From a training perspective living in a valley can have its benefits. The chance to hit the trails, working on hill running form and developing upper leg muscles in the process. The rolling country roads are also great for cycling, and you can find some great views from the local hills. Living in London for 22 years meant I was a bit limited in terms of hill training. Richmond Park wasn’t too far away and I would use it as much as possible, particularly for the lead-up to Ultra running races. In terms of Ultra racing I considered my hill running form to be adequate. I had developed an efficient technique on the climbs that would keep me ticking over and save the legs for the rest of the race. But this doesn’t translate into the shorter/faster races where adaptation to a more aggressive technique is required.
I was generally feeling (breathing) better in the two weeks following the Cleobury 10km. I’d been checked out by the GP with no concerns, the back was strengthening up again, and the cough had died down. I was looking forward to a decent performance in Ludlow.
(2nd/40+ age group)
350 people lined up for the Ludlow 10km race, organised by Be Endurance. A very hilly and technical 2-lap run around Ludlow Castle and the local Whitcliffe Common hill. A 7pm start in warm conditions and a much more technical and hillier course than the Cleobury 10km.
The pace from the start was quick but manageable. 5:30 for the first mile which included some downhill. If this had been a flat 10km then the pace would have been fine to maintain. But this was far from flat. As soon as we hit the first small uphill to the west of/down from the Castle at 2km I was struggling. And when we started up the infamous ‘Lactic Ladder’ just short of 3km I knew I was going to have problems.
The Lactic Ladder is a 100m stretch of steps/slope that leads up into the woods of Whitcliffe Common, followed by a further 200-300m of rooted uphill afterwards. Such a short section and nothing like some of the long stretches of rocky uphills I’ve had to negotiate in previous Ultras. But there’s a difference – this is at pace. Even with my adopted ‘shuffle’ this uphill section was breaking me. The leader was pulling away and I then dropped back into 3rd as Jamie Shingler went past (the guy who won Cleobury 10km two weeks ago, and would go on to win this race) [see vid]. At the top of the hill I kept the 50m distance between us, and took some risks on the downhill over roots and stone steps. I maintained the gap until the climb up to the Ludlow Castle at 4.5km.
I tried to build my speed back up at the start of the second lap, to create a bit of a buffer before I reached the Lactic Ladder for the second time. Unfortunately they were not far behind, and I dropped to 5th as I started the climb. There was no-one within sight behind me so I contained my efforts for the remainder of the race. I’d have taken 5th before the race. Missed out on my podium moment as they started the awards early while I was still rehydrating in the pub.
As this race was one week on from the Ludlow 10km I had to concentrate on recovery and maintaining form with a few light sessions. Back to back weeks of sprint racing is not normally a problem if you get the programing right, and sometimes a good result in the first week can carry through to the following race, especially from a mental perspective. Unfortunately I wasn’t happy with Ludlow so I had to put it to the back of my mind and concentrate on the next race.
The Shrewsbury 10km was a big race. When I lined up at the front of the race in a street next to the town square, I was unaware of the 2000 other runners behind me. There were a group of Shrewsbury AC runners congregating on the start line and I knew the pace would be quick from the off.
I expected the course to be a lot flatter than Ludlow and I also intended to back off the pace just a little so I was able to hold my position better later in the race, rather than having to fight for it. After a few minutes I realised I wouldn’t be able to stay with the front 4-5 runners. They were on a different level. There was a bit of a gap to a bunch of us running for positions 6th-10th. This group would occasionally break up, particularly on the hills. Once again I was struggling with the up-hills. Other runners were coming past, and I’d be struggling to breathe once the incline had levelled back out. My downhill running was actually pretty good. I would make a few seconds back up.
This to-ing and fro-ing in position continued to around the 7km mark, when I had quite a strange moment. I’ve gone through bad patches before (you tend to in Ultra triathlons and running races). You simply zone-out and wait for it to pass, or take action if you consider it to be as a result of your pace or lack of nutrition, etc. But this was different. My mojo had completely gone and I didn’t want to be racing anymore. Rather than walking back, I decided to drop to a light run/jog. I was mentally frustrated, but at the same time I was enjoying the breather my body was getting. This lasted for about 3-4mins and I dropped a few places to 13th. Once I’d recovered myself mentally I decided to bring my pace back up again, and hold my position to the end. Looking back I probably only lost about 30-45secs overall and a possible Top10. I’m glad I experienced and learned from it, and hopefully it won’t happen again.
The week following Shrewsbury has seen a bit of a mental shift. I’m still only hitting up to 7hr/week training but I’m keen to crack on with more intensive interval work, both on the flat and uphill. There two weeks between the Shrewsbury 10km and Tenbury 10km which gives me around 10 days of intensive training before a short recovery. I’d like to get my Spring form back for Tenbury, and I’ll need it as the winner of both the Cleobury and Ludlow 10kms is taking part. Game on!