Red Wine Runner

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The Hoka Highland Fling – So What Worked?

Just over a fortnight ago I ran the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling for the third year in a row. The first year I ran it was my BSAG [big scary audacious goal], the longest race I’d ever ran, and I spent most of the first months of 2013 struggling to imagine HOW I was going to get my body to carry me 53 miles. In the end, I completed it in 13 hours and 6 minutes and that first 50+ mile finish revolutionised how I viewed myself in relation to ultra running and what I was capable of.

wpid-20130427_191140.jpg

 

The second year I ran it as part of my preparations for the 72 mile Great Glen Way Ultra in July, along with the Cateran 55 mile race three weeks later. I ran with friends, enjoyed the day out, and finished slower but stronger in 13 hours 20 minutes.

Approaching Drymen. Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

Approaching Drymen. Photo: Stuart Macfarlane

 

In 2015, my participation was also part of a larger plan which concludes with the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. I didn’t set out intending to set a personal best; I wanted a comfortable run where I could finish knowing I could continue on if I had to, and if that meant I finished quicker than in previous years then that would be merely a bonus.

So, when I crossed the line after that ‘comfortable’ run in 11 hours and 44 minutes, I found myself quite astonished. What had I done differently which allowed me to slice off 1 hour and 19 minutes off my previous best time? Was it changes in my training? My mental outlook? My race strategy? Over the last couple of weeks I’ve thought about this a lot and there definitely have been some changes which have contributed. Executing a great race is rarely just about the running, so here are my thoughts and reflections on a performance which I consider to be my strongest to date.

Training

 

red wine runner 28 mile run

Mileage

I keep an online diary of my runs on Fetcheveryone.com, which allows me to easily compare what I have been doing year-to-year. At first I thought that perhaps one of the reasons I felt so strong throughout the race was actually due to running LESS. This is hard to judge however, and numerically not strictly true. I may have started training a couple of weeks later this year after a relatively easy January, but prior to the Fling in both 2013 and 2014 I had an enforced period of rest which meant I turned up at the race with fresh legs – in 2013 I was resting a knee niggle and in 2014 I’d been on a desert island enjoying my honeymoon!

What I suspect is the case however, is whilst I may be running more or less the same mileage totals, I am running smarter miles. Instead of repeating 2013 and 2014 where I spent my week day lunchtimes bashing out 8 miles a day week after week, my week day sessions are now targeted and purposeful. I’m not running just for the sake of running to build up big miles. Each day is either a hill day, a speed day, a long run day, or a recovery-pace day.

However, I’m inclined to believe that I needed those two years of consistent high effort and mileage week-in, week-out to get my body in the place it is now. It was also the only way I could fit my running around my lifestyle at the time, so in hindsight I would not change a thing. 2013 and 2014 were base building years, 2015 onwards is all about using that base to refine my strengths and build a better, more efficient runner.

Cross Training

I’ve always been a fan of cross training. It feels good to get away from running and do something different, but this year my cross training has been more consistent and more useful. Since January I have been taking a Power Yoga class on a Monday night which has really helped strengthen my core and my stability. This with regular attendance at Body Pump (I can’t lie – I haven’t been every week, more like an average of every fortnight) has really helped get the rest of my body in an improved condition. I really enjoy the Body Pump weights classes as they work muscle groups in the legs which really help when climbing hills, and I’m pushed further than I would go if I was by myself in the gym. Last year I did a weekly circuit training class and no yoga; so I’m confident to assert that my cross training this year has improved my running.

PREPARATION

 

Running in to 2015...in my new Hokas!

Running in to 2015…in my new Hokas!

Feet

My feet issues have been well-documented here. I tend to describe my foot problems as my kryptonite; it’s the one area which is guaranteed to affect all of my racing in 26.2 miles and over, and the one issue I just can’t seem to crack. Until now…?

Well not quite, but I think I’m getting there. I’ve spoken already this year about how I bought a pair of Hoka One One shoes in America in the hope that they would be the answer to my feet pain, and whilst they haven’t solved it, they have definitely fixed about 75% of it. The pain I have is in the balls of my feet and base of my big toe – basically the joint area. After about 5 hours it starts to really hurt, more on the right than the left, and it usually has me feeling like someone has hit the joint/bone of my big toe with a hammer. The thick soles of the Hokas really help with absorbing impact which in turn seems to have put a lid on how bad the pain gets. It was still definitely there at the Fling, but not to the extent that it affected my race. WIN!

Unfortunately wearing the massive shoes does make me look a bit like Koko the clown and leaves me subject to abuse from my WHW support runner/minimal footwear enthusiast, Mike, but no-one ever said ultra running was easy.

The other massive win at the Fling was my lack of blisters. Inside my Injinji socks my feet were coated in Sudocreme and preventative Savlon blister plasters were applied to my usual hot-spots, and that just seemed to work. I was worried that the Hoka toe box would be too narrow for the latter stages of the race (especially the WHW Race) but I think they are going to be ok. Snug, but ok. This was actually the first time I used Sudocreme on my feet under my socks – prior to this it had always…squicked me out a bit, for want of a better phrase. However so many people swear by it that it was worth a go, and I guess it worked. I put it all over the soles of my feet and between my toes before putting my socks on. It’s still gross though, but you forget about it after a few minutes.

Diet

I’m not going to go into great detail about this as what I eat is my own business, and for those who are looking for advice there are plenty people out there willing to offer it. It’s worth mentioning though as at the start of the year I did carefully watch what I was eating and enjoyed using MyFitnessPal to track it and record my progress. In February I was about 10lbs heavier than I had been at the same time in 2014, and I had hoped to get a little closer to that on the scale. I lost about 4lbs in the first fortnight and then didn’t shift another pound. The lack of ‘progress’ niggled at me and before I knew it I was consciously altering my consumption to constantly finish below my calorie ‘goal’ for the day in the hope of losing some more. These apps are really dangerously enabling sometimes. I don’t consider myself to have or have ever had an eating disorder, but before I knew it my thought patterns were being enabled into a new direction for me by this phone application telling me I’d eaten too much or that I hadn’t lost anything in a month. What I couldn’t tell it was that my measurements were going down but my muscle mass was increasing. I tried shouting at it when it flashed me a red message saying I was over my calorie goal for the day, and told it it wasn’t my real Mum and that I’d run 28 miles the day before. But it didn’t care. Use these tools wisely… they are not designed to support ultra endurance athletes!

RACE DAY

 

Hoka Highland Fling route profile

Course knowledge

It really helped that I now feel like I know the first half of the West Highland Way very well. Through multiple Fling finishes, West Highland Way race sweeping and training weekends, there are now no surprises. Knowing what’s ahead really helped me gauge my efforts and mentally tick off parts of the course. This really, really helped me, so it’s definitely worth considering recces for future events if possible.

Garmin

I mentioned in my report that my Garmin wasn’t working. What actually happened was that my old Forerunner 305 battery is all but dead, so I bought a new Forerunner 220 recently. The battery life on it is only 8 hours, but I thought I could run it off a portable charger like I can with the 305. Turns out I can’t, so, I had intended to turn on both Garmins at the start and wear my 220 on my wrist for the first 20 miles to make sure I wasn’t running too fast, and keep the 305 in a pocket. At Balmaha I would plug in the portable charger to the 305 in my pocket and it would record the rest of the route so I could analyse the splits later. What I hadn’t counted on was the 305 running out of battery after only 9 miles and dying without me noticing. So at Balmaha I had a dead Garmin and a charger taking up space and weight in my pack, and no way to examine my run later.

Anyway, I think that not having the pressure of a ticking race clock on my wrist really helped. Tying in with course knowledge above, knowing that it would take me 1hr 45 from Balmaha to Rowardennan really helped as well as thinking about it in terms of time rather than miles. I don’t know why that worked, but it just did. I will definitely just be wearing the Garmin 220 in ‘wristwatch mode’ for the West Highland Way race.

Food

As previously mentioned in my report, I really didn’t eat very much which is pretty weird for me. I don’t think this necessarily aided my race, but being prepared for it did. Knowing what works for your body under different circumstances (heat, faster running etc) is really valuable information to have. This will really help inform my West Highland Way race strategy, although the two races will be so different they are really impossible to compare.

CONCLUSIONS

So what can I conclude from this? To be honest I don’t think it’s anything revolutionary, as looking over my points here I’ve read them in countless other running guides from people who know far more than I do. Figuring all this out for myself is useful though, and underpins the knowledge of others through my own experience which makes me far more inclined to believe it.

So here’s the TL;DR version:

  • Target your training and don’t run junk miles for the sake of it
  • Cross training is really important, especially weight training
  • Getting problem areas (like feet) sorted before race day is essential
  • Know your enemy – familiarise yourself with the course as much as possible

Despite this not being new information, figuring all this out for myself through experience has been the most valuable lesson. If someone is reading this looking for answers on how to improve their ultra performances, I hope that their takeaway lesson is that hard work is the only way. Like most things to do with ultra running, you can’t do it, finish it, or achieve it quickly…patience, and a willingness to put the work in, is the only answer.

RACE REPORT: Hoka Highland Fling 2015

Hoka Highland Fling 2015

hoka highland fling medal
53 Mile Ultramarathon 
25th April 2015

11 hours 44 minutes 7 seconds
Finish Position: 321 of 647 finishers (49 DNF)
Gender Position: 53rd / 160 Females
Category Position: 27th / 64 Female Seniors

This race report arrives a little later than I would have liked because of a big University submission being due last week. Having three days completely ‘off grid’ in the week before the submission was not ideal, but I’d worked hard in the week before the race in order to really enjoy my weekend and totally dedicate my mind to the task in hand (the 53 mile race, not the 5,000 word research proposal…)

Kynon and I headed to Tyndrum on Friday afternoon to park up our camper van before getting the train down to Milngavie that evening. It was a beautiful day and we enjoyed eating an entire loaf of fresh bread with cheese between us in the sunshine, with a cold beer for extra carbs. The finish area was utterly silent other than peaceful birdsong; how strange to think of the mayhem which would be happening here in under 24 hours time.

hoka highland fling finish

HHF05

In general I was feeling pretty calm about the race, but I had taken a couple of my favourite running books to read from on the train to really get my head in the game. I love Kilian Jornet’s ‘Run or Die'; the passion which he injects into his running is just as strong in his written word. I read the first few chapters before switching to Scott Jurek’s ‘Eat and Run’ whilst intermittently staring out of the train window. The beautiful hills of earlier in the journey had shrunk back into the ground and been replaced by low-rise council housing developments. Thick grey cloud is cloaking the outskirts of Glasgow and raindrops are now crawling across the train window, which is the only barrier between me and the hustle of rush hour commuters in the rain. Away from the Highland dreams and a return to reality; the journey had gone too quickly. The only way back was to run.

When the alarm went off at 4.15am I felt relaxed. Prior to falling asleep I had envisioned every element of the race and pictured how I would traverse the course. I had had at least 5 hours of good sleep which was enough, and I quickly set about making coffee and eating a rice pudding, banana, and a cereal bar. Everything had been laid out the night before so I didn’t need to think at all; just put my kit on, eat, and keep calm. When Kynon was using the bathroom I cast my eyes over Kilian Jornet’s Skyrunner’s manifesto once more; there was something about his words which was sticking in my mind and giving me focus. Kiss or kill. Besa o mata. Kiss glory or die in the attempt. Losing is death; winning is life. The winning and dying are metaphors in my case, perhaps less so for Mr Jornet, but his sentiments are the same as mine. The secret isn’t in your legs, but in your strength of mind.

5.20am and we have begun the short walk to the station, sharing the weight of the bag of drop bags between us. Kynon wants to chat, I prefer silence. I try to keep my mind clear of everything, but soon we’ve reached the throngs of people crowding the station car park and there are plenty of people to say hello to.

hoka highland fling 2015

We catch up with most of the Stonehaven Running Club runners and catch a photo as it begins to get light. The rainclouds don’t lift along with the darkness however and rain is still spotting down, but it’s a great temperature for running with no wind to speak of.

hoka highland fling 2015

We’ve timed our arrival perfectly and after a final photograph and a hug and kiss goodbye and good luck, Kynon and I part ways to our respective corals – him to the 12 hours plus, and me to the 10 – 12 hours. I’m not really sure why I’m in here or especially why I’m so far forward, but since I’m standing next to Amanda Hamilton I’m happy for the company and stay where I am during the race countdown.

hoka highland fling 2015

At 6am the first wave is released, and 90 seconds later we’re shuffling on towards the underpass and the eerie whine of the timing chips activating. Up the stairs and along the high street with cheers and waves, and then we’re down into Mugdock Park onto the muddy path through the forest.

hoka highland fling 2015

With thanks to Monument Photos – www.monumentphotos.co.uk

Milngavie – Drymen

My plan was always to take it very easy on the way to Drymen. Nothing below 10 minute miles, heart rate as low as possible, and conserve as much energy as I could. I stuck to my plan, even as hordes of runners streamed by me in the first few miles and bimbled along in my own head. It was very busy; the runners didn’t thin out until Drymen, and at points there were even elbow bashing as I fought to keep my place to the left of the narrow track.

I had been bursting for a pee since the first mile and had patiently waited until my usual spot behind a wall at about 8 miles which has served me so well in the last two years, only to find the gate closed and access for my straining bladder was prohibited. I hung on a few miles gathering fury at all the men merrily emptying themselves by the side of the trail – how dare they enjoy such convenience?! Eventually I conceded I would need to scale the railway embankment to relieve myself discretely, and lost a good minute to answering the call of nature.

In the approach to Drymen I was just…annoyed. Annoyed about a lot of things; too many people around me, the rain, I was too hot, my gamin wasn’t working…I just wasn’t really enjoying myself and couldn’t wait to get the flat section done and to get out into the hills.

hoka highland fling 2015

Picture by Iain Shanks

Milngavie – Drymen
Split time = 2hr 10m 46s
Race time = 2hr 10m 46s
491st place

Drymen – Balmaha

I ran straight through Drymen and enjoyed briefly seeing Shanksi and the relay team from our club. Jemma had caught up with me and we passed the miles up and to through Garadhban chatting which made the time pass quickly.

hoka highland fling 2015

Slowly but surely the clouds cleared up and as we approached Conic Hill, the sun began to shine!

hoka highland fling 2015

hoka highland fling 2015

hoka highland fling 2015

With Thanks to Monument Photos

The view from the top was stunning in the morning sunshine, especially as there was still snow on the hills in the distance.

hoka highland fling 2015

I walked down Conic carefully, practicing how I will descend in the West Highland Way race. Any other day of the week I could fly down,  but I really wanted to take my time. Any time lost here would be made up with my strength saved for later in the day.

Balmaha was a bustling fayre, with Big Davie the Polis in charge of his team of red-clad heroes. My drop bag was pressed into my hand and before I tucked in I was able to give George Reid a hug, who was waiting in the crowd cheering everyone on. I ate my custard and drank my powerade as I tried to re-fill my pockets – oops, no room. I hadn’t eaten anything other than a little cake bar so far. That wasn’t the plan at all. Hula hoops and cereal bar went on the communal table and I left the check point holding my buttery, but I really didn’t want to eat it.

Balmaha – Rowardennan

hoka highland fling 2015

All my early-morning frustrations about busyness and weather had long melted away and I really enjoyed the section to Rowardennan in the sun as it got warmer. My garmin wasn’t working but I did have a watch, so I had judged it by time – it was only going to be about a 1hr 45 minute run which seemed tiny. I tried and tried to get the buttery down but it just wasn’t happening so I conceded and took a gel instead. I just was not hungry – I felt absolutely fine, but didn’t want to eat food at all. What is this witchcraft?!

hoka highland fling 2015

The day was stunning and Loch Lomond had never looked better. Knowing the route better than ever meant I knew what was coming around every turn and I predicted my arrival time into Rowardennan perfectly. I refilled my water and again failed to take on more food from my drop bag, but enjoyed my 300ml bottle of Powerade – perhaps the magical blue juice was going to be my source of strength for the day.

Drymen – Rowardennan
Split time = 3hr 23m 29s
Race time = 5hr 34m 15s
493rd place (2 places lost)

Rowardennan – Inversnaid

hoka highland fling 2015

I left Rowardennan behind Mags and Scott from my club and soon caught up for some chat on the hills. Again, knowledge of the route allowed me to run a bit more of this section this year as I knew what was coming and where I could push on. We passed the point where I turned around at the training weekend and reached the start of the more technical part of the race which I always enjoy. I slotted into a conga line of runners all running at the same speed along the single track trail, which pulled me along from the front and pushed me along from behind in a steady rhythm over the ground. Without Garmin data I can only guess how long this section took, but it felt like I reached Inversnaid quicker than ever and this is when I began my steady upward climb through the placings. I don’t have much more to say about this section as it flew by so quickly. It was getting hotter though and I could feel a fine t-shirt tan developing; thankfully there was a refreshing breeze to keep us mostly cool.

Inversnaid – Beinglas

hoka highland fling 2015

Inversnaid had a crack team of marshals sorting everyone out quickly. I hoovered another custard and powerade and picked up some more gels, and left whilst chatting with Antonia. There was a tight group of about 5 of us who were running together through the technical section here. Thankfully most slower runners stopped to let us pass and I thank them for that, but the lochside is no place for headphones and blocking yourself out from your surroundings. Antonia has hit the nail on the head with this one so I will quote her words (emphasis mine): “Some runners wear headphones so we try to pass them whenever we can as they are unpredictable to run behind as they aren’t aware of us other runners. Don’t wear headphones in a race guys, enjoy the trail. If you can’t enjoy the trail, go back to the gym.”. 

I enjoyed running with Antonia, Scott, and Scott, but soon it was time to move on. My legs were feeling stronger than ever and for the first time in a 50+ miler, almost nothing was hurting. Usually my hip flexors, glutes and piriformus are complaining by this point and my feet are a bloody mess, but except from some of the usual foot pain in my bones I was feeling great from top to toe. I just had no desire to walk and ran all the way into Beinglas with the exception of yomping up a couple of steeper hills, and pausing to take a snap from near Dario’s Post.

hoka highland fling 2015

I saluted the man who I never got the chance to meet and continued to steam past runner after runner on my way to the final check point. My natural instinct was to reign it in, but again, my familiarity of the course was a huge help. I knew what was coming and every signal I was getting from my legs and body said go for it. Something special was happening. It was as exciting as it was worrying, but I wasn’t going to waste the chance I had been given.

Rowardennan – Beinglas 
Split = 3h 33m 40s.
Race time = 9hr 07m 55s
394th place (99 places gained)

Beinglas – Tyndrum

hoka highland fling 2015

With thanks to Running In Scotland

 

Arriving into Beinglas, the checkpoint was very busy. I was handed my drop bag and I kept walking looking for a space to stop and take care of myself, until I heard someone say my name and I saw Matt Williamson gesturing at me to come over. “What do you need, how can I help?” he asked; he quickly took care of refilling my camelbak and refilling my pockets with gels, as I tried to swallow as much custard as possible and eat some crisps for the salt. The sun had been shining all day and whilst a breeze had kept me cool, I had been sweating sufficiently to be covered in sticky, crusty salt. My fingers had swollen up too, and whilst I was feeling ok, I knew that a lack of salt and electrolytes could quickly give me a turn for the worse. When Matt asked how I was feeling I said I was terrified, that I’d never felt so good in an ultra and that I was frightened I might blow up. Looking at my watch, it was 3:15pm; I ascertained that if I could cover the final 12 miles in a decent pace it could be possible to even get under 12 hours – this was unfathomable to me, but the clock wasn’t lying. Matt wished me luck and sent me on my way, and I went out to give the last miles everything I had.

hoka highland fling 2015

In theory it was possible to cover these 12 miles in two and a half hours, but it seemed a lofty goal. Even with the sun still beating down I inexplicably still felt amazing, there was not a drop of fatigue in my legs and this was reflected in my continued efforts up and down the hills where I passed the steady stream of walking/jogging runners making their way towards Tyndrum. Cow Poo alley was a dream – it was dusty and dry instead of the usual shin-deep quagmire – and I reached the bottom of the hills above Crianlarich ready to tackle them strongly.

hoka highland fling

Thanks to Lucja Leonard for the photo and pop-up support!

 

This was the reason why I had so carefully walked down Conic Hill 30 miles earlier. My legs were fresh and ready to go, and I bombed the downhills like I was on fire. I let gravity do its job and glided down to the road crossing in a series of fearless descents. One day perhaps I will pay for ripping down hills like this and will trip over something and lose my nerve, but until that day, my legs were made for descending.

hoka highland fling

Crossing the A82 I knew I had 3.5ish miles to go. I nailed a caffeine gel. A quick look at my watch showed it was about 5:10pm; the gel would kick in in about 10 minutes, and then I would take another to get as much of a boost as possible into my last mile. Bleeeerrgh, I feel like crap. Hang on; 5:10pm. 3.5 miles to go. That’s 11 hours 10 minutes race time. That means, barring utter catastrophe, I can get in UNDER 12 HOURS. What’s that sparkly thing? Ooh, there’s another! F*&k, I’m seeing stars. I am actually seeing stars. No wonder I feel so rough. Shite, am I about to pass out? What if I pass out? What if I get to 1 mile to go and keel over and DNF? Ohshitohshitohshit better just keep running. Don’t do this to me body, come on, we’ve got this! Take another gel! Drink water! Count to 100! Just keep going!

One final cursory glance at my watch as I approached the piper in Tyndrum showed 5:4Xpm. A big lump in my throat formed as I pushed past one final runner in my approach to the last hill to the By The Way entrance, and there it was; that beautiful finish once again. Flags blowing in the wind ushered me along the red carpet to the finish and I raised my arms in a silent howl of victory.

hoka highland fling

With thanks to Clark Hamilton

hoka highland fling

With thanks to Clark Hamilton

Beinglas – Tyndrum
Split = 2hr 36m 12s 
Race time = 11hr 44m 7s
321st place (73 places gained)

A medal was hung around my neck and water pushed into my hand. I took a few more steps before the tears of disbelief came on thick and fast and before I knew it I was bawling like a bairn. Amanda had finished just before me and had scored a PB and we happy-cried on each other, before I moved on to blubbing all over Julie, Keith, Sandra and Sarah.

hoka highland fling

With thanks to Sandra Mcdougall

I don’t even remember Sandra taking this picture. Spangled doesn’t even begin to describe how I felt, but I somehow managed to get myself to a chair to eat some soup and drink some water in some steps towards re-joining the human race. Soon after Scott and some of the SRC girls finished and joined me as we all celebrated PBs (or first finishes, in Scott’s case). A congratulatory text from my Mother In Law confirmed my final chip time of 11 hours 44 minute and 7 seconds which took my breath away all over again. I had hardly dared to dream that I could get under 12 hours, never mind under 11hrs 45m. What had happened to me? Whose legs had I stolen? What had Matt put in my camelbak at Beinglas?

hoka highland fling finish

After I had gently come back down to earth, I got changed into some warm clothes and began the anxious wait for Kynon. Early reports suggested that he’d left Beinglas in good spirits and still running about 4:30pm which meant he would probably take around three hours to finish if he could keep moving well. I anxiously waited near the finish for signs of him until I spotted him come around the corner, and then headed back to the finish gantry to give him a big hug when he crossed the line.

hoka highland fling finishIMG_3633

Kynon finished in 13 hours 27 minutes and 41 seconds, and was a very happy man. His race was not without its difficulties, but like a true ultra runner he fought through and overcame them to finish strong and happy. I am very proud.

We spent the rest of the evening at the ceilidh rehydrating, before collapsing in the van for a few hours sleep. The changeable nature of highland weather was never felt more acutely than the next day, when snowflakes falling on my neck soothed my stinging sunburn, as we fought to tear down and store the finish area in intermittent rain, sleet and blizzards.

Phpt by John Arthur

Photo by John Arthur

 

Over a week later I’m back training happily with no injuries and no (read that again: NO) blisters to speak of! There are now seven weeks to go until the West Highland Way Race, so I have about a months more training to do. So what went right last Saturday? What can I learn that I can take away from this? I have a few ideas which I will cover in my next post, but it’s safe to say I remain delighted by my performance, which, relative to my own past experience, is probably the best run I’ve ever done.

Onwards and upwards… 7 weeks until the Big One!

hoka highland fling finish medal

Hoka Highland Fling 2015 – Preview

Hoka Highland Fling 2015 Preview

hoka highland fling 2015 logo

 

Ooft, how is it Fling time again already? HOW? This year is positively flying by and I can’t believe that in 48 hours time I’ll be somewhere in between Balmaha and Rowerdennan, about 26 miles into my journey north to Tyndrum on the 10th Hoka Highland Fling 53 Mile Ultramarathon.

So where to start? I’ve been a bit AWOL on the blog in April so far and I apologise for not keeping on track with my weekly West Highland Way Race training updates, but there’s nothing terribly interesting to report about my taper since our final 30 mile run at the start of the month – things are ticking over nicely and unless I fall over before 6am on Saturday morning, I will be at the start with zero injuries and zero niggles.

This is Highland Fling #3 for me and whilst I’m physically 100%, mentally I’ve been rather distracted of late. University work is piling the pressure on, with a 5,000 word research proposal for my dissertation project due next week and all the associated stresses which comes will preparing such a document. I am excited for the summer and my project, however, as I’ve been able to pair my twin passions of digital and fitness into a project which will have an exciting, tangible product at the end of the summer!

That’s enough about that for now though; there’s a 53 mile race on Saturday to talk about.

 

Hoka Highland Fling route profile

2015 Race Strategy

In 2013 I started the race after a battle with bursitis in the weeks prior to the race and completed it in 13hrs and 6 minutes. Running towards the finish line on that day remains one of my favourite memories ever. It was a pivotal moment in my running, when I realised that truly, anything was possible if I wanted it hard enough. In 2014 I returned and ran with club friends for the first 35 or so miles at a pace which was slower than my ideal, but obviously more social. Eventually I just had to push on, and with the added strength of a very restrained start to the race, I was able to push really hard to the finish and made up 88 places in the final 18 miles for a finish time of 13 hours 20 minutes.

In 2015 my sights are set on the West Highland Way Race in June, so this is of course ‘just’ a training run. I still want to do well, but I won’t be pushing to finish in the fastest time I possibly can. I plan to run the first 20 miles to Balmaha conservatively, walking all hills, walking over Conic and conserving my legs and my energy as much as possible. I want to hit Drymen at 12 miles in no less than 2:00 – 2:10 – any quicker I’ll have gone too quickly I think, but I will be running ‘to feel’ so as long as I can still maintain conversation easily that’s my ideal pace…whatever that is. I want to be passing through check points efficiently, and then use my endurance experience to push on later in the race. A couple of years experience has shown me that one of my strengths is pacing for a strong finish at 50 mile distance – at Glenmore 12 in September I was able to sprint around the ‘small’ loop for 45 minutes to the finish so if I take my usual approach I see no reason why I can’t produce similar strength in the last hours.  After Beinglas, in the final 12 miles of the race, I will be trying to run as much as possible even though there are plenty of gentle rolling hills. If I’m strong enough at that stage I will have no excuse to not be running!

At the finish I will be hoping to feel good and not totally emptied – despite what I’ve just said about finishing strong, I will not be leaving everything out on the trail on Saturday. I still have work to do in the coming weeks to get ready for the West Highland Way race, so burning everything I have for the sake of finishing 20 minutes quicker is pointless.

Finishing time goals?
A = 12:00 – 12:30, B = 12:30 – 13:06, C= Strong, healthy, HAPPY finish.

Kit

This of course is totally weather dependent. I can try and be positive about this, but the closer it gets to Saturday, the less hope I have. Let me just leave these here… :Screen Shot 2015-04-23 at 12.32.18
hoka highland fling weather

I think if the BBC could use the term ‘LOCUSTS’ they would. Sadly I don’t think there will be any need to pack the sun cream, but I live in hope thinking of last year when we had a similar forecast and it dried up first thing in the morning. Given that it is 17C and sunny in Milngavie today, it’s just cruel.

Soooo – Montane rain jacket, running cap, and a vest/long sleeve/club vest underneath will be what I’ll wear on top, but I’m now undecided about my bottom half. I love to wear running skirts for ultras, but in the rain they are a lot less practical as discovered at Glenmore. I may have to go with some light shorts which get rid of rain water quicker and are less ‘flappy’. Calf sleeves, stripy club socks, Injinji socks, and Hokas will complete the look, along with my usual back pack. Nothing changed, nothing new.

Fuel

I am yet to prepare my drop bags so I’m afraid I can’t share my usual picture of what is going in, but I did manage to do the last of my shopping this morning so the cupboards are full and ready to burst. Race day breakfast following a good feed throughout Friday will be Premiere Inn coffee, a Muller Rice yogurt, cereal bar and a banana. The first 20 miles I will probably just have a couple of gels and a Baby Bel cheese as I’m never that hungry on such an early start, and then I’ll arrive at Balmaha for my first feed.

Drop bags will feature a selection in each from, in no particular order: either an Ambrosia custard or Muller rice, a bag of hula hoops, a buttery (Aberdeen Rowie), miniature cheeses, lemon cake bars, cashew nuts, peanut butter kit kat. There will probably be a gin miniature in my Beinglas bag too – why change the habit of a few years…

Race Logistics

This year sees a McKinnon double act gracing the West Highland Way for the first time. That’s right, Mr RWR, aka Kynon, will be stepping up from his usual marshalling spot at Balmaha to tackle the Highland Fling himself this year. His preparations have not been textbook due to ongoing injuries, but since he was able to complete the 30 mile run a couple of weeks ago, there is no reason to suspect he won’t have a great day out. We won’t be running together as we have different paces and goals, but it is expected I will finish before him. I look forward to creating a new version of this 2013 picture, reversed:

Image by Muriel Downie

Image by Muriel Downie

Having both of us in the race has created some logistical trials. This year we are parking the camper van at the finish line tomorrow afternoon, then getting the train down to Milngavie from Tyndrum, and then staying the night in the Premiere Inn. Since the race offers a ‘Finish Line’ bag van, we can put our overnight bags in there to meet us at the finish. Then we’ll be staying the night at the finish area and taking part in the celebrations with gusto, knowing we have literally only several feet to stumble into the van for a sleep.

That’s about it for now – I have so much to take care of today that I can’t write any more, but to the newbies and ‘Fling virgins’ I will say this. You are about to embark upon one of the toughest races in Scotland, but also one of the greatest. If you are new to 50+ mile racing, especially in the hills, then I’m sure you already know it is going to hurt. At points it will hurt a lot – embrace the pain, acknowledge it, and then head on your way. You can’t let it dominate your race; compartmentalise the hurt and keep going and sooner or later you will forget all about it, the pain becomes a part of you and then you realise that you are stronger than it.

Take the next day to relax completely, let go of your worries, keep off your feet and visualise your happy race. Stop stressing about whether the tracker will send updates to your Facebook page, stop asking about finishers t-shirt sizes and hoody colours, don’t feel the need to participate in the mass hysteria which is the Fling Facebook group at the moment; put your phone/laptop/iPad down and just chill the fuck out.

It’s just running. It’s fun. You start at the start and keep going until you get to the finish. That’s it. Breathe. Enjoy the journey.

 

 

Inhale Exhale

If you’re at the Fling this weekend, whatever you’re doing, have a great weekend. Runners, marshalls, sweepers, supporters, hangers on, dogs, Grannies and even stray children – welcome to the family, enjoy yourselves and soak it all up.
See you in Milngavie.

~RWR.

 

West Highland Way Race Training – Week 10

West Highland Way Race Training
Week 10
west highland way race red wine runner

Last week was a welcome return to form with three runs and three cross training sessions, including a casual 30 mile hill run at the weekend. Unfortunately I have since been struck down with a stinking cold which has been somewhat of a disability this week…

Monday: 1hr Power Yoga
Tuesday: 7.5 miles – Club long tempo run on hilly route.
Wednesday: 1hr Body Pump
Thursday: 6 miles – Club interval session – 1km effort x 5
Friday: Rest and eating lots
Saturday: 30 miles – an 8 hour monster long run with my Saturday run crew.
Sunday: A couple of hours of tough digging in the gardening and a relaxed 30 mins of Ashtanga Primary Series

Glen Dye

We had planned a route to start at the Clachnaben car park in Glen Dye, then go out up and over Clachnaben, up and over Mount Battock, then down to Tarfside and Glen Esk, before climbing back up Stobie Hillock and down the other side to the Water of Dye, following its path through Glen Dye past Charr Bothy to the car park. This in theory ought to have taken about 6 hours for a total of 25 miles, but we went a little off route on two occasions which resulted in a lot of heather bashing. On the first occasion we took an incorrect turning and after sailing down a very steep hill at great speed, realised we were going the wrong way. We heather-bashed our way around the hill contours until we found the path again, and marvelled at the huge amount of white mountain hares we saw, which were still mainly white in their winter camouflage coats.  Our second re-route was the result of new tracks being made on the estate which we were running through which was very confusing when we were following an OS map.  Supreme map reading skills re-routed us over the hills, circumventing a huge herd of deer, and then had us hopping and skipping down another descent, splashing through bogs and streams and back on track to the finish.

Clachnaben run

glen dye 3

Glen dye 4 Glen dye 5 glen dye 6 glen dye 7 glen dye 8 glen dye 9

Glen dye 11

Having left Stonehaven at 6.15am, we reached our cars at about 3.30pm so it had been a very long day. I was glad to have sensibly packed extra food just in case, and happy that the weather was on our side. It was a stunning route with about 4,500ft of climbing and a real challenge underfoot at times, so a perfect sharpener for the Highland Fling in three weeks time. On Sunday I enjoyed the sunshine and worked in the garden, before getting my yoga mat out and working through the Ashtanga Primary Series slowly to stretch out my weary legs with some furry help.

yoga cat

Tomorrow I’m off to London for a few days with Kynon to stay with some friends. Amongst other things, I am looking forward to meeting some Twitter run chums for a sightseeing run, trying a Fierce Grace yoga class, and hopefully doing some parkrun tourism at Finsbury Park. As mentioned, I developed a nasty cold on Sunday and I haven’t ran this week – better to try and get back to full health than push the bugs into my chest! I always get fatigued after having a cold or virus and I’m very keen to take care of myself with a big race on the horizon.

I’ll be posting photo updates on my London adventures on my Instagram account; if you don’t follow me already, why not come along for the journey?
@rhinomittens

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