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 :)