After 5 months of solid, event-focused training, it’s finally taper time - hurray! I’ve run 888 miles in that time, including 62,475 feet of ascent, and my body is crying out to cut back. On one level I’m feeling great, fitter, stronger and faster than I have done in a long time, but I can feel a deep fatigue inside me too.
My trip to the Lakes took some recovering from. It was a good two weeks before I felt back on form and the training benefits started to come through. My partial rejuvenation coincided nicely with the Exe to Axe race, which was a key event for me in my Lakes Traverse build-up. Classified as a fell race, this lovely low-key event takes in just over 22 miles of the South West coast path in Devon. It includes over 4000 feet of ascent on cliffs at least as steep as anything I’ll encounter in the Lakes. I first ran this race 10 years ago and loved it, and knew it would be a perfect preparation race. My plan was to practise my race strategy; running the flats and the runnable downhills and walking all of the uphills. In the Lakes I’ll have to keep moving at 25 minute miles or faster. In this race I needed to maintain at least 16 minute miles to avoid the 6 hour cut-off. I planned to run very easily and scrape in just under 6 hours.
Conditions were perfect for race day; cool and overcast, with only a gentle breeze, and I felt great as we headed east along the coast. I deliberately put myself near the back of the field; the tail runner was in sight for the first 15 miles or so. The first few miles were pretty gentle and I got into my groove well before the first biggish climb and descent, just before half way. It was great to arrive at the 11-mile checkpoint feeling as if I’d barely run at all.
The second half was very different terrain-wise, with relentless steep climbs, many of them on wooden steps. These were followed by equally steep, quad-crushing descents, made all the more challenging by the mud. There was lots and lots of sloppy, gloopy mud. I christened one set of steps ‘slurry steps’ for every tread was full of wet mud, with very little to actually step on. My progress up some of these steps was painfully slow to say the least, and certainly nowhere near a 25-minute mile! I was feeling good though, very good, both physically and mentally.
Once over the last of the big climbs I was able to pick up the pace over the grassy clifftops and along the flat seafront to the finish without any problem. Crossing the line in just over 5 and a half hours I was rather pleased; pleased with how I’d paced it and pleased with how I felt. If I can run like that in the Lakes, I’ll be over the moon.
In the couple of weeks since Exe to Axe, I’ve been totting up the miles with lots of shorter runs. Despite that deep-down tired feeling, I’ve managed yet another parkrun PB, proof that running lots of long, slow miles is great for developing speed.
But now it’s time to cut back, to taper. It's time to let my body recover properly, so that when I stand on that start-line in just under 3 weeks, I’ll be as fit as can be and raring to go. I’ll be reducing the volume of running a lot, but keeping the intensity, until the final few days when complete rest will probably win. Rest, excitement and anticipation…