Ultra Marathoning – Trials and Tribulations

I wake up and roll over. I momentarily wonder why my left achilles is throbbing on every movement, and why my legs want to tell me a story of pain and non-paid overtime. My mouth is dry and my head is taking longer to process anything and everything. Then I remember I ran my most mentally and physically demanding trail race for over a year the day before, where once again I was shouting at myself that I would never enter another ultra marathon again. Roll back three weeks and my legs are telling me how much they enjoy being part of my life. Barry and I are tootling along South down the I5 heading towards Olympia in Washington to compete at the Capitol Peak 55km / 50mile trail race. I was feeling some what relaxed and in good spirits, which considering I had crashed out and ‘bonked’ at the 32km mark in my last Ultra Marathon on Orcas Island, was somewhat surprising but welcome. I had done the right race-prep, I had had a good solid run 4 days earlier where everything seemed to be in working order, but most importantly I was ‘in the right place’ mentally. With the ghost of Orcas Island sitting squarely on my shoulder, I wanted to run the Capitol Peak 55km with the aim of ‘just finishing’. I had no goal, no timeframe, no body else I knew running to pull my competitive brain along to uncomfortable zones (Barry was undertaking the 50mile option), and was actually looking forward to just getting out there, taking my time and enjoying the race as much as I could. I had also learnt a lot about fuelling and food / body management since Orcas, and was going to be strict with myself to stop at every aid station to relax and refuel. People have called ultra marathons an ‘eating and drinking competition with running thrown in’ and this was a mantra that I’ve slowly had to comprehend and learn. Your body burns up around 400-600 calories per hour while ultra running, and unlike shorter races you just can’t run for 5+ hours without taking food on board during the run – your body just can’t sustain that calorie deficit and keep on moving. And thus one of my goals at Capitol Peak was to learn to eat and drink properly during a race, and not feel rushed past the aid stations. The race started well, I was running at a comfortable 5-6min per km pace depending on terrain and elevation, and was happy tootling along listening to the conversation of 2 other runners who had camped up behind me. The first aid station came up at only 8km in, but I was strict with myself and against everyone else’s race schedule, stopped, drank some water and ate a few carbs before carrying on. This was a schedule I kept to for the rest of the race. Being a very symmetric kids-drawing-of-a-mountain elevation profile race, the first half of the run was all uphill, but against all long distance races I’d competed at before, I reached the top of the climbs at 31km and was feeling good. Not just, ‘good for 30km, but actually pretty crap’, but just ‘good’. I had enjoyed the infamous ‘grunt’ that we had been warned about at the pre-race talk, I had even ran up some of it and passed a few runners in the process, posed for the photo at the top, before whistling down the other side chatting to a Belorussian runner from Minsk (post race analysis would show I was actually 2nd fastest up that section from the 20 or so runners who had uploaded their run onto Strava).    With the rest of the race net downhill, by the time I got to 35km I knew I was going to finish. I felt confident in myself, my running, and my body that we were going to drag ourselves through the next 20km...

Sun Run Time

My life in Vancouver has definitely taken a running turn over the past year, as I’ve thrown myself into the running scene and enjoyed, gritted, pushed, found limits, jumped over the figurative running wall, stubbornly succeeded, un-stubbornly failed, and tried to find that elusive escapism that pounding out miles with just you, the trails, great friends and the elements can give you. However, as much as the enjoyment factor is a large part of the scene, my competitive nature and constant search for targets, times, goals and numbers has found me standing toe-to-toe at the start line of a surprising number of races and distances over the past 18 months in Vancouver. I found myself competing at the 48,000 strong 10K Vancouver Sun Run two weeks ago, along with the just-hoping-to-finish 55K Capitol Peak ultra marathon a week later; both races as far removed mentally as their distances were physically. The first would find me in ultra competitive race mode, where as the other would both humble and surprise me. Coming into the Sun Run I knew I was probably the most race fit and fastest I’d ever been for the distance, and thus was excited to have some clearly defined time goals in mind, each of them becoming more hopeful than the last. A korfball friend back home had recently finished her 10K in an astounding 37:05; closely following her speedy shoes was my buddy Big Nick (who organises a local 8k run back home in Birmingham) who had a PB of 36:40; and finally there was the quite possibly craziest distance runner I’ve ever known, local running friend Barry, who had a blisteringly fast 36:06 PB from a year ago. The Sun Run is one of the largest road races in North America, and...