T184: post-mortem

Things which went right (ish)

My feet blistered, in particular the ball of my right foot, which is my usual problem area. But not too badly. And the Spine race medics’ recommended treatment (dry, drain, pad, tape) stopped the main blister spreading. Unlike in my first 100 where, with an ‘ignore it and hope for the best’ strategy, I lost all of the skin from the balls of both feet and most of my toes (the skin off them that is, not the actual toes). My feet were occasionally painful, but were never a limiting factor.

I took a calculated risk and only took the minimum 8000 calories, knowing that I’d run out of food if it took me more than 3 days. I finished almost bang-on 3 days with a couple of hundred calories of Hula Hoops left and a very rumbly tummy. If I was doing it again I’d take less Hula Hoops (I suspect taking them out of their packets to chop them up altered their taste/texture) and more caffeinated gels. But overall my strategy of drip-feeding 100 calories an hour and not taking a Jetboil for hot food worked. A hot meal and a coffee at the start of the 3rd night would have been nice, but not nice enough to make it worth lugging a stove around.

Training (in particular the 3 week taper)
The week leading into the race, I had bags of energy and was running really well. And getting to 100 miles with a 8 kg rucksack in less than 30 hours (2 of which were spent failing to sleep) really isn’t bad going for me. Not long ago I’d have been happy to finish a ‘normal’ 100 in that time.

Things which didn’t go too badly

For the first time ever I decided to go fairly minimalist on the kit front. On the grounds that if my pack weighed much more than 8 kg I wouldn’t be able to run at all, and I wanted to try and do a little bit better than just finishing inside the time limit. Plus if things went wrong I’d never be too far from civilisation.

Clothes I got more or less right. When cold nights were forecast a couple of days beforehand, I switched to heavier duty hat, gloves, base layer and waterproofs, which was a good move. I also added a thermolite sleeping bag liner. This was my one kit mistake, I should have switched my super-lightweight PHD sleeping bag (bought specially...) for my heavier RAB neutrino.

I didn’t take a handheld GPS, to save weight and also faffing time. While the battery on my Suunto Ambit lasted (up to 60 hours) it would tell me where I was if I went off course. I made two non-negligible navigation errors. One in the penultimate stage which cost me 5-10 minutes. And a bigger one in the last stage (after the battery on my Ambit had run out...) which cost me much longer, maybe half an hour I’m guessing. But I think not taking a GPS was still the right decision. 1:25 000 maps of trickier sections would in principle have been a good idea, but beforehand it was difficult to guess which sections would be problematic.

I coveted Lee B’s poles when he sped past and away from me on day 3. But I’m not very good at using them on the flat, and the benefits probably wouldn’t have outweighed the extra weight.

Things which didn’t go well

Not a surprise this one. I’m not very good at sleeping. In everyday life my usual technique is to read until I can’t keep my eyes open. Which doesn’t really work in a race. I’d never had problems running through a single night before, and got through 2 days and 1 night of GUCR without feeling sleepy at all. Therefore my plan was to run through the 1st night and grab a couple of hours sleep on the 2nd night, when hopefully I’d have no problems dropping off. However I started feeling tired early in the first evening, but couldn’t sleep at all that night. The low temperature and the sleepless night beforehand didn’t help, but can’t be blamed entirely.

Now I’ve sorted out my stomach and feet, sleep is my limiting factor in multi-day races and I really need to do something about this (before the Thames Ring next year...).

Run-walk strategy
Like at GUCR my run-walk strategy worked really well up until the point that it failed, and then it failed catastrophically. I kept a 25:5 routine going through the first day and then switched to 10:5 throughout the first night and second day, with a couple of extended walks into checkpoints. After that I had a couple of half hearted attempts at running which lasted no more than a couple of minutes. At the time I convinced myself that walking steadily was better/faster than mixing slow running and slow walking. However I’d probably have finished several hours faster if I’d managed a bit of running. I was certainly physically capable of doing it as I jogged into the finish without any problems (and told the people watching that I should have done more running...). So it’s a question of working out how to make my brain make my body run. It’s not exactly something I can practice in training, since the issue only kicks in after 30+ hours of running. Maybe just switching down again to 5:5? or 5:10 even?

My 60 hour finishing goal was completely unrealistic. Even if everything had gone perfectly I don’t think I could have made it (mainly due to the route getting more rural beyond Oxford). And once this became clear I switched far too quickly to ‘just finish’ mode. Most of the people who finished close to me were moving slowly because they were injured. I was moving slowly because I couldn’t be arsed to move any faster. If I’d pushed harder through the 3rd day and night I could have gone sub-70. Lesson learnt: be very cautious when setting goals for races that are being run for the first time.

While I made my ‘top 3 women’ goal comfortably (just by finishing...), in retrospect this wasn’t a good goal. I wasted far too much energy obsessing about the whereabouts of the other women, something I had no control over. Being (very unexpectedly) in 3rd place by checkpoint 2 probably contributed to this. I’m used to the satisfaction of working my way through the field in the 2nd half of races rather than being chased. Lesson learnt: don’t focus on position until the end is ‘in sight’.

The main thing that’s bugging me is how under-whelmed I still feel about my finish. I don’t really understand why. Yes, I was slower than I wanted to be. But I finished a race with a huge DNF rate comfortably. Yes, 8th place was further in front of me than the cut-off was behind. But the 8 people in front were all much faster runners than me, and being at the ‘front of the back pack’ is actually not a bad result for me.

Maybe coming up with finishing time and place goals was a mistake and I should switch back to my old ‘only goal is to finish’ approach. After all this is a hobby (one I’ll never by particularly good at in absolute terms) and I’m supposed to enjoy it. On the other hand I like a challenge, and post-Spine ‘just finishing’ most races isn’t a challenge any more. And for some of the races I’d like to do (e.g. the Viking Way) I’m going to have to push the pace throughout to make the cut-offs.

Another possibility is that the race just finished at a point where I was feeling pretty low, due to sleep-deprivation and lack of food. I felt pretty similar three days into the Spine. So maybe the solution is to not enter races which (only...) take three days!