The highs and lows of 40 miles

11 May

Today was to be the day I tested myself more than ever before. Having progressed through the last year from grossly overweight and struggling to complete a 6 mile run, to now attempting to run 40 miles. In addition to this, as many of you now know, I have not specifically trained for endurance, relying instead on the CrossFit way of training. I have also fuelled myself with a paleo based diet, directly contradicting the traditional methods.

So, as you may have read yesterday, I was beyond nervous. I had spent a week hitting my CrossFit sessions harder than ever, breaking PRs and wearing my legs out in the process. I had stuck to paleo, until yesterday when I had no choice, and the only fuel I planned to race on was CCE and flapjack with a bit of banana here and there.

Nerves aside, 5:30 arrived before I knew it this morning, and I found myself stood in the rain, shortly after daybreak, with my team mates, awaiting the starter’s klaxon. As it sounded, there were no nerves. Discipline and planning set in and we stuck firmly to the plan; we were on pace and chewing up the first 10 miles with ease. This was a distance we were all comfortable with and it was even enjoyable. We made our first stop to meet the support vehicle, spirits were high and confidence good. A quick banana and toilet break (and a double dose of CCE for me) and we were back on our way.

The first couple of miles of the next leg were dominated by sharp up hills, which began to split our team far earlier than the planned 18 mile checkpoint. Since we didn’t have enough members to qualify for team trophies, we split into a four and a two at about 12 miles. 6 miles to go until the next time we saw the support vehicle, I felt strong and the four of us were slightly ahead of pace.

18 miles came around in no time at all, the going was easy and the rain was holding at a light drizzle. Again I refuelled with a total stop time of 2-3 minutes.

Me at 18 miles drinking CCE

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As 18 was the planned ‘splitting’ point, the four of us went off at our individual speeds. Two of the guys were experienced endurance athletes and increased their pace. Without the benefit of experience, I stuck to my planned pace. In spite of the worsening weather and the fact very quickly I was in unknown territory in terms of distance, I was feeling strong, very strong. I gradually accelerated, passing lots of people who were clearly beginning to flag. With the next scheduled support vehicle point at 26.4 miles, I made the most of feeling strong and continued to progress well. By the time I reached the vehicle, I had gone slightly ahead of my planned pace. I spent about 3 minutes following my CCE and banana routine and set off again.

From studying the route prior to the race, I knew the section from 30-35 miles was by far the toughest part of the route.

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Whilst I was prepared for the difficult gradient, nothing could have prepared me for the weather. Gradually worsening to gale force wind, sheet rain and thick fog, added to the hills, the inevitable happened; I hit the wall. I was roughly 31 miles in and everything hurt. The mental battle had firmly begun! It was at this point, the strangest of things happened; a fellow but anonymous runner, who had spent about 3 miles 20 or 30 metres behind me, but at the same pace, put in a big spurt. No sooner had I questioned where he had got the energy from, than he had drawn alongside me. He briefly introduced himself, though I couldn’t for the life of me remember his name, and asked if he could run with me. I gratefully agreed, and the next 5, and hardest ever, miles were completed in no small part thanks to him. He was cheerful and optimistic in spite of the conditions and took my mind off the pain and the extreme conditions.

Just after the 36 mile point, my anonymous saviour announced he was going to push on, and promptly increased his pace. Since this was not physically an option for me, I concentrated on maintaining the good pace he had led me along at. With only just over 3 miles to go, I relaxed a little, not in pace but in mind. I knew now that I was going to finish, no matter what, and astoundingly in a respectable time. As I started running through Barrow-in-Furness, the buzz and liveliness of the town, I stark contrast to the bleak hills of 5 miles previous, lifted my spirits. I again picked up the pace, though only slightly, and pounded the concrete towards the finish, reaching the ‘1 mile to go’ sign in good time. In typical ‘sod’s law’ fashion, the sun broke through the clouds, the rain subsided and the finish was in sight.

As I crossed the finish line, the strangest thing happened; I cried. If anything, those who know me would say I display a lack of emotion, but in this rare instance, the direct opposite was the case. This just emphasised to me how much it meant to have come this far, and what this achievement meant after a year of hard work: Everything!

This is the biggest mental and physical challenge I have ever undertaken. It hurt in many ways and had its highs and lows. I enjoyed it on the whole and am proud of my accomplishment.

Me after finishing

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After a while of gathering my thoughts and rehydrating, I discovered my results. My time was 6:09:13 and my position 21st out of a few hundred, exact number unknown as yet.

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So what have I learned from this? Sticking to the plan works, you can fuel on mainly paleo, I am mentally strong, CrossFit works, and you don’t have to train endurance to compete endurance! But above all, CCE is literally magic, and works for any and every type of training.

I hope I have inspired you to try something above and beyond what you think is possible, and prove the disbelievers wrong. Stick to your plans, despite people’s opinions and have confidence in what you know works for you! Take care, train well and tomorrow I will let you know the recovery plan I use before I start a week of sprint training!

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