My mind is now well and truly focused on the TDS race in just four weeks time. I must admit that I've had a bit of a mojo loss over the last two weeks, dropping my training back to odd days when I might go for a 30 minute jog. I can't necessarily put my finger on the exact reason why, but there are a number of factors that have come into play.
I think I probably over-cooked the training a little bit too much as we came towards the end of the school term, combined with struggling to recover from digging so deep on the Billy Bland Challenge relay. Throw in a over night Bob Graham support straight from work and a slight increase in training mileage; I should have seen this coming. My hip flexors took a bit of a kicking during this period, so I've been happy to ease right back to allow things to recover.
With a bit of soul searching, I think I've also hit on another factor which might be contributing to a lack of motivation. I've said all year that I am not going to race hard at the TDS. After the DNF last year, I just want to enjoy the day and complete the route. I don't mind any runner beating me; if they are faster than me on the day, good luck to them, but I hate being beaten by a course. I need to tame the TDS course. So far this year, I've done a number of competitive races or challenges which have maintained the fire in my belly, suddenly I'm saying to myself that this is not a competitive outing and I think that this might be impacting on my mojo at the moment.
Having said all that, the last couple of days have been better and I've enjoyed my easy runs out. Suddenly, someone has flicked a switch and I'm all excited about the day out in Chamonix.
With that in mind, I thought I'd have a look at last year's TDS results and think about my pacing for this year; I want to be a bit slower over those first few hours. I made a note of my splits for the initial few legs and, just out of interest, thought I'd take a look at what the winner did over those same few legs. The first two legs were pretty much as you'd expect when you contrast an old git like me to one of the world's top ultra-runners. However, the next section; the first serious climb of the race up to 2603 metres, boom! I was one minute QUICKER than the winner. That will go a long way to explaining the dramatic implosion that occurred in the following few hours. I was digging so deep and now I know why.
I always enjoy a bit of analysis so started pulling up some other race results, particularly those where I've had some serious problems. What about the Hardmoors 110 a few months ago? After a steady start, I ran the section from Ravenscar to Saltburn in about 5:40 hours. I did some (admittedly rather basic) calculations based on the winners splits (Jason Millward, who smashed the course record) and estimated that he ran the same section in about 5:28 hours. This is with Jason aiming to become the first person to run sub 20 hours (which he did with an amazing run) and me hoping to run about 23 hours. Too fast meant that I arrived at Saltburn feeling pretty grim and struggled for many hours after that.
During the Hardmoors 60 last September, I remember having a surge in pace from Sandsend to Robin Hood's Bay along a particularly fast trail and road section. I haven't got splits to compare, but I do remember pushing the pace at this point and then having a real problem an hour later which led to a battle over the final few hours.
Add in the ridiculous pace I started the Keswick Mountain Festival 50k last year and the Billy Bland Challenge relay from a couple of months ago where I ran with a 170bpm heart rate for 2:40 hours and, again, imploded.... I am spotting a trend here.
Over the last couple of years, there have been a number of races where my brain has been writing cheques that my body just cannot cash.
A few years ago, this was never going to be a problem; I had turned myself from a fairly fast runner in races up to 90 minutes into a diesel engine that could run all day. That has all changed over the last 24 months where I've really worked on my speed. There were a number of reasons behind this: it should enable me to maintain a steady ultra pace for longer as it should feel easier, less blood will be diverted to the working muscles when at the slower pace meaning my digestion should be better and finally, if I want to increase the run-all-day pace, I have to push up the ceiling of my flat out pace first.
During my apprenticeship years as an ultra runner, I didn't have this turn of speed. I just started at an easy pace and kept it going, appearing to race a strong second half of the races, overtaking lots of other runners. In reality, this simply means not slowing down as much as everyone else. I had no ammunition to add in mid race surges. Now I have that ammunition but I'm not using it wisely.
This has been quite a revelation for me. The speed work I've been doing has obviously made a big difference to my racing, giving me this extra ammunition but I have to question the way in which I've been using this ammo. When setting out to improve my basic speed, I had specific reasons for doing this and a plan of how I was going to implement this in races, however, I seem to have veered away from this plan during races. This has certainly not been a conscious decision, but I must admit that I have enjoyed running faster in both training and racing.
What I need to do now is get back to doing what I used to do well; hammer out a strong second half to a race. I've got two more ultras to race this year; the TDS and the Hardmoors 60 and I really want to execute a good race plan in the manner I envisaged a couple of years ago.