Monday 30 July 2012

TR24 - Solo

Adidas Thunder Run – Race Report
TR24 is a 24 Hour (well 25 actually more on that later) race, made up of as many multiples of a 10K off road circuits as you can manage.  The field, 2200+ is largely made up of teams of 2-8 runners with at least a 100 hardy souls going solo each year.

The tagline for this race ‘Less Track More Field’ caught my eye initially thereafter the attraction was twofold:

  • It seemed a safe test of my mental and physical ability to run and finish long Ultra’s before committing to a point to point 100 mile race
  • The festival of running ‘feel’ to the event was a good way to get MRS and MISS S involved in one of my running adventures

Training and Preparation
The return to a 3-4 hour daily commute has really impacted my overall training I have yet to settle into a routine that accommodates the:

  • 50+ weekly miles
  • 2 gym strength sessions
  • 5 gym core sessions

I would ideally like to be following. What mileage I have achieved has lacked structure clocking too many ‘junk’ miles.

Looking at GPS data my weekly volumes have been between 35 and 40 miles for the last 8-10 weeks.  Few if any ‘long’ training runs however some good distance covered in races Jan – Jul with 50 and 40 mile ultra and 3 marathon finishes.

In the immediate build-up to TR24 Coniston Trail Marathon, a couple of trips to the Peak District and a 28 mile race recce provided some longer runs however no real ‘back to backs’ were achieved, a staple of my usual training schedule.

One of the great elements of this race, logistics could not be simpler, turn up with your tent, pitch it in the field adjoining the Start / Finish straight and you are good to go. You can camp from Friday evening to Monday morning should you wish.

I opted to set up the tent Friday PM as I pretty much pass the venue on my route home but not to occupy until Saturday AM. Race starts 12PM Saturday.

Should I enter again I will almost certainly avoid the solo campsite its proximity to the start / finish and therefore the relay pen, meant that my support team were subjected to 24 hours of incoming to outgoing relay runner shouts, the solo camp was also positioned so that it was a thoroughfare to the start finish line with pedestrians seemingly engaged in a who can bang the portaloo door hardest competition. There were much better spots on course that were perfectly quiet overnight.

Equipment and Nutrition
UltrAspire Handhelds x 2
Salamon XT Wings 5 (unused)
Saucony Kinvara 3
New Balance MT110’s (unused)
Nuun electrolyte tablets x 6
GU – Espresso Love Gels x 2
Hammer Perpetuem (orange vanilla and latte) x  5
Hammer Perpetuem Solida x 1.5 tubes
Cold pizza x 1
Selection of sweets and biscuits

Technical briefing at 11AM with start at 12PM, sensible pen system based on road 10k results meant that the runners from larger relay teams there to compete were not impeded by runners adopting a more moderate pace.
I started at the back of the pens with the other solo runners, we chatted nervously up to the countdown and set off conservatively with a little bit of mutual back slapping.

The course was truly off road, only a tiny fraction perhaps 800m was on packed trail the rest is open fields of grass and forest track. The course crosses the same ridge several times per lap adding an unexpected element of climb (8500ft over my 14 laps).  The very well thought out route weaved through the camping areas at least 4 times providing terrific support through each 10k lap. The support and encouragement of resting relay runners and the crowd as a whole will be one of the strongest memories of my race.

The course was tougher than I expected the grass areas were mown but not short so the grass dragged on your shoes, the good weather in the days before the event left the ground very hard indeed, crossing the same ridge several times a lap added a decent amount of climb, there were lots of switch backs particularly through the rutted, rooty, rocky forest paths. I have already seen a pretty good shiner on a competitors blog following a one sided fight with a tree and its root. It made for a great course and diminished some of the mental challenge of running the same 10k loop multiple times.

Given the rock hard ground I opted for road shoes over my preferred New Balance MT110’s on reflection perhaps the first mistake. My feet moved around a lot in the Kinvara, lack of proprioception had me fighting the cushioned sole and I ended up pretty foot sore in spite of the cushioning as they have no rock plate.  Whilst the MT110’s are a firm ride in hindsight I suspect they would have been the better pick. I developed four blisters, none serious, in matching pairs on both feet on the inside of my big toe and instep. This was simply a result of the road shoes not gripping the foot in the way that trail shoes do. Over the distance developed a very sore left knee, which I would attribute to being a little out of sorts with my shoes. I did plan to swap into the New Balance to see what suited best, I didn’t as I found the ground so hard even through the much more cushioned Kinvara however regret now not doing at least a few laps in the MT 110’s as I strongly suspect they would have been a better shoe for me.

My over ambitious plan was to stay out on course in groups of 3 laps for as long as I could to minimise time for stops, simply handing off a change of bottle with my crew each lap. Alternating between Hammer Peretuem and Electrolyte drink to ensure I was fed and watered. Suffice to say putting ‘checkpoints’ a self-inflicted 18 miles apart was not going to be a sustainable approach.

The first two laps of my planned group of 3 were very enjoyable as I got to know the course and realised how much support you would get as a solo runner (the crowd quickly worked out the low race numbers and lack of red team snap on bracelet / batton identified soloists). Lap 3 of that first group took a little more grit than the first two however the thought of 15 mins ‘in the chair’ and some of yesterday’s pizza kept me going.

I headed out for what I planned as my second group of 3 in good spirits. The first lap of which went by fine the second was much tougher and as I tired I decided that a pit stop was the sensible choice, deciding to pit every second lap from here on.

Beware the chair! If I felt tired on the course I felt totally knackered sat in the chair it was still early in the race though and my spirits were good so headed back out, with a little trepidation at feeling so tired at just 50KM.

Soon found my feet again, the restorative power of last night’s pizza and some salty crisps having done just the job. I continued alternating Hammer / Electrolyte rigidly sticking to a 600ml bottle per lap.  Supplementing the Hammer with water at the drink station just after 5KM (Hammer is a very pleasant drink but not refreshing in the way water is). On the Electrolyte laps I was eating Hammer solids to try and keep to matching the 300 calories per hour I read somewhere that the body can metabolise during endurance running . Whist not unpleasant in the mouth they are by no means a fruity ‘chew’ rather closer to flavoured chalk tablets that need rinsing down with plenty of water.

All of this and the rigidity with which I was sticking to it led to far too high a consumption of fluids.

This became apparent as having happily passed through 60KM during laps 7 and 8 I felt rapidly and increasingly uncomfortable. My stomach was in such discomfort it dominated my thoughts. My throat for some reason was raw and sore I found swallowing anything including water extremely difficult, I abandoned my drinking and eating ‘strategy’ here.

In a do or die moment at the end of 90KM I opted for a very small burger, crisps and two handfuls of Haribo, this lead to what I see as the second crucial mistake. I had planned a quick turnaround and back out to bag 100K in what would have been 13 HRS instead with stomach rather distressed dealing with the burger, crisps and Haribo I retired to bed for an hour.  

Having kept the food down, the last I was to eat, I headed out reasonably refreshed. My crew now though were a little worried I was therefore instructed to check in every lap.

I ran the next 4 laps without too much incident calling in for my usual pit stop with 130km done, I drifted off to sleep whilst my wife fetched a can of coke (another do or die stomach moment I felt) and stayed asleep in the chair for around an hour.

Awake again at 9:45 I 'rationalised' that I was lapping at around 1:20 a lap and was therefore only really likely to get in a 14th lap. Decision made in my mind I stayed around chatting for another half an hour and then headed out for my final lap a very nice gentle trot around that would see me in a fit of vanity over performance finish close to the 24 hour cut-off to enjoy the support of the finish line, finish time crowd.

I really enjoyed that last lap but had again made mistakes, I didn’t need the extra half hour stop and could have lapped much quicker than 1:20 with effort leaving space for 2 more laps and a 160KM finish the rules being you can start a final lap so long as you pass through the start finish before 24 HRS and return inside 25 HRS.

I crossed the finish timing mat at a real crowd induced sprint at around  11:37 AM and declared 23:37 14 laps at least 140KM with 8500ft of climb.

Why had I not gone out again when still feeling strong? In part mentally I had prepared for a 24 Hour race and just couldn’t get my mind to accept volunteering to stretch this to 25 HRS. 

Further having spent the 14th lap almost euphoric at passing each section and landmark for the last time, thanking in great earnest the marshalls and supporters who had encouraged me over every lap I just didn’t find the spirit to do an extra lap which would require me to be back in 1:23 to avoid missing the 25 Hour cut-off. 

I do really regret that missed opportunity, how much sweeter would lap 15 have been knowing I had pushed myself to stay out there! 

All in though very pleased with at least 140KM (I heard lots of chatter that suggested the laps were in fact long at closer to 6.5 miles / 10.53 KM, perhaps wishful thinking as that would take my total to 91 miles).

Judged against my race aims of building confidence to enter and finish a 100 miler and to bring my family a little closer to my main pastime, TR24 was a fantastic success.

I think there were a couple of key learnings firstly that mental strength needs training alongside physical strength and secondly to take a more relaxed view to hydration and fuelling I was simply trying to be too clever with my Perpetuem / Electrolyte strategy, had I eaten and drank what I felt like when I felt like it instead of to a schedule I may well have done better.

Specific to the event I will pick my camping spot much more carefully in future and make sure I make the most of the opportunity to try different shoes to see what suits best.

Still not drinking water, just the thought of it turns my stomach not all is lost though as wine and beer seem to be sliding down just fine.


Anonymous said...

Wow what an achievement, I did it as part of a. Team of 7 and was feeling pleased with my 3 laps. You solos were awe inspiring well done.

Unknown said...

Thanks for reading Fortnightflo! Well done you too, can't be easy putting laps in so far apart being part of a large team.