Saturday, 9 December 2017

McDowell Mountain Frenzy 25k

With my final race of the year fast approaching, I'm feeling really happy with how training leading up the race day has gone. With a greater focus on faster miles and flat running, I'm starting to really notice the difference, so much so that my tempo runs are now an average of 10 seconds per mile quicker than a couple of months ago. I suppose it helps that the weather has finally cooled off, particularly in the evenings when I tend to do my runs, but regardless, I am for sure feeling fitter, faster and stronger than I have done since the San Diego Marathon back in June.

Last weekend, I tested my race fitness by taking part in the McDowell Mountain Frenzy 25km trail race. Admittedly most of my faster runs have been on road which makes a huge difference, but I figured that if I could do 8 minute miles on the trails, then that is a vast improvement compared to last year.

When I looked at the entry list, there was some good competition for this one and I knew that if I wanted to secure another victory, I was likely going to have to work for it. The good news is that I felt confident in my training - I had been feeling good and knew that so long as I didn't fall over or anything silly, I might just have the edge although I suspected it was going to be a close race.

The morning started cool and overcast and with a slight breeze that helped to keep the temperatures low. We even had a little spotty rain which didn't amount to much but it was a welcome relief from the above seasonable norm temperatures we'd been encountering recently.

The course consisted of a 10 mile loop followed by a 5 mile loop. I didn't know the course, but having ran at the McDowells on numerous other occasions, I was well aware that there could potentially be some short but steep climbs at some point. If there was a lot of climbing, I knew I would struggle as I haven't been doing a great deal of hill work, so I was relying on my pace to give me a strong run.

I felt amazing for the first 8 miles. The climbs really weren't causing any problems and I was running a good pace that I felt comfortable with. Unlike the Punisher Night Race a couple of weeks ago, the plan this time was to run comfortably hard and maintain a good tempo. The rolling hills were fun and I was enjoying the single track sections. I'd been having problems with tight glutes in the week leading up to this race and I was concerned they would cause havoc if there was a lot of climbing, but thankfully they behaved themselves and caused no problems.

The constants dips up and down, and the twisty turny nature of the course meant that I couldn't see if there were any ladies close behind. Unlike the night races where you can see the beam of head torches, in the daylight you have no idea until somebody is right beside you. I guessed that I had no more than a 5 minute lead if I was lucky and so I just kept focused and maintained the momentum.
But the final two miles of that first loop were horrid as the rolling hills got steeper and longer and I was having trouble keeping things going. In addition, my legs were feeling tired on the climbs - I'd not been doing hilly runs in training and the legs were going into shock with what seemed to be constant climbing. I ended up walking small sections and with every walking step, I knew that the chasing ladies would be gaining on me.

I finished the first lap in just under 1 hour 20 mins for a shade over 10 miles. I'd said to Andy prior to the race that if I ran the first loop in less than 1 hour 20 and was feeling good, I would go for the course record of 1.59. With 5 miles to go and having been averaging 8 minute miles, it would have been possible if a little tight, and whilst I started the second loop strongly and was picking up the pace again, I knew there would be hills which would slow me down.

I overtook some of the chaps on the second loop but still I couldn't see any ladies behind. The sun had by now starting to break through and it was getting quite warm which was causing me to get extremely thirsty. I hadn't realised how much I'd been sweating and I really needed to stop for more fluids but didn't want to waste any time at the aid stations. I kept pushing onwards and as the course looped back up to the bridge where we would join a sandy wash for a short stretch, and there was just a mile and half to go, we faced an extremely steep and long climb. I walked the hill, glancing back to the trail behind me as I climbed  to see if any ladies were hot on my tail but there was nobody. I now knew that the race was mine and I could relax a little. The course record was now beyond my reach but I still wanted to finish strong and I relished the final downhill to the finish line.

I was very happy to win the ladies race in 2 hours 6 minutes exactly, placing me 8th overall, with the second and third ladies just 3 and 4 minutes behind. It felt like I'd had a good race - admittedly the hills were a nightmare but I knew that was because I have been focused on flatter running for ATY and my hill running was weak right now, but I can deal with that.

Top 3 Ladies in 25km Race
There is no denying that this year has been a great year for me in terms of racing and I'm still bewildered by some of the victories I've had. I'd love to finish the year on a high by running a PR at Across the Years in just 3 weeks time, and as things stand, I think it's achievable. My main goal is to PR - if I do that, I will be happy regardless of whether I reach my more ambitious goals or not. My ultimate goal is to run the qualifying distance for the GB 24 hour team although whether I would want to compete for Great Britain again remains debatable - I've lived overseas for too long now and whilst I am clearly British - or English! - I don't feel that sense of pride anymore as my loyalties lie elsewhere. But chasing that goal will motivate me to keep going and gives me something to aim for - I'm not really thinking beyond that right now and will just be taking the race an hour at a time.

So with my focus well and truly on having the best run I can on December 29th, I just want to say thank you to everybody who has supported me over the past year. - your support and encouragement is humbling and it means so much. Have a happy Christmas and a happy holidays and for those that are there, see you at Camelback Ranch at New Year :-)

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