Wednesday, 14 October 2009

The Langdale Horseshoe Fell Race - Tired Legs Cause Retirement

Location: The Lake District, UK
Date: 10th October 2009

Distance: 14 miles
Elevation: 4000 feet

Time: 1 hour hard running before withdrawal then 1:30 of jogging and swimming

Pre-race breakfast@ 8 am: Chicken and coconut
Race start: 11 am
Race abandonment: 12 pm (at this point had my race drink of egg, coconut cream and water)
Finished Running: 1.30am
Post-race meal @ 2 pm: Sardines, mixed nuts

I knew something was wrong on the first ascent of this race. In 2006 I ran it in a time of 3:14:39. This year I managed an hour before giving up.

My camera stopped working at the start, perhaps a sign that things were not destined to go to plan that day. Fortunately my running partner took some good shots along the way.

On that first ascent, the field of competitors stretched like ants up the gully leading to Stickle tarn. This is pretty steep stuff for the most part and whereas last time I recall itching to get past other competitors, this time I was struggling to keep up. My legs felt tired. This is me on the right hand side with the orange waist-pack.

Once at the top there was brief respite as we skirted the lake on flat terrain, before splashing through the river and soon restarting the upward grind to the Langdale Pikes at about 2300 feet.
Giving Up
Halfway up this, I knew the game was up. My running partner, for whom uphill is normally the hard part, was pausing to take photos and still catching up and pulling ahead. The few people still behind me were chatting breezily. Knowing the full extent of what was ahead, I decided I didn't want to finish the race. I didn't want to ask my legs to endure another 2-3 hours.

Once I had made the decision to stop, I was as relieved as I was disappointed. Fell running is an exhilarating experience when you are in good shape, but no fun when you are not.

I was obliged to continue to the first checkpoint at the top (to prevent a missing person alert), but once free from the race I slow jogged back the way I had come, taking the opportunity to stop and appreciate where I was. The scenery was truly stunning and the weather perfectly suited to showcase the majesty of the Langdale valley .
Spontaneous Wild Swim
At the lake, I decided to take a swim . There were tourists around, but I found a spot at least 50 yards from any people and stripped to my shorts. The swim lasted exactly as long as it takes to dive into some water then swim to shore in a state of cold shock.

You may recall that last month I swam across nearby Buttermere lake which is 300 feet above sea level. What a difference one month and 1000 feet make. Let's put it this way: as I quickly changed out of my shorts and into the waterproofs I was carrying, only the most powerful binoculars would have seen anything of interest.
Insufficient Recovery
My conclusion has to be that I had not fully recovered from the race the previous Sunday. Six days of rest seems like a reasonable amount in the context, say, of gym sessions, but between races, it is not a lot.

From my half marathon days I recall hearing that you should take as many post-race rest days as there were miles in the race. In the case of fell running, where altitude is a factor, a more realistic equivalent would be a day for every 7 or 8 minutes of racing.

Of course I never followed that advice - but in those days I was running many miles each week. I may have been operating in a permanent state of over-training, but at least my body had learned to recover quicker.

My current strategy is not to train routinely, but simply stay fit through regular high intensity interval training and occasional long, easy cardio. Every now and again, I do a race at full effort. This program is not well suited to promoting quick recovery, so it was probably a mistake to attempt another race a mere six days after the previous, 120-minute race.

For my training pattern, you can probably double the required rest between races, which would suggest around 30 days.
My Friend did a Half Marathon the Next Day!
It's interesting to contrast with my friend's recovery. He and I have done the same three races in recent weeks - including the one I have just dropped out of. In fact, he then went on to run the Birmingham Half Marathon the very next day. Having double booked, he decided he liked the idea of seeing if it could be done; and in any case, he likes t-shirts and medals too much to drop out of the road race ;-)

This highlights the point that you should not base your beliefs about the best way to train on the way others do. As Doug McGuff and John Little point out in Body by Science, the abilities and achievements of the best performers may reflect their ability to sustain and recover from intense training rather than necessarily their willingness to perform it.

To put it another way, world class athletes train every day... but that does not mean that if you train every day you will become a world class athlete. How many burned out amateurs lie in the wake of each success story?

Aside from his more frequent running program, I suspect my friend has excellent recovery abilities, so I must beware of trying to keep up with what he does.
Race Nutrition Mistake
I think I over-coconutted. Breakfast included half a coconut, which is a lot of coconut flesh to eat if, like with me, it can affect the bowels a little. I then included a fair bit of coconut cream in the race drink.

When you consider that the whole nutrition deal was aimed at a 3-4 hour race, it's not surprising that when I got back to the car and mechanically consumed all the sardines and nuts well beyond my hunger, an uncomfortable stomach was the result.
Wine, Pizza and Cake Frenzy
One thing my running partner consistently includes in his 'training' cycle is the consumption of vast amounts of booze and dodgy food on the day he completes a big race.

Perhaps on some subconscious level I decided this must be the one aspect of his routine I should copy because in the evening, once my stomach had recovered from the coconut and nuts, one too many wines spiralled into a pizza and cake frenzy. This was a failure I found much harder to take than the race withdrawal!


Lightning said...

M . I think you had an off day . Sometimes there's no real physical reason for not being "up for it". But if you're not enjoying it , even in a perverse way , then what's the point ? For me it has to be fun . Even though some times in a race you wonder why you are putting yourself through this punishment ,shortly afterwards, you're usually rewaded with some fantastic views ,or, a face full of mud. Both of which I got on that run.
I like medals and tshirts . I got two of each the following day ;-)

thania said...

Langdale valley ,u are great photographer friend. Just to think you went for a swim there, omg, even if it is a short one.

Me too I think you had a off day, it sometimes happens, I am still in the country , on average walk about 8km / day, but the other day I just couldnt with my soul, and had to walk behind my hb and his aunt o 63 yrs old , out of breath!!!

Hope u enjoyed the pizza and cake, no harm done in doing it once in a while!!?

Methuselah said...

Lightening - I think you are right - there was more to it than weak legs. I guess the mental and physical interact on an ongoing basis, so not being up for it mentally was just made worse by having tired legs and the two together persuaded me to quit. Plus, they weren't giving out t-shirts at the end so what was the point...?

Thania - I have to give credit for the photos this time to my running partner (Lightening, the previous commenter). The swim was cooooold, but it felt great when I got out!

Drs. Cynthia and David said...

Catching up here- got lost in literature the last few weeks and haven't been keeping up with blogs...

Calling it quits (a DNF) is not an easy thing to do, but probably the right call here. There's no point in abusing yourself when you haven't recovered fully, and you might just risk injury from pushing hard when you are still tired. On the other hand, at least you got to get out there and run on some beautiful hills for a while! It doesnt always have to be about performance either.

I've managed to finish two races in the last month (a 50K and 50 miler) while injured, and am pretty sure that was a dumb thing to do (since the injury isn't going away- I wonder why?)! It is not fun to run while in pain, and deep fatigue isn't so great either. Will post about it eventually...


Asclepius said...

A couple of things to consider - other athletes may well have tapered their training for this specific race but I am guessing you don't follow such a meso/macro cycle anymore.

The BBS workout seems on the one hand to demand a full-on delivery every session - but no one can be expected to do that.

You listened to your body and responded accordingly. Few athletes pick up on such valuable indicators. Cheer up - you took the paleo way!

Methuselah said...

Thanks Cynthia and Asclepius - you are right, of course, that I should be a little more upbeat about having had the sense to pull out. And the swim was a good consolation!

Asclepius, I did skip legs on the BBS session the Wednesday before this race, but of course still worked my upper body briefly but intensely. I think it must surely have some impact on overall recovery. I've had 5 good days of rest now and am going to hit a full BBS session tomorrow to see what happens!