I want it all- a race report from the South Downs Way 100 2014

‘I want it all’. This was my reply to a question asked mid race in the South Downs way 100 miler a couple of days ago. By now I was a good 18 miles in and had filled those miles with ample conversation after bumping into Kirsty Reade (you may know her!). Those early miles were made much easier with her presence and the banter we had.

‘Gemma, if you had to pick, what would be your dream race?’ Kirsty asked me after we had nearly covered the globe listing races and destinations on our bucket lists. However, the question stumped me. I didn’t really have a dream race, in fact, what constitutes a dream race?! The location? With vistas of mountains, lakes and gorgeous scenery? Or is it the credentials? Something possibly like Western States, Spartathlon or UTMB? Maybe for someone it’s the performance, the time they complete it in or winning a race, possibly a PB?

The problem was I wanted all of that- all of those were my dreams. I just simply want it all. Everything. As soon as possible. Is that too much to ask? It makes for difficulty when being asked to narrow it down to one single race. I don’t really see my ultra running as a tick box experience with an end goal, I see it as something that I just do because I love it, developing with every step. My dreams are pretty open ended.

So I clarified myself. ‘I would love to compete for GB, maybe in a trail ultra or something. I’d love to win races, become one of the best, do brilliant times, course records, everything! But ultimately I just want to work towards being the best I can be, whatever that is’. Jesus, this is starting to sound like the beginning of some corny American high school film (Glee springs to mind).

I’m not the only one. I know that everyone who lined up at the start of this race in Winchester on Saturday probably wanted the same thing- to have the best race they could, doing the best they could. Many achieved far beyond their expectations and were outstanding being rewarded for all the effort and agony a 100 miler brings. Of notable mention Mark Perkins, the eventual winner of the race who finished it smashing the old course record in a time of 14.03. It’s utterly incredible! Yet he wasn’t the only one to achieve big dreams. Kirsty, herself went on to finish in a spectacular time of 22 hours after suffering nausea for much of the race. She was determined and focused with the goal for the race to be finishing well and injury free in the build up to her A race- UTMB.

The race is one of my favourites. Faultlessly organised with precision by Centurion Running Team (www.centurionrunning.com) and on the day, 80 odd volunteers not to mention extra support teams. It’s a hell of a feat of organisation- with 14 checkpoints, 30 hour cut off and some 800 litres of cola alone! The check points themselves are like little kids parties with every finger food and kids treat; you arrive to be treated like royalty with any need catered for straight away and with a smile (even the odd hug). Who needs a 5 star hotel to feel like a VIP?! For a small fee, a bit of mud and fatigue you can get it at the SDW 100.

The South Downs Way itself is beautiful, now with official status as a national park. The route is pretty untouched by road following a meandering trail through forest, field and over some large rolling hills towards Eastbourne.

Yet, the problem this day was I didn’t ‘get it all’. I didn’t get anywhere near my dreams one bit. I got a DNF.

Ultimately, it just wasn’t my day. The race coming at the end of a week of unusual fatigue and every step of the race from mile one to my eventual early retreat was sluggish, stale and exhausting. Nothing dramatic, I didn’t fall down into a ditch and break my leg, I just felt rubbish.

In reflection it’s not surprising. I had been training hard all year completely focused on every race entered but that left me feeling a little less than fresh for this race both mentally and physically. I’ve had lofty goals over the past 12 months and still do. So far I am happy to have had podiums in all my races Casears Camp 50, SDW 50 and NDW 50, even breaking a few course records. However, I got impatient. I was rushing. I wanted ‘it all’ now, straight away- every race became a chance to succeed (or indeed fail) and reach those goals. I was tired.

I realised there and then that you can’t always push yourself to the limit race after race with little break in between. Something’s going to give. I had got greedy and need to take a step back.

So swallowing the bitter pill of those three letters, I went home and reflected. I had forgotten the big plan, forgotten that you can’t have it all at once. The dream race doesn’t come that easily! It needs time!

What would I have said to my coaching clients? Probably something wise about periodisation, progression, key races and A goals- learning when to push and when to take a break. 4 weeks after a hard 50 wasn’t enough time race a 100 hard. I should have known that. I should have known better. Ultimately you need to be patient.

We are all rushing to achieve the big goal straight away and be successful as soon as possible, maybe it’s a sign of the times we live in but all too often people jump straight in, too much too soon, without steady progression only to crash and burn (and quite commonly get injured). Motivation and desire can be a powerfully positive thing but don’t let in the way of a bit of rational thinking.

Take the Brownlee brothers, if you followed triathlons, for example. This year their one key focus, dream goal of 2014 is the Commonwealth Champs, nothing else, it’s all about that competition. So in the WTS (World Triathlon Series) which has been taking place for most of the year people have been stunned not seeing them winning and on top. However, they are not concerned at all, saving themselves for the big one, they are wise and know when to peak without instead burning out (and dnf’ing a race!). There is no rush and greediness to still win at every race they compete in. Similarly I’m sure Mark Perkins did the same, focused on this key race, patiently waiting and biding his time.

So I’m guessing I should wrap up with some lesson here. Something about short termism, rushing to achieve athletic goals and being race greedy (who doesn’t wish they were at every race taking place on the planet!). Its a lesson in learning it’s ok sometimes to not succeed, it’s ok to DNF if you are honest with your reasons and not every race is the be all and end all just as long as your still on track and in the right direction to the ultimate goal. In summary- BE PATIENT.

Next month in July I will toe the line at the Lakeland 50 championships knowing that I am fresher for this DNF and wiser, ready to battle those fells.

I still want it all, hungry for it as ever but I’m going to make sure I get it bit by bit, savouring it every step of the way and I hope you do too.

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