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Recipe for a successful 50k: A lack of focus, bromance and plenty of other entertainment

by Tim Heming
Tuesday 8th October 2013

Blog 6: Tim Heming has finished his first ultra in style, placing third in the Royal Parks Foundation Ultra - Hyde Park, October 6, 2013

Video: We spoke to Tim ahead of the Royal Parks Foundation Ultra

So, I’m done and busted with the Royal Parks Foundation Ultra and if I was proud of just one aspect of my first ‘marathon plus’ it was my lack of focus.

Yes, you read that right. Probably the most beneficial thing I did during the majority of this 50km Sunday morning stroll from Hyde Park in central London was not to think about the race.

Instead I ran for 30km learning about the life and times of a 30-year-old tree surgeon from Bedfordshire, basking in the morning sunshine as we swept past the familiar urban landmarks of Big Ben and the London Eye towards the leafy loveliness of Richmond and then Bushy.

The route takes in five of the eight Royal Parks and starts by heading out along the Embankment, performing a swift U-turn at Blackfriars before crisscrossing five bridges and eventually leaving tarmac and settling for the southern bank towpath – and I had company.  

Tim Heming has finished his first ultra in style, placing third in the Royal Parks Foundation Ultra - Hyde Park, October 6, 2013

Photo © www.Marathon-Photos.com

As with any developing bromance, you hit on an area of common interest, so there was lot of running chat with my new mate Nick, but there was plenty of other entertainment to help the time fly too.

This included people-watching in Putney and given the Royal Parks organisers seem to have a hotline to Jupiter, the weather god of ancient Rome, and book in a stunning weekend for every edition of the Half Marathon and now 50km Ultra, there were a lot of people out. 

Then there were the perils of dog-walkers, dog-walkers leads and dogs to keep a keen eye out for, along with the risk of potential decapitation from any given rowing boat being shouldered into the Thames.

A favourite pastime was playing ‘guess whether they’re in the race’ when overtaking Sunday morning joggers to see if they had a U-something number pinned to their chest as we nipped past. Most didn’t, but quite a few did, which is testament to how the majority bolted off at the start, if one can ever be said to ‘bolt’ anywhere in these type of races.

I pottered through the first 10km in a chatty 46.22, the second in a conversational 45.50 and by the third, later chipped at 43.21, the banter was starting to run dry – which was a sign that while I may not have been exhausted my boring diatribes definitely were. 

Whilst it all sounds frivolous, there was deliberation in my approach. The dissociative technique of not worrying about pace or position meant I’d run my own race and wouldn’t mentally tire too early. Better to shutdown the mind than to compute too early and run out of memory. 

More simply, the more I considered how very far I had to go and how I was going to achieve it, the more negative my mind-set would become. 

Whilst 50km of pan-flat terrain save a few hundred steps up and down the bridges, is by no means the toughest of ultra challenges, it was still further than I had ever run in my life.

With hindsight, I’d like to think the strategy paid dividends for my new running buddy Nick Smith too. We acquired each other at round the two-mile mark, after I struck up conversation when he’d just gone by rattling like floating pharmacy with a backpack full of potions. 

Having completed one marathon before, in the region of 3:35-ish (as I recall) he would go on to eventually finish ninth here in 3:53:17. Fitness levels may have been stepped up, but it was still a commendable improvement.

My goal from the outset (see video above) had been to run roughly 45 minute 10km splits without stressing, but with 20km to go the approach changed. From Kew Gardens through to Richmond the course had thinned with walkers and cyclists and the numbers ahead in the race were diminishing. I picked up the pace and at the 35km checkpoint I was informed I was in ninth. 

Somewhat buoyed by this I pushed a little harder and started to mentally tick off every ‘catch’. I went past half-a dozen by the time I reached 40km with a 10km split of 41:35 and was told I was now in eighth. Ah. That was a little demoralising but I was enjoying the fun now and at the marathon point went past the lead lady, Philippa Taylor, who looked to moving particularly fluidly and would be the eventual victor in the women’s race by a huge 23 minutes. 

On to Bushy Park, the famous hunting ground of Henry VIII, and entering the last 3km was the only time I thought I might have bitten off more than I could Tudor (sorry) as the legs started to tighten. Yet, with no-one in sight ahead I concentrated on form and cadence for the last few hundred metres and crossed the line in third in 3:37:24, after a final 10km of 40.07. 

The final positions show that second-placed Raoul Monks was less than two minutes ahead and I was closing quite quickly in the second half. I had no knowledge at the time, though, and two minutes is quite a chunk when you’re running on tired legs. In summation, I was more than content. As detailed in earlier blogs, this has only ever been a fun excursion – a first crack at a distance longer than a marathon with some ad hoc training thrown in when time allows.

From a purist view, an estimated 11 minute negative split is probably too much and suggests I started too much within myself - or ‘gutlessly’ - as I’d be inclined to term it, but had I started any faster and forgone my chats with Nick, there’s no saying I wouldn’t have blown a gasket.

I learnt a lot. The misconception that you can ‘bank’ time seems to be as true for ultra-runners as it is for marathoners and that solid pacing becomes even more important the further you run. I also proved to myself that associative and dissociative techniques are useful to have in your toolkit, as is keeping a sunny disposition throughout by thanking the volunteers and saying hello to passers-by.

One criticism. As an ultra-novice perhaps I’m talking out of turn without knowing the culture, but it was disappointing to see so many wearing headphones, less from a safety concern but more through not acknowledging the support on the course. The succour in Bushy Park was wonderfully warm. When every finisher is being cheered and there is even a band assembled with a sousaphone playing us into the finish chute - being obliviously plugged into LeAnn Rimes seems a bit averse to the spirit of it all.

Final comment is on nutrition strategy which I have talked through on earlier blog posts. I had mixed up three 33Shake chia seed gels the night before with coconut water and consumed them at 25km, 33km and 40km. 

Like a toddler getting to grips with its cutlery, I was all fingers ad thumbs to start with, but by the third effort I’d mastered the art of consumption, and made sure the remnants of a bottle of water was on hand to wash it down.

Result? No sugary gunk all over my hands, no GI issues, no bonking, nothing else taken on board. Enough said.

You can register your interest for the 2014 Royal Parks Ultra now at www.royalparksultra.com

If you want a) a touristy stroll round some of the finest spots in London and b) to step up from a marathon and are unsure where to start, it’s the perfect entry-level race.

Tim's ultra-journey

Blog 1: Tim ponders whether the world of ultra running will prove a cult above? (HERE)

Blog 2: Tim takes a look at Canadian adventurer and ultra-runner Ray Zahab (HERE)

Blog 3: Ultra nutrition tips from an expert (HERE)

Blog 4: Unusual preparations for a 50km include a swim in the Thames (HERE)

Blog 5: Learning to pace the race (HERE)


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