St Helier, Jersey, Channel Isles
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paul@trailmonkeyjersey.com

Has My Fire Really Gone Out?

I sit here after a great weekend away in Dorset and competing in the Dorset CTS Ultra for the second time and racing on that amazingly beautiful yet brutal coastline for the fourth time. Its been a tiring but great weekend away, ten of us from Jersey took part in the varous distance race offered by Endurancelife from 10km right through to the Ultra and it was great to see everyone who took part enjoy their experiences.

I would love this post to be about how I have continued on this amazing trajectory of improvement in my running journey, how I ran the Ultra and improved on my time and race positioning from last year ( as was my goal as I lined up on Saturday morning at 8:15 at the bottom of Lulworth Hill Climb). However this post is more a cautionary tale I guess.. If you have read any of my posts from this year you will be aware of the year I have had in terms of running, I did the maths earlier today and the races I have done go something like this:

XNRG Pilgrims Challenge – 2 day x 34 miles each day
Marathon Des Sables – 5 days – 150 ish miles
ITEX Run/Walk – 48 miles
Run Jersey Trail Half Marathon
Round The Rock Ultra – 48 Miles
Cotswolds Way 100 miler (62 miles as DNF’ed)
Jersey Marathon Relay (7 mile leg)
Rowbothams Round Rotherham (50 miles)
Spartans Jersey Half Marathon

and the icing on the cake the Dorset Ultra – 34 miles 6,600 ft of ascent and a whole lot of pain! So my motivation was to come back to measure how I had done over the last year and whether I had improved and whether I could take on the Jurassic coast and find it easier (even a little?) than last December – a great yardstick in my opinion.

After Round Rotherham I had been quite conservative in terms of training, coach Bruno favouring intensity over distance, but I felt I had had alot of quality sessions bringing in plyometrics and some strength work on top. I have had a lingering knee problem since June time which I have been managing but not been able to shake as well as hip flexor problems and other assorted niggles.. Familiar to all who run regularly I am sure..

So lining up at the start I felt good; physically stronger, confident after some good results and lots of lessons learnt over the year. I stood at the front ready to go feeling that I belonged at the front and ready to do my best that day. The countdown began 10-9-8… And then we were off. Straight away a nice 350 feet climb to get the legs and lungs ticking over, my intention being to run to the top as if to set out my intention for the race. I got 3/4 of the way up was with another 4 or 5 people and we made our way to the top – first climb done and on to the first descent and to the bottom of the next 524 feet climb.. So this continued on, me talking to myself in my head “Relax, climb consistently, run your own race” (my running mantra) and just trying to get the initial few climbs done without using too much energy as I knew there was plenty to come through the coming 34 miles.

By the time I was 8 or 9 miles in to the run I was in 6th place, in a rhythm of sorts and feeling ok.. All going well until a little blip where I wasn’t sure where to go as it wasn’t very clearly signposted. I went off round a field and took about 8 people with me, we went about half a mile along this route without seeing any more signposting and slowly the others turned back to retrace their steps. 3 of us committed to this route and miraculously found our way back on to the course albeit a bit further down the standings – I was informed I was now in 22nd place coming the through the start line again to make our foray into the West side of the course taking in some truly massive climbs.

So things were going well, I was in the groove, I had dealt with a potential disaster well both by finding the course again and not letting it get to me too much. I felt good physically and was getting the climbs done, recovering well and chasing back the places I had lost. By checkpoint 2 I was told that I was between 10th and 15th place so I felt it was going ok..
This was when things started to go a little pear shaped.. I recall coming out of CP2 and straight into what must have been the 7th or 8th big climb of the day, it had been really quite warm earlier so I had taken my gloves off and stashed them in my rucksack, it was now getting cold however and I knew the gloves were wet so I had to put up with cold hands; the hands got colder, my persistent knee problem got worse and my hip flexor started to hurt quite badly as it usually does in the later stages of ultras.. I was climbing and then running but it felt like the running along the flat was getting tough all of a sudden, so I was cold, tired both physically and mentally, and in a bit of pain.

The voices in my head then started; you will know these voices if you have ever done a half marathon, marathon or ultra marathon; “You’ve had a great year this year Paul, you don’t need to prove yourself by completing the ultra distance, why don’t you when you get to the finish line of the marathon call it a day there? You’ll still get a marathon time, its close enough 30 miles anyway and you can have a nice cup of tea, get warm and take the weight off those poor tired legs of yours..” as well as “look at all the races you’ve run this year, all the miles you’ve run, just call it a day..” Now I had never allowed the voices to be this clear before, to be fair my body was starting to seize up, and the thought of a cuppa was really alluring.. This was at about 23 miles, I knew I still had another 6 miles or so til I finished even the marathon route, but the way the ultra works is you have to go through the marathon finish and then do the initial 10km loop again, and I knew what was waiting for me out there and I knew I couldn’t face it again that day!

What Lay In Store For Me Out There..

So I got the last few miles done and I did actually feel a little better by the time I got to the finish of the marathon I was actually contemplating carrying on, by this time the ultra course had combined with the half marathon course and I started to edge out of the 1/2 marathon pack towards the start of the second 10km loop when someone said to me “Its this way mate”, thinking I was a half marathon runner and due to finish, so with my will of iron I capitulated and went through the finish and dropped the race at the marathon distance.

Now I must state here that I had mulled this decision to drop over in my head whilst running and was completely ok with it; I remember doing the same race last year, exactly the same scenario, having to run through the marathon finish and do the 10km loop to finish the ultra and there was no voices and no question of me not finishing. So what changed? This is a question I was asking myself yesterday and discussing over a few beers last night with some of the guys I was away with, and I think it comes down to this;

I have done alot of races this year! 

I know this may not sound like rocket science, but I think back to last year and I was so hungry and focused on just getting the job done regardless of what pain I had to go through and I think of the races I have done this year and my focus has become more on not whether I will finish but how well will I do. I think essentially I am running more with my ego at times than my heart, and I have started to expect more of myself in terms of times, results etc which puts pressure on a little and can to a certain extent take away the intrinsic enjoyment of running. I have done 10 races of any consequence this year meaning 10 times this year I have had to get mentally ready and to apply my will focus and motivation to run the race. Even the shorter distance stuff has been high intensity meaning that I gave 100% and left it all out there each time. I think back to last year and remember getting a little over running at a certain point in the year, taking some time off for a couple of weeks and getting back to it and that did the trick. This year has been  a busy year with an average of a race every 6 weeks or so and whilst I have loved it, looking back I now see that slowly the quality of my performances have been getting diluted. Between Aug and December I did a 100 miler, a 50 miler a month later, a half marathon 2 weeks after that which yielded a new PB of 1:26:32 and then I did the Dorset ultra. So thats quite a workload. Coach Bruno says that ideally an athlete should race every 6 months, and I think now looking back on this year I can see the logic. We discussed this yesterday also and have struck a deal where I will stick to racing once every 3 months to enable a bit more quality out of next year (hopefully!)

I have discussed motivation and positive self talk alot over the last few posts I have written as these are the lessons I have come up against particularly in the last 6 months, I think expectation (both from myself and from others) positive self talk, and motivation have been things that I have thought in great detail about, read about and have helped me discover alot more about myself as a person as well as a runner this year; I think my goal will be to go back to basics a little more next year, race less, save the peaks for the races that matter, do more quality session rather than quantity and reconnect with my love for running so that when the dark times hit as they did yesterday I have an arsenal of reasons why I should keep going rather than why I should stop. I sincerely hope that the main reason for not finishing the ultra yesterday is just down to a collective dwindling of motivation and willingness to endure pain due to the busy schedule and will be fixed by a lengthy period of rest rather than a change of state of mind in me that means I may not have the motivation inside me to endure anymore. Time will tell on that score I am sure, but nonetheless I have 2 weeks now of no weight bearing exercise at all, perhaps a little swimming and maybe some yoga to keep a routine going of some description. Then providing my knee is better I hope to have a couple of weeks of un regimented running to allow for some flexibility and to not be fulfilling a program, I might even… GASP… run without my Garmin now and again maybe??

So onto next year.. 2014, what do I want from next year? I was in the lottery for Western States but was not one of the lucky ones to be pulled out of the hat in the lottery yesterday, so my year is looking like this right now:

Feb – XNRG Pilgrims Challenge
May – Transvulcania
June – SDW 100
Aug – Round The Rock
After that who knows…?

I have signed up for the 2015 edition of the Marathon Des Sables so focus will naturally switch to that in the latter part of the year, with plenty of sand bashing, running with a rucksack, Bikram yoga and all the other lovely MDS prep that goes along with the race.

This might be the last post for me of 2013, so thanks for reading my blog on what has been an amazing year of self discovery and endeavour for me.. I hope 2013 has been as good for you and that 2014 fills you with as much hope and anticipation as it does me.

More as and when it happens

3 Responses

  1. I knew I recognised you at the briefing! Rotherham was a walk in the blimmin' park compared with Dorset. I missed the cutoff for continuing to the Ultra by about 25 minutes – those hills are brutal (more in the down than the up, but it's a close call).You have had an awesome year and some days it's just not worth it. Rest, recovery, lots of tea and you'll be back in the game for sure. Onwards!

  2. I also note from your route plot you weren't in the unfortunate pack who went about 4 miles off course in total just before the 15km point – so well done you!

  3. Paul Burrows says:

    Thanks Kate. Lots of rest, tea and maybe some beer over the coming weeks 🙂 Dorset was hard wasnt it? You should have said hello, always nice to meet new people..I think I might have been the person who led a few people astray actually.. I just didnt turn back I plowed a course and luckily found my way back to the course!

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