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.


 

Recovery

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.

Pre-Race

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.

Thanks

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!

Friday, 24 April 2015

Highland Fling Live Updates, Splits & Plans

A quick post for family and friends so there know how to check my progress online, when I run the Highland Fling, a 53 mile ultra marathon that follows the West Highland Way from Milgnavie, Glasgow to Tyndrum.
Image courtesy of HighlanFling website.

First up, I've signed up for facebook updates, no clue if I've done it right or how exactly the times I'll pass through check points, I'm hoping it'll just appear in my facebook feed.

The race timing also has an website where you can check up on progress:

    Live ChipResults for Robert Osfield, race no. 679

Training had gone really well this year, looking at my training logs I should be on to beat my time of 9:43 set last year.  A spanner in the works in that on Wednesday during an gentle run my right knee suddenly became painful just 100 metres from home.  I've done short recovery runs on Thursday and today (Friday) to ease it off and it's just a little sore now, but a gentle 4 mile run is nothing like a hilly 53 mile race, so I'm just hoping it'll be fine tomorrow.

Based on my training logs I've estimated a range of finishing times, setting myself some rather lofty targets that I feel are possible if everything goes really well.

Goals:
   Platinum : sub 8:50hr
   Gold : sub 9:00hr
   Silver:  sub 9:15hr
   Bronze: sub 9:45hr

The start time is 6:00am, so my likely finishing time should be between 3pm and 4pm.

Using last years splits as a guide I have created splits for the various check points, not off of these have timing mats, you'll only be able to get timing information for Drymen (12m), Rowardennan (28m), Beinglas (40m) and the finish at Tyndrum(53m). Splits for the first 27 miles are:


Finish Time Drymen Avg. Pace Balmaha Avg. Pace Rowardenan Avg. Pace
08:30:00 01:42 08:26 02:50 08:58 04:05 09:04
08:45:00 01:45 08:41 02:55 09:14 04:12 09:20
09:00:00 01:48 08:56 03:00 09:30 04:19 09:36
09:15:00 01:51 09:11 03:05 09:46 04:27 09:52
09:30:00 01:54 09:26 03:10 10:02 04:34 10:07
09:45:00 01:57 09:41 03:15 10:17 04:41 10:23

Splits for the second half are:


Inversanid Avg. Pace Beinglas Avg. Pace Tyndrym Avg. Pace
05:09 09:08 06:34 09:36 08:30 09:39
05:18 09:24 06:45 09:53 08:45 09:56
05:27 09:40 06:57 10:10 09:00 10:13
05:36 09:56 07:09 10:27 09:15 10:30
05:45 10:12 07:20 10:44 09:30 10:47
05:55 10:28 07:32 11:01 09:45 11:04


I had question about what food I eat, so here's a photo of the food and drink going in my drop bags that I'll pick up at the above check points:


Food & Drink, Left at start @ Milgnavie, Right end at last checkpoint before Finish
That's 1.7 Litres of fluids, and around 2000 calories.  Drinks are either chocolate milkshake or homemade youghart and cherry juice, or with raspberry flavouring, or a bottle made up zero calories electrolyte + caffine.  Fruit and nutes, bannana, liquish and cereal bars make up the solids.

A days calories all to be consumed in last than ten hours, whilst running, won't get fat though as I'll be burning around 6000 calories! ;-)

Best of luck to all those who are racing or marshalling tomorrow.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Great Tartan Skidaddle : Race Report 2015

I hadn't originally planned to do ultra race just two weeks before my first A race of the year - the Highland Fling, but the inaugural "The Great Tartan Skidaddle", 31 mile ultra from Inversnaid to Callander, was being held right on my doorstep.  How could I resit?

All wasn't plain sailing the in the week before the race though.  Ten days after the Loch Katrine Marathon I had felt recovered enough to do a tempo run, first one for several months.  This tempo run went fine but two days later on an easy run the extensor tendon on top of left big toe/top of my foot had become a bit sore, a type of pain I've never had before. A hilly 15 miler the next day the discomfort was largely gone, but at mile 14 suddenly turned into enough pain to stop me in my tracks and force me to run/walk the final mile.

The rest of the time before the race I backed right off on the pace and distance, sticking to relatively flat routes.  I also made sure that all my shoes were loose and ran without socks on most runs to make sure no pressure would be put on the inflamed tendon.  This worked and race day the minor injury was on the mend, but not still not quite 100% - but certainly good enough to risk running.

The avoid aggrevating the problem tendon I chose my F-Lite 232's as these give the top of my toe the most wiggle room, and used 3mm inserts rather than 6mm ones I usually use on ultra's.  This was calculated risk - less likely to cause problems with the top of my foot, but expose the bottom on my feet more to the tougher sections of trail.

Race day

Registration was in Callander a , then all the competitors boarded two mini buses for the drive to the start at Inversnaid Pier.  There event had two sets of competitors, 13 entered into the 31 mile ultra, and 10 entered into a dualathlon comprising of a run, cycle and run of 30 miles.  I believe a couple of competitors didn't turn up on the day so I'm not sure of the final figures.

The small field for the ultra meant that there was a chance that I might finally get myself a top three placing, something that has eluded me since I was teenager.  With the race so close to the Highland Fling my plan was to run it as a training run and if I so happened to end up near the front so much the better. My plan was to run with similar HR range as I did for the Loch Katrine Marathon which was 140 to 150, aiming for an average of 145.  This level of effort was easily manageable and would be ensure that I would recover quickly from the race - it worked well for the Loch Katrine Marathon, so all I needed to do was stick to the plan...

Having all competitors arrive together meant that assembling everyone for the briefing at the Inversnaid Hotel went really efficiently and soon enough we were assembling down on the pier.  There had been rain, sleet and snow forecast, and a couple of showers had already swept through on our arrival so it was felt pretty wintery at the start.

Competitors assembling on the Peir, Loch Lomond, surrounding mountains and weather gave a rather wintry feel


Ultra runners and Run/Cyclists together, contemplating the weather and miles ahead

Help!! Don't leave us stranded here! (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)

View looking up the hill to the waterfall and where we'd be ascending
As everyone was assembled, briefed and ready the horn blew and we were all off together.


Run/Cyclists leading the charge (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)

The route starts on the pier, then past the hotel and up the steps heading south along the West Highland Way.





Happy to start near the back (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)




Shortly after going past the waterfall the route heads uphill and off the West Highland Way, the route now is officially the "Great Trossachs Path" from Inversnaid to  Callander.  The race follows this newly opened path, except for the ultra runners who'd include Primrose hill above at the north east end of Loch Katrine.

Pretty quickly the field strung out walking up the steep path away from Loch Lomond.  Right away my HR was up at 150, even with just walking steadily.  The Run/Cylists had all torn off, and by the time we got to the top of the steep ascent I was running amongst the ultra runners.  I was third last at this point. 

Once the route flattened off I picked off a few places, but found my shoe choice - my inov8 F-Lite 232's a bit too minimal for the stony path so had to be careful on the short descents as we head past Loch Arklet. Was my gamble the wrong one? Too late now to worry about it so I just made sure I placed my feet carefully.

I spent a last couple of miles on the way to first check point at Stronaclacher Pier, at the west end of Loch Katrine, chatting with Roddy Cunnignham.  The showers had blown away and briefly the sun came out making for very pleasant running conditions and great views.

Peir @ Stronachlacher (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)

First of the runners to arrive at the first check point was Aron Price. He was already well ahead my this stage and must have been keeping up with the Run/Cyclists.

1st ultra runner in a CP1, Aron Price (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)
A little while later Roddy and myself arrived, with fellow Callander runner Chris Ryan not far behind.  It was Chris' first ultra.

Myself, Roddy then Chris arriving at CP1 (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)

I dropped off my empty bottle and picked up my supplies for the next section along Loch Katrine.  The sound of bagpipes welcomed us in and sent us on our way.

Event organizer Maz welcomed us in to the CP1 (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)
Roddy and I head off (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)


1st lay Bridet Halewood (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)
Chris, Roddy and myself ran together for the next few miles as we headed north along the road the goes round the north shore of Loch Katrine.  Once we hit a bigger descent I found my HR dropping so I upped the pace to keep within my target 140 to 150 zone and immediately found myself on my own.

I couldn't see any runners ahead initially, but as I scanned the opposite shore for cyclists I saw a runner, later found it was Aron Price.  Looking at my GPS trace Aron must have had a mile+ lead at this point.  I didn't know if there were any other runners ahead.

Aron cruising on the north shore in 1st (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)
The weather was very changeable - for a couple of minutes we'd have sunshine, then we'd be pelted with hail and strong winds, the next calm.  The rapidly changing weather meant it was difficult to judge where to don jackets or not.  The woodlands on the north side of the lochs provided a bit of shelter from the wind so it was possible to just run without jacket and get into my groove.

I didn't know it yet by I was in 2nd (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)
I could no longer see anyone behind as the route has lots of ups and downs, and lots of corners.  Unknown to me Chris had pushed on and was now in 3rd.

And now in 3rd Chris was going strong (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)
The north shore has lots and hills but as I'd had done the Loch Katrine Marathon three weeks which follows the same route I felt right at home.  I was able to stick to my 140 to 150 HR range without problems and was making good progress.

You can't be in the Trossachs without seeing a Highland Cow (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)
Four miles out from the next check point at the east of Loch Katrine the ultra route gets diverted off the road and up Primrose Hill.  The marshal directing me up the hill said I was in 2nd, with 1st place roughly 5 minutes ahead.  This was doubly good news - I was safely in a podium position and if the estimate was accurate I was catching up.

As I ascend through the light woodland the weather turned for the worse so I donned my new jacket and matched up the hill.  The jacket was a prize for winning John Kynaston's Hardmoors 55 Guess My Time competition, the UltraMarathonStore had very generously offered the Race Ultra Shell as a prize.  It only weighs 125g but was very effective at sheltering me from the strong winds, hail, sleet and snow that hammered in during the ascent. 

Once I got to the top of Primrose Hill there wintry shower had blown by and the sun had come out.  The reward of climbing 500ft was glorious - Loch Katrine shimmered in the sunshine, Ben Venue and Ben Lomond look magnificent. 

I was still in a race though so I didn't stop to take a photo, but regret it now, the view was just stunning.  I stowed my jacket and began the descent, gentle at first then finally a steep descent back down to the road. 

The route then follows the road eastwards towards Trossachs Pier, the views of the Loch and Ben Venue were very different in character, but still gorgeous.

Final mile before Trossachs Pier (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)

I kept looking for 1st place in the distance but only ever spotted walkers and cyclists.  Just before the end of the Loch I looked back scanning for Chris and spotted him about a 1/3 rd mile back and still looking to be running strongly.

At the check point at Trossachs Pier I picked chocolate milkshake and brioche, and inquired about 1st place, but as they were recording times I just got a vague "not sure perhaps 10 minutes".  I had been running well so had hoped to be a least not loosing further ground.  Was the original 5 minute estimate wrong? Was this one wrong.  I hadn't seen 1st place for a very long time so really didn't have a clue.

I got back into my running and found my HR below the 140 range despite charging down the gently descending road at 7 min/mile pace, I was a bit surprised by the HR reading, was it playing up? 

After half a mile the route turns right heading south west, then across a small bridge, then left then right again, then left again all the while threading through the woodland and heading gently uphill towards the Duke Pass road crossing.  I had never been on this trail before so it was fun to explore a new part of the Trossachs, just before Duke Pass road crossing the woodland cleared to provide a great view of Loch Achray, and surrounding mountains and forest. 

During this climb my HR monitor had been either reading in the 130's or the 150's and little in between.  The trail is mostly up, but with a few short descents, but I'm generally pretty good at running at even intensity these days so to get such erratic readings was frustrating.  It seemed to be getting stuck in one extreme, then getting stuck in the other.  The Wahoo Tickr bluetooth HR monitor that I use now just doesn't seem as reliable as my old tech Polar HR monitor watch.

The sun had come out and with the forest sheltering one from the wind it was quick warm on the final ascent up the last hill before the road crossing.  A marshal pointed me left and down a steep slope to the road crossing.  The marshal estimated that 1st place was around 3 minutes ahead.  This rather surprised me, but my tree was shaken even more when as I descend the trail and spotted 1st place just leaving the road crossing, the lead was now a hundred meters or so.  23 miles down, 8 mile to go, Game on!

I crossed the road and headed downhill along the forest trail with 1st place in sight, and left with a decision to make about what tactics to use.  I had been running entirely by HR and feel when the HR was playing up, my pace had been pretty stable throughout the race and I was now catching up.  Should I stick with this?  Would 1st place respond and lift the pace?  Should I pick up the pace to make a decisive move?

I decided to keep to my own pace and be patient, and half way along the Loch Achray I caught up with 1st place.  Aron was stilling running well, looking comfortable doing 9 min/miles.  We ran and chatted for a few minutes, but I found myself itching to get on, taking it easier for a couple of minutes meant that I had plenty in the tank so decided to move on.  I decided to move on decisively and try to get a couple of minute lead before the next check point about a mile further on at the foot of Lendick Hill. 

I picked up the pace aiming for a 160 to 170 HR zone, this meant I was now doing 7 min/mile pace.  This slowed a little as I ascend up along the road through the village of Brig-O-Turk, I kept the pressure on till I got to the Lendrick Hill/Glen finglass carpark check point.  I quickly picked up my final drink and headed on to the final big climb of the day.

The ascent takes you through woodland so I couldn't see Aron arrive at the checkpoint but I heard the cheers from the marshals so I knew I must have a couple of minute lead.  My aim with the surge was to get out of sight to break the elastic that might pull Aron along if was still feeling competitive.  With a couple of minutes in hand I dropped the effort level and kept my HR in the 150 to 160 range as there was little point in risking blowing up with 6 hilly miles left to do.

I felt strong, good energy levels, but my calves were feeling the effort and the bottoms of my feet were a bit sore, nothing that would slow me down though. The tendon issue on my big toe had melted away and didn't show any signs of recurring so it was a relief not to be risking making an injury worse.  Being in 1st place first time for 30 years added a different dimension to the race, the thought of sticking to my plan of using the run as pure training run was out of the window. 

When I first got back into running 5 years ago my children would ask if I had won each time I did a race, I had always had to reply that I had come 30th, 300th, the closest I had ever come was in very small races such as the Lochalsh Dirty 30.  Over the years they had got used to the fact that I never win anything and stopped asking.  Sure this race was very small field so no comparison to really competitive race like the Fling or West Highland Way Race, but I wasn't about to squander 1st place so kept the pace up.

I didn't take any photo's as I was racing, but the views were gorgous, follows are a couple of photo's from previous runs along the new path on the North side of Loch Venachar:

View from the Great Trossachs Path in winter

Summery view of Loch Venachar from the new path, taken only a few weeks later!

Once past the highest point above Loch Venachar I checked my average pace, it was 9:10 min/mile pace.  In planning before the race I had in mind the possibility of average 9 min/mile pace on the route, I was so close to this that I set this as my goal, running the descents as swiftly as my sore feet would permit.

The quality of the trail gets better the nearer you get to Callander so the last three miles I was able to run assertively, with my feet and calves holding up just fine.  The average pace steadily dropped but with two miles to most of the descents behind I was still adrift. 

 The last mile is along the old railway line that takes to the finish at Callander Meadows, it's a route that I run several times I week I knew exactly how far was left and was able to pick up the pace a ran this last mile at 6:40 min/mile pace.  Half a mile to go and my watch finally clicked to 9:00 min/mile average pace.

I didn't back off though, I was enjoying running strongly and still had enough left to pick up the pace for the final stretch to the finish.  I crossed the line in 4:39:31, and 1st person to have ever run the newly opened Great Trossachs Path!

(photo courtesy of Skidaddle)
Julia took this photo, with me keeping warm in my new jacket, obviously brings me good luck!
9 minutes later Aron Price came in second.


2nd place, Aron Price 4:48:51 (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)
Chris Ryan came in third in his first ultra.

Chris Ryna, 3rd place, 5:00:33 (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)
First lady Bridget Halewood arrived 50 minutes later.

Bridget Halewod, 1st lady 5:51:43 (photo courtesy of Skidaddle)

Stats for the day

Recorded by my phone GPS/WahooTickr/Pebble watch combo:

   31.2 miles
   3268ft of ascent
   Average Pace 8:58 min/mile (fastest ultra I've ever done)
   Average HR 151 (ooops a bit higher than planned, but still 5bpm lower
   than any ultra I've raced before!)

The route profile is actually rather like a mini Highland Fling, starting lower than the finish, with lots of ups and downs in between, and mixture of narrow trails, wide forest tracks and roads.  

My strava trace for the event:


Recovery and beyond

Racing the last 8 miles wasn't in the plan so I there was a real risk of not recovering quickly from the race.  I had DOMs for a couple of days but nothing too severe.  The problem with the tendon above my left big toe felt good for the first week after the race, but this week it's returned a little.  Should be fine for the Fling though.

With a week of recovery runs over this week is now taper week for the Highland Fling, which entails pretty well the same thing as my recovery week!  Daily gentle runs at 9 to 10 min/mile pace of 4 to 7 miles in length.  Now just three nights left to my first really big race of the year - the 53 mile Highland Fling.

My training and races this year all point to a being able to good performance at the Fling, but I'm fully aware of how easy it is to get big ultras wrong on the day. My training log analysis suggest that I may be able to manage running a minute a mile faster than last year and go sub 9hrs, but the thought of managing this for 53 miles is hugely daunting, it doesn't really feel possible.  Fingers and toes crossed.

Thanks

Thanks goes to Skidaddle and all the helpers that made this great wee event possible.  The route is beautiful from start to finish, passing 5 lochs, lots of mountains and forests.  I was a real pleasure to be able to see some of the best views that the Trossachs has to offer.  I guess I have geology and nature to thank as well then :-)