Sunday 7 October 2018

Race Report: Mornington Chasers - Regents Park 10K Series 1/6

One week to go to the Centurion Running Autumn 100 race, and what better way to keep things peppy but relaxed than a local 10K race :)

We've entered a couple of race series across the winter and through next year.  A grand slam of 4x 50 mile races, interspersed with 6x 10K races. I ran the last of last winter's 10K race series organised by Mornington Chasers and I really enjoyed it, so when the entries popped up recently for the whole 2018/19 series we got a full series pass each. The first race of which was today.

The mission was "1 hour very very easy" from my training plan, so that fitted nicely with a gentle 10K and we jogged around together, chatting away. The route is a pretty 3.33km x3, mostly through light tree cover around Regents Park with some very very gentle undulations and past the zoo - the residents of which started waking up quite loudly on our second lap. It's a nicely run race with no queueing for registration, free toilets and bag drop, a water station at the end of each lap and a cafe next to the start/finish which is open by the time folks are done running.

We managed to keep things sensible and averaged just over 10mins/mile until I negotiated with my brain that although it wanted to have a bit of a leg stretch, today was not the day for that apart from a little 400m right at the end. So as my watch beeped the 6 mile mark, we opened up the throttle to an easy cruise at 8:20/mile and that felt really good. Bananas (which we declined), flapjack and water at the end before a quick tea from the cafe and a stroll to the tube to go home. Out, raced and home again in plenty of time for a civilised brunch and an afternoon on the sofa.

Thursday 24 May 2018

Race Report: Cape Wrath Ultra 2018

The short version - I timed out at CP1 on day 3 after learning a lot about my lack of experience on technical trails.

The longer version...

The Cape Wrath Ultra is an 8 day expedition race, starting near Fort William and ending at the lighthouse at Cape Wrath after approximately 250 miles and 33k feet of ascent. Having run for 10ish days consecutively in the Scottish Highlands last year, covering about the same distance and the same elevation, I had a romantic idea that this race would be the same thing again but just with less weight on my back and slightly longer days to cover it all in 8 instead of 10 days.

Day 1 of the race was pretty fine. A bit too much road for everyone's liking, but nevertheless not far off what I was expecting at all. Camping with 7 other women in a huge tent was less scary than I thought, too. I was 5th into camp from my tent and in just under 5 hours so I felt pretty good about how things were going.

Day 2 was a whole different ball game. With the forecast being for rain and wind all day, we all suited up in waterproofs in the morning and got pretty cold and with numb fingers within the first hour. I don't remember a huge amount about the route as it was all along boggy trails, stream courses and on trails where the trail wasn't visible, so I had to pay attention to the ground pretty much the whole way. Also there was a lot of wet boulders and in the final section around the edge of a loch, some scrambling over and asking the edge of rocky "paths". I felt anxious on behalf of anyone who would be covering that section in the dark later, as it was I made it in to camp a good hour and a half ahead of the course closure for the day. There were a few who didn't and were retired from the race.

So it took me 14 hours to cover 35 miles and 6.5k feet of ascent, but it was the descent that was hard on my legs and the frequent clambering over wet boulders and loose rock. I wasn't feeling great in my head and had a chat with some of the race staff about the likelihood I'd get around day 3 in the allowed time. I was facing 42 miles and a shit-ton of ascending but someone who'd done the race in 2016 told me that it wasn't as difficult going as day 2 had been so there was a good chance of being quicker. I went to sleep unsure of what I would choose to do in the morning.

Day 3 dawned and I started out just as if I was going to head out for the run. I had some breakfast for once and packed up my day bag with water and snacks and set it into the sunshine (and very cold wind). The first section was a lot of uphill over very easy ground, so it was hard work but very manageable. We then came up over the top of a lower gap between two peaks and over the other side to descend down again. This is where it started to get hard.

The route was along what looked like a wall of boulders that had been placed to stop something from sliding down the mountain (see the first picture in this post - zoom in a bit). The problem was that the path to follow was over huge, loose boulders with big gaps in between. Prime territory for snapping an ankle (or trekking pole, it turns out) or twisting a knee pretty badly. This is surface that I've really zero experience on, so I was really really slow and I started to lose a lot of time. Then once we were lower down and I'd long lost sight of anyone else, the trail wasn't visible on the ground and some of the route was off-trail in any case. So I wasn't amazingly fast on some of this section until I passed one of the other runners and found it a lot easier to navigate due to not needing to look at my feet all the time.

I crossed the wide river further down than was recommended on the route, but it was a lot shallower there so I was fine with that choice. At this point I thought that passage point was the one with the 11:30 guidance time and I was right, but I didn't look at the time yet. I was demoralised still from the previous day and the earlier rocky sections and I think I'd checked out in my head already.

However, I carried on making progress towards the next CP, which had a hard cutoff of 12:30, still having not checked the time, but making easy ground. The route passed a camp site at that stage and for the first time in 3 days I really really needed a poo right now. However the camp site wasn't publicly accessible, so I couldn't use the loo. I had to find some tree or bush cover and I was, of course, now in a populated area. So I kept an eye out along the short section of road and spied somewhere I could hide for a swift one. Yes it was nettley and brambly and I got scratched and stung but at least I didn't crap my shorts!

Literally 300m down the road from that quick pit stop was CP2. And a 12:30 cutoff. And if I'd run it, I would have just made the cut off. But I didn't really want to, so I walked on in and when the race staff apologised for having to stop me, I was actually grateful. But at the same time disappointed and ashamed.

From the way the race was publicised, it had never crossed my mind that it would be this technical. So it never occurred to me that I'd need some more mountain skills than I have right now. I thought it would be a tough and honest load of climbing and running on trails which would give me a decent challenge but I'd get around within the time allowed and be wrecked at the end. In reality, it's really not that simple.

Folks who did well in this race were either mountain and/or fell runners or adventure racers with a lot of experience. And I think the race publicity is a little disingenuous not to be more clear about the terrain and surfaces and skills needed to be successful with this race. Yes they are clear with the distances, elevation and that you need "mountain skills" and to be self-sufficient. But, in my opinion, that's all too vague and encourages folks to enter who range from a bit under-prepared to fairly dramatically under-prepared. I like to think I'm more towards the earlier end of that spectrum. It's a pretty expensive race (logistics, equipment and staffing really kinda justifies the cost), though significantly cheaper than MDS, for example, it's still a fair old chunk of cash (even if you're not one of the Malaysians, Japanese, Australians, or Americans who came over to race it) and a race that's not without personal risk and I think there's more responsibility to be taken by the organisers on this front.

I'm coming away from it with a mixture of shame at my own lack of experience, disappointment at not finishing, and a little bitterness that the conditions were not made more explicit. I don't like being beaten and I want to be better at this stuff, but I also want a fighting chance to prepare for it, which I don't think I quite had here.

Time to rest and relax a little, with some active recovery, and think about what I want to do next and whether Race Across Scotland is still what I want to be doing in a couple of months.

Sunday 4 February 2018

Race report: Regents Park 10K

First race of 2018; woohoo!

Mornington Chasers run a 10K race series through the winter season and I wanted an early race for this year to kick things off, see where I'm at with my speed work and just have a bit of fun really. At £19 for non-affiliated runners (£17 for affiliated) - chip timed and free bag drop - the February one seemed like a bit of a no-brainer really. Regents Park is so close to where I work and I know the park pretty well so it was easy to get to from where I live and a familiar set of paths and scenery.

Registration and facilities (free toilets, and changing and showers for a fee at the Hub Sports Centre) opened at 8am for a 9am race start, so I had to get up at 6am to get a good coffee in, let that work its magic (*poop*), feed the cats, make a travel mug of tea to drink on the tube and head out. And I nearly didn't get out of bed!

It was *freezing* and I was snuggled up warm in my duvet, really not wanting to get up. But as I checked out how my coach did last night at Rocky Racoon (100 mile trail race in Texas), I saw he'd smashed it and come 3rd. That was the little bit I needed to tip the balance in favour of getting up and out.

Regents Park is quite pretty. I mean, it's a park and quite a big one so it's got a bit of head start on pretty, but there are lots of landmarks (see above), trees, sculptures and the zoo.

The race route was 3 laps of 3.33km each and it's virtually flat - very tiny incline and very tiny decline. My 10K PB was set in 2011, and my most recent quick 10K in 2014 at 52:38 and I was struggling with setting a sensible goal for today. I got a grip in the end and talked myself down from "PB or you may as well not have bothered". Having been building up my speed recently, I took a marker session from 2 weeks ago where I had to run < 9mins/mile for 40 mins after a warm up, and I'd held 08:40/mile for the 40 mins. So what I wanted to do today was to hold 08:40/mile for the whole race, which at that pace would be just under 54 mins. There were pacers for 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 mins so I wanted to be between the 50 and 55 min pacers and not let the 55 min pacer overtake me.

Knowing my brain, I set my watch to just record and not pipe up every mile with my mile pace. That meant that if I was off pace I wouldn't just throw in the towel and ease off to jog it in. I really am not good at making the best of a pace that's less than my target, so if I remove that information I'm more likely to just keep the effort up. And that worked really well! I ended up in a small group of ladies who were approximately the same speed and just tried to hold on to them as we leap-frogged a few times.

I got a bit grumpy at one point when a "helpful" coach from the running club at around the half way mark let us know that we were on for 54-55 mins finish. NOT HELPFUL! I lost heart momentarily and then spent the next few minutes persuading myself that he was probably a bit out and not very good at maths.

I picked it up at the 2km to go point and hoped I'd not over-cooked it. Having gone a bit too early at the Chase The Sun 10K on Wimbledon Common in the late summer last year, I was a teensy bit worried I'd just fade in the last 800m or so, but I was OK! One of the other ladies had a sprint finish in her and she stormed past the rest of us, which was lovely to see :o)

Over the line for me and BOOM!

Thank you very much; I'll take that! 53:25 (race results official time 53:21, so even better! Though it's currently incorrectly showing me as FV35 category rather than FV45.) And the first time I've seen a VO2 Max of 50 :o) 54s off my PB, but so much has changed since then!

08:35/mile average for 6.1 miles (though Garmin and Strava say it was 6.24 miles and 08:34/mile). Very happy with that! And finishing right at The Hub cafe meant tea and some eggs were immediately available for brekkie. Perfect! (The Hub is also a sports facility with free toilets and changing rooms/showers for a fee.)

So glad I got out of bed! Thank you Mornington Chasers! This is a lovely, small and low key race. 330ish runners and a good distance to spread out over so no congestion on the course. I'll likely be back for some more :o)

Little bit of post-race stats analysis:

  • Cadence was nice and high, but started a bit too high and dropped off over the 10K (pink line in the middle)
  • Heart rate was a bit wrong for much of the race; optical monitors don't do well in the cold, especially if you're carrying some insulation. (red line at the bottom)
  • Pace (graded average, taking into consideration the elevation changes) actually increased across the 10K. (So either my warm up wasn't long/good enough, or I actually undercooked the pace from the start by a few s/mile.) (purple line at the top)