Sunday, 27 April 2008

1.5 Peaks - Learning the Hard Way

Well there's a first time for everything and yesterday was it. My first (and hopefully last) DNF.

The promised low cloud and rain thankfully failed to materialise to be replaced by the most unpredictably weather ever. Is the sun going to break through or are the promised clouds going to appear? What to wear? In the end it was shorts and long sleeved Gore top. Half a mile into the race and the sun was burning me up on the climb up to Pen-y-ghent (ascent 465m). I'm wearing my old Adidas Swoops. Last time I wore these I tore a calf muscle towards the end of a race. I put this down to not having used my orthotic insoles. So this time I had them in the shoes.

Lesson #1: Never use new gear or untested gear in a race.

I'd only used the insoles in these shoes for 40 mins prior to the 3 peaks raceday. Going up Pen-y-ghent I could feel my toes rubbing on the front of the shoes. Not good. Looking at them afterwards it's pretty obvious that the heel cup on the insoles pushes the foot forward about 5mm. I didn't have 5mm to spare in those shoes.

The 3 Peaks course comes back on itself after the Pen-y-ghent summit so we mere mortals got to see the front of the race as the elites came down. The two Bingley Harriers runners who had ruled the 3 Peaks roost for the last 5 or 6 years, Andy Peace and Robb Jebb, had company this year (due to the internationals here as the 3 Peaks was hosting the WMRA World's Long Distance Mountain Challenge). The first woman was also way up front.

Coming down off Pen-y-ghent I did my usual and passed half of those who had passed me on the way up. Obviously they didn't learn about gravity at school. Nutritionwise I was carrying plenty of isotonic drink and energy gels. I was taking a gel every 20 minutes as recommended but the drink was a bit sickly.

Lesson #2: Make sure you get the mixture right in your drinks.

In making up my drinks I'd over filled the powder and ended up with an 8% solution instead of my usual 6%. It'll be alright I thought but it was not nice to drink.

The route from Pen-y-ghent to Whernside is a 7 or 8 mile slog over undulating tracks, bogs and fields followed by farm track and road for a couple of miles. This wasn't kind to my feet and as I was running along the road with my toes subconsciously curled up I could feel my calf muscles tightening in that 'turning to wood' sort of way they do just before they tear (I'm getting used to this feeling having done it three times). I decide that if there's any massage service at the Ribblehead control I'll get my legs seen to. Needless to say there wasn't so as I fill up my camelbak with the drink I'd forwarded to the control, I massage my muscles myself. They feel a bit better so I set off up Whernside (ascent 440m). After crossing Winterscales Beck the trudge starts.

As usual on any uphill section I start to get passed. This time it gets a little worrying as those passing me look a lot like the tail end charlies you see in most races. I though I was carrying a little surplus weight (I'm currently a very heavy 12st 10lb) but some these are decidedly unfit looking. Something's up I think as my legs get weaker and weaker. It was a weird feeling as I feel I've plenty of energy but no strength. Lactic acid? Then, about two thirds of the way up, just before the really steep (hands and knees steep) bit to the summit, my legs cramp up. First my calfs then, as I try and straighten these, my thighs. Not good at all. I take some salt to see if that works but to no noticeable effect. The cramps return whenever I try to move uphill. I check my watch to see that I've got an hour to get up to the top then down to the Hill Inn check point.

Lesson #3: Take heed of warning signs. I'd been having cramps in my feet at night for a couple of weeks prior to the race and took no notice of them. Some mineral imbalance may have been the cause.

Decision time. I either keep going and try to make the cut-off and then still have Ingleborough to climb, coupled with the risk of doing my calf muscles some damage, all followed by a 200 mile drive home or I cut my losses, learn from the experience and live to run another day. I've never not finished an event before but maybe I'm getting a little wiser with age and I opt for the bail out. So, I get the waterproofs on (cramping up more in the process) as I'm starting to freeze in the wind, and contour across the face of Whernside and pick up the race route descending down to Hill Inn. On the way down I get more cramps including one in my inner thigh. Very painful and unusual. I got talking to another runner who's also packed in and a spectator who offered us a lift back to the race finish.

I'm at the finish to take a picture of my mate Dave finishing. "What kept you?" I ask as he leaves the finish tent bedecked in his Yorkshire slate finisher's medal. "Nice trip in the drop out bus?" he asks.

Lesson #4: Prepare properly. After resuming training in February I found that I could run hilly 20 milers in the Chilterns feeling strong at the end and with no after effects. This gave me a false sense of security so I didn't bother putting in the necessary training.

All in all some lesson's well learnt. I need to do a bit more research on the cramp aspect but most importantly I just need to get more quantity and quality back in my running and show a bit more respect to a decent race. Loosing a stone in weight wouldn't go amiss either.

And the race result? Well the Bingley lads didn't win this year. A young English guy by the name of Jethro Lennox won. In fact the first three didn't appear in the list of elite runners in the race programme. Jebb and Peace came 4th and 10th respectively. Billy Burns, a regular on the Jungfrau Marathon podium finished 8th. Of the 25 elite runners listed in the programme only 4 made the top ten.

I'll be back.


aquaasho said...

File it under the "lessons learnt" category Mick!

Mick said...

Yeah. Big lesson(s). It's good to fail now and again.

Umberto said...

Look at it this way: you have not finished something really tough! Better than not finishing a 5k right? ;-)

Mick said...

Very true words Umberto. If I ever DNF a 5k I'll definitely be taking up golf or basket weaving.