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.

Highland Fling 2016

My race plan for this year meant that I would be racing Transvulcania the week after this years Hoka Highland Fling. I hadn’t worked this out when I booked my place on Transvulcania, so I was disappointed that I wouldn’t get to go back and run this wonderful race again this year. I remember sitting at home on the evening that the entries were opened, watching social media explode as hundreds of people booked their place.

I didn’t want to miss out on the day because it is such a memorable event, so I contacted Johnny Fling to volunteer. A race of this magnitude takes a few hundred people to make it happen, most of them volunteers. I’ve helped out at my local club races on a few occasions, but this was the first big event I’ve helped on. I think everyone who takes part in these races should volunteer to help out once in a while. We all reap the benefits of the hours of time people give up for free, so it only feels fair to pay back or forward to the ultra running community.

I contacted Johnny months ago and had actually forgotten about it until a couple of weeks before. I spotted my name on the volunteer list against the Inversnaid checkpoint and because I’d noted that I had a car I was willing to use, I was to be at the start line to collect the drop bags for that checkpoint. Consequently, at 4am on Saturday morning I was in the car park at Milngavie train station a lot more relaxed than I was this time a year ago!

It was fun to see the runners preparing for the race and the mix of emotions written all over their faces. It reminded me of how much of a nervous wreck I was a year ago before the start but also how much calmer I feel now thinking about these races. Over the next couple of hours the boot of my car slowly filled up with almost 500 drop bags. If you ever wondered what a million calories look like in the boot of a BMW, this is it:

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After a race brief by Johnny from the roof of his Ding Ding transit van, the runners made their way over to the tunnel that marks the start of the West Highland Way. I admit that I was sad not to be lining up with everyone, but equally I was nervous for when I stand at the end of that underpass waiting for the start of the WHW race in 6 weeks time. 6 weeks! how the hell has that race come around so fast? More on the preparations for that in the next post.

I managed to make it to the other end of the underpass before the first wave of runners were set off. This years race attracted an impressive bunch of runners who were all in with a chance of winning this race, so it was good to see these fast guys racing off up the steps at the start.

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Once these guys were on their way, the rest of the field were released and I headed to my car for the trip up to Inversnaid. The route there from Milngavie follows the A81 for a while and I recognised a section where the WHW crosses the road, so I pulled over to catch the race leaders as they came through. It was probably about 6 to 8 miles into the race, and when they came past, they all looked fresh and fast.

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After I’d seen a number of the front runners pass through this section, I was back in the car on off up the road to Inversnaid. The road to get to this place feels remote and weaves its way between some spectacular scenery. The weather was also amazing on Saturday, which was great for us spectators, but I did wonder how the sunshine would impact the runners if it were to hang around.

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I arrived at Inversnaid and wondered if I’d discovered the wrong place. I was the only person there except for a coach load of Lochs and Glens tourists. then I realised that it was still only 7:30am and people were due at 9am. Slowly other marshals for the day started to arrive as well as the other car with the rest of the drop bags and we all set to work sorting out 800 or more assorted zip lock, carrier, lunchbox, envelopes and other various forms of drop bag. It happened surprisingly quickly, neatly laid out in rows of 50.

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We then had a while to wait for the first runners to come through. While we were waiting a long haired, bearded guy appeared out of nowhere asking if he could expect to run into people racing if he was to run south on the WHW. We explained what was happening and in return he explained what he was up to. He had run Ben Nevis on Friday and his plan was the run the three peaks challenge, by running the whole route. He planned on reaching Scafell on Wednesday and completing the whole thing within two weeks. He then dropped into the conversation that he’d just run from Canada to Argentina before waving and setting off on his way. Ultra runners come in all sorts of shapes and sizes! Best of luck Jamie.

Inversnaid

Inversnaid Fling Team Pic:Davy Broni

 

Just after 10am the first runners appeared on the trail. That was 4hrs and a few minutes during which they have covered 34 miles and probably at least 1000m of elevation. That would be a great marathon time over that terrain, let alone for 34 miles. All of the leaders came into the checkpoint looking like they had only just started running and those who actually stopped to refuel, were in and out within a minute. The following twenty or so runners took a similar approach, in and out within seconds. Either simply picking up gels from a bag or a quick fill of a water bottle before dashing off again. It was a real insight into how the top guys deal with CP’s in these races.

The subsequent wave of runners that came through were in a varying array of states. There were some who had paced themselves well and looked as if they were starting to climb the field, some who had set off too fast and were now starting to suffer and those who were just working hard to stay steady.

The weather kept its promise to stay fine, the runners were all incredibly friendly, thankful, graceful and smiling. It was an incredible day and I’m so glad I volunteered to help. I have a renewed respect for everyone who runs in these races. From the fast guys at the front with their clinical focus on performance, through the next tier of amateurs who work incredibly hard to fill the 10-30% of the results table. Then the rest of the field who run these things to enjoy it, to meet new people, to experience things many people never experience and do so with a smile on their face.

I hope next year I get a place in the race. I am keen to go back and see how much I’ve improved since my 11h 45m results last year. I suspect a lot, but it will be nice to see exactly how much a lot is. In the meantime, I will leap at the opportunity to help out again in this and other races. It is a wonderful experience and is just as good as taking part in the race as a competitor.

Up next for me is the WHW race. I was scheduled to run Transvulcania, but now my work has produced something which means I can’t make it there for the race. IT’s a real shame as it looks like yet another amazing ultra race, but I’m looking forward to the WHW race now and that has my sole attention.

Sunday on the WHW

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Officially, it was the first day of British Summer time. That meant that we’d had one hour less sleep due to the clocks changing, but it also makes you hope that you might get some clear, sunny weather. But this is Scotland, in March, on the West Highland Way. We had wind, rain, sleet, hail, snow and some sunshine. But nevertheless, it was still epic.

My mate, Scott, and I are both signed up to run in the West Highland Way race in June. This is some test of endurance as it is 95 miles over some of the most remote trails in the British Isles. We have both spent some time on the trail, either from the Hoka Higland Fling race or from various reasons to walk in this part of the world. But running it. The whole length. Well, that’s something entirely different.

In preparation, we’ve both been increasing our mileage but we know we need to spend some time on the trail itself to train effectively. Knowing where you are and what comes next in a long race like that can make all the difference. So with that in mind, we planned a long run on Easter Sunday, starting at Bridge of Orchy and running north to the top of the Devils Staircase before turning around and running back again. The whole route was expected to be just over 30 miles with about 1000m of elevation.

We met up at 5am after losing that hour of sleep I mentioned and drove over to park at the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. After a quick hot drink in the hotel and a bowl of porridge, we set off. The first section is what’s affectionately known as Jelly Baby hill. It’s not much of a hill at all in comparison with some of the Munros around the area, but in the race itself it comes about 60 miles in and will be the last thing tired legs will want to climb. With that out of the way, the path meanders up on to Rannoch moor which is a bleak, open landscape.

Rannoch Moor

Rannoch Moor

The WHW rises up over the moor for about 10 miles. It is one of the many old military roads built through the highlands centuries ago and they were built to stand the test of time. The surface is like a cobbled stone and whilst it looks smooth enough, after running on it for an hour or so you are happy to reach the tarmac at the road to the Glencoe ski centre.

WHW over Rannoch Moor

WHW over Rannoch Moor

We stopped by the A82 to take in the views down Glencoe. It is probably one of the most photographed places in Scotland and with good reason. For the next couple of hours, we were spoiled with the huge scenery, which thankfully distracted from the achy legs. We reached Kingshouse in about 2h 30mins and after a quick pit stop to refill our water bottles, we headed back out for the Devils Staircase.

A bit like Jelly Baby hill, the staircase isn’t actually all that much of a hill when you compare it to some of the nearby monsters which look down on it. However, after running for miles, it commands a level of respect and swiftly reminds you if you don’t show it sufficient levels. By this point the weather was starting to allow some sunshine to poke through the clouds and we were treated with some of the best views the planet has to offer for all our hard work.

Scott making the climb to the top of the staircase look easy

Scott making the climb to the top of the staircase look easy

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Hard not to fall in love with this place – Glencoe

With the hard work done, we celebrated at the top of the staircase with a cereal bar before turning around. With 15 miles in the bag already, we were both feeling surprisingly ok, especially Scott who had already run the best part of 100 miles that week.

Heading back down we had the enjoyment of passing all the people we’d ran past earlier, all of whom described us collectively as mad, insane and other similar badges of honour for any runner. We stopped at Kingshouse Hotel for a quick coffee and cake before crossing back over the road towards the ski center and the path back down Rannoch moor. Thankfully mostly downhill from here, we enjoyed the views some more until a freak hail storm blew in.

Anyone who has experienced a hailstorm will know they can hurt. When you are wearing next to nothing and running in temperatures which are hovering just above zero, and the hail in question is desgined to be the pointiest, sharpest bits of hail you can imagine, they hurt even more. Combine that with about 25 miles of running by two grumpy old men, then the result is a lot of muttering and swearing. I put every piece of clothing I had with me on and I could still feel the hail biting through the thick mountain hat and waterproof jacket. Thankfully it stopped just before we reached Inveroran and we could enjoy the final climb back up Jelly Baby hill and back down into Bridge of Orchy.

By the end, we’d done 32 miles in just over 6 hours. We both felt worried about what the WHW race has in store for us, but equally, we are more content now we’ve run some decent mileage on the route. We are planning another run or two on other sections before the race in June, so look out for more updates. All told though, this was a fantastic run with great company, thanks Scott! It gave me more confidence for the races ahead as my longest run otherwise had been about 20 miles. I’ve managed to get up to running about 100km a week now with a couple of longer runs mixed in so my training is going well.

I hadn’t mentioned this before but I’m being interviewed in the run up to the West Highland Way race in the podcasts series expertly run by John Kynaston. Head over to the race website to hear the first two instalments.

Shoe addiction

Over the past year, I’ve managed to collect a random array of running shoes. There is some merit in having a variety I have found. Each shoe has its own benefits and shortfalls and perform differently in different terrains or weather conditions. I must have acquired most of my collection around about the same time as I am finding that most of my shoes are wearing thin in places and are suggesting I should be thinking about replacing them.

Oh the smell…..

To give an idea of what I have currently and the use I have for them, here’s a table describing the bottom of my running wardrobe. (I don’t actually have a running wardrobe, but if I did, and I could withstand the smell it would have the potential for, then this is what you’d find at the bottom of it today):

Shoe Brand Description
Speedcross 3 Salomon Used for general trail running. Provides some cushioning so also useful for mixed road\trail runs. Tread wears down quite quickly though with too much exposure to roads. Not great in muddy scenarios or for hill type running in open moorland.
Sense Ultra 3 SG Salomon Used for general trail running as they have lugs on the sole for grip. Almost no cushioning, but a very light shoe. I used these in the great glen ultra and was hooked as a consequence. They are rubbish on road sections, but I love them for trails.
Sense Ultra 4 Salomon This variant of the Sense Ultra has minimal grip, but is ideal for dry, hard trails. It is a really light shoe and has minimal cushioning, but is incredibly comfortable. I wore these in the Matterhorn Ultraks race and they were perfect for those stony alpine trails.
MT1210 Leadville New Balance This is the most cushioned shoe I own. It has a light grip underneath all that cushioning and I use these today as my road shoes. If I am away for work and squeezing runs in, they are typically around city streets, but every now and then I will find a city trail and these shoes cross over really well.
Mudclaw 235 Inov-8 These are a purpose made hill or fell running shoe. They have rubber studs, rather than grip, on the sole which is designed to give you confidence in wet, muddy hill sides. And they do. In bucket loads. With these on my feet I feel like I can run down vertical slopes. I can’t, but I feel like I could. This is a lighter version, I used to have the 300 (the number refers to weight in grams) and those would start to feel heavy in longer races. These lighter versions are proving fantastic.

That’s what I have today. With the exception of the mudclaws, they have all done around 600km+ of running. Some of them, like the Leadville’s, are doing well. The Sense SG’s have almost fallen apart and I plan on throwing them out any day soon once I’ve overcome my emotional attachment to them. So it’s time to replenish the shoe department.

Now as any runner likely knows, shopping for new shoes is a wonderful experience but one which can be overwhelming. I know from buying trainers in the past that not all of them work for you straight away. The Speedcross 3’s felt like I was putting my feet into inner-tubes. When I first got them they were so narrow compared to other shoes I’d had. Now they feel like wide boats compared to my sense ultra’s.

The Fling in my Leadville’s

Salomon shoes have served me well though. I like New Balance too, the Leadville’s have been good to me and I ran my first ultra, The Highland Fling, in them.

They are a really comfortable shoe for long runs and protect me from hard pavements now. However, they are really wide and my fetish for Salomon has conditioned me to narrow shoes. I’ve also done more road miles recently and they are feeling like they are losing their support, so I think it is time for a change.

My Speedcross 3’s are like a geriatric now who can still do the job they were meant to do, but are getting so old and tired I want them to take up retirement rather than keeping me upright on the trails for any longer.

My Sense ultra SG’s are done as I mentioned, but I think they and the Speedcross were always sharing the load so I can replace them both with one pair. So that means I need a new pair of trail shoes and something I can use on roads too.

When I was in Seattle recently I paid my habitual visit to the wonderful REI to simply browse around outdoor equipment. I spotted a pair of Salomon shoes I’d never seen before, the Sense Sonic Pro. Since coming back they have started to appear in the UK shops too and I’m considering these for my road running. They follow the same lightweight style of my sense ultra’s but look to have a little more cushioning to get between me and the pavements. I do wonder though if I shouldn’t just buy a regular road shoe and see past my Salomon addiction. I think Salomon will win though.

For trail shoes; I’m torn. I love my Speedcross, but I love my Sense ultra SG’s at least as much. I think I will go with the SG’s because I am preferring a lighter, flatter shoe at the moment. I also love the version 4 of the ultra and I see now that there is also a v5 out too. These multiple versions from Salomon I tend to find offer incremental improvements. They seem to do a good job of taking feedback about their gear and striving to improve is. I like that. Comparing the SG’s to the 3’s though and trying to decide between them,  I can’t help think that I am going to miss the cushioning of the 3’s. On a day when I’m tired and I just want a gentle leg stretch, the 3’s provide me with a soft bed to run on.

I’ll let you now what I go for in the end. What stands out for me though is that I put more effort into buying running shoes than I do into any other form of clothing. I own more running shoes than I do regular shoes. This running game develops addictions.

Ashmei Ambassador

As I mentioned in my last post, I’ve been fortunate enough to be shortlisted to become an ambassador for Ashmei. In case you haven’t discovered Ashmei yet, they make clothing for runners and cyclists using really high quality materials and with a style you simply don’t find anywhere else in this type of clothing.

I’ve had a couple of their long sleeve merino tops for a while and they are outstanding quality, and I’m not just saying that because I’m possibly going to be an ambassador for them. Their motto is to outperform the best and I feel they certainly do that well. Their clothes fit really well, they look fantastic and they wash great and as anyone who runs a lot knows, your kit gets washed a lot!

They are having an ambassador day at their HQ this coming weekend for the people on the shortlist, but sadly due to family commitments I won’t be able to make it. Words can’t describe how disappointed I am not to be there, but family has to come first. Fortunately, the team at Ashmei recognise that not everyone might make it so we have the opportunity to create a 2 minute video to introduce ourselves and show them what we’ve got to offer. As someone who is working hard to overcome years of bodily neglect and become comfortable with how I look, making a video all about me isn’t something that comes easy, let me tell you!

Despite my inhibitions, I set off out on Saturday in a rare day of sunshine to have a short run up my local hill to do some filming. Armed with my trusty phone and a mini tripod I took about an hour of footage in short clips that I planned to edit together using some simple video software. Having never done this before, I was excited to play around with all of this, but also unaware of what it takes to make a good quality video.

Now, after a few days of tinkering around trying to make it as good as I can, I feel like I’ve got the final edit ready to send through to Ashmei.

I also have to submit two Polaroids; one of myself in any pose and one of my choosing related to my sport.

Do you have any idea how hard choosing these can be? 🙂

The one of myself was easily narrowed down to a few pictures. I don’t find myself particularly photogenic in running shots, mainly because I always seem to get snapped at my lowest point! However, I do have some good images so here is the shortlist I got to:

For each, you need a story:

The Ben Nevis shot is me coming down after a torturous ‘run’ to the summit in my first Ben Nevis race last year. I was utterly exhausted and the down hill was at least as horrible as the uphill. Despite that, the sense of achievement was mind-blowing to run in that iconic race. So much so I signed up again this year!

The Cascades is from my training run around the Alpine Lake area in the Cascades Mountains in Washington state, America. This was at the end of a work trip last Summer and was by far the best day adventure I’ve had. The weather was incredible, scenery even more incredible and running across big mountains fuelled even more running obsession for me.

The Carnethy race is from this years first hill race and, I think, is the best running picture I’ve seen of me. The race was run in a blizzard, which I loved, and despite the weather I knocked 4 minutes off my time from the first time I ran it last year. It was a great measure for how far I’ve come in the year I’ve been running hill races.

I’m still working on the final picture of the set. I want one that captures the fun I have of running with other people. I belong to two running clubs as you know, Falkland Trail Runners and Lomond Hill Runners. Both clubs have different focuses, but both embrace a strong sense of community and social running. I never knew this existed and I believe it is why I’ve enjoyed my exploration of running so much in the past few years. Here’s the picture I’m thinking of choosing:

Summit Community

Summit Community

This was taken on a frosty winter run to the summit of West Lomond with the trail runners. As is the norm, we stopped on the summit and took in the views. While everyone else was staring at the big peaks of the Cairngorms and Trossachs on the horizon, I chose to capture my friends as they enjoyed the moment.

If you have any feedback before I submit my Polaroids, I’d love to hear from you.

Carnethy 5

It’s been a week or so now since I ran in the Carnethy 5 hill race just south of Edinburgh. I would have liked to have writen this up sooner, however life is hectic at the moment and baby William comes before everything else. He’s doing well by the way, and is making me realise how much fun life can be with just simple things like a smile, but a few more hours in the day would be really helpful.

For those of you who don’t know it, Carnethy 5 is a race which has been going for a few decades now in the Pentland hills to the south of Edinburgh and attracts hill and fell runners from all over the UK to kick off the season. As its name suggests, it takes in the summit of 5 hills, all of which are around the 500m mark. It does this in a shade over 9km, so it isn’t a long race, but it’s certainly a tough one.

It was my first ever hill race a year ago, so I was incredibly keen to go back again this year and see how I have improved. It turns out quite a bit, just over 3 minutes in fact, which for a race of this distance and elevation I was ecstatic with. My first PB, although it happens to also be the only race I’ve ever run twice, so it is also my only PB, but let’s not spoil things by getting into the details.

As well as a PB though, it was a PB on a day when most people were adding minutes to their time due to the conditions. Now, Scottish hills are notorious for poor weather and even these relatively low lying instances in the Pentlands can see some reasonable amounts of snow. As it turns out, whoever had ordered the weather for race day managed to get a good deal on snow making it a totally different race to the damp and grey conditions I’d experienced the year before.

Thankfully, I like running in snow. I have great shoes (inov-8 Mudclaws 235’s) and some warm tops (Ashmei carbon shirt…more about Ashmei later!) and I suspect that, due to continuing my training throughout the winter, I’ve become accustomed to running in most conditions and take things as I find them.

WP_20160213_12_52_24_Pro_LI.jpgThe race registration happens in a school hall in Penicuick which is about 3 miles away from the field where the start\finish line is. Consequently everyone gets a coach out to the field from the school. As we approached we could see horizontal snow coming down and even though the start was only 100m back from the road, it was pretty difficult to spot it through the snow, so you knew what it was going to be like. After huddling in a tent for a few minutes, everyone shuffled outside and before long we were off.

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Start\Finish Line

The start line is one one side of a boggy field with the first climb and last descent on the other side. Once over the bog you reach the first hill, Scald Law, by which time the field is well spread forming a long line of the 600 or so runners stretching up the hill. I remember this sight from last year and it was impressive, but this year, in the snow, it looked amazing and Matthew Curry captured this perfectly with the image below.

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PC: Matthew Curry

 

My climbing is probably the thing which has improved the most in the year and I felt great on the climb up Scald Law. I felt like I had a steady pace and that I wasn’t going to exhaust myself on this first climb like I remember doing last year. The subsequent four, and in particular the last, Carnethy, are all significant hills too. After the big climb up Scald Law, it is a ridge run of sorts across the next three hills, East Kip, West Kip and Black hill. After the last one, there is a long descent down the other side of the ridge to The Howe (no relation), before the final, leg sapping, mind numbing, suicide inducing climb up Carnethy. Once over this, the descent back down towards the boggy field crosses heather covered hills with a few patches of scree. If you like your downhills, you are certain to love this. I did.

Heading up Scald Law I found myself behind one of the other runners from the Lomies. He’s usually minutes ahead of me so I assumed he would pull away by the top of the hill. When I passed him on the first descent I was surprised, but he came past me again on the next climb and we did this throughout the race. I found myself pushing harder telling myself to try and keep up with him. Even if he was having a bad day, I would still get a great time as his bad days are typically better than my good days.

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Final Descent through the heather; that’s me at the back. pc: Mathew Curry

 

We summited the last hill pretty much together so i went for it on the downhill. In the snow, it felt easy to go for it, big long stretches of virgin snow making it easy to pick a line and open the legs out. My shoes were gripping well and I felt strong. Sadly, I felt too strong and I was going so fast I found myself feeling like I was losing control and my brain kicked in. Anyone who has ever raced downhill knows that when this happens, the brakes go on and it takes time to persuade yourself to take them off again. Sure enough the guy came tootling past me about three quarters of the way down and we finished about a second apart.

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Racing to the finish. pc: Tim Allan

 

I was delighted regardless. I had a great run and loved the conditions. It was one of those races where, even when you are busting yourself to get up a hill, you are grinning like a lunatic because you know this is going to be so memorable once it’s over. My time was 1h 14min 25sec and 182 place. Compared to last years 1h 17min 38sec 274 place, I’ll take that!

Before I close something has to be said about the race organisers and volunteers. This is an excellent event and very well organised. Given the conditions, the army of volunteers that make it possible went above and beyond what anybody could hope for and were cheering us all on the whole race, despite being blown sideways in a blizzard. Thank you.

Now back to Ashmei. I learned this weekend that I’ve been shortlisted to be an Ashmei Ambassador. Ashmei, in case you haven’t heard of them, make exceptionally stylish Merino wool running and cycling gear. I love their stuff and applied to be an ambassador for them about a month ago via an ad I saw. I’m on the shortlist and now have to work with them to see if I am to become a fully fledged ambassador. Here’s hoping! #ashmeiambassador. With races like Carnethy 5 on the calendar, runners need great kit so I’m hoping I can work with the guys at Ashmei to help promote their clothing in our community.

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William

Happy New Year folks. It has been a busy month in the Flashywhiskers household as on the 20th December our baby, William, was born at our home in Falkland. He is a little gem and we are over the moon to have him join our family. My partner, Nichola, has been incredible and both she and William are in good health and enjoying these first early days of life.

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Needless to say, running has taken a well deserved back seat as a consequence, but I’m starting to irk out opportunities now and then to squeeze quick 10k’s in to keep the legs ticking over. With Transvulcania and the West Highland Way race looming on the horizon I have some serious training to do, but the time for that will come. For now, my time is all about William and Nichola and the little guy is turning into the perfect endurance coach. Long sleepless nights, limited opportunity to eat and drink, repetitive activities which always required high levels of execution. He’s really is quite the coach!

Talking about the West Highland Way, I am taking part in the race podcasts this year during the build up and the first episode was recorded earlier this week with John Kynaston. The episode is now up on the web for you to listen to. John does a tremendous job with these podcasts and they provide fascinating insights into peoples approach to the race. I’ll keep you posted as more interviews get posted.

Kicking Back

The past few weeks have been fairly laid back after the Jedburgh race and we managed to arrange a weeks holiday up in the Highlands last week to really get a chance to unwind. It was a perfect short break in an exceptional place I found on the internet. It’s one of those place that, when you find it, you don’t really want to share it in case everyone starts to go. However, it’s so bloody good that I won’t be able to not talk about it, so here it is: Eagle Brae. More about that in a moment. Staying there gave me the chance to get in a few longish runs in some epic locations and most of all, broke my training regime from a rigorous focused approach (I’m laughing to myself writing that), to simply getting out and enjoying my running again; and it worked.

Now a bit about Eagle Brae. It is a place which as soon as you start to learn about it, it makes you wish that it was you who’d come up with the idea. It achieves that nirvana of situations, combining a lifestyle with a business. The owners, Mike and Pawana (pronounced Pubna), are a really nice couple who deserve the success their business is achieving through the hard work they have put into it. It has apparently taken them 8 years to convert a plot of land on a bracken covered steep highland glenside into a luxurious, eco-friendly range of log-cabins, the likes of which this country has never seen. This is no Center Parcs folks, think 5 star hotel made out of giant Canadian logs with cashmere tartan blankets.

I love the place for so many reasons, the location, how they’ve designed the site so nobody overlooks anyone else, the furnishings inside the cabins and that they recognise the type of folk who are likely to go there want fast internet access and help at the end of a telephone when they need an extra bottle of wine of an evening. From a business perspective, I imagine they are probably one of the few enterprises in the area that are drawing some spectacular incomes. It must be hard making a living in remote places like that, but I suspect the effort and investments they have made are paying off handsomely. To say I’m envious would be an understatement, but they are also inspiring for me in terms of what can be achieved with dedication, hard work and, most importantly I think, a great vision.

The area itself is a part of Scotland I’ve never visited, only passed through on the way to other parts. I now wish I’d paid more attention and found my way there sooner. Being on the north side of the Great Glen, it is remote and wild terrain in abundance. The particular area where we stayed was Strathglass, which is a long meandering river valley, off of which turn handsome glens. I explored two during a couple of runs: Glen Strathfarrar which has some increasingly spectacular hills the deeper you go and Glen Affric which I now feel is the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to.

Glen Strathfarrar

After studying Walk Highlands for a number of hours on our first day, I eventually worked out that Glen Strathfarrar was about a mile away from where we were. The MWIS forecast for the area was grim so I opted for a 16km horseshoe route which took in a couple of Corbetts rather than the more remote and exposed Munros in the area. These Corbetts still looked to provide a challenge, but without the high exposure which would attract the fierce winds and snow that was predicted above 800m for the day. Or so I thought.

Having only been running for just over a year, I had a winter season last year, but didn’t really get to adventure into areas with too much exposure. during the summer I’ve had a chance to get out and about up high, but winter gives the mountains a different experience altogether and this run was just what I needed to remind me.

The route started off up a secluded track before breaking out across open moorland and grouse butts. We had seen some significant rainfall during the previous week and consequently the open ground was saturated and any stalkers path was like a river. Within minutes my feet were sodden and I gave up trying to keep them dry. As I climbed above 600m the wind blew and it started to snow. The summit of the first hill, Beinn Bha’ach Ard, was exposed and as I reached it the wind was pushing me sideways. I dressed in everything I had and kept going past the trig point to get in the lee side and away from the wind and on to the next hill, Sgurr a’ Phollain. From here it was a game of find a path, any path, in a long loop back to where I parked the car. It was beautiful country to run in.

Loch Affric Circuit

Later in the week the weather up high was again threatening to blow your skin off, so another venture to Walk Highlands turned up an 18km loop around a loch I’d never heard of before. Whilst I might not have heard about it before, I will certainly never forget it again. Loch Affric and the glen from which it is named, is simply the most beautiful place I’ve ever been to.

The route started and finished in a forestry carpark which, on this wintery, wet and blustery day was deserted when I arrived. Great! I have the place to myself. The route seemed simple enough, set off along the northern shore of the loch along a well laid path, cross a burn about half way along, loop around the far end of the loch and enjoy the run back to the car.

There were two problems with that route. The first, and a nice problem to have, was that the place was so scenic, I kept feeling the need to stop every few minutes to take another picture. The second, and not so nice problem, was that burn I mentioned. In the guide it suggested there would be stepping stones to make it easier to cross. Indeed there were, I could see how they were creating turbulence in the torrent that was raging over them! The burn crossing turned into more of a river fording. Despite having to wade waist deep through freezing cold fast flowing water, I was still smiling at the end of the loop.

At the far end of the loch the path meets another, the Affric-Kintail way, which heads off into the remote glen you can see further along. This apparently leads to the most remote youth hostel in the country and it looked a foreboding place. I looked up the Affric-Kintail way when I got back. It looks like it would make a great route for an ultra marathon! Anyone fancy joining me in creating a race there? There is also a bothy at the end of the loch which I found being refurbished by a couple of guys. I took some time to have a chat with them and I still don’t know if they have the best or worst job in the world given the landscape they worked in. Given how cold it was though, I suspect the view wears off after a while. Maybe.

We are back from the short break now and we have snow finally covering the Lomond hills by where we live. Tonight’s run reminded me why I love running here in winter. I’ll leave you with some wonderful pictures from my run tonight.

Work v Running

I suppose it had to come to an end some time. Since very early in the year when I started my whole ultra running adventure, I’ve been really fortunate in that I’ve been able to maintain some semblance of balance between home life, work and my new found love of running. Somehow or other I’ve managed to keep all three parties in the equation happy. Over the past 4 weeks though, the scales have been well and truly tipped in the favour of work, much to the disappointment of my home life and my running addiction.

In some ways, I’m happy to have had a break. The Ben Nevis race broke me and really felt like a race too far for me this year, so I’ve been happy to kick back a bit and take things easy. On the other hand though, slowing down in running stakes whilst travelling for work has resulted in a few pounds gained and I am immediately noticing the difference!

My work frequently gets me travelling around and the past few weeks have been a rare, intense period for travel that typically happens at this time every year. In the past three weeks I’ve been to Singapore, Lisbon and Austin. Not bad do I hear you say? Well, it is exciting to visit those types of places for sure, but when the main purpose is very focused on work, it is pretty tiresome. I am very good at trying to make the most of work trips like this though. I aim to get out as frequently as I can for runs to explore these places and also try to find places off the beaten track to visit to eat and drink to get a sense of what the places are really like, away from the tourist guide locations. In all three, I think I did pretty well this time around.

Singapore was my first destination and as well as being a new place for me, it was also as far east on the planet that I’ve ever been to. My first impressions were that it reminded me a lot of Dubai. IT had a very cosmopolitan mix of people from all over the world, a perpetually warm climate and colonial connections with Britain which made many things strangely familiar for a foreign country (plugs, Driving on the left etc.).

Singapore

Singapore

I liked Singapore. I got to experience a load of new Asian foods, which are generally my favourite, so that probably swayed me to enjoy the place. The Formula 1 GP was on the weekend after I left so it was interesting to see the city preparing as the streets were turned into a race track. I got to run a few times too, which was an experience given the 100% humidity. The overriding memory of Singapore though, was the haze and pollution. Sadly, neighbouring countries in the Islands around Singapore take to burning plantations at this time every year to make way for new crops to produce Palm Oil. I’d heard about this stuff and the damage it is doing to nature in its production, but until I’d seen how much of an impact it can have on the environment, I didn’t pay any attention. In short, it is devastating. 1000’s of acres of land are burnt each year with no consideration given to the wild life on that land. Natural environments are destroyed and the air for hundreds of miles is polluted for weeks with harming particle pollutants. I’m looking very carefully at what I eat now to ensure I don’t support the Palm Oil trade.

Singapore streets becoming an F1 track

Singapore streets becoming an F1 track

On a more positive note, the food in Singapore was great. I loved the street hawker locations where you can get a huge variety of foods all in one place. They were clean and cheap, and with the ambient temperature hovering around 30 degrees, it made for some wonderful evenings eating outside. I also took the opportunity to do the tourist thing and visit Raffles for a Singapore Sling. Two things stood out for me there, wow is it a sweet drink! Also, wow is it expensive! That will teach me for trying to be a tourist!

Next up was Lisbon. I’ve been to Lisbon once before and enjoyed the place. It has a very laid back atmosphere and the weather at this time of year is perfect. I was there for work, so excitement levels were low, however, the hotel we stayed and used for most of our meetings was damn impressive.

I managed to get out for a few early morning runs around the waterfront by the hotel, but my jetlagged body after Singapore was finding it difficult to get up early before work. When I did though, I was treated to some spectacular sunrises against the outline of the nearby Vasco da Gama bridge.

Vasco da Gama Bridge

Vasco da Gama Bridge

My team had arranged a night at the Oceanarium in Lisbon for us, which was pretty special and a nice way to end a day at work. After a couple of long days of meetings, jetlagged sleep and early morning runs, it was easy to sit and watch the sealife gently gliding around the enormous tanks in the low level lighting. I think I could have stayed there for a day or so and had a very deep sleep.

Lisbon Oceanarium

Lisbon Oceanarium

After Lisbon, a weekend at home to catch up on some sleep and say hello before jetting off again, this time to Austin, Texas. I’ve been to America many times now in various different locations, but I’d never been to Texas before so this was a new experience. I wasn’t sure what to expect, I knew it would be hot and I’d been told that everything in Texas is just bigger than everywhere else. Whoever said that was correct, look at the size of the hire car I was assigned when I arrived!

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Hire car, Texan style!

I politely asked them if they had something smaller, and was given a Jeep for the week. Oh well, when in Rome….

I’d heard that Austin in particular was famous for music, food trucks and barbecues. From the first day I got to experience all three and, as it turned out, I experienced all three every night I was there. I can confirm that there is only so much meat a person can eat in one week and I found that limit.

I’d taken a look on Strava before arriving to try to find some longish runs for whilst I was there. I discovered that there are several green belt areas around the city which have single track trails which sounded fun. I knew I’d have jetlag and would be awake really early, so my plan for the first morning was to head out with my head torch to one of the areas called Barton Creek. This is a creek which flows in to the Colorado River which cuts through the city. At this time of year it was a very dry creek with barely any water to be seen. Along each side though ran compact trails which provided a great place to run. I managed to get in a 18km run on the first morning, I was hoping for longer, but it took me so long to find the actual trail, by the time I did the sun was up and it was almost time for work.

I also managed a couple of other runs in the same area around what is called Town Lake; effectively a stretch of the river. It was nice running in such warm conditions. I adopted the locals approach of running in just a pair of shorts, no t-shirt, and it felt strangely liberating for this pale skinned individual from Scotland!

The whole BBQ food thing was interesting to experience, but ultimately lost on me as someone who isn’t a huge meat lover. Having it three nights in a row probably took the shine of things too, but I am glad I got the opportunity to try. One of the nights the team arranged a tour, which included a visit to a barbecue place for dinner, but also took in a live music pub and some food trucks. The pub was the Saxon Pub, which is seemingly famous for having hosted many famous singers and groups for live performances. It was great music I have to say. The tour then took us to a food truck somewhere else in the town, where we got desert in the form of a frozen banana dipped in Oreo Cookies. It was a lot nicer than it sounds.

All told, it has been a tiring three weeks of work travel. Too many late nights, too much rich food and too little running. I’m glad I got out when I could, but wish I’d ran more. Now it’s time for some weeks at home and to get back into a healthy routine. I’d like to run 5 times a week at least, try to get around 80km’s a week in for a couple of weeks in time for the Jedburgh 3 Peaks Ultra later in October. I went out for a run in the Ochils yesterday which really didn’t feel great at all, but it was good to get some hills back under my legs and be out there. More work required though if I’m going to be ready for the 3 Peaks ultra.

My final bit of news is that I have switched allegiances from Garmin to Suunto. I was just totally fed up with my 910xt constantly struggling to sync over ANT+ via my laptop to the rest of the waiting world on the internet.  I’ve switched to a Suunto Ambit3 sport and I’m already delighted with it. Tough luck Garmin and hello Suunto!

Ben Nevis Race

Well, the one positive thing about this race is that it is now in the past.

Since I discovered the strange and brutal branch of running that is hill running, the Ben Nevis race is the one everyone has talked about. There are others that get some attention as classics, sure, but none of them get the attention and respect this one does. I was drawn in from the first time I’d heard about it. There are all kinds of stories associated with the race, from how it started, the records, the first lady to run it, the race that never was due to supposed poor weather and those are just the general stories. Each hill running club also seem to have their own personal accounts of the race over the years typically from numerous falls and tumbles, or the after race antics in the town. I think it is fair to say that the Ben Nevis race has a very strong history, and this weekend I learned the hard way why that is.

In case you haven’t heard about this race, it is about 14km long and starts at sea level in the town of Fort William and climbs linearly to the summit of the UK’s highest mountain, Ben Nevis at a height of 1344m. It starts in a local playing field then follows a road for about a mile to the start of what is called the Mountain Track, or tourist track as many call it. This is a rocky path which lazily winds its way up towards the summit of Ben Nevis. About half way the track takes a wide loop before crossing the Red Burn, which is a natural water course which falls down this side of the mountain. Rather than taking this wide loop, the race breaks from the track at this point and makes a straight line directly to the top. A short while above the red burn the terrain turns into a mix of scree and boulder field. The hill levels out eventually at a summit plateau. Here you hand over a wrist band you were given at the start so the race officials know you have summited, then you reverse the course all the way back down, over the burn, along the tourist track, to the road and finally once last lap of the playing field just for good measure.

Sounds easy, right?

The Ascent

Two things stood out for me. 1. It is brutally consistent in how steep and tough it is and 2. It is relentless. There are simply no parts of the route where you can slacken off the effort required to keep moving and take a breather like there are in so many other races. Most other hill races in the UK, or abroad for that matter, even those which take in this much elevation in one race, they do so in sections. That means you get a chance to use different muscles to keep moving, you get a chance to slow your breathing and heart rate down. but not the ben. From the moment you leave the flat playing field, the next 7km are guaranteed to be uphill all the way.

The start of the track pic: run365parkinsonsuk

The start of the track pic: run365parkinsonsuk

The road section is a good warm up. I knew the race was going to be tough so whilst I was moving reasonably fast here, I was conscious not to blow myself out before the climbing started for real. The weather on Saturday was also spectacular. It was close to 20 degrees in Fort William, blue skies and barely any wind. A lovely summers day by any other measure, however on the day of a race like this, it added to the ‘fun’ and i felt it straight away on the road.

After about a mile the road turns to track and narrows. By now everyone was well strung out and in general, you were now with the people you would spend the rest of the race with. The running turned into the usual power hike almost immediately. There are several little beaten tracks which go off at angles as you head up, some of which cut corners, and some of which are simply alternatives to the main track. Without the benefit of local knowledge, I think most people like me just followed the backside of the person in front of them, assuming they knew where they were going.

After what felt like an hour (and turned out to be 20 minutes) I made my first mistake of the run; I looked up. What I saw was a sight I wouldn’t want to wish on anyone and taught me the biggest lesson I learned from the day. By this point the track had turned the corner to head up towards the summit and you could see the long line of runners heading up the hill. It was a very long line and it was a very big hill. The mental impact of this on me, when I was starting to feel tired was immediate and people started to pass me. I knew what was happening and I could feel my will to keep driving my legs falling away, but I couldn’t stop it.

Somewhere near half way pic: run365parkinsonsuk

Somewhere near half way pic: run365parkinsonsuk

The heat was taking a toll, my legs were tired and that hill seemed to stretch away into the sky. Before long I was feeling about as bad as I’ve ever done in any race and I knew I wasn’t event half way yet. We eventually crossed the red burn and I took the opportunity to douse myself in water and grab a few handfuls of water to drink. This perked me up a little bit and I knew from studying the map before the race and my walk up here earlier in the year, that the summit wasn’t much further away. Again, the race route broke away from the tourist track now and made a straight line to the top. Crossing first scree lined slopes, then progressively more boulder and rocky, the only word to describe it was a trudge. Nobody was moving fast here, just putting one foot in front of the other knowing you were near the top. The air was cooler and it was welcome. One of the benefits I suppose of running up such large mountains.

Hard going pic: run365parkinsonsuk

Hard going pic: run365parkinsonsuk

Not long after making a start on the scree, Finlay Wild came flying past on his descent. Finlay had won the race for the past 5 years and was always tantalisingly close to breaking the record of 1h 25m set in 1984. He had a huge lead again on Saturday and subsequently went on to set his own record for winning the race 6 times in a row, but was 5 minutes away from beating the record time this year. Seeing the speed at which he was going down woke me up and not long after all the other top flight runners were whizzing past as well. I foolishly thought that meant I was near the top, but sadly, it was probably another 20 minutes before I reached the summit and got to turn around. By the time I got there, mentally I was in a better place, but my legs felt like they were done. The cool air and the views from the summit plateau woke me up and a couple of jelly babies from the fantastic support on the summit also helped.

Towards the top of the scree pic: run365parkinsonsuk

Towards the top of the scree pic: run365parkinsonsuk

The Descent

On the way up I’d been paying attention to what we’d been running over and knew it was going to be tough going down too. The flat at the summit gave me a chance to shake out the fatigue from my legs a bit, so as soon as we hit the scree I was feeling a bit more lively. I’d not run much on this stuff, so it was a little new to me, and it turns out I really enjoy it. I quickly felt like I could stretch things out a bit and immediately started to pass people. I’ve noticed this in a few races, as soon as the downhill sections start, I seem to pick up speed quickly and pass a few people. that then gives me confidence and I start to open up more and consequently do generally quite well on down hills. I was enjoying this now, all I wanted to do was get down and I knew I had a long way to go, but this was definitely easier for me than the uphill work.

Hitting the top of the green wall

Hitting the top of the green wall

Every time you put your foot down when running down scree, you know it might be the one which trips you up. I saw several people around me go head first after catching a toe and I later saw a lot of people with blood injuries from taking a tumble up there. Despite that, my desire to get down overtook my desire to stay safe. And then I came across the section know as the green wall.

The green wall is a steep, grassy bank which goes from the bottom of the scree to the Red Burn. It feels almost vertical when you are running down it, and I imagine on a wet, rainy day it is like a water slide. Despite the hot weather, it was damp underfoot and slippery, but not as bad as I imagine it could have been. I had Inov-8 mudclaws on which grip like crazy in this type of terrain, so felt ok. The lower down the slope you got though, the steeper and more eroded it became. Inevitably I slipped onto my backside and did a bum slide several times. By now, my legs were utterly shambolic. I started to feel cramp on my inner thighs and my quads were useless too. I hit the red burn and all the people I’d passed coming down seemed to pass me again. I took on some water and splashed myself, but the cold did nothing to revive me this time.

I set off towards the main track again but my legs had given up. My head wasn’t far behind either and I felt myself stumbling along the track. I must have looked a sorry sight. I knew i had to keep moving though as I was determined to finish. I also know I still had a couple of miles to go, including a mile on the road and that final lap of the field back at the finish.

I had a couple of energy gels in my pocket and had these one at a time. Each time they picked me up just enough to let me break into a jog downhill. Stumbling over rocks, past tourists heading down after a day on the hill, and past spectators all cheering everyone on, I made it back to the road. Everyone had commented on how their legs stop on the road, so I’d saved one gel for just before I reached it. I managed to break into a consistent run and knew it was just a few minutes now before this version of hell was over. The field came and I managed to push myself a little as I did the lap to take a few people who were in front of me and claw a few places back. then it was over.

Broken at the finish

Broken at the finish

Without doubt, this was the hardest I’ve ever had to work. The uphill is a horrible trudge and highlights all the possible areas of weakness in your fitness and physical and mental strength. The downhill is brutal, it consists of just about every possible terrain you will ever come across in a hill race and tests you at the point when your legs are already at their weakest state. After crossing the line I felt ill, exhausted and most of all like I never wanted to run again in my life. I also know that last bit wasn’t going to be true by the time the morning came around.

The race is a huge event in the hill running community and rightly so. It is the ultimate test of athleticism and deserves every bit of respect and reputation it has gained over the years. In the evening there is a prize giving ceremony which almost everyone attends, again as a mark of respect I think for how tough the race is and what it must take to win a prize in such a race. then afterwards, the crowds head into town and take over the local pubs into the early hours of the night. One of the awards is for those who have completed the race 21 times.

Prize giving ceremony

Prize giving ceremony

I immediately recognised how much of an achievement it is to do this and they got the loudest cheer of the night too. One of our Lomond Hill Runners completed his 21st race on Saturday and received his award. He had kept all his race numbers and made a jacket out of them all to wear as he went up on stage. He had his family there with him and for me it epitomised what this is all about. Recognising an incredible achievement, demonstrating the strength and resilience it takes to achieve it, celebrating it in a light hearted way, with your hill running friends and family. It rounded out a brilliant and unique day for me.

Laurie making his entrance

Laurie making his entrance

Now, a few days later, my legs are still hurting, but the mental pain has gone. I felt like the race was my lowest point so far in my running. I felt like crap, didn’t feel prepared and felt like I’d not taken it seriously enough before the race. Hard lessons to learn on a race like this. I finished in 2h 35m and now want to go back and beat that time. It took me 1h 40m to go up and 55m to come down. If I want to do it again, I know I need to train harder and more specifically for this kind of race. It highlighted to me how little running I’ve really done and how little experience I have. It showed I can complete these races, but I want to be able to do it in a much stronger fashion and perform better. So, I’m certain that come December when entries open again, I’ll be posting my application off but I’ve got some work to do if I want to finish it better next year..

Strava activity.