Respice, Prospice

“Respice, Prospice” is my secondary school motto and is translated from Latin into “Look Backwards, Look Forwards” or alternatively, “Learn from the past, look to the future”

So, it seems like a fitting title to this blog where I’m going to draw a line under the past year, do a bit of analysis about what happened out in Tahoe and the months leading up to it. It was a massive learning experience, some stuff worked well and some stuff didn’t – I’ll do a bit of a retrospective on that too. Finally, maybe a bit of a look into the crystal ball to see what the future holds.

The Tahoe Aftermath

In my Tahoe 200 race report I finished by saying that I made my decision at 06:30 after a bit of rest but didn’t really explain why. I think the reason for that was I wanted to hold off because I wasn’t sure why I quit. Physically I was fine, tired – yes, but I could have continued and had over 55 hours to do less than 100 miles. Looking back on it, the decision was completely unemotional and I felt no regret or disappointment, it just seemed like like the natural thing to do and I couldn’t explain it for a while.

In the 55 hours after I quit, watching the feed of runners finishing and driving around the Aid Stations to pick up my drop bags I still felt no regret. A bit of jealousy maybe towards the end, but no regret or disappointment – and I still feel that way nearly 3 weeks later, so how can I explain what happened? A few days afterwards while hiking through the magnificent redwoods in Big Basin state park things started to come together and have been crystallising since then.

My conclusion is that I’d “done enough” i.e. whatever it is in me that makes me do these things had been satisfied and I didn’t need to go any further, it served no purpose to me personally. I wouldn’t have got any more satisfaction from completing the event than stopping where I did and so I stopped. And in the days and weeks that have passed since that moment I’ve felt greater peace and satisfaction than I can remember in a long time, there’s no “what’s next”? I’m not saying it’ll last forever but it feels distinctively different from when I’ve completed something big like The Bear 100 or even my first marathon…

The way I explain it to non runners is by likening it to that scene in Forest Gump when he’s running across America and just stops and says to the people following him:

I’m pretty tired. I think I’ll go home now

funny-forrest-gump-quotes-21And that’s all I have to say about that…

Lessons Learnt from Tahoe

Next I’d like to take a quick look at some of the stuff I’ve learnt while preparing for a 200-mile, 100-hour race in the mountains. With the 100-mile distance becoming increasingly “normal” I suspect longer, tougher races like this will start springing up all over the place. The Spine, Tor de Geants, Dragons Back are already big races in Europe and I think that with the success of the Tahoe 200 we’ll see more of this sort of event across the pond in the USA. It’s a VERY different beast to a 100-miler, and maybe some of this information will help people looking for advice and experience before tackling the distance.

I was really happy with all my kit and don’t think I needed anything I didn’t have, there were a couple of revelations that will transform my future adventures:

  • Salomon S-Lab Adv Skin Hydro 12 Set: Simply the best backpack I’ve ever owned, comfortable, spacious and I’ve never had any issues with chafing or rubbing. The included 500ml soft bottles are excellent as ever. I was tempted to buy the 5l smaller version but there’s no need really as the 12l version is comfortable even on short runs.
  • Poles: Specifically the Mountain King Trail Blaze collapsible ones. Love ’em or hate ’em – if you learn to use ’em they are a massive benefit. Think of it as the difference between 2 and 4 wheel drive!
  • Sawyer Mini Filter: A little in-line water filter that turns almost any water source into drinkable water! I used it several times to filter water from streams, ponds and creeks that I normally wouldn’t touch. It’ll be in my backpack for every long run from now on.

Clothing was pretty normal, tried and tested… Injinji socks seem to be fairly standard these days and I didn’t need to change them at all. The new Altra Lone Peaks were brilliant for me and coupled with a pair of Dirty Girl gaiters kept my feet clean and dust free.

Before and After 100 miles

Before and After 100 miles

I’d experimented with taping my feet earlier in the year and found this worked really well too and I haven’t had any blisters for a long time. It also seems to help with problems I used to have with sore feet after 50+ miles. I tape my big toe, little toe, ball of the foot and instep with Kinesio Tape Gold – there’s a great guide to foot taping over on Traviss Willcox’s site here

I was OK with nutrition having discovered Tailwind earlier in the year. Certainly up to 100 miles I’m fine with 50% liquid calories from Tailwind and the rest in solid/real food. With hindsight I was probably a bit light on calories at Tahoe because it was a lot longer between Aid Stations than expected, I think one of the sections was 7 hours and I certainly didn’t get 2,100 calories down, (based on 300 cals/hour)

So, here’s the big learning points and what I’d do differently if I ever attempted something like this again, (which I have NO plan to at the moment!)

Sleep: I should have got some sleep in the first 24 hours. My game plan went out of the window because I was running with someone else and I should know better, a lot of people “dirt bagged” their sleep on the side of the trail for 15-20 minutes at a time as needed.

stranded on islandCrew / Pacers: You know that phrase “no man is an island?” well, I like to think that I am, maybe Jersey… What I’m getting at is that I do these big things on my own, solo and unsupported but some things are bigger than me and I need to accept that to complete them I need help!

There may have been one or two people who completed Tahoe without crew or pacers, but they probably had friends and/or family out there with them to support and encourage as needed.

But not me, oh no – I am Jersey, strong and independent and I don’t need anyone to get me through to the finish do I? I had offers of help from people who had excess crew to help me out if I needed it, but it never even crossed my mind as I made that decision at 06:30 up in Heavenly ski resort.

Like I said earlier – I have no regrets about my decision BUT, if I was to do it again – a crew would be essential. Little things like being able to sleep for an hour or two in a quiet, warm car or have someone pop to a shop and pick up some food would make a massive difference after 30+ hours. It also makes the event bigger than just one person and their goal, teams can achieve greater things than individuals?

The Future

Pondering the future in the Redwoods

What next? Pondering the future in the Redwoods

So what happens next? It’s nearly 3 weeks after Tahoe and I’ve done almost nothing of note. An 11-mile hike around the Big Basin state park admiring the Redwoods and a 10-mile jog back in the UK last weekend. There’s been lots and lots of food and drink and I’m getting to the stage where I need to get back out on the trails.

My first resolution was to give something  back to the running community, and so I’m going to do some volunteering at local events I’ve participated in before. Tomorrow I shall be helping out at a 50-mile race, volunteering at a Checkpoint and then sweeping 20 miles. It should be a fun day out and I’m looking forward to it. I’d like to do more of this sort of stuff, it’s a great way to interact with the community and get a bit of a run done into the deal.

I’ve a couple of races booked in October which I’m looking forward to, neither of which will be full-on efforts but more of a re-introduction back onto the trails. One of which is a race I’ve been looking at for a long time and should be a great adventure so look out for a future blog on that one.

The main difference now though is that I’m satisfied, this time last year after The Bear 100 I was feeling a little flat and deflated asking “well that was OK – so what’s next?” In fact, I’ve probably been looking for the answer to that question ever since I started running back in January 2009. I believe Tahoe gave me that answer and I’m grateful for that – it’s time to move on.

My adventure on the South Downs Way earlier in the year was possibly one of the greatest running experiences I can recall, I’d love to do more of this sort of stuff in the next couple of years and am already eyeballing a couple of the national trails as contenders. While I enjoy races, being in that environment means restricting myself to a schedule, route, rules and regulations etc. It also adds a layer of stress which is great if you’re after a time or position – but I’m not these days, and no matter how much I tell myself I don’t care about time or position – in a race there’s always a bit of competitive spirit e.g. “He/She isn’t going to overtake me” or “I bet I can take him down” before the next hill / CP / finish!

But for now, it’s nearly time to get my shoes back on and hit the trails again and you know what – I’m really looking forward to it.

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One Response to Respice, Prospice

  1. flanker says:

    Great blog. Actually more interesting than the race blog in some ways. Some things in there to think about, especially the poles question and that taping the balls of the feet has helped with soreness over 50 miles.

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