Hoka Highland Fling 2015 Preview
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.
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.
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.
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…
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:
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.
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.