Feet of Endurance 2019

9th Sep 2019

It was something like 5 weeks before this event. I woke up, again, to my leg spasming. It'd been doing that for the past couple of months, after redoing a hip injury that's been coming back every time I push my training up a notch. It was properly annoying me, not getting better despite physio and chiropractor visits. I must've woken up mid-dream, because I was thinking about off-road triathlons. I have absolutely no desire to do a triathlon of any type, but I sat there at 4am Googling them anyway.

I ended up on this page and saw that as well as the off-road triathlon they were also organising a 6 hour running event... and it was just around the corner. The bad news was it was a month away, but after consulting with the physio I booked it anyway. I managed to get a whole three training runs in: a 10k, a 21k and an 18k. So obviously my goal was to get round their 7km course 8 times in 6 hours for a total of 56km. Nothing silly about that, right?

Race day turns up after a few days of carb loading. My sister had volunteered to crew for the day, so we set off nice and early to get ourselves set up and ready. I was still feeling twinges in my left hip, but I'd done some training miles and figured I could just ignore them for the next 6 hours. Bumped into Weeksy, who is a client of my sister's and taking part in the Marathon des Sables next year – clearly I was only going to see him again when he lapped me, but it was good to say hi and get some last minute tips ("Just run for 6 hours", in case you're interested!). Then we were off.

Lap 1

I went off really easy on lap 1, knowing that this was a long haul. Loads of people ran off into the distance, but most of those were from teams rather than solo runner, and soon I found myself on my own and into a rhythm. There was a problem, though, in that every time I looked at my watch for my pace I was on track for 5:30 minutes per km. This needed to be much closer to 6:15, but I didn't feel like I could run any slower. I should've listened to the data, though, because by the end of the lap I was already feeling some early signs of fatigue. I'd run the lap in something like 46 minutes, and knew that wasn't sustainable already.

Lap time: 46:06

Lap 2

I started lap 2 with another solo runner, Chris, who hadn't needed to stop to restock on gels as he was planning to run two laps between each stop. We ran together for a while, which really helped me to slow down and keep to a conversational pace. I was just starting to feel more comfortable when we got passed the halfway point of lap 2 and he showed how much I'd been slowing him down by buggering off into the distance! I plodded round the rest of the lap and tried not to focus too much on the blister I could already feel coming on the sole of my right foot. When I got into the arena again, though, I complained of lactic buildup and blisters to Louise. Change of socks, restock of gels, and out we go again.

Lap time (including restock): 52:01

Lap 3

By lap 3 I knew I had to walk the hills, and that that was probably something I should've been doing from the beginning. So that's what I did. I already knew that 8 laps wasn't going to happen, but I was focussed on getting myself to the end of lap 6 before the 6 hour mark so that I could start lap 7. All I needed to do to make that happen was make sure my laps were around the hour mark, including any time spent in the arena. Not far into this lap I was lapped by the leader, who happened to also be a solo runner. That was a bit of a low moment, but from then on the lap actually got a lot better. The pain wasn't getting any worse, and I wasn't getting any slower. Now I just had to learn to deal with the pain. Luckily I knew that Hayley and Eleanor would be there at the end of this lap, so that was a nice thought to keep front of mind instead of BLISTERS.

Lap time (including restock): 57:26

Lap 4

There was a big boost from seeing Hayley and Eleanor at the end of lap 3, with a big banner they'd made saying "Keep Going Daddy". That was exactly what I needed as I moved into the lap that would take me over anything I'd done recently in training. The lap started well, plodding nicely round the first half of the lap which takes you back briefly into the arena (which is kind of cruel, but useful for placing water stations). There was a hill around 4km into each lap which I was using as a place to walk and update my Instagram story, and it was at this point that I started bargaining with myself even more. "The laps are over 7km, so 6 laps is over a marathon, which is fine". I knew I could get the 6 done, but I was already giving up on the 7th. I spent the lap arguing with myself, one side saying that I didn't need to risk injury and the other saying what was the point in being here if not to give it everything? I wasn't in a fun place mentally by the time I got back to the arena.

Lap time (including restock): 63:05

Lap 5

By now I was starting to really feel the lack of base fitness I had coming into this event. My legs were screaming, I couldn't get my heart rate down, I was forgetting which lap I was on. All stuff that I've heard plenty about in other race reports, but those were by people doing far more incredible stuff than I was. Knowing that I was feeling that bad while also doing so (relatively) little wasn't doing much for my mood either.

By halfway through the lap I decided that I was only doing 6 laps, I gave up. But giving up did something strange, because I got quicker. Not by much, but by deciding not to do the 7th lap I was free to make the most of the final two that I was going to do. I started to run bits similar to the ones I was walking in the first half of the lap, and smiled a bit more. By the end of the lap I was happy to be starting the last one.

Lap time (including restock): 62:57

Lap 6

This was my final lap, and I knew it, but this was also a "long" 6 hour event. That meant that you could complete any lap you started before the end of the 6 hours. I was conflicted. If I ran another lap around the hour mark I'd get across the line with 20 minutes to go. I was feeling "OK", especially with not doing another lap, but I didn't want to come back in with 20 minutes to go and sit there wishing I'd gone round again. So I slowed down even more. This was now an 'easy' run, for aerobic fitness and 'time on feet' rather than pushing for a performance. I spent time thanking marshalls who'd had to sit there for 6 hours, looking at the lovely scenery I'd been ignoring and generally enjoying myself. I picked the pace back up towards the end of the lap, when I thought I'd done enough to come in over the 6 hours mark. The fact that I had messed my maths up enough to come through with 8 and a half minutes to go shows how depleted I'd got regardless! But I was done. I wasn't going to drag myself round another hour long lap and keep those marshalls out there even longer for no real benefit to myself other than an extra lap. I wasn't going to be able to run it, so best to keep injury risk to a minimum.

Lap time (including restock): 69:45

Final Thoughts

I want to be an ultra runner. That means getting distances of over 50km, and in this event I managed somewhere around 45. I'm happy with that, because when I booked the event I couldn't even walk comfortably. I feel like I learned a lot about myself in these 6 hours, especially that there's a limit to the amount of pain I can put myself in at the moment. I think I can train that just as much as I can train the physical aspects that I was severely lacking. I think that the physical ability to run for longer will give me the ability mentally to run for longer. We'll see.

I loved all the support I got from Louise, Hayley and Eleanor, as well as the surprise of my Dad and Jess at the finish line. The well deserved roast dinner and beers was a massive plus point of the day. Huge congratulations to Weeksy, who managed to win the Solo category and will smash Sables!

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© Jason Dilworth 2020