The Barry 40 Mile Track Race, March 6th 2005. I got some info about the race on the Sri Chinmoy Races site, but here is my thoroughly self-induglent personal story....


In the euphoria following a thoroughly enjoyable and fulfilling marathon in August 2004, I decided that the years of injury troubles were behind me and it was time to step up to ultradistance. I had taken this step a few years previously and run the Sri Chinmoy 47 in a time of 8.23, but with an official cutoff of 40 miles in 6 hours I knew that this, only my second ultra, would be pretty testing.

Preparation (not!)

My training diary has two section - planned training and actual training. I guess the idea is that you can check you have a plan and are sticking to it. I got it half right - I had a plan! Basically I intended to step up to regular 4-hour runs in the Autumn (3 a month, with an easier long run on the 4th week). Dick Brewer had advised me to run a 30 miler in January and follow that with 20 milers on consecutive days some time in February. Well, I got as far as doing a couple of 3.45 runs (one on the Black Mountains, one on the Taff Trail) then the virus problems started. I caught something and couldn't shift it. I rested, ran, got sick, had to rest some more. December and January were ebbing away and I was doing less than ten miles a week. Not good. The health cleared up in February with the help of some Chinese medicine (tastes so vile, but worth it) and working hard on my diet to ensure I was getting all the minerals etc. I managed a two hour run. I just had time to do the "back to back" sessions, but could manage only a steady/brisk two hour session on the first day followed by a three hour plod the next morning. That was it! It was time to taper and eat lots of stodge and drink loads of carb drink. The Barry 40 was only days away. It was going to be an experience!

The race......

After Mick McGeoch had received an award for his services to Welsh athletics at the trackside, we lined up at the start and soon found ourselves circling the 400m track (it runs around a football pitch - this is Barry Town's stadium). I soon settled into a regular pace, clocking my target pace of just under 8 mins per mile. On a track its easy to keep an even pace and the clock comes round so fast each time that you can keep track easily of your progress. The first few miles went at about the right pace, then I was nicely warmed up and found myself flying along at a comfortable speed - I later realised I should have held back a bit. Once I got to the 20 mile mark in something around 2.40 - 2.45 had been my target - I began to feel pretty fatigued and allowed myself to slow a bit - too much as it happened.

I was soon down to a very slow pace just slightly better than 10 mins per mile, and came through the marathon in about 3.38 feeling like it was all about to fall apart. It did. I hit a monumental wall between the marathon and 30 miles - not just physical depletion but a kind of mental collapse too. I didn't just regret having entered this race so unprepared, I began to regret having ever taken up running in the first place! This is the kind of negativity the mind throws at me when I'm really burned out - but then again, facing this kind of test is the reason I enter races in general and ultras in particular, so I shouldn't grumble.

A number of things helped me get through it - firstly Tarit reminding me to stay positive and happy - he called out "happy happy happy" to me as he passed me. This reminded me that I shouldn't let my mind dictate my mood and I began to lift myself out of the pit. Then Gil John began to run alongside me and chat - about anything and everything - which really helped distract me from the way I was feeling. I struggled to keep pace with Gil and struggled also to form sentences - I think he could tell I was in trouble and was deliberately offering me a helping hand. Then I stuck my headphones on and listened to Sri Chinmoy's "Symphony for meditation" - I stuck one track on repeat play for over two hours and went into a total zone. By the time the last five miles came around I was recovering and my pace was picking up.

At this point I should mention the amazing support that I got from other runners at Barry - everyone had an encouraging word as they passed you on the track. Some recognised me as a Sri Chinmoy Ac member and would say "Come on Sri Chinmoy" or "Come on Run and Become". One even said "Self Transcendence!" as he passed (cheers Phil). There can't be many sporting competitions where the competitors help each other out so enthusiastically.

Back to the last few miles.....I was by this time unable to get water down me, but Ojas was going down a treat so I stuck to a few sips of that each lap. At last I heard the bell and I was on the 161st lap - I felt totally elated and very relieved when I finished - just outside my target of 6 hours but quite satisfied to have stayed the course.

Here are those splits:

5 00:38:38 5 miles at roughly 7.45
10 01:17:37 5 miles at roughly 7.50
15 01:56:20 5 miles at roughly 7.50
20 02:36:26 5 miles at roughly 8.00
25 03:23:40 5 miles at roughly 9.30
30 04:19:28 5 miles at roughly 11.15
35 05:18:54 5 miles at roughly 12.00
40 06:13:48 5 miles at roughly 11.00

Post mortem :-) Well, its obvious I need to get a decent training mileage behind me, and also obvious I need to pace myself better - hopefully one will give me the confidence to do the other. The feeding side of things went well - I'll stick to the routine of a GO Gel every 30 mins in my next ultra for sure. Whenever that is......

The important thing for me is that I felt so great afterwards - recovery was swift and niggle-free, and I realised I need to do more of this kind of race. The only way to defeat that wall is to keep on breaking through it. Lets just hope the body stays fit so I get the chance to have that experience.

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