Sunday, 1 March 2015

Review of 2014 - And a Bit More Reviewing!


Yes it has been a bit quiet on the UltraStu blogging front.  Best I post this 2014 review.

Right then 2014, first statistic: Total Mileage = 2147 miles. This consisted of 231 runs so an average of 9.3 miles per run, resulting with a weekly average of 41.3 miles. Comparing to the weekly mileage average for 2013 of 45.9 miles, I ran on average around four and a half miles less per week.  But with the miles per run being identical (9.3 vs 9.3), the decrease in weekly mileage appears to be mainly due to doing less runs, i.e. having more rest (or injury) days.  Although the yearly average of 41.3 miles per week probably doesn't really reflect what happened during the year, as for the first 8 months, up to the end of August coinciding with my final ultra-trail race, the weekly average was 48.2 miles per week, and for the last four months only 27.4 miles per week.

2014 - 231 runs, 134 rest days, total 2147 miles, average of 9.3 miles per run
2013 - 257 runs, 108 rest days, total 2389 miles, average of 9.3 miles per run
2012 - 229 runs, 137 rest days, total 2115 miles, average of 9.2 miles per run
2011 - 259 runs, 106 rest days, total 2217 miles, average of 8.6 miles per run
2010 - 260 runs, 105 rest days, total 2276 miles, average of 8.8 miles per run
2009 - 195 runs, 170 rest days, total 1783 miles, average of 9.1 miles per run
2008 - 199 runs, 167 rest days, total 1806 miles, average of 9.1 miles per run.

Interestingly, although my average miles per run has stayed pretty consistent over the last seven years, very seldom do I ever do a nine mile run. Typically it is around 5 - 8 miles, a regular 13 - 17 mile run each week, with a few occasional longer runs of 24+ miles.  And of course the seven races of marathon or ultra length.

This mileage of 2147 miles was 242 miles less than 2013, but was my 8th highest running mileage year from my 37 years of running, since I started training in 1978.  Looking at the graph below one can see that my last five years of running is probably my most consistent period of running, although not quite matching my highest mileage years from 1980 - 1984.  Actually I have just added up the mileage for each five year period and my last five years is more than the early eighties, at 11,144 versus 10981.

At the start of 2014 I mapped out my racing year, and as with each of my racing years since getting back into more frequent racing in 2007 I had planned for seven races.  Why seven?  Well it was a number I accidentally stumbled on during 2007, 2008 and 2009.  And since these years went really well I decided that I would stick with seven races each year.

For each of my races during 2014, (in fact every race since 2010) I have written a blog post reflecting on the race, what went well, what I learnt etc,  So rather than going into detail here, I will try to briefly summarise the year as a whole.

Interestingly when I planned my races for 2014 I knew that this would be my last year of ultra-trail racing before I take a two year break. (Explanation of why a two year break detailed below.)  I therefore wanted it to be a good year to finish on, and so set a pretty ambitious schedule, consisting of two target races, both of 100 miles, these being the Centurion Running South Downs Way 100 miler, and the Ultra Trail Mont Blanc.  Having started UTMB twice before, with a 22nd place in 2009, and a DNF in 2011, the idea of finishing this section of my endurance racing journey with such an awesome race was really appealing.  Unfortunately things don't always go to plan, and UTMB 2014 was another DNF.  Yes, very disappointing, but things happen for a reason, so I 'got over it' although watching the UTMB DVD the other month did reignite the frustration!

So in terms of my races in 2014, I ended up doing seven races.  Not the original seven races that were planned as I missed the South Downs Way 50 mile race in April due to a tumble I took whilst racing the Steyning Stinger Trail Marathon in March which for a few weeks caused a few problems.

Yes, my racing year didn't really start off well.  My first ever DNF in a trail marathon (from 31 starts) at the Steyning Stinger, then a Did Not Start at the SDW50, followed by a very 'below par' performance at the 61 mile Fellsman.  Following the Fellsman I needed to get things back on track, so I quickly slotted in the Stroud Trail Marathon in May and finally felt like I had run well for a close 2nd place.

Now the SDW100 was taking place in 'my backyard' of Sussex.  Strangely I therefore felt that I 'deserved' to win the event.  Now those of you that have read my blog will know that I have written quite a bit about getting ones race goal 'right' in order to perform well.  But here I was, in my 37th year of endurance running still making mistakes!  Anyway after a quickish start, I was soundly beaten by a really top class performance by winner Mark Perkins, and I ended up finishing in a disappointing 5th place.

I spent quite a bit of time reflecting on my SDW100 performance and I concluded that if I could just sort out my mind then although I didn't feel that I would be competitive for a win at the British Ultra Trail Championships taking place in conjunction with the Montane Lakeland 50, I could produce a performance that I would be happy with, which could result in a top five finish.  Come race day, I did get my mind 'right' for the majority of the race, but still there was a sense of disappointment as I felt that I had let 3rd position slip away, as I dropped into 4th place at around the 42 mile mark.  Overall though, I was pleased with how I had run.

As mentioned above, my sixth race of the year was a DNF at UTMB.  Although I still had my local Beachy Head Marathon race eight weeks later, racing it for the 13th consecutive year, I was pretty well 'raced out' and so simply ran for the pure joy of running rather than for any specific training purpose, and in training, well not really training rather within the pleasure of running I actually didn't do any runs longer than 8 miles.  But with a massive running base I managed to run quite well and so I was pleased with my race, running quicker than my 2012 and 2013 Beachy Head Marathon times.

So, for a change the above is a rather brief review of the previous year.  Now I want to try to explain why I am having a two year break from ultra-trail racing.

During the five years existence of my UltraStu blog the incentive for writing the posts have all been about reflecting and learning, in order to improve for my next race.  With no races in the near future planned there isn't really a need to write a blog post.  However, I am aware that over the last five years I have attracted a reasonable following.  The counter I inserted on the blog page shows over 113,000 visits, although the official figures for my blog actually totals 236,834 page views.  So this blog post is I guess for those viewers who have followed me over the years.  Hopefully my explanation that follows will make some sense.

I first got into running way back in the seventies.  There is background on how I got into running in both my 1978 - 1982 Review post and my First Marathon post.  Although probably prior to starting recording my training on the 1st January 1978, which coincided with my 15th birthday, my venture into running probably started four years earlier, January 1974, watching Dick Tayler win the 10,000 metres at the 1974 Commonwealth Games, beating the Commonwealth's best runners, including current World record holder David Bedford.

Dick Tayler Winning Commonwealth Gold

Watching Dick Tayler win on our black and white TV, (Click HERE for a video clip on YouTube) being an 'underdog' and beating all of the favoured runners, initiated a dream of wanting to run for my country.  But not being 'talented' at sport, I think that pretty well from the moment of being inspired by Dick Tayler's amazing accomplishment, I accepted that running for New Zealand would more than likely just be a dream.  I felt that in reality it just wasn't possible for a small untalented boy from Naenae, my home village!

So as I got into my running, rather than dreaming about being a champion, I simply focused on what I could achieve.  So the aim was simply to run quicker than I had previously run.  Yes, setting PBs (Personal Best times) was the goal, and the great thing when you are young is that as you mature, you get stronger, faster, so each year the PBs kept coming, so overall there was satisfaction with the running.

At first glance the above approach looks good.  Focus on your own goals.  Control the controllables.  You can't alter how fast others run, so don't worry about them,  Challenge yourself against yourself.  All appears sound, except that ones running performance is SO MUCH AFFECTED BY ONES SELF BELIEF!  Aiming to only go that little bit better than your previous best can be very limiting, as the rate of improvement can be very slow, and your goals can be so much less than perhaps you are really capable of achieving.   But I didn't discover this until over 30 years later!  

So as I progressed through many years of endurance sport, mainly running but also including multisport (kayak triathlon), road cycling, triathlon and Ironman, although I really enjoyed the endurance training and racing, when it actually came to the race results, overall I guess I was pleased with my performances, as for many, many years I continued to improve, and thus set PBs.  But there was always the underlying disappointment of not really being very good!  But I always concluded that I couldn't really help that, as I just wasn't talented!

Talent?  Yes, the key ingredient to success.  But what is it?  What is talent?  Well I'm sure there are loads of books, and loads of clever people that have defined what it is, but over my last seven years of ultra-trail racing I have given the concept of talent considerable thought.  Maybe a coincidence, but probably not.  But as I developed a clearer understanding of what talent meant to me, my running performance significantly improved.  Which was quite unreal, considering I was at an age (45 years old) when in 2008 I started ultra-trail running, where it is well accepted that ones physical performance is well past it's prime.

I see being talented as possessing the THREE necessary components to be a CHAMPION!
  (i)  The Absolute Desire to be THE Best
  (ii) The Total Commitment to Prepare Fully
  (iii) The Unquestionable Belief in Oneself

All THREE are required in order to MAXIMISE PERFORMANCE.

So at the age of 45+ I finally realised that talent may in fact not be something that you are born with. It is more to do with how you think!   So I asked myself  "How many of the three necessary components did I possess?"

The answers:
(i)  I didn't really have the absolute desire.  Running wasn't the ONLY thing in my life.  It didn't mean EVERYTHING to me to perform to my absolute best!
(ii) I wasn't totally committed.  In fact I was the opposite, a lazy trainer!
(iii) My belief was set at a level at which I felt I had some chances of succeeding at.  I believed if everything went well I could achieve the level I set myself.  The only problem was that the level I set was limiting me!

In some ways I guess I was fortunate that back in 2008, the year I ventured into ultra-trail running, my understanding of talent was still heavily based on the 'born with it' concept.  And for as long as I could remember, the longer the duration of the race, the better I performed.  Hence I deduced that I must therefore have talent at ultra distance events.  So simply due to this raised self belief, I had raised expectations in how I would performed within an ultra race.  And with these raised expectations of finishing towards the front of the field, all of a sudden I started winning.

It felt good winning.  But not only that, I was winning easily, which further raised my belief that perhaps I was good at this ultra-trail racing.  So finally, I had one of the three necessary attributes.  What about the other two?  In terms of commitment, the fatigue I encountered during the latter part of ultra-trail races intrigued me.  It was different to the fatigue of marathon running or shorter distance races, i.e. which tended to be leg and lung dominated.  No this fatigue was different.  It was as if my mind was fatiguing, which resulted in being unable to maintain the 'drive' to run fast.  I therefore spent vast amounts of time considering what fatigue in ultra-trail running was, and how best to train to reduce this fatigue.  And fortunately, maybe influenced by my 'lazy trainer' trait, but I concluded that in order to further improve I needed to train my mind, not my body.  

So I decided that I would really commit to training, although I had already increased my commitment to training, i.e. increasing the amount of time committed to non-physical training with all of the reading and thinking I had been doing.  So although I was still only running around 40 miles per week, the amount of time I was spending, reading around aspects of fatigue, simply thinking about ultra-trail performance and it's determinants,  and with a massive increase in time fully preparing for ultra-trail races though appropriate goal setting and extensive visualisations, I considered myself more as a 100 mile per week runner.  I felt I was now as committed as other elite runner! Yes, I started to consider myself as an elite runner!  Probably the best post that discusses my non-physical training is my 2013 Montane Lakeland 100 race post.

What about the desire?  Now this is really interesting.  At first, although I had a raised expectation of finishing near the front of the field in ultra-trail races, I think one of the attractions of ultra-trail running was that I could continue to achieve with my racing, as every race was on a different course, so it wasn't possible to compare finish times.  This really appealed as my marathon PB of 2:29 set way back in 1995 was going to take a huge effort to beat, and something I wasn't really confident of achieving.  In trail running, the focus was more on the actual 'journey', i.e. the enjoyment of the experience of running the race, during the actual race, as a result of running fast, and of running over awesome trails, with amazing scenery.  I found this hugely more enjoyable than the road racing 'destination' focus, where the enjoyment is typically experienced following the race, as a consequence of ones finish time.  So I think to start with the desire was all about the journey enjoyment.

But then as I continued to improve, as a consequence of both my physical and non-physical training, I sensed that there was a real opportunity to come to terms with the underlying disappointment that had been been hiding away since probably 1974.  Could I actually be really good, a high quality runner, a champion, a winner!  I remember at the start of 2010, after two years of ultra-trail racing, which had included winning 5 out of the 7 UK ultra-trail races I had entered, and also finishing only 15 minutes behind the legend Scott Jurek at the 2009 UTMB, that I finally had the desire to win.  The goal for 2010 was to win the Runfurther National Series which attracted quite a bit of attention within the rapidly expanding ultra-trail running community.  In the past, having a goal of being a National Champion would have been totally impossible for me.  But now, not only did I have this as my goal, but I strongly believed that I was totally capable of achieving it.  And combined with the increased commitment of the equivalent of 100 miles a week, 36 years after watching Dick Tayler win, I had become talented!  Check out my Pumlumon post which really illustrates my desire to be a champion!

With this UltraStu blog commencing with blog post number one on the 25th March 2010, following my first race of 2010, my overall journey as a 'talented' ultra-trail runner can be followed as it is detailed to some length within the 137 posts to date (including this one)!  Interestingly I signed off my very first blog post with the following quote: 

"For years I had assumed that my failure to run better was down to a combination of injuries and not training hard enough; but I started to wonder if it was my own self-image that was holding me back."  Charlie Spedding (2010), page 75. From Last to First. CS Books: Newcastle-upon-Tyne.

During these five years of trail racing there have been many, many highs, as well as some disappointments.  And I guess it was reflecting upon the tremendous commitment it took to win the Montane Lakeland 100 in July 2013 for the second time, that I realised that I couldn't maintain this level of commitment for much longer.  In terms of the commitment, it wasn't the physical training that was 'draining', but it was the non-physical training.  Some people would probable refer to it as 'psyching up' for the competition, but it was much more than this.  Yes, it did involve getting ones race goals clearly and appropriately defined, but then it also involved extensive visualisations.  I haven't recently listened to the British Trail Running podcast where I was interviewed by Tim Bateson, but I do recall talking about my visualisations within the interview.  So if you want to discover more about my approach, click HERE and then open episode 8 (September 2013) and my interview starts at around one hour nine minutes into the podcast.

Over the last seven years, I have been interviewed on a number of occasions by different people.  I can't recall what I talked about in each interview, but the links are available below:

November 2009 - Interviewed by Julia Armstrong for The Bare Truth podcast, mainly about my 2009 UTMB run including the focus on enjoyment, click HERE and my interview is number 100.

April 2013 - Interviewed by John Kynaston for the West Highland Way podcast, click HERE and my interview is number 39.

August 2013 - Interviewed by Ian Corless for the Talk Ultra podcast, click HERE and my interview is episode 41.

August 2014 - Interviewed by Nicky Redl for her blog page, about my 2014 UTMB run, both before and after the race, click HERE.

As mentioned above I haven't listened to the British Trail Running podcast for quite a while, and the same is for the other podcasts.  But I do recall at the time I thought the interviews went quite well, with probably the Talk Ultra interview being the most 'tame', in that I don't really expand 'out of the box' that much.  With Nicky's (I met Nicky in Chamonix, she ran and finished the CCC event) interview being only ten minutes long, I have just re-listened to it, and it briefly touches on my reasons for my planned break from ultra-trail racing.

As I started to explain before my podcast detour, I was finding that I was having to really increase the non-physical training in order to compensate for the decline that was happening with my physiology.  And over the last two or three years, even though I was still improving as an ultra-trail runner, I knew that this was due to my continued learning and developing of the mental aspects.  My actual physiology was declining, and this was probably best illustrated with the slowing of my Beachy Head Marathon finish times.  Whereas between 2002 and 2007 I finished under three hours on four occasions.  My last three year's finish times were 3:10, 3:12, 3:09.  And as highlighted within Nicky's interview I was beginning to find it difficult to be happy with my race performances.  Even though I was still performing at a high level, it wasn't matching the heights that I had gained, with probably my 15th place finish at the 2011 IAU World Ultra-Trail Championships being the real pinnacle of my racing.

So towards the end of 2013 I made the decision that I would try to 'hang in there' for just one more year.  To try to continue with the massive commitment in order to still perform and try through increased learning to counter the declining physiology.  And as reviewed above, my 2014 racing didn't quite match previous years.  Illustrated not only by my lower finish places, but also in terms of how I felt I had performed, which often resulted in me concluding, a disappointing race!

I started this post with the statistic that I ran on 231 days during 2014.  Only 7 of these days were races.  So in reality, although I really enjoy the challenge of racing, of really trying to achieve my utmost best during the race, I actually get the MOST enjoyment from actually just running.  Just going out and running across the fields at a gentle relaxed pace, either on my own or with others.  This is what I am doing pretty well on the majority of the other 224 non race days.  So although I am not planning to race any ultra-trail races for two years, I still intend to continue running, and checking out my training, actually I should really call this running, as I'm not really training for anything at the moment, for the first two months of 2015, I have run a total of 309 miles, at an average of 38.6 miles per week.  So quite similar to my 2014 weekly average.  Yes, I have run close to 45,000 miles over the last 37 years because I simply love running, and with the racing just being an extra bonus.  At the end of the day I AM A RUNNER!

Within Nicky's interview I mention my planned return to Ironman.  Yes, this is still the case, with the plan to race the 2016 Lanzarote Ironman in May next year.  Which will be the 25th anniversary race.  Which will be quite special for me considering that I was one of only 116 finishers of the very first Lanzarote Ironman.  Last year there were over 2000 finishers!  And with the race still around 15 months away, there is no real urgency to specifically train for the race, hence why I don't feel I am actually training at the moment.

Although I have put on hold my own competitive goals, for the last 18 months I have been coaching around 10 athletes, and I am gaining great satisfaction is seeing my athletes improve and achieve their competitive goals.  Some are making HUGE gains, although for some others there improvement isn't so extreme.  But the most satisfying aspect is that I am able to share what I have discovered through my 37 years of endurance sport.  And so my coaching considers not just the physical preparation (which does involve more than just gentle relaxed running, and even has quick key sessions at the core of the physical training for my athletes), but as you would expect from my blog post emphasis, there is also an emphasis on the non-physical preparation.  

Probably the best illustration of how simply adjusting ones thought processes can change performance is with one of my athletes that I used to refer to within my notes (not expressed directly to him) as my Mr 50 percentile man!  Before we started working together, and for the first one or two races, no matter how many runners were in the race, he would finish pretty well exactly mid field. He had decided that this was his level.  He set this as his goal, he would in most races achieve this goal, so everything was good.  Job done, satisfied!  However, I guess perhaps just like me, deep down there was that underlying sense that perhaps he wasn't really achieving his best.  The level he set himself was perhaps too low.  But he didn't really know how to change things, hence he approached me.  After working with him for over a year now, it is very pleasing to see him now not only having changed his goal to the tenth percentile of the field, but he believes this goal is realistic, and not surprisingly, he is now achieving or only slightly missing this new mega enhanced performance level.  So although not racing myself, I am still getting plenty of enjoyment from following my athletes and their racing.

Finally to finish off this post, which could well be the last post for a wee while.  But you never know, I do have a Half Ironman planned for June, so look out for a triathlon related post around then.  However, in addition to my run coaching, I am also race director for the Weald Challenge Trail Races that take place in May, which were really well received last year, the first year they took place. And for 2015, I am also race director for a new event in September titled the High Weald Challenge Trail Races  Both events consist of a 50km ultra trail, a trail marathon, and a trail half marathon.  Entries for the Weald Challenge are already at over 300, so it is likely that the 500 entry limit will be reached, which is great to see, and really pleasing considering the massive time and effort it takes to put on the event.  Check out the race website for race details. 

So as I sign off, I wish you all the very best with your running.  Maybe I may see you out on the trails if you are running within East Sussex, or maybe down at one of my races.   If so, please say hello and let me know that you are an UltraStu blog reader.  It is nice to meet those of you out there who do read my 'mutterings'!  Until the next mutterings, "Enjoy the Running".


PS  I wanted to sign off with an awesome signing off quote but I thought maybe best to simply copy and paste many of the quotes from my five years of blogging.  

So first, signing off quotes from others in the order they appeared, so starting with 2010.

"You've got to believe in what it is you are trying to achieve. Without that belief you've little chance of accomplishing anything of worth." Steve Black, 2008. Page 29: Jonny Wilkinson, Tackling Life - Striving for Perfection. Headline Publishing: London.

"If you keep focusing on the problem, it will surely happen. My strategy is to look at the goal, and enhance the positive things that will lead to success." Steve Gurney (2008) p198 Lucky Legs - What I've Learned About Winning and Losing. Auckland: Random House.

"Change my vocabulary. Aim for perfection. Know what I want, why I want it, and how much I want it. Use my imagination. Try to feel fantastic, and think like a caterpillar."  Charlie Spedding (2010) p86.

"There was a time, not so long ago, when we really did know everything about human physiology. After all, it was all so very simple. ...... But the more compelling challenge for the traditional model (of fatigue) is that it simply cannot explain the obvious." Tim Noakes (2007) From the foreword for the book:Brain Training for Runners, by Matt Fitzgerald. 

"The way we perform is the result of the way we see ourselves.  To alter our performance we need to alter or change ourselves and it is that changing that's difficult."  Gary Elliot (1983).

"It's journeys that bring us happiness, not the destination."  Dan Millman, from the movie Peaceful Warrior.

"As anyone who has raced an endurance event knows, especially one as demanding as a mountain 100-miler, there is a very strong connection between the performance of the mind and the performance of the body. A huge part of being successful in completing these events is an understanding of what lies in front of you. Your mind prepares your body, and your body delivers an output that is sustainable for the mileage and elevation change that remains. If the mind is checked out, the body follows. ... When I finally did make it up to the pass .... I had lost the mental fortitude to keep my legs from seizing up and the decision to drop was an easy one." Nick Clark, 2011.

“The medals do not necessarily go to the fastest, strongest and fittest, but to the one with not only high emotional-mental intensity, but also the ability to focus it into performance.”
“The lead pack dwindled and swelled and dwindled again, as runners wrestled with their limitations and sorted themselves into the positions befitting of their mindsets.”  Lorraine Moller, New Zealand Marathon Runner, Bronze Medallist 1992 Barcelona Olympic Marathon, from her autobiography “On the Wings of Mercury – The Lorraine Moller Story”, Longacre Press, 2007. 
“A large amount of what we achieve is governed by our mental state and how we see ourselves. (It is) a lot about opening the mind to what might be possible when we throw away the self imposed limitations of our mind.” Tom Williams, 2011.

"The mind game that takes place before the starting gun ever fires is really the critical point of a race.  It's when you have that good angel on one shoulder and a bad angel on the other.  One is saying "You can do it, mate!"  The other is whispering, "Why are you here? You can't win!"  The angel you decide to listen to will determine whether you are competitive or an also-ran.  There's always a voice in everyone's head saying "You haven't done the work, mate.  You know that track session you missed? It's coming back to get you on this hill."  That's what holds you back.  Each race is a new war against the evil angel! Mastering your own self doubts is the battle!"  Chris McCormack - Awesome Australian Triathlete/Ironman - from his 2011 book titled "I'm Here to Win" 

“Remaining positive really is one of the most precious faculties for any athlete.  That, and an ability to stay focused and disciplined.  Develop a mind bank of positive images and thoughts – family, friends, previous successes, favourite places, a big plate of chips.  You need to build it up as you would any collection, but soon you will have a range of thoughts to flick through when next your body and soul are screaming out for relief”.Chrissie Wellington, from her book titled "A Life Without Limits".

"Pain is little more than a conversation between your body and your brain, this is another reason why a fit mind is so important.  The brain is programmed to protest us, and that can mean imposing limits on what it thinks we can or should do.  Constantly push at these limits, because the brain can be way too cautious."  Chrissy Wellington, (201), page 142, A Life Without Limits - A World Champions Journey.

"If there's a problem, there's a solution, and positive thinking is the only way to find it.  The trick is to think outside of the narrow, traditional wisdom of the sport and look for answers anywhere without prejudice." Page 212, I'm Here to Win, Chris McCormack, 2011.

"Training is just that, (the ability to tune in), and it is during this period you need to build your confidence and physical ability. This is the time to build mental strength and grow and in that respect I agree 100% with your model.  Once this is achieved you have the physical and mental tools to perform on race day but you also need to have these set to auto so that you can trust without thought. I see it like the auto neuro response that makes your heart beat - you don't give it thought you just trust it will happen.  The secret, in my view, is on race day to be able to forget everything (trust the heart will beat) but tuning into the environment that nature throws your way and flow with it and thus enjoy it (vital).
I believe we can all 'mentally horde' without realising it and maybe all this preparation is taking away from what matters. Maybe we can forget to trust and not separate training from the joy of racing.
Training = build the physical off the mental.
Race Day = Trust and enjoy."  A comment left on my blog by Tom back in September 2011 following my UTMB DNF:

"In ultras it's really more about the mental component than anything else"  Scott Jurek, 2013,speaking in the Lake District

When I am running and something does not quite go going according to plan - ...... - I just ask myself:  "What would a zebra do?"  James Adams, 2014 Like The Wind Magazine

"The naysayer's doubts were whispers compared to the screaming within my head.  Did you train too hard?  Did you train enough?  Can you really run 100 miles on just plants?  Did you go out too fast, too early?  Are you doomed?  But - and this is what I had learned - the screaming in my head could be reduced to faint hissing.  All I had to do was remember why I was here, what I wanted - how bad I had wanted it." Scott Jurek, 2012, Eat and Run, page 94.

"You can either live the safe route that many others have done and continue to do, or you can take that leap of faith: jump off the cliff that can send you into a World that is unpredictable, extremely challenging, and altogether unsupported by those who see risk as a negative.  Do that and you can truly live the life that you were put here to live".  Mark Allen, Six Times Hawaii Ironman Champion.  From the book titled I'm Here to Win, by Chris McCormack, 2011.

And now, signing off quotes from me, with the first that really kicked off my blogging!:

"Run as fast as you can, while you can!" Stuart Mills (2010)

 "Enjoy the experience of running, try to 'live in the now' as you run, as what you engage in while you run will be a lasting memory to re-live, to re-enjoy, and to provide an opportunity to get to know your true inner self, if you allow it". Stuart Mills (2010)

"Ultra Trail Running is significantly enhanced through maintaining a 'positive state of being' as one remains 'within the now', experiencing the overwhelming joy of running within the surrounding natural beauty". Stuart Mills, 2010.

"Ultra Trail Running is significantly enhanced through maintaining a 'positive state of being' as one remains 'within the now', experiencing the overwhelming joy of running within the surrounding natural beauty". Stuart Mills, 2010.

"Focus on enjoying every moment, staying confident in that your preparation has been sufficient for the realistic goal you have set yourself, and feel assured that the fast, but comfortable pace you have started at, is correct. Listen to your own 'deep and inner beliefs', and ignore the comments, views and actions of others if they are in conflict with your well thought out and planned strategies. "  Stuart Mills (2010)

"Never assume the majority view is correct. Always question, consider the evidence, and come to your own conclusions.  Don't be afraid to differ!" Stuart Mills, 2010.

"Remember race preparation should focus predominantly on the mental preparation leading up to race day.  Develop the confidence and self belief, to match your carefully planned goals for the race. Ensure the positivity is in abundance, and the success, however YOU define success, will eventuate."  Stuart Mills, 2010.

"Running means different things to different people.  Ensure you know what running means to you.  And as you run, knowing why you run, whether for the relaxation, the peacefulness, the scenery, the challenges, the friendships, the competitiveness, or in my case, for them all!, may you get much enjoyment and satisfaction as you run through your journey!"  Stuart Mills, (2010).

"The real improvements in ultra trail running performance occur not directly as a result from the physical preparation, but largely as a result from the overall preparation.  This overall preparation involves implementing the lessons learnt from the very thorough reflection of previous ultra trail races.  In order to effectively prepare, one has to effectively reflect!"  Stuart Mills, 2011

"Too often it is easy to accept that one's ability is lacking, and to be comfortable with what 'cards one has been dealt'.  However, 'the hand you end up with' is totally within one's own control, and is largely determined by the ability to question, to reflect, but most of all to persevere and to look deeply within at oneself, to develop the confidence, to possess the self belief, that more can be achieved, to extend oneself beyond the norm!"  Stuart Mills, 2011

“Often it is too easy to accept a less than satisfying performance due to an acceptance that physically you are not capable of better, however, as soon as there is the realisation that simply the way you think and respond to the challenges that you encounter during the race can alter one’s performance, one is capable of achieving so much more!”  Stuart Mills, 2011.

"Yes, within our minds, it is our self expectations that essentially determine the limits to what we are capable of achieving.  However, the mind does not have total control, and the secret of maximising performance is in enhancing the harmony between the body and mind." Stuart Mills, 2012

“One of the great joys of endurance running, specifically ultra trail running, is that one never stops learning. There is always the opportunity to experiment with different approaches to training, racing or nutrition, in order to continually challenge oneself.” Stuart Mills, 2013.

"One must always remain open to continued learning, even if it may mean that you have to accept that perhaps your ideas and beliefs require changing.  The process of learning is an enjoyable and never ending pathway, which simply requires thoughtful navigation."  Stuart Mills, 2013.

"The importance of race goals can not be underestimated.  A well constructed race goal can support you in your hour of need, whilst in the midst of a race, when you need that ammunition to fight back the slowing down arguments within your head.  Yes, a poorly formulated race goal, can play a major role in constructing a poor race performance.  Get the race goal right, and the performance you desire will more likely eventuate".  Stuart Mills, 2013.

"Enjoyment from racing can result from a pleasing performance, but perhaps the satisfaction gained is possibly largely a result of a greater understanding of what it is within ourselves that enables us to firstly to challenge ourselves, but then to raise up, as one strives to meet these demanding expectations."  Stuart Mills, 2013.

 "Everything tends to happen for a reason.  The key is to be open and questioning enough, with a positive outlook, to identify the purpose of what at first may be a disappointing outcome.  Or simply, search for the sunshine behind the cloud"!  Stuart Mills, 2014.

"Challenging oneself is the first important step.  The journey continues with the commitment in order to be fully prepared, and then the joy and excitement of the experience follows.  The sense of accomplishment is a totally personal issue, and only oneself can establish the measure of success in relation to one's own wants and needs."  Stuart Mills, 2014

"Enjoy the Running" Stuart Mills, 2015

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Beachy Head Marathon Quick Update - And Some Other Bits


Yesterday I did my first race since my disappointing DNF at UTMB.  It was the Beachy Head Marathon, which I was racing for the 13th consecutive year.  Over the last few years my finish times have got slower, and my finish places have got lower, as illustrated with the following data: 2010 3:02:25 (1st), 2011 3:02:55 (2nd), 2012 3:10:39 (2nd), 2013 3:12:23 (5th).
 Well I am pleased that yesterday I stopped the 'downhill' trend with my finish time being 3:09:37, nearly three minutes quicker than 2013, however, my finish place dropped one further place to 6th.  Although 3:09 is still quite some way from my personal best time of 2:57:20 when I finished in 2nd place back in 2007, overall I felt I ran quite well yesterday, with the pre-race goal of "running relaxed and not fighting" pretty well being achieved until the last climb up Beachy Head at around 24 miles.

Climbing Out of Jevington At Around 4 Miles (Photo courtesy of


Descending Down to Alfriston At Around 8 Miles  (Photo courtesy of

Approaching Birling Gap At Around 22 Miles

Running Relaxed After 23 Miles

Passing Belle Tout Lighthouse Approaching 24 Miles

Commencing "The Fight" - The Start of the Last Climb - Beachy Head
Nearing the Top of Beachy Head  (Photo courtesy of

Maintaining the Intensity During the Final Half Mile to the Finish at Eastbourne (Photo courtesy Ian Davis)

The plan is for a brief Beachy Head Marathon race report to be included within a seven year review of my trail marathon and ultra-trail racing blog post, maybe next week. However, it could be the following week, as at the moment I am busy with two other projects:

(1) Weald Challenge Trail Races.  Yes, I have just opened entries for the 2015 Weald Challenge Trail Races, consisting of a Trail Half Marathon, Trail Marathon, and a 50km Ultra Trail.  The event takes place on Sunday 24th May 2015 within East Sussex.  The inaugural race this year was very well received, so if you are looking for a scenic but challenging race around the end of May next year, check out the race website for details and entries.

(2) Like The Wind Pop-Up Gallery.  Many of you are probably aware of the Pop-Up Gallery due to take place in London this coming week.  The event is being put on by the Like The Wind Magazine, and involves some really interesting talks, movie screenings, workshops, etc. spread throughout the week.  The list of presenters is really impressive and to name just a few include Steve Way, Charlie Spedding, Veronique Marot, Sebastien Chaigneau, Robbie Britton, Jez Bragg, Ian Corless, Holly Rush, and yes, tagged onto the end of this impressive list, yours truly Stuart Mills!

Next Sunday, 2nd November the plan is to do a 10 - 11 mile run commencing around 10:15 am, to be then followed by my talk where I reflect on my last seven years of trail racing, highlighting what I have learnt and what training principles enabled me to achieve the level of performance I reached.  Amended details, including the run before, are currently being updated on the Pop-Up website.

Go to the following website to view the full Like The Wind Pop-Up Gallery schedule and to book tickets.  Some events have already sold out, so best you check out the website pretty soon.

I'm looking forward to the events I am planning to attend, with I guess listening to Steve Way topping my list.  Hopefully I will catch up with a few of you during the week.

This was meant to be a quick update.  So to keep it quick, no sign-off quote.

Speak soon,


Friday, 5 September 2014

Ultra Trail Mont Blanc Race Report - No Obvious Major Mistakes, Just Disappointment!


For the last six years I have been racing trail ultras.  And for the last four years I have been writing race reports here on UltraStu.  Well tonight's UTMB race report will be my last ultra trail race report for a while, as I am having a break from ultra trail racing.

I have used my race reports as part of my TOTAL training, where I have spent much time analysing my race performances in order to learn and strive to improve.  Over the last six years, I feel I have developed as an ultra trail runner, with some performances I consider being quite exceptional, whereas others have been at times disappointing.  It is just a little unfortunately that my 28th and final ultra trail race during this period of my competitive endurance racing 'career' ended up being a Did Not Finish (DNF)!  Tonight's race report should be a lot shorter than usual, as with there being no immediate upcoming ultra trail races, the need to learn to improve isn't so paramount.  So here goes!

The 168km UTMB was my number one race for 2014, having previously raced it in 2009 where I finished in 22nd place in a time of 26:29:13, and in 2011 where I DNFed at Courmayeur after 78km.  It is an amazing event, and having decided at the end of 2013 that 2014 would be my final year of ultra trail racing prior to a break, it seemed the ideal ultra trail race to finish on.  (I will come back to my decision to have a break either at the end of this post, or in a separate blog post).

My racing during 2014 had been rather mixed.  It started back in March at the Steyning Stinger Trail Marathon where I had my first ever DNF in a trail marathon after taking a fall in the mud resulting in a 'locking up' of my right leg.  During my next race in April, the 61 mile Fellsman, I ran very poorly and finish in a disappointing 20th place.  I quickly 'threw in' a trail marathon into my race schedule two weeks following the Fellsman to boost my confidence, which worked with a strong run at the Stroud Trail Marathon to finish in a close second place.  The South Downs Way 100 miler in June followed with although a fifth place, finishing in a time of sixteen and a half hours, overall I wasn't happy with my performance.  Fortunately, I managed to produce a pleasing run at the Montane Lakeland 50 at the end of July where I finished in fourth place in a very strong field with it being the British Ultra Trail Championships.  So coming into UTMB I was expecting a strong showing.

Having DNFed at UTMB in 2011 mainly as a result of getting into a negative mental downward spiral, I was well aware of the need to get the non-physical preparation right.  Establishing ones race goals I have particularly found difficult this year, and this I guess is part of the reason why I am having a break from ultra trail racing.  My goal for this year's UTMB wasn't a specific finish time or finish place goal, but more a goal of when I finished I hoped to be able to reflect back on the race and feel that I had maintained 'racing' for the entire 168km.  Obviously the intensity of racing a 168km mountainous race is lower than racing a flattish 100 miler, or a 50 mile race, however, I had the aim of wanting to maintain the race focus for the entire race.  Back in 2009, although overall I was pleased with my run, I felt that I had stopped racing at Vallorcine, which was at around 23 hours.  In 2014, could I manage to 'race' the entire route?  If I could, then a pleasing finish time would result, which I expected would be quicker than 2009, somewhere between 25:15 - 26:00 hours.  So I had a 'perfect' race time expectation of 25:15 - 26:00 hours, and formulated a schedule for the 24 timing checkpoints based on 25:15, but this wasn't the race goal.  As explained the race goal was to maintain a race level intensity, and try not to 'slacken off'.  Usually quite achievable for races lasting up to say nine hours, but for a 25+ hour race???

On a warm sunny Friday afternoon, although interrupted with a heavy shower just five minutes before the start, 2434 runners get underway. It doesn't take me long before I am in clear space and able to run at the pace that feels right.  Around the first two kilometres are on road before running along a undulating trail which is plenty wide enough to allow two runners to run side by side.  During the first 8kms before we start the first climb at Les Houches, it is all pretty comfortable, and there is brief chatter among the various British runners whom I am running near including Jez Bragg, Andy James, Robbie Britton, and Dan Lawson. I didn't have any plan to run with the other Brtish runners, it just seemed that we were wanting to run at around the same pace, probably around 200 - 300 metres back from the leaders as we go through the first drink station at Les Houches.

 The Start at Chamonix with Anton Krupicka (Headband) Directly Behind

The first climb up to Le Delevret is always a quick climb in relation to the other nine climbs.  I am working at a good level, not too high, and slowly watch the British runners move away.  I am totally fine with this as the intention was to start that little bit easier than I did back in 2011, where possibly it was just that bit too quick!  As I pass through the timing point at 1739 metres elevation (Les Houches was 1012m) I aren't aware of my position, but at the time I guessed that it would be somewhere between 50 - 70th place.  Although I wasn't really focused on a finish position, and even with the expectation that the standard of the field at the front would have improved since 2011 and 2009, I do recall feeling reasonably happy with where I was positioned.  The actual race results later show that I passed through in 71st place, in a slightly quicker time of 1:24:42 when compared to 2011 (1:25:30, 31st place).  The other British runners at this point were not in sight, having passed in the following times (places): Andy 1:21:33 (39th), Jez 1:21:56 (44th), Dan 1:22:22 (50th) and Robbie 1:22:48 (53rd).

During the First Climb

Passing Through the Le Delevret Checkpoint

The descent down to Saint Gervais is a little slippery due to the heavy rain that had started half way up the first climb.  I take it a little easier than usual being aware that back in 2011 I experienced substantial discomfort on the descent into Courmayeur.  I therefore don't get negative as around ten or so runners overtake me.  The results later show that during the forty minute descent I dropped from 71st to 83rd place.  There is a great street party atmosphere in Saint Gervais even though it is raining, and I really make the most of the positive energy and find myself high-fiving many children.

The next section along to Les Contamines is a gentle climb with the occasional short steep sections thrown in.  Including a new hill immediately prior to Les Contamines which probably adds around an extra minute or two to the race time in comparison to 2009 and 2011.  As mentioned above I had produced a 25:15 split time schedule.  I didn't have the split times written down, but I did decide to remember three of the times, these being at Les Contamines (31km), Courmayeur (78km) and Champex-Lac (124km).  I arrive at Les Contamines feeling really good, having seemed to have found my comfortable place within the field, with there being minimal changing of race position during the last hour, and I notice on my watch that I was pretty well exactly bang on my schedule time which was 3:15 at this checkpoint.  The results later show I arrived at 3:14:29 in 84th place.  The other Brits were still out of sight: Andy 3:04:19 (36th), Jez no time recorded, Dan 3:06:01 (41st) and Robbie 3:06:06 (43rd).

All is going to plan, and again I soak up the positive energy as I make good progress up to the next checkpoint at La Balme.  Up to this point of the race all had been going well.  I had felt that I was maintaining a good race pace appropriate for a 25+ hour race.  I was staying within the moment, and had been really enjoying the race, even though it had been raining now for three hours, although it had just stopped prior to La Balme which was pleasing.  I was aware that I was significantly lower down the field than I had been in both 2009 and 2011, and that I was behind the other leading British runners, but I was totally happy with all of this.  At this point I was achieving my goal of maintaining race focus, which I knew would produce the performance I would be happy with if I could simply continue to enjoy the present moment.

La Balme is at an elevation of 1698 metres, so we had already climbed quite a bit from the lowest point of the race route at Saint Gervais of 815 metres.  The next checkpoint was at Refuge Croix Bonhomme at 2439 metres.  It is during this portion of the race when things started to go wrong.  I start feeling tightness within my chest, and start to have trouble breathing.  I try to focus on the amazing surroundings, the stars above which are beginning to come out as the clouds disappear, the amazing trail of head torches behind winding up the mountain, but the discomfort from my chest is getting worse.  I have no choice but to ease off the pace in order to get to the top. 

I finally reach the checkpoint, and then try to maintain a quick pace on the descent.  I find it difficult to keep the pace up, with breathing problems with the tight chest.  I get to the Les Chapieux checkpoint, having descended 886 metres feeling pretty 'rough', after 6:30:32 of racing, now in 116th place.  Whereas back at Les Contamines I had been less than ten minutes behind the leading Brit Andy James, due to the difficulties I had experienced on the climb and descent I was now 44 minutes behind Andy!  (Andy 5:46:31 (28th), Jez 5:51:57 (41st), Dan 5:58:08 (53rd) and Robbie 6:05:16 (69th).

I decide a longer stop than usual is needed to try to recover.  For some of the checkpoints the time is recorded for entering and leaving the checkpoint, and the results show that I spent eight minutes at the checkpoint.  The next few miles are reasonably flat or at a gradient which is just that too steep to run, but easy to walk quickly up.  I begin to feel better and begin to relax as I start chatting to a runner from Japan, Aki.  I don't usually talk that much whilst racing, but I was cautiously getting back into race mode after the previous chest tightness prior to the checkpoint break, so I was able to chat a little bit. I guess we walk/run along together for around an hour, and I start to feel confident that I have got the 'bad patch' out of the way so soon into the race, so I start to look forward to increasing the intensity and gradually moving myself back up the field. Unfortunately around halfway up the long climb to Col de la Seigne (2507m) the tight chest and difficult breathing returns.  Again I try my best to remain positive and to 'push through', but I have to reduce the intensity, and the pace substantially drops and it seems to take forever to reach the top.

Meeting Up With Aki at the Prizegiving

On the descent I find that if I stay below a certain intensity the discomfort from the tight chest is okay.  I get to the checkpoint at Lac Combal (1964m) actually feeling okay, and with a quick stop are on my way.  As I start the fourth climb of the day, the moment I start to raise the intensity, the discomfort returns.  I have to travel up the mountain at a very slow pace.  I am beginning to feel a bit down.  From the race going so well for the first four hours, now at the Arete Mont-Favre checkpoint (2409m), 10:25:50 into the race, I am having really difficulty.  Not able to race, having to walk the climbs very slowly!

From Arete Mont-Fave there is first a gentle descent to the Col Chercrout checkpoint, then a steep descent to the major checkpoint at Courmayeur.  At first I manage to maintain a reasonable pace, but then shortly before Col Chercrout I begin to feel really rough, and am overcome by a sick feeling.  the tightness in the chest is still there, and now combined with feeling sick, I am not in a great state.  The checkpoint has a few benches to sit on, but no shelter.  I sit down and hope I will quickly feel better.  The checkpoint crew repeatedly check if I am okay and encourage me to make my way down to Courmayeir where the checkpoint is within a huge sports hall with hot food, beds, etc.  I don't know how long I am at the checkpoint, I guess around ten minutes.  As I start making my way down I am physically sick, although not much comes up!  Being sick actually makes me briefly feel better, but it isn't long before I feel really rough again, and I slowly make my way to the next checkpoint.

At Courmayeur, I pick up my drop bag, and make my way into the huge sports hall.  As I take a seat at a table, I find I am seated next to British runner Ed Catmur.  I hadn't actually met Ed before, although had seen him race and was well aware of his many great performances.  It was quite a bizarre moment as I introduced myself.  I was feeling pretty bad, and he actually didn't look that much better. (Ed had arrived at the checkpoint at 5:05am and spent 59 minutes there, before leaving at 6:04am.  So not the quickest of stops!).   I had a chuckle to myself at the thought of supposedly two of Britain's top 100 mile ultra trail runners both looking and feeling pretty rough, sitting down together stationary, not really doing anything, minimal feeding, minimal talking, both probably wondering what were we doing here in Italy at 5:30 in the morning, and for me trying to work out what is the best way forward in this race which although still a participant, I was no longer racing!

The thought of heading back out to immediately take on a 800 metre vertical climb was not appealing.  I knew that based on how I felt and the difficulty I had experienced on the last climb, that it would be very slow progress, and definitely not even close to racing!  My race goal had been to maintain race focus throughout my journey of Mont Blanc.  Due to the tight chest and difficulty breathing I had been unable to do this.  I therefore saw little point in continuing being in the state I was.  Solution? Simple, have a sleep on the secluded mats that were available behind the curtains.  For the first time ever in a race, I take off my shoes, lie down and fall asleep!

I pretty well immediately fall asleep, but stir a few times, realise where I am, and decide more sleep is required.  I'm not sure how many times I re-awake, but after around 2:30 - 2:40 of sleeping I felt that the time was right to get up.  It is around 8:15 am in the morning, and upon waking I feel amazingly good.  A quick breakfast of spaghetti bolognaise and fruit pie, and I am on my way.  I had arrived at the checkpoint in 189th place at 5:31am (11:59:43) and l left exactly three hours and two minutes later at 8:33am.  Meanwhile, just to update you on the progress of the leading Brits, who had all arrived and left before I had arrived at Courmayeur.  Their arrival times and positions were: Andy 9:41:15 (32nd), Jez 9:40:38 (31st), Dan 10:20:32 (65th) and Robbie 10:31:51 (79th).

As I leave Courmayeur, with it now being a warm sunny blue sky day, the intention was to simply enjoy myself on a casual training run along the 90km (56 miles) back to Chamonix.  I had definitely left race mode behind before my lengthy stop!  As I make good progress up the climb, running all the way along the road until reaching the single track though the woods my competitive instinct returns.  I start doing some calculations within my head, and work out that if I have a really strong run, quite possible now having slept and so turned the UTMB into a multi-stage race, then maybe a sub 30 hour finish could be possible.  The thought of achieving a 29:59 finish time was appealing, combined with the prospect of perhaps I could maintain race focus for the 'second day' of the race, and therefore go some way to achieving my race goal.

The Awesome Race Route Between Bertone and Bonatti

All Smiles as I Really Enjoy Moving Quickly - Although Walking Here as I Crest the Summit

I make really good progress up to the checkpoint at Bertone.  The next section of the race route from Bertone to Bonatti I remember from 2009 as being probably the most awesome part of the race.  It is early in the morning, along a smooth undulating single track at an elevation of around 2000 metres, and with Mont Blanc off to the left, the scenery is just amazing.  Back in 2009 I ran really quickly along this leg, and again this year I am running pretty fast and absolutely 'fly' past loads of runners.  The 7.2km leg takes me just 58:47 and I move up from 552nd place to 463rd place!  As I run pass the other runners I feel a bit of an 'imposter', in that they are doing a non-stop race, whereas I am doing a multi-stage race after my refreshing 3 hour break.  Many of you may be thinking that taking 58 minutes for four and a half miles may seem pretty slow.  Well just for comparisons sake I will compare my time to the four British runners who way back at Les Houches I was running with, but who are now many hours ahead of me.  Their split times from Bertone to Bonatti and their place at Bonatti were: Jez 60:49 (25th), Andy 62:48 (30th), Robbie 65:41 (70th) and Dan 72:54 (72nd).

Following Bonatti CP the route continues to stay up high before a zig-zagging descent down to Arnuva.  I continue to really enjoy myself running at a good pace, although begin to find it difficult overtaking runners on the narrower track, especially on the descent.  But I still manage to move up from 463rd place to 419th place in a little over forty minutes of running.  A quick refuel at the checkpoint and then it is pretty well straight into the next big climb of 756 vertical metres up to Grand Col Ferret, where we enter into Switzerland.

Slowly Climbing Up To Grand Col Ferret

I start the climb at a good intensity, but within minutes the tightness and discomfort in my chest returns and I start to find it difficult to breath.  I slow down so at first I am running at the same speed as the runners around me.  But then find I have to slow down even more and now are being slowly overtaken by the runners who just previously I absolutely 'flew' past.  I am not very happy.  I try to up the intensity but just can't.  The discomfort from the chest, combined with by now a rather negative state of mind prevents me from doing anything faster than actually creeping!  I decide for a 'time out'.  I move off the track, sit down and simply take a good look at the surrounding scenery.  There are glaciers, amazing sharp edged mountains, grassy fields, rivers, etc.  I think to myself that it isn't really too bad a place to be soaking up the sunshine.  Only problem being is that I was meant to be completing a running race, not just any race, but the amazing UTMB!  I get myself moving and continue my way up the long climb at a very slow pace, but I guess I must have had another three or four scenery time out stops before finally reaching the top.

Through the checkpoint and I was looking forward to the awesome descent I remembered from 2009, that descends from 2527m at the col, down to 1603m at the La Fouly checkpoint.  Back in 2009 I absolutely flew down to La Fouly with the eleven kilometres only taking me one hour and one minute.  Well without there being the urgency of racing, together with feeling pretty down about my inability to run at any pace that increased my breathing rate, it seemed to take forever, which it pretty well was, taking 2:02:27 to get to the checkpoint.  Although again I did have a few time-out scenery stops on the way down, so when I was jogging I wasn't actually going that much slower than the runners around me.

Feeling 'Down' Descending to La Fouly

As I slowly make my way down I decide that I would withdraw myself from the race at La Fouly.  Although the prospect of another DNF wasn't appealing, in reality I had stopped racing back at Courmayeur when I stopped for a sleep.  Over the last six years of ultra trail racing I have really focused on trying to perform to the best of my ability during the races.  My racing has always been about performing, the joy of running quickly, the excitement of being in a competition.  Here, today, due to whatever reason that was causing the problems with the tightness in my chest and the breathing issues whenever I raised the intensity, I was unable to actual race.  Yes, getting all the way back to Chamonix, to complete the 168km journey in itself is a massive achievement.  But for me, having already completed that challenge back in 2009, there just wasn't the same, 'continue at all costs' motivation.  Simply completing the UTMB just didn't mean that much to me.

As I enter the checkpoint, I take a quiet seat and spend a few moments observing what is around me.  There is noise and excitement outside with the spectators doing their best to encourage the runners.  Within the marquee it is very quiet.  There are probably around fifteen or so runners quietly feeding/fuelling themselves, but mainly you can see within their eyes that they are really focusing on seeking out the necessary energy to continue on their extremely challenging journey.  I compared myself to the other runners.  Should I really be dropping out?  Many of the other runners look in a pretty poor state.  Many looked exhausted, many looked shattered.  But mostly they looked determined, they have the desire to finish, and therefore are fully committing to doing their utmost to complete what they had started.

Those few minutes simply observing all around me did get me to start questioning whether I was doing the right thing by dropping out.  Apart from the breathing issues when I raised the intensity, apart from the 'feeling down', there was nothing wrong with me.  I knew that it wouldn't be easy, but physically I could jog slowly / walk my way to Chamonix.  I re-asked myself the three important questions:  What do I want?  Why do I want it?  How much do I want it?  And simply finishing the UTMB in order to not record another DNF wasn't the necessary answer to these questions to provide me with the important motivation to continue.

Looking back now, nearly a week later, did I make the right decision to drop?  Although many may see me quitting from the race for no apparent reason apart from 'things weren't going to plan' as really poor, as a sign of weakness, and really disappointing from a runner who has in the past perhaps inspired others.  I acknowledge this, and yes it doesn't really set a good example for others to follow.  But I guess in some ways my decision to quit reflects my overall approach, my overall philosophy that I have tried to maintain during my last six years of ultra trail racing.  This has been to try to really 'live within the moment' during the moment whilst racing.  To really enjoy the racing, to enjoy the journey, and with the destination, i.e. the finish place and time being a bonus.

Throughout my 28 ultra trail races I have focused on the flow, the rhythm, simply the joy of running quickly.  I have tried my utmost not to struggle, not to battle, not to suffer, whilst racing.  Yes, at times I have encountered some really challenging moments during many races when maintaining a quick pace has been difficult.  But I have never interpreted these moments as pain or as suffering.  They have been moments to challenge me, to test my character, to see how I respond.  In some ways these difficult moments have provided the opportunity to remain positive, to control ones emotions and to come out stronger and richer from working through the difficulties.

However, throughout these difficult moments whilst racing, the focus has always been to continue to move quickly.  I am a runner, a racer, and it is this that gives me the enjoyment.  And in pretty well all of my ultra trail races over the last six year, these difficult moments have been brief encounters, as the word suggests, just moments.  So my memories of my ultra trail racing consist of joy, of moving quickly, of feeling good.  To complete this portion of my ultra trail running journey with many many hours of discomfort, of struggling, of suffering, of moving very slowly, for me would not have been the right option.  So looking back now, I am still pleased that for me I made the correct decision.  When I think of Stuart Mills the Ultra Trail Runner, I associate with joy, excitement, moving quickly.  Pain, suffering, struggling has never played a major role within my ultra trail experiences, and for that I am very grateful.

As I started writing this post I was possibly toying with the idea of providing an explanation behind my reasons for having a break from ultra trail racing, but I think that that is best left for a future post.

Time to sign off.  I guess one of my lasting memories from last weekend's UTMB is simply seeing the determination in so many other runners as they persevered along their journey of Mont Blanc.  These runners have truly earned my respect with their ability to do their utmost in order to achieve what they set out to do.
"Challenging oneself is the first important step.  The journey continues with the commitment in order to be fully prepared, and then the joy and excitement of the experience follows.  The sense of accomplishment is a totally personal issue, and only oneself can establish the measure of success in relation to one's own wants and needs."  Stuart Mills, 2014
I wish you all the best as you take on future challenges.  Enjoy.


PS The four other British runners who I accompanied at the start of the running journey all completed the entire circuit of Mont Blanc.  Their finishing times and places were:  Jez 24:14:17 (20th), Andy 24:45:27 (27th), Robbie 26:48:36 (54th), and Dan 28:07:40 (70th).