Sunday, 5 November 2017

Race Report: The Gibside Fruit Bowl

Four days before Ennerdale 50k, I did a track workout with the Harriers. It was nothing crazy - we rolled through 300s in 58s, and I felt pretty comfortable doing so (backed up by the consistency) - but the next day I felt completely drained on what should have been a relatively easy trail 10k. Putting it down to Being A Bit Silly That Close To An Ultra, I went into an emergency taper and rested completely until the 50k. Ennerdale wasn't my finest hour, but I put a lot of that down to Storm Brian; being a lightweight I struggle running into the wind. I did decide to take the 2 weeks between Ennerdale and the Gibside Fruit Bowl off completely though, just to be sure.

On Thursday, I laced up the Hokas (yes, I'm risking putting them back in rotation for easy recovery runs) and trotted out for a gentle 4 miles, figuring that it wasn't a good idea for my first run back after a hiatus to be a race. In order to keep my HR where I wanted it, I was having to run much slower than I would normally have expected to. I raised an eyebrow at this, but told myself that a certain amount of rust was to be expected after some time off (though it wasn't THAT much time off really!) and everything would be fine at the Fruit Bowl.

The Fruit Bowl, organised by the Blackhill Bounders, is my favourite race of the year. My very first trail race (possibly even run!) was around the grounds of the Gibside estate, albeit not this particular race, and so it holds a special place in my heart; I've only missed one, I think, since I've known about it, and that was because my oldest friend was inconsiderate enough to get married that day back in Nottingham. I've even raced it with a probable broken toe - yes, I had prior form for idiocy like that - and given that entries usually open in April I spend a good 6 months of the year looking forward to it.

A brief warm-up wasn't positive. I felt sluggish, and my heart rate quickly rocketed into the 160s; bearing in mind this was slower-than-marathon pace, it did not bode well. Thinking back, I experienced similar during my warm-up for Robin Hood (I didn't do any kind of warm-up for Kielder, and very little for Ennerdale) but I assumed that was the effects of SSRI withdrawal. It probably was, in part. Strides didn't feel good either, and I was apprehensive as I made my way to the start, via a quick manly hug with JB. I settled myself a few rows back from the sharp end and awaited the gun.

The gun, or klaxon more accurately, split the autumn morning and we were off. Already things felt off. I'd planned to go out conservatively - no zachmiller today - but my HR was climbing and there was nothing I could do about it. Before I knew it I was up in the mid 170s, where I would pretty much stay for the whole race. I'd probably expect that HR for a 10k or thereabouts, to be fair - my lactic threshold, based on a couple of tests following the Friel protocol, is 174 - but the concerning thing was the pace didn't match the effort and, even more so, the lack of hill legs. I'm not going to pussyfoot around the issue: for the last few years I've primarily focused on trail and fell running, and even my road running usually contains a fair bit of vertical gain. No way should I have felt as weak as I did on those climbs. Climbing used to be a relative strength of mine, and I was getting passed constantly. Something was very very wrong.

Coming to the finishing straight, I had nothing. There was no kick. No disrespect to the chap who finished ahead of me - after all, he finished ahead of me! - but he did so by one second, and that was the gap between us for most of the final straight; even at the end of Kielder Marathon I was able to kick for 100-200m but today there was nothing. Crossed the line, did my customary forehead-against-the-wall recovery pose (thanks to the two Heaton Harriers who were in civvies at the finish, who checked I was alright), and grabbed my finishers' swag consisting of a banana, some water, a Mars Bar, and a t-shirt. The t-shirt had quite a fun design on it this year.

Found Rachel and Xander, and spotted JB, who'd finished 3rd (1st MV40). "Do you want to know your placing?" Rachel asked. "Not really...!" I replied. 48th (actually 45th according to the official results when they went up). Fucking atrocious. Last year, I ran that race with a chest infection and came 21st(!) Fair enough, I spent 10 minutes after I'd finished unable to talk, or indeed stand, due to the coughing fit, but still... There's no way that was a normal result.

Chatting to JB via Messenger a few hours later, the symptoms do seem to fit with anaemia. I’m wary of hypochondria but being a vegetarian I’m prone to such things anyway; combine that with a less-than-sensible race calendar over the last couple of months and it would seem to suggest a smoking gun. Hopefully supplements will knock it on its head and I’ll be back firing on all cylinders soon; it’s not a pleasant sensation, whatever it is.

So. Far from the race I’d hoped for, but a beautiful day for hooning along some singletrack and catching up with friends. 

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