Further, not faster

Posted on: 09 Feb 2020

That's the mantra for 2020 as I shift my focus away from time chasing and take on my first ultra.

Yes, the unticked box from last year will get addressed, although I'll have to wait until July and the start of the Serpent Trail Race before I can grab my proverbial pen.

It's a 50k event in the South Downs that forms part of a larger festival with 100k, half marathon and 10k options. I had my eye on it in 2019, but left it too long to commit and the 50k sold out.

No such drama this year; I'm in with accommodation booked for the Friday night so I can arrive fresh and in plenty of time to catch the shuttle bus to the start. We'll be following the Serpent Trail path from Petworth to Petersfield and if it's half as good as the YouTube videos make out, I'm in for a treat.

I chose this race as the terrain didn't look too intimidating for an ultra newbie. Off road, yes, but not too wild and while there is elevation, it's not that much more than I've faced twice before at Snowdonia. And it will be more progressive, as opposed to the three intense climbs you have to tackle in the Welsh mountains.

I'm genuinely really excited about this one. I've wanted a fresh running challenge for some time having racked up my 12th marathon last year. And perhaps more than that, I want something where clock watching and mile splits are less important.

Chasing four hours, unsuccessfully thus far, has been very draining and truth be told I'm yet to even come close to achieving it. Two 4hr11s and a lot of disappointment, whereas the satisfaction I've felt completing Snowdon two years in a row - where it's all about beating the course and the conditions, not your PB - has been immense.

Hitting the magic four remains a long term goal. I think my best hope of doing it is to forget about doing it at all and see if my times improve naturally.

But for this year, the marathons I do complete will be done in support of training for the Serpent Trail. Here's the plan.

I'm currently on a 16 week programme in readiness for the Shakespeare Marathon in Stratford, which is the same date as London. But I've reduced the intensity so as not to burn myself out, putting in fewer long runs and more strength building work such as hill reps, core sessions and weights.

In May, I've got a trail half over Cannock Chase to grow my confidence in going off road, with Worcester Marathon earmarked as well, depending on how I'm feeling.

Into June, I haven't booked it yet but I'm intending to do the Cheddar Gorge Challenge, which has a two-loop marathon option. This will be all about discipline and avoiding the temptation to race too hard (ie too fast) when off-roading. I don't want another repeat of the Forest of Dean from 2018.

A month later, the 50k will be upon me – 11 June to be precise.

So in short, get marathon fit for the spring, maintain that fitness level into the summer and hit the trials raring to go further than I've ever ran before. Sounds easy. I doubt it will be!

Progress so far? Pretty solid, albeit not particularly fast. I started the New Year with a parkrun double, which was terrific fun, and now I'm back in double figures having done my first ten miler on Thursday just gone.

My first half marathon this year won't be in training, but at the Leicestershire Half in two weeks' time. It's a fast, if rather uninspiring course, so I'm hopeful of a decent result.

The training routine has had a shake-up since I changed jobs as the new office doesn't have as good facilities for changing and showers. This has meant more long runs after work instead of early mornings – my ten miler, for example, was at 5.30pm from work back to the station where I'd left my car.

What it does mean is some new routes to try and keep me interested. The lighter evenings will be very welcomed as I can start using Sutton Park and getting off the roads.

A couple of weekends ago I also paid a visit to the National Running Show at the NEC. I finalised choices for my new road and trail-going daps, plus there were tips galore for my ultra adventure; indeed ultra running really seemed to be the main theme for the event.

Among the guest speakers was Lazarus Lake of Barkley Marathons fame. I'd loosely heard of the Barkley, but never really understood what it was or why it was so famous (or should that be infamous?). But after hearing Laz's talk, I went home to binge all the documentaries and vlogs and was suitably awestruck.

They say three laps of the Barkley is a 'fun run'. That must make the Serpent Trail a toddler's first walking step!

Back at the show, I added Jo Pavey and Steve Cram to my list of sporting icons I've been lucky enough to meet.

And I couldn't resist popping over to the Running Channel stand and congratulating the lovely Anna Harding on her recent achievement in the Run for Love multi-day endurance event across the Azores. That and I wanted to tell them I think the quality of their output is getting better and better. If you haven't checked out their YouTube videos, I really recommend taking a look.

That just about brings me up to date. Storm Ciara is still raging outside as I type, but while it may have got Izzy a get out of jail card for this morning's Junior Parkrun, my evening training session will be going ahead regardless.

Five miles and hill reps await. At least I'm not lacking in motivation now that the diary is looking so pleasingly full. I've got high hopes for 2020 and, if everything stays on track, another personal achievement to add to my list.

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