I can hardly believe it was a year ago since I did this race the first time. This time training had been going much better although it wasn’t 100% smooth. What I’m going to end up with is a custom orthotic to help support my arches. It’s not what I’d really like to happen but after seeing Tom and Simon at Body Management in Stamford it’s become pretty clear to me why I need them even if it’s only temporary. Hopefully once I’ve built a strong arch in my feet I’ll be able to run without the orthotics but I don’t think my plan to end up in entirely minimal shoes is going to happen any time soon. My arches are pretty non existent at the moment and I’ve not got the orthotics yet so I was a little concerned how Saturday would go. I was also diagnosed with Lower Crossed Syndrome as a result of sitting at a desk all the time which causes tight, shortened hip flexors. I’d imagine there’s a lot of people that have this without even realising it. Fortunately the exercises I was given seem to be pretty effective and I’m told that there’s quite a bit more efficiency that I can gain once I’ve overcome these problems and that means I can go a bit quicker!
The furthest training run I managed was 16 miles, 4 miles short of what I wanted to achieve but I had run a 14, 13 and several 10s & 5s too—about 165 miles in total. I’d also done a lot more cycling which I’m sure helped quite a bit. I didn’t do as much core or upper body training this time which I think would have helped a bit more.
Three days before the race I started carb loading. Just eating a bit extra and building up to quite a bit on the Friday. I love carb loading to start with, it’s a good reason to stuff your face! This time I ate a bit extra fruit loaf, granola bars, home made energy bars (consisting of cornmeal, oats, chopped dates, chia seeds, honey and dark brown sugar) and took extra microwave rice with me to work.
6AM on Saturday morning and I was up. My wave set off at 8:15 so I got up in plenty of time to have a decent breakfast. I’d bought some beetroot juice specifically for the race as it’s supposed to reduce the amount of oxygen required but I was nervous and forgot to drink it.
Lined up at the start at about 8AM we went through the warm up. I felt pretty good at this point although I was still nervous. I could see a lot of guys that looked in top shape which always makes me question how well I’ll do. 8:15AM, we got going and I felt OK, the nerves subsided and I was now getting stuck in to the race (see the 2014 map here). The first couple of miles felt fine really, I could see the first guy in our wave for some time so I knew I was doing OK so far. The first section was through some scaffolding, a bit more running then it was through the Car Park Zone. The next inflatable section was hard because I wasn’t fully warmed up at this point and it really drains your energy. A couple of miles after that and I was in the Runner’s World Trailblazer zone. This was my favourite zone I reckon, running through the woods and the weather had picked up by this point although I did twist my ankle a bit on the uneven ground. I’d prepared myself for rain all day but it had cleared up and the sun was out so I was happy.
The next zone had the most mud, you’re relatively dry and clean before you reach this point but this is where you have to get stuck in. The only part of you that’s not submerged is your head but some people managed to get completely covered! It’s hard work after this zone because you’re heavy. Next up though is the River zone and it’s a welcome sight to get all the mud washed off. I saw Karis cheering me on and I felt pretty good. After this is another chance to get running and settle in to my pace for a while, I was wet but comfortable and felt like I was doing well. Heading towards RAF Wittering, over the A1, the first feed station was ahead so I got a gel out in preparation. I’ve been getting on really well with the Torq gels with guarana in them. They’re small so you can carry more, they taste fairly good and work well. I took 6 with me and gave Karis a handful in case I needed more. I had a cup of water, downed my gel and followed that with another cup of water. I knew that I didn’t drink enough in the marathon last time so I upped my water intake this time.
The next few miles are quite spread out. The Mud zone, Construction Site and Water Wipe Out zone. At the end of the Water Wipe Out zone is a 20 foot jump in to the water which was really fun. Feed station 2 was up ahead. Despite trying to drink more I’d started to feel the early stages of cramp so I had two gels (more for the electrolytes rather than the carbs) and a lot of water. I felt bloated but I had to try and avoid the cramp coming on stronger, I was on my way. Next up was Logatron and Ewok Village. Both had various wooden constructions in them, various balancing, climbing and crawling to be done. I fell off a couple of obstacles in here. Mainly because I couldn’t touch the ground and didn’t have the strength to hold myself on! Fortunately I didn’t hurt myself and carried on. A few more miles, Farmer Giles zone and The Mighty Deer Stalker and I’m heading back towards Burghley House.
After these zones come the monkey bars. I knew I wouldn’t make these from my experience last time but I had a go. The problem here is that you have to climb over a lot of metal fences in a kind of lattice pattern. This really slows you down and draws a lot of energy. I’m getting pretty tired by this point and slowly running out of steam. The next section is all scaffolding and high walls. I really start to struggle with the walls. Hauling yourself up a 7 foot wall at this point is hard work. To make things worse I went to jump over a horizontal scaffolding bar and launched my left knee directly in to it. It hurt. A lot. I was really annoyed because it reduced me to walking for much of the rest of the zone. To make things worse I felt dehydrated and after crossing the lake my legs really started to cramp badly now. Rapid, uncontrollable contractions in my calves and then the right one just completely locked tight. I really started to feel mentally drained now. I tried to stretch my calves off and carry on. The worst of the cramp had gone but I was faced with two horse jumps to climb over. I couldn’t make it over them, I just didn’t have the strength. I’d reached a low point here and my motivation was diminishing.
Karis was around the corner though with a bottle of cold mineral water, what a sight for sore eyes! I downed most of the bottle. Seeing her at this point was the best thing that could of happened—perfect timing. I felt my strength returning and I started running again. It’s really amazing how a positive change mentally can make such a difference physically. I got in to a good pace and arrived at fuel station 3. Another gel and some water and I was off again. Lots of open running to be done in the next couple of miles. I’d started to dry off and get going at a decent pace again but before you know it you’re back in the drink! After a couple of zones I arrived at Got Wood, large wooden obstacles to climb over and under. It was mile 17 now and I felt pretty good, the pain in my knee was subsiding a bit and I was able to run properly again. Most of the people round me had red wrist bands on which meant they were in wave one and I’d gone past quite a few. I can’t have been doing too badly. Another guy from wave two had been with me for a couple of miles now though. We kept passing each other which I enjoyed. It gave me a bit more of a push towards the end, I wanted to beat him although I didn’t think I’d quite make it under 4 hours which was my target time.
Three zones left and I could feel the finish line drawing closer but there was still work to be done. Some of the obstacles were relatively easy but there was some walls to climb. These were what I really struggled with. Fortunately there were people to give me a leg up to get over them. My entire body felt wrecked by this point. I was in the last mile though so I put my foot down. I’d lost the guy I was chasing by a few minutes. Over the last (massive!) set of walls and across the finish line. I felt exhausted but in a good way, I looked at my watch and I knew I’d made it under 4 hours. I was thrilled!
Karis and her mum met me at the end. I’d done it and it was brilliant to see them. The event was much better this time. No queuing at obstacles, no issues at the feed stations. All together a much better organised event. I enjoyed it far more being much fitter than last year. It isn’t to be underestimated though by any stretch. It really is relentless in the last few miles. Just when you think you can’t make another obstacle you’re faced with another one but somehow you dig extra deep and drag yourself over it. I surprised myself to be honest.
A couple of croissants and a bottle of Leffe later I felt pretty good! I went back to Karis’ mum’s house. A nice warm shower and JB cooked a really nice meal. Mum and Dad joined us. A couple more beers and some wine and I was feeling fine! I checked the website and my official time had been posted, 3:53:24. I was well chuffed! That made me 168th out of 3832 full distance finishers and nearly 2 hours faster than last year. Everyone who donated to my Just Giving page for Shine helped raise nearly £500 too.
I think that may be the last year I run the Dirty Weekend though unless someone wants to do it with me. It’s expensive for one thing and I’d like to try some longer distance events. The next event I’m booked in for is the ‘Ard Rock Enduro in August which I’m looking forward to as it’ll be the first mountain biking event I’ve entered. If anything the Dirty Weekend has egged me on. If I can iron out some of my bio-mechanical issues and train a bit better I hope to go beyond marathon distance. One lesson learned is hydration. I used 5 gels during the race which I think was about right, I didn’t bonk but I should have taken on more water.
The following day I was stiffer than I’ve ever been. Every muscle from the neck down feels tight and sore. It’s getting better but it’ll be a week or so before I’m running again. I need a holiday now!