Monday, 30 April 2012

Highland Fling Race Report

14 months after my previous race, I was finally ready to stand on the start line again and, if you had to choose a race for your comeback, you could not pick a better one than the Highland Fling.

Tracey and I left Keswick on Friday evening, straight after I had had my pre-race haircut (it's the law!) and drove up to Milngavie, stopping of for a calorie filled meal on the way. Once at the hotel, we briefly met with Simon, a work colleague of mine doing his first ultra-marathon whilst his wife, Viv, and two children would spend the next day with Tracey and meet us at the finish in Tyndrum.

I found it difficult to sleep on Friday night, not because of nerves but more like simple excitement. Knowing how bad I can be in the early morning, we set three different alarms at least one of which was across the room so I would have to get out of bed to turn it off. I need not have worried as I was up like a shot on the first alarm and met Simon in the hotel reception at 6am ready to walk up to the start.

Registration was as smooth as always and we were soon ready for the off. I had a brief chat with Ian and Murdo, mainly about the psychology of injuries and they both wished me well for the race. We then found Adam (the guy I did my Bob Graham round with back in 2007) who was also doing his first ultra race. I remember thinking he looked really laid back and relaxed; no nervous energy being wasted there!

Pre-race in the station car park

Straight from the start I had a plan of not running faster than 8:30 min/mile pace at any point for the first 3 hours, thinking that this would stop me from going off like an idiot as I get caught up in the race atmosphere. I was really pleased with the way I stuck to the plan, especially as a large number of the Vet40's went off much faster than this.

The route has a lovely, easy introduction which can ease you into the race or lull you into too fast a pace. I've been on the route enough to know how to do the first option. It was great to get into the rhythm of a proper race again and get chatting to other like minded people. I ran with Dale for a while, chatting in part about the Bob Graham Round which is something he has on the radar. Dale went on to finish in 9:20 hours, so congratulations to him.

I reached Drymen in about 1:50 hours which was a few minutes quicker than I've done before, though it still felt comfortable. The marshals did a great job and soon had me on my way with a fresh bottle and I could finally see the devastation in the forest from the gales in the winter.

This used to be forest!
The climb up Conic Hill went really well, I was almost suprised when I got to the top, though I made sure I took things easy on the way down. The sight of the supporters in the car park at Balmaha was amazing. So much positive energy which was much appreciated. Murdo sorted my drink out for me and I was on my way within 90 seconds.

Within 5 minutes of leaving Balmaha, I was totally on my own which felt strange having spent 3 hours in the company of others. I found a lovely smooth rhythm on this section and made good time, singing Sade, "Smooth Operator" to myself. Hey, it works for me! I caught up Martin, who was aiming for around 10 hours and we ran together for a while (I think he finished in 9:59:55 - how is that for good pacing!?) I always enjoy this section and, for the first time, started to let myself run a bit harder when I felt like it. I caught another colleague, John (how many schools can boast three ultra runners on their staff list?) just before Rowardennan. He was working hard and running with a big smile on his face (or was that just for the camera?)

John Horne
Again, the support at Rowardennan was fantastic and this played no small part in the fact that I managed to run most of the long drag on the forest road up towards the single track. I was definitely starting to get caught up in the moment. It was great to catch up with John and Katrina so we could give each other some support. Katrina looked strong and in full control of the race situation and John was obviously having a great day out.

Katrina and I
On the two previous occasions when I have ran the Fling, I have kept something in reserve during the race, once as it was my first attempt and the second time as it was only 8 weeks to the full West highland Way Race. This time I allowed myself to have a bit more of a "go-for-it" attitude as it is a full 3 months to the Lakeland 100. I was obviously enjoying myself on this section along the loch as I had the 16th fastest split between Balmaha and Beinglas Farm. On a number of occasions, I tried to do the maths and work out what a realistic target time might be, however, I just could not seem to get my head around the complexity of adding times in hours and minutes. I knew I was well ahead of 10 hours but I wanted to give myself something to aim for over the final stages. In the end I gave up and just concentrated on each small section as it arrived.

My lowest point came as I tried to ride the roller coaster through the woods above Crianlarich. You will have seen from a previous post that I devised a fool-proof method to break down the hills in this section. If you did read the post - forget it!! What I encountered on my walk at Easter was in no way the same woodland trail that was laid before me on Saturday. I obviously ran some of the hills I identified as "walkers" and walked other "run hills".

On the positive side, as I hit the A82 again, I was at last able to cope with the maths and add together 1 mile and 2.5 miles, realising that I should get well under 9:30 hours. This thought kept me going and I was particularly pleased with the way I held it together over this section as I was dipping into the red at this point.

You know you have had a good run when you come round the final corner and hear your wife say "That can't be Dave already?" and Viv and the girls call back and tell her "It is! It is!"

Oh, yea of little faith.

After the trials and tribulations of the past year, to run a new PB by over 40 minutes was such a thrill, but more than that, it was just great to be back and part of the racing scene again. I made sure I had a lie down straight away and raised my legs to avoid the blood pressure drop I had after the WHW race back in 2010 - not particularly stylish.

Once I had recovered enough to stand up and convinced myself that my kneecaps were not going to explode out of the front of my legs, We had a walk back to the car for a change of clothes and copious amounts of salt and vinegar crisps. Then it was back to the finish to cheer on the runners and have a chat with a few friends. It was nice to meet Andy Cole, who writes a particularly thought provoking blog on all aspects of ultra running.

The rest of the Keswick School Ultra Squad bounded up to the finish. Simon had an excellent run in his first ultra, finishing in 11:58:16, way better than his pessimistic daughters predicted.

Simon looking pleased with his days work
Adopt the pose!
John came through a bad patch and finished really strongly in 12:47:10. For those that completed the Marcothon in December (run every day, at least 3 miles), John has followed that rule for the last THREE AND A HALF YEARS!!!

Tough guy!
Unfortunately, I missed Adam finishing, but we had a good chat after. He ran an excellent 10:16:25 in his first ultra marathon, saying that he felt as if he learnt a lot in those hours and I have the feeling he will be back.

Possibly the biggest cheer of the day met Katrina and John who came in, all smiles and whoops, with a time of 12:25:19. Pleasingly, Katrina beat John by 2 seconds, so I imagine John will fit in a few extra speed sessions before the next time.

Big smiles!
A big thank you to all the organising team and their countless helpers that make this, surely, one of the best races on the calender.

Race video footage is still with Mr Spielberg, though he assures me it should be ready later this week.

Sunday, 15 April 2012

Good tired

Everything has gone to plan this week. I intended to make this one a fairly full-on week of training, my last before I start a two week taper for the Highland Fling Race. I'm just about to go out and put the finishing touches to the week with a nice steady 7 miles round the trails below Latrigg Fell which will take the week's total up to around 60 miles (all off road). Those that know me and my training routine will be well aware that this is a huge total for me but I have coped well enough and just have the "good tired" feeling in my legs, which the taper will sort out.

The stand-out sessions included, on Wednesday, catching the bus out to Buttermere valley (not a journey for those prone to travel sickness) and running the Lakeland 100 route back to Keswick. The last time I did this route was with John Kynaston back at the beginning of March in the snow. How different everything looks now.

On Friday I did a sustained tempo run on trails for 1:15 hours. Having done no speedwork of any description this year, it was great to turn up the revs and feel that there was something in the tank, a bit of the old magic is still there. Interestingly, having spent the last four months improving my running style, I was pleased with the way I could cover the trails at speed but remain smooth. Regardless of fitness levels, I know I am running with greater economy than I was this time last year.

Yesterday was a longer, steadier affair, with 15 miles round the west side of Derwentwater, down Borrowdale valley to Rossthwaite, climb over to Watendlath and back to Keswick below Walla Crag. I would normally run every step of this route, however, I decided that I would treat each climb as if it were part of an ultra and walk, working on my walk to run transition over the top. I always try to give each session a focus rather than just running and I felt this made the run far more race specific.

Tracey and I had a walk this morning round Gowbarrow Fell, partly because it is a great trail with wonderful views over Ullswater, and it would give me another opportunity to check out a part of the Lakeland 100 route I'll probably be running in the dark; just making sure I have got all of the small turns visualised properly. Perhaps someone could answer this question; why does walking make me so tired? If I hadn't got up off the sofa to write this, I would have gone to sleep for an hour or so!

On just about every run now, I am thinking about the Highland Fling Race, how I am going to approach it, pace, clothing, nutrition, etc, etc. I feel that I am ready now and can't wait to get on the start line. The one decision I have made is that I am not going to run and simply smell the roses along the way; I want to try and get a new PB (sub 10 hours). My next job is to sit down in front of a spreadsheet and put together a rough plan of attack to at least put me in a position to achieve this goal without going off like an idiot at the start.

Sunday, 8 April 2012

The Cappuccino Tour

My legs felt fine after the long Lakeland 100 recce with John, which is always a good sign that things are going in the right direction. I had intended to do a longer report on our day out in the Lakeland sunshine but as Tracey and I were going away for the the week in our campervan, I thought I had better make some kind of contribution to the packing. The video summary from my previous post gives a good flavour of the day and for those that want a more detailed view, check out John's videos.

For the last week, Tracey and I have been doing some walking, based around Tyndrum and Glencoe. Over the years, Tracey has seen snippets of the West Highland Way, basically any part where she has dropped me off or picked me up, so we thought we would check out a few sections together.

The weather did not live up to the previous week's high standards and, in fact, threw us back into winter with a drop of snow, but it did make for some amazing views.

We arrived at Tyndrum on Monday evening and awoke on Tuesday to snow. The low-lying layer melted quite quickly, but up on the hills it was a different story. We caught the bus to Drover's Inn and walked back to Tyndrum and it was quite simply a stunning day - impossible to take a bad photo! My mind is never far from racing mode, so I thought I would try and get my head around the ups and downs of the woods above Crianlarich. Whenever I have raced through the woods, I have never managed to visualise the route correctly, so we came up with a system to split up this section; 4 climbs, long descent, 5 climbs, long descent, 3 climbs, long descent. So the mantra during the Highland Fling will be "4:5:3".

On Wednesday, we walked from Tyndrum to just past Bridge of Orchy and again caught the bus back to Tyndrum. The vote for best cappuccino of the tour went to the Bridge of Orchy Hotel. I wasn't really sure whether I would do some training on this trip or not, but after a day out walking, I figured a run on tired legs would be good training and get the blood flowing, so I did an easy hour in the evening and felt surprisingly good.

We left Tyndrum on Thursday morning, parking at the Glencoe Ski Centre so I could give Tracey a small taste of Rannoch Moor. The temperature was a bit warmer today and the low cloud made for some dramatic views. In the evening, we booked onto Invercoe campsite in Glencoe village, which had wonderful views down the loch. I went out for a run to check out a path that "might" take a route to Kinlochleven for Friday's walk. As I discovered, not a path for a nice relaxing walk; steep, rocky, muddy, etc. I did, however, come across Glencoe Locharn in the woods just above the village.

On Good Friday, after a much warmer night, we had a walk down to Kinlochleven and a look in at The Ice Factor climbing centre, The Aluminium Experience (a small museum attached to the post office; obviously) and a small bit of the WHW as it drops into the village. Surprisingly good cappuccinos in The Ice Factor, just for interest. Another run in the evening, followed by a SPECTACULAR sunset! This is why we got the van!

New screen saver on PC at home!
After a great week away, I feel like I have put many more hours into my legs without punishing them. I'm well recovered from last week's long run and ready to put in one more hard week of training before starting a two week taper for the Highland Fling 53 mile race. The thought of standing on the start line of a race again (14 months since my previous race!!) is just so exciting. Still haven't really formulated a battle plan yet. Do I just go out and smell the roses or do I push for a sub 10 hour PB? I know which way I am erring towards!

Monday, 2 April 2012

Lakeland 100 Recce

Just a quick update as I have a campervan to pack.

Yesterday, John and I had a fantastic day out on the Lakeland 100 course. John and Katrina came down on Saturday afternoon and the four of us had an evening of eating and putting the world to rights. Then, next morning, an early start from Dalemain, running through to Ambleside, where the ladies met us.

After the exploits in the snow last time, it came as no surprise to find the car covered in frost and a starting temperature of -1. I gave in to peer pressure and kept my jacket in the rucksack, though I did put my gloves on, much to the disgust of John.

This route is not one I know, so it was great to spend time working out the actual course, trying to build a mental picture of the trails and I'll be spending some time looking at the video clips we both took.

To cut a 7:30 hour story short, the weather just got better and better, the Lake District was looking her Sunday best, we chatted the whole way round but really concentrated on the route and I don't think there was any point during the day that we didn't have a big grin on our faces.

We skipped into Ambleside after 7:23 hours and 30.5 miles, met up with Tracey and Katrina and made a quick move to the nearest ice-cream shop. What a way to spend a day!