Saturday, July 11, 2015

St Cuthbert's Way Ultra DNF

setting off from Holy Island

A DNF (did not finish) always takes a bit of time to take in.  I've had a few DNSs (did not starts) this year but, perversely for some reason, starting and not finishing feels worse than not starting at all.  it's worth saying at the outset that I truly believe in the maxim, what does not kill you makes you stronger.  I am thankful for the opportunity to learn from my own mistakes and reflect on the various aspects of the event that I did not prepare well for.

I've since spent a lot of time thinking about lessons learnt and can summarise as follows:

The Course:
The course was more road based than I had expected.  I had no excuse for this as I had a map which clearly stated which bits were on road and which were off road.  On road running means going faster in general which also has an effect on nutrition, pacing and the type of energy used.  I wasn't prepared for the amount of on road running.  This was my fault.

we had our game faces on
As well as the road aspects, a lot of the off road, particularly early on was through fields which were rutted underfoot, some had brambles and nettles, there were muddy (as in cowshit muddy gate junctions) all not too pleasant to run on.  This got better after a while and, although immediately after the race, Jonathan and I blamed this significantly for our non-enjoyment of the course, I now don't believe it was that significant a factor.
Some of my nutrition mistakes are linked to me not preparing properly in terms of being fully aware of the course.  I read all sorts of stuff on nutrition but have quite a basic approach.  When I'm going slow, I take Nakd bars or other flapjacks.  To me, these are ideal as they are nutty (fat based), natural and should provide an ideal slow burn energy.  I usually try to have one per hour and then top up with flapjack, coke, sweets etc at aid stations depending on how they are spread out.  The disadvantage to Nakd bars is that I think you need to be going quite slow to digest them.  I usually plan to eat them as I am hiking up a climb so that, at the top, ready for the fast run down, it is in my stomach and settled and won't come back up as I jostle my body on the run down.  For faster stuff, I carry gels.  Gels give a faster boost and are easier to digest.  They seem much better to take in on the move and can provide a much needed boost when you know you have a big climb coming up.  The problem with gels is that they provide a relatively short burst of energy so they have to be timed correctly.  I have also had occasional stomach problems with them.  If my stomach is feeling slightly off, as it was on this day, I will stay away from gels.

I had worked out that it would take anything from 13 hours upwards to complete the whole course.  I made a decision to rely on the flapjack at aid stations rather than to carry lots of Nakd bars.  When it came to it, and I know this sounds ridiculous, the flapjack they had just didn't look appealing.  Aid station food is a significant psychological factor in ultra running and I had pictured (for several miles) moist, succulent, handmade flapjack peppered with fruit.  What was on offer was the cheap supermarket traybake.  I just didn't fancy it and so didn't have any.  Instead I grabbed a few biscuits and sweets and carried on.  This wasn't good nutritional planning and I knew it was likely to come back to, forgive me, bite me!

There was a very small field, maybe about 40 or so starters for the 100k.  This meant that the field soon spread out.  Jonathan started throwing up at about 18 miles and we walked the next few miles to the aid station where he dropped out.  I think it was probably a combination of the heat and the speedy flat course and him trying to digest lucozade and biscuits.  He was really very sick and I don't blame him at all for pulling out.  This meant me carrying on alone.  I thought I was fine with this but you can't beat having a mate with you egging you on, or confirming that, actually, the climb you are on is really difficult.  The other big advantage of some company is the two minds are better than one approach to navigation it can give.  I tried to run with some others.  I met a bloke who told me he had finished over 100 ultras and he could clearly navigate, but couldn't keep up with him for longer than a few miles.  I dropped back to run with another guy.  My main concern at this point was some navigational support.  We came to a point where the track clearly went through a wood.  I pointed this out to him on the map.  He looked vague and said something about the other track looking 'more like' it was the right track (despite going in the opposite direction on the map).  I decided this fellow wasn't going to be a lot of help.

When it came down to it, it was this lack of company and so lack of navigational support that swayed my decision to call it.  I was a few miles out from the checkpoint at 39 miles and I sat on a ladder style and had a long think.  I acknowledged that I was tired and in a slump energy wise (something I had the experience to know that if I just kept going and ate properly, I would pull out of).  From the next checkpoint, the distance was roughly 25 miles.  I knew I could slog through 25 miles if I needed to and that, at some point I would feel better and be able to run a bit more.  I considered the cut off times.  I could easily make the 47 mile one but thought it would get tighter for the next two.  I now think I was wrong in this and, time wise, I would have been fine.  What was clear is that I was going to be running in the dark.  I had already made a few navigational errors in daylight and with the lack of company, I really didn't fancy doing the last ten miles in the dark, tired and on my own.  I could have prepared better for this by recceing the course and by taking a gps unit that I could have downloaded the course to as a back up.  I made the decision sat on the ladder style to drop out at the next aid station.  It's true to say that my miscalculation on cut off points influenced this decision but the main reason was fear of getting lost in the dark.

Other factors:
I was tired but I wasn't hurting.  I had a run a few days later and felt fine.  I wasn't hobbling around Melrose afterwards.  I think if I had carried on, I would have probably picked up a hobble or worse.  I wasn't enjoying myself and did think that I could finish now at a reasonable time and still go for a pizza rather than finishing in the middle of the night.

It's important to say that I was happy with the decision and I enjoyed the experience.  It would obviously have been good to finish but I learnt a lot and will be back one day to bag a 100k.

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