Update, 16th March 2015, 17:00: felt a little poorly at work today but put this down to my D33 efforts over the weekend. However, turns out that I actually have chickenpox, with rapidly spreading spots. Will admit that I didn’t see that one coming! Having never had chickenpox before, I’m not relishing the prospect of the next week. Hopefully won’t impact too much on my Fling training.
Back in March 2013, I toiled around the D33 ultramarathon, finally completing in a PW time of 06:18:33. The event, just a couple of weeks after the birth of my son Harris, was to be my last ultra until this weekend just past, the 14th March, when I once again toed the line for the D33.
Having taken a 2 year hiatus following the birth of my son, I finally felt prepared to once again tackle ultra distances. Or, at least, that was the thinking behind my application back at the start of 2015. The reality, of course, was somewhat different.
The short version of events is that, just like in 2013, I made it to the finish line and, in doing so, completed my 18th ultramarathon out of 19 starts. Again just like 2013, It was anything but pretty!
Looking at the available splits information for my participation in D33 events to date, the one thing that is evident is that I ‘may’ have gone out too hard and fast on the day.
Perhaps this is why, come mile 18, I found myself rooted to the spot, absolutely unable to move, thanks to debilitating cramps that were shooting through every inch of both legs.
Or then again, maybe it was more to do with the absolute lack of training, the recent issues with cellulitis that had curtailed all running in the run up to the event, or the fact that I chose to hydrate entirely with nothing more than 100% water, with no electrolytes or salt tablets at all, a habit that I had become accustomed to over the considerably shorted runs that I had completed whilst on my ‘ultra vacation’.
To say that things hadn’t quite gone to plan would be an understatement.
When I last ran the race, back in 2013, my training had been adversely affected by preparations for the arrival of my son Harris and my longest training run had been just 11 miles. However, despite the short distances back then, there was considerably more volume of training and I still had the muscle memory from 3 years worth of ultra events that I believe helped me get through on the day.
This time around, illness and parenthood limited the training time available to me and my situation was further exasperated by the events of the past month.
I should add at this point, that it’s not all doom and gloom. A good few people commented on my considerably reduced frame on Saturday, thanks in no small part to the loss of over 3 stones in weight over the past 6 months approx.
However, this in itself added yet more uncertainty into the mix and I really did feel as if I was starting afresh. Come Saturday morning I was extremely nervous and pretty much kept myself to myself, save for a few short catch up conversations, as I awaited the start of the race.
Initially, as the weight started to drop off, I came to ‘expect’ PBs, almost forgetting that they needed to be earned. An 18 mile run from Ellon to Mintlaw at the start of the year, along the Formartine & Buchan Way, soon put paid to these naive thoughts. Less than 3 miles in I found myself toiling badly and I will admit to considering making the call for a pick up at one of the many hop on/off points along the line. Retrospectively, I was glad that I did complete the run, though at no point did it feel like anything more than an absolute slog.
It soon became apparent that weight loss alone wasn’t going to be enough to ensure PB times and that, further, any muscle memory in the legs was well and truly gone.
The only option was to ramp up the long runs, mixing these up with 2-3 speedier sessions through the week. With this in mind, approximately 1 month before this years D33, I set out to do a back to back weekend, pushing hard on the Saturday.
I was delighted to smash my 1/2 marathon PB by a considerable number of minutes in the course of the 15 mile run that day and I followed this up with a 13 mile run the following day, pushing only marginally less hard.
Come Monday, my legs were in bad shape and I spent the week swimming in place of my planned cross training and running sessions. What I thought was just a bad case of DOMS hung about considerably longer than I would expect.
With the D33 looming ever closer, I took the decision to ‘test’ the legs, setting out for an out and back 15 mile off-road run. Daft perhaps but I am sure, given the circumstances, something that most runners would have done themselves.
The run out was manageable, just. The return however, was anything but comfortable and the notion of running ‘form’ soon went out the window as I ran/walk/limped home.
Waking in pain at 1 am, unable to return to sleep thanks to the throbbing in my left leg, I knew then that there was something seriously wrong.
Sunday revolved around a hospital visit where I was diagnosed with cellulitis, provided with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and painkillers. I was advised to keep the feet up and do nothing.
Over the course of the week, my left leg lost its warm red glow and returned to a size more comparable to my right leg. However, despite completing all medication, there was still considerably more pain that I would have expected at this stage. Unfortunately, flexion was the root cause of much of the pain which didn’t bode particularly well for running.
Seeking further medical advice, I was advised that the continued pain was likely a side effect of the cellulitis and that continued rest was the only approach. Thankfully, the doctor was very understanding when I broached the subject of the D33.
I was advised that there was little constructive training that could be done at this point anyway, and that, if I really had to run it, I should just stay off the leg as much as possible until the day and then attempt to complete, using any pain experienced as a barometer of if/when I should pull out.
Armed with this advice I at least had some hope, which was good enough for me. (I’ve got to love my medical practice. They really do tolerate my insanity really well!)
I waited until the Wednesday before the D33 and, with pain levels almost back to normal, I hit the treadmill for a fast paced 5 mile test.
The pain was bearable, my race was on. (Retrospectively, I shouldn’t have pushed quite so hard as I spent the Friday worrying about the DOMS that my test run had brought about!)
As I headed into the D33 early on the Saturday morning I was a bag of nerves. The limitations of my training were playing on my mind, as was that torturous 18 mile run along the Formartine & Buchan Way, my longest training run to date. Surely it wouldn’t/couldn’t be THAT bad!
My leg was still an unknown quantity. How would it cope with any distance? Would the cellulitis return? (at the time of writing, thankfully not!).
Finally, I had taken the decision to replace my trusty Altra Lone Peak 1.5 trail shoes with the new Lone Peak 2.0 which, it turns out, has quite a different feel to it. I just hadn’t had the opportunity to test the shoes out. Thankfully they were the real success story of the day as my feet were in immaculate condition come the finish. The slightly increased stack height of the 2.0 quite possibly best suited the hard conditions underfoot of the D33.
The race itself was going well for the first 13 miles. Really well. Too well in fact. I knew I was going too fast, considerably faster than previous efforts, and yet I didn’t back off.
Stupid? Maybe, but who’s to say that the events of mile 18 wouldn’t have happened regardless of how hard I pushed. I can, at least, take some consolation from the fantastic run that I had to start. I didn’t even stop at the first check point, confirming my number to one of the marshals and continuing on my way.
By miles 14 and 15 I was starting to lag, and I was glad of a can of Coke at the 1/2 way point, my one guilty ‘ultra pleasure’. There’s nothing quite like the thought of a can of Coke to lift my spirits and keep me heading on to the next checkpoint.
I’ve already documented the events at mile 18. I was absolutely rooted to the spot, unable to move, afraid to move, for fear of the pain that even the slightest sway was met with.
The ultra community really came through for me at this point, with many people enquiring as to my well-being and/or if there was anything that they could do. I owe my race to the assistance of one guy who was supporting his wife who was kind enough to help me stretch out both legs. This was enough to get me back moving, albeit very, very gingerly, for fear of inducing yet another cramping spasm.
I also owe thanks to Nicola Stuart for sharing some rock salt with me, and to the final checkpoint for more salt, all of which I am sure helped me nurse my cramping legs to the finish line.
Given all of the issues going in to the event, who would have thought that my performance would ultimately be dictated by cramp!
What I can say for certain is that I made it, and was delighted to be rewarded with a 05:59:41 time, sneaking in just below the 6 hour mark. Further, of the 5 times that I have run the event, it’s actually my 3rd fastest time!
As with so many ultra events, I had a chance to catch up with old friends, and to make new friends along the way, surely one of the best aspects of ultras.
Hopefully my return to the Hoka Highland Fling will fare better!
Huge thanks to the RDs and Marshals without who, the D33 wouldn’t exist.