Back To Basics

Without a doubt, one of the highlights of 2012 for me was completing the 95 mile West Highland Way Race. What’s more, I like to think that I did it in ‘style’, finally arriving in Fort William 31 hours after setting off from Milngavie (31:01:51, 102nd out of 119 finishers. 171 started). Apocalyptic weather, 20 miles of explosive diarrhoea, projectile vomiting at the 50 mile mark and a reduced calorie intake that you would expect from anyone whose body is doing its best to flush itself clean in the aforementioned ways, all stood in the way along the route which included 14,760ft of ascent. Thanks to an excellent crew and support runner (Ian Minty), I crossed the finish line in time to pick up the coveted crystal goblet and join the West Highland Way Race ‘family’.

As mad as it might sound, I had decided that I would put myself through it again by the end of the prizegiving ceremony, an amazing experience where every finisher receives their goblet in person, rightly celebrating the accomplishments of each individual.

Another highlight of 2012 was finding out that Leanne and myself were to become parents for the first time, though admittedly the timing of the news, just a matter of days before the madness of the West Highland Way Race weekend, could perhaps have been better. I was concerned at putting Leanne through something as stressful as crewing for me and the effect that this could have on someone in the early stages of pregnancy. And that was before that weekend actually ‘happened’. Fortunately, I had had the foresight to brief my crew – Expect to see me at my worst, never broach the subject of a DNF etc etc. Little did I realise at the time that I would actually hit absolute rock bottom on my journey.

That weekend was a huge learning experience. I was delighted to complete the race but, aside from that, the highs and, especially, the lows of that weekend set new standards where my running was concerned. Lets take the weather for example. If I recall correctly, the first 50 miles of the race were completed in torrential rain, aptly described as ‘apocalyptic’. Since that weekend, weather just hasn’t been the same. I no longer have the excuse not to just get out there and get on with it.

Similarly, the race established new definitions of ‘low’. One month later, at the Clyde Stride, I was not yet fully recovered and my body was rebelling against yet another ultra after a mere 13 miles. 27 miles of punishment followed as I ground out a finish. The way I saw it, I was nowhere near as low as I had been back at the West Highland Way Race. Sure I hurt, but other than that, everything was ‘rosy’ in comparison to that weekend.

Armed with this new outlook, I was looking forward to the 2013 West Highland Way Race and, somewhat naively it transpires, I was determined not only to finish the race, but to improve on my 2012 efforts (surely circumstances couldn’t be THAT bad again???) and, further, to do all this with a newborn baby.

Harris Robert Mackintosh was born on 28th February 2013.

My running took a hit even before he arrived. In the run up to his birth, home improvements and house wide decorating threw our lives into disarray. As the due date grew closer, I even found myself avoiding long runs, just in case he arrived early and I found myself receiving news of his impending arrival in the middle of nowhere. And then, after what can only be described as an ‘ultra birth’, he finally arrived.

Some 11 weeks on from that day we are still coming to terms with the impact on our lives. We both expected changes, but nothing prepares you for just how 24/7 it can all be.

Don’t get me wrong. I wouldn’t change a thing. I am absolutely loving parenthood and found that I quickly accepted the change in priorities that accompanied the birth of our son (not that there was actually a choice lol!).

I knew from early on that running was going to have to take a back seat. However, I tried to kid myself that I was still going to achieve my running ambitions for 2013. On 16th March I lined up for my 1st ultra of 2013, the 33 mile D33. I knew it was going to be tough, going in to the race with a far reduced mileage than in previous years, and having run a maximum of 11 miles as my ‘long run’ in the build up to the event. Nowehere near long enough to realistically prepare me for the event. By 18 miles, my legs were in agony and, grinding out a finish with a personal worst time (though admittedly far better than I expected under the circumstances) I pondered my participation in ultras throughout 2013.

Next up was the Hoka Highland Fling on 27th April. A continued lack of training followed by a 2 week illness in the final weeks leading up to the event led to my first ever DNS (Did Not Start). Common sense prevailed, much to the relief of Mrs Mac.

And yet, at this point, I still had aspirations to run the 2013 West Highland Way Race. Or at least I did, until last weekend.

It was obvious to me that improving on my 2012 performance was unlikely, even if the stomach coped better this time around. It was also going to involve 3-4 days away from Leanne and Harris, something that I was totally not looking forward to. Last year, having trained considerably more, I found that my body took at least a month to fully recover from the race. Given the vastly reduced training this year, there was potential that the impact could be far worse. Finally, the passion just wasn’t there, at least not to the level that an event of this nature requires. This was becoming increasingly apparent when I sacrificed agreed training slots to spend more time with my son.

Riddled with doubts I went for a run with John Donnelly, part of my 2012 West Highland Way Race support crew. As we ran we talked through my doubts, my concerns about participating and about not participating. By the end of the run I knew that I should withdraw from the 2013 West Highland Way Race. It was a tough decision but, having committed to not running, I felt a weight had been lifted from my shoulders.

Essentially 2013 was about 2 main ‘challenges’ – being the best possible parent to Harris, and completing the 2013 West Highland Way Race, improving on my efforts from the previous year. It became increasingly apparent to me that I could continue to pursue both but, in doing so, would do neither of them justice. When it came down to it, the choice was easy. In fact, there simply was no choice, just a realisation that the West Highland Way Race will still be there for me in years to come, but that these moments with my son are too precious to miss.

Having made the decision, I am much happier in myself. My running, still admittedly sporadic at this point, at least has an element of fun in it again. It is no longer about preparing to meet the challenges of the West Highland Way Race. It is about getting out for a run for the fun and enjoyment of it, if and when time permits on the family front (Given that time is such a precious commodity, I have taken to exercising at 5am, when it least impacts on quality time!). I’m looking forward to getting back to basics, to embarking on hill and speed training, trying to improve running that has essentially stagnated these past few years, with only marginal improvement in race times.

I am looking forward to listening to my body rather than to a specific training plan, running as far as feels good rather than the distance required to meet some goal or other. I am even looking forward to cross training and to new fitness challenges, such as Insanity, ‘The ultimate cardio workout and fitness programme’. As I have discovered of late, running fitness does not necessarily transfer all that well!

I do hope to return to ultras in the not too distant future but, rather than signing up for any one race, I will let my running speak for itself. Once the quality and quantity return, I will know that the time is once again right.

All the very best to everyone running the West Highland Way Race. I hope that you all make it to Fort William, and that you do so without too much damage to yourselves.

My thoughts will be with you all on the weekend of 22nd June.

Happy Running :o)