Spartan blog

Excalibur Marathon 2013

Excalibur - Britain's toughest marathon.

Excalibur is described as Britain's toughest marathon.  Actually, that depends how you define tough.  (I'm not being funny here, I found it very very hard)

I entered this a while ago and it was postponed due to snow and rescheduled for 18th May.  I'm grateful for that as there is no way I would have dealt with 15' snow drifts.

I ran Sandstone Trail last week and didn't have a great race.  Don't get me wrong I did post a time I was really happy with, I made 20th place thus fulfilling a promise to my daughter, but I didn't enjoy it as much as I hoped.  There were two reasons for this, one avoidable, one not.  Due to injury that developed last October and recurred because I was too keen to get back to running, I haven't trained much.  I ran a 30k ro@d race in February and have only once twice run over 12 miles since.  So my game plan was to run SST gently and for as far as I could and walk any remainder.  I felt great on the day and knocked out a 48 min first 10k and then struggled from there on.  The imaginary custard I was running through got thicker and thicker.  There was a reprieve when I reached Primrose Wood...home turf I guess.. And I ran well through to the Manley checkpoint, then pure pain for the last 5 miles.  I made one good call, I knew I was 20th or there abouts coming off Mersey View and in a fit of pique fell-ran (literally) between the zig zags down to the road, picking up an extra place before the signature last hard push to finish.  I was happy as Larry afterwards, but the run was hard.  I ran 5:42, a 40 min improvement on my last time out 2 years ago.  I knew the following day that the race had brought me much closer to marathon fitness and decided to go for Excalibur.  Actually I hadn't got round to deferring my place... Too busy/slack.

I'm not much of a statto normally but I wanted to know what I was into.  Looking at the results for last year and checking some of the names on Athlete Tracker, I figured that, at best, my best road time marathon would equate to around 5 hours in the mountains but, given lack of base fitness coupled with weariness from SST I figured 5:30 was about the job.  (method:  look at 3 runners from last year, check their best road marathon times, average the difference as a % and adjust my time accordingly...then add a bit as the 3 runners I checked were all Welsh club runners so likely to be strong on the hills.)

My race plan was simply to enjoy a day in the mountains with my dog, base my kit and prep on a 6 hour outing and use the event as Lakeland 50 experimentation.  

Question 1.  Can I find a running pace that lets me keep going such that after 26.5 miles (yes, the race was technically an Ultra) I feel like another 23.5 is possible

Question 2.    Can I learn from the SST over-fast start and pace to run the last 3 miles hard?

Question 3.  Can I protect my feet? Having taken the skin off the bottom of my toes the week before, this is a race-threatening issue.

Question 4.  How will it be running with my training buddy Sadie (we’ve maxed 20 miles together before.)

Question 5.  Is it Britain’s Toughest Marathon?

Question 5.  Does running with my dog make it easier than running with Hackos?

Two days before the race I saw Wallman post an offer of a place.  Simultaneously, I received an email from Owen mentioning an event or other.  Owen has trained like a mad-man this past year to smash a sub 3hr at Manchester and I knew he wouldn’t want to waste all that fitness!!!  Text sent, positive response given, number collected (Thanks Dave, I have a T shirt for you).

So my peaceful day in the mountains is now going to be accompanied by Super-O and his Marathon des Sables - hardened neighbour.  Never mind, stick with the plan.  My plan actually was to employ a heart-rate strategy.    I don’t use a HRM in training, I am the ‘Banana-y-agua’ man, natural stuff, natural running.  But on a race day I want to keep track of myself, to hold back where necessary.  In Outlaw Ironman last year I used Hannah’s HRM and kept a stringent HR limit.  This is important.  As coach Cooney says, if you keep below your lactic threshold you can keep going for hours. Nearly 13 in my case.  Go too far above it and you’re on borrowed time.  A common error in long distance triathlon is beening it on the bike and falling off the plane during the marathon.  So working on last year’s lactic threshold I set out to run below 150BPM.

The start was great, good running weather, great crowd of runners and goos hosts ... not to mention the scenery.  The first 5ish miles were through the forest, a few gentle hills and my heart rate pushing 175 at times but I soon brought it down to 150 and kept it there through the first coupe of check points.  When they say ‘bring a cup if you want a drink’ they mean ‘bring a cup if you want a drink’, not ‘we provide cups’.  This is a good environmental policy, but I only had a small emergency water bottle in my back pack and a fabric dog bowl....we had to buddy up.  Sadie was running well and looked as though she realised she was in for a long one.  I was cruising and started to think it would be a synch for 4:30 or even quicker.  At 9.9 miles though I encountered the first real hill.  I started to run up it and passed a few people (think old pale x 6 for incline and length).  HR boomed up to 180, so I started to walk like everyone else, HR settled back below 160.  It might be Joe Friel who talks about an athlete having 4 matches to burn in a race.  I’d just burnt one.
I was really pleased to get to the top and started running before the people in front of me (psychological).  

Owen, who had been running with me to this point then took off, just vanishe into the distance.  I suspect it was having a number with ‘Dave’ written on it and the spirit of Wallman kicked in.  The next 7 miles was constant up and down.  Hard climbs, Great views at the tops, hairy descents when harnessed to 33kg of lurcher who likes to take route 1 on windy paths.  On the steepest of these I took a 20m backslide and picked up a nice brown streak on my Spartan rocks thankfully.  We reached the top of another hill and found a feed station with coffee.  A two minute break and a hand full of dog biscuits and we were off again.  I wish I’d reccied the route a bit as the next four miles were flatish and I could have picked up the pace a bit.  By then I’d adjusted my threshold estimate to 160 and was feeling OK.  I was running with a couple of Cambridge Uni lads and a stocky tri guy who was really digging in.  I often say to people preparing for distance races that ‘at points of doubt, look around you and see how strong everyone are one of those strong people!’  Today I felt strong - not fast - but strong.  Sadie had scabbed a cheese sandwich from a hiker and had a new vigour.  From 20 miles, the hills are back, and they get bigger and tougher.  The last one has a folly on top of it and I recalled from the map that it was all down hill from there.  The pacing had worked and the last 2 miles were a dream.  We passed a couple more runners and pushed on.  I think Sadie knew we were on our way home and we really started to run hard.  I wanted to see how much we had left so at 1 mile to go we dug in and clocked just over 6 minutes, a raptuous welcome at the finish line (aimed more at Sadie than me).  Loved the race, the vibe, the people and the scenery.  I’ll do this one

Questions Answered Lessons learned:

Answer 1.  I couldn’t keep that pace for 50 miles, but 35-40 perhaps.  I found the course tougher than HP 40 over the first 26 miles.  Walking up hills is not easy and some more hill walking might be essential training for LL50

Answer 2.    Can I learn from the SST over-fast start and pace to run the last 3 miles hard? You bet, no more superfast starts for me ... false economy.

Answer 3.  Can I protect my feet? Having taken the skin off the bottom of my toes the week before, this is a race-threatening issue.  Yep, tape well, deal with issues straight away.

Answer 4.  How will it be running with my training buddy (we’ve maxed 20 miles together before.  Dogs need food and water too.  There were plenty of puddles on route so I always let her stop when she wanted.  Her paws survived too. Maybe we’ll be an LL50 team

Answer 5.  Over the nine marathon’s I’ve run, including ultras (taking the time to 26 miles) and IM, this is the only one I’ve run in over 4:30 - in this respect its tough by a country mile.  But in a fuzzy pain v scenery v satisfaction its one of the best.  On a very hot or very wet day this race would be hellish though

Answer 6.  Does running with my dog make it easier than running with Hackos?  Well, Hackos doesn’t help me up the hills, but he doesn’t make me break on the way down them, burning out my quads.  Hackos does’t drag me after sheep, and doesn’t expect me to clean up his mess.  Sadie definitely gets me more attention from the crowd though.  Jury’s decide.

Excalibur Marathon, 18th May 2013, 5hrs 13, 23rd, cat position 4th.



Jon Moorhouse's picture