I didn’t realise how much this race meant to me until I crossed the line! Like always though, behind every race time, there is a story of the lead-up, and what unfolded on the day. Below are some of the moments from my sixfoot race March 2017!
Setting the scene
Taking a step back, I had a really frustrating 2016. Whilst I still had some great runs, the ones that really counted I just didn’t run to my potential. I cannot tell you how frustrating that was for me, and the fallout was a degree of self-doubt. There wasn’t a single reason for these poorer results mainly, Tokyo and London (Feb/April) Marathons and the UTA 50 (May) but rather a combination of things including a business related issue at Runlab, less than ideal weather and illness. The latter not diagnosed until later in the year, but still the results I achieved were good just not what I know I was capable of. I persisted with my training initially stepping it back before a gradual ramping up from about October. Id have to say that from October where I had a solid run claiming the Fernleigh 15 in Newcastle my confidence and form slowly returned. Funny that thing called perception, as I remember at the time thinking I was in ok shape. Now looking back it was just the start of a long build-up in training and form.
After watching this race and supporting my wife and other runners for the last 2 years at this event I couldn’t wait to run this race myself. For years friends and training partners have said that this race would suit me, I didn’t disagree, just due to a combination of timing and other things I didn’t really have an opportunity to line up until this year. Once the decision was made though it was something I was really looking forward too.
My 2017 is big! Split into 2 halves, sixfoot was the first of three target races in the first half of the year, which should finish in June before a rebuild and relaunch for the remainder of the year. This was a pretty important factor, as I wasn’t just training for sixfoot but races not long after and built these progressions into my overall training plan.
I’d also made a few changes partly of my own analysis evaluation and with my Coach Lardy (Wayne Larden). I had moved back away from a traditional road runners Marathon plan, lets call that a “Lardy” plan, to a more strength/road running plan, lets call that a Lardy/Vlad plan. Wayne actually just left me alone coaching wise until about November last year, when I told him I was ready, feeling good and training well, with a few ideas for changing up the structure of sessions and races I wanted to do in 2017.
Unlike the majority of runners I’m usually running against, I don’t have that traditional running background of years of speed work completed on a track. Mine is built more on strength, and truthfully results are showing I perform better with this type of training approach. I’m not going to bore you with any details of what I did specifically but lets just say apart from a combination of fairly specific drills, exercises and strength work (Some of which are now included in the Runstrong program) together with longer runs and quite a bit of hilly running.
I’ve been feeling good running since December and whilst my public appearances may not have indicated that I was/am in good shape (Sun run 3rd Orange Half Marathon 2nd) you cannot read too much into those runs unless you also analysed my lead up to those events. I do keep a run here and there off Strava (for no particular reason J), still lead-up commentary to this race such as “un-impressive” or “Lack lustre” just kindled my resolve. You see I’d actually hit these races on no less than 150km in those weeks. The Sun run I had a 50km run the next morning back in Newcastle (which went well) and Orange, well the course is tough but after running the first half well, I just faded, really just due to the accumulated fatigue, they did however play an important role in my lead-up and the progression was there, 3rd then 2nd and then sixfoot! I also got onto the actual track 3 times to train. I needed a basic idea of the course and I made the effort to run from the start to Mini saddle on one session and from the first road crossing to the finish on the second session on a separate training weekend. These were good times with Adam, Cheryl, Terry and Tim – Thank-you legends.
I got it all right, the taper worked well feeling good only from the Thursday and most other things within my control I had sorted in the week leading up. There were a few “issues” ongoing surrounding my other work stuff that once again threatened to hinder my result due to stress, but I’d somehow managed to handle that better this time and from when I got up at 4:30am on race morning things went as planned. I got my 20 minute warm-up in with strides and nutrition as planned and come 6:50am I was ready to race and feeling good, only up on the start line a few minutes before we took off could I see who was actually there, a lot of great familiar running faces but I did notice Alex Matthews hadn’t made it along which was a shame as I knew he was a great back runner on this race course.
So off we went and as planned the start was fast and furious. I ran quick but didn’t want to be making any mistakes myself from the outset and settled to running down the stairs in maybe 7th position with Courtney right behind me, we did get held up by a runner in front who eventually let a group of 6 or more of us pass but it was closer to the bottom. By the time we got to the bottom I couldn’t see the front-runners, and was already wondering, “I wonder how quick they are going?” and “how long if at all would it take until we catch them?” Whilst I’d read the commentary on the ways to run this race and more importantly I had incorporated some specific training for this race into my plan, there was a big unknown as to how I would actually perform. Anyway those thoughts didn’t last too long, as by about the 3km mark we were in 4th/5th position and ahead I could see Brendan and Vajan and without feeling like I was pushing out of my controlled race pace we were gaining fairly quickly.
Somewhere about the 5km mark, we were in the lead (Courtney and myself) and now it was becoming clear that Courtney and I were going to spend a bit of time together this race. Whilst there were no surges or tactics at all, hitting the rises and falls we were perfectly matched in pace and seemed to be both working about the same level. Somewhere before the river Courtney said “I hope you know what you are doing running at this pace” and we started to talk more as we got more and more comfortable with the race we were in.
Apart from the 2 closed gates we encountered leading to Cox’s river, which did cost us a bit of time and some holes in my clothes, it was uneventful but nice running, we actually held conversation from about 8-15km (The river). So whilst we hit the river in about equal record time, I wasn’t worried that we had gone out too quick, looking back on it we should have pushed a little harder here but I was always conscious of the time getting to the river knowing that the 1 hour mark was about record time. We got there in an hour.
After the river crossing, harder work started. Id managed to get through the crossing without any large rocks getting into my shoes, just some fine sand and water the later which drained well and the former which never bothered me, my Salomon S/Lab Sense 6 worked a treat for the conditions we faced on race day– it was crazy we literally went step to step, side by side, sometimes I would be two steps in front and sometimes Courtney, there was no more talking on the hills now however as we worked hard but still for me in control, I’m not saying it was at all easy but I was fine with how I was feeling.
Once we hit mini-mini saddle at the 20km point I took my 1 and only ISOWHEY Caffeine Gel and grabbed a cup (well maybe half) of water (I had a drink at most aid stations) as I ran through the Aid station. The little flat and downhill section here was a mini reprieve and Courtney also took on some fuel including grabbing some snakes, as we went through the checkpoint.
The next section of the race is the steepest but once again although not lightening quick we ran side by side to the top before the nice downhill and flat section through Alum River! Whilst I felt fine on the hills, whenever I hit the more open sections of running I did seem to be able to pull away although this wasn’t the intent.
Heading up towards Black ridge though it was time to start thinking ahead. Were Courtney and I actually going to run all the way together now? I mean we were actually in with a chance of winning and I knew that the last section was really steep and dangerous (leading to the finish line) and a fast finish didn’t appeal too much. Close to the top I grabbed my first of 3 snakes as I again got some water – they were hitting the spot as the course started to bite.
Now, just past the 25km mark and the top of the steep hills on the black range Courtney dropped back, we had been running side by side for 2 hours. I felt strong and just kept running at my rhythm, I was now in familiar territory for long distance events, running solo as you often do although that does present its own challenges of ensuring you stay focussed – This was the section that should suit me the best I remember thinking but it was still so much hillier than I remembered when I had once ran it! Maybe around this point (30km) – I did a quick bathroom stop as I was getting uncomfortable, and looking back I couldn’t see Courtney anymore as I resumed. These are the challenging times. There is nobody around and when you do see someone, they don’t know how far in front you are either, but I was good and slowly km-by-km I was starting to sense the finishing line!
The last 5km of the race whilst still really hard was also bloody awesome. It was now in my hands and I just wanted to get to the end and finish, I had a few moments of “heart in mouth” the first when a large stick flicked up between my legs when you start the steep descent and the second when the track goes from this section to single trail again (because I didn’t see anyone at all or hear any sound until I went under that archway just before the concrete path zing zags to the finish – and in the two years prior I was up there watching and cheering and it was noisy so I was like “fu$K, did I take a wrong path?) but the relief came when I hit the path – I shouted as loud as I could, well I tried – I was so happy but my voice wouldn’t wasn’t working that well, but man that last few hundred metres that’s something that will stay with me, down the stairs, running fast feeling good able to share the joy with my Wife Cheryl and one of my great mates and Coaches Justin and many others it was just brilliant!
So many to thank for putting up with me, training with me firstly Cheryl – injured herself and unable to run it was the best to have you there at the end but more so thanks for all those times you have had to sacrifice your own plans, the great mates that Coach and train with me Jeanette (Cheryl’s Mum) the Runlabbers and sponsors Skins, Salomon, Suunto, Isowhey and Outer Edge Mag and the body beaters (fixers) Aviano in Newcastle, Grandstand and Bodymine. A special mention to Adam Clarke for believing in my vision and Coach Wayne for working with me. When you do a race and you do it well, other things must be sacrificed, a separate write up just on my training would only put justice to this.
I love the freedom and feeling running has bought me, the friends the battles and the self-discipline. Make an honest commitment mentally and incorporate specific training and magic happens. Doing this race and the training coincided with a development of a new series of running sessions I’ve also built into one of my companies running models now (Mytrailgroup) so its been a worthwhile experience from many angles. You simply wont get the results your capable of by modifying and taking road running sessions and trying to make them trail with a few hilly runs, hills repeats and weekend long trail running sessions, that’s a start. Only, and there isn’t that much out there so I was my own experiment and created some awesome sessions to deliver the required adaptions. Trail running in general is only getting more popular, and its no wonder why.
So many feelings, so many emotions the seconds, minutes hours and now weeks later but a race that will stay with me forever. It felt good; to just be able to run well at my potential and deal with the disappointment’s of past races. Ill be back maybe next year, I hope. For the record, the record – yep apart from those closest to me the question has been – you were so close to the record – as if I should maybe be disappointed by that, no way. I really didn’t even look at my watch after the river – I felt good, I had a few holdups with the fences and pit stop (Toilet break) and I really backed off on that last descent preserving the legs for a faster recovery, so the record will go with a good run, maybe by me maybe not. See you on the sixfoot, happy times!