What a great start to my Grand Slam challenge; having come so close to beating that 20-hour mark last year at my 100 mile debut, I was confident enough to tell everyone that one of my goals for the 2015 season was to go sub 20 for 100 miles.
My season started back in November, when my family were away in New Zealand and I took advantage of the extra hours available and consistently logged solid swim, bike and run training. I also slept like a king with no small child around. By the time I arrived in New Zealand in January, I had a solid base of good quality training accumulated and was excited to be there for their summer, knowing I had places for both the Tarawera 100km ultra and the Motatapu off-road marathon, races which I thought would contribute to my goal of completing the Centurion Grand Slam.
Being in New Zealand was awesome; it’s not every year you can take three months off work. As an avid fan of cross-training, I was gutted not having my bike with me but I did the best I could swimming in the local 50m pool and of course running in the Porthills of Christchurch (stunning views btw).
Both my races there went really well and I got back to the UK with just over six weeks left until the Thames Path 100, as well as feeling fit, healthy and injury free.
The Race – Despite this being my third 100-mile ultramarathon it was still nerve wracking being at the start line, it’s a long way to run for sure and this year with the added pressure of telling everyone that I wanted the sub 20.
I didn’t have a pace in mind to start the race, but once the gun went off I quickly settled into a 9:30 min/mile, the plan was to get mile 51 in Henley on Thames in 9 hours. I keep those sort of splits going except for a little walking every now and then until mile 25; then my body automatically chose a 10min/mile pace which lasted until Henley. I made it to Henley in 9h03min, but to be honest I hadn’t been enjoying myself from mile 30 and I think I know why. In hindsight, I got it wrong with my race plan, I broke the race down in my head to arrive at halfway then run from aid station to aid station. In future, I will do this from the get go, psychologically it’s much easier ticking each station off.
Well, I got to Henley on target and with my body in one piece; I quickly changed shoes, grabbed some food and started from scratch. I was expecting the weather to rapidly change at this point, as heavy rain was expected but luckily it held, it started to cool down though which suit me fine. I felt great all the way to Reading and managed to get there without the need of using a headtorch. From Reading onwards everything is a bit of a blur, but I do know that this is where my race really started. It’s where my body was telling me to “walk more”, but I was on a mission to run to the next aid station. What I remember was that I was constantly telling myself the following: ‘you have done a great job so far, you’re tired but you can run well, run to the next aid station where you can be rewarded with some food and a bit of walking’, and that is pretty much what I did all the way to Oxford, milestone by milestone, with little rewards as incentives, things got harder of course and although everything hurt it was the right kind of pain and I could still maintain good form. It was a battle between body and mind, run if you can, walk if you really have to. I kept reminding myself of the great six months I’d had, how great my diet was, about all the good quality sessions I had put in and the many early nights. Spotting some head torches up ahead was a great motivator to keep pushing and I picked up other runners bit by bit, just like I had last year. In 2014, I remember arriving in Abingdon (mile 91) in daylight, however last weekend it was still pitch black so I knew I was well on track for a sub20, but hesitated to start celebrating that early, a bad patch or a twisted ankle could quickly put me back.
When I entered Oxford and left the trails behind, with just over a mile and half to go I was finally able to relax, with a new energy in my legs and raced to the finish line with my heart in my mouth. I got the job done in 19h14min, smashed my sub20hrs goal with a 53min personal best and got my highest race position, coming in 12th.
It was such an amazing weekend and I have to say that I can’t wait to do it all over again in 5 weeks at the South Downs Way 100. A massive thank you to Centurion for putting immaculate events and to all those volunteers that give us this opportunity, I always say, no volunteers, no race!
An added bonus is that this week I realised that I now have enough points to qualify for the Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc 2016 (which my wife is obviously delighted about…).
Commitment to Health and Fitness –I have made a lifelong commitment to being fit and healthy, I not only plan on really enjoying retirement when it eventually comes (sorry kids, you’ll have to wait for your inheritance) but, I also want to silence those that say that I’ll need a hip replacement or I’ll have no knees left by the time I’m fifty.
As you have probably noticed, (if you ever read my blogs) is that nutrition has become one of my passions, I’ve read and experimented a lot and these days I believe a healthy diet boils down to two things…control of blood sugar levels via metabolic efficiency and the balancing of fats. While it may sound a little scientific, the reality is that if you eat plenty of fresh fruit and colourful vegetables (not potatoes or corn), good quality meat, poultry and fish and wide variety of healthy fats and stay away from refined carbohydrate/sugar and highly processed vegetable oils you are a few steps ahead of everybody else.
When it comes to training, we runners have a very big ego and the reality is that if you’re competitive you probably do a fair amount of ‘speed training’ or intervals every week. Races starting from half-marathon distance and beyond are almost 100% aerobic, so it would make sense to train your aerobic muscle fibres too, right? Yet I witness the majority of runners I know, training week in week out anaerobically and performing intervals, with his type of strategy the risks of injury and overtraining are high and in my opinion the rewards are very small. So called “speed work” can be an important part of a training programme but at the right time and level. I have been using Dr. Phil Maffetone’s aerobic training method for nearly two years now and I not would change it for the world. Whilst I train a lot slower then I used to, I keep surprising myself with my race performances like the one last weekend. The Maffetone Method as it’s called is all about training those aerobic fibres that we heavily rely on in long events.
While Dr. Maffetone’s method is well known in the endurance world (he coached both Stu Mittleman and Mark Allen to multiple race wins and world records), I see athletes misinterpretation of its use all the time. Not only that, if you follow Dr Phil’s ideas you will also notice that aerobic training is only part of the story, healthy dieting, sleep and overall stress management are key too. I’m a big fan of Dr. Maffetone and if I have any training secrets then you can easily find them by reading his books or checking his website!
One last thing, to make my Grand Slam challenge more meaningful and rewarding, I have decided to raise funds to benefit a UK charity called EAVES, which specialises in helping women whose problems include being subjected to domestic violence, abuse, slavery or forced into prostitution, etc. Obviously there is lots of suffering involved in running 100 miles four, but nothing compared to what some women have to go through in their lifetime.
It would mean the world to me and if you can spare any amount towards this cause via the link below. Many thanks! www.justgiving.com/braziliangunner