Lessons from the 2016 Balmoral 15 Mile Trail Race

Over a month ago, I ran the Glacier Energy 15 mile trail race around Balmoral Estate. I wish I could write that the race was amazing and that I got a new personal course record. I wish I could tell you that racing in my Inov-8’s went smoothly and will set me up well for Ring of Steall training. Finally, I wish I could write a timelier, proper race recap, but instead lots of living and weekly Primal Eye deadlines made that difficult. So here I am, a month on, having done a lot of thinking and learning along the way.

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Race goodies + my cat photobomb

In short, the Balmoral Trail Race didn’t go nearly as well as it did last year. I had hoped to best my 2:28:47 result from last year, knocking minutes off my time as I’ve (slightly arrogantly) grown accustom to, but that just didn’t happen. My time was instead 2:30:57, and rather than running the entire race and all of its hills, like I did last year, I stopped to walk a few times, especially during the last few hills. My feet hurt (real bad!) and my calves were so tight, and I finished the race with a huge blister on sole of my foot, below my big toe. I confess, I whimpered as well.

Rather than continue to dwell on this, with a woe-is-me mentality, through much thinking, I’ve been able to learn some lessons from this race result.

Lesson 1: I wore the wrong shoes

Trail running in conventional trail shoes is an easy task, requires barely any transitioning and can be done on any trail surface. Trail running in minimalist shoes, however, is a whole different ball game! For anyone that runs in minimalist shoes, you’ll know that rather than wearing one shoe to cover all types of off-road running, there are different shoes that exist for different trail conditions. And within these different shoes, there are different thicknesses in sole, meaning that a minimalist running newbie, like myself, can easily make a costly mistake when purchasing their first pairs of minimalist shoes online. Yeah, I did that. More about that in another post.

I wore my Inov-8 Roclite 295’s, a 6mm heel thickness with zero-drop (meaning the sole is level from toe to heel, rather than stacked like many conventional shoes). These shoes are made for soft off-road conditions. The conditions at Balmoral that day were bone dry to the point that many people wore road shoes and got on fine. In retrospect, I should’ve worn my conventional Nike road shoes, which would’ve eliminated the muscle fatigue, tired ankle joints and possibly the blisters I experienced during the race. The only problem with this is that is it a lesson? Or a matter of could’ve, should’ve, would’ve? How are you to know trail conditions before hand? My only inclination of race conditions was that last year’s race course was wet, and that there had been sleet at Balmoral the previous day.

I’ve run subsequent longer runs with the same Roclites and have found they’re best for softer landrover track and cut paths. They’re not great on descents or technical, off-trail sections as the standard fit toe box is so wide my already wide foot moves side-to-side too much, making me unsure of my footing. They’re also not great for hard conditions as they make my ankles and knees quite stiff. I will be investing in a pair of Roclite 280’s that have a stacked heel with a 6mm toe box and 9mm heel. I hope they’re snugger around my foot too, otherwise I may go back to Salomon Speedcross to train for and run the Ring of Steall.

Lesson 2: I was ill-prepared

Last year, Pat ran this race with me and trained us. He chose routes that were unknowingly far more difficult and technical than the actual race, making the race itself very easy. This year, Pat wasn’t racing with me, which meant I had to train myself and find my own routes. This, combined with existing knowledge of the race route, proved to be quite difficult. I was too conservative and didn’t challenge myself enough, which made race day feel more difficult than it had to. I did run off-road, long runs of up to 10 miles, but my longest run was a two-part 13 mile run, done as 7 miles in the morning and 6 hilly miles in the late afternoon of the same day, because I had a lunch date with my friend. Those runs were very hilly, but easy enough still.

I also hadn’t been going to club speed sessions since the start of 2016, which are 95% of the time hill sessions. There is no valid reason for this other than I just wanted to go home after work instead of stay late in Stonehaven to run. This ill-preparation leads me to my next point:

Lesson 3: I could’ve (should’ve) been physically stronger

Arrogance was mentioned above, and it’s something that I’ve definitely felt as a result of all of my running success in 2014 and 2015. I wasn’t arrogant in the way that I always thought I’ll definitely bang out a PB every time I race, but I was arrogant with my current state of overall fitness. Truth be told, I wasn’t as fit for Balmoral as I was last year, but also eight months ago. While I do have very good road hill fitness, I’m still working on my trail hill fitness, which at Balmoral isn’t actually necessary, because the hills are all run-able. This trails hills fitness would’ve still come in handy, however, as it would’ve allowed me to just keep running as the race progressed. Furthermore, another practice I had stopped was body weight exercises. It had been sometime since I’d done them regularly, and how I felt during Balmoral was proof of this.

Since the race, I’ve resumed my weekly body weight sessions, lifting actual weights in the form of an 8kg stone I found in our garden, among other exercises. I’m also doing this because the Ring of Steall will be my biggest physical challenge ever, and I can no longer afford to be an asshole about my fitness.

Lesson 4: I’m not invincible

The problem with paleo is that it makes you feel invincible. When you have so much energy and mental clarity, you feel you need to make use of it. So you push yourself like never before, but this can only go on for so long and then you start to suffer the consequences. Like I did, (which you’ll have read about in my last post). This feeling of invincibility is what helped me run to a new, 4 minute PB at the Aviemore Half after zero specific training… yeah, I never put that in my recap. I do admit I was shocked I ran that well after being ill and no training, and this race result stuck with me for quite some time after. It’s taken three races with three sub-optimal times – the Glen Clova Half (mind you, I was actually ill!), the D33 relay and now Balmoral – for me to realise that I don’t have the same fitness levels as I did eight months ago, when I was doing consistent speed sessions, big hill runs and body weight sessions. Point taken and lesson learned. Since Balmoral, I’ve gone back to a weekly speed session and body weight exercises, and I feel they’re already making a difference. I will get back to those fitness levels and hopefully surpass them this summer.

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On the summit of a very windy Mount Keen

I can only move forward from this point, and definitely onward and upward. I’ve since done some great, character-building, fitness-building runs and hill sessions, and they’re starting to pay off. I’ve also conquered two munros in the last month! I’ve also just finished a month’s worth of Primal Eye deadlines so hopefully I can publish some of the half-written posts I’ve got save to my computer soon.

Have you experience fitness setbacks?

What did you do about them?


5 thoughts on “Lessons from the 2016 Balmoral 15 Mile Trail Race

  1. Reflecting in this way is great. My setback is returning from injury. I know my fitness levels are not what they were pre-injury, but I also know that with the right training I can get back there. I’ve re-evaluated my training week in light of my injury and will be curious to see how my times and fitness levels develop over the coming weeks and months.

  2. Lessons learned in every race that doesn’t go as planned (and even the ones that do!). Take them and apply to your training and the next race… onward! Congrats on your day, friend!

    • Thank you! And I so have. In retrospect, I think we need those training periods and subsequent races with sub-optimal results because they teach us that we have to work hard for great results. I’m carrying this lesson forward to my current training regime.

  3. Pingback: Four Munros and a Marathon: week 4 | Eat Primal, Run Hard

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