“Daddy, pretend that bear is happy”
“Go on then”
“I am pretending”
“No daddy, you have to say it too”
The Country to Capital 45 mile race marks the start of the UK ultra season, and (I think) this was the tenth year it’s been staged.
Starting at the Wendover Red Lion pub in one of the shires, it follows muddy footpaths through some lovely countryside before picking up the Grand Union canal at roughly the half way mark.
Finishing in Little Venice near Paddington means getting home is a doddle (if you live in London anyway).
It’s extremely well organised. Registration was a breeze, and the frequent aid stations were well stocked with friendly smiles and heaps of cake.
They even delayed the 8:30 start slightly to allow people arriving off the 8:15 train from Marylebone to register and drop their bags off.
This was to be my final tune up race before Crawley, a chance to test my pace and fuelling plan.
The plan. There’s always a plan.
Mine was to avoid bonking by eating frequently, stopping as little as possible and finish somewhere near the sharp end without doing myself any more damage.
The Thursday before the race, I’d left work to trot the usual 10k home and went straight out into a filthy snow and sleet storm.
Despite wearing skimpy shorts and no gloves, I thought I’d soon warm up and tucking my chin in bravely barged my way into the wall of frozen sky.
I didn’t warm up. At all. In fact I was frozen in no time, and a miserable 50 minutes later limped the final few meters with ridiculously sore legs.
Not being a doctor or in any way professionally qualified to comment on the optimal operating and recovery temperature of muscle cells, I do have anecdotal evidence from a few years of running.
They seem to work better when they’re warm.
A cold bath can reduce soreness after a long run, but icy cold during exercise just means poorly functioning body parts, that don’t recover quickly.
My legs still didn’t feel right, in fact they hurt horribly throughout the race.
The canal section called for gritted teeth and the “just give it up and walk” part of myself needing a stern talking to.
The first half was really nice though, crispy frosty fields and picking up 24h race tips from the affable James Elson, even if he did accidentally make me sad.
I was working pretty hard, but could still hold a conversation, James was clearly just out for a Saturday morning jog, and remarked that this was his 24 hour pace.
My 6 hour pace was his 24 hour pace. Good lord.
Better eat something.
The cake went down very well, but sadly I had too little food overall and pretty much ignored the eating part of my strategy.
Apart from breakfast, I covered 45 miles in just over 6 hours on: 2 snickers, 500ml of mountain fuel and 3 small squares of fruitcake. Nowhere near enough and I paid the price with a decreasing pace and prolonged recovery.
I wasn’t even that hungry at the end, I think my stomach had given up on me. A hot cup of tea did go down very well.
I was very pleased with my time, finishing just behind the first lady, but it required a lot more fighting than I was hoping for.
The lesson? It’s all very well having a plan, but if you don’t follow it you may as well be pretending.
To quote my 6 year old:
It doesn’t count if it’s just in your head, you have to do it too