2017 Race Planning

With a new year looming just around the corner, it’s time to make a start planning which races I want to take part in. Actually, given the lead time to enter some of the big races, the reality is I’m putting into action the plan I’ve been building over the last few months.

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The start of the 2016 Highland Fling Race

First on the list was the Highland Fling in April. I ran this as my first ultra in 2015 and then volunteered to help out with the race in 2016. It is a superbly well run event and importantly for my plans, is the perfect distance to test myself in preparation for bigger things to come later in the year. historically the race has been on a first come, first served basis for entry, but this year the guys behind it ran a lottery system and I was lucky enough to snag myself a place in the draw. This will be my first ultra for the year and at 53 miles, it isn’t to be sniffed at.

I was then hoping to get a place in the Western States Endurance Run (WSER). This is a legendary 100-mile trail race in California and is right up there in the big race calendar. The trouble with big races though is that they attract a lot of attention, and I think something like 3000 people applied for a place in the race. When there are only 143 places up for grabs, it was no surprise that I didn’t get my lonely single ticket pulled in the lottery. The good news is missing out this year gives me two tickets in the ballot next year assuming I qualify again. And on that note, let’s talk about the West Highland Way race.

 

WHW over Rannoch Moor

WHW over Rannoch Moor

I was chuffed to bits with my WHW race in June. It was the biggest race I’d ever done and was as much a mental challenge as well as a physical one. I think I prepared as best as I could, but my

 

physical endurance didn’t stand up to the test as much as I’d hoped and I came in just under 23hrs. I rolled it over in my mind so many times, where could I improve, how would I speed up and in which sections of the race, how would I adjust my fuel and check-point strategies? That niggling voice in my head constantly wanting to improve. That’s what I love about running. I know I will struggle to get much closer to the pointy end of the race, but I know I can do better. So I applied again.

I heard last week that I had a place and was instantly overjoyed. I hadn’t realised how much the race meant to me until I read that I was in, and now I feel incredibly motivated to start training. Sadly, my running buddy Scott didn’t get a place and I feel terrible for him. Such is the nature of these races, though. We are both hopeful of turning our attention this year to UTMB though.

After WHW next on my target list is another shot at UTMB. This year I did TDS which was a gruelling test. A miserable, tough, hot, dusty, exhausting joy ride through the alps. Despite the misery, I still want to go back and do it again. I now also have enough accumulated ITRA points to qualify to apply for a space in the big UTMB race itself. I am now in a quandary; UTMB is massively over-subscribed and so the risk of no entry is high. TDS, on the other hand, is typically less subscribed, due to its gruelling nature I assume, and so is almost guaranteed a place. I would be miserable if I didn’t get a chance to race in Chamonix again this year, so I need to decide quickly.

[Post edit note] I went for UTMB!

UTMB here I come....hopefully

UTMB here I come….hopefully

Finally, one thing I’ve learned this year is that having nothing to look forward to or motivate me after UTMB, the remaining 3-4 months are a real challenge. Consequently, I am going to take a shot at one of the Salomon Skyline races around Glencoe. They are adding a 100km ultra which runs from Loch Lomond to Kinlochleven and takes in Ben Nevis en route. Alternatively, the VK race is also a good, hard workout which I’d like to take a chance on. One way or another I will race there I think.

So that’s it, hopefully, my final line up for 2017 will be:

  • Highland Fling
  • West Highland Way
  • UTMB
  • Glencoe Skyline

I’ve already started to train as the motivation to do well in the Highland Fling and WHW races is real. I have 4 months to get my fitness back on track for the Fling, and hopefully aim to get a sub 10hr finish time. My time is limited right now for training, due to work and my desire to spend as much time at home with William and Nichola as possible. My training runs have had to take place at times that most other people are climbing into bed or snoring gently away as they wait for the alarm clock to go off. I think this out of hours training will help me overall as it is pushing me to excercise when tired and from experience, that serves me well and helps me improve. I have also just read a book called Beyond Training, which has given me some inspiration for a different approach to training this year. I’m giving it a try at the moment and will try to write about it in another post.

For now, though, I’ve just been enjoying my running in some pretty spectacular Scottish scenery, exotic work locations and night time trails. Here’s some photo’s to give you an idea of what I’ve been up to over the past few months:

Goodbye 2016, it’s been fun…

Wow, what a year. Despite getting nowhere near as many opportunities I would have liked to run, looking back on this year and recognising what I’ve managed to fit in, I have to say it’s been a heck of a year.

Thinking back to the start of the year, our son William was born last December so training dropped off a cliff at that point. I’d naively signed up to some big races assuming life would continue as normal, but as I’ve described in most of my posts this year, it’s been tough to find the time to train. Despite that, my year started with what I think is becoming my favourite hill race which is Carnethy 5. The 2016 vintage was a snow blizzard of a race, literally, yet I felt amazing during it. I suspect this was due to my reduced training leading up to it, but who knows.

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After Carnethy, it was a fairly long period of minimal activity. I helped out at the Highland Fling and in the process became incredibly jealous of those taking part.6tag_300416-151523 I loved helping out at such an iconic race in the Scottish ultra racing calendar though and I can highly recommend it for improving your “Contribution to society” levels.

 

The two main events this year though for me, was the West Highland Way (WHW) and UTMB TDS races. The WHW was up first in June and was a daunting prospect given the minimal training. I had imagined putting in a few months of 100 mile training weeks to give it the best shot I could. I was way off that velocity by the time I got to it though. Despite that, I felt well prepared and what training I could do was pretty bloody awesome.

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The race itself went amazingly well looking back. I had hoped for a sub 20hr performance, but the sub 24hr I achieved was fantastic all things considered.

Before the climb up the Devils Staircase

Before the climb up the Devils Staircase

My support team did an amazing job to get me through and the weather made it a mid-summer experience to remember. I heard last week that I have a place in next year’s race. Determined to do better, I’m already dreaming about what it will take to get to the 20hr mark. More on that in another post, though.

 

After the WHW, next up was TDS; the big one. I’d been in awe of the UTMB series since I discovered running and TDS was as close as I could get to the namesake race of UTMB that my points accumulation would allow me. Oh boy, what a race it is too! We combined a family holiday with the race and spent three weeks in Chamonix to give me some time to prepare and get into the zone so to speak. It worked as well as I could have hoped and the whole experience of the race and the surrounding running festival was amazing. But oh what a race. I still wake up making strange noises thinking of ‘that’ climb our of Bourg St Maurice.

Chamonix - What's not to love?

Chamonix – What’s not to love?

I can’t wait to sign up again for this year, though, entries open in a couple of days and I now have enough points to do the UTMB. The dilemma is, do I risk the lottery and attempt to get a UTMB place, or do I go for TDS with an almost certified entry probability in comparison and look to banish some demons of my race?

 

After UTMB it has been social running only. Only, I haven’t been all that social. My opportunities to attend club nights have been reduced due to family and work commitments, but I’m starting to find more and more ways to fit running back into my life. For now, though, looking back on the year, I’m over the moon with what I achieved and I can’t wait to see how 2017 turns out.

Col Chavannes and smiles because it was over

Col Chavannes and smiles because it was over

UTMB TDS 2016

The UTMB, or Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc to give it its Sunday name, is an ultra trail running event and is considered by a lot of people as the pinnacle of the ultra running calendar. I can see why now.

A couple of weeks ago I took part in the TDS race, or the Sur la Trace des Ducs du Savoie. This is a 119km ultra which starts in Courmayeur in Italy and proceeds over mountain passes around the south of the Mont Blanc massif, ultimately ending in the town center of Chamonix. Between those two points lie approximately 7200m of mountains to get up and over and I can now confirm that 7200m is a lot of mountains to get over. Especially when the temperature gets up to 35 degrees Centigrade.

Chamonix - What's not to love?

Chamonix – What’s not to love?

As you might have worked out by now, this monster of a race is pretty damn brutal. I hadn’t underestimated it; I was clear at the start line about what lay ahead, it’s just the actuality of running it that kicks you in the teeth and makes you realise how much of a miserable, pathetic runner you really are. This mistress treats you mean and doesn’t allow you time to beg for mercy.

There are five other races in the whole UTMB event, the YCC, the OCC, the CCC, the PTL (beware, there be maniacs here) and then the Grandfather of them all, the actual UTMB. The last two do full laps around Mont Blanc, the UTMB over 170km and the PTL in a mega extended loop taking in an unfathomable 280+km with over 24,000m of elevation. The TDS looks like a school sports day dads race in comparison. The other races, YCC (Youth), OCC and CCC all cover a segment of the full lap around the mountain, often with some detours to put some particular mountain passes in your way.

Before I got to Chamonix, I knew this whole event was big but I hadn’t appreciated how big it was. I am certain there are better\bigger\more interesting\less commercial races out there. Over the past couple of years I’ve been running I’ve heard people both complaining about UTMB and gushing over it. The complaints are typically about how the organisers charge other races to be qualifying races. I can see the point here, why should small, local races fund this huge, well sponsored, international event? However, now I’ve taken part, I can fully appreciate how something this big must take an enormous amount of money to put on. I doubt very much if whoever is behind UTMB makes a lot of money from it. The overheads must be huge, but regardless, they put on a tremendous show and I don’t mind if some of my entry fee from other races I participate in goes towards it as long as I get the change to take part.

As I mentioned in my last post, we took a couple of weeks holiday around the race which gave me some time before hand to run some parts of the route, but also to settle in to being there and getting my head into race mode. On paper, it might not look like it did much for me, but I know from my experience in the race, it absolutely did. More on that later.

Pre-Race

My training since the WHW race has been shit. There is no other way to describe it. My longest run was 19km, I was lucky if I could run 30-40km a week, it was just about as bad as it could be. Family life was at full speed and my job was in overdrive consuming any available time. Consequently, with a week and a half before the race start from the time we arrived in Chamonix, I wanted to get out as much as possible and at the same time, get some hills under my legs. I’ve found that I’m generally pretty good going up and down hills. Not good as in fast, but good as in consistent and persistent. Think diesel engine rather than Ferrari.

So off I went. First morning I headed out from the chalet we were renting and headed up the hill towards La Jonction. This is where a glacier splits in two around a spit of land. It’s a steep, long climb straight up with some spectacular views. I set off just after 5am and managed to clear the path of spiders cobwebs for everyone else heading up this popular path during the rest of the day. At one point I seriously thought they might find me cocooned in spiders web on the trail it was so bad.

Sunrise heading up to La Jonction

Sunrise heading up to La Jonction

Next morning I headed out towards Les Contamine. Just before the town there is a little hamlet called Bionnassay that sits on the side of the hill which is the final climb in the TDS race; the Col du Tricot. I ran around the hill from Bionnassay, heading for a place called Le Truc. This is a meadow area sandwiched between two hills, off in one direction is Les Contamines and the other goes over Col du Tricot towards Bellevue. I explored up and over both to get some more distance and climbing in, but more importantly to see as much of the trail as possible. There was every chance I was going to be here in darkness in the race, so it would help to feel something familiar was my belief.

Col du Tricot from Le Truc

Col du Tricot from Le Truc

Next day, another 5am start, this time heading up past Les Contamines to Notre Dame de la Gorge. From here I headed up the hill following the route up to Col du Joly. This is one of the big CP’s in the race and was almost certainly going to be in the night for me. From here I continued along the route to what is the end of the most remote section of the race which emerges under a place called Tete de la Cicle.  This run turned out to be a huge help in the end.

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Race map showing Col du Joly and the route heading down to Tete de la Cicle

With all this covered, I now knew almost every km of the race from Col du Joly, which is about the last 35km. After that, it was time to relax for a couple of days. We headed through the Mont Blanc tunnel one day, partly to enjoy visiting Courmayeur, but also to allow me to see the start and the first hill. The town is beautiful and I much preferred it to Chamonix which is too commercial for me. The first hill looked straight forward enough, but with it I also recognised that it was probably the type of hill I could get sucked into running too fast, so I was glad I’d seen it before the start.

Courmayeur with Col Checroit being the dip to the right of the ridge line.

Courmayeur with Col Checroit, first climb in the TDS, being the dip to the right of the ridge line.

After that, all that was left was registration. It takes place in the sports center in Chamonix and is incredibly well organised. You have to show a significant pack of mandatory kit, after which you get all your race info and an opportunity for your first race photo.

At 3:45am the next morning, it was time to board a coach in Chamonix and head through the tunnel to Italy and the start line. I bumped into a couple of other runners from Scotland, Ross and Norrie and we hung around together waiting for the start.

Nervous pre-race selfie

Nervous pre-race selfie

Before long, ‘that’ music started up, the maniac French announcer for the UTMB finally exploded and we were off.

The Race

This is a long race so to try to even begin to describe it, I’m going to have to break it up into some manageable chunks. These reflect how I was approaching it mentally and, as it turned out, they segmented how I was feeling on the day.

Stage 1: Courmayeur to Bourg Saint Maurice

From the start line you run up the main street in Courmayeur before turning down the hill, passing under the main road and then starting the climb up to the first Col; the Col Checrouit. Running through the town at 6am was pretty special. The crowds were amazing and gave me a spring in my step. I’d planned to set off at a steady jog and generally managed to achieve this. After a couple of minutes, I realised I’d pulled away from Ross and Norrie but they would soon catch me up once the field opened up again. Everything I’d read before the race told me it was a real bottle neck on the first couple of climbs and I was determined not to get pinned towards the back of the field because I didn’t make it to the narrow trails before the bulk of the race did. As it turned out, the paths are pretty broad in the first section and there is plenty of time to find your natural position in the race. A lesson for future races I suspect.

Sunrise over Val d'Aosta

Sunrise over Val d’Aosta

Once we had escaped the town, the tranquillity of the early morning hit you and we were treated to a spectacular sunrise which lit up the Val d’aosta which stretched off behind us as we went over the first hill. I don’t remember much detail from this section but I remember hitting the first water stop and feeling pretty good. This was about two thirds of the way up the first climb and after this the trail seemed to flatten out a bit before a short decent down into the next valley.

I got a little disoriented at this point as the route profile obviously smoothed out a lot of the race. This is good for having a glance at where you are going, but in the race when you expect a steady climb\decent pattern it screws with your mind a bit I found. Eventually we got to Lac Combal and the first main check point. I got my first introduction to the array of treats on offer. I grabbed some dried fruit, some biscuits and a cup of coke before filling my water bottles and heading on.gopr0692-0001

Immediately after the CP is a big climb and it was daunting to see the snake of people going up the hill. It really showed the scale of the hill in front of you when you see the tiny ants zig-zagging their way up the switch back trails. An hour later and lots of muttering and I was stretching out at the top and admiring the view back towards Mont Blanc.

Col Chavannes and smiles because it was over

Col Chavannes with Mont Blanc behind and smiles because it was over

From the top of this Col, there was a long sweeping downhill section along what I’d describe as a Land Rover track. It took probably the best part of an hour to descend this and by now, the sun was up and I was starting to feel the heat playing a part. I’d known before the race that it was going to get hot and at the start line, Monica the English speaking announcer of UTMB had said that as we went from the Col petit St Bernard down into Bourg St Maurice, it would be like descending into an oven. She wasn’t wrong.

I remember arriving at Bourg St Maurice feeling beaten up. I don’t remember much about the trail between the Land Rover track and there, but I do remember one last climb which went over a reasonable sized hump in the landscape. It was covered in a thick mangrove like plant and everyone was battling to step through it, compounded by the steepness of the switch backs which made their way up to the top. By the time I hit the CP at the Col I was done. I bumped into Ross again and we both simply used a whole range of swear words to describe the previous 4 hours. Looking back, I don’t remember one thing taking its toll on me, it was just a combination of some horrendously steep hills and an increasing temperature. Hydration wise I felt like I was doing pretty well, but again in hindsight, I probably could of forced myself to drink more and I might have felt better.

From the Col it was another huge descent down into Seez and then Bourg St Maurice and a big checkpoint and milestone in the race. The descent took me a couple of hours and Monica had been spot on. By the time I reached the village at the bottom of the hill, the hosepipes that had been left out were being put to good use everytime I passed one. On the way down, every water trough and stream had a swarm of runners around it, dousing themselves in water to try and lower their body temperature. It was getting tough to keep moving.

In the CP I caught up with Ross again who was still ahead of me and Norrie caught me up after his more sensible and slower start to the race. On the way in to the CP I’d considered giving it all up. I was feeling terrible but I figured I should just take 15 minutes, have some food and see how I felt. I knew that after the CP there was the biggest climb of the race and I was hitting it at exactly the wrong time of day. My race plan had me at this CP at 13:52 but I was there an hour later at 14:34. That wasn’t so terrible given I was suffering in the heat and feeling terrible. The 24 hour finish time might still be achievable I thought. The only thing to do was give it a go, so I left the CP.

Stage 2: Bourg St Maurice to Cormet de Roselend

In the week before the race, I’d met Paul Giblin on a run and we were chatting about each others races. He described the TDS as a race that he had gone out of his way to eliminate the memory of some of the climbs from his memory; I should have taken heed of such a great runners experience.

The climb out of the Bourg turned what could be an enjoyable race into a death march for me. It was horrible. On a cooler day, with fresher legs I would probably love it. It isn’t actually all that steep compared to some hills, but it is long and relentless and on a hot day there is nowhere to hide the higher you climbed.

Chillin in the shade

Chillin in the shade

As soon as I set off I felt terrible. Nothing in particular, just sheer exhaustion. And I wasn’t alone. There was a steady stream of people heading back to the CP, presumably to call it a day. They all had that resolute look in their eyes and nobody in their right mind would consider going back down a hill like that to come back up it. Back at the GP in the Bourg, the retirement queue was bigger than the one for the food. Someone told me later that something like 40% of the race dropped out in total and most of that was at the CP I’d just passed through.

I knew I wasn’t going to make it if I tried to push on. My heart rate was sky high even just standing up, I worked out that my body was struggling to keep things together due to tiredness and the heat. It was working so hard the last thing it needed was me gee’ing it on up a bloody great big hill. So I listened and found some shade under whatever tree’s I could find. Inch by inch I shuffled up that hill. I remembered from my race prep that there was a water stop half way up at the fort, but before then there was nothing, so I’d filled all my water bottles up meaning I had two litres with me. I had to make it last until the fort so it was little and often. Thankfully it worked.

By the time the fort came and went, the sun was starting to disappear behind the hill. I reached the timing point at the fort at 18:39. It had taken me 4 hours to crawl half way up the hill. This really wasn’t going to plan now. My target was to reach the Passeur de Praglonan which is the high point of the climb, at 17:50. This really, really wasn’t going well. In my first CP’s I’d been in positions in the low 300’s. By the time I reached the fort, I was in 1064th position. I didn’t know this at the time, but I somehow felt it given how many people had gone past me while I chilled in the shade. I was convinced Ross and Norrie were hours ahead of me by now and I was going to struggle to make the cut off times.

Last section up to Passeur Praglonan

Last section up to Passeur Praglonan – see the tiny dots of people snaking their way up from bottom left to top right

But then something happened. The sun went down. I was surrounded by people with tanned skins who looked like they were at home in warm places, but now their god that they worshipped had left for the night and the colder it got, the more I felt human again. Time to start moving. Sadly, just as I was realising this, I stupidly put my foot in a divot and rolled my ankle. It was somewhere near the Col before the Passeur summit, and I swore loud enough they probably heard me all the way up there. A minute sitting on a rock and somehow it felt ok again. On we go.

The trail dipped again before reaching the summit. Yet another familiar long snake of people traced the route up zig zag paths and eventually I was at the high point of the race. It was 20:37 when I got there, almost 3 hrs behind plan. The light was sinking fast now and all that was between me and a hot meal at the next CP was a technical descent on some scree and a short via ferrata like section. By the time I got to the bottom, the light was low enough to require head torches. This was a minor victory for me. In my race prep I’d heard about this short technical drop down the hill and was determined to do it in day light. I knew that if I did that, I would likely still finish in the 24-28hr time rage. I started to feel good about things again.

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Looking back up to Passeur Pralognan and the zig-zag of head torches making their way down

The trail to Cormet de Roselend eventually follows a fairly flat section. I’d popped a gel just before hitting this and had enjoyed about 45 mins of downhill running leading up to it. By now I was passing people and I knew I must be clawing some places back. I also knew that ahead of me, was the best little pasta restaurant in the Alps.

The Pasta Party at the CP really couldn’t have come at a better time. I was starving. The huge climb followed by a reasonably fast descent had taken its toll, however, looking around there were a lot of people who looked to be feeling worse than me. It was 21:45 at night and I was now 3 hrs behind my 24hr race plan. Ah well. After another helping of pasta, a change of socks and shirt from the one drop bag that you get in the race, I reloaded my gels and set off again into the night. Next stop, Col du Joly!

Stage 3: Cormet de Roselend to Les Contamines

This section is the most remote of the race. You seem to pass through some deep ravines and over some small Col’s, much of which I don’t remember. One strange memory I do have though is off some couples who were running together near by me. I would get stuck behind them going up or down some trail and one or both of the couple would be chattering away non stop in Spanish or Portuguese. In my mind I was wondering what they were saying and how they had so much energy and conversation to keep talking. By this point it was about 20 hours into the race and everyone else was silent. God knows what they were on about, I imagined it was the woman lambasting the bloke for suggesting they do this stupid bloody race, and don’t you ever suggest a holiday like this again. It certainly didn’t sound like they were enjoying themselves.

I remember thinking to myself to just keep moving. My main aim was to get to within visual distance of Col du Joly. That was the point where I knew the entire rest of the race and I knew it would lift my spirits. To get to Col du Joly though, there was one last difficult section to cross below a rocky outcrop. The trail seemed to wind its way up much higher than I’d anticipated and it was hard work trying to get over some steep, scree covered stepped trails. Eventually I hit a familiar section that I’d ran to in my pre-race run there and the adrenalin kicked in.

Cold du Joly offered an 80’s disco feel as part of its welcome, as well as more chicken noodle soup with chunks of cheese in it, which had become my staple food sour by now. Sitting finishing a cup of tea and a biscuit that I treated myself to, Ross came wandering into the CP. I was shocked and almost fell off my chair. I was convinced he’d be hours ahead by now and possibly even finished! Turns out the climb had half killed him too and he took the opportunity of a nap at Cormet Roselend. I was happy to know he was still in the race and after a quick chat, I set off into the night.

In my head, I knew what came next all the way to Les Contamines. What I hadn’t accounted for was that I could run the whole way, which is exactly what I did. At Col du Joly I was in 736th place, by Contamines I was 662th and it was 5am in the morning. My 24hr target was well and truly blown, but I knew I would finish from here, I just wasn’t sure how long it would take.

Stage 4: Les Contamines to Chamonix

From Les Contamines the route takes you up and over a hill to Le Truc and then there was just the small matter of Col du Tricot to take on. I’d read in Richard Bannisters blog that this Col was like trying to get over a brick wall at the end of the race. My recce before hand meant that I knew what it was like and, whilst it was tough, it was relatively short compared to some of the other climbs. I made sure I had a good feed and took a few minutes to pull myself together in Les Contamines, I also had a brief interaction with a French public toilet (aka a hole in the ground) which almost ended my race. Have you ever tried to perform a squat over a toilet at 100km in a race? No? I advise you not to try it!

Refreshed, I set off out from the CP and up the first climb to Chalet du Truc. I’d stopped here on my recce for a coffee that was served French breakfast style in a huge bowl and I half wondered if they were open now and I might have another bowl full. They weren’t, so my fate was sealed and it was on to Col du Tricot. I knew this was going to hurt, so I popped a gel, took a good drink of water and set off up the last big hill of the race. It was as tough as I expected, but not as tough as some others were finding it. I got into a dogged mindset and just kept moving and pushed up to the top. From the last CP to the top of the Col I’d gained another 100 places and was now into the 500’s. It felt good and I knew there was nothing ahead of me that was all that tough.

Col du Tricot

Col du Tricot – A welcome sight

Next was a descent down to a Sherpa bridge across the tip of a melting glacier. I had the place to myself when I arrived and enjoyed the cool damp early morning air coming off the torrent which passed under the bridge. The sun was starting to warm up again and it felt strange to be in my first race that had gone over 24 hours.

Bridge over the Bionnassay Glacier torrent

Bridge over the Bionnassay Glacier torrent

There was a short pull up to Bellevue from here and as I topped out, it felt like walking out of the darkness and into the sunshine again. It was warm and people were starting to reappear on the route to cheer us on. The drop down into Les Houches felt a lot longer than I expected and I found myself going faster and faster just to get it over with. I was passing people regularly now and knew I was making ground, although any hopes of hitting my target finish time or position were long gone, I simply wanted to finish strong now and get to Chamonix and end the ordeal.

Eventually the CP at Les Houches came and went. Nobody was hanging around here, it was a comparatively flat 8km to the finish in Chamonix and all anyone wanted to do was get there. The route wound its way down through the town and eventually crossed the river and turned right towards Chamonix.

Along the trail runners were well strung out. Some were starting to pick up the pace, others were obviously just walking to the finish, content they’d done enough. I put in a decent last 5km to make a decent run of it and picked up some more places. Along the trail, Nichola and William had come down to meet me with the lady we were renting a chalet from. It was better than the feeling at the finish line to see them waiting for me under the trees. I hadn’t realised how low I’d felt through the race until I saw them stood at the side of the trail and my spirits lifted. After a quick hug and chat, I was off with a spring in my step.

Before long, the edge of Chamonix was ahead of me and the run along the main street produced one of the best feelings I’ve had in a race finish. It was 10:40 in the morning and the place was packed. As I ran along the street, the crowds parted and everyone was cheering and clapping you to the finish. It created a huge sense of achievement and respect and in that instant made you want to come back and do it all again next year.

Just before the finish I heard my name being shouted by Giles Ruck, one of the other crazy runners from Scotland taking part in the UTMB later in the week. He was stood with a group of guys I’d met earlier in the week who had come out to see myself and Ross who wasn’t far behind finish. It was wonderful to high five everyone and say hello. Then a little further on two of the guys from Falkland Trail Runners who were out to enjoy the whole UTMB experience shouted me over. More hugs, more amazing feeling to see friends cheering you on so far away from home. All that was left was a short dash to the finish line.

It was strange crossing the line. The biggest race so far and it was over. Nichola and William eventually found me amongst the crowd and my friends came over to congratulate me and get the finish line stories of how horrible it was and how I’d never do it again.

As well as the goody bag you get at registration, every finisher gets a gilet. In previous years, these have been fashion items and a mark of respect for completing such a tough challenge. Sadly, this years sponsors appear to have taken inspiration from fetish nights at their local sex club as the gilet is made from some perverse looking PVC like material. Everyone I met commented on how crap they looked compared to previous years and I did wonder if I’d have kept going knowing that was my prize for completion!

So that was it. I’d completed the UTMB TDS 2016 in 28h 46m 38s and ended up in 525th place overall. I was really happy with how the second half of the race had gone and how well I’d managed to motivate myself to keep going and to get stronger as others were starting to suffer. I think my approach on the big climb felt wrong at the time, but if I hadn’t taken so much time to rest on the way up, I might not have finished the race.

Lessons to take away

My nutrition strategy worked well. I moved away from Tailwind and went with gels and food from checkpoints. In the WHW race I’d made the mistake of not eating enough at every opportunity and my race suffered, I made sure in TDS that I was taking time at CP’s to refuel and rehydrate well before moving on. It worked well. The gels I felt like I got right too, I was thinking about what was ahead of my and when I needed to take one so it kicked in at the right time. I had to think about it because you had to carry everything you used on you through the race, which meant if I attacked my gels too early I’d run out in some remote place and that would be bad. I also became accustomed to the salty noodle soup. In the end, it was pretty much all I was eating at the CP’s and it seemed to work brilliantly with a piece of bread or two.

Knowing the route really, really helps me to do well. I’d taken a lot of time to study maps of the race and also get out there early to familiarise myself both with segments of the route, but also the type of trail. It made a huge difference for me and I felt prepared. I always knew what was coming next and that helped me feel positive, even when I knew the next section would be difficult.

Strength training helps me climb hills. It seems obvious but it isn’t always easy to maintain the focus. I had been doing a lot of squats and lunges this year to build hip and leg strength and I never felt that those areas were letting me down.

Not enough training doesn’t mean you can’t complete a race. If I would have written down what I’d have liked to do before this race, it would have been a long list of training runs in mountainous areas. I didn’t get that, yet I did ok and was happy overall with how the race went. I remember thinking a lot during the 28 hours that actually, this is more about enjoying myself in the mountains, rather than competing against others. I love running in this type of environment and no matter how well I do, I need to simply enjoy it for the experience. I felt like I did this in TDS.

Naturally, since the race my mind has swung from never wanting to run again, all the way to wanting to train like a demon and going back next year and knocking 10 hours off my time. I suspect the reality will be somewhere between the two, but I would go back and run a UTMB race again in a heart beat. I’ve been looking at how I might gain enough points for the full UTMB as the experience of seeing them start and finish was amazing. A friend of mine, Giles Ruck who is the head of Foundation Scotland, the good people behind the Caledonian Challenge, he completed UTMB and I was lucky enough to catch him finishing before we left Chamonix for the airport. The emotion and sensation of finishing such an enormous race was so obvious and inspiring. I can’t imagine myself ever not wanting to experience that, so watch out UTMB, I’m coming to get you!

 

Why would you not want to experience this feeling? - Giles Ruck finishing UTMB in style

Why would you not want to experience this feeling? – Giles Ruck finishing UTMB in style

I managed to get into Chamonix to see the winners of UTMB coming in. It was yet another amazing experience that I am so happy to have witnessed. Seeing these super human individuals who have achieved so much is so awe inspiring and encourages me to think about what’s possible. I don’t have the ability (or age!) to get up to their levels, but their dedication to doing well and working hard to achieve what they achieve inspires me and makes me realise what I enjoy about running.

After two weeks in the alps, it was time to head home and leave the big mountains behind. We had a great time and enjoyed some beautiful weather. The whole UTMB event is simply amazing and has to be experienced to be appreciated in my view. The organisers do an amazing job of making it look easy to put on this big running festival but I can imagine it takes an enormous effort to achieve. Bravo UTMB and thank you!

Leaving the mountains behind as we head to Geneva

Leaving the mountains behind as we head to Geneva

UTMB TDS preparation

We are in Chamonix at the moment as I prepare to take on the TDS race, part of the UTMB race event. I’m here with Nichola and William for a long overdue two week holiday and we are loving it. The race is just under a week away now and I’ve been getting a few practice runs in this week before it’s time to put my feet up and relax for a few days before the start.

All smiles in Chamonix

All smiles in Chamonix

As anyone who has spent any time in Chamonix will tell you, it is a trail running paradise here. The options for running seem endless, but I’ve tried to focus my runs this week on segments of the course and some climbing to get my legs into work mode. The route is 116km long with almost 8000m of vertical to deal with up and down.

TDS Race Profile

TDS Race Profile

Over the last week, I’ve been able to get out and run almost everything in the race from Col Est de la Gitte onwards. To say my training leading up to this hasn’t gone well would be an understatement. Since the WHW race, a combination of prioritising family and work have meant I’ve barely run more than 30km per week since June. Thankfully, my legs seem to have done well despite that and I dare say my WHW race was great preparation and that I’ve just been ticking over ever since.

With 5 days left before the start, I’m starting to feel more confident. I’ve seen and felt what a lot of those hard climbs are like now and I’ve got into a mental state that I need to in order to get through the race. I’m disappointed that I haven’t trained more, but things are how they are and I’m here and ready to race, so I just have to give it my best shot.

I’m hoping for a sub-24hr finish, but with all those sharp, pointy hills to get over, who knows. I like uphill running and I seem to cope with long, persistent climbs in this kind of environment well, so I should do ok. I’ve got a dogged feel about me now that means I might just do ok in this race.

Until then though, we are enjoying the warmth of the alpine sunshine. We are taking in the sights of these spectacular mountains and we are enjoying time together. Who cares how the race goes when you have all that?

Bionnassay

Book Review – Between the Sunset and the Sea by Simon Ingram

We live quite close to St Andrews on the east coast of Scotland and one of the finds of the century from my perspective was a book shop there called Topping & Co. It’s a traditional, independent bookshop that seems to be successfully sticking two fingers up to the rest of the publishing world and defying the trend for digital reading punishing book sellers. Whenever we pay a visit to St Andrews a visit to Topping & Co. is mandatory and always a treat and usually ends up with me walking out with at least one book. They have tables laid out brimming with books sitting between walls which are filled from floor to ceiling with the marvellous objects and ladders attached to the shelving which always suggests a proper bookshop to me. I’ve been guilty of trending towards a kindle for years. Let’s face it, they are handy devices enabling you to carry around an entire library without noticing. However, a book is something to cherish, to have in your hands and admire; some more than others.

On a recent visit, a book caught my eye sitting on one of the tables. I’m a sucker for anything to do with Mountains, Scotland, running or adventure and this book had 3 out of the four and arguably would enable the fourth, running, by association. The book is called “Between the Sunset and the Sea”, quite an evocative title I’d argue if you’ve ever spent any time on a mountain. It is written by Simon Ingram who is editor at Trail magazine in the UK and who knows a thing or two about mountains despite his bashful suggestions otherwise in the book. The short summary of the book is that it’s a personal account by Simon of his time exploring 16 of the UK’s mountains. Now if like me you’ve been puzzled for years about what constitutes a mountain, then this might be reason number one to read the book. As Simon describes, there isn’t an official classification and anyone who has spent time in mountainous areas outside the UK knows that our mountains are significantly lacking in the height category compared to some others. However, as Simon points out, height is just one qualification, there are lots of others and each of the ones he describes have some quality or other than I challenge you to declare them not to be worth of the title. In his words, if it looks a mountain and feels like a mountain, then it is one.

As I mention, the book describes 16 different mountains across the UK. There is a natural inequality in favour of Scottish hills given the geography of the UK, but there is a fair number from other vertically gifted areas which give a fabulous insight for those of us who haven’t had the opportunity to explore them. Simon describes each one in several different ways, with each chapter presenting a new mountain and an underlying theme. Schiehallion is a good example, a largely triangular shaped hill in Perthshire which is somewhat famous for being used in a scientific study in the 1700’s in an attempt to determine the weight of the planet. Our man explores the history of such subjects, gets under the skin of the main people involved and develops an often witty commentary of events and their outcomes. In parallel, Simon explores the hill in question with a specific, related, purpose in mind.

I love the style of Simon’s writing. It has an honesty that I think anyone who enjoys time in wild places will appreciate and I found it really easy to associate with the scenes he describes. I won’t describe all the 16 chapters, as that would stop you from buying the book and enjoying it for yourself, but I will call out a couple of favourite sections. The first is his description of a meeting with a mountain guide from Snowdonia who is describing to him, over a pint, the scramble up Crib Goch, a ridge towards the summit of Snowdon which sounds like some dragons back of gnarly pinnacles and terrifying drops to a near certain death. The guide sounds like the kind of weather beaten, stony eyed man we’ve probably all comes across at some stage in life. In the kind of calm, experienced way mountain people have, the guide talks about how mountain rescue call outs would likely fall by 80% if the ridge didn’t exist, setting the tone for an adventure with spine chilling excitement. Another section describes Simon’s first experience of a midge attack in the Scottish Highlands and introduces me to a pithy comment that will live with me forever “A midge attack has two phases: The first phase where you are afraid you might die and the second phase where you worry that you might not”. You will only really appreciate that statement if you’ve ever experienced a full scale assault by midges in one of their strongholds in the highlands.

As well as honest humour, the book also provides some interesting insights into geology, meteorology, history and social culture surrounding the mountains. If you are in any way interested in mountains, the great outdoors or anything remotely related to them. I strongly encourage you to buy and read this book. It’s the kind of book I want to give to people in the future as a gift who deserve it from having a similar affection for outdoor life as I do. I loved this book and didn’t want it to end and I sincerely hope Simon continues to write and produce more like this. If you enjoy running in these types of environments like I do, whilst the book as no reference to running, I challenge you to read the book and then not have an immediate and growing urge to get out and find a remote mountain to run up and enjoy. I’ve got my eye on An Teallach as my next adventure, it’s the star of chapter 10, the Wilderness chapter. Here’s a link to the book on Amazon in the UK, let me know if you read it and enjoyed it.

West Highland Way Race 2016

I’ve been thinking about how I’m going to write this blog post for months.

With a race like this which covers 95 miles and 14000+ft of elevation, it is really difficult to find the right words, but here goes. But first, here’s the obligatory picture of my prize: The West Highland Way Race goblet.

WHWGoblet_edited.jpg

Pre-Race I was at times a nervous wreck and at other times just happily looking forward to getting out on the trail and enjoying the day. Despite this being my longest race\run I’ve done, I was probably the most calm for any of the races I’ve done. I’d had a busy week leading up to race day. Monday I flew to Munich and arrived after midnight, then a crap sleep in a hotel, long day in the office, flew home on Tuesday night arriving in Edinburgh close to midnight. It wasn’t exactly ideal a few days before a big race like this, but then most of my prep for the race hadn’t been either, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

For support I had a couple of guys from the Lomies helping me out, Laurie and Kevin. Laurie, who is a veteran of the race, brought his grandson Tyler along for the experience too. We were using Laurie’s motor home which was a god send throughout the weekend. We arrived in Milngavie for registration at 9pm, then afterwards I climbed up into a bunk and slept for a couple of hours. Laurie woke me just after 12 and before I knew it I was toeing the start line alongside a number of other running friends after a quick selfie with my running buddy Scott.

Nervous smiles before the start

Nervous smiles before the start pic: Lisa Robb

 

After a nice and steady start there was a big group shuffling along the path heading out of Milngavie when a cry went up from behind….”WRONG WAY!!!”. Someone up the front had been running with their head down and passed one of the WHW marker posts. Thankfully someone behind us knew where we were going. I found out this afternoon (Monday) when I went for a coffee with my mate Scott who was also running, that it was him who led us all astray…ha ha!

After that mild drama, I settled into a nice slow and steady pace and enjoyed the running. Drymen came and went quickly enough, then the short distance to Conic Hill allowed the sun to start it’s rise and by the top of the hill we were back into daylight again.

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Balmaha was the first official check point and Laurie was there waiting with fresh bottles of tailwind for me. A quick bite of flapjack and I was back off running again. I almost took a wrong turn and headed directly to the loch side, but thankfully someone set me straight and I was off towards Rowardennan.

By the time I reached Rowardennan, two things had happened. The first was that I’d remembered how much I disliked the loch side section. The second was that the midgies had woken up. Seemingly someone had told them that 199 sweaty runners and all their friends were coming to pay a visit and that it was free food day for midgies. I’ve been in the Highlands lots of times but have never seen swarms of midgies like it. It felt like we were running through a giant swarm of them for 3 hours. It wasn’t until long after Beinglas farm that the little bastards decided it was getting too hot for them and they were grounded for the rest of the day.

Meanwhile, in terms of running, the route used a low section of the WHW path along the loch which turned out to be gnarly, rocky and miserable just when your legs are already starting to feel tired. Knowing there was probably another 60 or so miles to go, it was also pretty mentally demoralising and I didn’t do well on this section at all.  By the time we emerged out past Dario’s post and towards the farm, I was ready for some of the more open trails that I knew lay ahead.

The section from Beinglas to Auchtertyre in the Fling just over a year ago seemed to last forever, thankfully on Saturday it seemed to come and go in a flash. Before I knew it I was passing under the A82, cow poo alley came and went and then the roller coaster near Crianlarich. By the time I hit the road crossing at the A82 again, I was feeling more human again and the misery of the loch side section was behind me. I reached Auchtertyre in 10h 52mins. This was way behind my target times for a 20hour finish, but I knew it wasn’t terrible and was happy to just go with the flow from here. I managed to meet John Kynaston at this CP who has been doing the WHW podcast series that I’ve been taking part in. It was great to meet John finally and I’m looking forward to being interviewed again later this week for the final podcast of this year.

From Auchtertyre, it was a short loop around Tyndrum before heading out toward Bridge of Orchy. This section climbs a little out of Tyndrum, but then has long stretches of easily runnable downhill path. I felt great here. I’d had some soup from the support crew back at Auchtertyre which gave me a big lift. I’d had a swill down to rinse off the sweat and midgie paste that had covered me. Life was good.

By Bridge of Orchy the sun was beating down and any breeze that had been around was now gone. It was getting hot. After another few minutes with the crew at the checkpoint, Kev offered to run Rannoch moor with me which I was happy to accept. He tried his best to keep my spirits up, but the heat was starting to get to me and I quickly drained all my water bottles. By the time we reached Ba Bridge, I was in a pretty poor state. Kev clambered down to fill up my bottles from the burn, and it helped a lot, but I wasn’t in the mood for even attempting a run. We slowly moved towards Glencoe, but everyone looked to be in the same situation.

Kev doing his best to keep me moving

Kev doing his best to keep me moving Pic: Ian Minty

A couple of runners were being pushed on by their support runners. As inspiring as it was, I also suspected it was still too early in the race to push that hard and later saw most of them towards the finish, struggling to keep any sort of momentum going.

I had a good rest at Glencoe and took it all in. I knew I would finish from here, it was always a mantra I had in my head. I was there in just over 16 hours which was over 2hrs behind my plan. It still meant that I could make the finish in under 24hrs if I put some effort in. With two big climbs still left to go, it wasn’t going to be easy, but off I went.

My team met me at the bottom of the Devils Staircase to cheer me on. Despite feeling tired I still had good climbing speed with a power hike once I got moving. The weather was still wonderful and it was about 6pm at night now. With the sun shining off the hills, I couldn’t have wished for better scenery to spur me on.

Before the climb up the Devils Staircase

Before the climb up the Devils Staircase pic: Kev Smith

 

If I thought the climb up was bad, the descent down into Kinlochleven was horrible. It was one of the sections I thought I knew, but I know now that I really didn’t. I was long, rocky and made me wish I was at the finish. I remember from the Caley Challenge last year that the rocky section would end moving in this northerly direction, at the top of the fire road which leads up from the town. I remember the junction well and it was a relief to see it come into view. Then the long sweeping descent into Kinlochleven began. Once I crossed the river and headed out on to the road, the town had an eerie silence to it. There was nobody there. Where were the support crews, the cars and vans? Where was the race weigh in station I was expecting? All kinds of strange things filled my head about what was going on, then some kind lady screamed at me to go down the road and turn left.

There waiting for me was more warm soup, a change of top and of course the rest of the race support. It’s amazing how your mind plays tricks on you after hours of running.

With the weigh in done and my weight all normal, I headed out towards the big climb out of the town up on to Lairigmor. Laurie came along with me for most of this and was great. My legs were starting to seize up and it wasn’t until I was well into the climb did they feel useful again. Once up on the moor, I knew I had about 15 miles still left to do. I shuffled along, determined to keep momentum going. By now it was over 19hours in to the race. If I wanted to get in under 24hrs I had to keep moving. If I wanted to get in under 23hrs, then I had to open my legs a bit and run as much as I could.

It was just about this point when I’d worked it out that some runners came flying past me. At first I thought they were relay runners but I later discovered that they weren’t. It was guys being pushed on hard by their support crews. Similar to when I’d seen it on Rannoch Moor, these guys would later suffer from going too fast and I think I ultimately finished ahead of all of them.

The stretch across Lairigmor is painful. Aside from the obvious fatigue, the path seems to have eroded away quite heavily from the last time I was there and the rocks make it a challenge to keep any kind of pace. How the guys up the front managed to maintain speed over it just adds to my admiration for their abilities. This whole rocky trail simply compounds the magic trick that the WHW has in store for you at this point. That is of course that around every corner, there is always another long, lonely stretch of path awaiting for you that extends long into the distance. Just when you think you are done and that Lundavra can only be a mere matter of meters away, another 2 miles of trail weaves its way across the landscape ahead of you.

Eventually, you reach the wilderness response team and they do their best to lift your spirits with a drink and some hearty encouragement. Then Lundavra appears and you know it isn’t far to go now. The guys there fired up The Proclaimers as I approached and it was great to hear the cheers after such a long stretch out in the wild.

After Lundavra, I had an hour to get to the finish if I wanted to do this in under 23hrs.

I knew that between me and a time I’d be overjoyed with, I had some ups and downs to go before a long climb up to the top of Glen Nevis. then a long descent to the Braveheart car park and finally about a mile on the road. I knew that if I could keep moving to the top of Glen Nevis, my legs were in a decent state and I could give it some welly* going down hill.

(* this is said within the context of being 90 miles in to a 95 mile race. Giving it some welly is something close to watching a geriatric getting off a bus) in this instance)

The big fire road eventually came into sight. The head torch was on by now and that felt like another milestone opportunity missed; to finish without requiring a head torch for a second time. The downhill opened up and in my mind I was motoring now. A look at my watch and it was 22hrs15. A thought crossed my mind that I could make it with a slow shuffle, but I quickly did away with that. My legs were moving, my hips and quads felt strong, why shouldn’t I go for it? Opening my legs felt great and I came down as fast as I could in the dark. The road seemed to go on for so much longer than I remember it. On and on and on. Then eventually the car park and then the road. My memory of where the car park is compared to the small round about was also suspect I later discovered. Keep running, stretch the legs. Before I knew it, the WHW Race yellow painted arrows on the road led me into the leisure center and I dibbed in at 22hrs 49mins 36sec.

Jubilation, exhilaration, epic, overjoyed, overwhelmed. All words that need to be involved with describing how I felt. I remember someone thrusting a bit of paper with my times on it then the next thing I remember was being in the showers and wondering how the hell could I, a guy who could barely lift his arse off the sofa a few years ago, could run the WHW, in a race, and do it under 23 hours. I’m blown away and even sitting here now writing this it isn’t sinking in.

My crew helped me get over a wobbly spell after a shower, then I had a massage from the team involved with the race who were amazing. Before long I was in the camper van, tucked up in a sleeping bag, dreaming about rocky trails.

I need to learn how to smile for photos

I’m almost as big as the WHW! Pic: Ross Lawrie

Race presentation came and went and marked the end of the weekend in style. My goblet is the most treasured thing I’ve ever earned and I suspect I won’t appreciate that fully for some time yet. I realised over the weekend how lucky I am to be able to do this type of thing. So many people can’t, not because they don’t want to, but because something gets in their way. I’m lucky, I have my health and I have amazing people who help and support me and it makes it possible to complete epic adventures like this and I will be forever grateful.

I am also grateful to everyone involved in the race for making it such an incredible event. The support throughout the day was amazing, everyone was so passionate about making you feel good and cheering you on. You couldn’t wish for a better day.

I said at the time I wouldn’t do it again. It’s easy to think that when your body is at a stage of collapse. Let’s wait and see. 🙂

Huge congratulations to James Stewart who won in 15h 15m and to Lizzie Wrath who was first lady in 17h 42m. Incredible performances from those and everyone who finished, well done to you all and congratulations.

I was delighted with my race overall. Lots of things I’d do differently, but I think you have to experience it once to know those things and I will perhaps write them up in another blog post soon. I didn’t get the 20 hours I was hoping for, but I always knew 24 hours was probably more realistic and it felt like the right challenge for me on the day. I tried to keep smiling all the way through but it was tough in places, but getting that goblet at the presentation certainly made me smile and forget about some of those low points.

I also finished the podcast series that I’ve been doing with John Kynaston the week after the race. All the episodes can be found on the WHW race website.

WHW Race Planning

It’s just about a month to go now until I take part in the West Highland Way race and I thought it is worth sharing the planning that I’m doing for this epic race. I’m really, really looking forward to it and feeling really positive. I missed out on Transvulcania a couple of weeks ago as I had some work commitments come up which I had to prioritise. My friend Scott Robb still went and ran that race and had a hellish time, but I dare say the experience will now help him focus on the WHW.

West Highland Way

West Highland Way

Given the WHW is the longest race I’ve done to date, it’s difficult to know exactly what to plan for in this race, but here is an overview of some of the things outside of everyday training that I’m thinking about:

Race Goals

I have a number of goals for the race which dictate a lot about how other aspects will work. Here’s a summary:

  1. Finish in under 20 hours – This is an incredible time for a race like this, and might be a naïve goal on my part. Nonetheless, I’m planning for it or else I will never pull it off.
  2. Finish in under 24 hours – This is my 2nd target if #1 goes wrong. I feel more comfortable about this, but I want to focus on #1 but accept #2 if it happens
  3. Finish in under 30 hours – I discovered that this is the time limit which earns you the right to put in for an entry for the lottery for WS100. Now that might be an ridiculous thought, but I’m going for it anyway. Therefore, under 30 hours is a must and I’ll be really disappointed with myself if I am at this end of the time spectrum.
  4. Pace myself – For any of the above to happen, I have to nail my race pace. More on this later.
  5. Smile – I want to go through the whole race with a smile on my face. My training hasn’t been perfect and I know I’m not going to win the race. Therefore, I want to be happy and enjoy the experience for what it is.

Pacing

To achieve anything I have to be really diligent about my pace. Over the past year as my fitness has improved my average pace has got much faster and my endurance longer, so there will be a temptation to put that new horse power to the test from the start. I know though that, if I want to have a finish that doesn’t make me look like someone returning from the front line, I need to start off slow and steady.

To understand how slow, I took a look at last years splits for the race. Given my sub 20hr target, I focused on the guys that achieved that time last year and how they got to it. A couple of things jumped out. Firstly, most of the top twenty runners maintained roughly their position throughout the race. They started strong and powered through at the end. A small number though started really slow and then slowly moved up the pack as others started to fade. I want to try to emulate that approach as I think it will work best for me.

I took one guy who finished in 8th place, Johnny Fling, the master of the Hoka Highland Fling. He ran a great race. At CP1 he was in 41st place, then worked his way through the field, CP by CP:

35th, 27th, 22nd, 16th, 14th, 10th, 8th.

His average pace for the race was just over 10min\km, but his pace for each segment was roughly 30sec’s slower than everyone else in the top 10 final positions, yet he finished 8th! All because of consistency of pace. So, after looking at average paces per segment from the 15 guys who dipped in under 20hrs in 2015, here is my pace table with associated times I want to try to hit:

CP Distance KM Pace min\km Segment Time Race Time Stops
Balmaha 30 00:06:30 03:15:00 03:15:00 00:05:00
Rowardenan 13 00:07:00 01:31:00 04:46:00
Beinglas 24 00:07:30 03:00:00 07:46:00 00:05:00
Auchtertyre 15 00:07:30 01:52:30 09:38:30 00:05:00
BoO 14 00:08:00 01:52:00 11:30:30 00:05:00
Glencoe 18 00:07:30 02:15:00 13:45:30 00:05:00
Kinlochleven 16 00:08:30 02:16:00 16:01:30 00:10:00
Fort William 22 00:08:30 03:07:00 19:08:30
19:08:30 0:35:00
Finish Time 19:43:30

Food

Tailwind. Mostly. This is one of the things I suspect my newbie status at this distance will catch me out on. I have used tailwind quite a bit now and it always seems to work for me. I also use chia bars for the sensation of eating something solid. As I’ll talk about later, I want my CP strategy to be fast and simple, so I don’t plan on hanging around at any point. So I’m planning on making up several bottles of tailwind and making sure I carry two chia bars as backup between each CP. I might have a bowl of cereal or porridge on stand by at one or two of the CP’s in case I am needing something more substantial.

CP’s

In and out fast. No loitering, no sitting about in chairs. Over the ultras I’ve done so far I’ve got progressively better at passing through checkpoints rather than stopping at them. I know that as this race plays out I’m going to get hellishly tired and the temptation of sitting down at Kinlochleven (KLL) and having fish and chips will be strong. However, I’m determined to try to run a really good race and so will try to push myself out and walk on from CP’s whilst eating something rather than stand or sit around. I put in my plan for a 10 mins stop at KLL, I want to think of that as a buffer though, rather than something mandatory. I am planning to change my shirt either there or at Glencoe as it will be evening time by then and I will likely want something warmer on. Adding this time into the plan gives me options.

Kit

I’m going to go with my Salomon Sense Ultra 5’s for the whole race I think. I’m enjoying running in them and unless it gets really wet and horrible between now and the race, I don’t think the extra grip of my other trail shoes will help. I bought a Salomon waist pack recently which I’m enjoying using. It carries two 500ml bottles plus enough expanding storage to fit in a light jacket and a bar or two, plus my phone. I have my trusty salomon adv skin 12 pack too which I will use if the weather is crap so I can carry extra clothes, but the plan is to be as light as possible.

Crew

This has been the hardest bit so far. I have one guy from the Lomies who has offered to help me and as a bonus he also has a camper van, which will feel like a real luxury on race day I’m sure. My road crew is just him though for the moment so I need to find one or two others to help out so he doesn’t have to take all the strain. I have two support runners signed up if I want them, although if my plan comes off, I will be within 4 hours of the race leader and so won’t be able to use a support runner. Overall though, more work needed on support crew.

Final Training

With 30 days to go from today, I need to be careful now not to get into panic mode. I haven’t had as many long runs as I would have liked to have had. However, those that I have had I’ve felt good on, so I’m not too worried. I am looking to do two more long runs on the WHW before the race. One from Glencoe towards Fort William as an out and back for about 50km. Another along the loch side section from Balmaha to Inversnaid, mainly to remind myself and familiarise myself with this trail so I can be more confident on the day. I remember in the fling last year I hated this loch section so I want to banish those thoughts before the race with a good run on that stretch.

Overall, I’m feeling good. I know I’m not going to win this as there are some seriously good runners. However, I do feel confident that if I approach this right, I have the fitness to hit my 20 hour goal and run a good race.