Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Devil O The Highlands 2012

Well that didn’t exactly go according to plan! After the Highland Fling my aim was to tun the Cateran Trail Ultra however I was diagnosed with tendonitis in my left foot (a fancy word for “bloody sore”) and that meant I had to stop/reduce and get my sensible hat on. Cue lots of grumpy moods, weight gain and lashings of vodka.

I was back training in June and only managed a few 2(ish) hour road runs at weekends. Then I attempted to run the Mourne Way (26 miles through the Mourne Mountains) when I was back home in N-Ireland in July. I got lost thanks to some poorly thought out waymarking and had a comedy moment after 2 hours running where I ended up pretty much back at the start! 2 hours ran, 0 miles achieved. However, I did about 25 miles before calling it a day and it was pretty spectacular. I will definitely pencil in the Mourne Way Ultramarathon as a future event.

And so the Devil race was upon us last weekend. My Dad flew over from Belfast to join my sister as support crew. We stayed in Tyndrum both nights at the Pine Trees Camping site in one of their luxury camping cabins which was superb.

The race itself is 43 miles from Tyndrum to Fort William over the second part of the West Highland Way. In my opinion it is the best section and certainly one of the most beautiful parts of Scotland. It has 2 main climbs - the Devil’s Staircase and the ascent out of Kinlochleven. It really is a cracking race and probably my favourite to date.

However, it is a different proposition in the heat which was a bit of a shock! This turned out to be a good thing in the end because the challenge gave me lots of valuable feedback and I learned key lessons.

- The midgies at Inveroran are just mental. Next year wear a long sleeve with long trousers unless you want to look like a heroin addict with measles afterwards.
- I need to take it a bit easier for the first 20 miles. I keep scoring an own goal here.
- I need to run my own race rather than trying to overtake or catch up with folk. As much fun as it was trying to catch Minty the whole race I should have been more concerned with my own effort levels.
- I need to drink more water earlier in the race. I get nauseous after about 5-6 hours running and during the Devil this was definitely caused by dehydration.
- “Real solid food” just doesn’t play ball with my stomach during races. I appreciate the need for calories and carbs but will need to err on the side of slimfast/coke/gel/soup etc rather than a muller rice/cake fest. Solids just tie my stomach in knots and add to the nausea. I won’t eliminate them entirely but I need to think about more calories in liquid form.
- Last year I was faster due to better speedwork and about 1 stone lighter. I want to be like that again as running is far easier.
- BIG LESSON=even when it is “game over” you can still find untapped reserves to carry on. Yes, this is the reason why we enter these things - to find out what happens when we go beyond our limits. To see how far we can go when our body throws a hissy fit and cries that it can’t go any further. However, the thing is I’ve never really had this before. Normally in an ultra I will blow up with about 10-20% distance remaining and then I’ll bitch and moan until the end probably with a bit of swearing and growling. This time I was feckin gubbed walking up the Devil’s Staircase. My heart rate was at 5K race level and I was walking. Mentally I had quit and physically I was a mess. Yet I was only half way home. Somehow I went from total defeat to being able to jog/bimble/walk/jog within 30 mins. This was a bit of a revelation! I managed to run into Kinlochleven looking forward to meeting the crew, getting some coke and then heading on. I was  similarly broken after the scorching climb out of Kinlochleven. I was totally destroyed and incapable of any continuation. However 15 mins later I was jogging again (albeit with 2 min walking breaks). I am delighted to have experienced this - even though I was 30 minutes slower than planned (I finished 9:00:30), the race was a huge success from the confidence I gained. I assumed I would need a number of 50+ milers to get the courage to attempt a longer race. Now I have that self belief.

Lastly what a great crew my Dad and sister were.  I am rather hoping they can do some more in the future!

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

Highland Fling 2012

I sort of grew a beard for this one and I don’t really know why. My wife hated it and I certainly found it an annoyance. However once race day was looming I was damned if I would shave it off. I think it must be a mid life facial hair crisis. From a distance it looked like I had been eating coal.... badly. Needless to say I have toned it down since although it only got a trim rather than a full shave. I have now formed an attachment to it like an ugly puppy.

I think when you have run a few ultramarathons before you start to “normalise” distances which any other human being would think totally stupid to try to run. This was to be my 7th ultra and was my longest to date. I wasn’t particularly worried. No siree bob, not me. However, rather than think of it as “a jolly day out in the hills” I should have seen it as it really was - a tough double marathon (53 miles) over some crazy terrain in the highlands. That sounds hard and was a little more accurate with hindsight. At least this time I didn't get drunk the night before. 

(Thanks to all the folk who took photos and put them on flickr/facebook. Hope you dont mind me stealing a few?)

At the start

The start at Milngavie was a low key relaxed affair and we were off before I had the chance to reflect or worry. I had worn my heart rate monitor so I could keep the effort down in the first half of the race and keep the effort up whilst walking the hilly sections. However it gave an inaccurate HR/Pace reading (adrenaline?) until it was too late anyway. I felt fast but comfortable for the first half however this section was fairly easy underfoot. After this the terrain was much more difficult and I should have kept more back in reserve. I had been warned this THE DAY BEFORE by Karen! Stupid mistake and muppetry of the highest order.
Enjoying a buttery (Aberdeen Rowie) at half way

The second half (or second marathon in reality!) was either very tough underfoot or involved lots of hilly sections. Silly boy for running too strong in the first half. My frequency of walking increased the further I got however I was aware that I was more and more ahead of schedule at each checkpoint. I left the final checkpoint Bein Glas (40.5miles) in absolute pieces. I still had 12.5 hilly miles ahead of me and I just wanted it over. Not a nice feeling at all. It was at this point I spoke briefly to John Kynaston who said I’d be able to get under 11 hours if I cracked on a bit. This proved to be a real shot in the arm. John is an experienced ultramarathoner so I reckoned he knew his apples. I made an effort for the next 6 miles of the final 12. Then I *really* gave up the ghost and just tried to get one foot in front of the other. I was even walking down some hills. Oh yeah, look at Mister Experienced Ultramarathoner - he runs everything*             (*except uphill, downhill or flat sections).

Who ate all the coal?

It was going to end eventually and right enough I heard the pipers in the woods by Tyndrum. It was a brilliantly supported finish and very emotional. I don't think I’ve ever been as happy to cross the line in my life and the beer that George Reid gave me was the finest I’ve ever drunk. 

I came in at 11:08. I had planned for 11:45 so in all not bad for a race which I felt could have went better. It is an odd feeling though - I’d much rather have ran a 12hr or 12:30hr Fling and enjoyed it all (ie been more consistent) rather than get an OK time but only enjoyed 2/3rds of it. 


In terms of food I learned a few lessons. Sweet stuff every 15 minutes until about 7 hours and then switch to savoury every 15 mins or whatever you can stomach. Muller rice early on but switch to orange juice/lucozade later. Fizzy coke at each checkpoint is brilliant!

The bits of the race I enjoyed the most were the bits most folk warn you about. Coming down Conic Hill was slippy but it was an absolute blast. The technical section at Lochside was also brilliant fun although I almost fell on my face 2 or 3 times which could have been nasty. Some of the course was stunningly beautiful but I prefered the barren mountainous scenery of the northern part of the West Highland Way. It feels like running through Mordor.

Overall then I had a mixed result. I learned a lot about pacing during bigger ultras (ie slow the hell down) and that my food strategy needs a little tweaking. I would also do it all again which is a good sign. “Luckily” I have another bigger run in a few weeks time to try to put these lessons into effect! Also, this was the first time I have felt achievement at finishing an ultra. Normally I’m just glad it is over but don’t have any “well done me” pat myself on the back feelings.  I think it was the double marathon distance on tough terrain that did it.
The only photo I took all day!

It was great to see so many friendly familiar faces on Saturday. I felt lucky and privileged to be part of such a friendly well organised run. It is great to see mates who you only meet at these  mental days out. EVERY runner that passed me said “well done” and I said it to every runner that I passed. How many running events does that happen in, eh?

I used to think of myself as a marathon runner who dabbled in the odd longer distance but I’ve now ran more ultras than marathons. As my “perfectly manicured” feet will tell you! And the beard *strokes chin*

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Training for the Highland Fling

There were six weeks in between the D33 ultramarathon (17th March) and the Highland Fling (28th April). I needed to keep the off-road runs ticking over so I won’t die in a big heap come race day. It is pretty hard to plan for this as there are no text books or ready made training plans- just word of mouth and advice from folk who have done it before. With the Fling looming next Saturday this is a summary of the weekend fun (in conjunction with normal weekday training). 

Lochnagar run Sun 1st April

Mike Raffan organised a run at Lochnagar via facebook and about 15-20 people turned up. We ended up running about 18 miles but this took 5 hours 40 mins. Party this was due to terrain (5 munroes and 2 corbetts) and partly this was down to sociable running with lots of food stops and chats! Time on feet was more important for me given that I always fade quite quickly after the 4 hour mark. I got some great running/food/nutrition tips from George and Karen as my eating strategy is always a problem. Overall I was pleased with the run. I had done something similar with Mike the year before and it knocked the stuffing out of me (and made me abandon the 2011 Fling) so it was good to finish stronger.

30 mile forest run Sat 7th April

3 weekends before the Fling I wanted to get a long run done. Preferably 6 hours off road. This was a chance to test out the new eating strategy, some kit and fitness levels. As per George and Karen I had an asda mini bite (caramel slice/rocky road) every 15mins, a succeed electrolyte tablet every hour and a “checkpoint” snack every 2 hours (muller rice with mini coke worked wonders). I only had a mouthful of water every 15 mins and this worked for me - only 1 litre for the run. This all came together very well - I felt strong at the end (5hrs 26 mins) and never felt ill which is a first.
I also have finally settled on a bag combination that I am happy with - my old manky salamon ski rucksack for waterproofs/sunglasses/sundries and my small waist bag for 15 minute snacks/phone/tablets. Nice to get this sorted before the bigger event.
Wild camping trip Sat 14th April

Not technically a training run but more for mental endurance. A number of folk had expressed interest in doing a “run/wild camp/run” one Saturday night/Sunday morning so we got it arranged on facebook. I knew it would be bloody freezing at times so there would be some element of endurance involved. Overall it was superb fun. We tootled up Clachnaben and sauntered towards Mount Battock (or Buttock as some were saying). Then down to Charr Bothy  to pitch the tents giving us a 10 mile run/climb/bimble. Camping beside the bothy was a great idea as we had somewhere to sit and natter with our hip flasks. I learned a lot of mistakes during the night about keeping warm and it found it quite tough - however I am gagging to go back and “tweak” my keeping warm strategy.

I will find the Fling hard going next weekend but I am massively looking forward to it. My aims are to enjoy the day out running, see some spectacular scenery, chat to some familiar//new faces and try to finish without swearing too much!

Thursday, 22 March 2012

D33 2012

The D33 is an awesome start to the Ultramarathon season. Well organised, friendly, hand crafted medals, beer at the end, good party afterwards - what do you expect if the organiser is George Reid. He is the Chuck Norris of the Ultra community - an absolute legend..

Saying that, though, it is a tough “wee” ultra. The sheer flatness lends itself to faster running and constant pounding. It may be cheap to enter but the real cost will be a few toenails in a day or two.

I didn’t have many goals for this one. I wanted to run my own pace but not go too daft at the start - unlike last year where the wheels came off at 26 miles. A strong finish would do me.

The start was great catching up with lots of familiar faces and friends. Really good to see lots of people trying the longer distance for the first time and also a cracking turnout from Stonehaven Running Club.

I had hoped to do an even 8:30 min mile pace the whole way. For “food” I was going to have a gel at an hour, a gel at 2 hours and then one shot block cube every 10 mins. No additional electrolytes and drink to thirst only. The hydration felt OK but I think I’ll revert to proper food in future. And by proper food I mean the kind of stuff my kids would eat if I let them loose in a supermarket.

For the first 2 hours I was faster than planned (average pace 8:10). However after this I walked whilst eating each shot blok and this reduced my mins per mile even though the running segments were still on pace.

The last 4 or 5 miles were always going to be tough but I felt stronger than last year and much more positive - after all, this is why we paid our entry fee! Came in at 4:40 - time wise this was a small PB but it felt like a consistently better run than last year. It was a joy to see the finish line and I enjoyed some choc cornflake buns and a beer whilst watching other folk come in/catching up with friends for the next couple of hours.

Then tea. Then pub. Then I slept like the dead..

lessons learned:
- I got a stitch. I get this in heat when going a little too fast with no electrolytes or too little water.
- gels and shot bloks are just manky in comparison to real food.
- if it is a flat course then build in some walking periods to your plan.
- remaining positive is key in later stages. If you aren't smiling then slow the hell down.

Tuesday, 6 March 2012

End of winter training

Training during Nov/Dec/Jan/Feb was all about getting lots and lots of base mileage under my belt (average 280 per month) .The vast majority of my runs have been on tarmac and dull dull dull. Speed is OK and my slow heart rate runs (70%) are coming in about 8 - 8:30 min miles which means long slow runs are enjoyable!

I now knock out the boring runs during the week so I can get to fun on the trails at the weekend. I’ve had 2 big(ish) sessions over the last few weeks - a four hour run with George and Gavin and a 3.5 hour run with Mike. Both were in sections of Feteresso forest which I’ve never set foot in before and it really does wonders for the soul :)

I’m just seeing the upcoming ultras as a day out running on trails that I don’t normally frequent (with great chat and beer as well!) rather than any sort of achievement. I’m really looking forward to the Highland Fling and Cateran Trail as I’ve never been on them.

I decided to abandon my PB attempts at marathon and HM. I’m too bloody lazy and why would you want to half kill yourself on the road when you can soak up the hills/trails?

First up is the D33 next weekend. Aberdeen to Banchory and back. It is also the week of my 40th birthday AND St Paddys night so I’m sure a few ales will be had..

Tuesday, 29 November 2011

Thoughts about 2012 and racing

It's that time of year again where the race season is over and its time to knuckle down for some serious base building over the winter months. Time to think about races for next year.

I *almost* put an entry in for the 2012 WHW race but common sense prevailed. Firstly, I was not 100% sure and I’m guessing you need to be pretty certain before entering. Secondly, even though I had ran a qualifying race (two in fact) I still haven’t ran the Highland Fling and that is a bit of a mental hurdle for me. Lastly, I have a number of other running goals to consider and running a *huge* race in the middle of the year would likely make them unachievable in 2012. My rough race plan for 2012 is:

March 11th  Inverness HM PB attempt
April 15th Lochaber Marathon PB attempt
April 28th Highland Fling Ultra
May recovery
June/July PB attempts over 2 or 3 races (10k/10M/HM)
August 4th Devil O The Highlands Ultra
Middle of August: walk West Highland Way with my dad.

Then I can choose either an autumn ultra (Glenmore or Glen Ogle), autumn marathon PB attempt (Loch Ness, Toon Moor) or autumn HM PB attempt (Aviemore Half, Glen Clova, Fraserburgh). Or create my own autumn challenge outwith races?

I would have to sacrifice running the D33 to go for the earlier PB attempts and not run the Cateran Trail Ultra to get my speed up for summer racing. This way I’ll hopefully get some shiny new PBs as well as a couple of *good* attempts at ultras.

Friday, 25 November 2011

WHW Walk Photos

My Dad is a keen walker and trains hard to walk one road marathon and one trail marathon each year. This year he completed the Belfast Marathon and the Causeway Coast Marathon (in third place no less!). For his 70th birthday this year he came over from N-Ireland and we went for a 2 day walk from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William (staying over in Kinlochleven). The weather was terrible even for October. At least there were no midgies! I took a lot of photos and here are my favourites.
It was interesting to get time to look around more in comparison to running the Devil O The Highlands. I certainly appreciated having a better camera than my wee mobile phone cam that I used during the race.
My Dad totally enjoyed it and we are hoping to walk the full distance over 5 days at some point in 2012. Preferably in full sunshine and during season so we can use a baggage service!