|The photo shows Cavin Woodward at the London end of the London to Brighton route in 1975, the year he won the race in 5hrs 12min 7 secs (52miles 1172 yds). This was one of his 12 Brighton finishes spanning the years 1971 to 1998.|
Well, I was shown this article on a 100-mile track race in 1975 and it certainly made me think again: http://www.ultralegends.com/the-tipton-100-miles/.
In the race described, Cavin Woodward (who unfortunately passed away in early 2010) set the world best time at that point for 100 miles in 11:38, but it's the way he did it that amazed me. He ran 2:31 for the marathon, 3:01 for 50k, a world best for 50 miles (4:58) and a world best for 100k (6:25)! That would have been fast enough to win the World Championship 100k most years nowadays...easily. And he held on to break the 100 mile record in a top class field where five other guys broke 13 hours. That just sounds like the craziest race I've ever heard of. I mean, imagine if Geoff Roes had got to half way in last year's Western States in 6 hours then held on for the 15:07 course record ("CR"), since that's about the equivalent.
So I wondered whether Cavin Woodward has any lessons for others or if his time was a combination of him being mentally like granite as well as maybe a bit lucky that it didn't all go wrong. Should people just go out hard and assume that the pace will drop off? This is the opposite of the standard advice of going out easy (since the pace will still tend to drop off).
I'd guess that anyone, even at the elite end, who tries to replicate Cavin's tactics would probably not finish their 100 miler or would crawl in near the back of the field. But perhaps going out a bit harder than might seem sensible is actually the best idea for the elite runners (although slower runners are likely to be less well trained and so not have such high levels of endurance to pull this off, in general)?
I say this after having had some emails going back and forth with Eric Clifton, the man whose 15-year old RR100 record I was fortunate enough to break. Eric is well known for being an all-or-nothing runner with many, many CRs which still stand and even told me that he didn't like winning unless he also ran as fast as he thought was possible. As Eric said to me, referring to pacing purely for a win instead of a fast time:
"I have had many, many people tell me 'how you can win [Western States]' and they can't get that is not the way I want to win WS. It would be a hollow victory to me."
I like his mentality and it was this type of tactic which made the 2010 WS race so enthralling. Anton Krupicka and Kilian Journet hammered away at each other for 80 miles before the more evenly paced Geoff Roes overtook for the win (and CR). I'm sure Eric liked the front running, although nobody could say Geoff wasn't motoring too.
So, for those hyper competitive races with hard fought CRs, sometimes it takes this kind of all out effort to push to a new level. But not always...Russian Oleg Kharitonov holds the current world best for a road/track 100 miler (11:28) and he ran evenly (splits of 5:37/5:51). And I'm happy with my even pacing, which has paid off in the shorter ultras and also did at RR100. I don't think I'll be changing it any time soon, except maybe as a one-off experiment at some point, just for fun.
One last thought is to consider the tactics of the legendary Bruce Fordyce, who won Comrades an unprecedented nine times and still holds the world's best time at 50 miles (4:50). He always went off at his own pace and was often a long way behind the leaders, only to come through near the end of the race as the hares slowed. I don't have a quote to hand, but he was known for advising runners at Comrades that if they went out too fast, they'd pay for it later and run a slower overall time. In particular, he said that for every minute a runner goes ahead of their optimal even(ish) pace at half way, they'd lose several minutes in the second half.
I've read Bruce's book and his attitude of running his own race and ignoring the competition is the way I prefer to run. He believed that if he runs his best race personally then it was up to the other runners to beat him. If they started faster and held on, then they deserved the win, but he wouldn't be closer to them if he matched their early moves.