Eight weeks ago I embarked on a training regime which had me running marathon to 50-mile distance EVERY weekend. I started with the easy, relatively flat races and built up to the harder, hillier challenges, sprinkled in the mix was a track marathon and a double-marathon on consecutive days. And – before you ask, there is method to this madness… I have the epic UTSW 100 and Bear 100, (Utah USA) lined up as my 2013 ‘A’ races – both of which feature 100 miles and over 20,000′ of ascent!
Today marked the end of the cycle with the CTS Exmoor Ultra. Two years ago I did the marathon version of this race and finished in 6:05. It was the first real hilly, trail session I’d done and it broke me! I couldn’t walk for a week afterwards – two years later, and after hundreds of mountain miles would I perform any better, this time it was personal – I was back, and going for the harder, longer ultra version!
As I said earlier, this was the 8th ultra/marathon in a row – and I’d barely recovered from the Compton 40 a week earlier. The AdventureHub 44-mile Exmoor ultra was also still fresh in my mind, (and legs) from less than a month ago. That was a really tough run as well, nearly 10,000′ of ascent over 44 miles – makes the Fellsman look like a track marathon!
I travelled down to Lynmouth on Friday night as the prospect of yet another 4am start didn’t appeal. The hotel staff in Lynmouth recognised me as a CTS runner immediately on check-in, they offered special breakfast service but as a low-carb, gluten free runner I had my food sorted so told them I’d be OK. Somehow they didn’t believe me when I said I didn’t need porridge to run 30+ miles!
The next morning I decided to grab a few slices of ham and a cup of tea at 7am and chatted to the staff about the day and associated challenges before heading off. The Bath Hotel was apparently full of CTS runners, some of which were questioning the hills after driving down! Let’s just say, it’s very, very hilly – my car has problems on some of these hills…
It was a short 6 miles to the start, including the bonkers hill out of Lynmouth which my car struggled with – I’d be back there a few hours later, the ominous CTS chevron course markings were spotted on occasion!
The car park was about a mile from the start and at the top of a massive hill, once parked I swapped my short sleeve HH top for a long sleeve, decided to go for the wind-proof rather than water-proof jacket and headed to the start. It started raining and I wondered about my jacket choice – too late now, I’m not going back up that bloody hill… I’d also decided to run without compression gear so was in baggy shorts and no calf guards.
Once at the start I registered and was given a nice CTS tech-t, but seriously – why not give us that at the end? Now I have to carry it around with me! I chatted to a couple of lads who are doing the UTSW 100 – somehow I wish I hadn’t… It sounds bonkers!
Anyway, a bit late – we started at 08:35 and off on the first 10k loop which takes you over the highest point on the course and back to the start. A mile in and we hit the first major climb, nice and slowly does it and it’s really comfortable up the 1,000′ climb to CP1 and a great descent back down to the start.
To CP2 it’s another long drag around the cliffs with incredible scenery and some roadwork, I’m still feeling strong and run/walking by feel. We then hit another massive climband fast descent into Lynton before heading back up-and-down to CP3 – you may see a pattern emerging here, up-and-down… That pretty-much sums up Exmoor, it doesn’t do flat!
More up-and-down took us into Lynmouth and through the town with it’s fish and chip shops and pubs…. Tempting! The hotel staff who had served me breakfast a few hours earlier were out cheering which was fab! Another big climb out of Lynmouth and it was back onto the cliff path for some great views.
About here I overtook a chap who I shall call “The Terminator”, he’d overtaken me strongly a couple of hours earlier and I’d finally reeled him in. However, now he was my shadow… If I was running, he was running – if I was walking, he was too… I’m ashamed to say this really bugged me, FFS – run WITH me or not, I’m not going to pace you. I got to CP4 at 24 miles and hung around letting him go on ahead. Let someone else pace you fella…
Onto the marathon point was mainly downhill on fast trails and I overtook “The Terminator” and a chap with a dog! Why do dogs make it look so easy? For us hardcore ultra types we had to do another loop of the first 10k so we branched-off and hit the 1,000′ hike again – hell, it was only another 7 miles…
The weather had been OK up until now, but as we shambled around the cliffs on the final10k things got steadily worse. I pretty much gave up the will to live after around 3 miles into the loop as the gradient kept going up. The runnable trails turned into black mush which my New Balance MT110’s combined with fatigue complained at and sent me slip-sliding all over the place a few times. Eventually, windswept and soaked I hit the final checkpoint with 3 miles to go. I had to scoff 2 flapjacks as my energy levels had plummeted to new lows. It was all downhill from here.
The final 3 miles which I’d flown down earlier were now a treacherous mudslide, behind me I saw that the dog-man and terminator were gaining ground, but I knew I was faster downhill – game on…
Eventually after some ridiculous downhill involving sling-shots around trees and a face plant into a muddy verge I hit the final road into the finish. There were a couple of runners in front – but hey, I’m not that competitive so I let them go and finished just behind them in 6:35 and 15th place.
So – eight hardcore weeks of racing and getting faster and stronger each week… I’ve been very lucky not to be injured and I know I’m treading a very fine line between overreaching and overtraining. It’s now 2 weeks until a return to The Fellsman – 62 miles / 11,000′ – it doesn’t seem that bad compared to the recent training sessions so I’m looking forward to it.
I guess the other interesting point is that today I ran without my normal compression gear, (calf guards / skins shorts) and actually found I enjoyed it more – was cooler and I ran better without them… I must admit that towards the end the fatigue got to me, but this is probably to do with the volume of training and the difficulty of the course.
Rest and recovery until The Fellsman – maybe even parkrun next weekend!