Thursday, 24 June 2010

WHW Race Report

So there I was, lined up on the start line outside Milngavie Train Station for the 3rd year in a row, ready to start the journey to Fort William, 95 miles away in what I hoped would be less than a day. After a short briefing and a speech by Adrian Stott, the horn sounded and we were off into the dark of Mugdock Park.

My preparation had been about the same as previous years with me just coming under 1,000 miles for the year to date and managing my last long run 3 weeks before the race. The main difference this year was that I had managed to stay injury free so far and, other than the remains of a lingering cold, I was feeling pretty good.

The first few miles ticked away easily under remarkably light skies for 2:00am in the morning and I got to Drymen in just over 2hours exactly as planned. I met Eve and Cameron who would be my back up until Rowardennan and after a quick rice pudding and some words of encouragement I was off heading towards Conic Hill.

By now; 3:00am; it was light enough to turn my head torch off and I chatted away to some other runners as we headed through the forrest and caught our first sight of Conic Hill silhoueted against the skyline. I took it nice and steady up and over and got to Balmaha feeling good although the thighs felt the effects of the 20 miles covered so far. Another quick pit stop and I was away.

I have always hated this section to Rowardenan. I don't know why because it is stunning running alongside the loch as the sun comes up and there water is as smooth as glass. There is a lot of climbing on this section which surprises a lot of people and so my plan today was to take my time, just think about the 10 feet in front of me and try to find a rythym that I could keep up. It seemed to work as I came into Rowardennan fairly unscathed and met Eve and Cameron for the last time. Well, I should say I met Eve as Cameron was fast asleep in the car and it seemed unfair to wake him. They were going to go home after this, hand over to my second team and then, after a couple of hours rest come up and see me into Bridge of Orchy before going on up to Fort William for the finish.

The midges chased me out of Rowardennan and I started the long drag up the hill by the lochside trying to walk hard on the climbs and run everything else. In contrast to the previous section, I really like the stretch coming into Inversnaid and I was enjoying myself on the twists and turns along the water's edge and before long I arrived at the hotel and picked up my drop bag. It's always difficult trying to decide what to put in a drop bag as you tend to be making them up 24 hours before you need them and you need to anticipate what you'll want to eat and drink. As it turned out, my fruit bowl and mars bar was a winning choice and I devoured the lot, thanked the check point marshalls and set off.

By now the sun was up and we could see the hills across the loch being bathed in sunshine. I could tell it was going to be warm but for the moment, I remained in the cool shade of the trees and I skipped along over the roots and rocks that form this stretch up to Bein Glas Farm. This is the stretch that I had been hit with cramp during the Highland Fling and so I was very wary and nervous that the same thing would happen again. As it turned out, I didn't experience any cramp all day!

I arrived at Bein Glas on schedule but now starting to tire and met my 2nd support crew of Alistair, Donald, David and Pete (2 brothers, father and father-in-law). I asked for my hat, sun cream and a lucozade alert - none of which they had. It must be said, that they weren't on my list for that pit stop but I'm allowed to change my mind! After a quick dash back to the car, Donald arrived with the request and suitably attired, I set off once more.

It was now starting to get warm and I could feel the affects of the 40 miles covered so far and plodded along the route to Derrydaroch struggling to keep some pace going on anything but the longer descents. After climbing up the other side of the main road onto the "coo poo" path I managed to rally a bit and trotted through the gate and into the forrest above Crianlarich. The field was well spread out by this time and only occassionally did I get sight of other runners in front and I was playing yo-yo with a couple of guys as we went over the roller coaster of the hills through the forrest.

I came out onto the main road and managed to trot into Auchtertyre feeling OK. After being weighed (2kg down) I met my crew and tried to find something to eat. It is usually at this point that my stomach objects to anything going in and I really couldn't face eating anything. In the end I opted for a pork pie!

The next stretch to Tyndrum is only three miles but over that stretch I felt as though someone had pulled a plug and all my energy just drained out. I went from feeling fairly positive going into Auchtertyre to complete and utter exhaustion and depression by the time I got to Tyndrum. I sat down outside Brodies Store and for the first time that day, felt that maybe I couldn't actually do this. If I closed my eyes I would have been asleep instantly and I felt I didn't have the strength to stand-up let alone run. My team rallied round and we decided that I needed to try and eat something so after a few minutes I got up and accompanied by a marmalade roll, headed slowly up the hill out of Tyndrum. Over the next few minutes I slowly munched my way through this roll and plodded, head bowed, along the path. It is only through experience of running ultras that you get to know what your body can do and that if you have a bad spell, the best thing to do is to just keep moving forward and you'll come out of it. Sure enough, by the time I went under the railway line 2 miles along the path, I was feeling so much better and actually managed to run the whole section from there into Bridge of Orchy. I passed a few others along here including one chap who was running the whole way with his dog!

I finally arrved at Bridge of Orchy and, much to the surprise of my support crew, I was smiling! Eve and Cameron had arrived 5 minutes earlier so it was great to see them as well and I took a seat and topped up my supplies. The plan from here was that I would run over the hill to Victoria Bridge and Alistair would join me for the run across Rannoch Moor, however, after checking with the Marshalls, we were told that as I was still within 4 hours of the leaders I wouldn't be allowed a support runner until the White Corries. I was OK with this but I was more disappointed for Alistair who had been looking forward to his first chance to get out onto the route that day.

Up and over the hill out of Bridge of Orchy and after a quick hello the my crew at Victoria Bridge I set off across Rannoch Moor. My feet were starting to hurt by now as the route was so dry the paths were rock hard and my trail shoes were struggling to absorb the continued pounding and rocky nature of the trail. I plodded across the Moor constantly searching out the smoother side of the path and trying to keep sipping water from my camelback. The sun was high in the sky and the strong wind had been a constant companion now for the last few hours. It was helping to keep me cool but had the effect of speeding up the dehydration process many time over. Despite wearing sunglasses, it aslo seemed to be trying to dry out my contact lenses and the vision in my right eye was anything but 20:20.
I climbed out of the far end of the Moor and found Donald had run up from the checkpoint to meet me and run the last mile or so down the hill. My feet struggled to find a comfortable spot and each footfall was met with a wince as the previous 70 miles were now taking their toll.
I collapsed into the chair at the White Corries and forced down some soup and half an energy bar. As I sat there I spotted John Kynaston and Andy Cole heading out, both looking strong and steady. Alistair had decided to run the next section to the bottom of the Devils Staircase with me and so we set off slowly down the steep hill towards the Kinsghouse Hotel before the frustrating up and down path that seems to serve no other purpose than to add to my mounting woes. Running when I could and walking hard we reached Altnafeidh and Donald took over to accompany me up and over the Devils Staircase. Progress was slow but steady and after only two brief stops we finally reached to the top with stunning views in every direction. Despite the struggle up the hill, I would rather have gone back down and done it again than head off on the never ending descent into Kinlochleven. Resigned to my fate, we set off and I decided to try breaking into a run to see how my legs felt. They felt OK! This was a surprise, so we kept running and remarkably I seemed able to keep a steady pace going the whole way down to the fire road. As soon as we reached this road, we stepped it up and kept a good pace going all the way down into Kinlochleven, completing one of my strongest stages so far. Quite where it came from I don't know but it seemed to disappear just as quickly as soon as we reached the checkpoint and once again, I collapsed into the waiting chair, exhausted.
I was weighed again here and found that I had dropped 5kg; one more than I was allowed but after a quick "re-weigh" it seemed that we had misread the scales and I had actually only dropped 4kg! - It seemed I was allowed to carry on.
Alistair and I set off on the next stage and we plodded our way up the climb out of Kinlochleven and up onto the Larig Mhor. We were passed by three of four other people on the climb who all seemed to have far more in their legs than me. Reaching the top, the wind had now died down and the sun was staring to set, I was still able to marvel at the views all around. This stretch has been one of my least favourites in the past because you are able to see the trail winding away in the distance for what looks like forever and the conditions under foot are probably the worst on the whole WHW. The path is covered in fist sized rocks that shift and roll under each footstep. Bad enough on fresh legs and walking boots but a nightmare on trashed legs, blistered feet and trainers.
The one upside of this however is that you can start to sense that you are close to the finish - just 13 miles to go and it's all over and there is the faintest of magnetic pulls forcing you forward towards Fort William. It was a case of head down and crack on and we managed to run every downhill and several of the flat sections all the way into Lundavra. The path along here is surrounded on both sides with large rocks that are covered in black and white moss and lichen. The fading light, my lack of sleep and exhaustion and my dried out contact lenses meant that everyone of these rocks took on a new persona. I saw countless sheep (there were none) a white landrover (there wasn't one), a team of dwarf american footballers (now it was getting weird!) and countless faces. I decided to keep these images to myself to avoid worrying Alistair but it certainly kept up the interest as the stage went on.
We had planned a quick stop at Lundavra but by now I had realised that if we pushed on hard, we had a chance of getting in under my pb of 23hrs:30mins so we stopped long enough for Donald to join us and then it was off on the last stage.
As we reached the forrest we decided to put on the head torches and as in previous years, Donald led off, I was behind him and Alistair brought up the rear. We pushed on as hard as we dared through the darkness with me stumbling over rocks and roots as my legs struggled to co-ordinate with the terrain. Eventually we emerged from the forrest and onto the fire road for the final 2 or 3 miles in to the finish. The time was still possible but it was going to be tight so gingerly, I tried out a run once more and to my surprise found a new level of energy. The pace remained solid all the way down the road and we passed Andy Cole about a mile before Braveheart Carpark going steady and on course for his first sub 24 hours.
I kept looking at my watch and each time I increased the pace. This was crazy; I had just run 93 miles, an hour or so earlier I could barely walk and yet here we were stomping along at an ever increasing pace and feeling strong and totally focussed.
Braveheart carpark arrived and as we ran through the rest of my crew were waiting to see us. Cameron was going to join us for the run in and I shouted at him that he better be feeling fast because we were shifting!
Onto the road and the pace picked up again, a quick glance at the watch told me we had about 7 minutes to spare and I looked ahead desparate to see the 30mph sign that marks your arrival into the town. Finally it came into view and I kicked for home. Cameron had dropped off by now and I was flying flat out towards the Leisure Centre, with one eye on my watch. I passed three other runners as I sprinted into the carpark and shouted an apology at them as I sped past before bursting through the doors in a time of 23hours 25 mins!
It was a fantastic moment and I was elated and exhausted in equal measures. I shook Donald and Alistairs hand to thank them for their efforts which seemed like a wholly inadequate gesture but was as much as I could manage.
The prize giving the next day was excellent and gave an opportunity to catch up with other runners and for each one to receive their goblet in front of their peers. The new race committee have done a fantastic job in keeping the race going and maintaining the WHW Family feel - so well done to them all.
As before, my support crews were fantastic and so thanks to Eve, Cameron, Pete, David, Donald & Alistair - keep your diaries clear for next June!

Monday, 21 June 2010

WHW Race 2010

(Coming into Bridge of Orchy - 60 miles: picture by Davy Hall)
A brief post to say that I finished the Race in 23hours 25mins - 5 mins inside my PB.

I realised coming into Lundavra with 7 miles to go that it was going to be close and so we pushed on hard through the forrest finishing with a mad 6 minute mile pace charge along the road out of Braveheart carpark.

Thanks to all my support crew and especially Alistair and Donald for pushing me on over the last few stages.

A stunning day with breathtaking views from start to finish - never have I seen Scotland looking better.

Full report to follow

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

It's The Final, "sniff" Countdown!

I've got a cold - normally that's no big deal. Take some lemsip and just ride it out; it'll be gone in a few days. The trouble is that in 3 days time, I'm running a 95 mile ultra marathon through some of Scotlands finest but toughest scenery!

It's not a big cold, just a runny nose and a bit of sore throat but not the kind of pre-race build up I was hoping for. The plan was to run an easy 5 miles or so tonight to keep the legs ticking over and to gather my thoughts for the big day but I think it best if I stay indoors and keep popping the Echinachia (?)

I ran a strong race in the Milngavie & Bearsden 10k at the weekend finishing in 42mins 45secs; 10 seconds faster than last year and good enough for 10th place and now am trying to rest the legs and get my head ready for this weekend.

I try to avoid too many detailed race plans as I tend to find that, on the day, I race as I feel irrespective of what I've written down, but there is a need to have some form of strategy and plan so; in no particular order, here are my intentions:

  • I'd like to get inside 23 hours - last year I ran 23:30 and 24:45 the year before so I know sub 23 is in me. It would be nice to finish on the same day I started.
  • My pace chart shows me setting off slower than last year until about Auchtertyre when I start to overtake my timings. I need to average 14.5min/mile overall to hit sub 23.
  • I need to try and avoid the cramp that has plagued me in the last two Highland Fling races (but not in the WHW?) so regular "s" caps, soup and some ready salted crisps on stand-by. The forecast looks like its could be hot so plenty of water as well.
  • I want my suppport runners to push me on a bit harder in the later stages (Donald, Alistair - are you reading this?). Particularly along the larig mhor and down into Frt William.
  • If I can take 1 minute off each pit stop, I'll gain an extra 10 mins without any running!
  • Patience - this is very important as it's going to be a long day. I know there will be times when I get downhearted but I also know that these moments pass and I just need to keep presssing on.
  • Enjoy it!
  • Stay positive as this helps to keep the mind and body going.
  • Don't stop - sometimes easier said than done but the bottom line for this race is to keeping moving forward, keep putting one foot in front of the other and no matter what else happens, I will finish!

So there we go, the final run in to my 3rd WHW Race and I'm still nervous, exited and worried but I can't wait to get back out there again and put my body and mind on the line and, with the help of my fantastic support crew, experience another amazing journey to Fort William.

Pass the Lemsip..............

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

70 Wild Miles 'n stuff

It's been a while since I put pen to paper (so to speak) so I thought I'd provide a quick update of what's been going on.

A few weeks ago, myself and a couple of pals spent a very pleasant few days biking in the Vercors in south east France courtesy of the extremely laid back Phil Smith at Gastrobiking

The idea is to climb a few cols have some cake, descend a few cols, have some more cake and ride back to base before having yet more cake - oh, and a few glasses of wine. If you fancy some fantastic riding over some of the "Tour" routes in glorious weather, Phil is your man.

Back home and into some serious training to get ready for the WHW race, I managed some good runs and did my final long session a week ago from Tyndrum to the White Corries and back. 36 miles, under 11 min mile pace and feeling good at the end.

Last weekend saw me and two pals team up once more for 70 Wild Miles. A team triathlon event organised by Click Sargent based in and around Glen Coe. The event consist of a 43 mile bike ride from the White Corries to Taynuilt. This is followed by a 10 mile Kayak up Loch Etive and then a 12 mile run up Glen Etive. Not surprisingly, I did the run section and our team came 2nd overall in the team event - a fanatstic result. Personally I ran OK but struggled in the heat and didn't feel quite as strong as I would have hoped but still managed to record the 5th fastest run of the day!

Me approaching the finish

Graeme "TM" Busby (Kayak), Me, Peter "Boris" Gorrie (Bike)

Not bad for a bunch of old guys in their 40's!

So the focus is now very much on the WHW Race which is now less than 2 weeks away. The training is done and all I can do now is to try and rest up and get my head togther for what will be a very long day. As always, the plan is just to finish but I do have a schedule for a sub-23 hour which it would be great to get near. More on my pre-race thoughts on a later post.

I have one more race before the WHW Race which is this weekends local 10k. Part of the Bearsden and Milngavie Highland Games. I have run this the last few years and it is hilly wee course that catches a lot of people out. I always get to the start line saying that I'll take it easy with the following weekends race in mind but as soon as the gun goes off, the red mist descends and I charge off at a ridiculous speed which sees me gasping and panting after two miles. Still - it's all good training.

So that brings you up to date - a bit of a brief summary really but duty calls and there is business to be done. I'll post next week prior to my main event of the year.