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Bench mark races

by Robert Britton
Thursday 20th February 2014
Tags  Robert Britton   |   inov-8   |   Team Centurion   |   The Pilgrim Challenge   |   XNRG   |   Extreme Energy

Robert Britton, member of the Great Britain 24hr Running Squad, Team Inov-8 and Team Centurion, suggests that you have one or two races a year that you can use as a benchmark to see how everything is going

Building up to the same race every single year, attempting to shave a few seconds, maybe a minute or two, off a personal best and going through months and months of miles on the road doesn't really sound like an enjoyable idea to me (although running around a track for 24hrs does...).

Ultra Running is a favourite of mine for a huge number of reasons and one of these is the fact that every single race is normally completely different, be it for distance, elevation, terrain, weather or the history of the event.

Races have river crossings, mountain passes, rock scrambles, glaciers and statues that you have to kiss the feet of at the finish. There's overnight stays in school halls, bivouacs  in ditches, chicken dinners at half way and sprint finishes at 4 mph.

BUT, at times I'm a little jealous of the marathon runners with the flat, fast, tarmac, traffic free courses that run through major cities so you don't have to wonder "How the hell do I get home from Bimblebury Forest after running 100 miles?".

With a big city marathon you can compare nigh on every time you do with each other and experiment with what works, even get science on your side with lactate threshold and VO2 Max tests to tell you how fast you should be running!

Now I'm never going to turn into a serial road marathoner, but I may do one to actually get my official marathon PB below 3:06 (I've run sub 3 in 50k road and longer trail races but officially I'm not a member of the sub-3 club). I do however like the idea of having one or two races a year that you can use as a benchmark to how everything is going.

For the last four years this has been the XNRG Pilgrims 66 mile ultra-marathon on the North Downs Way (over two days so we can watch the 6 Nations Rugby on the Saturday) and I have completed this event three times since I started running, gradually improving my time year on year and seeing a healthy progress from 57th in 15:31 to 1st place in 8:08 this year. Quite the jump.

Photos: Robbie fuelling up during the XNRG Pilgrims 66 mile ultra-marathon. Third placed Joe Gale (09:37:53), winner Robbie Britton (08:08:34) and second placed Danny Kendall (08:47:08)

I know that each year the race will be over the same course, will have a couple of quicker people at the front and be well organised by Neil, an experienced ultra runner himself and his team. There will be the enjoyable night stay in Merstham where everyone can catch up, discuss the plans for the year and meet other runners. Even with two flooded rivers this year it was good running conditions and a great weekend on the trails.

2012 I even turned up whilst I was moving house, carrying my worldly possessions between Devon and Shropshire, and I managed to have a good weekend!

It might be better to pick a race near you, of a manageable distance so that it doesn't interrupt your training too much (I had a few days rest and a nice easy week after mine). Something low key and enjoyable, a bit muddy maybe, but the same distance each year so you can compare how you feel, how fast you are and if that new diet of Yaks milk and olive oil is really working for you.

Then, for the rest of the year go wild, pick some races that challenge you and put you well outside of your comfort zone, or at least out of your post code. You're going to spend time, money and effort to get the training right so make a weekend of it and do your marathon in a European capital. Get into those mountains, that may slow you down a little but they make every step of the journey so enjoyable, except for when a European stabs you with a walking pole.

Make 2014 the year you try something different and see if it improves everything. If you're an ultra runner then get some 5ks and half marathons in there - work on that speed! The great Don Ricthie was always doing shorter hard efforts and he wasn't too bad an ultra runner. If you run shorter then why not step up the distance a little and see if it helps your shorter stuff? Paula Radcliffe's best 5000m time came the year after her Marathon World Record.


About The Author

Robert Britton

Robbie is a 100 mile runner who is a member of the Great Britain 24hr Running Squad and Team Centurion and likes to run ridiculous distances as quickly as possible.

To provide enough food to feed a monster running habit, Robbie coaches other ultra marathon runners through www.robbiebritton.co.uk and is also a member of the coaching team at Centurion Running. He likes to dabble with a bit of writing so that others can learn from his mistakes and enjoy the sport as much as he does.

Robbie is also a is a Profeet ambassador.


"Pain is inevitable, suffering is just part of the fun"


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