Monday, June 16, 2014

I Ran 100 Kilometres ...

and all I got was this lousy medal!

or

I Ran 100 Kilometres ... and gained 2 bloody pounds!

or

I Ran 100 Kilometres ... and had the best time ever!

Ok, I like the last one best. Let's stick with that.

After running very well in last year's 50k and enjoying every single step along the way, I decided that the following year I'd be back for the Big Boys' race. I did waver a few times but finally got the courage to sign up for it - only to find out that it had been sold out! Luckily, they re-opened registration for a limited number of extra entrants and I got it.

The immediate race preparation wasn't all plain sailing either. I had booked a B&B in Portumna for the night before the race so that I would be able to get a good night's sleep and wouldn't have to get up at three o'clock in the morning, but unfortunately my room turned out to be above the bar where they played music until well after midnight and the bed was the most uncomfortable one I have ever slept in, so that effort backfired and I arrived at the start line feeling distinctly sleep-deprived. Having said that, I rarely sleep well the night before a race and it never seems to have any effect on the eventual outcome.

The lesson in Staplestown 4 week ago had been to pace myself a little bit better and I formulated a very simple race plan. I resolved to head out at 8-minute-mile pace (5 mins per km) and hold that for as long as I could, and then somehow make my way to the finish, however long that would take. I had entered my Staplestown race time into some calculators and got an expected 100k time of approximately 8:55, which seemed rather slow, as my initial hunch had been a 8:30-ish finish. However, 50 miles and 100k seem rather closely related distances and my expectations at the start were closer to 9 hours.

Nevermind, 8-minute-miles it was and it sure felt exceedingly easy at the start, easy enough that anything slower would probably have felt awkward. Gerry Duffy ran alongside me right at the start but must have decided to back off a little bit, the painful memories from Staplestown obviously still etched into his mind. At the out-and-back section the 2 Polish runners, Thomas Klimas and Maciej "Magic" Sawicki, were a bit ahead of me and Magic told me to catch up and run with them, but the pace felt a little bit too hard and I decided against it. Thomas had run with me for 7 laps in last year's 50k here before falling slightly behind and finishing a couple of minutes behind me, but had since proven his fine form by finishing second in the 127k Wicklow Way race, giving eventual winner Don Hannon an almighty fright and a real battle. Magic has nothing left to prove either as a serial finisher of the Connemara 100 (miles, that is). I very much expected the eventual winner to be Vasiliy Neumerzhitskiy, the defending champion as well as course record holder, which saved me from fretting about a potential victory and ensuring I could relax and just enjoy my own race.

Two runners joined me, Vilnis Pleite, a fellow sufferer in Bangor's dreadful conditions two years ago, and Andrew Greaney, who I had paced in last year's DCM and who had shared most of the laps in Donadea back in February with me. The three of us were chatting along happily as we made our way around the early laps of the course. The race is held in Portumna Forest Park, a lovely setting, and passed the Marina as well as the remains of Portumna castle on its 5k loop, which we would have to complete 20 times. Because just over 2k is on an out-and-back stretch, you invariably meet all other runners plenty of times, no matter if they are running faster or slower than you. I guess it also makes it easy to see where your rivals are, but that was of no concern to me today.

The 50k started with us, so it was busy right from the go and all the faster runners were doing the other distance - with one notable exception. I had told Billy Holden before the start that if he took off at 7-minute pace once more I was going to kill him; he seemed to read that in a slightly different way and figured that 6:20 pace would therefore be okay. He was well ahead of everyone else and at one point, much too early, (25k? 30k?) lapped our little group and was soon gone again. I was left shaking my head at his pacing tactics.

Vilnis was completely surprised at 25k, marvelling that a quarter of the race had already passed. We all felt as fresh as daisies, though I'm sure nobody was under any illusions that things would remain like that. In fact, it was only about a lap later that I noticed that my hamstrings were getting tight. This was still a bit early to be getting into trouble, barely a third into the race. But for the time being it was still easy enough to remain on pace, even if it meant I had to start working for it. In fact, the pace must have increased slightly as the average pace figure on my Garmin eventually went from 8:00 to 7:57. Having said that, I paced myself by feel, not by watch.

This race doubled as my last really long training run for Belfast and I had one more thing to experiment with. In Connemara as well as in Staplestown my stomach had started revolting at some point and I think it was down to sugar overload from gels and sports drink. I had since done a bit of research on the internet and settled for some new sports nutrition, Hammer Perpetuem. It sounded pretty good with all natural ingredients, plenty of protein and no simple sugars, and I was sold. I got a big tub of Caffe Latte flavour, though Vilnis told me that Strawberry tasted much better. In fact, I was rather disappointed by my first bottle, which tasted somewhat like an incredibly watery coffee and took me 7k to finish, but further bottles went down much easier and I was spared the sickly sweet feeling in my stomach that had bothered me in those previous two races (not that it had stopped me from having a great race in Connemara).

There was some slight confusion at km 40 when Vilnis thought we had covered 45, but no such luck. The other man in trouble was Billy, who clearly started to pay the price for his early pace. He would have run a great marathon in about 3:05, but unfortunately he had signed up for the 100k. By that point we had unlapped ourselves and kept gaining about 1k per lap. I told the other guys that I feared for the worst and doubted that Billy would be able to finish.

Mind, I no longer felt all that great myself. I actually got plenty of compliments from many of the other runners out on the course how relaxed I was looking, but I certainly did not feel overly relaxed. The pace was still holding steady but it was no longer easy and the legs felt rather heavy. I thought I still had Staplestown in my legs, plus the Cork marathon and all the other long races I have done this year and the accumulated fatigue might have been telling. However, a certain amount of suffering is inevitable in a 100k and was very much part of the plan, and no amount of whining would help.

We passed the marathon in about 3:30 and kept going through 50k in about 4:10 (give or take a minute) and then we were in the second half already. The course had been rather busy since the half-marathon start at 9 and was getting very quiet again, but all that changed when the marathon commenced at 12 o'clock, by which time we had already accumulated 5 hours of running each. We were still doing 8-minute pace and I figured that maybe at some point late in the race I might be able to tag along with the 3:45 pacer (my friend Chris) for a while, hoping that that would be roughly my pace closer to the finish.

As I grew tired, I noticed that my gait was changing and I started running more on my toes. This seems counter-intuitive, I'd usually expect a runner to go more on his heels as fatigue grows. However, striking with your forefoot when tired doesn't strike me as the worst thing that could happen and I was quite happy to leave the legs and feet to whatever gait they came up with naturally.

Vilnis had started complaining at some point and I gave him one of my s-caps (sodium and electrolyte tablets, highly recommended) to help him out, but as we went through the finish for the 12th time at 60k, he announced that he would be dropping back now and our group was down to Andrew and me. Andrew had his own stomach troubles that got worse and worse, and neither an s-cap nor a bottle of Perpetuem seemed to sort him out and by 65k he wanted to drop back as well. I managed to goad him along until the next aid station at 68k, but at that point he dropped back as well and from here on I was on my own, though still surrounded by all the other racers in the 50k, 100k and marathon.

For all of the first half the 3 of us had been in 8th, 9th and 10th place. By now we had caught one runner and I was quickly making up grounds on two or three others. Thomas Klimas was looking very strong and quickly decimating the leader's advantage. Magic and Vasilij were running together and looking good, until all of a sudden Vasilij was gone - he had dropped, very much to my surprise. I never made up any ground on Magic, we must have been running the same pace for most of the race and always passed each other on the same spot at the out-and-back section between the Marina and the castle. To be honest, I did expect him to falter at some stage. Thomas Klimas, on the other hand, looked like a dead-cert for the win, even when he was still minutes behind the leader. It also started dawning on me that Billy was looking much better and moving a lot faster again than he had a couple of hours ago. I did draw level with him eventually, but that had taken much longer than I would have expected. He clearly had recovered very well.

At 70k I went through the finish looking and feeling good and soaking up the applause once more. By 71k I had hit the wall. It really happened that quickly. I struggled badly through the next lap. Every step hurt, every breath hurt, everything hurt. I remembered that the last 30k in Staplestown, 4 weeks ago, had been rather ugly (I won't forget them in a hurry), and reckoned I was in for a repeat. 4 very painful kilometres later I went through the finish once more, now feeling utterly spent and completely empty. I even felt like the applause from the spectators was hesitant. I must have looked like crap.

Then I saw one of the helpers with a banana slice in her hand. I don't think I have ever eaten banana in a race before, but somehow it felt right so I grabbed it and ate it in one go.

The effect was magic. Within a couple of minutes I was running happily again, bouncing along the forest road and up the little hill. The quick turnaround seemed nothing short of magic. It didn't quite last, the last k before the finish kept growing longer and longer again, but I kept taking one slice of banana after each lap and it would pretty much get me around one more lap.

Somewhere around 80k I lapped a couple of friends once more, and one of them made a comment along the lines of "great to see that you are getting tired as well", which I found funny though it probably isn't exactly the most encouraging thing I'd heard that day. And believe it or not, he was right.

I went through the 80k mark with 6:44 on the clock, so I must have run pretty much the same pace as in Staplestown for the same distance, but thankfully I was feeling a lot better. Some of that was certainly attributable to the better pacing, but I'm sure the weather had something to do with it as well. The weather forecast had been very hot but luckily for us runners it was a fairly cloudy day. The temperatures may just about have touched 20 degrees but with the lack of direct sunlight it was much more manageable.

The 3:15 pacer went past me at some stage, moving so fast that I was startled. In fact, the pace difference was so great that I first thought they must be the 3:00 group, even though there was no such thing that day. Even so, I was still moving reasonably well, catching another struggling 100k runner, and I noticed that the guy who had taken over the lead from Billy had pulled out himself, though he very sportingly stayed on at the finish and kept encouraging the other runners.

I still thought the marathon runners had been on the course for only a short time when I caught a glimpse of the race clock at what must have been 90k and realised that they had been going for 2:38. Wow, doesn't time fly when you're having so much fun!

With 90k on the clock I had to deal with one more problem, namely the calves started cramping. This did not come as a complete surprise after so many hours of running, especially with the forefoot striking taking a greater toll on my calves. I took one more s-cap tablet, which may or may not have helped, but the real response was to slow down a little bit. There was nothing much to gain, I was several minutes behind Magic and several minutes ahead of Billy, so third place was assured, and a minute more or less really didn't mean much at the time. Going slightly slower caused less of a risk - if the legs had gone into full cramping mode, it certainly would have cost a lot more time, never mind the pain that would have accompanied that, so I was content to just jog my way round the last 2 laps.

The stomach felt full from the bananas and I didn't take one for the last lap, but at that point I could smell the finish and did my best to enjoy the glory stretch. Coming round the final corner I saw 8:33 on the clock and stretched out my arms as I crossed the line, more to signal to the spectators and marshalls that I was done rather than a means of celebration, though I was rather glad that I could finally stop running.

I had come third behind Thomas Klimas and Magic, a strong Central European showing, with Billy as the first Irishman in fourth place after his Lazarus-like resurrection halfway through the race. Thomas K's performance was incredibly impressive, last year he had not been able to stay with me and just one year later I wouldn't have had a hope of beating him. He has only been running for 3 years - it's scary to think how good he might become in another couple of years. Magic had impressed me just as much, I think this was the first time he had beaten me, and my expectations of him faltering and me catching up were clearly wrong. I was delighted that my other prediction had been even more wrong though, and Billy had not only finished but finished very well, and if he keeps improving and learns how to pace himself better I'll be left in the dust by yet another up-and-coming runner.

I had beaten the calculators' predictions by a massive amount, which felt rather good. I was pleased with the time, the performance and the podium finish. Most of all, I had a great time. I'll be back again.

All race photos by Iain Shaw. Thank you for the sterling work, Iain, and the consistently high quality photos!

11 Jun
8 miles, 1:03:36, 7:57 pace, HR 131
12 Jun
5 miles, 40:38, 8:07 pace, HR 129
13 Jun
5 miles, 39:12, 7:50 pace, HR 131
14 Jun
Portumna 100k
8:34:02, 8:15 pace, HR 144, Third place
15 Jun
5 miles, 48:18, 9:39 pace, HR 124
16 Jun
5 miles, 46:23, 9:16 pace, HR 121

8 comments:

  1. Good report Thomas. Lucky for bananas eh? Amazing that you hit the wall so fast and revived so quickly. 8:15 pace for 100k is quick running - well done.

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  2. Great write up - congrats on 3rd!

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  3. As always a gentleman before, during, and after the race. I do blame the Massive overdose of electrolytes on my sharp Fall from grace. However I Took a bit of a gamble at the start & thought I might be able to hold a stronger pace for the second half. I suppose I learned something from it, and hopefully It will aid in my next race. Well done on a good race. If I had thought you were really struggling that much in the last 30k I would have possibly dug a bit deeper! I honestly thought you were just being polite when you acnolaged that you felt just as bad as I did as you passed me! :-) it was great seeing you again Thomas.

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  4. Running short of adjectives just as you are running out of races to challenge you. Excellent effort is the best I can come up with. You will be in fine fettle for Belfast.

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  5. Awesome run, congratulations! I love 100km races but luckily there are not too many of them to do... :)

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  6. Great report Thomas - with thanks, A

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  7. Well done Thomas with such a great performance and excellent blog. I was in the 100k but was medically withdrawn after 85k due to a personal problem. I was doing well until I fell apart after 60k in my first race over 50k. You might remember me shouting to you at one point that I read your blog while you cruised past my staggering form! This was my first ever DNF and I can’t leave it like that – I’ll be back!

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  8. rename the blog 'diary of a podium regular'. sterling work thomas, congratulations

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