As some of you will know I did this year's WHW race in a new PB of 21 hours 11 minutes. Before that my best time had been in 2003 when I recorded 21.39, although I have always felt I had a big advantage that year because I wasn't working for the 6 months from mid December to mid June, and consequently had a lot of extra time to train. I've also had 4 finshes of 22 hours something, and one of 24.50 in 2001, the year I was working in London.
So what made the difference? I changed quite a lot in this year's race plan. Some of the changes will have helped and others won't, but I thought it might be interesting to write down the main changes I made. I've outlined these in a bit of detail below, in no particular order of importance.
1. Cut down the time stopped at checkpoints: I reckon I took more than an hour off my time because of a change in my "checkpoint strategy". I was determined to spend as little time stopped as possible, so rather than sit and have a cup of soup or coffee at the checkpoint, I took it with me in a paper cup and drank it while walking. I encouraged my backup team to push me out of the checkpoint as quickly as possible, and not let me hang around. It put a bit more pressure on them and meant I was a bit grumpier at most of the checkpoints, but it definitely made a difference to my time.
2. New shoes: in October I bought a pair of specialist trail shoes, Innov8 Roclite 315s, and used them for all my long training runs and for the race itself. In previous years I had used a pair of Sauconys, which were basically a road shoe with a reasonably thick sole. I think it helped having trail shoes - I certainly felt I had a better grip on sections like Conic Hill, and also felt more comfortable going over some of the rocky parts of the route.
3. New bumbag and backpack: I bought a much lighter bumbag and backpack. In earlier years my bumbag and backpack had been quite big and fairly annoying at points, but this year they were both much better.
4. Keeping a blog: writing the blog meant I stayed a lot more focused on the race. It was also great reading other people's blogs, such as John K and my wife, and these helped me feel really motivated.
5. Competition: there were a number of people who I had trained with over the months prior to the race who I knew had the potential to record very good times. John had beaten me by 4 minutes in the Highland Fling, and Hugh wasn't far behind me in the same race, so I knew they would both be there or thereabouts. There were also other competitors like Peter and Mark who had shown in training that they were in good shape. I have to say that I'm a very competitive person (!) and I was keen to finish as high up the field as possible. On the day John and I raced each other all the way to the foot of the Devil's Staircase - he was between 5 and 10 minutes in front of me all the way to Tyndrum, and very close to me going over Rannoch Moor. The fact he was around certainly helped drag me to a faster pace on various stages.
6. Succeed tablets: for quite a few years I have had problems with cramp which has slowed me down considerably. It happened again in the Highland Fling race in April, and I reckon it cost me around 15 minutes as my movement was restricted to a slow walk until the cramp went away. After the Fling I decided to try 'Succeed' tablets, following positive recommendations from a number of other runners. These tablets are designed to provide additional sodium chloride and replace lost electrolytes. I tried them out in training and they were great - no cramp at all. During the race I took them every 90 minutes and was pleased that I had no problems at all with cramp at any stage.
7. Sleeping: with the race starting at 1am, it is difficult to make sure you don't turn up at the start line feeling tired. This year, unlike previous years, my sleeping worked out well. I took both the Thursday and Friday off work. On the Wednesday night I went to bed about midnight and didn't get up until around 11am - 11 hours sleep in total, a lot more than I would normally get. On the Thursday night I did exactly the same, and got another 11 hours sleep. It meant I had had 22 hours sleep over 2 nights - the equivalent of 3 'normal' nights. Apart from a short half hour spell going up Conic Hill at around 4am, I didn't feel tired at all throughout the race.
8. Quality long runs with good company: from December onwards, a crowd of us met fairly regularly (at least once a month) to do long training runs on the WHW. Although we had some awful weather (particularly during the 2 day run in May), these training runs were great fun. Everyone got on well, it was great to meet some new people, and it meant that the training was really enjoyable rather than a chore.
Hopefully this will help anyone who is thinking of doing the race for the first time. Who knows, we might even meet up during one of the long training runs!