Monday, 6 August 2012

The Benfield Challenge 2012

Despite falling way short of the intended 53.4 miles, last weekend's Benfield Challenge could well prove a turning point in my preparation for the run across Australia in 2013.

Accompanied by Tyne Bridge Harrier, David Rowe, we set off from Benfield Renault in Carlisle at 15:00 on Saturday. Andy Naylor (pictured below) from Benfield was there to see us off and we made our way from the dealership with huge black clouds in the distance.

The early miles ticked by quite nicely and I was sure to keep plenty of energy in reserve for the later miles. Experience of running various daily distances from John O'Groats to Lands End and across the USA has taught me to run at a pace that

Not having run this route for 9 years, I was very surprised with some of the climbs. Those around Gilsand and Greenhead were particularly challenging. Carrying a 2 litre pack of water and nutrition on my back added to the challenge.

I was constantly checking the anticipated finish time and over the first 6 miles a time of 10 hours was on the cards. This soon started to slip with every mile after that.

We met the support car for the first time after 23 miles at The Milecastle Inn on the Military Road. In a cruel twist of fate we had missed the take away fish and chip service by 10 minutes! This, after fantisising about a Gilsand Chippy or a Greenhead Tandoori, was a huge blow to morale.

The views of Hadrian's Wall country were stunning as the sun slowly sank behind us. The tree at Sycamore Gap (the one seen in the 1991 film Robin Hood) was a mere silhouette and it wasn't long before darkness fell on the Military Road.

For all we had head torches and wore brightly coloured clothing, running on the military road at night was very dangerous. Some of the passing cars seemed to be breaking the speed limit and with a lot of standing water around maximum concentration was needed.

The night sky was spectacular for a while with an almost full moon offering some light. Fog soon descended on the Military Road making conditions even more dangerous. The head lamps proved to be a bit of a hinderance at this point and an almost completely white scene was the only focal point. I couldn't even see David who was only a few feet in front of me.

While feeling physically good, as midnight came, I started to feel a little sleepy. I had expected this to happen based on my experiences of running at night in the USA. Soon after that I started to question why exactly I was actually doing this run. Almost instantly, I decided in my own mind to call it a day at the next support car meeting place. This was 32.8 miles in with 21 miles left.

Having had plenty of time to reflect on the run, I've actually taken many positives from it. Moreover, I've learned a lot about myself as a runner and what motivates me.

First and foremost, running huge miles in tough conditions without any charity funds at stake, has once again proved to be a mental stumbling block. I have and always will be a fundraiser first and a runner second. I've said that many times over the years.

Very pleasing was my recovery on Sunday. There was very little evidence of the run in my legs when I woke up and my mobility was far better than I'd expect having ran 32.8 miles the previous day. Cherry Active has a lot to do with that of course.

There are other important lessons for me to be reminded of here. I'm confident that I can get my head down and churn out the big miles when required. Running 30 plus miles in the optimum time that will give me just about enough recovery time to do it all again day in and day out is still something I feel that I'm able to do. It's all about a "full campaign of ultra marathons", never mind a "marathon not a sprint". Even at my current weight and physical condition I've got nothing more to prove here for the time being. The glorious times of having to run 60 miles on day 100 of a campaign on foreign soil are going to have to be saved for such campaigns.

One of the lessons that I was referring to was that I need to continue to concentrate on the basics. Those basics being the quality of what I eat and running those shorter distances that, combined with my fitness and conditioning still present from the USA, are going to get me to the start line in Australia in the best possible physical and mental condition.

Without sounding too big headed or conceited, I consider myself to be a "big game player". When the time is right and the opportunity presents itself, I'll churn out the big miles. I'll defy the odds once again as the so called "everyday athlete". I'll raise those funds that the effort of a big campaign deserves.

As I said at the start of this blog post, the Benfield Challenge could well prove to be a turning point in the run up to Australia 2013. It has provided me with a lot of clarity and given me a really good idea of where my fitness levels currently lie and, probably more importantly, what really motivates me as a runner. Saturday's words couldn't be any further from the truth - "Getting to the finish line should provide an excellent boost of confidence. I'm not too bothered about the time it takes. Being able to finish it off is more important". My confidence is quite high, even without finishing the run on Saturday. I must admit that I never saw that coming!

A huge thank you goes to David Rowe of Tyne Bridge Harriers for escorting me on the run. This is the second time we've ran a big distance together and the banter really helped the miles go quicker.

The next "big game" is, of course, a run through Death Valley in September. That's a campaign that I'm very much looking forward to getting stuck into. I doubt very much that there will be another "big game" until Australia in 2013.

If you would like to sponsor me, in aid of The Children's Foundation, for the 78 mile run from Stovepipe Wells to Jubilee Pass through Death Valley then please click here. As ever, any donation, no matter how large or small would be greatly appreciated.