Sunday, April 26, 2009

Doing the Highland Fling

Yesterday I ran the 'Montane' Highland Fling, finishing in 11 hours 24 minutes. That means I have finished all 4 Highland Fling races and I think I am one of only 4 people to do so, along with Jez Bragg, Ellen McVey and Rob Reid - not a bad group of which to be a member :)

To be frank, however, I did not have a good run, and the fact I finished it is one of the few positives. With the benefit of hindsight (which I know is a wonderful thing) I probably went off a bit too quickly, going through Drymen in 1.45 and then Balmaha in 3.04. I felt fine at that stage, but had a tumble on the path after Balmaha and didn't feel quite so good afterwards. Liz (Phil T's wife) was providing both Phil and me with backup during the first half of the race and had arranged to meet us at Sallochy car park, about 3 miles before Rowardennan. I was really relieved to meet her - by the time I got there my legs had been showing the first signs of cramp, and I wolfed down 2 cups of chicken soup, followed by a Muller rice. It was a bit of worry to have cramp so early, and I was also concerned about how hungry I felt. Something clearly wasn't right.

The next section proved that I was right to be worried. About an hour after I had eaten, I started to get cramp again. This was to be the pattern for the rest of the run: eat, run for an hour, get cramp and have to walk, eat, then repeat the whole cycle again. I ate some beans at Inversnaid which saw me through the tough section along Loch Lomondside, but the cramp came on again about a mile before Ben Glas farm and I could hardly get down the hill to the checkpoint. By that stage I wasn't bothered about my time at all but just had to finish - 2 DNFs in a row in WHW races was not an option at all. I had arranged to meet Allybea and Liz at Ben Glas Farm and was desperate for some food, but as I staggered towards the checkpoint and looked around I realised they were not about. When WHW Race Control Geraldine told me that there had been problems with the parking and most backup crews were not able to get parked I thought I was going to burst into tears - how was I going to get rid of the cramp with no food?

Thankfully Geraldine and Hugh came to my rescue, giving me some of the surplus food from the faster runners who had already passed through. The food was enough to get me going again, and I actually felt quite good as I came into Derrydarroch farm where Allybea and Liz were waiting with the long-awaited soup. After that, though, it was just more of the same. The cramp returned about a mile before I crossed the A82 north of Crianlarich, and I had to walk up and down all of the hills from then on: flat bits were ok, but unfortunately there are not many flat bits on that section. Allybea met me at the A82 crossing with yet more soup, and once that had been digested I managed to run more strongly over the last section past Auchtertyre and up to the finish. As is often the case I finished strongly, getting in under 11 and a half hours, but it could have been so much better if it hadn't been for all the problems with cramp.

We stayed overnight in Tyndrum and went to the ceilidh for an hour or so. It was good to catch up with everyone, although we were all a bit tired after the run and headed back to the cottage for a early night. I didn't really get a chance to speak to Ellen and Murdo and pass on my thanks for, once again, organising such a fantastic event. To see so many people taking part was incredible. I remember when Murdo first came up with the idea for the race, but I doubt if even he would have imagined it would grow to such a size in 4 years. Thanks also to Liz and Allybea for all their support during the race, and to Liz for the excellent breakfast!

I have spent some time today on the internet researching cramp in endurance events. The general consensus seems to be that it is caused by a lack of magnesium, which can be aggrevated amongst other things by too much caffeine. I know that I drink far too much coffee, especially when I am at work, so I am going to try and cut down and see if that makes a difference. I will also plan to increase my fruit intake and pay more attention in general to my food strategy. Having said that, I'm sitting writing this with a large glass of wine beside me - not sure I see that changing :)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Cateran Trail

I thought I would post to let everyone know that I've decided to do the Cateran Trail race on 16 May, a 55 mile circular jaunt starting and finishing at Spittal of Glenshee. I'm very aware that this is only 5 weeks before the WHW race, but I'm hoping 5 weeks will be enough time to recover fully, particularly if I take the Cateran race at a steady pace and don't do anything daft. I'll know whether or not it was a good idea on 20 June :)

Yesterday Phil, Dario (who is organising the race) and I went up to recce the section from Alyth to Blairgowrie. This section isn't part of the official, main route and therefore isn't signposted, so I wanted to make sure I could find my way. The thought of getting lost 25 miles into a 55 mile race isn't hugely appealing.

It's a nice route, not too difficult to follow the course, and I think I'll be fine with the navigation. I was on holiday the week before last and used the chance to do a recce of another section, from Blairgowrie to Bridge of Cally. That bit was very well signposted, as is the rest of the trail, so I'm hoping that I won't have any problems finding my way round. On both occasions I hardly saw another soul. It is a lot quieter than the WHW, which in many ways adds to its appeal, although I suspect it will become more popular in the years ahead as more people hear about it.

Before the Cateran Trail I have another ultra: the Montane Highland Fling, which takes place this coming Saturday. This is a 53 mile race over the first section of the WHW, from Milngavie to Tyndrum. It's the 4th year of the race and I've done them all so far. In 2006, the first year, there were only 17 of us, but it has grown dramatically and there are more than 300 entries for this year's race. I would be interested to know how many people have done all of the races - there must only be a handful of us. The event is superbly organised by Murdo and Ellen but it will be interesting to see how it copes with a field of this size, particularly the associated traffic and parking on some of the narrow roads. I'm really looking forward to it and also to the post race ceilidh in Tyndrum - although whether I'll feel like dancing after running 53 miles remains to be seen.

See you all on Saturday.