Hoka Highland Fling Ultra 2014
1st blog ever..bear with me..
I had completed this race twice before, 2011(my first ultra ) and 2013.
2011 resulted in a time of 9hrs 45, and I managed significant improvement in 2013 with 8hrs 25mins.
I had questioned myself this year with how much I could improve again because I was pretty destroyed at the end in 2013. I couldn’t have given any more on the day. I had also completed a lot more specific leg strength training over the winter 12/13 with weekly squat sessions in my garage.
I wondered if that may have been the main reason for the improvement in last years time. An injury 1 month before 2013’s race meant that I had the biggest taper ever with hardly any running from 4 weeks before the race.
In January 2014 an injury cropped up as I was hitting 80-90miles a week and my right Achilles decided it had had enough again and wanted a wee rest. 1 month of rest and physio exercises seemed to help and I tried to ramp up the training again before a test race in Aberdeen at the D33 late March.
I managed 4th at the D33 and was pretty pleased with that as a progress check as it’s a fast flat course.
I started my taper 2 weeks out from the race after my last long run of 40miles out and back from Drymen to the Cailness burn on the WHW. I completed this at 9min pace which I was pretty pleased about as it didn’t feel too uncomfortable at the time. I only run about 4 or 5 times in the next 2 weeks and not further than 6miles, i get out on the bike a couple of times as well.
Race day arrived with the usual equipment faffing taking place in the days before where I pile up a load of food, gels, flat coke, electrolyte drink and then decide less than half of that pile will do before packing it in the checkpoint bags. This is now about a ¼ of what I prepared for my very first Fling race!
Gillian, the kids and I stay in Tyndrum the night before the race in a trekker hut at By the Way campsite. It totally chucks it down all night and i have a crap sleep. I get up about 3.30am and make my porridge with bananas, blueberries, raisins and honey chucked in there in the communal kitchen. I eat a ton of it and leave for the start about 4am. The rain hammers it down most of the way to Milngavie but i get there just after 5am and get parked no bother.
I just love the atmosphere at the Fling start when everyone is milling around chatting and laughing at 5am in a railway station car park but secretly checking each other out. Some in full Salomon techy bling gear and others a bit more “aldi” like myself with my decathlon rucksack (Does the job nicely but I have my eye on an Inov8 one for 2015 season)
I am a bucket of nerves on race morning for no sensible reason and theres no danger of me winning any “pre race chat/banter” award on race morning. I just wander back to my car after registration and pointlessly look at my kit and nutrition for the 27th time that week.
Despite shed loads of training and decent early season races I am never confident about how well I will race until I start running the race.
About 5 miles in when I am normally going too fast too early but have a kind of “light” feeling is when I know I should have a chance of getting in the top ten barring no nutrition or injury disasters.
Race briefing was 15mins before the start and i reluctantly prise myself from the solitude of the car and join the large crowd of ultra runners who are have now moved on from "cheery banter" phase to full on "let me of ma leash ffs!" phase or is that just me?
I half listen to the briefing (naughty i know..) whilst checking out other people checking out other people and shaking my legs in a random fashion for no reason other than it seems like a sensible thing to do at the time. Its been raining and is forecast for more so i decide to run with my Montane Minimus smock on.
Race briefing over and I am straight into the underpass and placing myself a respectable distance back from the start line that i like to think translates telepathically to other runners as "yes I am near the front but I am not a big headed arse honestly, its just that based on last years time and significantly increased training i think i kinda belong in this little spot of ground right here"
My Garmin starts to piss me off immediately as it starts losing signal due to the underpass above and i fear even though i physically complete this race its not the same if i dont have the comfort of being able to look at a pretty line on a map and some exciting elevation and pace data in the days afterwards. Nothing to do with posting (boasting) it on strava/garmin/twitter etc of course.
I eyeball a few familliar faces and shake hands with some next to me and nod head to others in a sort of mutual energy saving greeting as neither of us is prepared to move from our chosen spot and risk our precious energy reserves.
We are off and up the steps at a steady pace, i have already decided i am going at my own pace to be at Drymen a good 5mins before last year no matter what anyone else is doing. Surprisingly but also annoyingly this means that after less than a mile I am going to have to move into the lead because the pace isnt quick enough for my proposed schedule.
Mike Raffan is running next to me and i feel a bit daft moving to pull away from him as i know he is a quality runner and I will more than likely see him again later.
I am feeling good but a bit nervous on my own in the lead, it isnt long before I am joined by the Norwegian Sondre Amdahl who has come over to Scotland with a load of other members of his running club to compete in the Fling.
Sondre stays with me up until about 10miles in when he falls back for some reason. I get through Drymen (12miles) in 1hr23 which is about 4 min ahead of my schedule so not ideal but i tell myself i will get back on schedule before Balmaha and everything will be hunky dory.
I decide not to chase Sondre when he passes me about 2 miles later. He had stopped briefly for some close inspection of scottish woodland in an effort to relax his stomach apparently.
He disappears in the mist on Conic hill with another runner, Abdel Elmoustahli I believe.
I bomb down Conic Hill into Balmaha (picked up a cheeky Strava CR here amazingly) and through the checkpoint as fast as possible dumping my empty bottles, necking some electrolyte and running out with another 2 small bottles for my belt.
A couple of miles after Balmaha Sondre reappears at my side after having followed Abdel the wrong way not long after Balmaha. He runs with me for a bit and i advise him the course is pretty simple from here on. He heads off and i stay at my own pace pretty happy that I am in 2nd at this point.
I go through here in 3hr 27mins which is about 8mins ahead of my schedule and 23mins ahead on last year. I am not bothered about this as i am feeling as well as can be expected and in a much better position than I could have hoped for. I crack on after resupply and hear someone else being cheered in as I am heading out.
There are a few steady inclines after Rowardennan where previously i may have had the off fast walk break, i tell myself that that wont cut it tday if I want to maintain position or even catch Sondre up ahead. I run them all and push hard on the downhills also.
I am pretty pleased to get here still in 2nd but am begining to feel the pace. I guzzle down some flat coke before heading out. I hear someone being cheered in again and look back to see Hugh McInnes run straight through the checkpoint and rapidly gain on me. He is looking strong and I tell him so. I let him pass on the narrow track as its obvious he is going faster than me. The voices in my head scream at me not to let him get out of sight as i probably wont see him again if that happens.
Over the next few miles or so he gets about 50-100m ahead of me and i manage to hang on and then catch up. Amazingly his phone starts going off and wont stop so when he stops to adjust kit and switch it off or whatever I pass him thinking it wont be long before he goes by me again.
I am proper suffering before i get into the checkpoint but have managed to stay ahead of Hugh. I try and tell myself some flat coke and flapjacks will sort me out but I am seriously concerned about how I am going to cover the last 12miles at any sort of pace. I get into the checkpoint in 5hrs 46min about 35mins ahead of last year and 14mins ahead of my ambitious 8hr finish schedule.
Someone tells me Sondre is 9mins ahead. I know i cant go any faster and its a steady climb from here to Crainlarich so any thoughts of catching him are replaced with "If i can only hang on to 2nd i might get the Scottish Champion title".
The climb out from Beinglas is a major struggle but i manage to stop myself from walking and jog/run as quick a pace as i can maintain. The Garmin gods tell me afterwards its about 11min mile pace and more in places.
Just before crossing the Falloch river I see Joanne Thom at the side of the track which totally confuses my tired brain as she is in the race and was next to me at the start line. She tells me she had to pull out and was now out supporting Hugh.
The miles that follow are some of the worst i have experienced mentally and physically. I am totally bonking (not in a good way) in the hills above Crainlarich and dreading someone overtaking me and snatching perhaps my only chance at a Scottish title.
My pace slows to 12min miles at the hillier bits and the voices in the head are screaming "stop you twat!, this is daft no-one gives a fek if your 2nd or 17th, just lie down here for a bit"....but i dont, because well you dont do you?, you just plod on the best you can.
I see Joanne again at the road crossing before Auchtertyre and i resist the temptation to ask how far Hugh was behind me the last time she saw me as i dont want to know. What i do know is that I cant speed up so if someone comes past me then that is likely to be them staying in front of me until the end. Sounds pretty negative but thats the state i was in at the time.
I summon up an increase in pace through the fields to Auchtertyre as jesus I am nearly there, i could maybe do this. I listen for gates slamming behind me in the fields but i dont hear anything so no one can be that close. I cross under the A82 and its less than 2miles to go. The next mile seems to take forever and I seem to be slowing the closer i get to the finish. I am now checking behind me and i cant see anyone before i turn a corner just before going onto the heather path.
Then it happens, he comes around the corner as if he has just dropped out the sky!. I cant believe it as i had been looking behind me and seeing no one. I dont recognise him but it doesnt matter anyway he is going significantly quicker than me and I have nothing in the legs at all.
He passes me and I say something polite like "good effort" or "strong running mate" when i really want to say "you total fekn eedjit, fancy running faster than me at this stage, its just no on like!"
He says something back and i cant tell if its a Scottish or Irish accent. I have a word with myself for a second, tell myself to man up and chase him down as its only a mile to go and surely i can summon the energy for that to get a national title? er..no I cant, the legs arent hearing that message, they are totally dead.
I struggle on totally defeated, i cant even summon some speed when i hear the piper playing me in as i come out of the woods. I actually walk round the wee corner into the By the Way campsite as to me that is now an serious incline. I get a grip and start running before someone sees me and finally enter the finish shute. I just cant wait to stop and when i cross the line i can hardly stand. The metal barrier saves me and i hang onto it for dear life.
Sondre and the guy who passed me are both there and we shake hands. I cant help myself and i ask 2nd place man if he is scottish, he is not, he is Justin Maxwell from Northern Ireland and so I am Scottish Champion!. I am chuffed to bits with this news and have a dumb grin on my face for a while.
Sondre got the win in 7hrs 29min and Justin got 2nd in 7hrs 46mins getting nearly 3mins away from me in that last mile!
Gillian and the kids crowd around me and i do a poor performance of a good Dad being pleased to see them. My watch tells me 7hrs 49mins which i am amazed at as i had stopped looking at the total time miles ago. That means i am well inside my sub 8hr target and about 35mins ahead of last years time
I have a seat in the tent and start drinking as i feel pretty dehydrated now even though i had been drinking quite a bit.
It takes me a while but i gradually come back to life and then have a great time getting a massage and cleaned up before taking advantage of the soup/tea/beer/cake/pastries etc that John Duncan and his team provide at this great finish line set up.
1st Lady Joasia Zakrzewski comes in at 8hrs30mins, Sally Fawcett is 2nd in 8hrs 38mins and 3rd is Elaine Omand in 8hrs 49mins.
Thanks to John and his team this has to be one of, if not the best Ultra in Scotland methinks. It hurts like hell every time i do it but its self inflicted hurt so no one can complain about that.
I know this year was slow year for podium times compared to previous so i was very fortunate to get the title with that finish time.
I dont know how much quicker i can go but there is only one way to find out....
See you next year!