It's not a race. You're not in racing shape so just treat this as a long, hilly training run. The goal is simply to enjoy the day, make it to the finish and collect 1 UTMB qualification point. That was the plan and it was one I was comfortable with...until about a week before the race when the devil on my shoulder started whispering. "Why not go out hard? What's the worst thing that can happen? If you blow up you blow up, you'll still finish". Then I got a message from Nick on the day before the race "Give it some beans Steve". YEAH! Let's go for it!!
The CTS South Devon event consists of four races: 10k, Half Marathon, Marathon (29 miles) Ultra (35 miles), the ultra following the marathon route then heading out again on the 10k loop. This year a major landslide a week before the race had closed part of the coastal path but EnduranceLife did a great job changing the course around, making it a little longer than usual but ensuring the race went ahead.
I got myself close to the front at the start and when the horn sounded I found myself racing across the beach in eighth place out of 120 starters. The first couple of miles had lots of short, steep climbs and I was racing up them, concerned about the burning quads but wanting to stay with the top ten. What am I thinking? I'm doing a full on hard hill-rep session and have 35 more miles to go. Is this really a good idea? (It turns out it wasn't but we'll come to that).
I eventually fall into step with a fit-looking guy I'd been chatting to pre-race. He's a PT in the Marines and is jogging along with a HR of 140. Mine must be up around 170 but I'm settling into a nice, brisk pace and thoroughly enjoying the rolercoaster singletrack of the South West Coastal trail in good company. Sometimes we're right down next to the sea, other time we're several hundred feet up running within arms reach of perilous cliff edges. The views would probably be amazing but all eyes seem to be on the immediate ground in front. A trip here could prove to be pretty messy. We're in joint 12th and I'm happy with that. There's a big gap behind us but I can see a team of five working together. As the miles go by I can see that they are slowly but surely reeling us in.
At 16 miles we hit a CP and turn away from the coast to head inland. After a rollercoaster couple of miles inland we headed back to the coastal trail, moving against the flow of tail end Ultra runners and the early marathoners. I had been pulling away from Ben (I actually never found out his name but he looked like a Ben so that's what he became) on the descents and he pulled ahead on the climbs. As we turned away from the Coast again at 19 miles we had a long drag uphill. Ben pulled away and I marched up alone. My quads had been feeling tender for a few miles (due to the crazy hill reps at the start) and on this climb they finally started to cramp up. I was also dealing with sharp pain on the inside of my left knee and in my right groin. As I'm trying to get my head around this the group of five who have been chasing us down for 10 miles finally catch and pass me and in the space of a few seconds I fall from 13th to 18th.
I reach the top of the hill and consider trying to hold on to the five but bad stabs of cramp in the quads make me think otherwise. I'm into survival mode already and all thoughts of racing are tossed into the mud. I walk while I fish out some salt sachets I had picked up from Burger King on the way over. In normal circumstances eating neat salt would be pretty grim but here I greedily swallow it down and am licking the empty packet to get every grain. It's funny how something revolting tastes great when your body needs it. My legs still hurt but there is a noticeable improvement almost immediately and I'm able to break into a solid ultra-plod.
Where the coastal trail was stunning the inland sections are awful. Hills that go on forever, wading through ankle deep, thick, red clay-like mud with 10ft hedges on either side of the path blocking any views. It was mentally very tough and I felt pretty low from miles 20-27. The quads and calves were cramping and I was struggling with groin pain on the climbs and knee pain on the descents. I wasn't plummeting though the field as I had expected though. Two guys came past me around mile 25 and another two at 27, putting me in 22nd. At mile 27 we climbed out of the mud onto some duck boards winding through a nature reserve. It was interesting running with nice things to look at and I knew we would soon be back on the coastal path so felt good about that. I was enjoying the running and then overtook my first person in the race so far. My mood flipped and I felt super-positive again. The pain felt less, the running easier and the course better.
I head towards the start/finish area with a young lad in his first ultra. He's flapping about the cut off, which was only announced just before the start. I tell him we're at the front of the field and we really don't need to worry about cut offs. "Really", he says, "it's at 2:15". "What time is it now?" I ask. "2pm" he says. Wow, a lot of people are not going to make this cut off and will be pulled from this 36 mile race at the 30 mile mark. It seems more than a little unfair when I don't think a cut-off was announced before hand.
We run through the finish area and I tell the lad I'm going to try and hunt down the guy I can see ahead. He tells me he was working really hard to make the cut off and now he's spent. He's just going to cruise in. We wish each other luck and I pull ahead. I'm feeling completely on top of things as I head out to Start Point and although I never caught the guy in front I enjoyed hunting for him.
The second placed lady passed me with about two miles to go, dropping me back to 22nd. I glanced back crossing a big field with about a mile to go and saw someone gaining on me looking strong. Time to give it those beans Nick was talking about! I got my head down and really worked hard to the finish, doubling the gap between me and the guy behind and crossing the line in 7:05 in 22nd place.
Post race I've got very mixed emotions about this. On reflection I did quite well. I ran beyond my current level of fitness, got battered but then held on well to finish quite strong. My mad charge at the start was just crazy. I need to show more will power in future races: there's a difference between going out strong and destroying yourself. Next time my ego may have to allow people to overtake me early on if they are going faster than I know is sensible.
Regardless of how foolishly I started I'm still disappointed that things went wrong so early. I did not expect to be struggling at 16 miles. So, I need to loose the 5kg I put on over xmas, stretch regularly and strengthen the legs. My confidence has been knocked by this race but there's plenty time to get my stuff together before my target races of the Sandstone Trail in May and the Lakeland 50 in July.
My Runkeeper info for this race: http://runkeeper.com/user/stevemee/activity/149800789