Spiderman’s Heroic Hoka Highland Fling

As I approached the final few miles of my recent Hoka Highland Fling, I spotted ‘Spiderman’ running not too far ahead of me. Unlike my 2012 West Highland Way Race, I couldn’t put this down to hallucinations! This was, as many of you will know, real life superhero Ross Lawrie, running the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling in full Spiderman costume. I should, at this point, stress the FULL aspect. As the video above demonstrates, Ross’s costume doesn’t contain any mouth or eye holes!

It’s not often that I come within sight of Ross at ultra events, other than at the very start, and, as such, I knew at this point that Ross must have been having a tough day of it. Reading his ‘Heroic Hoka Highland Fling‘ blog post confirmed my suspicions:

“Partially sighted, limited oxygen intake, heat exhaustion, leg cramps and I’m only just hitting Conic Hill – 18miles in…!”

Not content with running ‘just’ the 53 miles of the West Highland Way in full Spiderman costume, it’s Ross’s intent to run the 2015 West Highland Way Race, again in full Spiderman attire:

“On Sat 20th June 2015, Ross Lawrie is attempting to run the complete distance of the West Highland Way Ultra Marathon Race. 95 miles in under 35 hours, in aid of CHAS – Children’s Hospice Association Scotland. As everyone knows… …”With great power, comes great responsibility!” ;)”

It wasn’t until watching the above video that I actually realised just how special this charity is:

CHAS is a charity that provides the only hospice services in Scotland, for children and young people who have life-shortening conditions for which there is no known cure.

You can support Ross’s efforts and the Children’s Hospice Association Scotland at the following URL:

To Fling Or Not To Fling (The Dilemma & The Outcome)

It has been almost a week now since I ran the 10th Hoka Highland Fling and, whilst the DOMS may finally be receding, the memories certainly aren’t.

What a difference a week makes. This time last week I was pondering the sense of making the journey down to Glasgow, uprooting my wife Leanne and two year old son Harris for the weekend, so that I could attempt a race that I was quite so unprepared for.

The post has turned into a mammoth effort, taking almost as long to write as it did to run the actual race! With that in mind, I’ve prepared an abridged version directly below. Read that if you find yourself short of time or, indeed, why not just skip to the pictures! For everyone else, grab a drink and read on :o)

The Abridged Version

  • Returning to ultras in 2015 after a 2 year break
  • 2015 has seen one illness after another
  • As a result, training has been minimal
  • Wasn’t going to run
  • Did run
  • Somehow not only finished but bagged a PB
  • Loved it, roll on Hoka Highland Fling 2016

For a fuller version, read on…

Pre Race

Thanks to 6 months spent ‘traipsing’ from one illness to another, which has seen training decimated by anything and everything (see below), I felt considerably unprepared for the Fling, on a level that I have never experienced before. I’ve gone in to 10k races better prepared than I was for the Fling.

Such was the extent of my ailments that it’s actually easier to list them rather than try and incorporate them into a sentence like structure!

  • Flu (multiple instances of)
  • Chest infection
  • Chickenpox (something I had managed to avoid for 43 years, totally floored me and sapped energy levels to an all time low)
  • Cellulitis (prevented training for approx 1 month leading up to the D33)
  • Further swollen legs with cellulitis-like symptoms caused by insect bites (unfortunately I appear to be the equivalent of a happy meal for all insects, and even more unfortunately, I appear to react really badly to each and every bite)
  • Permanent back ache caused by an unfortunate fall

When I considered my return to running ultramarathons last year, after a two year hiatus inspired by the birth of my son, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy to fit in the required training in such a way that it didn’t impact on my son. I didn’t, however, expect THIS. I mean, seriously, come on, give a guy a break! (Can I just stress that I don’t mean that literally. That would be all I need!)

At this point, it’s time to dispense with the self pity. One thing that I have gleamed from all of the excellent Fling blogs out there is that many of my fellow runners were in exactly the same boat, having experienced setbacks along the way, and/or with training far below their ideal levels.

At least. come race day, the question of whether I ran or not was in my own hands and I wasn’t a DNS by virtue of an injury. Sometimes, when things appear to be going against you, it’s all too easy to forget that.

As it happened, the dilemma over whether to make the trip down to Glasgow or not, was actually taken out of my hands. The last time I was in Glasgow, back in November, our SEAT Alhambra MPV died on us, just as we were about to start the journey home. We finally got the call to come and pick up our fixed car last week, some 6 months later (and yes, you did read that correctly, SIX months later!)

It’s an altogether different and long story but, suffice to say, it was good to finally get the call to come and get the car, and perfectly timed to coincide with race weekend.

As an aside, SEAT did keep us mobile for the entire 6 months with a succession of hire cars and we now have what I like to think of as a ‘RoboCop’ car, rebuilt from the ground up in an effort to find the elusive fault!

Our impromptu week in Glasgow, which we spent before realizing that we weren’t about to get our car back soon,  also saw us fall in love with the city as we walked for miles each day exploring the numerous parks, museums and galleries, the architecture and the sights.

Anyway, back to the race!

Race Day

I headed off to bed around the same time as my son Harris, not long after returning from a fine pre-race meal of Italian food. Retrospectively, the early bed was a great idea. For one, I awoke naturally having managed a good nights sleep. Further, had I slept much longer, I would likely have missed the start of the race.

Whilst I did set an alarm on my iPhone, I omitted to check that I had set it for the right day. As such, my planned 4 a.m. rise didn’t ‘quite’ go to plan. Muppet!

Breakfast and final preparations were slightly less chilled than I had hoped for. However, I also didn’t have time to think, let alone stress! Every cloud does indeed have a silver lining, and, looking out the window, I could see that there were plenty clouds that morning!

Thanks to the selflessness of Leanne’s uncle John, Leanne and Harris were able to remain in bed whilst John dropped me off in Milngavie. I had just enough time to get the drop bags into the respective cars and visit the gents before making my way to the back of the line of runners who were eagerly awaiting the 6 a.m. start.

When I last ran the Fling, there must have been around 500 runners. This time around there was a potential field of 1000 solo runners and some 50 relay teams, with approx. 700+ solo runners actually starting.

I had wondered how things would fare with quite so many but, as it turns out, everything ran like clockwork. The staggered start, which saw me cross the line around 6.06 a.m., ensured that there was sufficient space between the waves of runners, and the field had naturally spaced out within a few miles.

Milngavie to Drymen (12.6 miles)

I caught up with a number of familiar faces over this first section, including Fiona Rennie, Silke Loehndorf and Stuart Macfarlane. It was great to catch up with people and it also helped take my mind off of the task at hand. Fiona made a comment regarding muscle memory which gave me some hope, even with my relative lack of running over the past couple of years.

The last time I ran this section of the West Highland Way was in the pitch black, in apocalyptic rain, with my stomach starting to give indications of the problems that were soon to blight my West Highland Way Race weekend.

It was a relief to find myself running happily and I welcomed the view of the Drumgoyne hills, one of my favourite stretches of the West Highland Way route.

Drymen to Balmaha (19.8 miles)

Unlike at the D33, I managed to run a sensible pace over those first 20 miles, no doubt assisted by the more undulating terrain of the West Highland Way route. I think this in itself paid dividends over the course of the race. (Mental note to self: if you find yourself running the early stages of an ultra at your new, fastest pace, expect to suffer at some point in the not too distant future!)

Conic Hill awaited before the first checkpoint in Balmaha and I approached the hill with some reservations. Thanks to various Facebook posts, I envisaged some kind of fully tarmacked path up and over the hill. Thankfully, the reality is nowhere near as bad as expected.

I did, however, find Conic Hill less arduous than expected. Perhaps down to the improvements underfoot; perhaps down to the 3 stone in weight I have lost these past few months; definitely not down to any form of specific training!

That same lack of hill training back in 2010 resulted in me coming off the hill in a bad state, with the end result being my one and only DNF when I finally threw in the towel around the 27 mile mark.

I arrived at Balmaha feeling positive and looking forward to the contents of my first drop bag. This in itself consisted of a fair amount of guesswork, as drop bags are not something I have had much call for these past two years. Common sense dictates that you don’t try anything new under race conditions. I was about to test whether my drop bag preferences from a few years ago still worked for me.

I’ve always hated eating and running. I love eating and I love running. I’m just not particularly fond of combining the two.

Regardless, this year I actually found myself eating most of the content of my drop bags at each of the 4 checkpoints.

At the end of the day, I suspect that this may be the difference. This may well be why I continued to run strong for so long on the day.

Now I know I said that you don’t try anything new on race day but someone posted a photo of their drop bags on Facebook. Scanning the photo I happened to notice that the bags included packets of Hula Hoops. They are not something that I have ever included in my drop bags but, instantly, I knew I had to have them.

Whoever posted that photo, thank you! Along with the cans of full fat Coke, the Hula Hoops proved to be the hit of the day as far as the content of my drop bags were concerned. I went through the motions with the bananas, flapjacks and pots of Muller Rice, throwing them down at speed. But the Coke and Hula Hoops. I loved those, and looked forward to them at each checkpoint.

Balmaha to Rowardennan (27.2 miles)

Leaving Balmaha, I was surprised to find that there had been a slight change to the route, which I assume is the new official West Highland Way route. It takes you straight back into the forest and well away from the traffic. With up to 1000 runners, that can only be a good thing!

I was also surprised to find myself back running quickly, despite my now full stomach.

Rowardennan to Inversnaid (34.3 miles)

Just a short few miles later, another Coke, packet of Hula Hoops and the remaining content of my drop bag awaited. I made the mistake of actually sitting down to enjoy my food, soaking up the atmosphere and people watching. Retrospectively, I perhaps spent just a few minutes too long at each of the checkpoints. However, what’s to say that these brief breaks didn’t actually aid my overall endurance.

I left Rowardennan in good fettle, having finally removed the waterproof jacket that I started the race in. Blue skies had been the order of the day for a good few miles by this point and I was starting to heat up under my extra layer, which I expected would eventually start to impair my performance. Given the forecast of heavy rain and potentially even snow, I expected that the jacket would have to go back on at some point soon but it never came to that.

As I passed the 27 mile point, I was again running, as before with a full stomach, and feeling good. Passing this, the point at where I abandoned my first ever Highland Fling, back in 2010, was a major psychological boost and, for the first time that day, I started to consider that I may yet complete the full 53 miles.

Inversnaid to Beinglas (40.9 miles)

I don’t think I have ever come across a section of trail quite as mental as the one between Inversnaid and Beinglas. It’s just so damn technical, with routes, rocks, boulders, narrow paths and all manner of obstacles that require the use of hands and feet to clamber up, over, and down to navigate them with any level of safety.

Getting any kind of rhythm going was nigh on impossible and I found myself pondering, especially on the more exposed elements of the route, just how more runners (thankfully) haven’t come a cropper on this section.

By the time I arrived at the final checkpoint, at 40.9 miles in Beinglas, I knew that a race finish was all but assured, even if I had to ‘death march’ to the finish line, but I was also starting to suffer, especially my knees, thanks to the constant clambering and climbing on the technical trail.

Beinglas to Tyndrum (53 miles)

After relatively close checkpoints, I always find this last stint of 12 miles approx. to feel far longer than it actually is. This is particularly true of the forest element, which more than deserves the description of ‘undulating’. There’s a good few steep hills in this section and I came across a number of runners who were suffering in some shape or form, but most often as a result of cramping.

A familiar sounding accent got me talking to a Fling first timer, Caron Mutch, from Macduff if I recall correctly, just up the road from me here in Ellon.

I then found myself running with someone who I didn’t recognise at first. Running head down, focused on getting to the finish, It was only after chatting for a few minutes that I recognised Thomas (Tommy) Robb, whom I have run with on many occasions previously.

The realisation that we actually did know each other hit us at the same time. Tommy’s reaction upon recognizing that it was me was priceless, with words to the effect of “Jonathan, where have you gone”. I suspect this is testament to just how different I must look having lost 3 stones in weight.

The Finish

There’s no disputing that Race Director John Duncan, a.k.a. ‘Jonny Fling’, knows how to put on an ultra event which is an examplar to all others.

The attention to detail throughout the event is second to none, from the ability to register the day before, to the staggered start, to the efficient, well manned checkpoints, staffed with friendly marshals who were all eager to help, to the names and flags on numbers, to the excellent finishing area and finishers prizes. I could go on.

However, one thing about the finish really made my day.

A text from Leanne just a few miles from the end confirmed that Leanne and Harris were waiting for me at the finish and Leanne asked if I would like to run the final few yards with Harris.

This had been my intention all along, without a doubt, and I had decided that, should I be fortunate enough to actually make it to the finish line, Harris would be the recipient of my medal.

Approaching the red carpet, finish line in sight, I spotted Leanne with Harris ready to run the last bit to the line. Having been running for some 12 1/2 hours I was delighted to see them both.

Taking Harris’s hand, we headed towards the line, with the amazing crowds cheering Harris (and me) to the finish. And then Harris stumbled, landing on his knees, which was met with a chorus of sympathetic oooohhsss from the crowd. Picking himself up, we crossed the line together, accompanied Once again by cheers from those around the finish area.

At this point, both Harris and myself were presented with finishers medals, making both his and my day.

I’ve read other Fling blogs where runner parents describe the same thing happening with their children and I really do hope that this is a tradition that continues. If Harris’s reaction is anything to go by, the next generation of ultra runners is already in the making.

Normally, our wee boy is in bed by 7 but it was all we could do to get the excited wee fella in bed by 11 that night, as he proudly showed off his medal to anyone and everyone!

Summary

Saturday 25th April 2015 was one of those all too rare days when everything appeared to just come together so well. Given the lack of training and the fact that I almost didn’t even start, I had no expectations of myself.

As a result, I started far less stressed than usual, accepted each mile covered as a bonus, barely checked my watch, and, when I did, used it only to determine the mileage covered, not once checking my pace. I ran within my comfort zone, stopping to take the ‘occasional’ photo (see the gallery here), and enjoyed the amazing views throughout the day.

I found myself thinking back occasionally to my 2012 West Highland Way Race, especially at sections that reminded me of my exploits that weekend (graphic account of apocalyptic weather, explosive diarrhea and projectile vomiting here), but mostly I was glad just to be back on this iconic trail, alongside so many like minded runners, all striving to reach Tyndrum.

The Future

Given just how troublesome my return to ultras has been this year, I was considering making this comeback a brief one. I was starting to wonder if ultra life was still for me. However, completing the Fling on so little training* and still managing to get a PB (chip time) has actually given me even more incentive to continue, to see what I can achieve with more appropriate training.

(* I don’t dutifully log my mileage these days but, from memory, training over the past 5 months has consisted of 18 miles of the D33 before cramp saw me hobble the remaining 15 miles, an 18 mile training run, approx 3 1/2 marathon distance training runs, a 10 mile hilly Cairngorm run, approx 4 * 5 mile treadmill runs and, finally, approx 7 * 3 mile treadmill runs)

However, Saturday just served to remind me all too well what the allure or running ultras is all about; about the element of camaraderie and friendship that exists amongst runners, seeing runners looking out for each other and chatting away, often with little more in common than their shared love of trails and distance; about pushing limits and taking chances, testing yourself regardless of how well, or otherwise, your training has gone; about taking a chance on a set of circumstances coming together to work in your favour on the day in question.

Broaching the subject of participation in next year’s Fling with my wife, her response was decidedly positive. My participation was a given. Why wouldn’t I want to compete in such an excellent event.

Good to see that a non runner also holds the Hoka Highland Fling in such high stead.

Just a week past the Fling and I am already looking forward to Hoka Highland Fling 2016, which will be Fling #5 for me.

In my mind, I am already envisaging covering those last few metres on the red carpet, with Harris at my side.

Photography: Thanks to John Duncan for arranging race photographers to capture our race, and to photographers Clark Hamilton and www.monumentphotos.co.uk

2014 Review

Given that it’s now the start of February 2015, it’s technically getting a bit late for a ‘2014 Review’. Things keep getting in the way, not unlike the way they keep getting in the way of training, but I set out to write a review of 2014 and I am determined to complete it. After all, if I can’t even complete a review, what hope have I got of completing 2015’s planned event schedule.

My ‘2014 Review’ will be quite unlike many of the reviews that I have been reading online.

For one, my ‘2014 Review’ is actually going to go back as far as 2013, so we can get the whole picture, as my running spiralled into oblivion.

Further, my review is different because I didn’t run in any organised events, let alone any ultramarathons, and I ran fewer miles than I have since at least 2010 and, most likely, since 2007.

There were no big events, no (official) PBs, and no logging of mileage. I couldn’t even give an approximation of how many miles I ran.

Sounds a bit chaotic really but the truth of the matter is that I was ‘otherwise engaged’, ‘on sabbatical’, ‘out of office’ as far as running was concerned.

It’s a situation that, given the prominent role that running has played in my life these past few years, I would never have envisaged, and yet, 2014 was the first year since 2004 that I didn’t compete in an organised event.

Since late February 2013, it has all been about parenthood, attempting to master the role of ‘daddy’, a challenge that I have relished despite constantly feeling like I am making it up as I go along!

My last ultramarathon was the 2013 D33, just weeks after the birth of my son Harris. ‘Training’ had been severely impacted by preparations around the house for the impending birth, with practically the whole house decorated, including a kitchen that was finally finished just a couple of weeks before Harris’s arrival. I hope never again to repeat the chaos of those few months.

By the time the D33 came, in mid-March and just a couple of weeks after our new arrival, I had mustered ‘long run’ training, and I really do use that description in the loosest sense, of just 11 miles, 1/3 of the total distance that I expected to cover.

I did grind out a finish, along with a PW time, but admittedly not actually that much over my first ever D33 time!

It wasn’t pretty.

Understatement.

It hurt.

A lot.

Huge understatement!

I knew there was no chance of me making it to the 2014 D33 and was gutted to lose my place as one of the ever presents in this, the 5th year of the event.

So, we’ve established, 2014 wasn’t about the running.

It wasn’t, however, a complete write-off where fitness was concerned.

But we are not quite at the positive part, not just yet.

Following injury and my resulting failure to attain a 1/2 marathon PB at the Great Scottish Run in October 2013, a very visible failure thanks to my role as a PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador with PUMA and The Running Bug, I found my running mojo plummeted.

I was then unfortunate enough to catch something called Hand, Foot & Mouth from my son. Fortunately, he appeared to have a fairly mild reaction to this viral infection, something which, according to the NHS mostly affects young children.

I, on the other hand, did not. One of the symptoms is described as follows:

“A non-itchy red rash, made up of spots or small fluid-filled sacs (vesicles), which usually develops on the hands and feet, but may also occur on the knees, elbows, groin and buttocks; sometimes the rash can develop into painful blisters”

I ended up unable to walk thanks to painful blisters that covered the soles of my feet, amongst other areas, almost in their entirety. My feet were in a better condition at the end of 95 miles of apocalyptic weather on the West Highland Way than they were after just one single day of hand, foot and mouth.

It was a good few weeks before I could even walk, let alone run without pain, and the skin of my feet took months to properly heal.

My weight started to creep up, nullifying all the gains that I had made thanks to the nutrition element of the PUMA PB Challenge.

2014 started with illness. I was in the Cairngorms for the start of the year but was under the weather thanks to a bad chest infection. I made the most of my time there but I was most definitely held back by the severity of the infection.

Finally, around the middle of 2014, things took a positive turn on the health front. By this point, my weight was up around the 16 stone mark.

Following the opening of the new Aquatics Centre at Aberdeen Sports Village, I popped across for a swim, just to see what it was like. This made a change to my usual approach of working through lunch, eating a packed lunch at my desk.

My single visit turned into a daily pilgrimage to the pool. When I tired of swimming every day, I alternated between the gym and the pool, and this is pretty much how it has been since.

I started 2015 some 3 stone lighter than my 16 stone peak, still heavy by a lot of people’s standards but, certainly as far as I am concerned, the lightest that I have been since… well, since I can actually really remember. I was possibly lighter at some point back in my early 20s, but that’s a good while ago now and the memory isn’t ‘that’ good!

I’m not finished yet. Despite a plateau over the past few weeks, I am determined to lose more weight, hopefully in time for 2015’s planned events.

Losing weight does bring new ‘problems’. For one, I need to replace a large portion of my wardrobe as and when finances permit. That’s not such a big deal.

I also discovered that I am no longer impervious to the cold, resulting in the purchase this past weekend of a Rab Summit Jacket, a toasty warm down garment that should hopefully keep me much warmer.

The main issue is with regard to the impact on my running.

On the plus side, I’ve found myself able to run considerably faster than previously, notching up a massive PB at the 5k distance and taking over a minute off of my 10k PB, a time which itself was a fluke, much faster than my usual times, set way back in 2008!

On the negative side, my pacing has gone out of the window. I’m no longer ‘Mr. Single Speed’. I can now mix it up. Unfortunately, however, I usually do mix it up, each and every long run, and I have yet to find the optimal pace for completing runs over the 6 mile distance. That’s obviously something that needs to be resolved, ideally before the D33 in March.

I had, admittedly somewhat naively, hoped that muscle memory, coupled with the not insignificant weight loss, would see me easily smash all of the ultra PBs that I have set in the past.

The reality, as I found on one particularly bad 18 mile run the other week, was that I will need to a) find my optimal long run pace and b) train just as hard, if not harder, than I have in the past, to try and get anywhere near to the levels of ultra endurance that I had previously accrued over 3 solid years of ultra training and racing.

To add insult to injury, I actually struggled from the 3 mile mark on that 18 mile run. Still, I persisted, something that I obviously haven’t forgotten from my time running ultras and, further, an 18 mile run, albeit a bad one, is still 7 miles longer than any run I managed while training for the 2013 D33! As such, I can’t really complain.

So, that’s where things stand now. I am attempting to get enough running in, albeit mixed up with swimming, cycling and cross training. Gone are the days when I run simply to log miles and add to yearly mileage totals. I haven’t in fact, logged any of my mileage. I just have a rough idea of how things are building up.

With a bit of luck I will complete the D33 and the Highland Fling, the two events that I have signed up for at the time of writing. I’m also keen to do the Great Glen Ultra, a 72 mile run from Fort William to Inverness that I have never run before. It would, in fact, be my first BaM (Bill & Mike) event. Having cycled the route, from Inverness to Fort William, a good few years back, it’s a race that excites me, and especially with the prospect of running some of it on the new higher level path, with the improved views over Loch Ness.

Ideally, I would also like to round off the year with a return to The Speyside Way. Hopefully training, finance, and logistics, will allow that. As an ‘Elgin loon’, it’s almost like returning home, even though running, let alone running endurance events, was about the furthest thing from my mind in those first 18 years of my life when I lived in Elgin and Lhanbryde (located 4 miles out of Elgin, not in Wales, for those that don’t know the area).

There are elements of that Speyside Way Race route that are amongst my favourite trails outside of the Cairngorms and I can’t wait to run them again.

So, in summary, 2013/2014 didn’t have the best of starts health wise and running was always a secondary, if even that, part of my life in this time. However, 2014 was the year when I finally, after years of trying, turned a corner where my weight was concerned, something that will hopefully have an impact on my 2015 ultra schedule and for many, many years to come.

Ding! Ding! I’m In The Fling!

After a long day ripping up 2 overgrown rockeries in the garden, lumping oversized rocks around, digging up plants determined to annexe their neighbours, and generally attempting to return our garden to the (kind of) pristine shape that it used to enjoy pre Harris, I was all but set for a very early bed tonight.

And then I remembered it was Fling night. No, not some night of sordid sexual depravity, nor a night of Scottish dancing, but, instead, the opening of entry to The Hoka Highland Fling, the 53 mile ultramarathon that is Scotland’s, if not also the UK’s, biggest Ultramarathon.

With a capped entry of 1000 solo runners, I was hopeful of getting a place but, regardless, decided to err on the side of caution and sign up as soon as entry opened, at 9PM this evening.

With a couple of crashes along the way, it was obvious that the web servers were taking a bit of a pounding but, thankfully, I  secured the desired place, ending my 2 year ‘sabbatical’ from ultramarathons.

What I didn’t expect was to see over 600 of those 1000 available spaces sell out in the first 40 minutes of the race being opened. I won’t be surprised if the race is sold out by the time I waken tomorrow morning at this rate!

So, a commitment to run 53 miles on 25th April 2015, along the lower ‘1/2’ of the West Highland Way, on the 10th edition of the Highland Fling, along with some 999 other solo runners and some 50 approx relay teams of 4 runners. I had best get training!

A Far Flung Fling?

 

A far flung Fling? Only as far as Glasgow (from Ellon). Not that far really, but a) I somehow came up with the title and decided to run with it and b) when a toddler who isn’t overly fond of travel (or more to the point of being restrained for any length of time) enters the equation, even 160 approx. miles is far enough!

So, is a return to ultramarathons on the cards for me after an absence that started back in March 2013, shortly after the birth of my son Harris?

The short answer is ‘who knows for sure’, but the more considered answer is that I sure hope so. I’ve been making changes that should impact on my running, hopefully allowing me to train for ultras without the excessive mileage that I put in pre Harris.

Essentially, it boils down to continued weight loss (See my previous post, Suunto Ambit 3 & The Return To Training, for more details), more speed work (again referring to my previous post, I’ve now got my 3 mile time down from approx. 30 mins to 21:45 in the space of just a few weeks), and greater specificity, with more emphasis on hills when the terrain available to me permits it.

In a nutshell, I’m aiming for quality over quantity, and hoping that my regular swimming and cross training will supplement the run training.

My history with the Fling is mixed, providing me with my 1 D.N.F. to date:

  • 28/04/12 Highland Fling 12:36:12
  • 30/04/11 Highland Fling 13:03:43
  • 24/04/10 Highland Fling D.N.F. (27 miles)

2010 resulted in my only D.N.F. to date, 2011 saw me awake most of the night with massive leg cramps, too scared to move for fear of more cramping, and 2012 saw me retire to bed early, shortly after completing, with the weirdest case of the shivers. And yet, I love it – the terrain, the atmosphere, the slick, quality for money event that it is.

It’s one of ***the*** races I have missed the most and, in my absence, it would appear that Race Director John Duncan has taken the Fling from strength to strength making it one of, if not ***the*** biggest ultras in the UK.

2015 is the 10th Fling and, with 1000 solo runners plus relay teams, it’s sure to be a party!

My aims for the 2015 Fling are simple:

  • Secure my place in the race
  • Train, train, train (but train smart!)
  • Beat 12:36:12

It would be nice to take a good chunk off of that 12:36:12 time but, given that this will be only my 1st or 2nd ultra back after my wee, toddler inspired, ultra ‘sabbatical’, I will ultimately settle for a finish. I certainly don’t want to be adding to my list of D.N.F.s!

Realistically, whilst recent changes have the potential to translate into a quicker ultra running pace, it’s getting the long runs in that will be the toughest aspect of training with a toddler.

Entries Open for the 2015 Fling Ultramarathon on Sunday 12th October 2014 at 9pm (UK Time) – best set a reminder as I don’t think it will take long before the race is at capacity!

Moray 10k

This coming Sunday, the 1st September, will be my first race of the year since the D33 ultramarathon back in March. I did have a number of events planned for the interim, including a second stab at the 95 mile West Highland Way Race, the 53 mile Hoka Highland Fling, the 43 mile Devil O’ The Highlands and, well, pretty much all of my ‘usual’ ultramarathons (Scottish Ultra Marathon Series). But then, in February, my son Harris was born, and it soon became all too obvious that there wasn’t going to be enough time in the day to train to the extent that I was used to AND be a great dad. That’s when I decided to retire from running ultramarathons, albeit temporarily.

In the run up to a race I am used to getting drop bags ready, spending ages pondering over kit choices, which waistpack/rucksack/race vest to wear etc. etc. etc. This time round, however, I will be lucky to have warmed up by the time I get to the starting line. Why? Because I am running a 10k, 6.2 miles.

I’ve run 15 10ks to date, starting back in May 2007 at the City of Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k. I can’t recall if it was that very race but I do remember that I reached the 1/2 way point at one Baker Hughes 10k, in May of that year (as it always is), and thought to myself that this was now my longest run of the year! Given the thousands of miles that I have logged since, and especially the miles logged since March 2010 when my focus turned to ultramarathons, it seems funny not to have run anything longer than 3 miles by May of any year!

My PB for the 10k distance is 49:36, set way back in 2007, again at the City of Aberdeen Baker Hughes 10k. If memory serves me correctly, that was the year that the race start was delayed because of cars parked on the route and also the year where it started hailing/snowing just before the start of the race – no doubt the reason for my extra turn of speed that year!

Believe it or not, I am actually nervous about running it. I’ve never been a fast runner and, with a 10k, it’s never that long before the event is over. It’s also my first 10k since June 2009!

It would be nice to finish with a good time, especially considering all the training I have been doing and that, at my next event, the Great Scottish Run in Glasgow on 6th October, I am aiming to set a new PB as part of my role as a PUMA PB Challenge Ambassador. However, I currently have a niggle with my right leg and, thus, will just have to see how the day goes.

On the plus side, even with race registration, transportation to the start line etc. etc., I should be away from the family for little more than a couple of hours rather than the 12-30 hours required for completion of some of my ultras in the past! In that area at least, it will be mission accomplished as far as my running and having realistic running goals is concerned.

All the best if you are running any of the Moray Marathon series of events this weekend. I will be the one kitted out head to toe in PUMA gear :o)

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)

Hoka Highland Fling 2013

416 solo runners and 48 relay teams finished the 2013 Hoka Highland Fling on Saturday 27th April. Solo times ranged from Lee Kemp’s record breaking 07:02:50 through to the final finisher in a time of 15:11:13. Relay times ranged from 06:37:45 through to 11:49:54.

Males:
1st Lee Kemp 07:02:50
2nd Ricky Lightfoot 07:09:30
3rd Matt Williamson 07:21:51
Females:
1st Tracy Dean 09:12:21
2nd Fionna Cameron 09:13:35
3rd Sandra Bowers 09:17:02
Relay:
1st Stonehaven Top Dogs 06:37:45
2nd Carnegie Cowboys 07:01:06
3rd The Breen Team 07:14:59

Full results are available online:

2013 Hoka Highland Fling

“Scotland’s Hoka Highland Fling 53-mile race will be run on Saturday, April 27th. Now in its eighth year, this is expected to be the most popular ultra in the UK this year with 593 solo entrants plus 50 relay teams, certainly bigger than any ultras in recent years back in Blighty (that’s Britain for those not familiar with the term). It reflects the continuing growth of ultras globally and it’s good to see races in my homeland doing so well.”

It speaks volumes about the success of the Hoka Highland Fling when renowned ultra athlete Ian Sharman previews the race on www.irunfar.com, home of everything ultra. This will be my first absence from the race for 3 years, with 1 DNF and 2 finishes to my name. As gutted as I am to miss the race, it’s for a good reason, and I will be back fitter and, hopefully(!), faster in years to come. Ironically, it looks like the weather is going to be far from the balmy temperatures of years gone by which would have been perfect for me. Hopefully it’s not too cold for all concerned.

Best of luck to everyone running. I look forward to hearing how everyone does on the day.