With a week to go before the big race and I wanted to capture my thoughts and feelings on various aspects of my training and the build up to the race itself. This should act as a nice contrast to the post-race blog and my various complaints about what didn’t go so well.

I had decided to enter the 2011 GUCR a few weeks after the pain and hurt of the 2010 GUCR went away. At the time I was delighted to have completed a tough event on my first go on the back of a fairly modest training regime of 35 miles per week but was a little disappointed that we (my running buddy Stouty and I ran this together) were well outside our planned target of 40 hrs coming in at a shuffle (with blistered feet) in 43-44hrs to a somewhat low key celebration (some barge owner had complained about the noise and we were greeted with whispered “well dones” and muted applause).
About 40 odd hours into the 2010 race both Stouty and I can be see saying “never again” (check out http://www.youtube.com/ultraavon) but following it’s completion that little nagging feeling that we could have done better didn’t go away. Therefore, a few weeks later I made the call to Stouty to see if he fancied it again and to be fair he didn’t need much persuading and so a couple of months later we had both applied and were fortunate (?) enough to have both got a place in the ballot for the 2011 race.

So what were we going to do differently this year? Having analysed our efforts in the previous year, there were a few lessons we were going to apply which can be broadly summarised as follows:

· More miles – our training and ultimate goal was fairly modest and we wanted to improve upon this. However, this was more about improving our own standard and didn’t mean that we would ever manage 100 mile weeks and be looking for a top 10 finish!

· More longer runs – we ran 1×40 and 1×50 mile run before the race a few 20 milers and then the majority of runs were 10 miles or less, so recognised we needed to do more longer runs in preparation.

· Better all-round fitness – the plan was to do a some swimming and general gym work improve my all round fitness.

· Foot care – Stoutys feet were a mess thanks to a complete lack of foot care. I had taken some steps (wore Sealskinz when it rained heavily, changed socks, had spare larger shoes, taped toes and used compeed blister plasters in advance) and had protected my heels reasonably well but my toe protection was inadequate and these were literally shredded after the race with skin and toe nails gone from both little toes. Again, something to improve upon with better care.

· Knowledge and experience – the planning of our last effort with the support crew actually went pretty well. We took it steady, ate little and often and met our crew at close to agreed times. However, there are a few things we could have done better which can be summarised as follows:
– Too many / too long stops – the crew were brilliant but we stopped with them too long at times.
– Don’t sit down – it was hard to get going again
– Don’t power-nap – I tried twice to have a 10min power-nap and couldn’t fall asleep off
– Weight/Back-packs – we had a crew but still carried too much kit and extra food between checkpoints, adding unnecessary weight

· Run more – we knew we wouldn’t run the entire race and would adopt a run/walk strategy at some stage. Unfortunately this became more of a walk/walk or a walk/shuffle or even a walk/stagger as Sunday afternoon led to Sunday evening. If we can run more than we did last year this have the biggest impact on our times, essentially everything else leads to this.
The Training

Generally, this has gone well. My average mileage is up from 35 miles per week to 50+ miles per week, I’ve completed more longer runs in total although my personal training routine is more about plenty of short runs which fits in with work/family commitments.

As a consequence of more miles I’ve managed to set a new PB in all my usual distance categories through from 10k to Half Marathon, Marathon, 40 miles and 50 miles distances. The Fetch yearly results are pretty much all red (i.e. red denotes best times) this year.

The only disappointment is the failure to get a regular gym/swim routine going.

Therefore I’m pretty pleased overall and I’ve also been fairly injury free throughout this period. It’s not been a perfect build up and I recognise you can always do more but there has been a significant improvement from the previous year which was the general goal.

The Preparation
I entered as a supported runner because A) it’s easier to get a place and B) if you have a few willing friends it’s a good social experience. Alan and Matt who crewed last year are returning. My Dad has retired from official duties but will visit during the race and another Matt has also been roped in. With the slight relaxing of the buddy running rules (from 65miles this year) the guys are intending to run a few legs, logistics permitting. Although as per last year, Stouty and I are planning on running together so we will have each others company again. I really do need to think up some new topics of conversation for 40 hrs worth of chat (less the 7 hrs we didn’t speak to each other during the night!)

The 2010 plan has been dusted down and updated and has now been re-built in excel with pace planners, distances and estimated meet times all pre-calculated, indexed checkpoints, a draft menu per checkpoint and it’s even in colour!

I’ve also re-printed and laminated handy checkpoint notes and turn by turn directions. I’ve still got the GEO projects map from last year so may use those instead of the admittedly rather nice full colour laminated maps Dick supplied. I presume people will roll these up as they are A4 sized but I have produced an A5 sized version if I wanted to carry them. The planning I “excel” at…. the running itself perhaps less so.

The kit is all in place really and food will be purchased and packed this weekend. I did get a new camelbak hydration pack as a gift recently which is the perfect size for water and a few small items (such as a waterproof). Looking at the video of the start last year, I think I had the biggest backpack – unnecessarily so!

I also own a Garmin this year and will have managed to borrow another so will hopefully be able to keep one on the go as another is charging up during the race to help keep a better track of progress. (Note: counting bridges is not that much fun).

I think we’ve sorted out the wet wipes vs. toilet roll debate on the forums (wet wipes FTW) aswell.

The last couple of weeks in the build up to an event this size is an exciting time. There has been a bit of banter of Fetch / Runners World forums and I’ve only recently discovered the GUCR facebook page. In addition, there’s a few fellow twitter users who I will be following closely in the build up to and during the race itself. If there are any more, then let me know @ultraavon

I’m also looking forward to putting a few more names to faces during the event itself including fellow runners and those who kindly offer their time to crew/support.

My last few big weeks of heavy running during late April/early May included the Compton 40, North Dorset Marathon and Ridgeway 40 in subsequent weeks which is something I’ve not managed before although I did start to struggle mid-way through the Ridgeway run. For the past 2-3 weeks I’ve been tapering and gradually reducing the mileage week on week so I will hopefully feel fit and fresh on the day.

Tapering is not something I’ve really done before as I usually just don’t bother running a few days before a big race and I’m not sure whether this has had a really positive effect yet . I’ve tried to fit in a few quick runs so the legs are feeling their normal tired selves and mentally I don’t feel as if I’ve really put the effort in. A recent Easter supply of chocoloates and a birthday means I feel as if I’ve been stuffing myself with “bad” foods for a couple of weeks.

In addition, I’ve started to get to bed on time every night and hopefully bank a few extra hours sleep. At the very least I want to make sure I’ve had the required amount of sleep each night knowing I will undoubtedly wake early on race morning because my body and mind are primed for an extra early start. Last year, I woke at 3am, couldn’t drop back off and started the race feeling tired.
The Weekend Plan
I’ll be travelling up to Birmingham on the Friday afternoon and staying over giving myself plenty of time to register the night before, perhaps meet one or two people and have a decent meal.

Last year, we registered at the pub and were intending to eat there only to find there was at least an hours wait for food. This meant my last meal before the race was a pot of pasta and some crisps from the local Sainsburys, again another small point to rectify this year.

During the event, both myself and my crew will be making use of our iPhones and looking to update my twitter account with race progress. We may also be look to upload some “near live” video clips (3G signal and battery life permitting) at different stages of the race so look out for these.

Last Thoughts

My feelings are all fairly positive, hopefully without being too complacent as this is a big challenge for anyone taking part in the event.

I’ve put more effort into my training and preparation this year and this will hopefully translate into the 4 hour or so improvement that I am looking for.

I guess my goal can be considered fairly modest by some people’s standards but running is all about challenging your own personal goals and it’s a fairly realistic and sensible target based on our training regime and experience from last year.

Therefore I will see some of you in a weeks time. When we take the steps down Gas Street towards the canal bank, I will be turning right and starting somewhere near the back of the group.

During the event itself, if you see two “Paul’s” running together then give us a shout or a wave, we’ll sure appreciate it.

Good luck everyone!