Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Near Death Experience

I confess immediately that I'm greatly hamming it up with the post title, but it felt a bit that way at the time.

What I'm actually covering is the race I did on Sunday: the Calderdale Way Relay. Doubtless I shall adopt the melodramatic style I reserve for such reports. You have been warned.

The CWR is a team relay event that does a circuit of the Calderdale Way. It's split into 6 legs which are run by pairs of runners and is run under Fell Running Association rules. It's normally held in early December but last year's was postponed so we were really running the 2010 event. FRA rules mean various items such as hat, waterproof coat, waterproof trousers, gloves, map and compass must be carried - even on a sunny May afternoon. Nearly 90 teams entered, principally from pennine clubs who have a strong fell running heritage. The route isn't marked and you're expected to recce the route beforehand so you'll know your way.

I ran leg 6, the final leg of 10.3 miles.

These events are difficult to organise, not only for the organisers but also for the team captains as there are invariably drop outs for injury/illness in the days and weeks before and this year, with the revised date, there was a clash with other events, not least the Leeds Half Marathon. As a result, it wasn't until Saturday evening that I knew who I'd be running with.

Tim, my partner, is a little faster than me but we have our own relative strengths and weaknesses. He ran Brighton the same day I did Paris and I finished 6 minutes faster as he too struggled with the heat but his good weather PB would be nearly 20 minutes faster than I ran last month. Over shorter distances he'd have the edge and his fell running over the winter meant he was far better equipped for uphills than I was but I was able to switch off on the downhills a bit more than he was.

There had been some heavy rain overnight and the morning was muggy and threatened more but by the afternoon and our 2pm start, the temperature was touching 20c and sunny.

My Race
The first three miles of the route undulate up and down but the main theme is definitely downhill. That meant that despite there being a number of delays for clambering over lots of stiles (sometimes waiting for other runners first)and some difficult footing, we kept to a pretty brisk pace and a glance at my Garmin told me the heart rate was already well up. At this stage we seemed very well matched as a pair and were steadily passing other runners (as well as being passed by a few I suppose).

Mile 4 is largely uphill and includes two quite long and certainly steep climbs. Again, we seemed well matched here and once more were passing others on the climb but I think it was at this point I started to feel the effort. I got up the climbs OK but felt shattered at the top and didn't feel a huge amount of recovery on any following downhills.

Mile 5 included another steep climb, that was steep enough near the top that everyone had to walk it, but was mainly downhill into the town of Brighouse, before a flat mile 6 along the canal. Here we got into a good rhythm and seemed to pass several more pairs of runners.

Then we hit the point I dreaded.

The next two and a bit miles took us from the lowest point of the route to the highest via two rough trails through woods. The distance is almost relentlessly uphill, the only exception being a demoralising 50m descent that offers little respite and feels like it takes away a good chunk of the elevation gain you've just made.

I'd ran this section three times before and invariably struggled with it. The first climb is shorter at little over half a mile but is very steep. We ran the first part of this but I soon had to concede to walking. A glance at the Garmin told me my average heart rate was 170bpm, only 8 below my nominal maximum - and remember this was the average, and I felt a tingly pins and needles type sensation in my hands and arms. This scared me and I slowed to the walk. If I hadn't had the Garmin data I might have pushed harder/longer but it added a note of caution.

This meant that Tim finished the first hill ahead of me and probably got 30s rest while waiting. That created a bit of a vicious circle for the next hill as he was better recovered before starting it. It also meant about 3 pairs of runners that we had previously passed on the canal were able to go past us (or me).

The second hill certainly isn't as steep but it does feel endless. At first we ran close and passed another two pairs of runners but before long I was feeling wiped out again. I tried to keep going by just concentrating on counting steps for a while but another look at the Garmin showed an increase in the average to 171 and that played on my mind meaning I began to walk as Tim slowly jogged further ahead.

Eventually, after being passed, I managed to get back to a shuffling jog for a while but might have been able to get going earlier. Up to this point I could see several pairs of runners ahead that I felt we'd have the basic speed to catch and pass in the last mile and that was my plan at this point.

At the top of the woods we rejoined road for about 1/4 mile more climbing and this felt marginally easier but I still felt absolutely shot through. However, I also knew (or at least thought I did) that that was the end of the uphills and hoped that a good downhill would see us gain ground on those in front, maybe pass some, and leave us feeling fresher in order to use our flat speed as we had previously on the canal: to pass others in the last mile.

As soon as we hit the flat I accelerated and soon caught Tim as the long steep descent into Halifax kicked in. Here, I'd been banking on my ability to run faster down hills than others would allow themselves to would give an advantage but we seemed to make no real impression on those in front. Some were only 20m or so ahead but the gap just didn't close. My guess is that either we were now running with a better class of experienced fell runners who could match the downhill speed or my legs were fatigued enough that they wouldn't let me switch off and fly as much as normal.

As we reached the bottom we rejoined the canal and from here I remembered the route as flat. I suspect that by this stage I was sufficiently exhausted, and the distance to other pairs was (in)visibly great enough that I accepted that there was little chance of catching many if any other runners. I'd certainly taken a first look over the shoulder to check that we had some breathing space ahead of the next pair so maybe that indicated the change in mindset.

I also recognised that my legs were now a limiting factor in terms of other ambitions. I knew my calves were pretty much gone (from the uphills) and that their weakness was affecting my gait, and therefore speed, on the flat but the final long downhill had got my itb and quads screaming at me too.

I'd been running alongside Tim from the start of the descent but when faced with a virtual u-turn in the path I walked around it and when we came to a right angle turn up 6/8 steps I walked again and he pulled a few metres ahead once more. From here on I again felt like the weak link but kept breaking down the distance remaining into minutes remaining to make the effort feel more sustainable and I think we were both running pretty much at the limit then and maintained the distance between us to the finish.

In the final half a mile we left the canal and were close behind a pair of ladies from a local fell club. We managed to go past them quite soon and I felt that would break them but as we headed towards the finish there was quite a bit of support from their club and I guessed that was lifting them, feeling they weren't far behind at all by the delay between our passing a point and the noise of their passing the same one.

The final 120m or so were up another steep track and it was a real effort to push hard up there. My guess is that the ladies behind eventually broke, possibly when faced with the prospect of catching us on the hill, and finished 15s behind us.

At the finish I dropped my hands to knees with a few seconds feeling of nausea but other than that felt OK.

I've had a few varied thoughts since.

Overall, I was just happy to finish in one piece but when I checked the results I was pleased to see we were (relatively) the second most successful of our six pairs, but irked to note that if we had been just 12 seconds faster we'd have moved up two places, and a minute faster would have had us move 2-3 places further still.

That left me wondering if there were any points where I might have been able to push just a little longer or harder and also lamenting my relative slowness on the long steep climbs as I felt Tim maybe could have got home quicker. Then again, it might be that without the little breaks Tim had when waiting for me he may have been weaker later on. Ifs and buts.

What it did underline though was that my post Paris weight gain certainly will have costs us 2 places and probably more as hauling an extra 10lb up hills is bound to take its toll. Also, it ably demonstrated the point I noted last week about the specificity of marathon training. In other words, that many months of LSRs and tempo runs along a flat canal don't prepare the body for a medium length but very hilly race.

However, there's nothing I could do about either of those factors on the day and any sense of self recrimination was soon put into perspective from the heart rate stats.

My nominal maximum heart rate is 178 bpm, yet by the end I had peaked at 191 bpm and averaged 173bpm. Whilst that tells me my maximum is higher than might normally be expected it also demonstrates that I worked damn hard. Even using 191 as a new maximum that meant I averaged over 90%, pretty much at the peak of lactate threshold pace. On the day, I couldn't have done much if any more.

On that basis, its pat on the back time and I have the knowledge that I'll benefit from the workout both physically and, even more, mentally.

Calves and itb are still sore today but I'll manage a recovery jog tonight and bizarrely, after a week of rest during which there was only slight improvement, the groin/hip flexor pain has all but gone after the run.



Athena In Trainers said...

Well good for you for giving it your best shot, those hills can be brutal. And how fantastic that you write down all the details of (and lessons learnt from) your runs like this. It's very nice to meet you!

Running Rob said...

You too AIT!

Its fair to say I put tha anal in analytical when it comes to pawing over the details...

FatToLean said...

well done. am knackered reading it.

BabyWilt said...

Pregnant AND nearly dead .... not a good combo Rob :-)

Awesome effort by the way, well done.

Maria said...

Like you say, it was a good workout, and you had not spent months preparing for a hilly race, but a slower marathon (not that you run it slow, but slower than you would run this length race). So take the positives.

Alison said...

"Even using 191 as a new maximum that meant I averaged over 90%, pretty much at the peak of lactate threshold pace. On the day, I couldn't have done much if any more."

That's all you can hope for on the day. Like you say, the specificity of training and the weight are things that can only be addressed in the longer term.

Loved the race report, as always :)

~Jessica~ said...

The groin pain went during the run but hadn't improved much prior to that despite rest? Oh, I am pleading with the running Gods that that will happen for me tomorrow. It's my last hope, although hopping on my right leg is just horrible, so I'm scared it's a stress fracture.

Anyway, your race recap rivals Maria's 20-miler. Only she just pips for the top spot with the mention of bunny rabbits. But I love your analysis, and your reflections on your performance (in which I'm glad to see you're not *quite* as hard on yourself as you usually are. I still think you blame weight gain for everything excessively though but I know how insecure extra lbs can make one with regard to...err, everything. But particularly running. I still reckon it's psychosomatic and you lack confidence in your ability due to the weight issue, rather than it directly being detrimental. And yes, I have read the articles, but I tend to think the difference in performance is more marked when it comes to people tipping the overweight end of the spectrum, which you ain't pushing by any stretch of the imagination even at what you consider to be tubby).

Still sure you want to hear from me via comments after that?

Hope recovery from the race is going well: marathon training blasted my 10K pace too so I think it's really difficult unless you have a background in track to focus on both at once (middle AND long distance. Half and marathon are perhaps more do-able)