Tuesday, 23 June 2009

WHW Race Report

I thought I should write my race report whilst it is still fresh in my mind. Time has a habit of blacking out the bad bits and only remembering the good so hopefully this covers them both.
My support crew arrived in Milngavie early on Friday evening and after a restless wait at the house, I finally persuaded everyone to move out and walk round to the car park for about 11:45pm. As last year, the place was buzzing and I spent some time catching up with some friendly faces before registering and gathering for Dario's briefing. Right on time at 1:00am we were off! One thing that always intrigues me about teh race is that there is no starting gun or claxon or even a "GO!" It just seems to start.
The first few miles although through the dark, are so familiar to me I could run them with my eyes closed anyway! I was determined this year to start off slowly and kept an eye on my Garmin to make sure I was around the 9:30min/mile I wanted to sustain as far as Drymen. I was feeling very comfortable and glad to be on my way and I passed the Beech Tree in in 1hour 5mins only just seeing Eve and Cameron as I ran past. I kept my steady pace and already the field was starting to thin out. My other plan this year was to keep drinking and eating throughout the day and to pop an S-cap every hour. After the mess I was in during the "Fling" with cramp, I was determined not to let that happen again.
I arrived in Drymen right on 2 hours and met Eve and Cameron. I had a rice pudding, topped up the water and carried on through. Another tactic for this year was to ask my support crew to move me on through the check points as quick as possible in either the 5 or 10 mins allocated. By the end of the race, they were like an F1 pit crew and had me refuelled and out in no time at all. As I plodded up through the woods at the back of Drymen I started to get some pain in my left foot, nothing significant but annoying none the less. This was also my first low point of the race, I was feeling slightly light headed and very, very tired. I put this down to lack of sleep and pressed on but by the time I topped out Conic Hill I had convinced myself that I wasn't going to make it. As I descended down to Balmaha I passed my son's Scout Troop who were doing their annual midsummer climb up Conic Hill. The cheer I got must have been heard in Balmaha and it was just the tonic I needed to perk me up and I arrived in Balmaha feeling much happier - Thanks guys!
My F1 pit crew quickly had me fed and ready to go and the ferocity of the midges meant I wasn't going to hang around so I set off towards Rowardennan once again feeling more positive. This has historically been a really bad stage for me and I have always struggled getting in to Rowardennan but I was determined this year to stay steady and not worry about where I was heading but to just concentrate on running the 6 foot in front of me. This was a tactic I used throughout the day and I'm convinced it helped me cope with some of the tougher legs later in the day. I arrived at Rowardennan, bang on schedule and Eve and Cameron were there to see me through and refuel me. This was their last support stage of the day and so they were heading back to Milngavie to handover to Crew 2 and to get some sleep before joining us much later in the day.
I set off towards Inversnaid and am always suprised by how long the climbs are along the lochside at this stretch but kept walking hard up them and running all the flats and downhills and before long I appeared by the waterfall above Inversnaid and carefully made my way down the steps to the carpark to collect my drop bag. I was feeling OK still although my left foot was becoming increasingly more painful. I looked through my drop bag and realised that there was nothing in it that could face eating and so decided to take my bagel with me in the hope that I may change my mind as the next few miles passed.
I actually don't mind the stage from Inversnaid to Beingals Farm that much and managed to keep up a good steady pace up and down the rocks and over the roots and before long I emerged at the top of the loch and the climb up above Inverarnan. It was at this point I was ambushed by the BBC and was asked on camera to "Describe how you're feeling!" I'm not sure how much of my response they can show before the watershed!
Leaving Beinglas I started to struggle again and had a tough time getting over the undulating track to pass Derrydaroch but knowing that my support crew were at Carmyle Cottage, I was spurred on and took a real lift when I spotted my brother waiting a few hundred yards along the track before the checkpoint. At Carmyle Cottage I changed my shirt and had some soup and a fruit bowl and feeling much better, I set off on the climb away from the A82 up towards the path leading to to Bogle Glen. I quite enjoyed this stretch and was making good progress again as I rode the rollercoaster path through the forrest before emerging by the roadside once again and I ran strongly over the bridge and into Auchtertyre. I was now about 20 mins ahead of my schedule and feeling fairly good. After being weighed (I had dropped 3.2 kg but this apparantly was fine!) I had some more food and set off on the short tretch to Tyndrum.
I arrived in Tyndrum in 11 hours 35 mins, 1 hour and 10 mins faster than I had completed the "Fling" in 7 weeks earlier, all due to avoiding the terrible muscle cramps I had then.
A quick stop at Tyndrum to change my socks and I headed up the hill towards Bridge of Orchy. This is a great stretch for running and I made good time arriving in Bridge of Orchy still 20 mins ahead of schedule. I had hoped to briefly see Eve and Cameron here as well but it would appear I was too quick for them! It was our intention that Alistair would join me at Victoria Bridge to run over Rannoch Moor with me and so we checked with the Marshall how far ahead the leader was. Although he was only 3.5 hours ahead, we were told that I could be paced from Victoria Bridge.
I ran over the hill from Bridge of Orchy and as I was heading along the road section past Victoria Bridge, Cameron ran up to join me. He and Eve and arrived at Bridge of Orchy jaust after I left and decided to run round to Victoria Bridge to see me there. This gave me great boost but by now my main concern was how many painkillers I was allowed to take and in what combination. My ankle was really bothering me now and I was starting to feel the effects of the previous 60 miles of running. Suitably dosed up, Alistair and I set off on the long drag up Rannoch Moor. Despite starting to tire, I managed to run pretty much anything that was falt or downhill and only walked the ups. The final climb before the descent into Kingshouse really took a lot out of me and I started to feel light headed and needed to stop a couple of times to steady myself. The top eventually came and as I started towards the descent I was surprised to pass Thomas who was obviously in a bad way and eally struggling. Silke was with him and after a quick pat on the shoulder I set off down the descent. Alistair and I managed to run most of the descent down to the Kinsghouse and we arrived on schedule.
My support crew were ready for me but by now, nothing in the food bag appealed to me at all. Knowing that I had to eat something, I forced down some pasta and some flat coke, popped a couple more painkillers and set off with Donald towards the Devils Staircase and Kinlochleven. The climb up the Devils staircase was tough and I started to get light headed again but kept going and eventually reached the top where I had to have a brief sit down. The view was spectacular in verely direction and helped to dull the pain I was feeling in my ankle. Last year, I had to walk slowly down from here into Kinlochleven but this year we managed to run about 80% of the descent despite someone having sneaked out and added 6 miles onto the road from the power station (or so it felt!). We arrived in Kinlochleven running strongly but behind schedule which in hindsight was due to an over ambitious time split rather than a slow run. Another weigh-in and refuel and we set off up the climb to the Larig Mhor. The plan was to run this stage with Alistair but Donald stayed with us and decided to run over the Larig Mhor ahead of us and wait at Lundavra. Donald is doing Ironman Swtzerland in 3 weeks and at my pace, wasn't getting the training run he needed!
As we crossed the Larig Mhor, I started to see some rather bizarre objects by the route. I could have sworn I saw a cow up a tree, a crowd of people gathered under a tree, several tents and hundreds of little flickering lights amongst the grass (I didn't tell you about that last one Aistair, in case you started to get really worried about me!) Along the never ending path we kept pressing on, still managing to run the down hills and a few of the flats until the welcome site of the bonfire and the last check point came into view. By now my ankle was so sore that it was actually less painful to run that it was to walk. It had focussed on the tendon running down the front of my ankle and on to the top of my foot, so every time I bent my foot upwards I was in a lot of pain so I had managed to develop a kind of flat footed hobble rather than a walk or run.
Alistair, Donald and I left the last check point in fading light but I knew I had 2.5 hours to get under 24 hours so, barring any great disaster, it was looking good. We took up the same positions as last year with me sandwiched between Donald & Alistair as they kept the pace up. We decided that we would try a fast walk through the woods and then run as much of the forrest road into Fort William as possible. We soon arrived at the top of the road and I set off on the best run I could muster. I managed about 300-400 yards before I had to have a break as my quads were completely shot and the steep descent was more than they could handle. After a minute or so, we would do another few hundred yards and then another break and we continued like this all the way to the Braveheart Car Park. We had aranged to meet up with the rest of both crews here and Cameron and my Dad were changed and ready to run in with us so we set off in a group of 5 shuffling along the road into Fort William. As soon as I saw the 30 mile an hour sign I knew we were nearly there and from some untapped source I set off at steadily increasing pace until I was flying along round the roundabout and into the leisure centre carpark at what must have been close to 7 minute mile pace. I charged through the doors and gave in my number - Finished! 23 hours, 30 mins 37th place.
I was absolutely delighted and so relieved to be finished and able to stop at last. I had a quick shower but after I came out I had became very light headed and only just made it to the bench outside to avoid passing out. I sat there for five minutes with my head between my knees before eventually shuffling into the car and making my way back to the B&B where I crawled into bed, very tired, very sore but very pleased.
Today, mt foot and ankle is badly swollen and bruised so I have an appointment with my physio just to make sure there is nothing too serious going on. Other than that, I have the usual sore muscles and a general overall sense of fatigue but I can honestly say that it was an incredible experience. To run for so long and push yourself beyond what you think you can do is a hugely rewarding and empowering experience. It gives you a sense of perspective on your life and breaks down all the boundaries and obstacles that you put in your own way to stop you from achieving things. You come away with a sense of "nothing is impossible" and that is a wondeful feeling.
I could not achieved this without my fantastic support crew of Eve, Cameron, David, Pete, Donald & Alistair. Thank you so much

Monday, 22 June 2009

WHW Race 2009

A quick post to say that I finished this years race in a time of 23 hours, 30 mins in 37th place out of 142 starters. Obviously I am delighted and now somewhat tired. I'll post a full report in the next few days.
Now next year, if I could just.....................................................

Monday, 15 June 2009

Pre-Race Thoughts

My work is done, all that is left now is a gentle 4 miles tomorrow night and then it's time to count down the hours until 1:00am on Saturday 20th June when me and 174 others embark on a 95 mile trot from Milngavie to Fort William on the West Highland Way Race.
Rightly or wrongly, this has become my main focus for the last 12 months. All my training is geared up to this one race. My mind is constantly flicking through mental check lists, logistical options and different completion scenarios. Eve and the kids have had to put up with my anti-social running exploits and I have spent far too much time updating training logs instead of working. As with last year, Race Day accelerates towards you and before you know it, it's here and it's time to deliver the goods.
I could spout forth here about pace schedules, target times, nutritional requirements yadah, yadah, yadah but the thing is; this is a really simple concept. You start running in Milngavie and keep going until you reach Fort William. If you don't stop, you'll succeed, if you do, you wont.
Now I know that there is a bit more to it than that but I've decided that if I get too caught up in obsessing about splits and pace then I'll panic if I don't hit them and if I start to get defeated mentally, the race is over.
Goal number 1 is to finish (safely and in one piece). Last year I ran 24 hours 42 mins and so it would be nice to run under 24 hours this year but we'll see what the day brings. My support crew is the same as last year with Eve and Cameron (wife and Nr. 1 son) doing Milngavie to Rowardennan and then David, Pete, Alistair and Donald (Dad, father-in-law, brother Nr. 1 and brother Nr. 2) from Carmyle Cottage to Fort Bill.
It will doubtless be another emotional and physical rollercoaster with some glorious highs and a few deep troughs but one thing is for certain, if I keep moving forward, I will finish. That may sound obvious and kind of simple but when you've been out there for 15 hours, your legs are completely shot, your feet are in pieces and you're not quite sure which way is up and which is down, moving forward is quite a challenge.
I have written before in this blog about "enjoying the journey" and not focussing on the destination and that is what I hope to do. We are very fortunate to be able to take part in an event like this and so I for one intend to enjoy it.
So my overall race plan goes something like this:

Eat well, drink a little and often, start off slow and be patient. The end will come!
Wish me luck and I'll talk to you on the other side.

Tuesday, 9 June 2009

70 Wild Miles

Saturday saw me and my two oldest friends team up to take part in 70 Wild Miles. For those of you not familiar with the event, it consists of a 47 mile bike ride from the White Corries Ski Centre in Glencoe to Taynuilt at the head of Loch Etive, competitors then embark on a 10 mile canoe, the length of Loch Etive before handing over to a runner to run the 13 miles up Glen Etive to where it meets the A82 just beyond the Kinghouse Hotel.
It can be done as either a solo or a team event but the main purpose is to raise funds for CLIC Sargent, the childrens cancer charity.
We chose to enter as a team with Peter doing the cycle, Graeme doing the canoe and myself running. The cyclists were set off in 1 minute intervals and Peter was allocated a 7:50am start time and was away pretty much bang on time. As soon as he left I took the car back to Ballahulish where we were staying to pick up the rest of his and my family and set off to see him finish in Taynuilt. Peter had an absolutley storming ride such that we arrived at the finish pretty much at the same time as him. Despite some very poor course directions resulting in a 5 minute tour of the backroads of Taynuilt Peter did a fantastic 2hours 19mins.

Although the weather was fairly good, the wind direction meant that the organisers changed the planned 10 mile canoe up Loch Etive to a 2 mile thrash around the calmer waters by Taynuilt pier. Not put off by this slight change of plan, Graeme joined the other 90 or so competitors for the mass start and powered his way round the course to finish in a fantastic 15th place. As he carried his canoe up the beach, I retrieved the timing chip from him and we set off towards the run start.

Due to the change of canoe route, the run had to be amended to start at the finish point and run 6.5 miles down the course, turn and then head back up to complete the 13 miles. Given that the route is pretty much uphill all the way, this was a slight blessing allowing the first half to be run downhill. The runners were allowed to start as soon as we reached the start and so I was third away and very quickly passed the other two people to find myself in the front. Knowing that the second half of the run was all uphill, I tried to relax as much as possible on the outward half, holding back for the return leg. Although I was only in the lead because I was one of the first to start, it was a very strange experience to be leading the field and having no-one to chase and it meant I had to concentrate on doing my own thing whilst feeling the pressure of being chased by everyone else. I had a great uphill leg and ran strongly all the way to the finish in 1hour 29min and the 8th fastest run of the day. There was a fair amount of shock on my family's face when they heard that the first runner was coming in only to see me cresting the hill and sprinting home. My youngest son still believes that I won the race and it would be cruel to tell him otherwise - wouldn't it!?
Our team finished a very creditable 6th out of 18 teams competing and at the last count we had raised just over £1,250 for the charity.

It was a great weekend and one that I'm sure we are all planning on repeating next year. Thanks to Peter and Graeme, the event was all the better for being able to share it with you guys!