watch. Turns out I needn't have worried about pacing!

We got lined up, and were sent off by the mayor of Newmarket. The start of the race followed the path along the main road for a while before turning off onto the path. I had taken a little lead here, but was soon caught up by Barry Miller and David Barker and we took it in turns to open the many gates along the way. This section was a little technical, with the rain of the previous week making the ground very slippery, but overall was very runnable. I was in a comfortable rhythm, and as we entered the woods I felt great and built up a little lead over the other runners.

The checkpoints were organised in a systematic way, being 12 miles, 11 miles, 10 miles, 9 miles, etc apart. I came into CP1 in 1:34:05 feeling good and ready to push on. I grabbed a little water to top up my bottle and was straight off again.

Unfortunately, it all went a little downhill from there.

About halfway towards CP2, I started to get really bad cramps in my stomach. Running suddenly became incredibly uncomfortable, and my pace dropped significantly. I had had a funny stomach the previous day, and had not been able to, erm, go in the morning. Not a great combination for racing.

I was also feeling knackered - more so than I should at this stage in a race. Probably a combination of not having great sleep due to our 7 month old, coming down with a cold, and a general lack of fitness after 3 months off. Who would have thought not running for a quarter of a year might possibly cock up my stamina?

Perfect running conditions! Well, except for the diarrhoea.
I came into CP2 a little less comfortable than CP1, but was still in a great mood. It had become a bit of a slog, but fuck it - I was running! I hung around for a while to get my head sorted, then veered off the track to some handily placed public conveniences, and got myself, erm, sorted.

As I set back off, I had lost a lot of time on the leaders. The cramping had reduced but was still there, so I still wasn't really running comfortably. I resigned myself to the fact that I would be out there longer than expected, and just relaxed and enjoyed the journey.

This was actually quite a pleasant way to run. I found myself catching up to the people that had passed through during my break, and just got chatting. The weather was a little wet in the morning, but was generally pretty perfect for running - overcast and cool with no wind.

At about the halfway point, I bumped into a runner, Rich Connor, who was struggling a bit with the navigation. I had the route on my Garmin so we ran together for a while so that I could help out with pointing the way. He was running this as his first ultra race, and was having issues with the lack of markers along the route compared to the triathlons that he was used to. Of course I pointed out that this was actually one of the better marked ultra races out there. As time went on however, my stomach got worse and I was struggling to keep up so told him to push on without me. He want on to finish in under 12 hours, and hopefully will be back for more in the future! He certainly seemed to be enjoying himself out there.

Totally unintended.
Gemma was waiting at CP5 and told me that James had headed out along the next section to put some glowsticks out. I had actually planned on being finished by this point with the sun still shining, but was still another 12 miles from the finish. With the sun beginning to set, I pulled on a warmer top and got my headtorch ready to make it to the end. As I ran, I think that I saw a total of 2 glowsticks, so was wandering what James was playing at. Suddenly a runner appeared behind me - it was James. "Erm, shouldn't you be ahead of me lighting up the way?" It turns out he had taken a slightly wrong turn and ended up being chased by a herd of bullocks. A nice bit of speed work! I tagged along with him, and could almost keep up with him. Given that he was a) running at a nice gentle jog and b) stopping to hang glowsticks off of trees every five minutes, this was a little worrying. It didn't help when he realised he had dropped them all during his bull fight so had no reason to stop anymore. 

I came into the final checkpoint feeling awful, but at least this was now the home-stretch. Having said that, I was kind of surprised when I was told how happy and upbeat I looked. "No", I said, "This is me not enjoying running!" Apparently even at my worst I'm having a blast. My watch was starting to die, and I wasn't entirely sure whether it would last the 5 miles to the finish. Given that I knew that there were no night time navigational aids left in James' bag for this section, I wasn't sure that "just follow the river" was really going to be good enough. As it happens, Simon Bowring had come in and was having a similar dilemma, so I asked if he wanted to head out together. Hopefully one of our watches would survive. 
Not a problem...
As we were running, a funny thing happened. It got easy. I really started to enjoy the run. I don't know if it was the fact that it was colder which somehow made my stomach better, or if taking a break at the previous checkpoint and eating a Jaffa Cake had settled things, but I just felt great! Along the way we also bumped into Richard Lear who had gotten a bit turned around and was hoping for somebody to come past. We headed out together, eager to find the end. After one slight error when I forgot to pay attention to what we were doing, we made it to the finish and crossed the line together in 12:15:45. Only about 3 hours later than I had anticipated!

So all in all, not my finest hour. It was a bit of a slog, and I'm hoping that the stomach issues were just a blip. But regardless of any negative feelings I may have had while running, these are all entirely eclipsed by the fact that I bloody well finished. Not only did I finish, but I felt fine afterwards. The following day was the Grafham Water Marathon - the race that I won on its previous inaugural outing - and I was even tempted to run it! My knee suffered no issues whatsoever, and now I am running pain free.

I'm back baby!

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