Ultra Marathon Improvements (CTS Sussex Ultra 2016)

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CTS Sussex Ultra 2016 was my 5th race of the season


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This season I had already run 3 ultras, and a full marathon through the snow. The CTS Sussex Ultra was my 5th race of the season and I had to admit, I was feeling confident.

I stayed at a guesthouse in Eastbourne, Sussex the night before the race to get a solid 9 hours of sleep. My friendly hosts woke up early to serve a full breakfast. The real main course was the CTS Sussex Ultra, a 55km/34 mile trail race on the sexy, sexy Sussex coast. I would burn more than 6,000 during the run, so I needed to all the fuel I could get.

It was easy to spot other runners traveling to the race. We took a public bus from Eastbourne out to the starting point at Birling Gap. The CTS Sussex Ultra registration was smooth and quick as usual, I was ready to run this coast.

122 runners would start the ultra race, but only 98 runners would finish. It was cloudy and breezy. Perfect conditions for a trail race on the coast. Downhill sections are harder on your muscles than uphill parts, but I let myself go with the gravity.

I blasted past more timid downhill runners, this boosted my confidence. I experimented with pushing harder to warm-up faster and find my natural pace sooner. I pushed myself early on to not walk the hills, even though my heart rate was sometimes over 170. This was probably too high.

The coast of Sussex was less extreme than my previous races this season, and I noticed a difference in my faster pace. I was less worried about how I would feel later in the CTS Sussex Ultra. My body felt lighter, I was in a flow state.

I didn’t even bother to re-fill water at the first aid station. I forced myself to keep running the inclines, but tried to keep my heart rate below 165. When it went above 165, I slowed to a power hike until my heart rate dropped below 155. Once my heart rate was back under 155, I started running again.

I did stop to re-fill at the second aid station. I was trying Nuun dissolvable salt tabs in my water bottles instead of the concentrated salt drops. This was faster than measuring the drops, and added some satisfying sweetness to the water.

On previous races I noticed an overwhelming urge to walk questionable inclines if I could see someone else walking ahead of me. This time I fought every urge to walk, and instead harnessed my competitiveness to run past the walker. This worked well. I tend to find my strength later in the race, when passing other runners gives your reduced confidence a boost.

The salt tabs had worked well. There was no muscle cramping, even later in the race when I could see other people having to stop and stretch. I had reached the finish area for the marathon loop, but the ultra course I was running had an extra loop.

For me, this small loop was the real race of CTS Sussex Ultra. This is usually when things fall apart, but I noticed the effects of my strength training. My shoulders did not ache from hours of swinging my arms and carrying the pack. My stronger back and core allowed me to maintain better posture which resulted in more effecient strides and no pain in my lower back.

Don’t get me wrong: this race was hard, my body and mind were in pain. I was counting each full kilometre as a victory. It made the pain more manageable to focus on these smaller distances. My fear of failure fully faded when I first fathomed the familiar lighthouse for the finish. So close now. This time I would definitely stop running just as soon as… I… finished! I accepted the medal, but declined the Clifbar. I already ate about 8 them during the race, it was the last thing I wanted to eat now.

My CTS Sussex Ultra time was 5:48:02, I finished 19th out of 122 runners. I was happy with my improvements, and planned to continue the strength training in addition to running. I still had energy after the race, so I wanted to push myself harder next time.

Irina’s parents had taken Charlie camping in their motorhome. They arrived near the finish and took me back to Eastbourne train station in their new toy. I traveled back to London with Charlie. He said he wanted to go running with me. I wanted him to run with me too. Soon, Charlie. Soon.