It would be pretty disingenuous of me to use this blog to talk up when things are going well only to conveniently omit the more difficult days on the trail, so here I am (albeit briefly) conceding that my race a couple of weeks ago at the Calderdale Way Ultra didn’t really go to plan. And yes, for once, there was a plan.
After a fairly smooth build up to the race I was feeling pretty confident and looking to score a top three position. I wasn’t carrying any injuries, I felt fresh, I had reccied the second half of the race. I had the world’s best support crewing me, my wife. Heck I even had GB international runner Marcus Scotney in my corner. I was good to go.
The pack set off at a crazy pace through undulating woodland. A group of about eight of us splintered away at the front, and by just a mile and a half into the race this had whittled down to a front four. I heard ‘Time for me to walk’ and ‘This is too much for me’ from surrounding runners in the opening fifteen minutes, and couldn’t help but wonder exactly what they thought was going on. Two guys ran out in front, whilst I sat happily in joint third place a couple of hundred metres back.
We whistled across fields, roads, tracks and woodland. Whilst I wasn’t particularly blown away by the route (too much tarmac) it was certainly pleasant and continually undulating. There was always a moderate climb or descent going on to keep things interesting.
Sailing through the first checkpoint and on towards Ripponden, at twelve miles we were flying. The pace was a little brisker at that stage than I had anticipated but I felt good. The front two had extended their lead to a couple of minutes but I was confident we would make that up once we hit the big climbs later in the race. I held firmly in joint third. But at about fourteen miles, having briefly got lost, my third placed companion dropped me on a forested climb. I didn’t feel quite right. Once I reached the top the problem was compounded by my stomach, which had very quickly ballooned on the way up. Distended and uncomfortable, I was forced to drop the pace as I tried to play catch up.
I shuffled in vain over open moorland as we approached the Ripponden CP. Third place became a phantom on the horizon and I started to have concerns about those behind me. The more I ran, the more bloated I became, and I could feel the pressure building and pushing on my diaphragm. I was getting very anxious.
I sat down at the CP for a couple of minutes and took stock. Nic talked me down and we resolved that it was just a bad patch. So I carried on. My stomach bulged, cartoonish, and my legs were wooden but I persevered. Having topped out at the highest point of the day, the subsequent descent felt brutal on my stomach, and the pressure on my diaphragm became a burning sensation. Nic met me at the foot of the descent as we couldn’t get the van up to the final CP. I sat down again. Changed my shoes. Told her that this pain was getting much worse. I must have already mentally given up, as I remember even being slightly amused by it all. The calmest mania. She convinced me to at least get to the final CP, and so I got up and began the lonely trudge up to Withens Reservoir. By this point I couldn’t really run at all, my stomach was far too distended.
Once I reached the reservoir, I told the officials that I was done. I was here to compete, but my body was failing me in spectacular fashion. I wasn’t entirely convinced that I wasn’t doing some sort of lasting damage. A calf strain, or a twisted ankle, those I know. They are tangible. You slip or fall and pain ensues. But here my insides were wrecked, I didn’t know why and it was definitely getting worse. I was angry, frustrated, but most of all, clueless. DNF me.
So that’s it. I had planned on sitting in around third place at the final CP with plenty in the tank to attack the last section of the race and push for a podium, but I retired whilst in fourth place, in pain and with nothing left. I walked back down to the van in the rain feeling rather sorry for myself.
Now, hindsight is a great thing. I’m not going to debate the whys and wherefores of the day on here as I risk boring even myself. But I would like to think that my race plan for the day was reasonably sound, and had it not been for the irrational behaviour of my stomach a more productive outcome might possibly have been engineered. The splits I have looked at subsequently certainly indicate so, as do my conversations with people that were there. Surprisingly given how it felt at the time, I wasn’t losing ground on third place I was actually gaining, and my advantage over fifth and beyond was holding steady until I stopped just before the final CP.
We’ll never know.
I’ve rested, reflected, addressed the stomach issue as best I can and finally accepted the help of my good friend Marcus Scotney in a more official coaching capacity. So it’s head down for the next few months for a solid and structured block of training and adventurising to set me up for the challenges to come. Out of the ashes and all that.