Monday, 8 April 2013

How long is long ?

Answer - it depends !

Back in the days when I was a track runner 2 hours was a long run and I really knew about it for a few days after completing one. But like all training, you get used to it over time and by the time I moved up to the marathon 2 hours was just a normal endurance run and I needed to run 2 hr 45 for it to feel long 'again'.

Where is this post going, well ultimately it could end up with making a case for 6 day racing actually being speedwork for a 1000 mile race but thats going to take a lot of typing to get there. So lets stick at 50 miles being a long way because that is as far as I managed last weekend at the UK 100km championships (left with Dave Mitchinson in the early stages. photo: Davy Johnson).

Those early hours were really enjoyable. The 7am start with a hard frost on the ground, dawn light and a quiet, empty North Inch Park alongside which runs the river Tay, tidal and still at that time. And as the race started to unfold so the park came alive around us. From the first peek of sunshine at 8am, the early morning dog walkers and joggers and the gradual thawing of the frost. And as the tide turned the river started to pick up moment, football players emerged for their sunday kickabout and folks walked round the park working up an appetite for sunday lunch. While we kept running. Round and round the 2.3km loop. 

For the first time as a runner the distance beat me with my legs finally giving up at about 82km. Not the feared marathon runners wall, or dehydration. Just a bunch of muscle fibres that had done 20,000 repetitions on each leg and were done, well and truly done ! It was a somewhat surreal and humbling experience being reduced to a shuffle as runners started to unlap themselves, my earlier relaxed bouncy stride totally evaporated.

And for those of you who have experienced it in a marathon you know will know what its all about. As the muscles start to tire the legs feel heavy, in my case it was quads and adductors and over a period of time you just stop bouncing off the road and every impact leaves you closer to the tarmac.

This feeling started just before 60km when I had 4 hours of running on the clock. Pace was solid, running consistently around 6.30 miles and I had been getting plenty of drinks and food into me - in fact one of the consequences of the slower than marathon running and very cold morning was the need to stop and pee every hour or so, something I have never experienced in a race.

The slide started with soreness in the quads and a noticeably less bouncy stride. Within a couple of laps I was running slower though still going OK when GB 24 hour runner Robbie Britton caught me and kept me company for a lap or so. He explained that this was likely to be a temporary blip and that I should be prepared to walk a lap if necessary, get some food into me and stretch out the stiffness. Armed with such sound advice when the wheels came off a couple of laps later (left) I did just that. Walked the rest of the lap, had a massage and stretch, got some more food and a hot drink into me and jumped off the massage table ready for renewed battle. Hmm, not so good after all.

Making the most of things meant alternating walking and shuffling then trying a different recovery strategy at the end of each lap. Coffee, fail. Flat coke, fail. Assisted squats, fail. Massage again, fail. Not very encouraging. But still being the 3rd England counter the message from team managent was clear - stay out there ! So I obliged, for 3 1/2 hours in which I covered a meagre 21km. By that time I had been passed by Dave who was going significantly faster than me even though he didn't seem to be enjoying himself too much either. At one point I was even reduced to running backwards out of curiosity about the condition of my hamstrings and depressingly I was faster going backwards than forwards.
And then the moment of truth. 34 laps done and I decided to sit down, never to get up again depsite the best efforts of Robbie (who had by now finished his 50km race that he was using as a 'sharpener' for the World 24 hour champs). In my mind I had covered 50 miles and more, the longest I had ever run by far and my body was done for the day. Up at the front of the race experienced ultra runner Craig Holgate ran through the field to take the UK title and finish second overall behind Irelands Dan Doherty. I need to get some quads like his !

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