Monday, 29 June 2015

Failure, Frustration and Finding a Way Back

As anyone who has been following this blog, knows me, or just watched my vlog in my earlier post will know, three weeks ago I failed to complete the Endurancelife Classic Quarter ultramarathon, dropping out after 23 miles.

Since that point in time when I decided that it would be more sensible to stop than to continue, I have been continually analysing my decision, and having to justify it, not only to myself, but also to anybody who I have told about it when they've asked how I got on.

The bottom line is that it was a failure, and I've come to terms with that, I think.

However, I'm not used to failing at things, and I don't take it very well. That's a funny thing to find myself writing, given that I took 4 attempts to pass my driving test, and had to do resits in my first year at university until I found the right course for me. But when I have really, really set my mind to something, I have previously always succeeded, and to not do so this time has hit me pretty hard.

Fortunately though, over the past three weeks, I've come to terms with the failure of my run, by analysing the reasons behind it and planning a way of ensuring it doesn't happen again:

  1. I had to stop because my ankle was getting worse, not better
    I turned my ankle quite badly on a fast, technical descent near Keswick around 4 weeks before the run, and had thought it would be all better by the day. Unfortunately it wasn't, and actually was beginning to get worse, the longer I spent running on it.
    Now that I've had a few more weeks, that ankle feels fine when I run, which is really positive (unfortunately I also badly turned the other one the day after pulling out of the Classic Quarter, so am still letting that slowly recover now).
    Lesson Learned:
    Let the healing process occur, and don't expect things to suddenly get better.
    Next Steps:
    Spend time doing ankle strengthening exercises. Ankles take a huge amount of punishment on long runs, particularly trail runs, and so need to be stronger. I now have vowed to make mine better over the next few weeks while I'm unable to do some other forms of exercise (the reason for which is coming later in this post!)
  2. I had to stop because I was getting cramp on the steep uphill sections It's inevitable that you have to walk the steep uphill sections of a trail run. It's also almost inevitable that on a run which is as steep and technical as the Classic Quarter, you will get twinges of cramp at times. However, to be getting them after only 20 miles was a bit of a shocker for me, particularly as I'd been taking salt capsules and had drunk some electrolyte drink.
    However, I hadn't trained a lot on hills and I'd been unable to get enough food in (covered later in my lessons learned), so maybe my muscles were simply lacking the strength and energy for this kind of punishment.

    Lesson Learned:

    Train your legs for the kind of running you'll be doing.

    Next Steps:

    As part of my training for my running of the course next June, I have already booked in a 3-marathons-in-3-days challenge on similar terrain in Dorset. The idea of this is to get my legs a bit more used to the terrain and to help build my leg strength.
    I will also need to do more hill repeat sessions and more cross-training concentrating on leg strength.
  3. I had to stop because I hadn't got enough fuel in As I said in my vlog, I've never had a real issue with eating before, but I really struggled on the run. This may have been partly because of the heat, but given that it wasn't hot when the race started, I think it's more likely that it was due to the time of day. I heard a lot of other people saying similar things about struggling to get food down, so maybe it was something else, but training my body to eat earlier and on rougher terrain is something I can try and action.
    Lesson Learned:

    Eating early, little and often sounds very easy, but you need to train in doing it on similar terrain and at similar times of day to your race conditions to really understand what you want to eat and when.

    Next Steps:

    Use the training run in Dorset to practise eating while on similar terrain and train some very early runs as part of the overall training to get my body used to this.
  4. I stopped because I was feeling rough Notice that I didn't state that I "had to stop"; but I know this contributed to my desire to stop. At the time I thought that my feeling rough was primarily due to a lack of food and the heat of the sun. Since then however, I've started to think a bit more about this and it seems there was one element I hadn't taken into account; I always hate that distance on a run! Whether it's a long training run, either of the two road-marathons I've completed or any of the other ultras I've done, I always hate the section between about 18 and 25 miles. The weird thing is that I've never noticed this consistency before!
    Lesson Learned:

    I will probably always hate those miles in a race, and I'll be in a much stronger position to cope with that feeling and continue my race, if I simply acknowledge that, and try to remember that it does get better afterwards.
    Next Steps:
    I will do more of the "long" training runs (anything over 20 miles or so) as part of my training for next year's race, so that I can get used to this feeling and to build a catalogue of the good feelings from when I battle through it. I will also try to limit the various contributing factors to this feeling (I have already purchased a hat with neck protection in case of hot weather again, and have got a plan for dealing with my nutrition better).
  5. I stopped because I could The point at which I dropped out of the race was directly alongside our holiday house - it was literally a 20-yard walk to my bedroom. I had always known that this would be tough to push through, but knew that I could do so. However, with all of the other niggles mentioned above, the draw of a seat in the living room (or on my bed, as you can see in my vlog) was simply too much for me. This will happen again, assuming we're able to get the same holiday house, so I need to find a way of dealing with it.
    Lesson Learned:
    Having looked forward to sitting down for the past 5 miles, I found it very difficult to justify not stopping and heading for the house. If I am able to have a comfy-ish seat (camping chair) in the checkpoint itself that I can use to have a break and get some food, I hope this will remove some of this temptation.

    Next Steps:
    Make sure that next year we have a plan for me to sit down for a while in this checkpoint, in relative comfort, and then move on feeling stronger.

Ok, so now that I've learned all those lessons, I figured that this weekend was a good time to start applying them. I decided to work on my overall fitness and leg strength by running through an "Insanity" workout programme for the next 60 days. Not only would this improve my leg strength for hills, it would also improve my body's ability to handle short bursts of anaerobic work, while also getting me used to feeling rough and then getting over it.

I duly completed my first fitness test last night and then got up early this morning to complete my first "proper" workout. All was going well (although anaerobic work is hard after all my slow trundling runs) until about 20 minutes in, when I managed to recur a frequent previous injury by dislocating my shoulder while carrying out some enthusiastic Jumping Jacks.
I managed to get my arm back in its socket by myself (saving me a trip to A&E), but needless to say, this has rather put paid to that particular plan of getting myself into good shape... another failure to add to what feels like an ever-growing list, and not the best way to end a disappointing month fitness-wise!

Now I have to spend the next week or so resting my shoulder while the damage within it gradually starts to heal, before I can start some kind of fitness regime again (albeit one which doesn't involve any upper-body work, while I also work on stabilising, strengthening and rebuilding my ruined shoulder).

I guess it's just another bump in the road, but I'm determined to get back to my fittest ASAP so that I can truly enjoy being successful again soon.

Monday, 15 June 2015

EnduranceLife Classic Quarter Video Blog

Here is my video blog of my ill-fated attempt to repeat my success from 2012 in this year's Classic Quarter: