Sunday, April 27, 2008

A Fling in the Highlands

Yesterday was the 3rd Highland Fling, a 53 mile race along the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum. The records show that I came in 28th from 104 finishers, in a personal best time of 10 hours 28 minutes and 30 seconds. A more detailed account of the race is given below.

Pre race
I han't been feeling good all week, and had been really busy at work. So it was a bit of a relief to get up at 3.15am on Saturday morning and feel a lot better. I had a breakfast of macaroni and wholemeal toast (the night before's leftovers), had a final check of my bags which I had packed the night before, and then headed out at 4.10am to be picked up by Phil, Liz and Duncan.

We arrived at Mingavie at around 5.15am, and it felt like a running reunion - I seemed to know just about everyone there. After chatting to a number of friends I had a quick Muller rice, a visit to the nearby Tesco toilets, listened to the race briefing, and then we all made our way to the start under the bridge beside the station. I stood quite near the front, a couple of rows back from Jez, Lucy and the other speed merchants. John K was trying to hide a bit further back. Right on the stoke of 6am past winner Debbie Cox blew the starter's whistle, and we were on our way.

Section 1: Milngavie to Balmaha
I set off at what I thought was a comfortable pace, but all my time checks suggested it was fast: Carbeth in 33 minutes (normally 36 - 38 minutes), and the Beech Tree in just under the hour (normally 1.05 to 1.10). It therefore was no great suprise to get to Drymen and find the time a quite ridiculously fast 1 hour 43 minutes. Despite the steamy pace I felt fine, so headed on towards Conic Hill and Balmaha with no great worries. Conic Hill was miserable - Murdo M was at the top with a St Andrews Cross, absolutely soaking - but I descended reasonably well (at least reasonably well for me, given my hill descents have been compared to those of a big girl's blouse) and arrived at Balmaha in a time of 3 hours 3 minutes. Last year I reached Balmaha in 3 hours 10 minutes, and thought that was quick: this year was even faster. I just hoped it wouldn't cause problems later on. I was so far ahead of schedule that allybea almost didn't make it in time, arriving at Balmaha just a few minutes ahead of me. I stopped for a quick cup of soup and a visit to the toilet, and I was on my way again.

Section 2 - Balmaha to Rowardennan
Devil O' The Highlands record holder John Kennedy had been out for a training run, had met up with us a few miles before Drymen, and had waited for me as we left Balmaha. I ended up running with John all the way to Beinglas Farm. It was good to have his company. This section was uneventful - my watch showed it took me 1 hour 31 minutes from Balmaha to Rowardennan(total time 4 hours 37 minutes), but although that may sound a bit slow it did include a few minutes in the toilet at Balmaha. I met allybea at the Rowardennan car park, had a quick 5 minute break for some more soup, then headed off.

Section 3 - Rowardennan to Inversnaid and Section 4 - Inversnaid to Beinglas Farm
Not really a lot to say about either of these sections. I felt quite good on the way up to Inversnaid, and arrived there in 1 hour 23 minutes (total time 6 hours 5 minutes). I was still a full 8 minutes ahead of my previous best time. A quick stop for some cold beans and Lucozade sport, then on to the wet and slippy section up Loch Lomondside. This is never my best bit but I just worked away at my normal pace, arriving at Beinglas Farm in 7 hours 45 minutes. It is fair to say I was a bit grumpy here, and was not at my most civil with my long-suffering backup team. In my defence I was probably starting to feel a bit tired.

Section 5 - Beinglas Farm to Tyndrum
My grumpiness lasted for about 15 minutes after leaving Beinglas, before the food began to kick in and gave me the boost I needed. By the time I reached Derrydarroch Farm I had cheered up and was going quite well again, and I met allybea just at the point where the WHW goes under the A82. I grabbed some more soup and took my back-pack for the first time, so I could carry a bit more food for the final section. I've had problems in the past with cramp in this section, so wanted to be sure I had plenty of food in case it was needed.

As I was running along the filthy, muddy section just before Crianlarich, I tripped and fell. What a bummer. Not only did I cut my hand, but I landed in one of the muddiest section of the entire West Highland Way - in fact possibly one of the muddiest in the whole of Scotland - a piece of land where cows regularly trample and where the local farmer is rumoured to drive his quadbike to make it as unpleasant as possible for walkers or runners. I was filthy but fortunately did no damage to my legs. A quick wash in a nearby stream and I was on my way again.

I continued reasonably well up, over and down the hills around Crianlarich, and reached the A82 again after 9 hours 45 minutes. I was looking good for sub 10 and a half hours. I felt fine as I passed Auchtertrye Farm, but with only a few miles to go I began to feel the onset of cramp. My solution was to throw a combination of chocolate milk, ready salted crisps and jelly babies down my throat, perhaps not the best combination when your stomach is not at its best after running 51 miles. It was no great surprise when the whole lot made an unwelcome re-appearance a few minutes later, and I was left to walk/jog into Tyndrum trying to keep the cramp at bay. I just about managed, although it did cost me quite a bit of time, and I arrived at Tyndrum in a time of 10 hours 28 minutes and 30 seconds.

I was quite pleased with my run and with my time. It was faster than last year, and I felt I had quite a bit left in the tank when I got to the finish - or at least I would have had a bit more left in the tank once I had eaten some more soup, which would have stopped my legs cramping. All in all I had a relatively comfortable run - if you can be comfortable after running 53 miles - in what were fairly pleasant running conditions. Bring on the full WHW race on 21 June!

However I do have to be honest and admit that my time looks very pedestrian compared to some of the incredible results achieved yesterday. Thomas, Hugh, Phil, John, Brian and Davie all came in under the 10 hour mark - outstanding performances from each of them. Tim finished in a fantastic 10 hours 47 minutes, and picked up the first supervet prize into the bargain. Ellen not only organised the race with Murdo, but finished in an excellent 11 hours 51 minutes. Incredible perfomances all round.

Finally, a word of thanks to Murdo, Ellen and everyone else involved in the organisation of the event. I thought everything about the race was first class. Putting on a race of this nature for around 150 people is no small task, and it is a great credit to everyone involved that it all went so well.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Tour of Strathearn - now that was tough

I'm trying to build up my mileage now we are into April, so today's session was a 20 mile run around the 'Tour of Strathearn'. This run was first shown to me by a few of the Strathearn Harriers, and it is an absolutely brilliant route, with a bit of everything: some roads, some hills, and some trails. You can start at any point, as it is a circular loop, but today I started about a mile north of the Famous Grouse Experience, and headed south in a clockwise direction. I went through Crieff via a number of paths and trails, then headed up on to the hills on the south side of the town along a track that eventually comes out at Auchengarroch Wildlife Centre. The paths here climb quite a bit for about 4 miles, with some incredible views of Strathearn from the top, before dropping down steeply off the hill and into the wildlife centre. I ran past a few ducks and other strange looking birds, then followed the road for 2 miles into Comrie. So far so good - in the first 2 hours I covered 12.8 miles, although the hard bit up and over the hills to Loch Turret was still to come.

And hard it was. I was running into a strong wind, there were a number of steep hills (mostly up), and I was getting tired. It was a real struggle all the way to the reservoir, and then I had the best part of 3 miles down a really steep road back to the car. My legs were shot by the time I got there, although the last section was covered at around 7 minute mile pace, entirely due to the steep downhill. The total run time was 3 hours 9 minutes, and the distance per my GPS was 20.4 miles. I managed to get out the car at Somerfield (although it was a bit of a struggle), picked up a few bottles of beer, then headed home for an easy night in front of the television. What a glamorous and exciting social life I have - I spend my Saturday nights reading running magazines, watching a bit of televsion (usually the sports news), or sitting blogging. Who said accountants were dull?

Finally, a note to the subversive runner , who is a big boxing fan. I was thinking about watching the Calzaghe fight later tonight, but I don't think I'll be able to stay awake that long as I'm shattered after my run, as explained above. However we do have Setanta Sports, which is showing it live at 2am. As well as the boxing, Setanta covers Scottish and English football and US Tour golf. It's only £9.99 a month and, even better, you don't need to sign up to an annual contract. I would go for it.

My thoughts on the Highland Fling

Here's my thoughts:
The distance: it goes without saying, but 53 miles is a long, long way.
Weather: the last 2 years were roasting. Hope it's cooler this year.
Race organisation: I'm just loving Murdo's amusing email updates on the race. The 'international' competition is brilliant.
Start time: I know the 6am start makes sense, but getting up at 3am on a Saturday morning is barking mad.
Pre race toilets: how on earth did Murdo persuade Tesco to let 150 nervous runners use their toilets? Incredible.
Race pace: 8 weeks isn't a lot of time to recover before the WHW race. So maintaining a steady pace is vital.
Race history: assuming I finish, I'll be one of only 6 people to complete all 3 Flings, which means I'll be a race legend. What an honour. Pity I didn't remember that last year when I was in agony with cramp above Crianlarich.
Food: I need to remember to get gels, Muller rices, beans, and Lucozade sport. Hopefully allybea will bring soup and coffee.

So there you go. That's it. No videos or in depth discussion from me :)

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Bridge of Orchy to Fort William

It is only 2 weeks until 'The Highland Fling' (a 53 mile race along the West Highland Way from Milngavie to Tyndrum) and 10 weeks until the full WHW race. That means I need to get some decent long runs in, so yesterday I decided to do the 35 miles from Bridge of Orchy to Fort William. Much to my delight my wife allybea very kindly offered to come along to provide support and backup. As we set off for Bridge of O conditions for running looked quite good, although there was a chill in the air for most of the day and the hills were covered in snow.

At Bridge of Orchy I was getting ready in the car park and spotted WHW legend and ex record holder Kate Jenkins heading through Bridge of Orchy and up the hill towards Inveroran. It turned out Kate had started at Tyndrum and was running to FW with her dog Ben. We must have been running at fairly similar paces throughout - allybea saw her at most of the stopping points and reckoned she was between 5 and 10 minutes in front. I finally caught up with her at the Braveheart carpark, just before FW.

In general my run went very well. I reached Kingshouse in 2 hours 3 minutes, despite a lot of faffing about in the first few miles when I changed out of my tracksters and into my shorts, put my jacket on then took it off again, put on my buff then took it off again, and so on. The only other problem in this section was a bout of sickness immediately after taking a salt capsule. This has happened a few times now, so I think I'm going to ditch the capsules and try something like salty crisps instead.

At Kingshouse I stopped for 9 minutes for a quick cup of allybea's excellent home-made soup, then headed off to Kinlochleven. I arrived at Kinlochleven in 3 hours 59 mins, had a 10 minute break for some more soup and a Muller rice, then left for Lundavra. I made good time on this section - I think I arrived at Lundavra after about 5 hours 36 mins then stopped for a drink of chocolate milk, before setting off for the final 7 miles. I covered this last bit in 1 hour 12 minutes (what would I give to run at that pace in the race?) and arrived at FW leisure centre after a total of 6 hours 51 mins. I was quite pleased with that, particularly as I felt quite comfortable throughout and didn't ever feel I was pushing too hard. And my legs feel ok today, another positive sign.

We gave Kate a lift back to Tyndrum and had the usual superb fish supper from the Good Food Stop. All in all it was a first class day's running, with a few useful lessons/reminders:

1. It is a lot easier doing these long runs when someone is there to support you. Not only does it save you carrying all your food and spare kit, but it is great to have the company.
2. I need to ditch the Succeed capsules. There is no point in taking something that makes me sick. I'll just need to make sure I get enough salt from my food and drink.
3. Chocolate milk is really good. I'm going to use it in the Fling and the WHW race.
4. Although it can be a pain stopping to put on a jacket or take it off, it is worthwhile taking the time to do it - it means my body temperature stays at the right level, so I don't get too hot or too cold. However I need to take a bit more effort atthe beginning to set off wearing appropriate clothing.
5. Although it is nice to have company, there are definitely benefits to running alone rather than part of a group. When you are running on your own you can do your own thing: if you think the pace is too fast then you slow down; if you think it is too slow then you speed up; if you need to stop to go to the toilet then you just stop.

Well done to all those who did the London Marathon today. Hayley Haining from Kilbarchan had a great run, setting a new PB of 2 hours 29 minutes. Unfortunately she finished about 40 seconds behind Liz Yelling, so will probably miss out on Olympic selection. It would all be different of course if there was a Scottish team in the Olympics. Of the WHW family (or those who aspire to be in the family), I've noticed from the early results that Marco did 2.48, Neal did 3.10 and Debs 3.31. Brilliant performances from all 3, and many congratulations to them all. I almost wish I had been doing it myself...

Sunday, April 06, 2008

Heaven & Hell half marathon

Wow!!! What a fantastic race! As the name suggests this one isn't easy - in fact it is probably one of the toughest half marathons I have ever run. But what a brilliant course, particularly the steep climb up to the half way point, from where you can see Dundee and the full Tay estuary, and then the 2 mile long, continuous climb between 8 and 10 miles. Just as I thought I had done the hard bit in getting to the top of the hill (without walking or crying), I had to battle into a strong wind for the last 3 miles down the other side. As Frank Sinatra would no doubt have sung - my kind of course - one where there was absolutely no chance for the fast guys to use their sprinting prowess, but instead were expected to battle away like the rest of us.

So, the stats. I finished 16th in 1 hour 33 minutes and 25 seconds. Quite a bit slower than normal, but times weren't hugely relevant on a course like this. Having said that Paul Arcari from Kilbarchan won in an incredible 1 hour 13 minutes, taking 6 minutes off the previous course record. Second was Alastair Morrison from Garscube in about 1.18 - not a bad performance from someone who had finished 2nd in the Dunbar 10k yesterday, then jumped into his car and headed to Livingston where he ran the last 10k leg for Garscube in the National Road relays. 3 races in 2 days - nutter. He'll be doing the WHW next. And a note to all those who have accused me of being a dour b*gg*r - and there are many - I was having such great fun today that I actually smiled every time someone took a photo of me. I'm just hoping no-one snapped me when I wasn't looking :)

Finally, there has been some interesting banter on John K's blog between my wife allybea and Thomas, who is running the WHW race this year for the first time. I've stayed out of the discussion so far, but just wanted to say that I completely agree with allybea, particularly about the WHW race being a personal challenge for each and every participant. I know John and Thomas will agree with me in hoping everyone performs to the best of their ability on 21 June and achieves their personal goal, whatever that may be: whether it is to finish before the 35 hour cut-off, or to finish in a particular time. John and I have had a great and friendly rivalry over the last year, and I am sure this has helped me record times I did not think possible a few years ago. I hope it has helped John too, and that by sharing our experiences we are helping Thomas, Marco, Debs, Davie, Tim, Neal and everyone else whose company I have enjoyed on the various training runs. If I had a choice of recording a time of 20.59 in this year's race but finishing behind John, or recording 21.15 and being in front of John, I would take the 20.59 every time.

Saturday, April 05, 2008

Feeling poor, but hopefully better now

I've not felt great this week. I've been very tired and lethargic, so much so that I set out on Tuesday night for a 6 mile run and abandoned it after 2. Because of that I decided to have a couple of running-free days, and went to see my physio on Thursday for a leg massage. Last night (Friday) I did an easy 5 miles over some forest trails near Crieff with Lucy, my younger dog, and was pleased to feel reasonably good again. So hopefully I'm back to normal, and ready to begin the serious phase of training for the WHW race. To test this out I plan to do the Heaven and Hell half marathon at Perth tomorrow, a race which has been described as "one of Scotland's hardest half marathons". The previous year's results certainly suggest it is tough - I reckon most of the people I know were about 10 minutes slower than they would be on a 'normal' course. Still, I'm looking forward to it, and plan to treat it as a good hard training run.

Last Saturday I did part of the WHW run with the gang. I couldn't do the full 42 miles from Tyndrum to Fort William because I had a dinner in Edinburgh at night - not sure I would have wanted to do 42 miles at this stage of my training, to be honest - so I ran with the group for 12 miles, then turned round and came back on my own the same way. When I reached Bridge of Orchy on the way back and was waiting to cross the road, I was surprised that all the traffic seemed to be slowing down before it reached me - until I realised that my bright yellow luminous jacket probably made me look like a policeman from a distance. It kept me amused for a few miles :)

When I heard how quickly the gang had run the 42 miles, I was even more pleased I had not done the full thing. The times were between 7.20 and 7.35, which is incredibly fast for that section. Around this time last year I ran the Bridge of Orchy to FW section in about 7 and a half hours, and it takes around an hour to run from Tyndrum to Bridge of Orchy. The pace last week would have killed me.