started looking through the internet and trying to get as much information on the route as possible, this was actually quite hard as this was the first time this event was being staged.
There was a route profile and map and a brief description of the route by race director ( Adrian Colwill of Beacon Running ) and that was it so taking nothing for granted a recce was a must. Basically it was a 50K coastal path race with circa 5000 ft of ascent, oh and that's in the first 20 miles!!!! - Nice one Adrian.
I made arrangements to meet up with Ben Cox of Trail Ferret ( A North Devon Trail Running & Endurance Camp Specialist) and headed down to Devon two weeks prior to the event with a pace strategy in my head. I won't go into to much detail about the recce but I was late getting down there and we ended up running half the route in the dark and having a few issues along route, not to mention a high humidity factor. - see Ben's blog for more
As we headed out of Hartland all I can remember Ben saying to me was "if you've got a pacing strategy you can forget it" and he was pretty spot on with that comment.
So with first hand knowledge and the revised information in hand I spent the last two weeks working out both pacing and hydration strategies and then having to reduce my pacing as I had an issue fare up with my Tibialis Anterior (TA) on the weekend before the race - (below was the strategy with guessed ascents & descents between CPs)
On Thursday night some TLC on the leg from Jenny and I woke on Friday with no swelling and it being 90% ok - I'm good to go then!!! so I headed down to Devon to meet up with Ben.
We both holed up in a deserted B&B overnight in Hartland which made it a really relaxing start for the day, a bit too relaxing as we both ended up jogging to the start line as the gun went off!!!!!
Pre race food and watering had gone well, race kit was put on - yep, if you've read previous race blogs then you will know that I have a new favourite top, the X-Bionic EFFEKTOR Power Top - a great piece of kit courtesy of Racing The Planet and X-Bionic (please read this in depth review) and as I was sorting out my TORQ gels & bars as the above strategy (Been using TORQ for the last 6 months and have seen a HUGE different in racing performance and recovery using their fuelling & recovery systems) when Mr Cox somehow managed to knock over the coffee pot (it was a sign, so Ben said - see his blog for full detail) and so we nearly missed the start.
Right down to the race, well the strategy was to take it easy and to keep to the above pacing for two reasons, one, due to TA injury and two, to reduce lactate build up / muscle damage from the early on ascents/descents, leaving the legs happy for an increase pace over the flatter latter part of the race - Well that didn't quite happen - for those who know me, I hate sitting back and like to be out front, so after a couple of minutes I was champing at the bit to get away. I did try to hold back, honest, I looked over to Ben a few times, thought no, must keep to the plan, but, then Ben unleashed those damm words "Paul, I'll see you at the finish" that was it, I didn't need anymore encouragement, I was off.
I moved off and caught up with a small lead group (well I say lead group but two guys had really shot off and were no where to be seen, they were flying - Iain Hindes (a legend in these parts, being the race winner in the end) and here I took my time trying to assess the competition (I know, I'm sad, I'm very competitive!!!)
Things were going well, I was in cruise control and trying to take it easy and I checked myself over as I ran and as we came into CP1 the four of us were pretty well on top of each other. This is where the strategy really changed, I decided it was time to push away from the group, so out of CP1 I increased my pace and effort on the flats and tried to keep it steady on the ups. Between CP1 and CP2 (Clovelly) I knew that there was a flatish section coming into CP2 so as soon as I hit it the pace increased again and I came into CP2 20mins in front of pace strategy.
I was given the timings of the lead pair and set off out of CP2 knowing that it was going to have to be a hard push into Bucks Mills (CP3). I had nothing to loose so pushed and came into CP3 in 02:40hrs some 39mins in front of the strategy and had made time up on the two out in front. GOOD NEWS! So I pushed on out of CP3 as quickly as possible and this is where two issues started to come to light.
Everything was going well, I was still making time up and keeping to the revised pace until somewhere around Cockington Cliff I started to get the issue with the right TA and every so often a slight twinge cramp in my calf or quad etc. I must admit, I missed the twinges as I was more interested in the TA issue flaring up.
I decided to reduce the pace and hit Westwood Ho (CP4) in 04:08hrs. Theorcially from here I should have covered the distance to the finish line in 01:01Hr, (still giving a good time) but that didn't happen.
I would like to say it was due to the injury, but that's not the case, you can make excuses, but you can push yourself through pain when you want to, sitting here, I can safely say that it was muscle cramps and this was due to a direct result of me failing to pick up on a crucial part of my revised strategy. I was running faster and harder, I had increased my hydration consumption (all good so far) but I had not changed my gel/bar consumption ( I had stayed at 45min gaps). The TORQ fuelling system has the necessary minerals in them to assist with cramps and I should have been taking them at 30mins intervals.
I only started to realise this mistake after Appledor (CP5), shit I need some salt was my first reaction, I looked for a burger van / café so that I could get some salt (drastic action!!!) but none were to be seen. The cramping was coming in strong now and I started to panic, saying to myself - "F**K I'm not going to loose my position this far into the race" I had to pull myself together and as I walked up past the ship yard I got two gels inside me and crushed a hydro tab (had one tab in my pack) in whatever water I had left, hoping that this would help.
I got back down on to the coastal path following the estuary and I was still cramping so again took another gel, I was mentally working out that I must have about 7 - 10 minutes on the guys behind me and that if I relaxed and took my time walking to let the gels work then I probably had about 5 minutes before they would catch me up.
I moved on as fast as I could and took the low tide option going under the estuary bridge - WRONG DECISION!! (Adrian, might be helpful next time to have some signs out down here) having to re-trace my steps as it was so boggy and as I did this the 3rd and 4th placed runners darted up the pathway infront of me. SHIT!!!!
I had 1 mile to go and could not believe it, this isn't happening, the TA was hurting but I could manage that, I just hoped that getting the mixture of gels & hydro tabs inside me would take effect and so I went from a walk to a jog and went up the pathway into cruise control. I came out of the passageway and turned left onto the road to see Izzy up in front of me and D Mitchell some 100M infront of her.
The adrenaline took over and I managed to increase my pace and took over Izzy and then DM and just kept on running and increasing my pace as fast as I could into the finish in 3rd place with only a minute in front of 4th place, phew!!!...
I was so lucky, I had missed the early warning signs of cramp, hadn't increased my fuel strategy and left it so late in the race to correct it, but, luckily for me the gels did their stuff and at the last minute came through for me.
I'm always learning while racing and learnt two lessons -
1. If you change your race strategy you need to make sure you change your fuelling.
2. Most importantly, never ever give up, even in the last mile, it counts.
Now for some stats;
Race profile below;
Looking at it now, I'm pretty confident that I should have been moving at a 4:30 - 4:45 mins/K pace from CP4 onwards if I'd had changed the fuelling at CP1.
Lastly, I must say that Iain & the guy who came in second (sorry don't know your name) had absolutely stonking runs out there, they both set off at pace from the start and just kept going, all credit goes to them for a constant run - well done guys.