I shall jump straight to the punchline: On my third time of trying I have finally completed The Oner. 82 miles (84 the way I went!) with over 10000 feet of ascent and a tight time limit. I wrote up my 2014 and 2015 attempts here and here if you want to see where it all went wrong before.
First things first, thank you to all of my supporters, training companions and friends that have helped me to this point. Your positive messages, shoulders to cry on and support have been most important. The biggest thanks of course go to my wife and kids who have stood by me all along and also to my Mum who crewed me on The Oner for the past two years. She was indispensable both times and I know she found it stressful, particularly that moment in the night when I head off in the dark to the blustery and slippery clifftop paths.
This is beginning to sound like an Oscar acceptance speech, so I’ll stop blubbering on and get on with something you may find interesting to read…. Please do forgive any grammaticals or typos. It is the day after the race and most of my muscles simply want me to lie down and do nothing for the rest of the day, not sit up bashing away on a computer keyboard.
The race was organised extremely well. Claire and her team from Brutal always do a good job, but this year they seemed that little bit more sorted. The aid stations were excellently stocked with both home made and off the shelf food. There were also hot drinks readily available through the night and the Brutal crew/volunteers could not have been more helpful. Without fail they asked if you wanted anything hot, if they could fill your bottles, if you were ok, if there was anything they could do. It was extremely welcome and comprehensive support. They all looked as tired as the runners by the time the race was done, and on some of the checkpoints they had to battle some pretty torrid conditions. The wind in particular was relentless in places.
The weather conditions for the race were pretty good. It was forecast to be clear skies with rain clouds occasionally whoosing through and drenching everyone. The wind would be steady and picking up towards the end of the race. In other words bring all your kit and be prepared for anything!
My approach to the race was both more and less serious than years before. It was more serious as I was not in fancy dress, and I was a bit more prepared. On the other hand my race plan was a little more gung ho than I am normally used to.
The Oner course has some peculiarities that mean it needs a slightly different strategy to some ultras. For example trying to set an even effort pace from the start does not work that well, see my 2015 effort for proof of that. It is extremely hilly for the first ten miles, it is then fairly flat or rolling for about the next 36, before being epically hilly for most of the rest of it. It starts at noon, and all this combines means a couple of key things:
- You can easily blow your entire race by going out too hard in the first hills
- You hit the worst of the hills after it gets dark, when you are at your lowest
The boldness of my plan for this year was that I would be pushing pretty hard for the first 50 miles of the race. I’m not talking marathon pace but I am talking about pushing up the hills and keeping the pace up on the flat to try and bank as much time as possible. The end result was the first 30 miles finished over an hour quicker than last year and 2.5 hours ahead of the cutoff. I maintained this bank of time for the next couple of hours until the 50 mile checkpoint at Osmington Mills. After that the hills and my tiredness started to slow me down.
The next phase of my plan was to survive the night. This is easier said than done. The fatigue, hills, wind and occasional shower meant that runners were dropping like flies and being taken away from the checkpoints in nice warm mini buses. I have raced through the night a few times and am getting better at dealing with it. Specifically for the Oner I used running poles from the half way mark so I would have them through the night and over the slippery hills. I calculated previously how much caffeine would help and used a combination of caffeine gels that I carried and hot coffee from the aid stations to keep my brain functioning properly. If that wasn’t working I had some mantras ready to run through my mind and music on my phone that I could have played. I also promised myself not to dwell on the negative and didn’t talk myself down into a depressive state at any point. That last one takes practice and isn’t easy when morale takes a dive.
The final phase of my plan was to walk it in. I knew that if I had motored for the first 50 miles and then got through the night and the worst of the hills that I would be tired. Everything would be hurting and it would be easy to slow down to a nothing pace and time out with just a few miles to go. I was prepared to walk, but I planned to push it and walk as hard as I could. I would continue to push up the hills and I would keep the effort up on the flats.
So to sum up:
- Make hay while the sun shines (Old farming proverb…)
- Beware the sleep monster (David Berridge talks about his sleep monster encounters in his book Fartleks and Flatulence.)
- If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk…. (Thanks MLK, awesome quote 🙂 )
So, that is what I planned and pretty much how it worked out. I guess a part of that is from my experience of failing on the Oner twice before. I have also spent a lot of time working on my nutrition and now have a pretty simple policy of not having calories in my water, but eating little and often. I always have electrolytes in my bottles, but if I have carbs in my drink I tend to take on too many calories and my stomach gives up. Instead my preferred foods are isotonic gels, jelly sweets and Honey Stinger waffles. I also stash peanut butter and honey sandwiches in my drop bags. As the race goes on I use caffeine gels in the night and naturally switch to devouring savoury food at the aid stations. For me this means sausage rolls and crisps. I have some dietary issues which limit my choice at the aid stations. Claire and Brutal Events did a great job on the sausage rolls with home made ones at most of the aid stations and some store bought ones for spares. The jam tarts at St Aldhelms were a nice treat too 🙂
Weymouth is always a high/low light of the race. This time would be no different and the weirdest moment was when a drunk old guy stumbled in front of two of us, causing us to leap out of the way and mumbled “mMMm skiing.” We were both running with poles at that point.
I think I’ve written enough, so I’m not going to write a full account of the race for now. I would like to pass on my best wishes to Andy, who I met ran with for some miles, who had to quit the race at checkpoint 6 when one of his kids fell poorly and his wife called him home. I would also like to thank the supporters of the other runners for being so generous with their cheering and support, they really boosted the atmosphere.
Finally thanks again to Claire and Brutal Events for laying on a cracking race 🙂