Red Wine Runner

A Scottish Running Blog

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The Fare Challenge Half Marathon – RACE REPORT

The Fare Challenge
KR Steel Half Marathon
23rd August 2015

The Fare Challenge medal2 hours 44 minutes 2 seconds
159th of 186 Finishers
51st of 73 Females
16 of 24 F Seniors

Let’s be honest; taking part in The Fare Challenge Half Marathon less than 20 hours after completing the Speyside Way Ultramarathon (37 miles) was always going to be a bit of an ask. I’m never one to shy away from a challenge, but when I couldn’t physically fit my trail shoes onto my swollen, blistered feet the next morning, I knew I was in for a corker…

Thankfully I had been able to score a very decent night of sleep, so whilst I was physically very tired, I felt rested. My legs were fatigued, but not particularly sore. My hunger, on the other hand, was insatiable; I ate a peanut butter bagel, a banana, a flapjack bar…but it felt like they evaporated before they even reached my stomach. Before I could even think about putting any shoes on I had to deal with the blisters which had plagued my feet the day before and were still bulging like ripe cherries. I sterilised a needle and drained them all, before placing Compeed blister plasters over them and then wrapping the balls of each foot and each big toe in Rock Tape. It didn’t feel very nice but it was the best I could do before selecting a pair of suitable shoes. My Salomon Speed Cross 3s would have been ideal, but they were far too narrow for my puffed up trotters and the toe box pinched on my blisters. I selected my widest and most comfortable shoes – my Asics Gel Nimbus 15s.

the fare challenge elevation

The Fare Challenge – 1,837ft Elevation Gain

Ali and Kate picked me up at 9.45am and we headed to Raemoir House Hotel, near Banchory, where all three of the Fare Challenge races started. The race offers a 5k and 10k as well as a Half Marathon, and offers an array of food, fun and activities for families and friends so an entire day out can be enjoyed if the weather is in your favour. Unusually, North East Scotland managed a second consecutive day of beautiful weather, and the sun was shining strongly. Whilst running in heat is really not something I enjoy, the prospect of spending a few hours in the sunshine on beautiful trails made pushing through the fatigue and hunger a lot easier.

the fare challenge registration

Registration took place in a big marquee which was already busy when we arrived at 10.30. There were refreshments on sale and a variety of stalls, but like everyone else who was running, I got my number and then joined the toilet queue. There were about 12 portaloos which were just about doing the job, but there could have done with being more when you consider all of the friends and family who were attending as well.

IMG_4839

I was glad to meet up with David and Jeni before we started to get a group photo. We were all feeling a little weary but nothing was going to stop us getting the job done. At 12pm the Half Marathon start was announced and after assembling alongside the 10k runners, we were all set off at the same time. Mentally this made the start a little bit easier – for every person who shot by me I just assumed they were doing the 10k so would naturally be going faster.

Photo from The Fare Challenge

Photo from The Fare Challenge

The Fare Challenge is a trail race with lots of ups and downs but I wasn’t familiar with the course at all. It starts from the grounds of Raemoir House Hotel and curls straight up the Hill of Fare for 3 miles. I was in no hurry to push myself and took the first mile easily, assessing what was hurting and what felt ok. When we reached the start of the hill I immediately started to power walk; I was already quite near the back but this meant I temporarily slipped back even further. Within a quarter of a mile my well-honed ultra hill stomp was already catching up with those who had tackled the start of the hill with a little too much enthusiasm, and I made steady progress up and up through the hot forest until the path cleared the tree line and we were out on the exposed hillside.

It was actually very windy up on the hill so the heat was barely an issue. I was glad for my sun screen though as the sun itself would be strong. Reaching the top of the summit there was a paramedic and a landrover which was the first of many on the course – the organisers did an excellent job in putting in provisions on the remote course to look after people who might not have the best of days. From the other side of the hill I could see all the way down and up the other side to the next summit, as well as the runners who were already way along the next hillside in miles 4, 5 and 6. I really was pretty far back in the field; I would have loved to have used my tired legs as an excuse, but there was no sign of Jeni and David who had scooted away up the hill. I’m just a bit slow right now…

the fare challenge route map

I plodded on though; my feet were really, really sore but they weren’t getting worse than they had been, and splashing through the hillside streams provided icy cold relief. Despite it being a hot day it had rained torrentially the night before so there was a lot of water coming off the hills. This also made for some perilous ascents and descents for me in my road shoes; whilst the terrain was by no means technical I would have benefited from some extra grip in wet mud. As you can see from the elevation profile the route was very bumpy; up and down like a fiddler’s elbow. There was water at two miles, seven miles, and marshalls at most turning points.

At mile 7 there was a cruel out and back up a hill track which allowed you to say hello and well done to your fellow runners, or ignore them as I found out. The field was quite spread out now with runners perhaps every 200 meters or so. I smiled and said well done to everyone I passed on my way up and down; I got one reply and two acknowledgements which was a real shame. The more runners who ignored me, the bigger my smile became. If you can’t say hello and greet a fellow runner whilst out running in beautiful countryside on a sunny day, then you may as well stick to a treadmill. Even the shittest run gets better with a smile and a chat…every ultra runner knows that, and usually those at the back are the chattiest. Strange times.

However; after mile 7 we were into a narrow forest track and out of the sun. The track got good and muddy and there were lots of puddles to jump in. The sunshine was making the pine trees smell amazing and I had finally shaken out my aches and pains; a combination of this and more down hill than up meant I was able to make up some places. Miles 9 – 11 were on forestry road and gently undulating, but now completely out of the wind and very warm. The water stations provided bottles (and SIS gels at mile 9)  but I was glad to have taken a hand-held bottle with me to sip on throughout. Mile 11 had a bit of a savage downhill which gave me a dreadful stitch, but finally we got back down to road level and re-entered the hotel grounds.

The 12 mile marker was right next to the carpark entrance which cruelly took us so close to the finish before back up the hill for another half mile. We the returned the the start/finish line by the same route as the first mile, with a 100 meter uphill grass finish to cross the line. I had estimated around 2hr30 – 2hr40 for a finish time, so 2hr 44m wasn’t too far off for a lifetime worst half marathon time. Jeni did 2:16 and David did 1:59 (!!), with the male and female winners completing the course in 1hr24 and 1hr43 respectively.

fare_challenge_finisher

The medal is an absolute beast and quite heavy to hang around your neck! Upon finishing I was handed a goody bag and my medal, and tottered out to find my friends. Having started the race hungry I was feeling very empty and rather light-headed; I was desperate for a drink or a snack, so the only disappointing aspect of the day was that there was no post-race food for the runners. Perhaps I’ve been spoiled by ultras and small club races, but I would expect at least a banana and a cup of tea or something. There was a little bottle of water in the goody bag which was most welcome, but I had to tap Kate for some change to go and get a can of coke from the hotel marquee. There was food available there but at quite a price, and you could even buy a bottle of champagne if you liked.

Fare_Challenge_start

At £26, the Fare Challenge is not the cheapest half marathon in the North East but it offers a unique experience and a beautiful course. The organisers have worked extremely hard to produce an event which is inclusive for all and should hopefully act as a gateway to the joys trail running for many. The route is well marshalled and very challenging; I’d love to come back and give it a go on fresh legs and see how much time I’d slice off. I’d also love to come back and see less people dropping their gel packets on the trail and being a bit cheerier on the run, but these are two things which road runners exploring the trails for the first time can sometimes be not quite up to speed on which is a real shame.

IMG_4840

It was still a stunning evening when I got home and Kynon and I enjoyed some beers and crisps in the setting sunshine before I ate my weight in Chinese food. I really enjoyed both races and would love to return to either again in the future. The back-to-back experience was a fun challenge made more enjoyable by the weather, but it was very tiring especially off the back of a summer of recovery and inconsistent training. I took a week to get back in my running shoes and even longer to get this report up – as ever, the MSc dissertation is taking priority, but I’m now in the last few weeks of hard work!

‘Til next time,

~RWR

Speyside Way Ultra – RACE REPORT

Speyside Way Ultra
22nd August 2015

speyside way ultra medal

7 hours 4 minutes 16 seconds
69th of 101 Finishers
17th of 25 Females
7th of 11 F Seniors

 

After completing the West Highland Way Race, I went on a race-entering spree to satisfy my desire to complete some races for fun; specifically, ones which would take me less than 29 hours to complete… After trawling EntryCentral I saw for the first time since I started running ultras, that the Speyside Way Ultra was not clashing with a music festival which I’ve been attending for nearly a decade. I quickly purchased an entry and contemplated signing up for the Fare Challenge Half Marathon the next day as well. It only took a little extra encouragement from my running friend David for me to decide that a back to back racing weekend of 50 mile was in fact a brilliant, totally normal idea, and before I knew it my plans for this weekend were set in stone.

David picked me up from my parents’ house in Aberdeen at 5:15am and we set off towards Insch to pick up Jeni, who would be the third member of our back-to-back team. The journey passed quickly and we arrived at Buckie High School to register at about 7am. There were one or two familiar faces, but with Speyside being rather out of the way for much of the Central Belt ultra crowd, many of the usual suspects were not present. It’s one of the smallest of the SUMS races, and at 36.5 miles in length, amongst the shortest. The route (mostly) follows part of the Speyside Way, which is a long distance walking route along the banks of the Spey. It’s mainly flat, but with a climb up and down Ben Aigen in the middle, and some rolling hills as well. Terrain is about two thirds on very runnable trail (forestry track and old railway line), with the remainder being on road.

There were buses to take the runners to the start, which was hosted at Cragganmore Distillery. On the bus I managed to bag a seat right at the front which was a relief, as I am prone to motion sickness on buses, especially first thing in the morning when travelling to races! It was about an hour’s journey, and I enjoyed chatting to the 2014 women’s race winner, Sophie Mullins, who was sitting up front next to me. When the two buses offloaded it was a mad rush to the portaloos, a short race briefing, and then a piper marched us to the starting line.

speyside way race start

speyside way ultra race

When the hooter went, off we trotted towards Buckie on a flat converted railway line. There were lots of bridges to cross, including bouncy ones which made everyone laugh as their stride was disrupted!

speyside way ultra race

speyside way ultra race

Even though it was only 9am, the air temperature was very warm and humid with the sun hiding behind some light cloud cover. It was forecast to reach around 22C later in the day, and I was hoping that the sun would keep hiding or else my race would be made rather difficult by the heat. Within a couple of miles I was already quite sweaty and drinking lots of water, I was glad to pick up a couple of extra cups at the first water stop at 7 miles, and very glad when Checkpoint 1 came at 12 miles as I had drank the 1.5 litres of water I had started with already.

speyside way ultra race

speyside way ultra race

speyside way ultra race

Ballindalloch – Craigellachie – 12 miles – 2 hours

I clearly wasn’t the only one who had been thirsty, as the Checkpoint was almost out of water when I arrived. I had to upturn the water bowser to pour the last of the contents out, which came to another 2 litres. The drop bags were laid out and I guzzled 250ml of Lucozade Sport whilst I re-packed my pockets. I had eaten a Nakd bar, some Mini-Cheddars and some jelly sweets in the first two hours, and had Jaffa Cakes and Hula Hoops to fuel the next two. On my way out of the check point I was looking forward to reaching the first hills of the day so I could have a little walk – it has been a while since I’ve ran 12 flat miles without a break!

speyside way ultra race

speyside way ultra race

I spent some time chatting to George Chalmers and Alyson MacPherson on the way up Ben Aigen, but we parted ways as we pursued our separate goals for the day. After this I was mainly alone for the rest of the run and enjoyed the stunning views from the top of the hill, looking all the way down the Spey and towards the eventual finish.

speyside way ultra race

Half way down the hill there was a water stop with coke, ginger beer and pretzels manned by Jenni or Moray Road Runners which was a welcome sight. It was still very warm but the sun was thankfully still out of sight. With no cooling breeze it was still very stuffy and I continued to drink a lot as I ran.

At 19 miles the route deviates from the Speyside Way and follows the roads to Fochabers. There were several miles of rolling hills here which I was pleased to be able to run continually as I locked into an efficient ultra plod. Thankfully there was not a lot of traffic so I was able to run in the middle of the road and avoid the steep camber, and I ended up passing a handful of people who were perhaps fading a little at this mid-point.

Craigellachie – CP 2, Near Fochabers – 12 miles – Split TBC

I arrived at Checkpont 2 with Neil MacRichie, and in need of a Camelbak refill again. I had drunk the two litres and ran out before the Checkpoint, so really enjoyed another 250ml of Lucozade Sport and some fresh water as well. I had a High5 tab to put in the bladder to replace some much-needed electrolytes, and with my pockets refilled with Jaffa cakes and Hula Hoops I continued on my way.

Running through Fochabers I clocked marathon distance at a shade over 5 hours which I thought was reasonable. I was feeling good (if a bit too hot) and with the exception of my feet blistering in the same places as at the West Highland Way Race and the Devil, nothing was hurting. It occurred to me that perhaps I need to replace my socks – I know Injinji socks work for me, but I’ve been rotating the same few pairs for 100s of miles now – I hope this will crack the problem of the reoccurring blisters!

speyside way ultra race

After we left Fochabers, the route turned into a single track cycling/walking trail by the River Spey which was very scenic. I spent many happy holidays in my youth at Burnside Caravan Park in Fochabers, and cycled along that path many times so it was pleasing to return to it nearly 20 years later and traverse it in a different manner. In fact, I was enjoying myself so much, I tripped over my own feet on the flat path and nearly barrel-rolled into the Spey. I was frustrated, but unharmed; nothing grazed except my ego, when realising the fishermen over on the other side had observed my tumble and were now scaring away their potential prey with screams of amusement. It’s probably just as well they didn’t see me fall the second time, not 5 minutes later, as this time I was really angry at myself for not paying attention and falling over nothing and bellowed “FOR F&*K’S SAKE PAY ATTENTION, QUINE” at nothing in particular as I nursed a deep scrape on my shin and a bashed hand.

speyside way ultra race

Trotting on, the flat miles passed as the trees thinned and the coast and Spey Bay came closer. It was nearing 30 miles and I was beginning to get weary, so I had started my favoured mental game to pass the time on each mile – run 0.4 miles, walk 0.1. Fiona Rennie was out taking pictures at Spey Bay so it was nice to say hello to her, and I welcomed the fresh sea breeze as I turned right onto the coastal road which would lead me back to Buckie.

speyside way ultra race

Picture by Fiona Rennie

speyside way ultra race

From here to the end it was very flat, and with no excuses not to run I continued to break up each mile into segments to manage my fatigue. I had hoped to finish around 6.5 – 7 hours, but I could see that becoming less of a possibility as time slipped by. At mile 32.5 it  is possible to see the twin spires of Buckie St Peter’s Church which is near the finish, over 4 miles away. This is quite cruel, but at least you have something to aim for…

speyside way ultra race

I had told myself to not be an idiot and try and finish too strongly, as my legs would not thank me the next day. However, it was hard to leave the ego at home when I could see a handful of runners up ahead which I was gradually gaining on. Without changing my pace I overtook two, and when I finally reached the outskirts of Buckie I pushed just a little to overtake another three, including two girls. I figured this might encourage them to go quicker to try and re-gain their place, so I pushed harder than was comfortable for a few minutes to try and put a gap between me and them that they would have to really try to close. I don’t know why I even cared, but it helped me pass the time and got me to the finish quicker. After a quarter of a mile I reigned myself in as I could feel a stitch brewing and I didn’t want to have to walk the last hill to the finish. Something which Mike has said a lot recently sprung to mind; “Run as fast as you need to for as long as you need to” which I think are the words of Stuart Mills, perhaps? Either way, once I was safely out of the way I concentrated on finishing the last mile sensibly, as I saw no need to sprint any harder.

speyside way ultra race

Fochabers – Buckie – 13 miles – Split TBC

36.5 miles had come and gone by the time I passed Tina, the last marshall, and I asked where on earth the finish line was – 200 meters up that hill, she said, as she directed me around a corner. I motored up slowly, and heaved a sign of relief when I saw the feather flags marking the finish area. The small crowd gave me a big cheer as I made my way across the line, and I gratefully tumbled onto the soft grass once I had received my medal and lovely goody bag.

speyside way ultra race

Picture by Jeni R-J

After running out of water again by the finish, I demolished a bottle whilst sitting on the grass chatting to Jeni and some other friendly finishers. That was over 6 litres of water I had consumed during the race, as well as 500ml Lucozade and a couple of cups of coke. I also haven’t mentioned that I hadn’t needed to go to the toilet at all – so that’s how much fluid I had sweated out in the 7 hours of running! That’s very unusual for me, but my salt encrusted skin and clothing proved how warm it had been.

speyside way ultra race

After chatting to lots of people and taking the time to thank Sarah Louise Grigor, the Race Director, I headed back to the High School to collect my bag and have a sandwich. Since David, Jeni and I had lots of recovery to do before 12pm the next day, we wasted no time at all in heading back down the road after we’d had a bite to eat, and I arrived back at my parents’ house about 7pm. I was really grateful for David driving; I felt so spangled and tired after the race that I would not have been safe to drive myself home. David finished the race in 5hr 41m so he had a bit more time to collect himself before getting behind the wheel, but even 3 hours after finishing, when I got in my own car to drive back to Stonehaven, I felt a bit funny.

Upon arrival home I put the oven on and had a quick shower before inhaling a large pizza, some doughballs, and a delicious salted caramel choux bun. After logging all my food and exercise on MyFitnessPal I still had a deficit of 1,484kcal at the end of the day; perhaps not the best preparation for a half marathon the next day, but that way just the way it was. I was in bed by 10.30pm without a drop of celebratory alcohol, and thankfully slept the sleep of the dead as my body did it’s best to recover for the challenge which lay ahead…

speyside way ultra race

In summary, this was a super race and one which I hope to do again. Speyside is a beautiful area to run through and the route is a lovely way to see it. The goody bag had some nice surprises in it including a miniature whisky, and the medal is wonderfully chunky. It would be an excellent choice for a first ultra due to the easy terrain and well-sign posted route, and the relatively short distance is the perfect bridge between marathon and 50 mile distance events.

Stay tuned for the next stage in my back-to-back challenge – I hope to have it posted by the end of the week!

Devil O The Highlands Footrace 2015 – RACE REPORT

The Devil O’The Highlands Footrace
1st August 2015

Devil o the highlands footrace prize

10hrs 32m 24s
157th of 180 finishers (7 DNF)
43rd of 56 Females

 

So it turns out that, as expected, running a 43 mile trail race on the back of 6 weeks recovery and resting from the West Highland Way Race is challenging, but achievable. My plan for the Devil o’the Highlands this year was always just to achieve a finish, and thus complete the West Highland Way triple crown of the Highland Fling, the WHW Race, and the Devil within one year. When you think about it more carefully, it’s actually nothing like a year; the races all take place in a shade over 3 months. There were 29 contenders this year and I believe all but 2 completed the combined challenge, which while unofficial, has become an aspirational target for many SUMS competitors with only 117 runners with at least one completion under their belts.

So it was at 2:45am on Saturday morning that I found my alarm going off, waking me from peaceful sleep in my room in the Fort William Travelodge. Kynon and I were booked onto the shuttle bus which would take us directly to the start in Tyndrum, but it meant a ridiculously early start to the day. The night before I’d prepared everything so all we needed to do was step into our clothes, pick up our bags, and leave, which was a plan which worked well. I intended to try and sleep some more, or at least rest on the bus, and would eat when we arrived in Tyndrum at 5am. I just didn’t see the sense in hoovering breakfast any earlier, as I never normally eat in the middle of the night!

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

I got a little snooze on the bus and arrived in Tyndum feeling a little more alive, but was still feeling pretty spaced out. The application of coffee and some breakfast brought me back to life, and after some trips to the loo and the race briefing, it was time to line up at the start. I’d spoken to a handful of other Triple Crown hopefuls that morning and we all shared the same feeling of disbelief that we were back in Tyndrum and about to get back on to the West Highland Way again. The WHW Race seemed so long ago, but also just as though it was last week… it was confusing and somewhat disorienting.

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

With five minutes to go we all departed from the Green Welly Stop and made the short walk to the start. The rain had dried up just as we assembled and it looked like the skies were clearing – was the forecast for rain going to be wrong…? Other than being a bit damp, the morning was overcast and quite humid. I had selected lots of layers to wear as the temperature could fluctuate wildly throughout the day.

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

At 6am, Kynon and I stood towards the back of the large crowd of 189 runners and re-affirmed our commitment to stick together throughout the race. Whilst we’ve never ran an ultra together, we had decided it would be the best way to enjoy ourselves; he was a little under-trained and I was still a little tired from WHW Race. The goal was to finish happy and healthy – time didn’t matter, especially as we both have the Berlin Marathon to train for between now and the end of September. There was no point in emptying ourselves at the Devil and needing to take even more precious time for recovery.

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Photo by Clark Hamilton

Photo by Clark Hamilton

Photo by Clark Hamilton

Deciding to take it easy really took the pressure off and it meant I had no pre-race nerves at all. It felt like I was off for a long training run rather than anything else, but the festivities of the start line set the scene for another great race. As the new RD, Johnny Fling has done a great job in re-branding the Devil this year and giving the event a much-needed boost. When the hooter went at 6am, we charged up the hill through a gauntlet of supporters and marshalls, until slowing to a walk as the hill got steeper.

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

The field spread out quite quickly as the first 7 miles are very runnable. I had to pull over and fix one of my shoes in the first half mile and by the time I stood up it appeared were at the absolute back of the field. Ok, so this was new, but again; there was no pressure to move quickly. We trotted on, warming up the muscles nicely and passed one or two runners; I was trying not to be competitive and push on, but when I saw we were even behind the legendary Ray McC I wasn’t having that, and made sure we made swifter progress to Bridge of Orchy.

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Photo by Colin Knox

Tyndrum – Bridge of Orchy – 1hr 17m – 182nd place

I was hoping to go straight through BoO as it was just a timing checkpoint with water, but Kynon felt a blister starting and wanted to stop and put a Compeed on. I had 7 minutes of avoiding midgies until we could get going again and start clawing back a couple of places, but the irony was that I could feel blisters gurning on my feet too. As we climbed up and over Jelly Baby Hill I tried to decide whether it was worth me stopping at the bottom to check them out or not. Having carefully Sudocreme’d my feet before carefully lacing the shoes and fastening my gaiters, I really didn’t want to sit down and haphazardly pull it all off. The hot-spots were exactly where my WHW race blisters were though, where I had already placed preventative compeeds – I was worried that they might have slipped, so I decided to investigate at Inveroran.

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Once sitting on a stone I was able to peel back my socks to see that blisters had already formed underneath my compeeds placed just under the ball of my feet, in exactly the same spots as the WHW blisters. The compeeds basically looked like pale fried eggs, with a blister popping in the middle of each. After 9 miles!! I despair. Since there was nothing to be done, I put my socks, shoes, and gaiters back into order and looked forward to 34 more miles of unnecessarily painful steps. Some days you can take every precaution, but then it just doesn’t work…

As we were chugging over Rannoch Moor I began to notice Kynon lagging behind a bit. It seemed like he was fading so I made him eat something and take some painkillers as various parts were hurting. The day before, when we had thought about how the race would go I hypothesised that I would have a crap first 20 miles until my body remembered what it was capable of, and then I would get stronger towards the end; Kynon however would have a great first 20 before crashing and struggling to keep the momentum. It turned out my guess was partially right, but the role reversal happened at about 14 miles instead. I was able to gently pull us along, making sure that Kynon was off the rockiest parts of the trail and eating something regularly. Up until now the weather had remained bright, but we had our first rain shower of the day as we headed towards Glencoe. It looked very changeable up ahead, and it looked as if the weather forecast would deliver exactly what it had promised.

Glencoe – 3hr 45m 28s – 178th place

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Photo by Debbie Martin-Consani

I had estimated an arrival at Glencoe of about 3hr 15m, so much as we were still making decent enough time the fact we were quite behind schedule was never far from my mind. As we walked up the hill to the drop bag point I realised I recognised the face beneath the hat who was calling my name and holding up my bag – it was no other than three-time winner and course record holder of the West Highland Way Race, Paul Giblin. A look around revealed that the check point was being staffed by no fewer than 4 current or former Team GB ultrarunners who were running the place like an F1 pitstop. As I was eating my custard, Paul helped me get the rest of my stuff packed whilst Lucy Colqhuon (Female WHW Race course record holder) refilled my water. Kynon was being helped by Debbie Martin-Consani (GUCR winner and course record holder, Lakeland 100 winner, Team GB 24hr runner) and Sharon Law (Team GB 24hr runner) and after only a brief pause we were on our way again, marvelling at how brilliant the sport we have chosen is. Where else would you find elite athletes working at the coal face alongside common-or-garden ultra runners? Does Mo Farah hand out water at a local 10k? Huge thanks to Glencoe Team for being out there and continuing to inspire us all.

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Leaving Glencoe

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Between Glencoe and the Devil’s Staircase the sun shone brightly which made for some stunning views. There was no escaping the fact that we were running towards The Weather though, as huge black clouds loomed ahead. Kynon had never actually covered the Staircase before and was excited to climb it, but I think the shine wore off for him about half way up. I always forget how steep it is, but I was glad to feel a hundred percent better than in my last ascent in June, after 75 miles, when I had to stop to dry-heave every 10 minutes.

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Just before the summit we felt the first drops of rain. Like every other change in the weather that day it was quick, and within seconds we were scrabbling for our waterproofs as we were enveloped in rain. This was serious rain though; big heavy raindrops being pushed towards us with a harsh wind which got stronger as we crested the hill. We could barely stand up against the wind as we approached Fiona and Pauline who were sitting at the top handing out sweets and taking pictures. After a battle with her brolly, Fiona managed one for us!

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Photo by Fiona Rennie

Devil o the highlands footrace 2015

Photo by Fiona Rennie

Looking ahead we could see that the rain really wasn’t going anywhere this time so we had to buckle up and just get soaked. It was falling out of the sky with such ferocity it was like tropical, monsoon-style rain. I checked in with Kynon behind me and he was ok and ready to go; “Great” I said, “Then let’s get the F*%K off this hill!”.

The path was very slippy but I enjoyed dancing down it; I figured the weather was so ridiculous I may as well have some fun and jump in the puddles. There were some miserable looking walkers who looked at me like they thought I was crazy, but I was having a lot more fun than they were. Within the hour my waterproof had given up the ghost so every inch of me was soaked through and I wished I had a visor or some kind of cap to keep the rain out of my eyes. I continued to lead, but Kynon really struggled coming down the fire road and we ended up walking most of it. We lost a lot of time here but he kept on fighting; I didn’t want to say it, but other than a stiff hip climbing up hills I was feeling fine…

Kinlochleven – 6hr 31m 55s – 163rd place

The biggest credit of the day has to go to the Kinlochleven marshalls who had nothing but a bus shelter to hide from the rain in and were out for just as long as we were, except they had to stand still. I had barely eaten anything since Glencoe as my jacket was over my rucksack due to the rain, so I tucked in hungrily from my drop bag, and put some more snacks in my pockets. As we left, Audrey McIntosh emerged from a car and joined us running out of town; I don’t think if I’d had the opportunity to get somewhere warm and dry I would have taken it, as I’m not sure I could have left! A tree had fallen and was blocking the road out of town, and a man with a chainsaw was tackling it. There was something very unnerving about passing him working away looking ever so slightly wild eyed, so maybe that’s what gave me the extra boost to scoot away up the hill out of Kinlochleven into Lairig Mhor. We made good time and by the time we reached the top the rain had ceased to a drizzle. Such relief! It was windy though so I kept my jacket on to stay warm, especially as Kynon had stiffened up and was keen to do a bit more walking than I.

Crossing Lairig Mhor was a lot more tolerable than last time, and by the time we were within a mile of Lundravra the sun was out! The sun was hot and quickly dried up the wet kit we had on and made this latter stage of the race a lot more enjoyable. There were more friendly faces at Lundavra who provided juice and water re-fills, and then it was time for the final push and one last attempt to try and claw back some places.

Lundravra – 8hr 45m – 158th place

There’s not really much to report from the last 7 miles; as I am writing this nearly two weeks after the event I am struggling to recall much other than really struggling to get up hills efficiently due to pain deep inside my hips. This, and general fatigue, made it easier to run at Kynon’s pace and we worked together setting mini-goals to pass the distance on the long downhill; such as run for 0.5 mile, then a 100 step walk, and repeat…

Now, much attention has been given to the new finish with it’s off-road final 1.5 miles, but I feel I need to add my tuppence. Previously in the Devil (or WHW Race) you would descend to the main road into Fort William and then the final mile would be flat. Now, one descends and then turns back up another trail which runs parallel to the road as it climbs up and up, and it is aptly named ‘Cow Hill’. It was a cruel finish, but a very apt end to a race named ‘The Devil O’the Highlands’ really.

Staggering down the other side was as painful for Kynon as it was for me to stagger up it, but we got there eventually and heard the sounds of the finish on the breeze. Running into the field hand in hand, there were lots of cheers and music, and a finish line mention for me on completion of my Triple Crown. It felt right to finish with Kynon; he’s held my hand both physically and metaphorically through much of this journey and has been a pillar of support. To complete the final miles with him was perfect.

CK_Finish1

Photo by Colin Knox

devil o the highlands race 2015

Photo by Clark Hamilton

devil o the highlands race 2015

Photo by Colin Knox

Finish – 10hr 32m 24s – 157th place

devil o the highlands race 2015

Photo by Clark Hamilton

I’d lost track of time as both of our Garmins had died, so I asked someone what time it was – 4.35pm they said, I did the sums and gasped! Ten and a half hours?! Surely not! Oops. Well that had been somewhat of a relaxed day out, but a finish is a finish; the weather certainly impacted us, but most importantly we saved ourselves for the last bit of training for the McKinnon Berlin Marathon show-down in 6 weeks time. There will be no hand-holding on that particular adventure, as I grapple to retain my title of fastest McKinnon Marathoner…!

West Highland Way Triple Crown

West Highland Way Triple Crown

So that’s it; the Triple Crown is  done. I thought I would feel a lot more emotional about it, but it’s just…over. I will definitely do the Devil next year to see how quickly I can complete it solo; I think I’d be close to 8.5 hours if I had fresh legs. Next up is the Speyside Way / Fare Challenge back-to-back challenge on the 22nd and 23rd of August. 50 miles of Trail Racing; earlier in the year this would have been a doddle, but again I’ll be taking it easy to preserve myself for Berlin. At the moment, losing some weight is of the greatest importance; I may not have peak speed for Berlin but at least I can do myself a favour by not carrying any extra ballast. I’ll try and keep some updates coming in other than race reports in the next few weeks, but I’m now deep in the writing of my MSc thesis so that is demanding a lot of my time…

‘Til next time!

~RWR

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.

 

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