When I ran the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling Ultramarathon 12 days ago, I did a lot of things for the first time. It was a wondrous day full of achievements but by the time my weary head hit the pillow on the 28th April, the challenge was only partially completed. Running a 53 mile race for the first time does a lot of strange things to your body and recovery has to be taken seriously to avoid suffering injury.
I have experienced the trials of recovery from races of various lengths and in my comparatively short time running long distance, the only useful lesson I’ve learned is that the more you do it, the less it hurts. I remember how much I hurt after my first 10k and half marathon, now with thousands more miles in my legs those types of distance barely register in my muscles.
53 off-road miles and 13 hours of running with nearly 6,000ft of ascent is an entirely different matter!
My body has taken a hammering from this from top to toe, but slowly it is rebuilding itself and despite the pain I finished in, I don’t think I have sustained any actual injuries. From the head down, here’s how I fared after the longest race I’ve ever ran.
– Shoulders: Big, deep chafe marks on both shoulders by my neck from 13 hours of sweaty sports bra rubbing. Severely affected my choice of dress for my work’s Spring Ball on Friday…
– Chest: For six days afterwards my lungs felt absolutely ravaged, as if I was suffering from a terrible chest injection. It hurt to breathe in or out deeply and there was a deep ache across my chest which gradually faded.
– Core muscles: clearly running up and down hills for hours when you don’t want to is the best abdominal workout ever.
– Stomach: from Monday, my poor belly just could not be satiated. After the initial shock and turmoil had worn off and lingering nausea on Sunday had disappeared, there was not enough food available to me to shut my stomach up. I believe this could be filed under “runger”.
– Hips: remarkably fine. After a long flat race I usually suffer from very stiff hip flexors, on this occasion they were fine and I believe this may be because of the hugely varied terrain which kept my hip movements constantly changing in direction, rather than just striding in fixed motion.
– Quads: Horrific. Sore to touch. Sore to the extent that it felt like there should have been bruising visible. My right was worse than my left and this will have been due to over-compensating for my duff right knee, and going downhill sideways/right leg first in the latter stages of the race. It was 7 days before they felt remotely normal.
– Hamstrings: Tighter than an Aberdonian’s wallet.
– Knees: Ok. No worse than before, but thankfully the ITB pain I had in the latter stages was just temporary.
– Calves: Rock hard and stiffer than I could ever imagine possible. That combined with the Horrific Quads and Aberdonian Hamstrings rendered stairs nigh on impossible for a good four days. Kynon damn near ended himself watching me try and step up in through our front door for the first time on Sunday. Apparently it was funny.
– Feet: just dreadfully, dreadfully sore, and are still not right. The bones on the top of my feet have taken a huge punishing from a mix of the descent and my shoes. The joints on my big toes were swollen and tender and moving them/walking was sore for quite a few days. Also, having just read Paula Radcliffe’s autobiography, I recognised the symptoms of Crepitus in the tendons connecting my foot and ankle – they were creaking like an old gate and it is the most unnerving sensation. Not painful, but very not right. I did what Paula did in her book and iced for 15 mins every hour and it seemed to help. It was a week before the uncomfortable creaking went away.
Luckily I had a specialist masseuse on hand to ease my legs back into real life. She did some very targeted work and used some little-known acupuncture techniques to get things moving again. (note recovery compression sleeves and the hooring great blisters on the ball of my left foot!)
I have done a couple of short runs, but tying running shoes on to my feet has been quite painful so I haven’t gone any further than 3 miles. If I have bruised any of the bones in my feet then there is an increased risk of developing a stress fracture so I’m being really careful. Since I’ve worked so hard this year so far I’m not having any qualms about taking some proper time off, but it is a little strange not to be being active every day. I’m having to keep an eye on what I’m eating as well as the habit of eating lots to supplement my miles is quite hard to shake!
For a few days after I was in a state of shock as the reality of what I’d achieved sunk in. I still can’t quite get my head around the fact that I’ve traversed 53 miles on my legs in one go, but every so often it becomes a bit more real and I feel invincible. Before the race I thought that once I completed it I would feel like I had unfinished business with the West Highland Way; I thought that I would feel unresolved and that I had only done half of the challenge until I had completed the full West Highland Way race. The Highland Fling really isn’t half of anything though and after battling my way to the finish in Tyndrum I feel like for me, I’ve achieved something incredible.
My attitude to the West Highland Way and it’s races has changed. This was far tougher than I thought it would be and I am in no hurry to rush to the next level and tackle the full thing. People keep asking me if I’ll do the Fling again… next year is out due to my wedding, but I reckon by the year after I’ll be ready to go back, stronger and quicker, and put in a faster performance.
For now, all I can think of is lying on this beach and swimming in this water; which is where I’ll be in 24 hours…
Hopefully I can get rid of these tan lines as well…
RwR will return in a fortnight after some serious R+R and ready to tackle the next challenge. But what will it be?! Watch this space…