Sunday, 3 August 2014

Stone mad Ultra race report!

Last weekend I ran the Stone mad ultra. It is a 2 day back to back ultra marathon, day 1 was 62km river run and day 2 was a 55km mountain run.

Preparation started in early January, increasing my weekly distance gradually and running an odd marathon here and there. I managed to stay injury free throughout my preparation and healthy too. 

Day 1: 63km, river course, very flat.

Myself and Alan Murphy
I had never raced an ultra before and had no way of knowing how my body would feel after passing the marathon distance. I had ran a marathon distance in training a couple of times and I had ran two official marathons as part of my training. I was very confident that I could hold a steady pace of 5.30 - 5.45mins per kilometre for at least 50km, after that I would be in new territory and was excited to see how it would all pan out. I hoped that I could average just under 6.00mins per kilometre which was the pace the winner had run last year. 

The race started and as usual I was feeling a little eager to get going. I always like a good strong start and I set off running faster than what I knew I could average. After about 3-4km I got sense and settled into a nice easy and steady pace. I was running with @headchefalan (Alan Murphy) we had been twitter friends for about a year and knew bits and pieces about each other's life. It took us about 25km to fill in all the blanks and I honestly didn't notice the kilometres clicking past. Both myself and Alan were conscious of our elevated pace and had began to slow up a bit, now averaging 5.50min per kilometre. As we approached a feed station another competitor passed us, I tucked in behind this guy and tried to keep in his shadow. I followed him and passed him, only to be passed again a few kilometres later. We continued this leap frogging for the remainder of the race. 
I walked across an empty land, I knew the pathway like the back of my hand, I felt the earth beneath my feet, sat by the river and it made me complete -
62km of this on day 1
Running behind this guy was great his pace was just about all I could manage and we passed quite a few competitors along the way. Sitting at the race briefing my self doubt had managed to compile a list of all the guys with really cool gear, these, I had decided would be good runners. My ego then got to rub it in the face of my self doubt when we passed those guys later in the day. It felt good. 

I reached the marathon point and waited (just like we all did on New Years Eve 1999) to see what would happen when I kept running,,,,, nothing different,,,, I kept running,,, I felt good,, and that guy was still in my sights, I was also just about to over take another guy in 'all the gear.'

I came across a fallen tree, I felt the branches of it looking at me, Is this the place we used to love? Is this the place that I've been dreaming of? -

The kilometres from 42km to 50km seemed to drag a bit, I kept looking and my watch and calculating how my pace would change. Finally my watch 'Beeped' and I had reached 50km, I was feeling strong and ran on. The kilometres clicked by easy again and I was at 60km before I knew it, I was tired and had made a school boy error. I was running with a CamelPak. It held about 2 litres of weather but I was only carrying about 1 litre since there were feed stations roughly every 10km. I had refilled the camelback at the third station which was around 30km. The final feed station was at 52km and I should have refilled there too. I didn't!

My strategy for the day was to walk through the feed stations after gulping some water and grabbing 2 fig roll biscuits. This worked quite well. Most guys were stopping to drink, eat, stretch and pee. I drank and ate while walking gaining 200-300 meters on the guys I was hoping to pass or stay ahead of. When I reached the last feed station I knew I was either 10 or 11th overall. They only publish the top 10 results over night and I was hoping my name would be on the list. I pushed through the final aid station and forgot to refill my camelpak. 

When I reached 60km I was hot, tired and really thirsty. I was sucking on an empty water bladder and was super paranoid that somebody was going to come thundering past me. I kept running, albeit at a slower pace 6.10-6.30mins per kilometre. I could still see the guy ahead of me. The run traversed the whole way alongside the river Barrow and it meandered along at a slow pace just like me. I caught glimpses of the guy ahead and saw he was looking over his shoulder to see where I was. I, in turn was also looking over my shoulder to see who had me in their sights. The last 2-3km were tough but I managed to keep running and finished without being passed in the last 20km. I was happy but I was also empty,,, I got a clap on the back and a reminder that "we've got to do it all again tomorrow, with mountains" from the guy I had been chasing for 32km. 
I struggle to remove my shoes, my lips were dry and my sweat had dried to leave a layer of  salt over my face, my legs hurt and I shuffled down the gangway into the river. I walked in and the cool water felt therapeutic on my aching muscles, somebody handed me an Erdinger non-alcoholic beer and it tasted better than anything I had ever consumed before. I got out only by the temptation of tea and sandwiches and I set to work refuelling for the next day.

During the race I ate 4 raw fruit and nut Nakd bars, one 200g packet of dried apricots and I only drank water. I also took 2 fig roll biscuits at the last 4 feed stations and a banan at feed station 3 and 5. I had no gels, no funny coloured drinks and no energy promising over priced bars.
Time and pace: 6hrs13mins39sec Avg 6.02/Km

Day 2: 55km mountain course.
Oh simple thing, where have you gone? I'm getting old and I need something to rely on -

I woke at 5am, my alarm was set for 7am. I was staying in my best friends house, he was racing too (and doing a good job) and we weren't due to leave until 7.50am. I got up and walked around the room. I, surprisingly felt better than I had before I went to bed. I did some yoga stretching and got back into bed. I drifted off and awoke at 6.55am in time to turn my alarm off before it woke me,,, glad I won that race.

We drove to registration and signed in, the top ten finishers from the day before were displayed on the wall and I wasn't on it. The guy I had been chasing all day was sitting pretty in 10th place overall.
Up until that moment my plan was to survive day 2 and make it over the mountain in one piece. Now I had a motivation, pass this guy or the guy in 9th overall. I'd have to beat them by about 4min30sec for 9th and about 2.30sec for 10th place. it was time to get my race face on!

Mount Leinster from afar
Today I wanted to find something, I knew it was out there and I knew I'd find it. The race started and I ran at a much more conservative pace than the day before. I was between the guy in 9th and 10th place. The gap was growing but I didn't panic. We were just about to start going vertical and I love going up hill. 
I closed the gap, we three over took a few guys who had set out at an adventurous pace and were now beginning to walk! We chatted and ran, we walked and we ate, we ran again, walked again and somehow covered the miles. We were going up mount Leinster and the going was tough, some of the incline was at 13%. That means, on covering 100 metres of road you have gained 13 metres in altitude. The legs burned, the running was reduced to a walk and I had opened a gap of about 300m on the guys I was chasing. I reached an aid station at the 30km point. It was hot and I had to refill my CamelPak. My hands were shaking and I fumbled my way through a very simple process. It took too much time and I got more agitated..... I couldn't do it, the two guys had stated the final ascent and I was still trying to rehydrate. @headchefalan wife was at this aid station and she noticed my dilemma, she took over and got me going again with a full water bladder. I was about 500 metres behind the guys I was chasing and had about 2 kilometres before we crested the mountain to catch them. I closed about 400meters but they were about 100meters ahead of me before I started descending. They were with a third person (he was only doing a one day Ultra and hadn't been racing the day before, so not a worry in overall standings) and they were moving. 

By the time I reached the bottom of the mountain they were gone. I don't know how they did it. I tried as hard as I could to descend as quick as possible. I pushed so hard on this uneven bog and boulder ridden terrain that I tore my shoes apart but still these guys opened a gap of at least 1  kilometre. I never saw them for the remainder of the day. However, I had managed to pass the guy who was in 8th place over all. He was in excess of 15 minuets ahead of me so I knew if I wanted to beat him I'd have to go all out. I did! 

My torn 'ass kicks' (Asics)
I ran and ran, I wanted to walk so bad, but I kept running. I was back on the road and I ran all the flat and incline sections only choosing to walk on very steep road sections. I was in "the zone", it felt meditative and I had pushed into a realm of reality I'd only ever been in a couple of time before.

This is the holy grail, this is what we are chasing when we do endurance events. The pain is intense, the muscles are screaming and the body wants to stop,,, but the mind is at peace, the pain begins to feel good and the feeling is euphoric.
This is what you find when you go way, way, way beyond your comfort zone. There are cultures around the world that refer to this as the higher state of consciousness, some others talk about an outer body experience, meditative gurus talk about a higher vibration, where the atoms comprising our bodies are vibrating at such an elevated level that we literally feel a surge of energy that transcends that of normal activity.
It is impossible to narrate in text how to get there or what it feels like but there is one key ingredient, an absolute must in the equation. You must be happy right at that moment! 

Some people suggest that ultra endurance athletes are running from something. Wrong! They  are running to find something. I found it on the last 20km of that run. It is a place where tranquillity washes over you like a soft bathing cloth, a siren is calling and showing a new path and that path seems right. It's a place where energy is free and pain seems to feel good.

And if you have a minute, why don't we go, talk about it somewhere only we know? This could be the end of everything, So why don't we go, somewhere only we know? Somewhere only we know - Keane
Plotting the next goal!
The remaining 20 kilometres of the race were easy and the most enjoyable kilometres I had ran in a long time. I finished comfortably. I had opened a sufficient gap and finished 9th overall, after another competitor in the top ten had pulled out. I was ecstatic my cumulative time was just 2mins slower than last years winning time, however, the previous year had been very hot on both race days. Still I had a goal in my trying and perpetration and it had all played out better than I had expected. 

I ate 5 raw fruit and nut Nakd bars, 200g of dried dates, countless fig rolls and 2 bananas. I drank only water. In the final 20k I didn't eat, I only drank water.

Time and Pace: 6hrs13mins06sec Avg 6.50/Km

I was bitten by the ultra bug and now a marathon seems a little fickle!

My best friend finished too after only rediscovering running in January 2014 after a 5 year hiatus since his one and only marathon in October 2009!!! Big Kudos to you Senan!

Run far, run fast but most of all RunSensible!