Unnecessarily Long Preamble
The fourth week out from this year’s Mourne Skyline was crap. I ran every day, but was drifting just close enough to Having a Cold to jettison any notion of proper training. Heart rate a few beats high in the morning, legs a little bit sluggish, interrupted sleep; had it not been for the bouts of sneezing and the remarkable increase in snot production it would have been tempting to chalk it up to overtraining.
The really frustrating part was that it was never bad enough to consider myself ill, merely Not Quite Right. On Saturday morning I decided all was well again and went out to run quite hard for about two hours. I managed all of twenty minutes before giving in to the reality that my legs were heavy and I was having real difficulty maintaining a constant effort. I packed it in and spent the rest of the day being angry at nothing in particular.
Shaking off that malaise is no mean feat. Once you’re used to getting out of bed in the morning, giving a resigned shrug and plodding around for an hour it can be very difficult to start doing any real work again. Sluggishness gets to be a habit that’s hard to break.
Last year’s Mourne Skyline was the only race I’d ever managed to get right so I had all sorts of grand ideas about what I’d like to do this time round. There was a broad strokes sketch of how those things might happen; much more running over the winter, much more running through the spring, Dragon’s Back, month or so of mucking about and not really training, back to running properly in August, structured stuff through September and start of October and Robert’s your mother’s brother, a sub 4 hour finish, a podium spot and wave after wave of screaming fans throwing their knickers at me.
And most of that kind of happened. Extra winter training was a gimme to begin with, as I only started running in February last year after the best part of 6 months off injured, climbing and planting trees. March through to the Dragon’s Back was pretty good, lots of long days, some living in my car, a few reasonable runs at GL3D and the Fairfield Horseshoe, only marred late on by another protracted bought of feeling slightly shit.
The Dragon’s Back itself was two days of splendour and three days of train wreck, though that came as no surprise to anyone. It’s a race I had been utterly captivated by since first hearing about it in 2012, but certainly not one that I was or am currently all that well suited for.
Post Dragon’s Back, July going into August went mostly as expected; a fair amount of cycling, gradually getting back to running. But this is where the uncertainty creeps in. Whether it was damage done by the Dragon’s Back or rustiness from the layoff afterwards, things weren’t going smoothly. There were days where I felt fairly strong on the bike but running was missing the ease that it had had before, the fluidity was gone and my feet were going round in squares. Cadence was lower, heart rate less settled and I was running around with an even more furrowed brow than usual.
As any experienced, well informed, rational athlete would, I choose to remedy this situation by ignoring it completely and carrying on regardless. And I think it worked. Either that or I’ve just got used to having legs that feel like they’re made of Meccano.
A return to the Alps in August as a support pleb for Martin’s second shot at CCC provided the energising experience of a Chamonix valley running binge, if somewhat curtailed when running turned to The Runs towards the end of the trip.
And the focused, structured, life changing course of tempo runs and intervals since the start of September? Fuck knows. There’s certainly been a good bit more quality work than last year, and some of it has even felt good, but I can’t claim that it’s gone entirely according to plan. On top of the aforementioned week of phlegmy ennui there were six days trudging round the Coniston fells in my winter boots on an ML training course; edifying, enjoyable and a dead loss as far as training goes.
In a no doubt misguided attempt to replicate some part of the build up to last year’s miraculous race I went for a 4 hour run on the Saturday before flying to Belfast. The 2014 analogue was on the Monday so if I had a sub par performance the next weekend I could lay the blame for my lack of sharpness firmy at the door of that superfluous 48 hours of extra recovery. Or, more sensibly, at my complete misunderstanding or misapplication of the idea of tapering.
Still, the three westmost Crianlarich Munros on a glorious autumn day can hardly be bad; sunshine, inversions, Brocken spectres. Leaving aside the muscular abuse in the run up to race day it was a cracker.
In the week before the race, with the training done and my bag packed, it is possible that I was getting a little overzealous in my preparation. Learning the names of hills and memorising splits (47, 120, 132, 148, 216, 228, 236, 251, 325, 344, 412) is not only of questionable value, it may also be a little bit sad. Still, it felt more productive than staring at the ceiling muttering gooutfast?gooutslow?gooutfast?gooutslow?
My legs felt. . .fuzzy. That may have been primed, brimming with energy, ready to run better than they ever had before or it may have been tired, overtrained, inches from injury. I lacked the knowledge or experience to tell. Four hours of abuse on Saturday would no doubt settle things one way or another.
A few days out from race day I got an email from Ryan Maxwell, race director par excellence, asking for a synopsis of my running achievements since last year’s race. This was to help him write up his preview of podium contenders. No pressure then. I thought I’d be kind and save a very busy man a bit of time by writing my section myself. Strangely, he didn’t use it.
Since last year’s race, the only one of his career to date which he has managed to get right, Mr. Beaven’s running has been characterised by a good deal of enjoyment and precious little success. Wonderful winter days in the Cairngorms, sublime springtime double headers on the west coast and a sensational summer road trip round North Wales, the Lakes and the Highlands have been counterbalanced by mountains missed in the murk at GL3D, egregiously engorged feet at the Dragon’s Back Race and lead legged performances at a number of smaller fell races. His long term residence in a three door Peugeot 207, though perhaps in itself commendable, offers little in the way of mitigation for this pathetic set of results. Mr. Beaven is well aware that from a performance perspective the last 12 months have been a total write off and that his inclusion in this preview makes a mockery of the entire thing.
Under grim looking skies, the sight of first a trickle, then a torrent of runners lining up on Newcastle beach, pissing into the wind brought a little levity to what otherwise threatened to be a sombre occasion.
Toeing the start line under the watchful eye of a Channel 4 camera, everyone was trying their best to look like they knew what they were doing. Most succeeded, I failed. As Ryan started his countdown to the start I decided I didn’t want to start with my jacket on afterall. Frantically I hauled it off, no doubt punching several other runners in the process, but then the sleeves were inside out and my bag was closed and my glove fell off and I couldn’t get the bag closed again and ohfuckwe’vestarted.
The gooutfast?gooutslow? conundrum was solved for me by someone, possibly Victor Mound, going out at an absolutely incredible pace. He must have been ten metres ahead after fifty metres, I couldn’t have kept up even if I’d wanted to.
The first half of this year’s race was like the whole of 2014’s in microcosm; around 10th at the first checkpoint, passing a few people on the way over Slieve Bearnagh, climbing Slieve Meelmore with the Lakeland Champions Club of Jayson Cavill and Paul Tierney and running into the support point in 4th.
This was an entirely new situation for me; I knew where I was and, scarily, I knew the front of the race wasn’t far away. At last year’s Mourne Skyline the clag meant I had no idea what position I was in until I was handed the printout of my splits at the finish, so when Jayson glanced at his watch and announced that we were only 3 minutes behind Eoin Lennon et al, I was decidedly spooked. But also encouraged. As a dozen or so runners had disappeared ahead of me up the Glen River Path at the start of the race I’d decided that that was that and I’d just plug away and enjoy a day in the Mournes. Coming into the part of the race which suits me best with the leaders in sight forced a bit of a reevaluation.
In the end the fight for the podium places was essentially decided by the duration and timing of various people’s shit spells. When I passed Eoin Lennon on Bearnagh he was pretty much going backwards and I was convinced I wouldn’t see him again; on the way to Commedagh I was reliably informed that Dan Doherty was burst and I’d catch him really soon; I got to within twenty seconds of Dan before my bad patch, which had been hovering overhead since Hares’ Gap, swooped down and pecked out my eyes.
That’s a bit melodramatic. It wasn’t desperate, just enough of a mutiny by legs and stomach to put a bit of a brake on things. Feeling like I was wading through porridge, I watched Dan disappear into the distance; trudging up Donard, unopened gel in hand, Eoin, back from the dead, came sailing by; swinging my battered appendages over the stile atop the final climb I glanced back to see Jayson Cavill worryingly near.
The descent is a fairly even split between technical, suiting me, and runnable, suiting him, so it would be close. Running down the Glen River Path a spectator shouted that there was someone a few minutes ahead and no-one behind me. Convinced I couldn’t catch Eoin and reassured that Jayson wouldn’t be catching me, I shrugged a bit and plodded for home. A few glances over my shoulder on the lower sections of the descent corroborated the spectator’s assertion that I was in the clear and I came into Donard Park intent on enjoying the run in.
I saw Kim, Jayson’s girlfriend. She clapped. She stopped clapping. She started clapping again.
It turns out the last two miles of fire road were the best part of Jayson’s race and as such a sprint finish was in order. A sprint finish that I had just enough of a head start on to win, but still one that my legs didn’t really appreciate.
4th once more, 7 seconds ahead of Jason. Always a bridesmaid . . .
Looking at the HR graph from the race tells you all you really need to know; a noticeable drop from 3 hours onwards and a sudden spike at they end, partly due to an increase in effort but mostly due to me shitting myself. Leg fatigue in the latter third of the race is probably attributable to going in a little tired, not necessarily overtrained so much as under tapered, and to going a bit hard from Foffany Dam to Hares’ Gap.
Overall I’m encouraged. Last year’s run didn’t necessarily feel like a fluke, but it was certainly an unusually good performance. This time round I think things went alright because I’m fitter than I was, rather than because it was divinely ordained. That I finished the race with six gels left and that five days later my left calf is still tender to the touch demonstrate where things weren’t quite right, but the fact that I still improved on last year’s time hopefully means that I’ve progressed since then. Certainly I feel that this year’s run could be reproduced, or even improved upon, much more readily.
No podium, no knickers, but a decent enough day out.
As ever enormous thanks to Ryan, Justin and everyone else involved in putting the race on. It’s a fantastic course backed up by tremendous organisation, highly recommended.
. . .and onwards to next year. There are certainly changes to be made to the base training I did last winter; keep most of the volume but add a bit more structure, tempo runs, strides blahblahblahblah, no-one really cares.
At some stage there’s also the small matter of finding a job to take care of. . .