I’ve been having a little trouble deciding how I feel about my run at the Lakes Mountain 42 last weekend.
On the one hand, I’m chuffed with my time. My previous run on the course wasn’t a race effort but an 80 minute PB is an 80 minute PB. If you’d offered me 7:13 before the race I’d have bitten off your hand, wrist and most of your arm below the elbow.
On the other hand, it felt fucking awful. Things started getting sore about 4 hours in and only deteriorated towards the finish. On the climb up Helvellyn my quads were crampy and a feeling of weariness set in.
The long descent to Glenridding inevitably made matters worse. First the god awful rocky track, then the concrete road down from youth hostel. Legs, hips, back, shoulders, neck; everything just ached. Running the 2k up the road to Patterdale I wasn’t sure how I was going to cope with the rest of the course. I’d have been happy for the race to end right there.
The Mur de Place Fell at least offered some respite from the pounding of the downhills and the flats. The expedience of the direct line allowed me to stay just a few seconds behind Josh Wade, but as we set off down the other side I knew I was cooked. Although it was something of a relief to see the gap open so quickly, it was still a little frustrating to watch Josh run away at a pace that would normally have been totally reasonable. Only a little frustrating though. The dominant feeling was by self pity.
The last checkpoint at Martindale had some very well intentioned, though ultimately realistic marshalls.
“He’s about 2 minutes ahead.”
“No way am I catching him.”
“Well yes, he was looking quite good…”
Implied: You look shite.
Fighting my way back along the Ullswater Way to Askham Common any notion of competition was gone. I didn’t look forward, I didn’t look back, I didn’t think about positions or time gaps, I just focussed on the long distance runner’s rock bottom performance metric.
“Am I moving forward? Ok, fine.”
As ever, it took frustratingly little time for the misery of the grind to be forgotten. I always feel guilty when I cheer up after a tough race. It’s like I’m undermining the validity of my younger self’s feelings. Yet it was only seconds after I had taken the final steps through the Askham Community Centre broom cupboard (the Lakes Mountain 42 finish is dead snazzy) and slumped down in a chair that I started reframing the preceding 3 hours of death march as a job well done.
There are two stories here. The story told by the time on my watch suggests that overall I’m in decent shape. The muscle soreness story suggests that I’m not yet in sufficiently resilient condition for the stress of long hill races. To run better at Lakes Mountain 42 I’d need a couple more hard, hilly long runs. Part of my trouble on Saturday was being unprepared for the battering you get racing rocky descents and the muscular fatigue of long, steep climbs.
Picking one or other of these stories and calling it the truth would be a missed opportunity; both are equally valid and with these early season prep races it’s doubly important to strike a balance between the two. The whole point is to learn something.
Fit but falling short on specific condition is a good problem to have. It’s a quicker fix than the opposite. With 3 months to Ehunmilak, the focus will be hilly long runs anyway. I’ve identified a problem with a ready made solution.
If anything, a few hours of nasty suffering made it better prep for racing 100 miles. The most useful lesson there is for these long races:
It feels like the end of the world, but it’s not.
P.S. Josh is an animal. He’s going to win Something Big this year.