Monday, 6 February 2012

Pilgrim Challenge 2012

So I had signed up to this race planning to get some 'multi-day' experience in with Lotte as part of our preparation for Transalpine this September.   The format is 33 miles out along the North Downs Way (NDW) on day 1, then back along the same route for day 2.  I had mixed experiences of the event; definitely well organised, but last time had got seriously lost 6 miles from the end of day two and a little bit lost on the first day too. I was however confident, having run the majority of the course since, that I would not make the same mistakes again!

After a reasonable 6am rise, Lotte and I had some breakfast (stewed apple mixed with whey protein and coffee with grassfed butter and coconut oil) and drove down the the start near Farnham.  On arrival it was a chilly -7, which caused all the portaloo flushing mechanisms to freeze solid. Fortunately I had already answered the calls of nature before I left, so it was not an issue.  I was cosy and warm in my huge Nanok down jacket from my polar kit and didn't really want to take it off to load into my bag (to be transported to Merstham - where you camp in a school hall overnight)

Over the last three weeks I've been part of some research at the British Olympic Medical Institute, and so have had a 48 hour exercise ban pre-testing before Friday morning each week.  As such most of my training has been weighted towards the weekend.  Having done little since Tuesday, I snuck in a 30 min run on Friday night to stretch my legs out a little.  They were feeling good, having also got in 7+ hours of hilly double run days last weekend in Exmoor on the challenging coastal terrain, I had high expectations for the weekend ahead.

My partner from Transalpine in September (Chris Jenkins) was also running.  He had made his excuses claiming to be woefully under-prepared and had also mentioned a slight knee niggle over the last few weeks,  He had rested and wanted to see how it went on day 1, hoping for the best but expecting the worst.

We all set off together in the 9am 'runners' start as opposed to the 8am 'walkers' or 10am 'elite runners' start.  I knew we would be fast enough to start in the 10am group, but it was good to get off and finish a little earlier (I had my eye on the big crash mat at gym Oli and I had bagsied last time we raced).  I suggested to Chris and Lotte we get to the front of the pack to get onto the narrow sections of trail ahead of the majority of runners so that we could go at our own pace.  Its amazing how much you can get held up running behind people you think are running at your pace.

I decided to carry the route card just in case but was confident enough to know where I was going from memory.  Sadly it turned into a bit of a runner's tour as soon enough 8-10 runners had latched onto our group expectantly waiting for the next turns where the route wasn't that clear.  I can't say I overly enjoyed running in a large group, but it was interesting to see how people will hold onto a pace, even if it wasn't right for them.  The running was good, with the trail frozen underfoot - it was relatively fast going.

After about 20 miles, the group started to thin out considerably as perhaps the pace was too high for some.  Just as we reached the top of box hill, Lotte mentioned that her knee was causing her some problems. About a 7/10 on the pain scale. She reluctantly soldiered on though, torn between stopping and having to wait for an age to get a lift to the finish and finishing and maybe doing more damage than necessary.  Chris and I stayed with her, and she held a good pace despite the discomfort. One of two displays of Carritt-hardiness this weekend.  When you run a long way, it is sometimes difficult to tell what is an injury and what is your body just telling you that it thinks you are an idiot. I think no matter how much you do, running a long way will inevitably ache.  You may think those elites aren't hurting, but I bet they are, they just happen to be going faster.

After we passed the last checkpoint with 3 miles more or less downhill to go, Lotte began to focus on the end (or perhaps everything started to hurt more so as to balance the pain) and her knee didn't seem to be bothering her so much, we held a good pace in to the finish 5.28.  About ten minutes quicker than when I had run it a couple of years ago (although that year I had been a little delayed by mis-navigation).  This was however good enough to put us about 30th out of 180 odd runners and Lotte 4th lady (I think).  As the running was over, she immediately cheered up too (not that she was grumpy at all).  Personally I had felt quite tight and cold most of the day, never really finding much flow and was glad for it to be over.

We all showered and Lotte and I got a quick massage before heading to the pub to watch the Rugby with Chris.  We were going to head back to the school for the main dinner, but settled on the 'fancy' dinner away from the busier canteen.  The real ales, steak and quiet bar unfortunately proved a little too appealing - and before I knew it we were walking back through the snow, 4 pints of Doombar happier.  Perhaps slightly merry, I still then tucked into the pasta dinner at the school and some apple crumble as we listened to James Adams talk about how he had run across America last summer - inspiring stuff.

I awoke after not a very good nights sleep.  Certainly not made any better by the 4 pints - not the best recovery tactic. The snow was much deeper than I had thought.  Just in case any of you haven't seen enough crappy pictures of snow, here is one Lotte took on race morning.  We were in the 'late' start initially at 9am. But due to the weather they decided on an 8am mass start and announced the fact as we leisurely strolled back from breakfast at about 7.35am.  Giving us about 25 mins to pack up and get ready.

This time with the snowy conditions I suggested it was even more important to get to the front at the beginning, since the compacted snow would get even more slippy underfoot.  Sadly however after no more than 200 yards, Lotte straight away mentioned that her knee was causing undeniable problems.  I offered to pull out with her (still somewhat apathetic and groggy-headed to the day ahead).  She however declined and walked back to the start alone.  Difficult, but certainly the right decision - which as I have mentioned before in relation to Chris' withdrawal from Transalpine, I believe is often the braver one to make. "Any fool can suffer".

Chris and I then pressed on now almost at the back of the field.   For the first three uphill miles, it was at times tricky to pass the slow train of runners gingerly making their way up the single tracks through the snow.  Soon enough however we had fully warmed up and I started to feel good. I had none of the tightness from the day before and I was starting to enjoy myself. Chris tagged on well, just behind me for the majority of our way along the single tracks to the first checkpoint.  Most of the checkpoints had been moved to the more accessible main roads, obviously hampered by the snow.  The first one, frustratingly had been moved about half a mile down the road, forcing you to do an out and back to get to it.  I was however glad to see a couple of runners I knew who had about 15-30 mins on us from the first day just a couple of minutes ahead.  One of whom was wearing some Hoka's.  We settled into a good rhythm and I enjoyed following their characteristic foot prints through the snow.  Despite feeling quite sick for most of the morning (the porridge hadn't agreed with me - or was that the Doombar?) I was confident we could make a time not much more than 30 mins slower than day 1.

It was suprisingly warm thanks to the cloud cover, and slowly the snow around us began to melt leading to random and large clumps of snow to fall from the trees above. Most of the paths were tricky to negotiate with the weight of the snow dragging the branches well down across the paths.  The increasingly slushy snow seemed to be taking its toll on everyone one - it was hard-going, if not beautiful running.

Sadly by around mile 20 Chris mentioned that his knee concern was getting a little achey.  We still carried our momentum until with about 9 or so miles left he suddenly dropped off behind on some runnable descents.  I waited and it was clear he was in a bit of trouble.  I was quite frustrated as I was starting to feel really strong and we were reeling people in up ahead.  We discussed me going it alone, and as much as I wanted to just run off, whats the point in running 60 miles with someone and leaving them just at the end?  I stuck with Chris but we were reduced to a walk on all the uphills. Chris was also visibly frustrated, but determined to finish.  With only 1 checkpoint left, it was going to be faster to walk it in than him wait at the checkpoint for recovery so we trudged on.  With all chance of a 'good' time out the window, it was hard to find a rhythm or the motivation to keep working.

Slowly the miles passed and eventually we came in around 6.38. Probably losing close to 30-40 minutes with all the hobbling.  I still enjoyed the day, and the chance to run in the snow.   Taking the positives, it even provided the odd 'polar-flashback' and a nice sense of perspective.  Of course the delay offered the usual bonus of some extra 'time on feet' too.

Last night I decided on a much more sensible recovery protocol - wine coolers on the feet!

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