Firstly, the answer to the question from my previous blog - “Did I get through the ballot and into CCC?”
Sadly, the answer is No…
I’m obviously very disappointed, as it was something I’d been thinking about, planning towards etc., it would have been a fantastic highlight for the year. However, with the huge growth in popularity for ultra running then this sort of disappointment will become more common. The alternative to a ballot is ‘first come, first served’ which also has it’s own drawbacks, not least for those people who can’t be at a computer when entries open. Added to that, most servers can’t handle the sudden increase in traffic that occurs - that was obvious when it took me nearly 30 minutes just to access the results of the draw. On the plus side, having missed out this time I now have a double chance next year, as long as I have the relevant qualifying points.
So, with that news, I had to re-think my plans for the second half of the year. Whilst everyone will have their own ideas how to plan a season, this is how I arrived at my schedule as it is now.
January : Peddars Way Ultra (48mi) - I competed in the inaugural race last year, and enjoyed it. It’s an area I know as I was born and bred nearby, it’s an easy course to follow, with only a few hills, making for a relatively simple start to the year. I find it good to have a race early on for a number of reasons. Following a winter of training alone, usually at night, it’s nice to meet up with other runners. Secondly, it’s good to test how well the training has been going, am I where I hope to be (and am I in front of where I was last year?) with regard to stamina and pace. Thirdly, it’s good to remember how to race - the early start, mandatory kit packing etc, how to judge pace and effort etc.
Normally after a race I’ll take a week off to let my body recover. It’s a reason you’ll never see me taking part in a runstreak - after a race my legs are usually trashed, and I’m exhausted. I see no need to boast that I could run the next day “no bother” - I’d rather admit that I’d given my absolute all on the day it mattered and was struggling to walk for the next 24 hours! I also like to leave at least a month between races. I know many people who race week in week out, but I’d rather have a block of training, race, rest, repeat than be continually moving from one event to the next.
On that basis I should have an event around the end of February, beginning of March. Normally that would be the Grindleford Gallop, a 21mi hilly, muddy trail race run by the PTA for Grindleford Primary School in the Peak District. It’s a fantastic race, with a great atmosphere, and I always bump into people from previous races. Unfortunately in 2015 it clashes with a gig that I have tickets for…in Liverpool! Whilst I’m getting faster year on year there’s no way I could start a race at 10am, and be in Liverpool by tea-time! Sometimes life gets in the way of racing, and I thinks it healthy to let it. I’ve always said music matters more to me than running, so on that basis I couldn’t miss out on what is going to be an amazing concert.
My next scheduled race was then the South Downs Way 50, at the start of April. Unfortunately life is getting in the way again, as my fiancee is off home to Australia for a week for a family wedding, meaning airport collection will be happening in Manchester, when I should be about 20 miles into the race. Whilst it’s disappointing to miss a race I thoroughly enjoyed last year, I’m of the opinion that not leaving my partner waiting at an airport for around 16 hours is probably more conducive to a healthy life!
Other than the fact I’m missing those two, you can see a pattern forming - a hard race, followed by a week off, then with a couple of weeks training, short taper, then into the next race. I found that worked really well last year to build me up to hitting a peak around June, with the previous races having been stepping stones. As it is I’ll be trying something different this year. Following my one week of rest after Peddars Way I’ll go into a block of training that will lead all the way up to the Keswick Mountain Festival Ultra in May. One of the main focuses of that block will be a week in the Lake District (beats staying home alone while Liz jets off to the other side of the world). The plan is for that week to be the biggest I’ve ever done, with daily long runs (mixed in with walking as well) to recce the courses for both the KMF Ultra and the Ultimate Trails 110km Ultra.
So, May features the first of my focus races for the year. I’m aiming to be hitting peak performance for the Festival, as I want to be very competitive for the race. I entered the event initially as I’d already entered the Ultimate Trails race for June, and wanted a shorter, faster, but just as hard (ie Lakeland terrain) event as a warm up the month before, but now I’m viewing them as two separate events - if I hit peak performance at the right time (ie. for KMF) then continuing that peak for the next 4 weeks should be relatively straightforward, and will lead my neatly into my next focus race.
June : Ultimate Trails Lakeland 110km Ultra - funnily enough, this was also entered originally as a trial event, based on me getting into CCC. It has the same distance, and the closest I could get to the amount of climbing while staying within a few hours travelling time. Now that CCC isn’t happening I’m viewing the two Lake District races as my main two events for the first half of the year. July will then feature a quiet (ish) month as I begin the build up to the second part of the season.
August : Peak Skyrunning Race - only just an ultra at a shade under 30 miles long, but very hilly (as befits the Skyrunning UK banner). I had entered the inaugural race last year, but chose not to start as it was in the middle of moving house. It’s going to be a very hard race as it has attracted a high quality field, and it’s a very tough course, but the start is only about 30 minutes from my home, so it looked a good race to begin part two.
September : Ladybower Ultra (50 miles) - another race local to me, and a place I often train, although I usually head up into the moors from the car park, rather than go around the reservoirs. It’s a relatively flat course, a mixture of tarmac and crushed stone “cyclepath” meaning it will be a quick race. This is my focus race for the second half of the year as I’m aiming to do a fast 50 time here. It’s a lap event, meaning I don’t have to carry as much kit, a simple bottle that I can swap out at the main checkpoint, plus a couple of gels/bars.
October : Dusk Til Dawn Ultra (50 miles) - this event looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun. Again, local to me, and using trails I train on regularly. The premise is that the event starts at dusk, and you have until dawn to reach the finish line. That’s just over 13 hours. It’s also being held on Halloween, so there’s threats of spooky goings on at aid stations, and all the time the Grim Sweeper is at the back of the field, taking the souls of those moving too slowly. As it stands this is going to be my last race of 2015 (that’s subject to change if I see something else I fancy doing!) and one that I’m going to run to enjoy.
Hopefully you can see from there a logical pattern? Start with an early race to get back into the swing of things, then build up to a focal point, hopefully hitting a peak at exactly the right time. After that a very short break, followed by a second build up, before another short break, then it all begins again. I pick races based on many things, knowing the organiser is going to provide a good event is very important, knowing that the course is going to be interesting and challenging also matters. On top of that it’s a case of simple logistics (races in the Peak District are easier to get to than those in Cornwall for example), plus where they all fall relative to each other. If I’ve really enjoyed a race previously I’m tempted to go back (especially in build up sections, as it gives good benchmark figure to compare performances), or if a friend recommends a race I’m always interested.
In my next blog I’ll have my first race report from the year - the Peddars Way Ultra…let’s just say it was “challenging”!