Another Ultramarathon Running Blog

2013 Caesars Camp

This race report is going to be a little different. I’m not going to focus too much on the race and conditions (it’s a lapped race so generally each lap was more of the same) but going to talk about motivation.

I have exaggerated my thoughts and feelings during this race to talk about the concept of motivation, mental fortitude, mental strength or whatever you would like to call it (and to make the report slightly more amusing). The reality of this race was that there was no danger of a DNF but I had resigned myself to a bit of a long slog. I grumbled a bit to myself during the race but still trudged around at an ok’ish pace (for me.. it’s all relative).

Let me introduce you to a diagram. Let’s call it “Avon’s Scale of Motivation”. At the higher levels we have someone who is highly motivated, prepared and willing to race hard. At the opposite end of the scale we have someone who is not enjoying a race, mentally switching off and looking for an excuse to stop. This is more of a personal experience for me and I accept that some people do genuinely offer to pace friends or use events as training runs so don’t consider this an absolute rule just an example of different moods.

Avon's Scale of Motivation

Avon’s “Scale of Motivation”

I’ve disregarded any sort of talk about physical symptoms (falls, broken limbs, injuries, aches, pains, sickness, illness or even “borderline hypothermia” 😉 etc.).

When word got round that it would be the last ever Caesars Camp (due to increased difficulty and hassle of obtaining the required permits to host the event each year) I wanted to participate in the last event to give it a good send off. I had been out to support a few runners in 2011, ran the 100 mile version in 2012 (the weather was atrocious that year with heavy rain for hours) and with the event falling only a few weeks after the Spartathlon, I entered the 50 mile event as a “fun run” and hoped my legs would be recovered enough to get round the course.  In terms of the scale of motivation, this was a Level 2 race as I was looking to catch up with friends, taking part in the event but had no thoughts of “racing”.

On the morning of the race, I was actually feeling a little “under the weather” (a little sniffle really), tired and lethargic with a health dose of can’t be arsed. As this was a planned fun run, I had toyed with the idea of turning up armed with a Garmin on each wrist, wearing full compression gear, carrying a hydration bladder, waist pack, goggles, an umbrella and flippers to see what reaction I got from the Race Director.

However that morning, I didn’t have the motivation to make a fool out of myself and thought this could bite me on the backside if I didn’t get around the course (if you’re going to have a laugh make sure you can deliver). I was (not seriously) considering whether I should leave the house that morning. In essence my scale of motivation had dropped to Level 1, it was simply going to be a minimal effort run. The danger with this is, it’s even harder to dig yourself out of a hole when you start a race with the wrong attitude.

The Caesars Camp Endurance event has been running for about 8 years under the stewardship of the colourful Race Director Henk supported by a usual band of volunteers. The run takes place on the MOD training ground in Aldershot and can be described as a “real trail” route with lots of up and downs, scrambles up and down steep stony slopes, a forested section with plenty of exposed roots, some good runnable trails over tracks and paths crossing some heathlands and of course the odd muddy wet section.

A choice of three distances are offered, a 50 or 100 mile run starting at midday on the Saturday and a 30 mile version started at midnight on Saturday. Each event involves a series of 10-mile loops with a checkpoint at the half way stage of each loop.

There were a few traffic issues on the way to the run, which hadn’t helped my mood. However, when I arrived there seemed to be a lot more runners than normal and more than a few familiar faces. My slightly later than expected arrival time meant I was still munching my way through my lunch whilst Henk gave his usual pre-race briefing and picked out the unfortunate Garmin wearing, compression gear clad, hydration pack carrying newcomers.

Some of you may have come across the Kubler-Ross S.A.R.A.H. model for dealing with grief/ reacting to change and this seemed to aptly describe the process I underwent during the run.

Lap 1 – “S for Shock”

“What the hell is wrong with my legs. I’m working far too hard at this stage of the race”

It started to rain just before the start of the race and there were some last minute adjustments to kit and equipment as runners donned rain jackets at the start of the race. I set off running with Claire Shelley but we soon lost sight of each other amongst the crowd of runners and I continued on at my own pace.

Despite having a bit of freshness from a lack of recent running, I did feel as if I was working a lot harder than I should have been and my legs were (genuinely) feeling a little uncomfortable at first. The first 5 miles felt harder than they should have been and the ups and downs meant I didn’t settle into a rhythm.

The first few miles has a couple of steep ascents and descents and then miles 3-5 are quite runnable over some trail and heathland before entering the best part of the course a nice gentle descent through a wooded trail towards the checkpoint just after the 5 mile mark.

As I arrived at the half-way checkpoint, I spoke briefly to James Elson who was marshaling and muttered something about my legs were regretting this run and proceeded on. The next couple of miles of the course are again quite runnable through another wooded section and I reluctantly trotted on largely by myself hiking up a lot of the uphill sections before working my way back to the start.

Simply put, my head wasn’t really into this race. I was probably still at Level 2 on the scale of motivation.

Caesars Camp Endurance Run Paul Ali 01

Lap 1, False Bravado (Photo Nici Griffin)

 Lap 2 – “A for Anger”

“Why the bloody hell did I enter this race. I should have had a few weeks off after Spartathlon. What the hell am I trying to prove?”

I was a bit annoyed with myself on this lap. The route wasn’t getting any easier, it still felt like I had a mountain to climb and the pace had slowed with more hiking and less running.

As a consequence people were drifting past me and I felt as if I was going backwards.

I did question the stupidity of entering the race when a lot of the experienced runners (Spartathletes James Elson, Pat Robbins and Robbie Britton were all at Caesars but in a helping out capacity) and were still enjoying some rest.

It still felt as if I was working much harder than I should have been. I was wearing a base layer and rain jacket and despite the rain easing off from the start, I couldn’t be bothered to remove my jacket and was sweating quite a bit despite the slowing pace. My race vest was also starting to annoy me with the water pocket bouncing around and I was carrying a bit more food than I really needed. I was just getting a bit annoyed inwardly at myself and everything around me personally at that point.

I trudged round the first half of the course, caught up with James, Dick, Jan & Phil at the mid-way aid station probably grumbled a bit knowing that I had no real excuse to stop and plodded on for the second half of the loop.

Caesars Camp Endurance Run Paul Ali 03

Lap 2, Hot and bothered (Photo Nici Griffin)

Lap 3 – “R for Resentment”

“I’m not enjoying this race much. I’ve just taken my rain jacket off and it’s now started to rain again, my feet are sore and it’s not much fun”

I decided to get back to basics and removed my sweaty base layer, rain jacket, race vest, soft flask (thinking checkpoints were 5 miles apart and I could manage by drinking at each one) so had removed everything that was annoying me.

About a mile after I set off for the third lap it started to rain again, great. I was cursing my decision to remove the rain jacket but thankfully it eased off and to be fair the sun even came out for a bit and this was probably the most pleasant lap weather wise.

However, my personal bubble of negativity continued for the first half of the lap as I came to the slow realisation that I was having a negative affect on other runners who were drifting past me having a quick chat and then pressing on quickly in view of my attitude and demeanor. It finally clicked that I was “that person” who brings everyone down which was quite unusual for me as I’m normally a little self deprecating but generally quite a positive person in races (aside from the odd night time grumble).

However, when I arrived at the mid-way checkpoint at 25 miles, I started to think about counting down the miles rather than counting up and I continued to trudge around the course without really seeing anyone else so I had assumed the field was quite spread out by now.

I had also saved listening to my MP3 player as a treat for the second half and put on some music for the rest of the race. This worked as a good distraction and did take my mind off some of the other internal grumbles.

I finished this lap and dived into the drop bag tent to grab some food and spoke to Fi McNellis who had completed a couple of laps but was having a “bad day at the office”. I recognised Fi was probably feeling how I was about 2 hours earlier and offered to accompany her for a while.

Caesars Camp Endurance Run Paul Ali 04

Lap 3, back to basics (Photo Nici Griffin)

 Lap 4 – “A for Acceptance”

“I’m over half-way, I’m still moving, I’m getting the job done”. 

We set out together and marched the first couple of miles together and it was nice to have some company for a change. I was now into lap 4 and was starting to feel a bit more positive. I was over half way, the early muscle stiffness in the legs seemed to have been worked out of the system and I still had some energy and was perfectly capable of running. I had a more positive outlook on the race and was starting to think I was getting the job done. Despite a recent long event, I had 9 months of reasonable mileage and fitness in the body which you don’t all of sudden lose within a space of three weeks so I was perfectly capable of getting around this course. I just needed to convince myself of it.

After a couple of miles, Fi and I went our separate ways as I trotted off and I put in a decent effort around the course to the half way point. About a mile or so before the half way point I had to put my head torch on as it was getting to dark to proceed through the wooded section without light.

I arrived at the aid station where I took on board plenty of orange squash had a quick chat with the chaps at the aid station and then headed off again.

I made my way around the second half of the lap feeling stronger as the race went on. In fact, this felt like a complete reversal of my usual races (i.e. strong start, sluggish finish) as the longer the race went on, the better I was feeling. I was probably now at Level 3 in the scale of motivation, happy to trot around but not in a racing mood.

I arrived at the start/finish area after lap 4 and stopped for a few minutes to grab some beans and bread and a drink as I felt I could do with some warm food to keep me going. As I was just leaving the aid station Gemma Carter (2nd Lady) had wandered in and I gave her a quick wave before heading off.

Lap 5 – “H for Hope”

“Last lap, last hill, last puddle, I’m nearly there”.

The last lap of the race is like having a weight lifted off your shoulders. Sure, you still have the puddles, hills, steep descents but you can say to yourself I never have to run this part of the course again. Whilst you make your way around the course you go through a mental checklist of all the key features and markers on the course ticking them off as you get closer to the end.

Despite the pace being no different to previous laps (I was averaging about 2hrs per lap) I felt pretty good, fit and still had some running left in me. In addition, I was starting to spot people ahead (a mixture of 50 mile and 100 mile runners) and had the motivation to catch people up and have a brief chat before pressing on. I was almost edging towards a 3.5 on the scale of motivation. The lure of the end of the race is always a little boost.

I caught up with Ben Kissel who was doing the 50 mile race and he mentioned he had been having had a bit of a low patch during the race. I recall trying to be positive and trying to give him some words of encouragement (i.e. you can never take a DNF back) which felt a little hypocritical after my lack of motivation and internal grumbling for the first few laps but I was hoping to restore a little balance over the course of the race by being the positive person. It was really helping that I was on the last lap aswell… but I didn’t want to rub it in.

I was really pleased to hear that Ben did successfully finish the race after a long tough slog and he won his mental battle, well done mate!

I trotted on and passed a few more runners and arrived at the half way point, grabbed some more orange squash (being sure to use the same plastic cup and refilling my drink from the nearby jug so as not to be wasteful!) and then headed out for the final few miles.

I trotted around the last couple of miles with a mixture of running and hiking and passed a few other runners until I spotted Drew Sheffield about a mile or so before the end. I was nearly home now, the job was done and I could relax and enjoy the last 10-20 minutes. I marched the last section with Drew as a few runners came past and chatted briefly before deciding to run the last couple of hundred yards towards the finish.

Those last few hundred yards towards the end of a race is like a shot of adrenaline, you can pick up the pace, run with good form and stride purposefully towards the finish.. before I immediately asked Nici Griffin (who was marshaling) if I could sit in her chair because I wanted to sit down.

Caesars Camp Endurance Run Paul Ali 05

Pizza and a sit down at the finish. Best bit of the race (Photo Nici Griffin)

I finished the run in about 10.07 so a fraction over 2 hours a lap which was a reasonable effort in the end. At the time of writing, I don’t really know what position I came or how many finished the 50 mile race so will have to check the official results when they are posted online.

It was sad to see Fi McNellis at the end who had eventually dropped from the race but had gone home, then come back to support the race which was good of her. Whilst, Fi was kindly waiting on me a random supporter brought around and offered a hot pizza which was going spare. I immediately accepted this offer (thank you) and spent the next 10 minutes stuffing my face with pizza whilst slumped in the chair at the end watching a few other runners finish their laps or finish their race.

Nick Greene arrived a few minutes after me, followed by Gemma Carter (2nd Lady). Nick, Drew and I warmed ourselves around the camp fire waiting for Claire Shelley (3rd Lady) to finish which she did a short while later.

I enjoyed the second half of the race a lot more than the first half of the race. Physically, I had some aches and pains to work out of the system and probably could have done with a bit more rest since Spartathlon (obviously) but my base level fitness was still there somewhere and I had enough in the tank to get around.

However, mentally I started this race with the wrong attitude. A DNF was never ever a consideration but everything felt like more of an effort than it should have been and I wasn’t really enjoying the race until I got over the half-way point and could start to think about the end. The scale of motivation went from low to mid-point as I got more and more into the race which was interesting as I would normally feel good at the start and then have a dip towards the second half before feeling better as you got closer to the end.

It’s a shame this was the last ever running of Caesars Camp as it’s a bit of a cult event and you do earn your spurs for finishing this but I (sort of) enjoyed the couple of years I ran the event. I think there’s now a niche in the market for a tough 50/100 miler over challenging terrain with unpredictable weather and friendly banter from the Race Director.

Thanks to the guys and girls who marshaled the event and looked after the runners and well done to those people who took part in (and particularly those who finished) the 100 mile race. After I left the race and got home around midnight the weather took a turn for the worse with thunder, lightning and heavy rainfall during the night. Respect to those brave souls who continued to soldier on during the night.

Hail Caesar!

So, a slightly different report from me and a question to ask whether you enjoyed it? Please let me know.

2013 Caesars Camp Paul Ali 07

2013 Caesars Camp.. not that bad really (unless you were out for the 100 miles)

(Photo by Dennis Cartwright)

2 Responses to “2013 Caesars Camp”

  1. cmmercer

    Great blog post Paul. I liked the approach!! I started Caesars at a 2 I think. Carrying injuries and undertrained, though I had some confidence from a couple of comfortable runs in the week preceding. Busting my knee at 7 miles meant that I dropped to a 0 very quickly. I thank my support crew for forcing me out onto lap three, but I walked the whole thing and in reality had shifted to -1 at about 15 miles. Still, I finished 30 in the end, but that first 100 still seems a very long way off! I loved the course though, brutal as it is, and it’s a shame it was the last event!

  2. Nick

    Nice post, I like the Avon Scale. I guess the trick is how to or whether the mind will let you enjoy and be motivated in races where fitness or schedule means you can’t or don’t want to push hard (the genuine fun/training run).
    I think we were having a parallel experience at Caesars. I went in tired and, even though I knew I wasn’t fit, the ‘fun run’ attitude (level 2 on the Avon-meter!) that I started with really didn’t work for me after about 17 miles – it’s really not the course to just show up I now realise. I paid the price with a completely de-motivated 10 miles where I just plodded along. When I eventually got my head together, ate properly and decided to genuinely treat it as a fun run I really enjoyed the last 20. Such a pity it’s the last one as I would definitely go back for another go (and/or just hang out by the fire).


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