You can't win 'em all

Posted by Nik Cook
Monday 12th October 2009

Recovery from my pleasing sub 7 hours performance at the High Peak 40 took longer than I expected and I was still feeling stiff and sore in my calves a week after. I’d also had a return of the cold that’d plagued me before the race and, with one week to go until Longmynd, was not feeling confident.

After the unbelievably thorough kit check, I trudged to the start line though the drizzle with little enthusiasm and not in the right place mentally to tackle 50 miles and 9000ft plus of ascent. Setting off the routes kicks immediately uphill for two miles for the first checkpoint at the summit of Caer Caradoc. The climb felt rubbish, my legs heavy and my breathing laboured. The descent wasn’t much better with my normal good descending skills hindered by a sore ankle. I ploughed on for the next eight miles and, although I reached the Pole Bank checkpoint 12 minutes up on my sub 10 hours schedule, I just wasn’t “there” physically or mentally. I gave myself a bit of a talking too, kept eating and drinking but just couldn’t shake the feeling that I was just going through the motions. Hitting the 15 miles Stiperstones checkpoint in 2:45 I was still well-up and, despite the “worse path in the world” composed of angled dagger of stone, was beginning to think I might turn this round. Even the sudden horizontal hail stones didn’t diminish my rising confidence but, as I descended and the sun came out, I suddenly started feeling feverish and sick to my stomach. The steep climb to Earl’s hill didn’t help and by the Bank Farm checkpoint at 22 miles I was close to dropping out. The only upside to how I was feeling was that I was still 20 minutes up on schedule. I resolved to push on to Bank Farm at 27 miles hoping that the five miles of more rolling terrain would sort things out. A mile or so out of the checkpoint though both of my hamstrings started to cramp violently. I never normally cramp and never after only 23 miles. I forced some fluids and electrolyte tabs down and had a stretch but the feeling of aching fatigue in my legs just increased with every step I took. By the time I hit Bank Farm I was still 20 minutes up but, having done longer and tougher runs in training, knew I should be feeling much better than I was.

I sat down and tried to think things through rationally. I obviously wasn’t firing on all cylinders and, although I didn’t doubt I could stagger round, maintaining the 10-hour pace I should be able to do probably wouldn’t happen. I’d “ticked off” 50 milers in the past so that was no motivation and knew, if I carried on, would totally trash myself for a significant amount of time. The “no’s” were definitely winning and with surprisingly little emotion I decided to bin it. Even in the transport back to race HQ I felt no regret and had already chalked the run down as a good 5 hour / 27 mile / 6000ft training run.

I’d learned that back-to-back ultras combined with a persistent cold isn’t a great plan but the whole experience had fired me up for knuckling down for some serious training before the Rock and ice in March. Not finishing in Canada is not an option. I’m taking a lot of confidence from my run at the High Peak 40 and other training runs and realise that the base I’ve built is good but now it’s time to really go forwards. I’m taking a short holiday in the Lake District before going to see Marc Laithwaite at the end of the month and then working under his iron rule through the dark, and hopefully cold, winter. 
Read more blog entries by Nik Cook

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