Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Highland Fling 2012

28th April 2012
Milngavie to Tyndrum
53 miles
Not flat.

So that I write a blog on last Saturday's race, I'll going to aim for a bullet-pointed summary. For the last couple of years I've done EPIC blogs on this race, so don't want to just repeat that. I'll try to just capture the key points of the race and a few reflections. It'll probably still go on a bit. Hope you're ok with that.

With a race as big as this, there are so, so many variables that play a part in how the day goes. Weather, kit, support, training (now that's a big part), injury, luck (don't underestimate that one), psychology, nutrition, and more. So many of these came good on the day. I feel that I've had my cake and eaten it, with extra icing too. 16th place and 5th MV40, in a field that was so strong is a pretty good day at the office.

It's called the Highland Fling
Here's what I'd sent to my support crew (Marino and Julian) before the race in terms of targets for the day:

1. Don't get injured
2. Enjoy the experience (my version of 'enjoy' is not the same as most peoples, please note)
3. Finish the race
Then the goals are about time. I'll be upset if I'm not quicker than last year - races in the past 12 months have all been positive and I'm in good shape as well as having a lot of confidence this year. At the same time, I have the experience to be patient and not do anything silly in the first half of the race (I keep telling myself this!) So the time goals are:
1. To get a PB - 9.23 will do just fine
2. Get a good PB - 9.10
3. Beat nine hours

To cut to the chase, I hit every target that I had, not only getting a 31 minute PB from last year, but breaking the nine hours target that I had lined up. In fact the splits I had pencilled in were pretty close to how things went (all rounded to the nearest minute, since no-one should care about a few seconds here or there in a race like this):

Time of day/where/target/range/ ACTUAL TIME
7.00am Race starts, Milgavnie
8.05am Drymen 1:35 (1:33 - 1:37) [ACTUAL=1:33]
9.40am Balmaha 2:40
10:55am Rowardennan 3:55 (3:50 - 4:00) [ACTUAL = 3:51]
1.30pm BeinGlas 6:30 (6:20 - 6:40) [ACTUAL = 6:35]
2.25pm Carmyle Cottage 7:25 (?)
3.10pm A82 crossing 8:10
3.25pm Auchtertyre 8:25
3.50pm Finish 8:50 (8:45 - 8:59) [ACTUAL = 8:53]

I don't have the times for the intermediate points, since I had other things going on in my head. But the targets were pretty much spot on, give or take a few minutes, so that's a major plus.


So here's how serious runners get ready for this sort of thing. First week in April - skiing in the Alps (6/7 hours a day), good training for the quads. Didn't take my running shorts since I reckoned this would quite tiring enough. Ended up running early on 6 of the days (in linen tourist shorts) - what is it they say about obsession/dedication. Week two - ill. 7 days of no running. Some viral vomiting things, much rest. Week three - eased back into it with a 22 mile run (12 flat, 10 hill run) a couple of weeks ago. That was fine so squeezed another 5 hill runs plus a trail run into that week just to make sure. Week four - taper, so just 10 miles last Tuesday. Ate lots of carbs during the week; have no idea if it helps, but any excuse...


Missed the start of the race. Never done that before. Was all set to line up at the front and ended up getting caught out by the race starting a minute after race-briefing ended. I was still in the carpark speaking to Marino and I noticed a small cheer and that everyone in the underpass was moving forwards. Oops. Based on my watch time afterwards, that took six seconds but I was at the back of the field.

Dodge through the underpass, up the muddy slope to the right of all the runners (all walking up the steps since it was so crowded) and cut to the right through Milngavie precinct. By the time we'd cut to the right and across that random car-park, I was almost at the front, and was soon running in a group of four, with just one figure speeding off ahead. Please note, this is not a wise way to start a 53 mile race.

Chatted to Gerry in the group of four, asked who was up ahead - it was Thomas, who had been meant to have an 8am championship start (he's running for Scotland in the Celtic plate in the summer). So I sped up a bit (and only Gerry came with me) and closed the gap. At the first incline I caught up with Thomas and ran with him for much of the next 10 miles. I told him at one point that I was just a fun runner and that I was NOT racing him (his PB was just over 8 hours, so a different league from what I was aiming for). Right enough he soon sped off after Drymen (for 8:02!) and I ran at my own pace.

We ended up as group of four through the endless gates (actually there are 20 - I counted them back in January) and I had a good chat with Mark Caldwell who hard flown down the Dumgoyne slope earlier; great to catch up with him and congratulate him on his third place in the Spine Race (an epic multi-day but continuous race along the Penine Way back in January - i.e. six back-to-back Flings!)

Drymen in 1:33 was ok, the key thing was that I ran with no concious effort. Was it too fast? Time would tell (and another twenty miles). A quick change of bottle and on up the hill, now on my own but soon caught up with Mark after crossing the road in the Garabhan forest (ex-forest these days) - he seemed to be working a bit too hard. Loved this section since I kept passing other runners (chatting, the odd hug) - lots of amazing people that I'd have loved to spend more time with if I'd not been in a bit of a hurry.

I'm sure I pushed too hard up Conic Hill. I ran it all, except for the very steep bit at the top where it switchbacks. I was still trying not to push too hard, but I should have put on the sensible head, lost a couple of minutes and had a couple of walk breaks. I'm sure I paid for this later. Loved the descent and zipping through the Balmaha checkpoint and crowds was one of the race highlights for me (6:30 min/mile pace across the car-park - it just happened...)

Sallochy Bay.
Julian, who had come along to see a bit of Scotland and join in the adventure for the day then ran with me for the next mile (since he could then jump in the car at Millorchy) and Marco came zipping past - he was supporting Thomas that day. I told him that he'd have to race fast to catch up since Thomas was flying, so he sped up the hill at the edge of Balmaha. Boy, does the next section undulate a bit. Passed Sandra on the beach (quick hug, but she wasn't having a great day of it) and then kept on bouncing along. Ate a rice pudding just before Rowardenan and complained that none of the hills were long or steep enough for that - there's no pleasing some. Marathon distance came and went in 3:42.

Ignored the marshals' instructions at Rowardenan since I needed a good sit down. Luckily the cubicle was free and that's enough details for that - two minutes lost and had to detour round the new fence at the end of the car-park to hit the chip timing mat for 3:51.

Still felt good and ran up both of the two big hills on the way to Inversnaid. Should have walked some of that, since soon after 30 miles I felt very nauseous - and genuinely thought I might throw up for qite a while. For the first time of the day, the little voice in my head was saying that I could walk some of the uphill sections and my legs went and colluded with that idea.
Spot the path - it's there somewhere

Comparing my splits to last year, every mile was quicker (until miles 39 to 41, and the last six miles of the race) so it wasn;t that bad and I tried to convince myself it was just the switch to fat-burning. In the past I've had the ketonic (pear drops) taste/smell as *bad stuff* happens to the body and it starts to consume itself (hell, that sounds so scary!) but never had that today.

George Cairns passed me along here (the only MV40 to do so all day). He has a reputation for perfect pacing and his slightly slower start (he was 3:53 at Rowardenan and probably hadn't done anything stupid during the first mile) must have helped him. Actually, he's just a phenomenal runner and his pace is inspirational. He finished in 10th place in 8:27, with a two hour split for the final section. Hmm, I want to be able to do that!

I actually stopped at Inversnaid. :-O For fully a minute or a little more. I'd struggled with the steps going up just before there (had to walk them for goodness' sake) and when the lovely marshals offered a cup of water I just crumbled and said yes please. Also knocked back most of a bottle of flat coke before asking if they could fill the empty bottle with water and then headed off... walking. Oh, the shame of it - it was slightly downhill too. It was only when I got across the crazing weird paving beyond the carpark that I managed a good HTFU and started running again. Pain is only weakness leaving the body and all that.

That special place

Runing was now trotting and walking to the crazy rock steps that plummet down above Rob Roy's cave. Reader, please note that this is an unwise place to read texts on your phone on a sunny day. I'd had the camera out to take a picture of the two runners ahead and noticed there was a text or two. Good luck from the in-laws (watch your footing, idiot! Don't trip), which was nice, then another from the support crew (*look* at where your feet are going!). Just a wee note about the car, and something abolut writing a joke.

The path flattened out at the bottom and it's slightly easier running (only slightly, most would still refer to it as a complete nightmare). Time to try to read the text again, my brain is starting to think something is amiss. I quote, "Andy I've smashed the car. Total write off. Noone hurt but no joke either. I'm really soory mate. We are just past glen douglas"


That's exactly what I sent back, since it's easy to text (6677) and I could do it without looking at the phone. Holy shit! And where is glen douglas? I still have no idea. But I've got lots of supplies (I always put too much in the Inversnaid drop-bag because it's such a remote spot) and have some High5 Zero tablets so can add that to water from the BG checkpoint to see me home. No-one hurt, thank goodness for that.

I eventually overtook the runners in front, but my splits were fairly similar to last year for this section, as I now paid for pushing the pace earlier on. I love the last mile before Bein Glas Farm which is very runnable in comparison to what has gone before. I also had another text to say that Julian had got a lift with another support crew and would meet me there. Emotional blancmange time now - I was thinking about not having any kit at the finish line and wondered how to get home afterwards and hoped that Julian would be ok for adding 12 miles of steep running to his day.
(Photo: Keith Hughes - he started *really* early)

Straight through BG Farm and tried to run as much of the final section as possible. Got passed by two relay teams and the four leading men in this section. Ran for a bit with Scott Bradley before my legs said no, but that was just for a wee chat. Tried to run the uphills as much as possible, but had to speed walk the steeper ones. And there were plenty of these.

Highland cows, cow-poop alley, the big gate, three more climbs and then the roller-coaster in the woods. But what goes up must come down and I could run the downhills pretty fast still, so that was great. Actually, I ended up dropping Julian (sorry, mate!) since he'd run 8 miles earlier in the day and hadn't been expecting add another 12 later on. But Marino appeared just before the A82 road-crossing and that was great - he'd hitched a lift (with three big bags) from a passing car along the west side of Loch Lomond. I asked him to tell me all about the smash to give me something to listen to.

Final 12 miles ened up just under 2:18, so over a minute quicker than last year, although I was struggling to keep it to 10 min/miles at the end. But the sub-nine hour target became more and more secure with every footstep and it was soon a case of telling myself that every second counted for a good 8:xx time. I'm pleased I kept pushing, since there was no-one just in front of me in the final results (6 minutes up to Grantmac - great run there mate!) and I ended up just 14 seconds in front of the next runner (8am start) so I'm lucky that I could keep on going.

Once the final half mile is hit and the flatter trail is below your feet, you know that the job is just about done and it's time to enjoy it. George and Karen were just before the piper, great to see them and then it was time to soak it all up for the final sprint. And sprint I did. At least it felt pretty much flat out. No-one has a video of it anyway to show me how it really looked, so you'll have to take my word for it.

Hung around at the finish for a while, enjoying the beer and swapping stories. Had a shower and then a brilliant massage. And found I could run again after that, which is a bit cheeky. Double cheeseburger, more beer and chips in the Real Food Cafe was followed with getting cold at the finish line waiting for the presentation. And asking for lift home, which eventually saw us hitching a ride back (thanks Mel!)

Would I do it all again? Of course! Would I go a *wee* bit slower at the start? Just a little bit. And I'll give that theory a go in a couple of weeks, when it's Cateran 55 weekend. Looking forward to that one. :-)