The High Peak 40 miler has challenged me time and time again, so far defeating me only the once (due to a chest infection). This year posed the usual problem – how exactly do I shave even more time off my personal best?
It’s no secret I’ve been training more specifically towards this type of event throughout 2013. I set myself targets, realistic targets like ‘faster half marathon’ – check. ‘Completion of the Long Tour of Bradwell’ – check. ‘New PB on the HP40′……….CHECK!
Just shaved a whole hour from last year’s hard fought 7hr.46min. How did I do it? HARD WORK.
Trained like crazy, slow/steady at first, introducing variety/speed work. Running 6 days a week, with longer and longer runs at weekends – back to back Saturday/Sunday trots lasting up to 5hrs. Early starts to manage around work and maintain my home life.
Using Suunto devices, Quest and GPS Tracking Pod, with Heart Rate Monitor at all times, basing all aspects of my training on the results from a Lactate Test back in February. Always sticking to the levels dictated, even on race days where necessary and sacrificing opportunities to take part in events that clash with the schedule.
Trial and error with nutrition (mostly error) until finding a pattern that works and sticking to food that can be consumed easily, without running out of steam or bringing it back up.
Trying all sorts of kit until landing on an outfit that doesn’t let me down. No chafing, no freezing, no melting and a place for everything. Pack, hat, shoes – all tested over distances, terrain and weather conditions that mirror those I’d face on race days.
Carbo loading. I tried a couple of runs, without having stocked up the night before and the results weren’t terrible by any stretch – but when you’ve found yourself flagging at 28 miles on a 33 mile route, you take measures to ensure the wheels stay on at 35 out of 40. I ate heartily the night before and even saved some pasta for breakfast this time around.
Biggest change this time was race plan. For the first time ever I forced my way up front for the start of the race and set off faster than I ever used to. Gone now are the ‘we’ve got all day’ style plods I used to enjoy. I actually ran at this one, staying with the front pack for ages. Instead of the ocean of heads snaking into the distance, I saw a few very capable runners making slightly better progress in front of me, while leaving a larger and larger gap behind.
This year I didn’t have to queue for the first stile. I cruised through the first checkpoint having spoken to nobody since the beginning of the race. I’d normally say hello to fellow runners, but this time I simply tried to breathe.
I was behind the same guy for absolutely ages (Fraser Hirst – incredible runner who normally leaves me in his dust). Wrestling with my thoughts, I tried to decide the best course of action. Do I overtake him and blow up? Do I hang back and stop nipping at his heels? Chit chat? Silent stalking? Why should I hang back? Let him hang back! I’ll talk to him, no that’s too tiring and besides, I’m probably annoying him. I know I’ll lead him off course by following some other fella who’s already gotten lost! Now I’m lost. 23 miles of this insanity.
Tideswell offered the first of two cruel road sections that punish tired legs and invite ‘Little Devil Chris’ to pop up on my shoulder. “Walk Chris – you know you want to” he would whisper. “It’ll feel sooooooo gooooood” he would pur. I resisted. 6 Days a Week Chris was right up on the other shoulder to fend him off. “BOLL*CKS!” He yelled, “So what if your legs feel like tooth picks?”, “You CHOSE the 3mm drop, the none existent midsole”. “You had the chance to stop and empty that gravel from your shoe at mile 6, but didn’t TAKE it. Don’t stop now, you’re on FIRE!”. “You’ll thank me………..”
Then I arrived at the 26 mile mark – Checkpoint 8. I’d managed a 4hr Marathon. There was trail and hard pack to look forward to for the next few miles, after which I knew would come the climb through Deep Dale 1. Best get a wriggle on.
My confident fast start had now metamorphosed into the usual slap dash attempt to keep moving at all costs. I battled past the next checkpoint AKA Wasp Central (those poor guys on CP9, seriously) and up to CP10. It was at this point – knowing that every year, this 3 mile stretch threatens to destroy my peace of mind and reduce me to a shaking wreck, I set out with an audible moan. On a mission to put Little Devil Chris firmly in his place.
‘OH MY GOD – HOUGHBOY JUST BODY-SLAMMED LITTLE DEVIL CHRIS INTO THE FLOOR, HE IS DUST !’
I ran the entire stretch. Didn’t fall asleep standing up like I did on the 2008 race (that’s correct). Didn’t walk. Didn’t even see any drift from my Heart Rate.
Through Chelmorton I slowed down and dug in. I knew there were only about 4 miles remaining, but they included the deep slippery ravine known as Deep Dale 2. Caution. One thing I wasn’t expecting, Cows huddled between me and the stile through a dry stone wall keeping me from the final approach. I veered left and awkwardly clambered over a low spot in order to avoid a mauling.
Little Devil Chris didn’t hesitate – “Ha ha, he’s afraid of Cows, what a sissy boy! Pathetic!” Whatever.
I was relieved to reach the bottom of the ravine safely. What’s more, there was a group of spectators giving a round of applause as I made my way up the opposite side, which was very much appreciated. It also let me know there was still nobody behind me, since I heard nothing else from them as I crossed the field into the final Checkpoint.
Nothing can stop me now. I had run fast, survived (avoided) the stile that cut my eye a few weeks ago and left the ravine in one piece. Then I tripped on a flat tractor track no deeper than the pattern on a carpet! Splat – into mud with one knee. No biggie. Let’s crack on (despite Devil Chris quietly wetting himself).
Reports from along the route had me in 15th position, after Castleton in 13th (thanks for the info Sue Jeff), then losing a place while walking Cave Dale – only to overtake further up, then lose another place while straying from the route and finally gaining another place outside of Tideswell. The majority of the day had been spent on my own, with nobody in front or behind. So into the finish I ran, smile on my face. It was nice to have someone greet me and in the heat of the moment, I may have helped myself to somebody else’s cup of water. So sorry.
So it looks like 15th place for Houghboy. Approximately 61mins shaved from what already felt like the fastest I could manage in 2012. Sore legs or no, I’m over-joyed. And yes……once the dust has settled and I’m back to strength, the temptation will surely be to try again and go even faster. To quote the great Charlie Brown “Good Grief”. On the subject of completing this race even quicker – please check out fellow Accelerate supported runner Stuart Walker’s blog (one of those making slightly better progress right from the word go) where he describes what it was like up front, a brilliant report from a brilliant runner. It’s probably the closest I’ll ever come to knowing what it feels like. Bonkers!
A massive thank you to all involved in this event, from organisers right down to the random folk who still bother to yell ‘well done’ when they see that you’re part of an event. All Marshalls and support crew deserve high praise, their assistance is what makes this such a fantastic race to return to year after year.