Monday, 27 April 2009

In pain, me? - Nah!

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The Highland Fling

Saturday saw me on the start line for my second running of the Highland Fling, a 53 mile ultra marathon from Milngavie to Tyndrum along the southern half of the West Highland Way.
I started at 7:00am along with about 170 other runners in the Male Senior and Male Vets category. The ladies and supervets had set off an hour earlier and the realy teams would be leaving at 8:00am an hour behind us.
The weather looked great with no wind and some light cloud cover but as the day wore on things would warm up and I think contributed to my difficulties later in the race. I set off at a steady pace trying to keep around 9min / mile and to resist the temptation to push on too hard when your body feels fresh and the adrenalin is pumping. There were a lot of runners around me as we left mugdock wood and decided to drop back a bit to give myself some space and run on my own. I got out past the Beech Tree Inn feeling comfortable and kept a steady pace all the way to Drymen, getting there in 1:55 slightly ahead of my 2 hour schedule.
I topped up my water and set off up through the forrest towards Conic Hill. I don't find the climb up Conic Hill too bad but I hate the descent and managed my usual slow progress down into Balmaha where I picked up my first drop bag. A quick pot of rice pudding and I was off along the lochside towards Rowardennan feeling the effects on my quads of the earlier descent. I always seem to struggle on this section and Saturday was no different. I went through a really low period that saw me contemplating imminent failure. It was along here that I started to get my first cramps in my calf muscles which, after a quick stretch seemed to pass but which were to cause me serious difficulties later.
I reached Rowardennan feeling pretty down and already struggling but after a pep talk from Alex who was in charge of the drop bags I got going again and shuffled my way off towards Inversnaid. I managed a bit of momentum along the roadway and kept the cramp at bay with regular stretches and was delighted to see the waterfall that signals your arrival at the Inversnaid Hotel. Because of the weather, the car park was full of tourists who all look somewhat bemused by the sight of these shuffling runners appearing out of the woods, scoffing down rice pudding and sandwhiches before shuffling off again.
The stretch along the top edge of the loch was slow as always and I continued to struggle with my motivation to keep going but by the time I left the waters edge and started the climb up towards Bein Glas I had rallied a bit and manged to up the pace again.
In an attempt to carry as little as possible, I had decided to use my bum bag instead of my back pack but the continued pressure on my stomach was making digesting food harder than normal and left me feeling nauseous on a number of occasions. I'll need to decide whether to go back to the backpack for the WHW race and try to address the chaffing that gives me in some way.
As I left Bein Glas, I was struggling again and started my run for 200, walk for 100 mantra to try and keep the progress going. The trouble was that by the time I got to about 120 on my run, the cramp set in and I had to stop and stretch then walk for a bit before I could start running again. I had arranged to meet my support crew (Pete my father-in-law and Cameron and Stuart my two boys) at Carmyle Cottage and it was this that kept me going. As I passed under the railway just before the cottage Stuart spotted my and came charging up to me shouting and cheering which was great and gave me a real boost to snap out of my depression. I tried some crisps at this point to see if that would help my cramp and after half a bottle of coke I was on my way once more - 8 miles to go!
The path along the top of the A82 was unusually dry and I met up with Mark Hamilton at this point and the two of us plodded our way up into Bogle Glen. By this stage, my hamstrings were cramping as well and I cursed the uphills and the downhills through this section but had a brief resurgance as I dropped down the last descent and ran into Auchtertyre Farm for a quick stop before the final 2.5 miles into Tyndrum.
I was determined to run this last section but I was fighting with cramp every hundred yards or so which was so frustrating as I felt could run if only my legs would let me. As I came out of the woods into the back of Tyndrum, people were passing me but there was nothing I could do about it. I had decided to try and keep something back so that I could at least run the last section along the edge of the river up to the finish and as the finish line came into sight I could feel my muscles going into spasm once more and despite my best efforts I had to stop 10 yards from the finish to stretch them out one last time. I crossed the line in 11hours 42mins; 20 minutes slower than last year.
There were many times through Saturdays race that I convinced myself that i wouldn't be able to finish and that if I found this race hard, what chance did I have of completing the WHW Race? Despite that though, I persevered and kept on going and I look back now and can see that that is what makes this kind of racing so special. It is the ability to endure, to keep going when everything within you is telling you to stop. If I can sort out the cramp problem, I know I can come back stronger and I'll be on the starting line in Milngavie at 1:00am on Saturday 20th June. What possible reason could I have for not!

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

A pre-Fling Update

With The Highland Fling now less than 2 weeks away, it's too late to worry about whether I've done enough training. I think, no matter who you are, you always feel like you should have put in a few more miles.
I looked back at my training schedule from this time last year and from the start of the year up to the end of this week, I've run 100 miles more this year and already competed in 1 ultra (the Wuthering Hike). This should make me feel quietly confident of getting round quicker than last year and perhaps even getting in under 11 hours. Why then do I feel concerned about getting round the 53 mile course a week on Saturday?
I went out on Friday for my last long run before the race and covered the 26 miles from the Drovers up to Tyndrum and back. The last few miles were a real struggle and I finished feeling exhausted and slightly dispirited. The rest of the day I was tired and I had a fairly quiet day on Saturday but then got up on Sunday morning at 7:00am and had a fantastic 9 mile run through the woods at the back of Mugdock - go figure!
So what's the plan for the Fling? - well first and foremost is to finish. Last year I got round in 11 hours 22 mins and so I would like to beat that time and maybe even get under 11 hours. With over 300 individuals and 30 teams taking part this year, the course could get a bit crowded but by the time we reach Drymen, it should have spread out enough not to be an issue. Pete (my father-in-law) and my two boys are going to come up to support the last few miles from Carmyle Cottage so it will be good to have that to focus on. Other than that, I hope to enjoy what is a great race and to set myself up for the WHW Race later in the year.
I'll get out for three runs this week and then an easy session next Tuesday, other than that, it's plenty of rest and mental preparation.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Getting from A to B

I remember back to just after Eve and I got married and we would be sitting having breakfast on a sunny Sunday morning trying to decide what to do with the day.
"Why don't we go for a drive?" Eve would ask.
"Where to?" would be my response
"Does it matter, why don't we just head off and stop somewhere for lunch?"
Now, this was my problem you see. If you go off in the car you are going from one place to get to another place - from A to B. My mindset would be to look at where we were going and to try and get there as quickly as possible (legally of course!) What was important was the destination and the more obstacles that got in my way on route, the more stressed and annoyed I would get.
I'm glad to say that I have mellowed over the years and I can now relax and accept that if you want to get from A to B, it sometimes takes a while and you should enjoy the journey.
So what has this got to do with running? Well for a long time, I have had a similar attitude to going for a run. If I go for a run I am going from A to B, even if sometimes A and B are the same place (home) and my focus was on getting to my destination. Sometimes I did this well, sometimes it was a struggle but if you're always worrying about getting to B as quickly as possible, 99% of the time, you're going to be disappointed.
On the longer runs, if you focus constantly on the destination, you become overwhelmed, intimidated and, eventually, defeated before you even start. There are ways to make this more achievable by breaking these long runs down into smaller destinations for example, the next check point, or the next aid station. Focus on each small destination, one at a time. This however still encourages a mindset of the destination being the main focus.
I've realised over time that this takes away from the whole idea of why I go running in the first place. There is a real pleasure to be gained from the pure physical action of running, especially if you're feeling good. We've all had those runs when your legs are fresh, your breathing is strong and steady and running feels almost effortless. The faster you go, the easier it gets and you feel as though you could keep going forever. On those days, the destination is not important, nor is the time you get there. What is certain though, is that if you keep going you will get there, wherever that may be.
So my attitude has changed, I enjoy the process of running, I enjoy the environment in which I run and I can look around and take it in and appreciate it more fully. As with all runs and particularly in races, there is still a need to get from A to B but these days I can now enjoy the journey.