After travelling back to Spain in January, I was forced to take another rest week as the "totally fried" feeling from Covid was back. Using the Garmin health metrics like HRV, stress, resting HR etc, I identified things that made it worse. I had already found alcohol to be kryptonite, after sampling 2022's homemade cider at Christmas. I soon also realised that caffeine had a similar effect, as did sugary foods and exercise itself! Essentially anything that would raise my heart rate would result in the feeling of burn out and high stress.
I started taking CBD which seemed to take the edge off, cut out caffeine, practised breath work, which made the symptoms more manageable. With 5 weeks to go until the race I started building the volume back up. After 100km in the first week I tried using the altitude tent again, but after 3 nights symptoms flared up again, so I gave it a miss for the rest of the block. I managed to build back to 160km of running in the peak week, which felt more tiring than when I was doing 200km back in November. My times on reps were also about 5% slower than in November, and my sleep was still quite disturbed, so as I tapered and travelled out to Gran Canaria, I wasn't feeling particularly optimistic, but did feel it would be OK to race.
Symptoms seemed to get worse again during the taper(perhaps the stress of the upcoming race/travel?), and suddenly starting the race was in jeopardy again. After a massage on Friday afternoon, I thankfully felt a bit better. Although a short sleep with the 0500 wake up, I did actually feel ok again for the race. I got chatting to another British runner (Owen Davies) on the bus, and jokingly said we might see each other over the race since we had a similar ranking. An hour later we were at the start line in Agaete. Owen and I got close to the front as the announcer read out the top 10 ranked athletes in the men's and women's fields. The top men ranked from 892 down to 812 (/1000), and with my ranking of 780 I must have been at least 20th in the field.
The first 800m was on road and I positioned myself close to George Foster and Josh Wade, who were the top Brits in the field, and like me were there to qualify for the GB trail team for the World Champs in June. As soon as we hit the first climb Foster started pulling away. I went ahead of Wade but he came back in front of me almost immediately. Tying to stay with him my heart rate went up to 178bpm and I knew I would have to let him go. By the top of the first climb I was in 4th, but got passed by a Spanish runner on the technical descent. Owen caught up to me at the bottom and we ran the next 5km together. At the first aid station Owen got a gap, as he barely paused while I stopped to refill a bottle. I realised that my current effort level was still too high, and that I would have to let those ahead of me go. I was battling for the next 20km around the 7th-9th position which was still hard going. I would gain a place then lose one and always had runners 50m back over my shoulder ready to move up if I let off. At 25km I switched from bars and chews, to gels with caffeine and suddenly felt the extra boost. Despite this I couldn't drop this incredibly strong Austrian (Alex Hutter).Every time I surged he would come right back and counter, making a decisive move at the foot of the 2nd big climb.
As we approached Roque Nublo at half way, I saw Foster, Davies, Hutter and some other runners on the out and back section. Not realising that the duel with Hutter had closed the gap to the front to about 2-3 minutes, I kept running towards the volcanic obelisks of rock. The timing volunteer's there shouted "turnaround, you're at the top"! Now realising I was still in the mix for medals, I pushed on with renewed enthusiasm. At 45km we could access a drop bag (where I had pre mixed bottles and more caffeine gels!). While other athletes filled up their bottles I saved a full minute switching mine over, and unknowingly went from 7th place to 4th, shouting ahead encouragement to Owen Davies as we left close together. As I gained on him he stopped to pee and I moved ahead. It was now 40km to the finish with 2 smaller climbs, and around 2,000m of descending. I got a mixture of splits and information from my position to the next runner. A runner in the classic race said "your 3rd". A volunteer ahead then said "4th, 2 mins ahead", and the next said "3rd , 3 mins". Either way I thought the best way to defend my position was to take the position ahead, but despite pushing on I never got sight of them.
As I ran down the south face of the Island, the temperature and humidity started to rise, and cramping and dehydration started to kick in. With 10km to go through "the river bed of death" I was starting to fade, but I couldn't see anyone over my shoulder. The last few kilometres were mercifully on gravel trail, and the blue finish line approached with finishing tape raised across it. I was indeed in third! An overwhelming rush of endorphins had me dancing and stumbling around at the finish line, and just 80 seconds later Owen came across the line as well.
Sadly there was no prize money for our race, unlike for the Marathon and Classic race. I did get a massive hamper of fruit and food which I mostly gave away, since I was flying back the next day. I assume George Foster will make the GB team from winning, and I have 2 weeks to wait and find out if I have done enough. Either way this result is still a big step in the right direction, and I'll keep working to make the GB team even if I don't get selected this year.
Since the collar bone and Covid last year, my mantra has been "do what you can". I can only assume that this, and being relatively rested is what got me onto the podium in a pretty stacked field. My average heart rate was 159bpm, which is high, and I can't figure out yet if this is actually a sign of fitness or lingering illness. Thankfully recovery from covid is continuing, but it is frustratingly slow. The next race is Trail Sierra Nevada (64km) in 6 weeks time so I should have plenty of time to recover and build back up.