For 5 years I have suppressed the urge to continue ultra running, to try and focus on the specifics of pro triathlon. Yes, the two have similarities, but any different sport comes with its own nuances and demands, and needs to be respected as a separate entity.
I have a limited window to be a professional triathlete. All being well, I have a much longer window to compete at ultra running. I just keep everything crossed that nothing happens in the meantime that stops me running - as that is where my deepest dreams lie now.
What is it about ultra? Well I tell you now, even though the distance was barely an ultra (ultra distance being defined as anything over the marathon distance of 26.2 miles), it was super tough, and I learned more about myself in the 30 mile run at the weekend than I have in any triathlon. For the first hour, I was in a state of euphoria, enveloped in the runner's high a few of us are lucky enough to get sometimes! Everything was easy, the pace was reasonable, and we were running in a gorgeous place with not a stress in the world. I had my music on in the solitary patches, and was just at peace. I find the combination of music and running hugely transcendent. I will happily wave my placard to support responsible headphone use in appropriate running races! (some people call for a total ban, which would spell doom for me). At 1 hour 15 in, I decided to crack on and upped the pace to something resembling 'suicidal'. I wanted to see what would happen, and thought just maybe I could pull it off! From then on, I was in the lead.
We had a plan to fuel every 20 minutes and this was the decision that would prove my greatest challenge of the day. An hour in and my tummy didn't feel right. I knew deep down that in ultra I cannot 'pre-fuel' i.e take on energy in advance of needing energy. My stomach tends to absorb it only when it needs it. But it had been so long since I had run one that I couldn't really remember, and was scared of dying a grim death in the final 4 miles.
We did everything by the book. High fibre at the beginning of the race week, low fibre leading in, small dinner the night before, small breakfast. But despite our planning and sticking to the plan, I came unstuck and ended up dying grim death in the last 6 miles anyway!! I don't mind this though. We had a plan, and I stuck to it. OK it was the wrong plan, but plans can change :) You have to try these things, as had the fuel gone in, I'd have motored the whole way. If it been a triathlon, it would have worked, but the jiggly nature of running means there's some adjustments to be made. Again, the subtle differences between the sports make ALL the difference.
To summarise: 10 miles easy, 10 miles fast, 5 miles slower, 5 miles complete death-march-survival-mode. 20 good miles were enough to win the race. Do I think I deserved to win? No. Mistakes should be accounted for and therefore I didn't feel like I'd imagined crossing the line in first place. There was no 'high', but plenty of smiles and relief! Obviously I'd done all I could and I'd overcome more than I'd ever experienced in any triathlon.
The out and back nature of the course meant that I didn't know how well the other girls were running on the way back home, and had visions of them shooting past me wth 1.5 miles to go. I kept looking behind, expecting a stampede of ladies any moment! Speaking to them at the end, most had issues to overcome just like me. It's certainly a tricky distance to master!
This brings me on to the notion of the 'fast ultra'. It would have been far easier to go 20 miles more at a slightly slower pace, or 5 miles less, but faster. When trying to run long AND fast, that is where you have to be SUPER careful with nutrition. The race organiser actually contacted me afterwards to recommend that for these types of distances, you're looking at no more than 150kcal an hour or you'll get sick. I was taking 300. And then when I started feeling funny, I took on some flat coke which made everything that much worse!! I have learned that I can operate on empty as I had no choice in the end, and not to be scared of minimising in ultra's in the future. Perhaps a bigger breakfast, as I felt hungry to start with too!
Despite it not being a seamlessly executed race, I still LOVE THE ULTRAS. I cannot wait to do more, the call gets stronger every year which is why I decided to listen to it this year, but we have missions now for the winter to get the cycling as good as it can be and bring everything together for triathlon. I am in great hands and will look to compete on the 70.3 circuit again in 2018, starting with an attempt to win Israman 113 for the third time in January.
1 month can make a massive difference. In September I wasn't fit at all. It doesn't take long to turn your fortunes around.
Thanks to the organisers of the Stort 30 for such a fantastic event. Highly recommended.