Thursday, 16 June 2016

West Highland Way Race : Even Effort Splits

At time of writing there is now just a day and half left till the start of 2016 West Highland Way Race.  I will be running this 95 mile, 14.000ft ascent/descent race for the 3rd time.  Looking at my training logs I looks like in a similar shape as I was last year, and believe that I might be able to get near 19hrs if my day goes well.

In this post I'll outline the approach I'll take for pacing and provide splits generated by a spreadsheet I have written than applies Even Effort Splits to a range of finishing times so we can judge whether we are going too fast or slow to meet out finishing target time, or to judge how well we are maintaining pace.  If the day goes well you'll be able to maintain effort and stick closer to the Even Effort Splits, if the day goes less well then you'll steadily fall behind the Even Effort Splits.

Pacing to HR and Splits

A big part of my plan to maximize the chance of me achieving this lofty goal is to get my pacing right, for this purpose I'll use a mix of running to pacing to HR and using splits.

From previous races I know that I should be able to maintain an average HR  of around 135 for 20hrs racing, so a HR range of 130 to 140 would keep me honest.  10bpm roughly equates to running 40 seconds/mile faster or slower, so my pace can vary +20 seconds/mile on the flat.  On the hills I stay within this HR range or make sure the effort stays the same, but as consequence my pace will vary significantly, going much slower uphill, typically walking, and faster downhill, typically running if my legs and feet can handle it.

If you want to see what HR range might be appropriate for you my 130 to 140 range equates to 75% to 81% of my Lactate Threshold HR, or 70 to 76% of my max HR.   So if your Lactate Threshold HR (say HR during a 10k) is 160 then a range of 120 to 130 might be suitable.

The way I'll use the splits to check my progress through the day against the splits to see how it looks the day is playing out and what my projected finishing time might be if I can maintain the effort right to the end.  I really hope the 19hrs will come naturally as pacing in my target HR zone, but if a little out of touch then I may take the risk and up the intensity a little such as my targeting a 135 to 145 HR range, such as change would mean upping my average pace on the flat by 20 seconds faster, over the whole 95 miles we might expect this to mean 30 minutes quicker.

However, upping the intensity range is a gamble, if I push on too hard then I might be faster to next check point but risk burning out more and being unable to maintain the pace.

Upping intensity isn't just a matter of higher HR, your whole system is taxed more, muscles are working at a higher rate and will burn muscle glycogen stores more quickly, you generate more heat so will sweat more, more sweating will mean quicker rates of dehydration.  Blood flow to the stomach is also reduced when working harder so the amount of food and drink you can digest goes down.  Finally working harder is more stressful on the muscles, ligaments an bones so their structural resilience will be tested more.

Listen to the body will be key to figuring how much I might be able to bend the HR zone rules to fit my ego of finishing faster.  Listen to your ego too much and you'll be sure to crash and burn.

Even Effort Splits

Follows are series of splits that can be printed out/copy and pasted in race plans to give runners and crew an ideal of progress.

 Splits for Elite runners:
Even Effort Splits for 14hr (Course Record :-) to 17hr finishing time

Even Effort Splits for Good Club Runners, note the introduction of green times at the lower right part of the table, green numbers means that you are allowed to have a support runner with you at this point.  For Even Effort splits tracking 20 and 20:30hrs the green times appear but then disappear so you'd loose your support runner at the next check point when the time goes back into the black!
Even Effort Splits for 17 to 21 hr finishing time

Even Effort Splits for Sub 24hr crowd, note the green times again, here you can have your support runner with you. It only turns permanently green for 21hrs and slower so it's probably worth just thinking about this time as one where you can consider getting a support runner
Even Effort Splits for 20 to 24hr finishing time

Even Effort Splits for Middle of Field runners
Even Effort Splits for 23 to 27hr finishing time

Even Effort Splits for Back of Field runners.  Here it's important to take note of the time out cut off times, I've used the colour red for points where you'd be timed out.  Essentially if you are using Even Effort Splits and tracking for a 27:30hr finishing time you'll get timed out.
Even Effort Splits for 26 to 30hr finishing time
Timing out a runner who is successfully running Even Effort Splits at Balmaha even though they are capable of finishing in 27:30 seems a bit harsh, but if you look at my previous WHWR 2015 splits analysis article there are no Back of Field runners that come even remotely close to Even Effort Splits, so this point is really more hypothetical than anything else.

Realistically this means that Back of Field Runners can't use Even Effort Splits or pace by HR. Instead they will need to pace to comfortably meet the early cut offs then settle into a lower intensity that keeps them ahead of the next cut offs points but without getting to hurried early on as you will end up slowing down more in the end.

Crew and online folk assessing progress using splits

I will get my crew to keep track of my splits and mark them on the printed out splits as I go through the race so they can access how I'm doing.  What will result is a wiggly line as each leg won't be perfectly paced.  If I have the perfect day then we'll see a straight line down to my target 19hrs, if the wheels fall off then we'll steadily drop of this and likely see a diagonal line shifting to the left and to slower finishing times.

For folks following progress at home via twitter, facebook or the Sports Ident live tracking Website you'll be able to use this splits to access progress as well. Please note that the majority of the field don't manage to stick with Even Effort Splits so it's perfectly normal to see a diagonal progress through the race rather than just tracking down vertically.

For those following online, there is no timings generated for Drymen, Inversnaid and Lundavra so if you can have a long wait sometimes, the splits should give you an idea of how long, but as the splits are for runners who take an easy start/strong finish early on you'll find the above splits slower than those estimated online/via twitter/facebook updates and later in the race the above splits will suggest earlier times.  This discrepancy is due to Sports Ident using average splits rather than Even Effort Splits.

Best of Luck!!!!

This will be my last post till I finish.  Best of luck to all runners, crew and the legions of volunteers that are giving them time freely to make some magic happen for a 200 hardy souls.

West Highland Way Race 2015 Splits Analysis

To help gain an insight what type of splits to use in the West Highland Way Race it can be useful to look at previous years races.  For this article I have taken 2015 race splits published on, and processed them in three different ways:
  1. First half vs second half pace to look how much runners slowed
  2. Comparison between individual runners splits% vs average split%
  3. Comparison between individual runners splits% vs even paced split%
Lots of my own prep to complete for this years race (in two days) so I won't spend long explaining how I did the analysis, instead I'll just dive directly into the results and then wrap up with conclusions.

 1. First half vs second half pace to look how much runners slowed

ratio of Average Pace second half / Average pace
This graph shows the ratio of the pace for the second half (Tyndrum to Fort William) divided by the average pace for the first half (Milngavie to Tyndrum). A value greater than 1 shows a positive split, while a value of exactly 1 is an even split.  There were no negative splits in 2015, we had two in 2014 so it can happen!

The most obvious takeaway from this plot is that there is a broad trend of faster runners running more even splits and slower runners running slower splits.

The second observation is that there can be a lot of difference in first half and second half even for runners that finish around the same time, especially for those in the middle of the race.

The third observation is that the top 8 runners all had slowed less than 20%, with three slowing less than 5%.

Paul Giblin slowed by 9.9%, which is substantially less than he slowed in 2014 where he slowed by over 16%.  This suggests that racing Robbie Britton hard in the first half of the 2014 had penalty on how well he could maintain pace in the second half.  Compared to the rest of the field though even in 2014 he was still finishing far stronger.  In 2015 ran faster without the pressure of any close competition - he was in effect race himself and was behind even as late Kinlochleven but was able to overhaul his 2014 self over the Larigmor with some very impressive running.

Second placed runner Neil MacNicol came very closer an even split only slowing down by 1.7%.  It's worth reading Neil's race report to see how it unfolded.  Neil ran an exceptional race, especially considering it was his first outing over the distance.

By contrast if we look at the tail enders then then are slowing down 40 to 75%.  This level of slow down will be unlikely to be down to planned pacing, I suspect it's more to do with runners encountering problems as the race unfolded rather than just going out too fast.  I'm sure going out too fast will have been a big factor though, you are much more likely to struggle later if you go out too fast.

2. Comparison between individual runners splits% vs average split%

Speed difference between Actual runner splits 
For the second part of the analysis I computed the split % for each leg and compared these to the average split %, this shows how well using average splits for the whole field is able to predict what splits the actually saw in the race.

The clearest takeway from this is that in the middle of field, between 22 and 30 hrs the average spits do a reasonable job for most of the runners, with most being only 10% off, with a decent number below 5% suggest good match.  The way these difference manifest themselves will be different for each runner, a runner who runner a more positive split than another runner might be equally far away from the average so the accuracy relative to the average splits can end up the same.

As we move to the front of the field the average splits provide a much poorer fit for most runners, you have to get out of top 8 before you seen any close to average splits.  A different splits model would be appropriate for front of field.

Also if we look at the tail ended, runners over 30hrs, again the average splits start to be a more proxy for the actual splits runner see.  This will be related to the the significant slow down that these runners experience.

3. Comparison between individual runners splits% vs even paced split%

Individual runners splits vs even effort splits
For the 2015 West Highland Way Race I created a set of even effort splits that where based on 2014, adjusting for parts of the race where I had problems such as tending to blisters or succumbing to injury late in the race.  I ran the 2014 pacing by heart rate and got the effort level throughout race right, finishing strong despite injury.  These adjusted splits are my best attempt at estimating what even effort splits would look like. 

Even effort splits aren't even paced for indivudual sections - some sections like the first to Drymen or the final descent to Fort William are relatively fast even with the same effort level thanks to the easy terrain or downhill, while by contracts Inversnaid to Beinglas or going over the Devil's Staircase are significantly slower pace wise even if you are maintaining the effort level.

If we look the plot we see a very similar trend as we saw for the first graph that looked at average pacing in the first half vs second half.  Clearly even splits works much better for the front of the field than the majority of the field, especially the tail enders.

For the front of the field the top eight are actually closer to the even effort splits than the average splits.

By contrast the rest of the field the even effort splits increasingly show a poor correlation to the actual splits runners saw on the day.

However, there are still runners where even effort level splits were representative even up to 25hrs.  This suggest that good pace judgement isn't just the preserve of the elite, other members in the field can do it too.

Lessons learned from the analysis

It's very clear that the elite runners are able to maintain their pace far better than the majority of the rest of the field.  This is likely a factor of the training they do and their genetic disposition to ultra racing, as well as experience with how to eat, drink and manage themselves through the whole race.  Part of this ability will also be experience in pacing, they know what they are capable of and pace accordingly.

There is also a factor in that not everyone has a perfect day come race day, those at the front of the field will mostly have been having a good day.  Even great runners who have a bad day will end up slowing badly and moving further away from even effort splits.  This applies even more to us mortals further down the field.

Last year I was one such runner, slowing by 14.55%.  I was very close to even splits as planned up to Bridge Of Orchy, but stomach problems that began at Tyndrum eventually got so bad that I had to walk for the majority of the rest of the race.  My training and pacing weren't to blame, I was fit and pacing for a sub 20hr time, but my day went wrong because of other factors.  In my case the other factor was that I picked up a cold days before the race, and then just hours before the start I strained by back so was in pain at every step.  The cold and back injury meant that I ended up taking pain killers/flu tablets during the race to keep on top of things.  I believe it as the co-codamol pain killers that were the mostly likely cause of the stomach problems.

My experience from last year illustrates that there are many things that can cause you to slow down, so under your control, some out of control, but the analysis can't tease apart these individual stories, all it can pull out is general trends.

When planning your own race we can learn from even these broad trends.  If you want to have a perfect day of racing like the front of the field then it makes sense to pace like them, and this means that even effort splits are likely to be good aspirational place to start from.

Even effort splits have runners start the race well within their capacity, starting off at an intensity that they know they can come close to maintaining for the whole race.  Some runners are really good at judging this by feel, others are terrible at it and even when they try to hold themselves back still go out too fast.

Practice approach to pacing with even effort level

For my own racing I made a number of mistakes in pacing in ultra's before settling upon using a HR monitor as a guide for managing my effort level.  The HR monitor is a good proxy for effort level so if you pace yourself within an appropriate HR band then won't be too far even effort pacing without ever having to look at splits.

For myself for this year's West Highland Way race a HR range of 130 to 140 is roughly appropriate, this is 75% to 81% of my Lactate Threshold HR, or 70 to 76% of my max HR.

I have also computed even effort level splits for this year's West Highland Way Race and will publish these in a follow up article.  These splits will take account of a small route change in this year's race so won't match exactly to those I used in 2015 and for this articles analysis.

Monday, 13 June 2016

West Highland Way Race 2015 : Race report

This is my long over due race report from my 2015 race, alas I've been so busy with work, family life, training and racing that my blog has had to take a back seat.  So sit back and transport yourself back a year and read on...

West Highland Way Race 20th June 2015

My training in the six months before the race went BRILLANTLY, every single capital is fully warranted.  I was chuffed to bits with how well my body coped with running every day.    My peak weak I managed to hit my target of running 96 miles in 7 days, with back to back half marathon+ of most days.  I've never come close to this mileage before and I felt strong, smooth and efficient.  I was fitter than I've ever been as an adult.  I was ready to knock the race out out of ballpark, confident of going sub 19hrs.

However, things started to unravel on the Wednesday evening before the race - I started to loose my voice, going down with the same cold that my wife had suffered with for the previous 10 days, loosing her voice for much of it.  I ate raw garlic, loads of greens and colourful veg, beetroot.  This onslaught of vitamin and mineral rich veg helped halt the cold getting worse, but I still had a bit of inflamed throat on the night and day of the race.

The grand preparation came a little further unstuck just three hours before the start of the race when I over excitedly picked up a heavy container of food+drink for the race to pack it into the support vehicle.  Don't twist and lift up heavy stuff fast ever, let alone right before your biggest race of the year... unfortunately I did and strained my back.  After all the careful planning, fantastic training I had suddenly through a massive spanner in the works with a split second of stupidity.  The back was sore enough to force me to take pain killers even before I left the house. 

Food and drink all laid out, packing all the drinks into one container is what did my back in!

Thankfully my first half support crew Tom and Toby were on the ball and got everything packed in the car and to the start with plenty of time. At the start I just got on with all prep as usual and this went smoothly, great to see lots of familiar faces and such a great atmosphere.  While I was focused and business like in those final minutes I was also in pain, even walking was uncomfortable.

Race start : 1am, Milgavie

Race start went and we all plodded off into the dark woodland trail of Mugdock park.  A little drizzle meant that I kept my jacket on.  My HR was a bit high, but I was moving well enough, save for every step jarring the back.  I arrived at Drymen in 2:08hrs, a few minutes up on my 2014 split, happy enough but a little disappointed to not be faster.  I wasn't going to force the pace this early though, I just stuck to my target HR range of 135 to 140.

Conic hill, atmospheric in the clearing mist/rain

Conic hill came and went, my descent went well despite my sore back, my quads were feeling strong even if other parts of my body weren't a 100%.  I passed John Kynaston in the woodlands just before the car park and he asked how I was getting on, the reply "It's going to be a tough day at the office" pretty well summed up my physical feeling and resolve.

Balmaha: 19miles, 3:37hr elapsed, 4:37am

Save for the sore back and high HR I was moving OK, and happy to moving and the atmosphere through Balmaha couldn't help perk up the spirits, views help too :-)


On route to Rowardennan

The route along to Rowardennan went smoothly, no problems with midgies this year,  A bit of dampness under foot over the past 5 hours had taken it's toll though with a hot spot on a toe developing as I approached Rowardennan
Keep moving
the midges might catch up...

Rowardennan: 27 miles, 5:07hr elapsed, 6:07am

I arrived 9 minutes up on my 2014 time, but rather than push on did the sensible thing and stopped to get my toe checked over.  This meant I lost 5 minutes, but my crew were great, surgical tape wrapped around the blister on my left little toe and then I was on my way.

I pushed on to Inversnaid and felt that I was now in my groove, the pace felt a bit more of effort than it should have been, heart rate typically in the 140 to 145 zone.  This was above my planned 130 to 140hr zone, but I was still chasing my 19hr target and 10 minutes behind schedule so knew if I was going to up the effort level have any chance of getting anywhere near it.

At a style a couple miles before Inversnaid I caught up with Sandra (now Beattie :-) who had been powering up all the hills ahead but now seemed to be taking it easier on the more technical trails.  As I take the first part of the race easier than the majority of the field I didn't expect to see her again, this was be proved wrong by the end of the day!

Inversnaid: 35miles, 6:37hr elapsed, 7:37am

 I was still in pain but moving OK.  I had been taking a combination of flu tablets and a combination of straight pain killers, alternating the different medications to spread it out evenly.  I didn't want to risk over dosing but also needed to take the edge of pain I was in.  This pain management was working well along the lochside, the pain was stable, my mood was positive despite the discomfort.

Eating and drinking was also still working well, everything I took with me I was able to consume. Unlike in 2014 my path along the lochside was mainly a solitary affair.  I was occasionally catching other runners and exchanging a few words but mostly paces never synced so I just got on with the job of moving as efficiently through the technical trails as I could.  I actually quite enjoyed this section despite the back pain.

Beinglas: 41 miles, 8:14hrs elapsed, 9:14am

By the time I arrived at Beinglas my assertiveness on pace had was now 11 minutes ahead of my split in the 2014 race.  I was now 11 minutes off my 19hr splits though, I'd need to keep the effort up.

A mile out of Beinglas I caught up with Stuart Chalmers and Myvanwy Nenton-May.  Myvanway stopped for comfort break so Stuart and I moved on together.  Stuart was going well and moving assertively especially on the ascents.  For the first time I had found another runner working at the same pace so we settled and catching up on all things running and life.    Cow poo ally came and went without fuss, we attacked the ascents above Crainlarich and stormed down the descents.  It felt like we were pushing on a bit hard as passed the mid point of the race but it was fun, more like play than racing a 95 mile ultra.

Auchtertyre: 50 miles, 10:11hrs elapsed, 11:11am

We trotted into the check point and got weight right after each other and then split up as we met up with our crews and restocked.  I was through quicker and left on my own feeling strong and with positive as I was now 16 minutes up on my 2014 time, and while I was still 10 minutes off my splits for 19hr and now likely out of reach, it looked like a time of 19:15 to 19:30 was still on and well worth chasing.

At Auchtertyre I took a single Co-codamol pain killer and a cereal bar that I munched on the way to Tyndrum,  the familiar landmarks before Tyndrum appear quickly and then I was past the Fling start in 10:44, 2 minutes quicker than my first Fling time back in 2012.  Back in 2012 I finished with a death march and couldn't contemplate going a step further.  Fast forward to June 2015 and I was feeling strong and looking forward to the next 42 miles.


At Tyndrum my north and south crew were changing over so it was good to see every one in good spirits together.  I dropped off empties, picked up drinks and food and a ice cream.  The day had transformed itself from a drab start to a warm beautiful day so the ice was welcome.  Unfortunately the ice cream was melting so as I walked up the road out of Tyndrum I gobbled it down before it turned into total mush.

All seemed good with life, but then my stomach just decided to protest strongly.  My stomach hadn't been 100% up to this point but was pretty good considering the abuse my body was going under but there wasn't any hint that I was pushing my luck.  Back in 2014 my stomach didn't cause any problems even when eating ice-creams and bacon rolls.  Summer 2015 was going to be a different story.

Working on the assumption that my my stomach just needed a bit of rest from constant feeding and my blood flow to my stomach was probably compromised by the higher effort that I had been putting I just began sipping water and dropped my target HR zone back to 130 to 140.  My stomach didn't get better but I was still able to run flats and descents so I was I just hoped this would be a short lived hiccup.

Bride Of Orchy: 12:02hr elapsed, 1:02pm  

As I was still 20 minutes up on my 2014 splits and still within 4hrs of race leader, Paul Guiblin, at BoO I couldn't get a support runner over Rannoch Moor.  Initially I tried to keep jogging on where possible but the faster I moved the worse my stomach got.  I finally decided that I had to stop racing and just walk off the problem and hope that once my stomach had calmed down I could get back racing.

It was fun to see everyone at Jelly Baby hill and get my 100k treat but even the a single Jelly Baby was not an easy proposition to get down.  I ate my sweet and a sip of water but it just increase the pain levels, anything hitting my stomach now was just pushing stomach pain levels up.

Across Rannoch Moor the miles passed very slowly, I lost a number of places, including Stuart and Myvanway would trotted by both looking strong.  Despite taking things very easy my stomach got no better.  It was like having a brillo pad stuck in my stomach, any up and down movement was really painful.  At one point I just wanted to find a hillock and crawl into a ball to sleep it off.  I resisted temptation and kept walking on, hoping that things would sort themselves out.  Thoughts of DNF'ing if I couldn't get back drinking played on my mind as I still had 30 miles to go.  I also considered just getting to car and sleeping for several hours.

Things turned around a little as I got into view of Glen Coe Ski center - an almighty gurgle from my stomach and suddenly my very fuzzy head cleared and the pain in my stomach reduced down several notches.  I got back to a very gentle jog down to the check point.  My stomach was still painful on every foot plant but at least I was able to move.

Glencoe ski center:  70 miles, 15:01hrs, 4:01pm

Once I arrived it was good to be with my support crew and my wife and three girls had arrived to give support.  I took a few minutes to try and work out what I should do next, what I could eat and drink.  My crew and family were great and were really positive.  There was no talk of anything but finishing, my DNF demon’s weren't shown any respect or time, it was now about getting things done.

Up to the Rannoch Moor crossed I had been 100% focused on going sub 20hrs, given my training and good Fling race a PB has looked easy.  I now 24 minutes down on my 2014 split, with the prospect of walking the rest of the way.  In preparation I hadn't really given much thought to the possibility of the not racing all the way to the finish.  Mentally I had to find resolve that I hadn't prepared for, just finishing even if walking being a achievement worth suffering for.

I then marched on, now with my support runner, Andy, jogging where I could, albeit it at pitiful pace as my stomach was so painful at any other pace.

Still the views were pretty epic, sure helps when otherwise suffering

At Devil's Staircase Craig took over to run with me with Andy driving around to Kinlochleven.

Trying to find something I might be able to eat...

We made it across to Kinlochleven slowly, but still moving forward.  I regularly kept trying to sip water and nibbling bits of food but anything I consumed soon made my stomach worse.

Kinlochleven: 81miles, 17:57hrs elapsed, 6:57pm

At Kinlochleven I felt a bit jaded but my legs still felt strong and my head was in the game.  However, I was really concerned about not being able to eat or drink anything substantial.  I felt I was living on borrowed time as I had hardly eaten or drank since Tyndrum, so over 6hrs and 28 miles over on perhaps a hundred calories and just sips of water.  I fully expected my body had to crash and burn.

At the Kinlochleven weight in my weight had gone down further but still within limits and I was still lucid so there was no problem with me continuing.  I tried to eat and drink bits but nothing really went down easily.  Out of desperation I also tried a swig of coke but this burnt my stomach like it was molten larva so really wasn't a good move.

Looking at my watch I realised that if I was to finish in the same day I'd need to get moving, stopping to eat/drink hadn't helped so there was no point delaying so I then headed on.  This thought process I didn't pass on to my family and crew I just got on with a march in my own little private world.  Taking to them later they were all taken by surprise by my departure, I just left walking briskly away packing my drinks for the next leg.

Despite hardly drinking or eating my legs somehow were still strong and got up the ascent out of Kinlochleven OK.  Once the trail flattened I started to jog a little and then off all of sudden I started throwing up everything I had tried to consume.  It burnt on the way as much as on the way down.  Dry heaving I tried not to strain by back and stomach muscles, funny how the utlra-marathon brain can function in an almost detached way to the rest of your body, think how on minimizes the damage from the current problem to compromise the rest of the journey.

This grim point was turned around when a support runner for a fellow runner arrived and gave me a small bottle of soda to sip.  I was able to drink this bottle a sip at a time without it causing my stomach to go in knots so it was progress.  It was still too painful to walk fast or jog any faster than 12 min/miles so progress was slow.

Craig was doing a great job of nursing me along.  My pace was abysmal though. I was passed by several sets of runners and crew.  Sandra passed with her support runner with total commitment, none of the polite gate opening back at the Lochside, she was blowing the barn doors off her PB, complete focus and determination.  Inspiring to see other having great races, but well made my miserable pace seem pretty pathetic a faint shadow of the athlete I had expect to be.

Before arriving at Lundavra the rain came on/off and with it my jacket had to go on/off as I tried to avoid overheating and getting cold in quick succession.  The last half hour before Lundavra I finally started to feel a bit vague and fuzzy headed.  My legs were still strong but clearly by blood sugar level was getting low.  I just sipped my soda and clung on to as a lifesaver even after it was empty, I got a few tangtastics down but still anything I ate caused lots of discomfort. 

Lundavra : 88 miles, 20:28hrs, 9:28pm.

My second crew member Andy had run back up the course after leaving the car in Fort William, this way both Craig and Andy could join me for the final 7 miles.  Andy was really concerned how much I had deteriorated since Kinlochleven, my colour had left me, I was withdrawn and talking in less coherently.

Andy forced me to consume one of his gels.  I didn't want to eat it but he wouldn't let me go one till I had.  I totally expected to bring it back up, but I did what I was told and drained it all - there would be no cheating under Andy's watch!

I wasn't really in a place for chat so Andy and Craig walked ahead up the hill, occasionally checking back to make sure I wasn't being left behind or struggling.  With an hour and half left to cover 7 miles It looked like I might still be able to squeeze in before 11pm if we push on.  This was a goal that I clung to, but one tempered with the expectation that I pushed on too hard that my energy levels would crash and leave me walking like a dead man.

The gel had mad my stomach more uncomfortable but I kept it down and bit my bit I think the 100 calories of sugar that it provided perked me up a little.  I didn’t particularly notice it by Andy saw a change for the better.  We got through the woodland walking the ascents and gently jogging the descents.  My stomach was still painful on each step but my legs were solid and happy with the pace.

We finally got to the wide forest track that leads you down into Glen Nevis and on to Fort William.  We worked out that I had a bit over 3 and half miles to go and only 34 minutes left to do them in, it was doable just if I could run the whole of the rest of the way.  This just seemed tantalizingly out of reach, chances of pulling it off remote.  Andy and Craig were really positive, I wanted to try even if if it going deep into the hurt locker.

Each step was painful, even going downhill at 10 min/mile pace hurt on my stomach, but my legs just kept spinning over.  We hit the flat through the woodland and hadn't earned any safety margin from the descent so still had to push on.  My legs kept responding and I was winning the battle with my stomach, sure it was painful but there was less and less distance to put up with it.  Light was failing now as we went through the final tree cover before Braveheart carpark.  I was torn between stopping for head torch and tripping, I was also really aware of burning out of my less energy reserves.

We hit the road, we weren't sure exactly how far to go, we thought around mile? We had less than ten minutes left to get there, there was no letting up now.  I sent Criag ahead to locate Julia and the girls to tell them of my impending arrival and here tore away at 6 min/mile pace.  Turns out he went straight past them!  It was now dark as he headed up the hill past the 30mph sign, I had to run every step up that cruel incline, as it levelled off I picked up the pace, now down 7mile pace, all pain and exhaustion had gone, I was no-longer conscious of what my body was doing or the pain, I was just running. 

At the round about Julia and the girls were all waiting to run in with me. It was such a glorious sight to have them around me and I finally felt awesome.  Getting in before 11pm was still on the cards, and my pace just got faster and faster, not all my family could pace as I hit 6 min/miles, with only my youngest running at my side.   I was charging down the street in full flow.  It must have been quite a sight a family at full pace, jackets flaying in the wind with a possessed runner at the front.

My strava records suggest I fit 5:30min/mile in the last quarter of mile as I tore towards the entrance to the Leisure Centre.  I tapped my card on the timing unit and was done.

Fort William : 95 miles, 21:58:26, 10:58 and dark!

It was a crazy last mile and all to just squeeze under 22hrs.  It was worth it though, what a turn around to finish so strong, charging along a dark Fort William street with my family is such an amazing memory to have.

Once inside the Leisure Centre I was well taken care for.  There was quite a buzz as Sandra had just arrived before me and had ran the race of her life with a huge PB, it was such a happy atmosphere despite the carnage of runners sat in chairs on massage tables.

I tried to eat and drink but soon regretted it and headed to loo to empty the contents of my stomach.  Craig was a star and waited outside the loo as I prayed homage to the porcelain god, he was there concerned that I might end up in more trouble such as fainting etc.  That's what a great crew do - they look after and out for you, even we the going gets unpleasant.

I showered and changed then headed back with my family to our accommodation.  Craig and Andy set off back home.  Passing through Rannoch Moor past midnight they recall seeing all the head torches out there toiling through the darkness.

Prize giving

What I can say other than it's Awesome!  Paul Giblin ran a stunning race to lower the Course Record yet again, but there were so many other amazing performances with people setting PB's or struggling through to finish despite some pretty unpleasant over night rain.  I never been to another race prize giving like the West Highland Way Race one, it's a real celebration of every single runners achievement from first to last.

Lessons Learnt

The Rolling Stones lyric "You don't always get what you want, but sometimes you get what you need" seems to resonate with my 2015 WHWR experience.  I was confident of a 19hr finishing time, I really wanted it, but it wasn't to be.  A sub 22hr time is well off what am capable of on a good day, but in the circumstances it was all about learning about what reserves of mental and physical strength I have within me.

I trained to burn fat efficiently in training, but never planned to have to run the final 42 miles on just a couple hundred of consumed calories and the rest off my fat reserves.  It was fast and it wasn't pretty but my legs never faltered - they were strong and full life right through to the end, the only thing that really slowed me down was the stomach pain.

Looking back what caused my stomach so many problems?  I believe the Cocodomol pain killer that I consumed along with paracetamol and aspirin that were the main culprits rather than the ice cream.  The pain killers I took for back pain, so had I not strained my back I wouldn't have needed them, so likely wouldn't have had the same issues with my stomach.  It all stems back to that stupidly lifting a heavy box the wrong way when packing the car, had I not done that there the house of cards likely wouldn't have fallen at the half way point.

This year I'm lining up for the West Highland Way Race again.  Training hasn't gone quite as smoothly as in 2015 but somehow I've ended up in similar positive place fitness wise.  I should in the shape to go chase 19hrs once again.  This time I'll be doing everything I can to avoid having to take pain killers, so making sure I don't do anything stupid in the final days or hours before the race.

Physiologically, this year, finishing is the foundation stone upon what my race is built rather than an after thought.  Tapering well, running a sensible race, looking after my body and letting the time happen.  I am planning to race to the best of my capability, but the bedrock will always be getting my 3rd West Highland Way Finishers Goblet.


My thanks go to my crew Tom, Toby in the first half and Craig and Andy in the second half, and to family, especially for that last crazy run together into the finish, what a memory to cherish!

Thanks also to the WHWR committee and all the army of voluteerrs that make it all possible.  Without these people how give their weekends for us to do what we love none of these great races would happen. THANKYOU!!!

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Catching up from a long way behind

Getting back on the blogging horse...

I haven't posted anything to my blog since the days before the West Highland Way Race back in June.  I've been asked several times where's the West Highland Way Race report and well haven't even started it yet...

It's been a busy time at work with getting a major release of the OpenSceneGraph out the door, and with our three girls off on the School holidays time away from the computer has been dedicated to holidays and days out.  I'm only now starting to nearer normal.

For those who aren't familiar with my work the OpenSceneGraph is an open source graphics software, used in scientific visualization, virtual reality, games, flight simulator, marine simulators, etc.  I'm the lead author and project lead so when it comes to making major releases I do much of the heavy lifting, which boils down to lots of full days testing the software, tracking down and bug fixing, merging submissions and trying to shepherd the heard of cats that are contributors to the software.  There's now been 550 contributors to the software over the years the 16 years I've been working on it which is pretty phenomenal, thankfully not all at once.  Major releases like the one I made a few weeks back only come every couple of years so it was quite an intense period in June, July and August. 

With a lot of work at the computer over the last couple of months I'm afraid my enthusiasm for spending evenings and weekends typing up my exploits in training and racing rather faded.  I'm still keen to share my experiences with running the West Highland Way Race as I feel there is a lot I and others can potentially learn from what I got right and got wrong in this years race.  Last weekend I also ran the Speyside Way Race for the first time, so I have another race to write about too.

This post isn't for covering these races in depth, just really to say that I'm alive and plan more updates over the coming months.

A quick summary of my races:

West Highland Way Race June 20th, 2015.  

Didn't quite go to plan.  Training went fab, was confident of going sub 19hrs, but got a cold two days before race, then 3hrs before race strained my back.  On pain killers right from the start, every step jarred my back all the way to Fort William.  Was 20 minutes up on my 2014 splits by Tyndrum but then was hit by stomach problems after eating an ice-cream at Tyndrum.

Broke through cloud on Conic Hill, errie views in the twilight
Balmaha, calm waters, but plenty of motion and commotion on the tail
Stomach never recovered and was hardly able to eat or drink for the next 42 miles, had to slow drastically but nothing fixed the stomach so had a very slow second half.  Despite problems I was still able to keep moving forward and was able to squeeze under 22hrs, finishing in 21:58.  Far tougher race than my 20:18 time in 20214.  I suspect the cause of the stomach problems was the pain killers I was taking to keep a lid on the back pain.

Training after WHWR

Recovered from the WHWR really quickly, so got back running within 10 days. Then added faster runs too quickly as I was just playing and having fun.  Big mistake as I strained my plantar fascia in my right  foot doing a 5:20 min/mile down a road hill.  This meant I had to drop the mileage and easy slowly back into training.

Then once things started improving I made mistake number 2 - this time a 5:40 min/mile interval on the flat where my right hamstring started to feel tight.   Any faster running since has agrevated it and again required lowering mileage and paces to help recovery/avoid making it worse.

In the two week before the Speyside Way race I was able to get out every day and put some reasonable runs in, topping out at 16 miles the weekend before the race.  Then five days of taper where I ran most of the runs at my target race intensity that roughly mapping to 8 min/mile on the flat so I could try and get a time close to 5hrs at the race.

Speyside Way Race, 22nd August 2015.

My hamstring didn't like 3 1/2hrs drive up to Buckie so it was uncomfortable when trying to sleep at the hotel on the Friday night, and was still a bit tight and tender before the race.  A gentle walk before the race start at the Cragganmore Distillery loosen things off and I felt not too bad.  Race start had us heading off downhill for quarter of mile before we headed off along the old railway line heading towards the coast.
Making our way to the start

The miles ticked by with 7:43 min/mile appearing on the watch with my HR staying comfortably at the bottom of my target HR range of 155 to 160.  I was a minute up on my 5hr splits estimates for the first check point at 12 miles and moving smoothly.  The ascent over Ben Aigen went really quickly and was able to run most of it chatting with fellow runners.  The descent went quickly too but it was clear that my legs were beginning to feel the affects of the quicker than usual ultra pace that I normally manage.  At the bottom of the hill average pace was still 8:10 min/mile pace and on target for 5hrs.
View from Ben Aigen looking down on the Spey and towards the sea

After Ben Aigan there are lots of ups and down along back roads and it started warming up.  I had hopped to start clawing back on the average pace but thanks to all hilly road it stayed stubbornly at 8:10 min/mile pace.  The second check point came and I was still on my splits for 5hrs, but took several cups of water before heading off and by the time I left was a minute down.

From the first check point I had running quite a bit with Roger Greenway and we both passed through the marathon point around 3:34. Roger was stronger on the roads and up hills while I was stronger on the narrow trails and downhills.  We worked hard together through most the woodland that takes you out to Speybay but once we hit the wider trails my legs had started to really complain.  In particular my groin and hip flexors were painful, and my HR for a given pace was also heading upwards, and was now in mid 160's and above.  I either had to keep the pace up and accept the high heart rate and risk crashing and burning or ease off on the pace and keep within my target HR zone.

After Speybay I really started to struggle to get anywhere close to the required 8 min/miles for a 5hrs time.  Roger had moved ahead and was able to keep moving well right to finish, finishing in 5:02.  My own story was rather more sorry - in the woodland right after Speybay I tripped on a tree root and very nearly crashed to the ground.  The stumble shook me up a bit and my smoothness in my running in particular seemed to take a knock.  As the route headed to Portnockie my hip flexors and groin muscles progressive became tighter and more painful, and with it my stride length deteriorated to little more than a shuffle.  First it was a struggle 8:30 pace, then 9:00, then 9:30.  By the time I had passed through Portnockie my pace was the wrong side of 10 min/mile pace, maintaining this pace and not walking for the last two miles was a real struggle.

In the last mile I was passed by two runners, something that doesn't normally happen to me in ultra - normally I'm the one doing the over taking.  There was nothing I could do to respond.  The energy levels were there but no amount of will power could open up my stride.  I hobbled across the line in 5:11:08.

The average pace for the 36.9 mile run was 8:25 min/mile pace which is over half a minute a mile faster than any ultra I've done before.  I'm most chuffed with getting to the 50k mark in 4:14 though, this averages out around 8:10 min/mile pace and is a PB for 50k by around half an hour.

5hrs was out of reach though, had I been in the shape I was in before the West Highland Way Race it would have been possible, but through July and August have only managed 30 miles most week due to various injury niggles.  One 50 mile week just before the race isn't quite enough to get me into peak condition.  Had I not pushed on so hard between the marathon and 50km mark to try and maintain my pace I suspect I wouldn't have crashed and burned in the last four miles, a time nearer 5:05 was probably on the cards if only I had listen to my HR monitor rather than my ego.


This week I've tried to do a couple of recovery runs but ended up cutting yesterday short as it now looks like I have groin strain.  Not sure why these muscles are complaining now as I've never had any problem with them in previous training or ultras.  I felt more trashed after the Speyside than I did after the WHWR, perhaps the sustained pace was the problem... or lack of training at race...

The next race I'm signed up for is the Jedburgh Three Peaks in October, but if my injury calms down quickly I'll sign up for the River Ayr Way too.

Friday, 19 June 2015

All ready for West Highland Way Race 2015

My big race of the year, the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, is starting in 5 hours time (at time of writing) at 1am on Saturday 20th June.  Nerves have set in, stomachs being doing cartwheels for the last two days, only got 5hrs sleep in the last two days... but nothing will stop me chasing my dream race.  So here's my goals:
  • 18:30:00 Platinum – 25 % chance, absolute perfect day of racing
  • 19:00:00 Gold – 50% chance, good day racing
  • 19:30:00 Sliver – 75% chance
  • 20:18:00 Bronze – Struggle a bit but still finish with a PB
Given my how my training and racing has gone this year I'm pretty confident that I'm in the shape to go sub 20hrs, and should be able to do around 19hrs as long as I have a goo day, so 19hrs will be my focus.  If the day goes really well I won't hold back from chasing my Platinum.   If things go pear shaped then just a finish will be grand - it's 95 miles of tough trails, so one has to respect it what it can throw at you.

My race number is 184, and you can follow my via twitter, facebook or via the sportident website. The direct link to my entry is:

On twitter the #whwrace  is popular for postings about the race, often there will be updates from crews as the race unfolds.

The splits I'll be using are derived from my 2014 splits, but adjusting to remove the stops for dealing with blisters and having to walk part of the final 14 miles due to a calf injury.  These cleaned up splits therefore represent a prefect race, if when you follow the race I stay within a single column you'll know that I'm running well.  I'm hoping it'll be around the 19:00 column, but will be pacing by HR again (aiming for a HR range of 135 to 140 which is around 79 to 82% of my lactate threashold HR), so will just end up in the column that my heart tell me looks to be right for how it's working on the day.

For comparison my splits for last year were - I've left a blank column so you can write on your monitor as I progress :-)

There is plenty of opportunities for little or large problems to crop up during the race, just like last year, so it might be that thanks to an incident or problem I might end up walking or slowing significantly, this will show up in shifting columns.  Don't worry though, I had falls, blisters and calf injury last year and still finished in a very respectable time, so just be patient the website should eventually pop me up even if it's a bit later than expected given earlier progress.

One small spanner in the works is that I picked up a bit of cold on Wednesday so my HR may well be a bit elevated, so my pace might be a tad off where I was originally hoping.  Still I feeling well enough to race and won't give up on my dream of a sub 20hrs quite yet.

Not long to go now, whooooohooo :-)

Thursday, 21 May 2015

Lessons learned from the Highland Fling

Highland Fling 2015

In my race report I had plenty of photographs, but missed out the video of the finish that my wife Julia recorded, so include it here to give this post a bit of context.



The day after the Fling my legs were very sore, not quite post West Highland Way Race sore, but far more uncomfortable than last years Fling.  I was able to run in the days after the race but even a week after the race I had to keep to 10 min/miles on flat routes of 4 to 6 miles, any descents were particularly painful on my quads.

During the second week after the race my legs I was running more smoothly, and the pace was starting to slowly improve as my were my calves and quads.  Rather than general pain the discomfort was isolated to strained left calf, and a strained right quad, in each case it was just a bundle of fibres that were a bit sore to touch and when under load.  More recovery runs were required and by the end of the second week it was trying my patience a bit, but you can't will your body to repair, you just have to treat it right and wait for it to heal.

Finally at the start of third week the strained calf and quad muscles now felt healed up enough to start increasing the pace and distance. Now in the forth week after the Fling I'm into proper training again, I have done a hilly 15 miler, a 13 miler and 11 miler as well as 6 to 7 miler's.   In this period I've also passed through my 200th day of running every day.

Day #200 of runstreak: View looking down of Loch Lubnaig, during a long run up to Stank Glen

My HR for a given pace was been excellent throughout most the recovery period, just a couple of runs my HR was a bit high.  This suggests my base aerobic fitness hasn't been compromised by the race, which suggests I wasn't catabolizing my muscle tissue excessively during the Fling.  This in turn hints that amount of muscle discomfort that I experienced during the race and during recovery was most likely due to my legs not being recovered from the Great Tartan Skidaddle ultra two weeks before.

Another pointer to my legs being still fatigued when racing was the quad injury before the race, I'm sure this wouldn't have happened had my legs been fully recovered, and was an indication that my quads were still healing up when I did the hill run in the week before the Fling and over stressed the healing muscles.  While the minor injury showed that at least one bundle of fibres had been still been weak, I now believe my whole quads, calves and hamstrings were still a little compromised and recovering.  I was lucky that the minor injury healed in time for the race, but the rest of my running muscles weren't at full strength yet.

Analysis of Highland Fling Pacing

Looking at the three timed sections I was 46 second/mile faster to Drymen compared to 2014.  Between Drymen and Rowardennan I was 73 seconds/mile faster.  Between Rowardennan I was 46 seconds/mile faster.  Finally Beinglas to Tyndrum I was 26 seconds/mile slower.  This slow down meant that my first half/second half time ratio was 1.17 and quite a bit off my 1.08 ratio in 2014.

A significant component of my slow down was down to my guts protesting, I've had gastric stress before but it usually just slowed my eating and drinking, not caused me to slow my pace significantly.  I suspect the two culprits for the discomfort were the asprin/paracetomal combined pain killer tablets I took before Inversnaid, and possibly the muscle damage creating by products in my bloodstream that my liver would then have to deal with.

Despite slowing much more this year, I was still in the top 4% of strong finishers, which is an indication most runners are still going out waaaaay too fast, because if I have a bad day and slow significantly and still finish stronger than 96% of the field something is amiss.

The average first half/second half ratio for Men this year was 1.326, and for women it was 1.298, while the average for Man last year was 1.326 and women 1.313.  What does this tell us?  Men are pacing just as badly as last year, while at least the Women on average are learning how to pace better, even if it's only marginally.  It's a bit of bizarre co-incidence that the Men's average is identical up to four decimal place, that's what comes out of the spreadsheets analysis though.

Heart rate and efficiency

My average heart rate for the race was 149 beats per minute, five below the 154 I averaged in 2014 when I ran 9:43, and 3 below the 152 I averaged in 2012 when I ran 10:46.  Being able to run faster at a lower heart rate suggests that my cardiovascular system has improved significantly in just one year - far more than the two year period between the 2012 and 2014 races.  I believe the main reason for the improvement over the last year has been consistent training, rather any one particular type of workout.

However, while my overall efficiency was better, the efficiency difference between my race and my training was higher in 2015 than in 2014, with my race/training figures couple of % worse this year.  I simply wasn't as fast for a given heart rate as my training logs suggested.  While part of this might be down to a need for me to recalibrate my training logs in light of changes to my HR/pace figures, I feel that a significant chunk of this unrealized potential was down to high levels of muscle fatigue I experienced during the race.

Even at Drymen I knew my legs weren't as strong and smooth flowing as they had been.  I simply wasn't the same resilient athlete that raced the Great Tartan Skidaddle two weeks before.  During the race it really felt like every step I was having to put more effort in than normal, it felt that my running economy had been compromised, and the HR rate/calorie burned stats back this up - my running economy was around 2% lower than expected.

Lessons learned

The big lesson I've learnt is from this year's Fling race are:
  1. Don't race hard two weeks before an important race
  2. Don't ignore the early onset of muscle fatigue
My big mistake was not so much running a 31 mile race two weeks before the Fling as not sticking to my original plan of use this race as a training run.  Dropping the pace and running hard for the last 8 miles wasn't even necessary for the win as I won by 9 minutes.  I could have taken it easy and still won and would have recovered by better.

I had been thinking about running the Strathearn Marathon in June as my last long run before this years West Highland Way Race.  Running it as proper training run shouldn't risk the big race, but the discipline required not to run harder than I should would be through the roof.  I've done the Loch Katrine marathon twice now and felt so fresh both times that I couldn't help myself charging home at 6:40min/mile pace for the last three miles.  These antics are dumb in hindsight.  By avoiding any races I can at least avoid temptation to let rip.

Had I not raced the Great Tartan Skidaddle Ultra as hard as I did I'm pretty sure I would have gone comfortably under 9hrs.  Despite the discomfort during the race my energy levels were excellent - my aerobic fitness had enough spare capacity to cope with the loss of efficiency due to my legs being trashed.  Had my legs not been trashed I wouldn't have risked the pain killers and without extra stress on my body due to dealing with the by products of muscle damage and likely would have few stomach issues as well.

Had I raced fresh I feel that I should have been able to match Anders Lindell all the way to the finish and achieved at time around 8:50.  Ander's first half/second half ratio was 1.10 and was 2nd strongest finisher, but even with this strong finish was a little off how strongly I finished last year.  It's a bit frustrating to know that I have this capacity for a faster Fling race in me, but will have to wait another year to finally put it away.

The reality is that due to incomplete recovery from the Great Tartan I wasn't in the shape to run 8:50 at this years race. I likely wasn't in the shape to run 9 hrs, I simply screwed my chances by racing too near to the big race.

During this year's race I paced the first leg relatively conservatively to Drymen, but then allowed myself to target a higher HR zone (150-155) from Drymen onwards.  The effect of this is apparent in the splits going from being on average 46 seconds/mile faster on the Dymen leg, to 73 seconds/mile for faster for the Dymen to Rowardennan leg and went from being dead on 9hrs pace to sub 9hr pace.

In hindsight this pace in the middle of the race was faster than I should have pushed on at.  Had I stuck to 145 to 150 HR range I would have gone through Rowaddan around 6 minutes slower would have stayed closer to 9hr pace.  This would have meant lower stress on my legs, less damage and a bit more spare capacity for my body to consume energy, fluids and deal with the accumulation of muscle damage by products.  For sure I would have finished stronger and been a much more comfortable bunny.

Had I not pushed on so much in the middle of the race could I have run 9hrs?  I think I would have got closer, it's impossible to know how much closer.  My next opportunity to race the Fling will be in 11 months and I'll be different runner again, hopefully with another year of good training behind I will be able to easily beat 9hrs, just as I comfortably beat my 2014 time this year.

One of the biggest positives of this year's Fling race is that despite running the perfect race last year and running sub par race this year - my base fitness has moved on so much that it more than compensated for racing pre-fatigued and getting the pacing a bit off.  I didn't have a bad race this year, but it wasn't close to wringing every ounce of potential out myself as I did last year which leaves a bit of lingering frustration.

That's racing though, you can't get it right every race.  If you don't get everything right then you just need to take the lessons to heart and avoid making them in the future.

Looking forward

My next big race is the 95 mile West Highland Way Race on the 20th of June, my biggest training run will remain the Highland Fling, so it's now I'm focused on being as close to 100% fit on the start line as I can manage.  Once I'm racing I also need to maintain the discipline to race the perfect race, no getting carried away during the middle of the race like I did during the Fling.

My aerobic fitness is clearly far ahead of where it was at this time last year, this will help both by basic running pace and my ability to metabolize fats as the big race progresses.  Better aerobic fitness should also make it easier for my body to digest food and drink.  Improved fat burning and digestion should really help with maintaining pace at the end of the race.

The other big factor will be structural resilience, at least year's West Highland Way Race this was my Achilles heel - I sustained a calf injury going into Kinlochleven that forced me to walk a good chunk of the remain 14 miles race and blew away my chance of sub 20hr time.

This year my aerobic fitness will enable me to run faster, but faster also means more structural stress on the body.  If I don't increase my structural resilience in line with my aerobic fitness it will again be the weak link in the chain.   This year's Fling was also compromised by lack of structural resilience, but in this case due to racing too close to the Fling.

To build resilience my plan is to incorporate more hills runs, including a series of runs up Ben Ledi.  It's just short of Munro and will provide a great stimulus to toughening up the calves during ascents, and quads during descents.  I will also add some calf raises and squats in between training runs to help provide some strength specific work for these crucial muscle groups.

To help with fat burning capacity I have started doing most runs after a 16 to 18hr fast.  It's quite simple to do, just eat dinner as usual at around 6pm, then skip breakfast the next day, then run in the hour or two before lunch.  Running fasted will ensure that my insulin levels are nice and low so my body is already in a fat burning zone prior to the run.  Running fasted better creates the conditions that the body is under later in an ultra marathon, and reduces the need for really long training runs to achieve the same aim.

The first day I skipped breakfast I was a bit hypo-glycemic at lunchtime, but kept the routine up and haven't had any problems since.  I have now done a hilly 15 miler, and 13 mile and 11 mile back to backs fasted without any problems with energy problems and all my shorter runs were fine too.  It's amazing how quickly the body can adjust to fat burning if you've previous done lots of training fasted before. 

As we get near the big race I'll provide more details of my training and plans for the big day.

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Highland Fling : Race Report 2015

The 53 mile Highland Fling has become quite a UK ultramarathon phenomena, year after year it gets bigger and better.  After having a great Fling race in April 2014 I just had to run it again in 2015, and only just made it in with the frenzy of online entry as soon as the event opened for entries back in the October 2014. 

Like last year I'm again using the Fling as build up to full West Highland Way Race (WHWR) in June, but the Fling in it's own right is an A race for me, one to put my all in and not just use it as a training run for the WHWR. I wanted another Personal Best, and not content with just beating last years time of 9:43 by a small amount and set my heart on sub 9hr time.

Training since October has gone really well, running everyday since the end of October seems to suit my body and mind.  My training logs have shown great progression, with Heart Rate for a given pace around 10bpm lower this April compared to last April.  My training log spreadsheet also has columns that project my possible finishing time at different races, with the average projection for the Fling at a HR of 150 was sub 8:50. Last year I did 9:43 at an average HR of 154.  These projected figures seemed crazy, a minute mile faster at a lower HR?  Surely too good to be true?

Spanner in the works

Two weeks before the Fling I ran a new ultra event, the 31 mile Great Trossachs Skidaddle, doing an ultra so close to an A race is not something I would normally do but it's a local event so didn't want to miss it. The date of the race was constrained by the Loch Lomond and Trossachs Park authority opening of the Great Trosshachs Path that goes from Inversnaid to my home town of Callander.  The route is very much like a mini Fling race, with a similar elevation per mile, with plenty of ups and downs.

The route is stunning and my plan of using as a training run went really well, I got to mile 23 running well within myself, really enjoying the run and feeling fresh for the final 8 miles.  I was quite happy in second and hadn't seen 1st for several hours and so was content to just follow the plan.  Then I caught sight of first place and feeling so great decided to throw the sensible plan out of the window and go for my first race win since I was a spotty teenager.  I picked up pace and romped home with a 9 minute lead.  At the end I was racing the clock, putting in a 6:40 minute last mile to get my average pace under 9 min/mile pace, first time I've ever done this in a ultra, let alone such a hilly one.  Finishing so strongly and in 1st place was another great indicator that training had gone really well.

There is a big but though, running the race far harder than I had intended meant that my legs had taken more of hammering.  I was able to run every day the week after, but they all had to been really slow recovery runs to help over stressing fatigued legs.  Recovery was much slower than it had been after the Loch Katrine marathon that I ran far more sensibly.  In the second week of recovery and final week before the Fling my legs still weren't 100% but were steadily improving.

Rather than risk injury and didn't do my planned final 15 miler race pace test run that I did last year just four days before the Fling, instead on the Tuesday just opting for a ultra race pace (averaging around 9min/mile pace) on a local hilly 6 route just 6 miles long.  This run went well everything looked to be shaping up well.  The next day I did a less hilly 6 miler again at ultra race pace and felt fine all the way round, till 100 metres from my house, when out of nowhere, my right knee suddenly screamed at me.  I stopped walked and hobbled back to the house.

I was completely thrown my this new injury.  I hadn't picked up any warning signs in any of my runs, my quads had been rock solid during my race and the recovery, it was only my calves and Achilles that had needed recovery.  I had a hot bath and massaged my quads and around my knee.  I couldn't find any obvious cause right away.  When reaching down to pick anything up or walking down the stairs my right knee was really painful.  Three sleeps till the Fling. Argg!!!

On the Thursday and Friday I did a 4 mile and then a 2 mile recovery run at 11 min/mile pace.  My knee ached but didn't have the intense pain that occurred on the Wednesday, bending down and going down strairs was still painful though.  My knee was on the mend but would it mend in time?  Should I pull out?

With some deep massage of my quad I finally isolated the likely cause of the knee pain, a bundle of fibres in my quad were painful and tight, which in turn would in balance the tracking of the knee joint and cause the pain.  The tightness will have been part of the immune response to protect damaged fibres, isolating from being stretched and loaded, allowing them to heal.  I clung on this as good news - muscle fibres heal much quicker than ligaments, tendons and bones.  If the muscle fibres could heal then they'd relax and the knee pain would disappear.


On Friday evening follow Callander runner, and First timer, Athnony Philips and were dropped off by my wife to stay overnight at Jamie Aaron's guest house, along with four other Fling racers.  We were well looked after, taken to registration, fed dinner and lots of topical ultra race chat all got down to sleep not long after 9pm.

As there was no longer time for much more healing of my leg I popped a couple of ibuprofen to try and switch off the remaining inflammation, with the hope that it'll relax the muscles and would at least give some respite even if wouldn't be 100%.  I didn't expect to get much sleep as I rarely do before big races, but actually got around 4 hours sleep.  I woke around 3am but was nice and relaxed for when we finally all got up at 4am.

We were treated to range of breakfast options, I opted for scrabbled eggs and porridge, chased down with beetroot juice. We all then pilled into the mini bus and were delivered to race start.   The heavy rain overnight had cleared through and turn to just drizzle.  At the start it was cool, but it was already clear that the bad weather forecast days before wasn't going to materialize, but I we still had no inkling of how gorgeous the weather would be.

Ready for battle
After putting drop bags in the appropriate vehicles I spoke to caught up with a few friends, then it was time to line up for briefing and then to join the sub 10hr pen. 

Race briefing by Race Directory John Duncan, photo courtesy of MonumentPhotos

Race begins : Milngavie to Drymen 

Shortly after 6am our sub 10hr pen was set off, with a couple of minutes before the next wave would be set on their way.  In total there was 647 finishers, I'm not sure how many dropped out, but alas there were a few so I'm not sure how many starters we had.  I'd guess there was 150 to 200 in the first pen.

The atmosphere was great amongst runners and the crowds, but once the horn went off the start was actually surprisingly restrained, we all just got on our way.

My plan was to pace by heart rate, aiming for 140 to 150 range to Drymen, an intensity that in theory should get me to Drymen in a sub 1:50 time. At had started near the back of the pen, but sticking to my easy pace by half way through Mugdock park I had been left with only Paul Brown for company.  Paul wasn't planning for a sub 10hr time but had popped into the sub 10hr on a whim. We ran together for a while during this stage of the 2014 Fling so it was good to catch up.

We had peace and quiet for a mile which was really nice, such a contrast to being swamped by runners going out too fast last year, the pen system had obviously worked well.  The tranquillity was finally broken when the front runners from the next wave caught us up just before Craigallian Loch.  They bounced past like over excited puppies.  At the Loch Paul chose to ease off, his goal for the day was 10:15 and I moved on, but still being overtaken.

Once out of Mugdock part and along the road my pace finally began to match the front of the second wave, heading up the inclines it was really apparent that some of the runners were pushing themselves way too hard so early in the race, with heavy breathing more akin to a 10k than a 53 mile ultra.

Once off the road and back onto the trail I started catching runners, the sky was clearing to the north, and the Fiddler and drummer were back again, so life as a ultra runner was looking good. Once we hit the descent I relaxed and let gravity accelerate me and I started rapidly passing runners.  Runners were often four abreast on the trail so had to jump off the trail and pass.

I had to finally put the breaks on when caught up the Lorna McMillian "fan club" - a solid mass of around 10+ runners that were all trying to catch up oblivious to what was going on around them.  I couldn't pass so just had to wait.  Once we the next short ascent came the group opened up and finally it was possible to run at your own pace once more.

One the flat narrow trail heading past Dungone I caught up and chatted with Stuart Charlmers.  We ran together till the Beach Tree where I moved on, and on the narrow trails found myself over taking runners pretty consistently, if a bit awkwardly.  My heart rate was staying comfortably in my target zone and my right knee was feeling fine. However, I didn't feel my running was smooth and effortless as it usual is though, there was a bit of dead feeling to my stride.

With my improved aerobic fitness I found the ascents less taxing than in previous years, I was able to keep running albeit slowing where previous I would have to walk to just keep my heart rate in the zone.  My pace on the flats was a little brisker too as I arrived at the field before Drymen, ascended through the field and went over the timing mat in 1:47:44, nearly 10 minutes faster than 2014.

Drymen CP: Time 1:47:44, Position overall 164th

Drymen to Balmaha

Within 10 meters of leaving the check point I spotted Steven Hill ahead, I caught up and we chatted for the next few minutes.  I got out my splits to see what schedule I was closest too - 1:48 for a 9hr finishing time if I could manage the same strong finish splits as I ran in 2014.  Steven's goal for the day was a sub 10hr so it was clear he was probably going out too fast, but he still sounded pretty comfortable at this point, he did the sensible thing though and backed off and I moved ahead.

My plan of sticking to a HR of 140 to 150 from the first leg had gone well, and as my right quad was holding up so I allowed my target range to move up to the 145 to 155 range and see how things went.  I was still seeing lower HR than I had in 2014 and didn't obviously seem to be moving quicker as the effort level still felt pretty comfortable.

I was steadily moving up through the field and with a couple of miles to go before Conic hill fell in step with Karl Zeiner.  I hadn't run together with Karl before, although we've both run in the Jedburgh 3 Peaks Race in 2013 and 2014 he'd been ahead from start to finish both years.  We got chatting I exchanged ambitions for the day, Karl was aiming for 9:30 and on hearing that my goal was 9hrs Karl declared he best stick with me then.

Together we over took a few more runners before ascending up Conic hill together.  We were both moving well, walking and running at similar points, chatting away, an occasional glance at my watch confirmed I was still in HR zone.  We walked most of the ascent and just before the top Karl spotted the photographer and declared joking that we *had* to get run for the photographer so we both put in a wee sprint past.

Running with Karl Zeiner, close to the top of Conic Hill, photo courtesy of MonumentPhotos

The views from top of Conic hill were stunning, blue skies, great visibility, it's almost criminal that you don't pause to take it all in when racing. The great view is still imprinted in my mind, one of those highlights that is nice to think back to.

As soon as we started descending Karl was off, his gait was well honed for this type of descent so it was a delight to see his efficient footwork and ease of movement as he left the rest of for dead. 

Descent down Conic Hill, Karl rapidly opens up a gap by running down the grass slope, courtesy of Ian Anderson
Normally I'm strong descender as well, but my usual nibble stride, strength and sure footed had deserted me. Ever step down was a labour, with my quads feeling tight and uncomfortable, nothing flowed.

Made the mistake of trying to descent down the new stone steps, courtesy of Ian Anderson
I still passed quite a few runners, but it was a world away from my joyful and quick descent I managed in the 2014 Fling.  Clearly my legs hadn't recovered fully from the Great Tartan Skidaddle race, with 35 mile hilly miles to go it wasn't an ideal prospect for the day ahead.

However, despite the general lack of resilience and building discomfort in my quads the knee pain that had plagued from for the three previous day was gone.  By the bottom of the descent through the woodland I was still passing runners so I can't have been doing too badly.  Karl had made around a minute on me by the time we arrived at the Balmaha check point.

Balmaha to Rowardennan

I dropped my empties in a rubbish bag, picked up my drop bag, grabbed and stowed my supplies - a bottle of water+electrolyte, a bottle of cherry juice+yoghurt drink and some nuts and raisins.  It wasn't a particular efficient stop but was out in less than a minute.

As I jogged down the trail it was clear that day was warming up and now out of the wind there was no need for the jacket so I did my best to take it off and stow it whilst running.  Not sure I saved much time trying to keep moving, but it sure feels like you are racing in a committed fashion.  Once sorted I remembered to check my splits, the elapsed time was just under 3hrs as I got down to the road and path that runs besides the loch.  My splits sheet had 3hrs at Balmaha for 9hr finishing time so was now on for a sub 9hr time if I could match my split 2014 percentages.

As I left road to ascend the first hill after Balmaha I was moving well, but unknown to me I was now being pursued by Thomas Oederud and his friend Anders Lindell from Norway.  In 2014 I had run a few miles with Thomas on the Rowardennan to Inversnaid leg at last year's Fling, then it was his first big ultra. Thomas finished in 10:19, while Anders had finished in 9:06.

Just after Balamha, about to ascend the hill, Thomas (left back) and Anders (right back), photo posted to facebook by George Furmage
As we ascended the steps I heard my name called out and Thomas drew alongside me.  Last year he had full head of hear, this year he was clean shaven head so it took me a double take to recognize Thomas.  Once down the other side of the hill and back on to easy trail Thomas, Anders and I all got chatting.

Thomas' goal for the day was a 9hr Fling, and Anders was aiming to beat 9hr as well so was pacing Thomas.  In the week before this years race I had posted a set of splits for a range of finishing times using my 2014 race as a guideline.  Anders had spotted these and compared them to his times for his 2014 and mention just how similar they were - pretty amazing as he paces totally by feel/experience rather than by HR like I did.  The vast majority of runners attempting to run by feel go out way too fast and really slow in the later stages, so it's quite a rare to find a runner that has the skill to pace so efficiently.

Running with two other runners with a similar finishing goal time and similar pacing approach was great news.  Thomas and Anders grasp of the English language is fantastic so it's so easy to forget it's their second language.  Occasionally when I was a little ahead or behind and they were side by side they'd chat in Norwegian, for all I know it could have easily been Elvish.  Anders is head and shoulders above Thomas and I so I couldn't help feel that Anders was Legolas accompanying two hobbits, with the quest of sub 9hr time being only slightly less epic than destroying a pesky ring...

Thomas and I took turns up at the front, there wasn't any planning behind it, it just naturally happened.  Anders seemed happy enough cruising efficiently alongside or just behind.  All the way to Rowardennan we were passing runners.  Among them was Karl Zeiner, still moving well but just not matching the consistent pace that were we doing as a unit.  We also passed Aaron Price who I had met when running the Great Tartan Skiddadle ultra two weeks before  - he was running his first Fling and aiming for a sub 10hr time.

As were neared Rowardennan the quick succession of ups and downs highlighted just how much Thomas had come on as a runner.  Last year he powered up the ascents but struggled on the descents, this year his ascending was improved further, but his descending skills were now finely honed with him really attacking them.  I couldn't match him in full flow, partly this will have been down to my quads being pre-trashed, but mostly it was down to the transformation of Thomas as an ultra runner.  Alas Anders was never completely comfortable on the descents, but always caught up shortly after starting any ascents.

All too soon we popped out on to the road before Rowardennan and as we did we caught Andy Johns, giving me an opportunity to catch up with him while Thomas and Anders pushed on to check point just before us.  I had caught Andy in the hills above Crainlarich last year, so to catch him so soon was a surprise.  Andy was pacing the race more conservatively this year, aiming for a strong finish and was feeling good.

We ran over the timing mat in 4:13, now 6 minutes up on my 9hr splits, and 27 minutes quicker than my 2014 split.  We ran through check point saying hi to several familiar faces marshalling, alas when racing no time to stop and chat.

Rowardennan CP: 4:13:11, Position overall 94th,  67th fastest for leg

Rowadennan to Inversnaid

I picked up my food, drink and walked while sorting out my rubbish and stowing food.  Once everything was stowed I got back running.  Andy was no longer with me, and Thomas and Anders were out of sigh too.  Just as I thought I was about to get to running on my own I caught up with Jamie Aarons and we headed off up the trail together.

Jamie wasn't having a great day though, she was down on her splits for 2014 and just couldn't get her head in the right place for racing, or being too chatty.  She was still moving pretty consistently though, and we yo'yed places for a mile or two as we went up and down the hills.  Eventually I caught Thomas and Anders on an ascent, and went past Joanne Thom who wasn't having a great deal either, but had a smile and words of encouragement no less.

My own race was outwardly going to plan - my HR was staying comfortably in the 150 to 155 zone for most of the time, and was able to run ascents that previously would have seen my HR shoot skywards, and I was up 10 minutes for every check point so far.  Less good was how my legs felt.  My calves had been uncomfortable and feeling a bit highly strung from not long after Drymen - they felt ripe for cramp.  I had calf cramp on the way to Inversnaid last year as was really wary of the same happening again.  My quads were still powering up the ascents, but the flats and descents I was really aware of how trashed they already felt, and it was only 30 miles in.

Once we hit the narrow paths for the last couple of miles to Inversnaid Thomas took the lead and Anders dropped in behind and I hung on to the back.  I was still moving OK overall, still catching other runners consistently, but the pace was taking it's pound of flesh.

A mile before Inversnaid I decided to take some pain killers to edge of the discomfort.  With trail being really technical I had to slow a walk to retrieve the pain killers.  I got back running pretty quickly but already Thomas and Anders were out of sight.  I just focused on moving as efficiently as I could across the twists and turns, roots and rocks, overtook a few more runners and then suddenly popped out into the sunshine at Inversnaid.

Inversnaid to Beinglas

Thanks to quick response of one of the marshals handing out drop bags I was able to pick up my supplies and drop off my empties without stopping and walked straight through, packing my bottles and snack as I walked and was back running before I even had left the tarmac.

Shortly after rejoining the trail I caught up with Thomas, my efficient progress through Inversnaid had clawed back all the time I had lost.  Not long after asking where Anders had got to he popped up on my shoulder - he'd taken longer refilling his camel back.  Pretty quickly the trail gets too narrow and broken to run side by side and chat so ended up running single file, exchanging and occasional word.

At this point I was running reasonably smoothly and took the lead over most of the next 5 miles of broken trail.  We caught an occasional runner but mostly we had the trail to ourselves.  At one point we passed a corridor of wild garlic, it smelt wonderful, at home we often have wild garlic leaves in our salads so merrily suggested to Thomas and Anders that they could snack on them.  Not long after this suggestion left my mouth we passed a rank smell that I can only assume was a dead goat lying somewhere in the undergrowth. Oh how to ruin and lovely moment...

I have been over the trail between Inversnaid to Beinglas three times previously, with two Flings and a WHWR race, but still found myself a bit taken aback my just how much scrambling there was to do.  I was keeping up the pressure, running at every opportunity, moving as quick as I could over the rocks and roots.  Thomas and Anders stuck closely behind, and as we neared the end of the scrambling section Thomas took a different route up and rock scrambling them I did and bounced up looking as fresh as he did back in Balmaha.

By contrast I wasn't feel fresh, or any bounce left in my legs.  I was moving well enough considering we were 38 miles in, but my stomach was now complaining as well as my legs.  I was able to keep my HR in the 150 to 155 zone most of the time, with just an occasional excursions over, energy levels still felt good, but I couldn't get away from the legs being trashed, and the gastric stress.

With the scrambling there wasn't much opportunity to eat or drink, and when there was a chance I tried to keep drinking but found it tough as each time I drank the stomach discomfort would go up.  I hindsight it may have been the pain killers that introduced the stomach discomfort, but without them would I have had more problems with managing the leg discomfort?  There was no point pondering whilst racing, so I just tried to keep drinking a small amount often to keep my body ticking over the best I could and hope it would pass.

At the end of the Lochside section we finally glimpsed runners ahead and it looked like we'd catch them pretty soon.  We crossed the over the clearing before the heading up the hill.  As soon as started heading up the trail my left hamstring suddenly had a shot cramp.  It caught me completely by surprise as I hadn't had any discomfort from my hamstrings in the race, and never had cramp there before.  I was expecting to have a twinge of cramp in my calves given how fatigued they felt, but knew that if one part of my body was starting to cramp up then others might follow soon after, there was only one thing for it - to back off on the pace and walk up the hill.  I called to Anders and Thomas that I cramp and they shouldn't wait for me, without a minute there were out of sight.

From my average pace reported on my Pebble smart watch I knew that I was still on for sub 9hr pace, but this was based on the finishing strong like I did in 2014.  I wasn't about to give up, so I pushed on up the hill with brisk walk, forcing more drink in was required but not easy to do.

With backing off the pace I had a chance to actually to look around and soak up just what a glorious day it was.  The sun was shining and views down Loch Lomond were stunning.  I arrived at Dairo's post and not far on from it a fellow runner was sitting resting up, thoughts of racing departed for a minute, the desire to share just how wonderful the day and views were more than worth the minute it took to unpack my phone, and have my photo taken.  I didn't get the runners name, but if you're reading this now thank you, the photo came out brilliantly.

Dario's post over looking the end of Loch Lomond
The combination of backing off on pace and stopping for a photo meant there was no one in sight ahead, so I just got on my way.  When the trail levelled off a little I got back running and thankfully my hamstring cramp didn't return.  I was wary of the getting further cramp, and trying to get my stomach back in a more comfortable place so aimed for a HR range of 145 to 150.

While I was moving slower I was still running all the bits that made sense to run and arrived at Beinglas, 4 minutes ahead of my 9hr splits, and 38 minutes ahead of my time in 2014. 

Beinglas CP : 6:52:41, Position overall 58th, 29th fastest for leg

Beinglas was

Beinglas to Tyndrum

I was still on schedule for sub 9hr time, but only if I finished strong - 5 minutes quicker than by 2:12 time for the last leg in 2014. Given I had been 10 minutes up for most of the legs this would outwardly seem to be an easy task.  My stomach protesting still so when I picked up my bottles for the next leg I emptied half the contents of my chocolate milk shake and with the assistance of marshal filled the other half with water.  My hope is that a dilute source of energy would be easier on my stomach.

I headed out from the check point knowing that the next leg would be a struggle to manage my stomach and trashed legs, my energy levels would still good and mentally I was still up for the fight.  To bring my stomach back on side I alternated sips from both my electrolyte bottle and my diluted milk shake.  Each time I drank my stomach would be worse then ease off bit.  With the sun out and a long climb ahead I knew that I needed to keep fluids and electrolyte comming in.  I also kept strickly to my HR 150 to 155 zone to try and help avoid the stomach shutting down completely.

Despite the issues I was still moving well enough and for first two miles was catching people.  Shortly after leaving the CP I had spotted Thomas a few minutes ahead and hoped to eventually catch up and be able to both finish strong at get our sub 9hr.  Initially I had been catching up but as time went on my stomach got worse, especially any time I pushed on hard.  By the time we got past the farm and running along river Falloch my stomach discomfort began to dominate my racing and my pace ebbed away, and for first time I stopped catching up runners ahead and began to drift off target pace.

Once under the main road and heading up the hill to Cow Poo ally I was caught by Robert Leonard.  He had been climbing the hills really strongly all day, and a couple of hills between Rowardennan and Inversnaid had caught and passed me and had chatted briefly each time.  The flats, descents and technical stuff I was moving much faster, but on this section it was all up and in my private internal hell there wasn't any chance of me keeping up.

Cow Poo ally was dry as bone, and the cattle were all safely away from the track so there was no excuse not to run all but the steepest inclines. My HR wasn't high, and my legs were still functioning, energy levels still felt OK, but any time I attempted to push on my stomach felt worse.  I was stuck in first gear having to just make the best of things.  The weather was great, the scenary stunning, I was well ahead of my PB still so there was still postives to occupy oneself with.

The big gates came and finally there was valid reason to walk which was welcome.  With no one in sight I headed up once the trail leveled I was back running, one one of the sections Conor Cromie was stationed taking photo's and took this great shot that realy captures the scale of views.

Amazing views above Crainlarich, photo courtesy Conor Cromie
Once past the summit I was looking forward to picking up the pace on the descents, and while I was still running my legs were just too stiff and sore to allow my usual quick descent.  I was overtaken by a relay runner and then ran and chatted briefly with a support runner who had come up the hill to give the runners some water.  At the bottom of the final descent I spotted Robert ahead and we arrived at the road crossing together.

The traffic at the road crossing was really busy and both of us just had to wait, and wait, it probably was less than a minute, but it felt like half an hour.  We were finally ushered across by the marshals and got back into running.  My guts still felt pretty ropey but with only three miles left I knew it would all be over soon.  

With majority of the road and trail only gently ascending all the way to Tyndrum and my energy levels still OK I set myself the goal of running all the way to the finish.  There were runners ahead in the distance so I was keen to try and reel them in.  Robert drifted off my pace so I was back alone in my pursuit.

Past Auchtertye farm I was still moving OK but my stomach issues were getting worse again and now just felt ill with it.  I had kept sipping my drinks and had drunk most of my two 500ml bottles by the last mile, my stomach wasn't sloshing so I presume I was digesting what I was drinking, but nothing could get rid of the ever present knawing discomfort and my pace began to fade once more.

With about a mile to go I hit an incline that intended to run but just felt too crap to resist the urge to walk.  With walking Robert soon caught up and we chatted.  When the trail falttened off we got back running and Robert was tired too and talked of pulling each other along to the finishing.  I was just feeling more ill though and my running pace wasn't much more than a shuffle and Robert steadily moved ahead.

I was still running though, and kept it going through the woods, along the river, past the Pippers that were great to see and hear and finally I was on the red carpet and running between the flags.  Or at least I tried to run between them, the wind picked up and blew the German flag right across my path and I ended up running right through it.  Clearly I must have been tangled up the flag for at least ten minutes before I could get back running as my sub 9hr time was now well out of reach.

My wife Julia and our three children were amongst the supporting crowd, a wave and high five as I went past then on to the glorious finish

Finish 9:10:22
I finished in 9:10:22, adrift of my sub 9hr target but I was still happy to have a 33 minute PB, and to finally able to stop.

Beinglas-Tyndrum leg : Postition overall 56th, 2:17:41 and 59th fastest for leg (5 minutes slower than in 2014)

Post race

The marshals at the finish were awesome, giving me my medal, taking the timing chip without me needing to bend over, then through to the tent to get my hard earned T-Shirt and goody bag, then a beer.

I made my way through the recovery/finishing tent to meet my family.  I tried the beer but it just didn't go down well at all, what was I thinking??  I went back for some of the homemade tomato soup and it hit the spot, very delicious and exactly what a weary runned needed.

I kept bumping into runners and marshals I knew, but with so much going on and my family to catch up with it wasn't easy, a bit like being at wedding where you never get a chance to have a proper chat.   The atmosphere was great, a really happy place to be.  I was starting to get cold though so had a look at the showers but they were full and didn't fancy waiting so I got changed into my clothes from my drop bag and finally started to feel normal once more.

At the finish I finaly tracked down Thomas and Anders, they held felt like team mates for half of the journey before we all split up around Beinglas.  Anders had had a storming last leg, from being two minutes ahead at Beinglas he did the last leg in 2:01, finishing in a 8:51:40.  On the final descents he had a bad fall but it didn't stopping putting away a great finish.  The finish photo of Anders beautifully captures the intense emotions that running an ultramarathon can put your through, months of training and then pushing your body to the limit.

Anders at the finish, 8:51 and PB in bag, deep in regret are he left his buddies behind!!
Thomas had a descent last leg, completing it in 2:11, but this wasn't quite enough to get him his sub 9hr.  This is still an amazing performance, an hour and quarter faster in just one year.  He has become a excellent alround ultra-runner.

Thomas finishing just one minute shy of 9hrs

Other runners that I had ran with got on well, Robert Leonard finished a minute ahead of me in 9:09:16, a very impressive first Fling.  Karl Zeiner comfortably got under his 9:30hr target, finishing in 9:18:18 (race report).  Andy Johns wasn't far behind in 9:21:07 (race report), a big improvement on last year.  Lorna McMillian finished in 9:30:35.  My host for Friday night Jamie Aarons finished in 9:32:26.  Steven Hill had a tough day and missed out on his 10hr target, finishing in 10:53:33 (race report). Fellow Callander runner, Athnony Philips finished in 15:04:16.

There were also runners of note that I never got to see during the race as they were all too fast! The top three men were 1st place Mathew Laye 7:04:06, 2nd Paul Nevesy 7:06:43 and 3rd Donnie Campbell  7:17:28.  The top three women were 1st Rachael Campbell 8:42:56 (surname no con-incidence as Donnie and Rachael got married this Spring! ;-), 2nd Caroline McKay 8:55:53 and 3rd Nicola Adams Hendry 8:59:34.


I would like to thank the whole Highland Fling team, from John Duncan leading the event down to all the marshals it was a brilliant, brilliant event.  What a day you all put together.

I would also like to thank the various photographers that captured myself and others on route. It's great to be able to relieve and share the moments.

Post race analysis, lessons learned...

It wouldn't be me if I didn't delve into post race analysis and lessons learned, but as this post is already waaaay too long and three weeks overdue so I'll put this in a follow up post.

Thanks for reading, and if you're addicted to the Fling like me see you next year!