With less than two weeks to go until Dixons Carphone Race to the Stones, I felt it was my last chance to get some decent training under my belt. My plan is to taper my training off completely in the week before the race – finishing with a couple of big hikes this weekend, just to pummel my feet completely before the race.
So I took the chance to get one long run under my belt. I hit the North Downs Way – which you may recall from our team big run a few weeks ago – but 100 miles further up the road in Surrey.
My plan was to get the train to Guildford, pick up the trail there and head to the brilliantly British village of Box Hill and Westhumble. From there I'd climb Box Hill itself, famed for being one of the most savage hills in South East England, and power on to Merstham, which is only a short hop back to my house. The whole route is 25 miles.
Setting off on a weekday, on my own, certainly wasn't the most fun – and took a fair bit of will power to get out on the route. I found the signs without too much problem, donned my new compression socks and got running. I always find the first hour hard, but after that I found my rhythm and my body was happier running than it was walking.
While my race plan is to run much more cautiously, with a maximum of 1:1 ratio of running to walking. But on my practice day, I decided that running as much as physically possible was the best idea. Miles in the legs. See where my limits are.
I set off with the Garmin Fenix 5 again, which I put into trail run mode, but switched to UltraTrac, which would preserve battery life so it would easily last all-day. And with everything set, I hit the trail.
The problem was that my training day was a scorching 28 degrees, and as I set off, the trees thankfully provided some respite from the ravages of the sun. But it was hard going. My water-bag wasn't providing me with enough water, thanks to some issue with the nozzle – and I was getting dehydrated. I decided to decant into a bottle and spilt a load of the water on the floor. And still five miles from my planned rest stop in Westhumble, I was out of water.
Things got worse on the tech side. I noticed that as I approached 6 miles, the Garmin Fenix 5 was reporting drastically inaccurate speed information. The thing about UltraTrac is that it reduces calls to the satellite to save battery life, which means the watch can be very slow to respond to changes in pace. But I didn't trust the results, and the last thing I wanted was it to over-estimate my distances, and give me false confidence.
At that point, I decided to stop the workout, and restart in hiking mode. That gives you a different set of data, with speed in miles-per-hour rather than minute/miles. It was a good choice, and looking at my first piece of run data, you could see growing issues with the GPS plotting, and I nipped it in the bud without too much crazy data.
While that solved the accuracy issue, it didn't solve the more dangerous hydration issue. Thankfully, at the first house on the route, I managed to get some water from an outside tap, sunk some electrolytes and got to the halfway point.
I stopped in the pub for some lunch (naturally) and a nice big glass of lemonade. Then onto Box Hill.
Box Hill is an absolute beast and I was pleased enough just to make it to the top without stopping. But in this 10-mile second leg, hills dominated the route, making running long stretches difficult enough, without encountering overgrown paths and very rough terrain. In the end I made it to Merstham – although not feeling the best, and grabbed a pint of beer to consider what I'd learned. Could I have walked this three times over – which is what I'll have to do in 12 days' time? Not a chance.
But through that huge worry, there were some positives. On race day will be some big bonuses, that could get me through extra miles. I've outlined those below.
1. Not scorching (hopefully) +5 miles
2. Fewer hills +3 miles
3. Buddies to walk with +5 miles
4. Pit stops with water and food +10 miles
5. Race Day adrenaline +5 miles
My non-scientific run down of the improvements from practice day to race day reveal some positives. Yes, walking with your buddies isn't going to make your feet hurt less or stop blisters, but will help in hours of need.
I'm confident I can get to 50 miles. And as I've said all along, getting to the final 63 mile (100km) finish line will just be blood, guts and grit.
But before I sign off, one more word on the tech. This second practice run was a good chance to give my tech a big test. And I'm happy with my line-up. On the day, I'll be using the Garmin Fenix 3, Goji battery charger and both the Monster iSport headphones and Jabra Sport Pulse headphones. I've been impressed with both of those devices, with around four hours of battery life each, the music really got me running when my legs wanted to walk.
I wouldn't say my chances of completion are anywhere near certain, but I've done all I can. Next stop is the Stones.