Perhaps my best race performance since I took up running and a 4th place finish faster than last years winning time.
I ran last years race with Ally and the focus was totally on her getting that first ultra finish under her belt (mission accomplished!) but this time I was out and out racing this one.
This is a race on trails and terrain I know well, it’s as local as you can get and it’s excellently organised and supported by my good friends at Team OA so I wanted to really do well here. It was very much an “A race” for me and I wanted to experiment with a different training approach for it too.
The build up weeks
Since the 4th place at Ladybower 35 6 weeks ago, I decided that my training for White Rose would be focused on speed instead of distance. A total turnaround from the higher mileage approach and 4:30am long runs I did for Ladybower.
I felt that I ran well at Ladybower, after some reflection anyway, and that the long runs I’d been putting in did me good in the last 5 miles but I also felt pretty drained and by the time I got the start line for that one I was nursing a few niggles due to the longer mileage weeks so for the 6 weeks since I dropped my mileage right back from 60-70 mpw to 35-40 mpw but I made those miles count and ran them faster and harder than in longer weeks.
My thinking was that in a “short” ultra like the White Rose 30 some of it is mental desire and strength to dig deep but ultimately if you want to do well you have to have outright speed and while I’m not the fastest on the start line I’ve worked on my 5k times and run more 7-8 mile tempo runs to be able to go out fast or kick if needed and I feel reasonably confident that in the coming months I can get my 5k time down to 17 flat which I can then build on.
I’ve really enjoyed running the bits of the route that go around my house and commute to work and using Strava segments as encouragement to do speed work. I’ve also enjoyed getting to the start of a race not feeling too drained or nursing any significant niggles for a change so the lower mileage worked in that respect.
I suffered really badly at Ladybower from putting myself under too much pressure to perform and wanted to avoid that so I decided this time that I’d simply run to a time goal and ignore everything around me.
I set an incredibly ambitious (for me) target of 4:30 or 9 minute miles and decided to set my Suunto to display current pace and overall average page and run to that without worrying too much about distance as I knew the course anyway.
As it turned out, as usual, the mass start and downhill first 3/4 of a mile meant a quick start and my plan was to run fast on the downhills and flat where possible so we flew out of Marsden CC and around to the first climb up Wessenden Trail to CP1 at 4.5 miles.
Running briefly with the 30 mile winner Anthony Hatswell – Pic: Examiner.co.uk
I eased off a little as we started climbing as there were a couple of guys already opening a small gap (as it turns out, they were the two winners of the 30 & 60) and settled into my own race.
I like the first 10-11 miles of this race, it’s reasonably tough but there’s a good amount of flat and downhill to cruise along on.
Climbing the valley
The first bit of this race that I truly dread is the climb up from Manchester Road through Wellhouse up to Bolster Moor and Outlane. It’s a real slog with some steep gradients and at this point in the race I started feeling the initial fast pace a little on the climbs.
Continuing the climb up Scapegoat Hill really drained my legs and I was glad I’d banked some time in the earlier miles so I was still on schedule and I’d always planned to power-hike the main hills so it’s a good chance to take on a gel or two.
Once you’ve got the climbing out of the way, it’s a bit of a road running into a headwind (it’s always a headwind up there) along New Hey Road and once you turn off that, mentally for me, I count this as the final stretch of 9 or so miles back towards Marsden.
The “home stretch” / struggle
I always figured there would be a point in the race where my training only short distances and dropping the long runs would mean I’d run out of steam at about 18-20 miles and so it proved with me feeling pretty nauseous on a trail at 21 miles and so I took my final Torq gel and had to walk for a bit while I was trying to be sick over a wall – it’s a glamorous sport for sure….
Once that passed I tried to pick up the pace as best I could knowing full well that while I still had plenty of time in the bank on my target, there were two big climbs remaining and still several miles to cover and I was in 5th place (turns out I was 4th, the other person was the Swedish machine who won the 60) with nobody visibly in front or behind me for large stretches I just wanted to maintain position and stick to running whenever I could and hiking hard uphill.
The final 5 miles
Dropping down from Bradshaw onto the road next to the canal into Marsden and to the beast of a climb up Plains Lane which tops out at something like 23% incline is short and sharp but I spotted a runner not far behind me at this point so pushed hard and sturried off the top of the climb as best I could to try and just keep that distance for the last couple of miles.
I dropped back down towards tunnel end where the recent Man Vs Barge race took place and up the final climb before a short descent back to the cricket club and the finish. I caught a glimpse of the runner I’d seen a little earlier but they were now comfortably back down the road and I figured I was safe enough from that point – and frankly if they closed the gap I’d have been powerless to stop them.
I really struggled to get much running done in the last 3-4 miles so I’m glad I’d managed to drop a couple of runners earlier in the race as I was really struggling badly the last 2-3 miles and had nothing left really.
Last years winning time was 4:39, I just ran the race in 4:32! I knew this year that time wouldn’t be enough to win but I figured that would represent an epic personal triumph and this was a personal run for me so to find out I managed to come 4th (3rd male) was immensely pleasing!
I’m still a total novice compared to many ultra runners but I feel this race and the performance was a defining moment for me.
I got the time I wanted and thanks to my wife Ally’s encouragement and easing my race nerves with advice on managing the mental aspect of the pressure I put on myself and also the many friends wishing me well beforehand including some really kind messages from last years winner Ray Lanigan showing greater faith in my ability than I did made a big difference.
Training – Short and fast runs
I’ve now run a 35 and a 30 mile ultra 6 weeks apart and tried two different approaches. I tried higher mileage for Ladybower 35 and lower, faster mileage for White Rose and I think that the answer for me is somewhere around the 45-50 mpw mark but with a good quality long run and shorter speed work rather than the slower, longer weeks many favour.
When I race, I want to compete and to do that first I need speed.
I need to improve my speed over shorter distances and the next goal there is to get down to 17:00 for 5k and look at making my easy pace quicker. That’s definitely been happening in recent weeks and I’m going to add another 10-15 miles a week to what I’ve been doing and see how that goes.
Even ultras these days are run incredibly fast so to compete, there’s no choice but to get faster and stronger still. I still think I can improve significantly with effort and application and I’m looking forward to getting out on the hills this winter and working hard to achieve my goals.
Kit and nutrition
I dropped the ball a little nutrition wise this time, I took 5 Torq gels of varying flavours and a small soft flask of water in my race vest and with the significantly faster than planned first 15-20 miles (20 miles was in 2:50) I’d used all my gels by mile 21 and think if I’d done it again I’d have taken another 2 for the final kick.
I’d normally be able to cover 30 miles with 5 gels comfortably but I’d not accounted for the significantly faster pace burning fuel quicker in the first 20 miles.
I didn’t bother with any CP food as I really didn’t fancy it and the gels were working well and I just couldn’t face it which no doubt contributed to the slightly grim last few miles but at least apart from a small amount of nausea at about mile 21 I felt ok throughout.
Kit wise, the weather was good so I just ran with my normal gear of OMM Kamleika jacket, Berghaus Vapour Tech Top, Saucony Kinvara TR2 shoes and Ultimate Direction AK race vest. I did slip over once on a grassy descent from the quarry but otherwise footwear was fine. It’s a mix of road and trail so many wore road shoes and others trail.
The mandatory kit list also asked for taped waterproof trousers and this is common for all fell races – I grabbed a pair of waterproof trousers from Decathlon for £8.99. Didn’t need them for the race but if you do for a kit check they’re a decent fit and look great value.
Full disclosure here – I’m good friends with Team OA and this particular race is one I feel strongly about and hope does well so it was incredible seeing it totally sold out (250 entries) and hearing so many positive comments afterwards about the challenge of the course, stunning local scenery (I’m very lucky to live here!) and that the course was very well marked with big signposted arrows and spray painted directions on turns etc.
There were a couple of areas a sign or two were perhaps missing but overall I think the Team OA folks did a great job marking it all out and placing the CP’s which as ever were staffed by cheery people ready to encourage the runners.
I went out too fast and hung on. I was a bit lucky in some respects but I’d anticipated it and was ready for a slow last part of the race (less stamina from no long runs) but I found having speed available – especially when downhilling is invaluable.
I’ve got the Frostbite 30 up in a months time and as it’s not an A race for me I’m going to chill and try run a consistent pace rather than fast/slow/implode/crawl pacing plan from the off instead and stick to that plan so it’ll be nice to compare finishing times with this race.
Feedback for 2015
Really nothing much at all to be honest, I actually went back up to CP1 after I’d finished as Ally was staffing that one all day so wanted to cheer through some of the 60 mile racers and with the time of year and early darkness meaning many runners would be out for hours I’d perhaps consider making attaching a glowstick to the back of their packs or a high-viz vest mandatory gear for the 60 mile race as some runners were largely in black kit and difficult to see so from a safety aspect on dark country roads.
I honestly can’t believe how well it all went and a big part of the day was the many messages I got before and after from friends and it was nice to catch up with fellow Berghaus Trail Team member Danny who completed the 60 miler. You guys have way more faith in my abilities than I do so again, thank you all so much.
Onwards to the next challenge!