North Downs Way 100 – one week to go

(photo: Stuart March)

It feels like I’ve had the same conversation over and over again in the last week – answering the question «are you ready for the NDW?». It’s great that people are actually interested in my slightly unconventional hobby, so since you asked, here is my own personal North Downs Way 100 preview.

Once again I featured in Centurion’s race preview, and, just as with the SDW100 in June, it looks like the NDW will be exciting and competetive, both in the men’s and women’s race. In the past when I’ve been mentioned in race previews my reaction has been self doubt, anxiety and mild panic. When I saw my name mentioned in the preview before Ecotrail Oslo in 2015 I immediatly laced up my shoes and went for a run, worrying that I had not done enough training, and trying to rectify it with less than a week to go before the race. (A completely silly reaction, since it was not a goal race for me that season, just training for the NDW100 a few months later). Before Ultravasan in Sweden last year I considered sending a message the night before the race, demanding they remove my name from their preview (maybe with reason, since I knew my fitness was poor and my race preparations lacking). My lack of such reactions now is probably a good sign. Instead I look forward to the race, and am wondering whether I will get revenge for my defeat by Maryann Devally in 2015, who pushed me down from 2nd to 3rd place with just a few miles to go, or if she will have an equally strong finish this year. I also hope to share a few miles with Sarah Cameron, who I’ve been friends with on facebook for a long time, and see how her racing experience in tough mountain races in France translates to an easier course, albeit a longer distance than she has completed before.

I had expected to maybe get some help with my early pacing from Svein Kjetil Riska, a Norwegian who is debuting at the 100 mile distance at the NDW. We have met quite frequently at races in Norway and tend to finish within minutes of each other, as well as going for the occasional training tun together. However, since Svein is running his first 100 miler he has decided to go for a somewhat conservative pace and goal, deciding on using a schedule for 22 hours. I think he will crush his goal, but it’s better to set a realistic goal and overperform than the other way round. I myself pondered the idea of maybe setting a schedule for course record pace, but after realising that the current course record holder, Debbie Martin-Consani, is in the world elite of 24 hour runners, and based on events at the SDW100, I’ve decided to go back to my original goal for the 100 mile grand slam, which was a sub 20 hour finish in all the races. (When I set this goal I thought it so wildly ambitious that I didn’t dare to tell anyone about it, saying instead that I aimed for sub 24 at each race, but was happy just to finish all four races). If I manage to maintain a consistent, comfortable pace, keep stops at aid stations to a minimum, and get the nutrition right, that should be achievable. Getting on the podium, getting in the top 10 overall etc will just be extra icing on the cake.

Should I fail miserably to reach my goal very few of the excuses traditionally used in such situations will be valid:

  • I can’t blame injuries, since I have had none of those in the last 14 months. If I have missed any training runs it has mainly been due to laziness or work, and that has not happened very often (despite the fact that I am very lazy).
  • Ditto for illness, since I have not had a single sick day for the last 18 months. The closest I have come to being ill was when weaning myself off my caffeine habit in the last weeks before the Thames Path.
  • I can’t blame unfamiliarity with the course or the terrain, having run it before in various races. (However, as was demonstrated on the Thames Path, that is no guarantee that I will not manage to take a wrong turn, even in broad daylight.)

There are two factors that might cause problems for me on race day. One is the temperature. The forecast looks almost ideal for running with temperatures between 16 and 19 degrees (and showers), however, it that changes and it turns out to be a hot day I will be at a disadvantage. Here in Southwestern Norway we have only had three really nice summer days in June and July, during two of which I was at work until 8 pm, meaning I have only been on one long and two shorter runs in hot weather. As it takes two-three weeks for the body to acclimatise to heat there is no chance any adaptations has happened in my body, and there have also been few opportunities to test hot weather nutrition strategies and outfits. My impression from facebook statuses of fellow Centurion runners is that the UK has had a lot more hot weather this summer, meaning that my competitors will cope a lot better than me if the forecast suddenly changes. Hot weather also tends to wreak havoc with my nutrition strategy, as I always struggle to eat enough in hot conditions.

The other factor that may throw a spanner in the wheels is that training between the SDW and the NDW has maybe been going a little too well…

Box Hill holds no fear for me now 😉

The forecast says rain, which I have plenty of experience with.

Last winter, when researching training plans and between race recovery strategies for grand slamming, I made provisional plans for lots of hiking trips in July. I did not expect to be completely injury-free and able to complete long runs or hard interval sessions between the SDW and the NDW. After the Thames Path I started doing long runs and strength training earlier than anticipated, however when I tried running intervals at marathon pace I suddenly needed to take three days off from running due to tight hip muscles. After the SDW I decided I needed to try a few interval sessions again as I felt my cardiovascular fitness had deteriorated, and I surprised myself with being able to complete several very demanding workouts, and pushing myself harder than ever before. One of my favourite treadmill workouts is a progressive hill workout that I call «The Monster Hill». When doing this workout before I have had to stop at 12 % incline, this summer I managed to complete two more levels and finished at 15 %.

Above, my heart rate curve for the Monster Hill workout, below, my heart rate during a power hour,

I have also done back to back long runs at weekends, and prepared for the 400ish steps up Box Hill by climbing the world’s longest wooden staircase, the Florli steps. I have climbed them before, with a heavy backpack, and going up them once felt more than enough. This time I climbed all 4444 steps, from 0 to approx. 750 m above sea level, three times in a day, running back down on a trail for a 10 km loop. My body seems to have absorbed this training without any issues. However, my worry is that since things have been going so well I might have been tempted to overdo things. What if my body suddenly starts breaking down in the middle of the NDW, like it did in 2015, because I have pushed too hard between races? Well, this grand slam is a huge experiment in training and recovery techniques, and in a little less than a week I will find out if I have got it right or wrong.

Hopefully, I will be just as happy when finishing the NDW100 this year as I was in 2015 (photo: Stuar March)

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