It’s true that you don’t always get what you want and perhaps the trick is to want what you have. I didn’t hit my time targets in the Portumna 50km today, and at many times in the race I struggled badly, but it was a really great event and I wouldn’t have been anywhere else in the world today.
Completing the 50km race meant covering the same 5km lap ten times in succession. The really brave runners in the 100km had twenty laps to look forward to. The course was almost dead-flat and was completely traffic-free, from Portumna Marina and along a loop through the forest on small but well-surfaced roads. There was a sharp turnaround about 500m from the start of each lap that I didn’t enjoy but, aside from that, it was free-running all the way.
There were signs before the event that all might not be 100%, but I didn’t really pay much heed. Unusually, I had to visit the bushes a few minutes before the off as my ‘stomach’ was grumbling. I climbed over a low stone wall and into the undergrowth in search of a quiet spot only to find myself at the very back of the grounds of Portumna Castle. As I said to a friend afterwards, it was the poshest garden that I ever pooed in.
The 100km and the 50km started together at 06:00am and it was tough to get into a running rhythm so early in the day. The plan had been to run 0:20:00 minute laps all the way, but it was clear to me almost immediately that the plan was in trouble. I had pains in my arms and upper chest from the second lap on and I seemed to be working way too hard to keep the pace going. The first lap was 20:09 and the second was 20:04 but, in my heart, I knew that my ‘goose’ was oven-ready. I clung to optimism for just one more lap which was covered in 20:01 but my bowels were giving notice that at least one more visit to the undergrowth was going to be required.
It’s surprising how fast one can poo under pressure and even with the pit stop and fast-fading energy I completed lap number four in 20:35. My problem was not that I was far behind the clock, but more that I knew the metaphorical wheels were coming off the wagon. My legs felt like lead and I was dizzy in patches. I still had those pains everywhere and I knew I was slowing with each passing kilometre. It was time to reassess my goals. The initial target of a 3:20 finish, which has seemed so realistic beforehand , was now out of the question, but I had to try to salvage something. I decided to slow slightly in order to try to recover – after all, one more lap would get me to halfway. The fifth lap came and went in 20:34, but unfortunately I didn’t feel any healthier. I just wanted this to be over and considered withdrawing from the race, something I’ve never done before in any race. Halfway had been passed with 1:41:22 on the clock – only 0:01:22 outside the planned pace. However, instead of coasting through the first 25km as I had hoped, I felt absolutely dreadful.
At the beginning of the sixth lap, I set myself a new target – not to let my lap times slip over 0:21:00. I just about managed that on laps six and seven but on lap eight I knew my form was deteriorating fast and I slipped to 21:08 pace. There seemed little I could do to halt the decline. It’s rare, if ever, that I can recover from such a mid-race slump and all that I could really hope for now was damage limitation. However, as my mother used to say, what’s seldom is wonderful and at the start of the penultimate lap I started to sense I could recover a little. My stomach settled and some of the mystery pains melted away. The small band of supporters, race stewards and officials along the route gave me a tremendous lift each time I went past. I got a huge lift each time I passed the support zones. I could feel my pace gradually improve and was pleased to see the ninth lap pass in 0:20:00. I tried to press home any advantage that I might have and pushed into the last lap as hard as I dared. Picking up the pace was admittedly difficult, but surprisingly, possible. I didn’t actually get my last lap split, as I was completely exhausted at the finish line, but it was somewhere in the 0:19:45 region – my fastest lap of the race. My total finishing time was a little over 3:24.
As I said at the start, you can’t always get what you want and in at least one respect I didn’t today, but I was a part of a really great event and am proud to have been there. I’ve told a little about my own race but not much about how much I enjoyed the company of the other runners who took part. I met many friends today and, hopefully, made a few new ones. Seb Locteau deserves tremendous credit for putting this race together and I admire his courage and tenacity more that I suppose he might imagine. I have to thank JA for getting out of bed at such an unearthly hour to support me with water, coke, gels and, most importantly, smiles – a true friend.
One final lesson that I learnt today is that Jacques Brel doesn’t sing the version of ‘La Mer’ that I’ve had for years, it was in fact Charles Trenet, but then again I surely not the only one to have made that mistake before.
Onwards through the fog.
Full Set of (DoctorChick’s) Race Pics At: http://www.flickr.com/photos/51512923@N07/sets/72157624241646459/