Well that didn’t go according to plan!

I’ll get into the detail shortly but for those that can’t wait here is a summary of my participation in the Kings Forest 50km last weekend:

  1. Our household was ravaged with coughs and colds in the week running up to the race and by the Friday I was feeling quite unwell
  2. I knew within 100 metres of the start that this wasn’t going to be the race I’d hoped for
  3. I seriously considering dropping out at the end of lap 2
  4. Rallied slightly in the later stages of lap 3 and through to the end
  5. Despite everything still managed to finish 8th out of 61 starters, in a time of 04:39:52
  6. Completed the Positive Steps Grand Slam, receiving my tankard at the finish line from Race Director Kevin Marshall

Ok there’s the race summary, let’s get into the detail.

Build-up to the race

As I wrote early last week, the majority of my buildup to this race had focused on recovering from The Cumbria Way Ultra, with a bit of intensity thrown in, in a vain attempt to get some sort of speed back into my legs.

I was confident in my fitness and ability to get around the course but wasn’t sure if I’d shifted the fatigue from my legs. As this was likely to be my last ultra of 2015, I decided to go out guns blazing and set myself some challenging time goals.

With a decent 12 week structured training block I genuinely believe a time of around 4 hours is definitely achievable for me. However with my current state of fitness, my realistic expectations at the start of the week was somewhere around the 4:15-4:20 mark.

And then the wheels came off!

With two young boys I’m surprised this hasn’t happened before but early in the week both boys developed colds which as the days passed became hacking coughs. Our lads don’t get ill that often but this week they were proper poorly!

By the Wednesday evening I could feel it in my throat and despite throwing as much fruit and veg down my neck as I could lay my hands on, I headed to bed on Friday evening feeling under the weather and with all indications of it heading south towards my chest.

Race day

I woke at 5am on the Saturday morning and groaned. Boy I felt rough! Any other race and I’d have turned the alarm off, rolled over and gone back to sleep. This however was the third ultra put on by Positive Steps in 2015, alongside Peddars Way Ultra and Norfolk 100. Having completed the other two this year I was up for their grand slam tankard if I completed Kings Forest 50km!

I hauled my sorry backside out of bed and headed downstairs to eat. 4 shots of espresso later with another double on its way I was feeling a little better but far from race fit. Maybe the fresh air would make me feel better? So I packed the car and headed for West Stow Country Park and race registration.

Race Registration

Race Registration

I arrived at 7am and a few people were already there. I got the car sorted, made use of the facilities and went to get myself registered. Kevin Marshall (Race Director) was at registration and we had a quick chat before I headed back to the car to get my kit together and start my pre-race routine.

The fresh air hasn’t done much to lift my mood and my chest felt heavy. I knew that racing was a calculated risk. I’ve run before when suffering from colds etc and have been fine, however with this one now below the neck I was breaking the golden rule for training when ill, plus this wasn’t training it was racing!

I talked in my pre race thoughts about using the first lap as a sighter but rather than this being focused on my pace it now shifted to whether I should continue or not. My time aspirations were now well and truly out of the window and it was all about completing and picking up my tankard.

So a new plan was drawn. Take it easy from the start, run by feel and don’t over extend myself. If in doubt pull out! The beauty of this race was that with a lapped course it was pretty easy to stop at any point as you were never further than 3 or 4km from your car.

I finished getting ready and chatted to fellow competitors, including a couple of club mates across to have a go at their first ultra. John Reynolds, who I’d run Norfolk 100 and Cumbria Way ultra with, was also running and we had a quick catchup before the start. Simon was also supposed to be joining us but it turns out that a heavy Friday night drinking does not act as the best prep for an ultra, even a 50km one and he was no where to be seen. Lightweight! 😉

Before long Kevin was calling us together for the race briefing. The course consisted of four laps of roughly 12.5km (actually a fraction over 13km from the GPS track), starting and finishing in West Stow Country Park.

Race brief for 2015 Kings Forest 50km

Race brief for 2015 Kings Forest 50km

As we had to cross the road shortly after the start, Kevin had sensibly setup the start on the far side of the road. He led us there, delivered his race brief and just before 8am we were off!

Lap One

I knew within seconds of the start that my original set of race objectives were filed in cloud cuckoo land! It was like running through treacle and although I was moving ok, my legs felt heavy and my breathing laboured.

I skipped around a few people to find some space and settled into an easy pace. My heart rate was slightly more elevated than usual for the given pace and it felt like hard work.

The route weaved its way through the trees and was quite sandy in places. Eventually we hit some harder packed forest trails and we could open our legs a little.

Ben and Kyle, my two club mates, were soon ahead and I was happy to let them and anybody else go. This was not a day for hanging onto peoples coat tails and it was about managing my body and getting to the end.

As we continued around the lap I fell in with a group of guys and we chatted about races we’d run and the Grand Slam. I stopped for a comfort break and as we ran back onto the narrower tracks, our group soon stretched out and I was back running alone.

I was carrying 500ml of fluid with me in a soft flask, which I planned to drink during the lap. I had additional flasks filled back at the checkpoint ready and waiting to go and planned to go with a single one for each lap. It was not hot but I wanted to stay hydrated, conscious I was probably sweating more than usual.

Once I started drinking I was happy to carry the soft flask in my hand for the remainder of the lap. This is something I haven’t done before but was surprised by how comfortable it actually was. Although I wasn’t hungry I also ate a single Nakd bar to keep the energy levels topped up.

We crossed back over the road and into the final mile or so to the finish, down an uneven track and around a fishing lake before following the river back to West Stow Country Park and the end of the lap. There was a short uphill drag into the checkpoint and the first lap was complete in 1:04:02.

I still felt rotten and quickly grabbed a couple of cups of coke to try and get a lift. As I drank this, some water and munched on some peanuts I had a quick chat with Ian Foreman who sympathised that this race was shorter than I was used to and encouraged me to go back to the pace I knew and wait for things to improve.

I’d arrived into the checkpoint in 15th place but left closer to 20th after a few people ran straight through. That said those people were all insight in front of me, so I hadn’t lost that much ground.

One lap down, three to go!

Lap Two

It was more of the same out on the second lap and then things started to get worse. I was struggling to hold onto the guys in front of me and nauseousness hit to add salt to the wound.

I stayed off the fluid and food, trying to allow what I had taken on at the checkpoint time to settle. I also pulled out my iPod and plugged in, hopeful this would distract my mind. Nothing like a few comedy podcasts to lift the mood!

The second lap was pretty uneventful and it was just a case of getting my head down and plugging away. I wasn’t looking at my watch at all, so had no idea what my heart rate was doing or how fast I was running. What would be would be and it was just a case of getting the miles under my feet. Each step was a step closer to the end after all!

About half way around I started drinking the fluid from my soft flask, in a vain attempt to remove the nauseousness. I was running on my own for the majority of the lap trying to focus on the podcast and relentless forward motion.

By the end of the lap I was feeling pretty rubbish and at that stage considered stopping. This thought was soon put to one side. I’m not sure whether it was the dangling carrot of the Grand Slam or the psychological benefit of the fact that I was now half way but despite feeling pretty sick on arriving at the checkpoint, I decided I’d head back out on the third lap and see how I felt.

I drank another cup of coke, two of water and munched on some more peanuts while composing myself and chatting again with Kevin Marshall. After a minute of two I had gathered myself and headed out for the next lap.

Second lap was completed in 1:10:33 (2:14:35 accumulative) and I had no idea what position I was in.

Two down and two to go!

Lap Three
Giles running on lap 3 of Kings Forest 50km - Photo courtesy of Ian Foreman

Giles running on lap 3 of Kings Forest 50km – Photo courtesy of Ian Foreman

Lap 3 started as lap 2 had finished, running alone with my thoughts and feeling pretty rough. I knew I would now finish as the end was closer than the start but it wasn’t going to be a pretty experience. I continued to chug along, lost in my own thoughts and listening to more random podcasts and occasionally chuckling to myself.

However once I got about half way around the third lap I seemed to find that my legs had got into the running groove. Yes I still felt rough but also had that sense I could push the pace a little.

I met Ian Foreman out on the course, who took the photo above. He gave me words of encouragement about my pacing and that, combined with the sense of groove in my legs, lifted my spirits – thanks Ian, your support really helped!

I pushed on, still ticking over gently and trying to get a mini malt loaf and some water down. I could see some runners in the distance but they seemed miles away and I just focussed on my own running and getting to the end.

I opened and slowly ate a pack of shotbloks, as I was into the final ten miles now and needed to get energy into my legs one way or another. My groove was working and the runners ahead, were slowly coming back to me and as we approached the road crossing I overtook them.

As we ran towards the lake I did a mental check of my body. Was I pushing too hard? Would I blow up on the final lap? Steady on Giles you still have 14km to go remember! I decided to stick with it and see how things went. It was only a mile to the final checkpoint and then one last lap to the finish.

I ran along the river, which was quite pretty and a little uneven underfoot. As I entered the Country Park I actually rolled my ankle in a small rut but it felt ok so I just kept on running.

Before I knew it I was approaching the checkpoint with shouts of encouragement from Kevin and the team. Lap three was completed in 1:13:06 (3:27:41 accumulative).

Final lap

There was no time for messing around, this was it, the final lap. I threw down two cups of water and a final cup of coke. Grabbed a fresh water flask, a handful of jelly babies and peanuts and I was off.

“Only 12.5km to your grand slam” Kevin called after me as I ran out of the checkpoint, which was nice to hear.

I was still feeling pretty ropey as I left and struggled to run and eat my jelly babies and peanuts at the same time. Oh well as before, head down and lets get this done!

There was another runner ahead of me by about 2-300 metres but slowly I was starting to pull him back towards me. The route dropped downhill slightly through an open area that had been cleared, before a left hand turn back uphill into the trees. Suddenly the person in front was walking and as I got close I realised it was Ben from the club.

Quite how I hadn’t realised it was him, especially with his distinctive running style, I will never know! On reflection it was probably because that last time I’d seen him he’d had his running pack on but had ditched this to save the weight at some point during the race and my brain hadn’t seen past that!

We briefly exchanged words as I passed We had just passed through the marathon distance, completely un-noticed by myself and Ben had decided to walk it in from there as was feeling pretty rough. A great effort none the less considered he’d never run further than 30km before that day.

He wished me luck and I pushed on back into the trees. I took a short walk break to get some more shotbloks out but was soon back running again. I didn’t really know how far it was to go distance wise but just kept plugging away. I was starting to need a comfort break but decided that could wait until the finish, no time to stop now!

Up ahead I could see more runners in the distance. Unlike Ben they were still running and as they were so far away I assumed I’d never catch them. However over the next mile they came closer and closer and before I knew it I was passing them and others. Overall I would pass ten people by the end of the lap!

There is nothing like catching people on the home straight to lift your spirits. It also turns the hunter into the hunted and the thought of those people now behind me drove me on, as I assumed they’d be trying to run me back down again.

As I turned onto the track towards the final road crossing I snuck a look back and nobody was in sight. There was only a mile or so to the end and I realised that someone could still come up quickly, so I pushed on regardless.

I crossed the road crossing one final time, thanking the marshals for all they had done. As I approached the lake I lapped my first runner who was very gracious and got out of my way as they heard me coming.

Onto the path around the lake and I lifted the effort once more. As I rounded the corner I saw another runner ahead, could this be another place or was it another back marker?

It was another back marker and I timed my catch perfectly at the gate, which they held open for me. Thanks Guys!

More runners were along the river bank before me and I continued to pick them off. I still felt pretty ropey but the excitement of the end was dulling the pain and I held the pace.

As I ran into the Country Park for the final time I looked down at my watch for first time since lap one and saw it was 4:38 and change. “If I get my head down here”, I thought, “I can break 4:40!”. And so the gauntlet was laid and I set off like a dog out of the traps.

Around the final corner I ran and to shouts of encouragement from Kevin and the team I drove up the hill towards the finishing, stopping my watch on 4:39:52, having covered exactly 52km and in 8th place overall out of 61 starters.

Job done!

Post race
Giles receiving his Grand Slam Trophy from Kevin - photo courtesy of Ian Foreman

Giles receiving his Grand Slam Trophy from Kevin – photo courtesy of Ian Foreman

I’d worried in the final few miles about whether my blood pressure would drop at the finish, as it had at the end of the Cumbria Way Ultra. Kevin Marshall approached me with my Grand Slam Tankard and I was pleased to be able to hold a smile while Ian took our photo (thanks again Ian) and realise I wasn’t feeling faint this time around. Another tick in the box!

I chatted with Kevin and Ian and thanked them for a great race and their encouragement throughout. I chatted with a number of other finishers, including John Figiel who had finished shortly before me and also snagged his Grand Slam. Well done John!

I should take a quick moment to thanks everybody who came up to me before, after and even during the race and was complementary about this blog and the photos I take. It meant a lot to hear that so many of you have enjoyed my ramblings and was a real high point of the day for me.

And there is was, another ultra complete, my fifth of 2015 and the Positive Steps Grand Slam as well. Considering how I felt for most of the day, to finish in 8th place was truly astounding.

I am however left with a lot of regret for not just this race but also Peddars Way and Norfolk 100, which make up the grand slam. Of my five races this year it is these three which haven’t really gone to plan. While I’ve been pleased to finish all three races and overcome demons during them, I also know I could have put in far better performances had I been fit.

What does that mean? Well it means I have unfinished business with all of these races, something I will hopefully start to put right when I line up to run the Peddars Way in 2016.

I unfortunately won’t be running the grand slam in its entirety again next year, as other ultra running projects will take priority in 2016. But I know I will be back as Kevin, Ian and the whole Positive Steps team put on such fabulous races and I would highly recommend them to anybody.

So a massive thanks to Kevin and the whole Positive Steps team for another great race and the recognition of the Grand Slam at the end. My Saturday night beer tasted all the sweeter out of the tankard that’s for sure 🙂

No real lessons learned from this race other than its not ideal, or even sensible, to race when ill – something I wouldn’t recommend anybody tries.

Its been a long years running but now my off season can officially start and I am really looking forward to a few weeks rest with no structured training and running just for fun.

2015 has been a great year with loads of great memories and friendships developed. Roll on 2016!

Positive Steps Grand Slam 2015 Tankard and Medals

Positive Steps Grand Slam 2015 Tankard and Medals

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