This is the story of a bad race.
In the lead up to the 2017 75km Buffalo Stampede in Bright, Victoria, I did a few things wrong and during the race I did a lot of things wrong.
To learn for the next race and future races this is a reminder of how to prepare properly and when during a race it all starts going to shit, what not to do and what to focus on better.
First things first that lead up to my disastrous race, I hadn’t done long enough training runs. In this years lead up to UTA I deliberately and under advice from a personal trainer friend, had decided to limit my long run on a Saturday to only 2, maybe 3 hours, and to really push it for that time. It just didn’t work as I didn’t have the strength gained from long runs to last me through out the race. I started well and was strong for a long time, but I just wasn’t used to running that long and that hard. The last time I’d run over 25km was almost a year previously at the 2016 UTA 100km.
I also didn’t plan my Tailwind requirements properly and though I could just fill my bottles up with sachets in my drop bags. It became too difficult and in the last half I gave up doing it and just relied on water and gels, when what I really needed more than ever was the extra calories & mental reassurance from the Tailwind.
The last main thing I hadn’t prepared prior to the race was the mental aspect of such a long run. I just assumed that as I’d run a 100km before a 75km would be a walk in the park. However we all tend to gloss over the negative and look at past races with rose coloured glasses. This wasn’t my goal race (being UTA100), and I went into the race with my mind only half committed to doing a good time, and as with the marathon in Japan when I realised I might not make the time I was aiming for, I started to give up and not care about it. Tied in with this I hadn’t properly realised how tough the climbing would be on this race and I’d set myself an unrealistic finishing time goal. Buoyed on by bravado and an inflated sense of how good and strong a runner I’d become since UTA 2016 I went into the race with super high expectations that fell apart when the going started to get tough.
Things to learn from this preparation:
- Do some longer mission runs.
- Push myself harder towards the end of the mission runs.
- Don’t worry so much about getting injured on runs, if it happens, it happens.
- Check, double check, and get the drop bag and nutrition plans right. Tied in with that, buy more water bottles.
- Really study and get to know the course before a race. Look at previous times and set a more realistic finishing time. A time that pushes you and is also achievable.
- Only sign up for runs that I really want to do.
Although it’s not nice to keep remembering and bringing up all the things that went wrong in the race I think it’s important to get them down in writing as words have power and with them written down they can be taken from rolling around in my head and forced to live somewhere else.
I went out fairly fast in the first flat 3km to the base of Mystic and was sitting in 8th position. Did I go out too fast? Even with hindsight I don’t think I did. I wanted to get away from the main pack that can hold you up (like at UTA), my legs were fine, and most of my training runs start at that 4:30/km pace. What I did do wrong on hindsight was to keep going fast up Mystic, even at the top I was still in about 12th or 14 spot. Also I didn’t use my poles at all on the climb thinking that it’s only 500m and as in training I could run it; however in training I hadn’t gone on to run another 70km.
I went down Mystic ok, though I could’ve gone better if I’d used my poles.
Going up Clearspot started to get a bit more challenging and a few more runners started overtaking me. Mentally I was still strong and confident. A quick water refill and a little bit of frustration with trying to fill water bottles with powdered Tailwind and I began the descent ok. I’d lost sight of any runners before me and when we got to a turn off the main trail instead of going straight down I started to follow a trail that went to the left. I turned around to the runner behind me to check which way and he shrugged with unawareness, and followed me. We went on for a bit and quite early on I started to think we weren’t going the right way, the trail just didn’t look used enough. My mind wasn’t thinking 100%, I wasn’t properly remembering about the race briefing and that if you haven’t seen a marker for 200m turn back. We couldn’t see any runners anywhere. Finally we stopped and the other runner got out the map on his phone, and then we knew for sure we were off the track. We started going back and he saw some runners going down in the distance. I seriously contemplated going straight down the hill we were on through the scrub to a car we could see at the bottom of the hill but the verge was thick with spiky brambles. After an extra 1.5km/10 minutes of running we got back to where we went wrong and I came across a fellow Trailblazer, Nikki Burke, and a little ahead Michael Hanavan. I was angry with myself and what had happened, so I shot off down the hill at a breakneck pace, not even thinking how steep it was, which would come back to bite me on as I was unprepared for the climb back.
Looking back I think I was still pretty positive in my head about the run despite the setback and losing all that time. However Michael commented after the race that I was saying some negative things when we were running together. So although I thought I was still feeling positive & optimistic, negative things must’ve started popping up and I’ve now learnt that those little negative things are like having a blister, the more you keep going the bigger it gets.
Coming into the Eurobin checkpoint I still felt good, though my quads were starting to feel fatigued. Though I didn’t realise it at the time the losing 10min was still at the back of my mind gnawing away.
The climb up Mt Buffalo was fine I thought at the time. It wasn’t till a day later that I realised I didn’t climb it like I wanted to. I’d forgotten about my climbing form and was leaning forward too much, putting even more pressure on my quads. The idea of running for a minute then walking for a minute had been completely forgotten about. In my mind I thought I was doing ok, but I wasn’t pushing myself anymore and I’d forgotten why I was there. It was a real shock to me when I got to the Chalet checkpoint and Tanya Carroll came in just behind me. Nothing to take away from Tanya, she’s an excellent runner with tons more experience in running distance than me, but it was a further dent to my confidence that when I thought I had been climbing well, which I thought would be my strength, I hadn’t, and that my race was not going at all how I thought it would’ve.
I left my poles at the checkpoint to pick up on the return and for which I was later sorry I did as I could’ve used them on the little climbs and descents on the loop.
After thinking I hadn’t done too bad on the loop, Tanya came in behind me again and in my rush to beat her out I didn’t bother to fill my bottles with Tailwind. As much as this sort of running is about personal competitiveness and I wasn’t feeling in the slightest bit competitive with the other runners, with the Trailblazers I knew them and I couldn’t help feel competitive against them.
We ran out pretty much together, I asked how far ahead Michael & David Bristow were and was told about 10 or 15min. My thoughts were mixed about that. Could I catch them, maybe, were they too far ahead now, probably. Mr Negative was starting to win over Mr Positive.
The first part of the descent went well and I left Tanya and Nikki (who’d caught up) well behind. After the lookout it got steeper and I couldn’t push through the pain anymore to force my legs down. Looking back this was where the race really started to go wrong for me mentally. What should’ve been a nice run down, became a bit too hard and a bit too much pain/work. I started to walk and by the time I got to Eurobin again Nikki had caught up again.
Luckily for me I thought at the time we were both in a negative frame of mind and were commiserating together how stupid this was and why do we do it etc. I started to think, I’m 43 why am I doing this shit to me after all this time and that maybe my wife and father were right and this was a stupid dangerous thing to do. What I/both of us really needed at that stage was for someone to just say shut up, get over it, and get on with it.
Nikki took off after a while and I thought that was the last I’d see of her. I put my ipod on (I’d forgotten to bring the charging cable so was saving up it’s juice until I needed it, this was another thing that went wrong as I know I run better with music, and all that quiet time had meant my mind had too much time to itself and to think of all the bad thoughts), and I got a burst and caught up to Nikki again.
We got to the bottom of Clearspot and another big error happened that if it hadn’t have happened I still could’ve got by with a reasonable time; I told Nikki to go ahead and that I wouldn’t be able to keep up. What I should’ve done was seen the challenge of the climb and attacked it. Halfway up the climb was a runner who was stopped and was pulling out of the race, I chatted to him for a bit, gave him some Qgel for his cramp and went on. Instead of forgetting about him I dwelt on it and thought how easy it would be to just quit, I didn’t have to prove anything in this race and maybe I should just get a lift back.
I got to the top of the really steep part and was full of joy, not realising fully how much of a climb was left and by this stage I was starting to run out of water. The hill keep on going on and when I got to the top of the next decent rise I could see road in the distance much higher up and thought that surely that can’t be where we’re going, but it was. Tanya had caught up and passed me, but I was beyond caring at that stage. My ipod died then as well and I was too tired to pull out my phone. I was really starting to think that I might pull out at Clearspot, luckily a part of me was also saying, ‘give yourself 10min at the checkpoint to get everything ready and then if you need to pull out do it then’. When I got to the Clearpoint checkpoint I took my time, sat down, had some coke and saw some other runners who looked worse than me. I don’t really know why, but I got up and started walking over to the descent. I got out my phone and texted my wife to say I was ok but going to be a bit late.
The descent was really tough on my quads due to my earlier poor running form and I was just plodding down it. Emma Brown came flying past me and I knew this race was well and truly over for me and that my only goal was to get back alive. So I just keep plodding down.
There was a runner at the bottom who was sat down looking really tired which made me feel a bit better, cruel but true.
Going up Mystic wasn’t as hard as I’d thought, the light was starting to go down and I thought, ‘I do not want to be out here on this climb when it’s dark’, so I started pushing myself hard, like I should’ve done going up Clearspot. I got past the worst of the climbing before having to turn my torch on. Going down Mystic I knew I had plenty of energy left in me, but I just couldn’t be bothered using it anymore. It was dark, quiet, lonely, and I didn’t want to injure myself and just wanted to get home to my family.
When I got to the bottom I started running again and felt pretty good considering. Even when I got lost again I was still feeling strong physically and in some ways strong mentally because I just wanted the race to be over as soon as possible. I got out my phone and and used Apple maps to find my way back. Running through the streets of Bright I felt ok and looking at the time, started to finally push myself again to get back in before 9pm.
Finishing I didn’t feel too bad physically, however mentally I’d had enough of running and especially ultra distance running.
Some noodles and talking to first Byron Pritchard and Cam Burke, and then the others really started to pick me up mentally.
All that night as I struggled to get to sleep, the one overriding thought was that I was done with long distance racing, I’d sell my UTA ticket and just stick to the 50km. The next day and in the recharging ability of daylight and some sleep I knew I would probably still do the UTA, whether it’ll be my last race over 50km really depends on how it goes.
Things to learn from this race:
- Keep my mind on my running form the whole time – even write it on my arm or hand.
- Remember how to run and run it like I know I should.
- Any negative thoughts must be silenced straight away, they can’t be left to fester.
- Don’t speak aloud negative things, that gives them life and currency.
- When thinking negatively try and take your mind off them and distract yourself.
- Get some Glucodin tablets to focus & clear the mind.
- If the race isn’t going how you want, deal with it and if you haven’t got the strength to fight it, reset your goal and aim for that instead.
- I’m going to feel pain & tired at some stage, I have to push through that and onto the other side.
- When at a checkpoint, just stop everything for a few seconds and really think about how you’re feeling and what you need to do. Use it as a time to properly assess the race.
It wasn’t a great race in a lot of ways, the climbs were brutal, the weather atrocious (either wet or hot and both coming when you most didn’t need it too), the course not marked well enough, no water at Buckland Valley, but for me it was truly horrible in how I ran it and how I dealt with it mentally.
On the plus side, I’ve leant a hell of a lot about myself and all the things I need to improve on, and that for me must be the most important part of having a bad race.
Now that it’s written down, it can be learnt from and moved on from.