The Wye One Way 50 mile ultra marathon marks the halfway mark in my training towards the Lakeland 100. How I faired in this event would indicate whether I should even contemplate standing on the start line for the L100. In the weeks leading up to yesterday, I worked hard to down play the importance of the run, trying to convince myself and others that it wasn't important, it was just a training run, it didn't matter if I DNFd or if I completed outside of the 15.5 hour cut off.
I spent last week preparing my kit, packing and repacking my bag, assigning rough times to reach each check point, getting in the required nutrition and hydration for on route . I even took care over my diet and hydration in the days leading up to the event - something I never bother with (I have a reasonably healthy diet anyway), but this signaled that this really was a bigger deal that I was letting on.
So, race day arrived and I stood on the start line with a load of blokes who looked the part and not needing a third hand to count the number of female competitors. There must have been about 50 of us in total (if that many) and I spent some time eyeballing the field, looking for someone with a beer belly, or someone who looked a bit out of shape. Someone who would keep me company at the back of the field. But everyone looked lean and mean and it dawned on me that I probably fitted the bill best and was offering reassurance to others who might have been concerned that they could come in last.
The start gun sounded (it was actually the race organiser shouting) and we ran off towards the claggy gloom hanging over the hills of mid wales. When I left the house the evening before to camp at race HQ, my daughter said as I was going through the door, "Mummy, just run as fast as you can so you can come home as soon as possible". And this sums up my race strategy nicely. My aim is always to get to the end and get it over with as soon as I can within a bearable pain threshold. I don't ease into this frame of mind gently, enjoying the first half then kicking into business mode to finish off. No. I set off with a clear focus - get it done, get it over with!
We ran off and the front runners disappeared up and over the first hill and were probably home by the time I reached the 4th hill. I spent a very short amount of time giving myself the usual pep talk - I'm only competing against myself, this is about pushing myself to achieve what I thought I might not be capable of, a personal test and that easing off at any time would be fine. But the voices from the group following me up the first hill reminded me that this was a big pile of steamy BS. There was no way they were going to pass me, and that bloke just ahead...I was going to pass him before we got to the top if it killed me.
The checkpoints rolled by and at each one I was up on the time I had predicted. There was plenty of opportunity for running so I could make up time for my slow ascents on the downhills and the flats. At about half way I wanted to end it, but I made a deal with myself to run as far as Builth Wells (35 miles) and make a decision about whether to pack it in, knowing that there would be no way I'd quit with just 15 miles to go. Further encouragement came from the fact that at this stage no one passed me, but I passed people - very pleasing.
I ran all but the last three miles of the race on my own when I shared the light of my Petzle with a guy whose head torch had failed, but this suits me. I train on my own, so I build up appropriate mental strategies to deal with the rough patches in my own head. I tend to vocalise all the negative stuff when I'm with people and that makes the negatives seem more real, so it can be detrimental to me and, I'm sure, to the poor bugger who is stuck with me. My mother claims that my loner tendencies are a result of the antisocial genes from my father's side of the family kicking in - maybe. I'm comfortable with it after 40 years.
I don't have much to say about the countryside we passed through. It is beautiful, there are a huge number of birds of prey overhead, but there was misty, low cloud for much of the time and by the time it had cleared there was a fog inside my head and my focus was set on the bottle of chocolate milk that sat waiting for me in the fridge back in my van. I knew it's exact location.
The outcome was very pleasing for me. My legs were strong throughout and I was very comfortable running right through to the end. I was slow on the ascents as usual, so need to keep working on this, and crossing a calf high, proper, real river at 9 miles wrecked my feet, so the pain was becoming hard to manage by the end and this would have scuppered any attempt at a longer distance, so I need to work on foot care.
The only other things to note were that the Clif bars were very good - will use again. I also carried 2 slimfast milk shakes which were fab when my stomach was a bit iffy. Slimfast would be my race food of choice, but i'd probably need to sort out a small trailer to transport all the bottles across the distance. I also stopped using the SiS Go electrolyte tablets after about 20 miles because they were upsetting my stomach, so plain water from now on.
Overall, I had a good day out. I didn't find the distance anywhere near as tough as the L50, mentally or physically. The L50 was without doubt tougher under foot and had an extra 1500 - 2000 foot of elevation, but this was an excellent event and it offered a significant challenge. There was enough elevation to make it testing (7500 ft ish), there was an early river crossing to mess with your feet, and competitors were required to be completely self sufficient (other than for water).
I finished in 12 hours 45 minutes - maintaining a solid 4 miles an hour across the whole course.
As for whether I feel qualified to stand on the start line of the Lakeland 100...the jury's out.