The Great Glen Ultra 2015

(Thanks to Fiona Rennie for the 4 excellent checkpoint photos)

Towards the end of 2014 I made the decision to end my parenthood inspired 2 year ultramarathon hiatus, signing up for The D33, The Hoka Highland Fling, and The Great Glen Ultra.

I fully appreciated that training was likely to be ‘impaired’ by the demands of parenthood, and certainly when compared to the kind of hours that I used to log in training pre-Harris.

However, it’s safe to say that I didn’t expect 2015 to be blighted quite so much by illness, as I stumbled from one ailment to another, including cellulitis and chickenpox to name but a couple.

The numerous ailments, together with on-going back pain resulting from a bad fall, impacted considerably on training and, looking back, I’m still surprised that I managed to complete even one of my chosen events, never mind all three of them!

In terms of long runs this year, I’ve managed a couple of 18 mile runs prior to the D33, the D33 itself, where I was beset with bad leg cramps in both legs at the 18 mile mark, and the Hoka Highland Fling, where I somehow managed not only to complete the race but also to bag a PB, albeit only by a few minutes.

Other than this, ‘training’ has consisted of a few 12-13 mile runs, and a number of 3-5 mile runs squeezed in over a lunchtime, supplemented with cross training, cycling and swimming.

One thing’s for certain – I’ve certainly kicked my habit of logging junk miles, running the same routes at the same pace time and time again!

Anyway, down to business, the events of this weekend just past and the 4th July Great Glen Ultra 2015.

Goals

Based on the above, I had 3 goals.

Don’t Die!

OK, so ‘slightly’ melodramatic, but I seriously felt that out of my depth. Sure I completed the 95 mile West Highland Way Race in apocalyptic weather conditions back in 2012, but that was the culmination of 3 years of solid ultra running and training and couldn’t have been further removed from my build up to the GGU.

Less melodramatically, the aim was not to do myself any long term damage and, having already managed my first post GGU run, an admittedly short (but speedy) 3 miles on the treadmill, I appear to have succeeded on that front.

I can’t actually recall running quite so quickly after any of my previous events, let alone one of this distance.

Finish

I have one DNF to my name, my first ever Fling back in 2010. That DNF bugs me to this day, though I appreciate now that my training at the time lacked the specificity to see me safely to the finish line. The temperature on the day and my body weight at the time also didn’t exactly help matters.

Since then, I have had an unswerving goal to finish at all costs!

And yet, this weekend just past, I found myself seriously considering a DNF from around miles 10 through to 30.

From the few GGU blogs that I’ve read so far, most people appear to have had the same train of thought at some point or another throughout the race! At least I was not alone in that respect.

By the time the bus left Inverness destined for Fort William, my stomach was already tying itself in knots and, come race time, my stomach hadn’t seen any food in over 5 hours. Hardly ideal, and a ‘bit’ of a failure in terms of my planning. I couldn’t wait to get to that first checkpoint 10 miles into the race.

Repeated visits to the gents prior to the start of the race didn’t get the desired results and I was fearful of a repeat of my 2012 West Highland Way Race experience.

That, on top of the existing nerves and concerns, did my confidence no favours at all and it was only when I started to approach the 1/2 way mark that I finally managed to banish some of the negativity from my thoughts.

Finish In 18 Hours (Ideally)

Why 18 hours? It was a time that fitted in with my sons sleep routine, albeit one that would see him start his evening sleep in the car travelling home rather than in bed. Throughout the day, the thought of some family time was THE thing that kept me going.

The Outcome

As it was, I finally crossed the line in a time of 16:02:49, in 36th place out of 73 entrants, 7 of whom did not start (DNS).

I will admit to being slightly gutted to have lost out on a sub 16 hour time but, upon arriving in Inverness of all places, I found myself uncertain of the route and wasted 10-15 mins approx. using Google to try to verify that I wasn’t about to embark upon some unnecessary mileage.

I really, really didn’t want to run any further than was absolutely necessary at this point and the thought of having to retrace my steps in the event of heading off on in the wrong direction filled me with dread.

Unfortunately, either Google Maps or my phone reception (or both) didn’t want to assist on the day! Thankfully I did end up on the correct path. For some reason I was convinced that Bught Park was far closer to that final hill that dropped us down into Inverness than it actually was.

The Route

“The Great Glen Way is a long distance path in Scotland. It follows the Great Glen, running from Fort William in the west to Inverness in the east, covering 79 miles. It was opened in 2002 and is one of Scotland’s four Long Distance Routes.” (Wikipedia – The Great Glen Way)

The Great Glen Ultra route, starting from Neptune’s Staircase in Corpach, comes in around 73 miles approx., with checkpoints at approximate distances as shown:

  • Checkpoint 1, Clunes (10miles)
  • Checkpoint 2, Laggan (20miles)
  • Checkpoint 3, Fort Augustus (30miles)
  • Checkpoint 4, Invermoriston (40miles) Water Station 1: (45miles)
  • Checkpoint 5 : Drummidrochit (50miles)
  • Checkpoint 6: Loch Laide (60miles)
  • Finish – Inverness Stadium @ Bught Park

I have to stress that these are approximate distances. Ideally I would be able to say exactly how far along the route each of these checkpoints was but an ‘issue’ on the day with my Suunto Ambit3 Sport prevents me from doing so. More to follow on this shortly!

Starting at 1am, I was fairly oblivious to the first section alongside the canal. There wasn’t much to see other than a stream of headtorches, bobbing along the route, with the runners all fairly closely packed at this point.

I can’t recall exactly where, but a later canal path section really did knock the stuffing out of me. It was just so compacted, and so very, very long and straight. As a result, progress felt very slow along this section.

Thankfully, there was also a considerable amount of time spent in various forests along the route, which was far more to my liking.

The route was very undulating, if indeed, this is even an adequate description as, at times, we found ourselves climbing high above the mist that hovered over the loch beneath us. Just when you thought you couldn’t climb any higher, another switchback appeared to signal otherwise, and it was these same switchbacks, ensuring that ascents weren’t too direct and too steep, that likely caused the aforementioned problems with my Suunto.

The Lows

I have to admit to struggling for long periods of the Great Glen Ultra. For some reason I just found it so hard to get my head in the game, and I often found myself wallowing in negativity, just looking for an excuse to drop from the race.

Midges

The dreaded midges and various other insects were definitely out to annoy. Bad enough for those of us running the event. Absolutely dreadful for the marshals who had to remain at their checkpoints.

The Rain

The forecast had been for heavy rain with the possibility of thunder and lightning. Thankfully we didn’t see any of the latter, but the rain was often and torrential.

With temperatures that would have ‘cooked’ me had I donned a waterproof, I opted just to get wet, and it was only in the latter stages of the race when the cold finally started to get to me, that I opted for some protection from the elements.

The one redeeming element of the rain was that it at least brought some respite from the dreaded midges!

Given the choice, I would most definitely take rain over midges any day!

Thoughts Of A DNF

I perhaps assumed that I was destined to fail on the day. It’s the only possible explanation I have as to why I spent quite so long considering dropping from the race.

Thankfully, as I clocked up the mileage, and especially upon reaching the 1/2 way point, my thoughts turned to a more positive assessment of the day.

The runners and marshals that I chatted to along the way, whether they knew it or not, lifted my spirits sufficiently to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

The Highs

That Sunrise!

The photos just don’t do it justice. The sunrise started as nothing more than a thin orange line sitting on top of the loch but culminated in a fiery red sky that lit up the clouds. If ever there was an excuse for a 3 am run, this is it!

Those Marshals!

Each and every single one of the marshals couldn’t have gone out of their way more to assist, whether it be retrieving and opening drop bags, assisting with litter, filling water bottles and so forth. What’s more, they did it in some atrocious weather conditions, all whilst being eaten alive by those b&%$£&^^ midges! Thank you all :o)

Camaraderie & Friendship

I spent a lot of time running with fellow runners, some of whom I knew from previous events, and some of whom I was meeting for the first time. Thanks to everyone for the company. You all helped me make it as far as Inverness.

One thing that is evident from the photographs taken throughout the event is that despite the weather/midges/pain/sleep deprivation/everything the majority of runners were still smiling.

Going by Fiona Rennie’s pictures, which I was totally unaware were being taken, I was having a whale of a time. I was delighted to see these, and I have to admit that the smile on my face leaves me questioning whether it was really as bad as I remember it.

That Mistake – The Suunto ‘Issue’

They say not to do anything new on race day. I should have listened. However, concerned with just how long I was going to be out running, I took it upon myself to create an ultra specific Suunto Ambit3 Sport mode, with a focus on maximum battery conservation.

The last thing I wanted was, as happened in the West Highland Way Race back in 2012, an incomplete GPS track of my route or, even worse, to be left clueless with regard to how far along the route I was.

Ironically, my battery preservation efforts backfired spectacularly, and the final mileage recorded by my watch was approx. 66.5 miles, considerable less than the 73 mile route.

The lost mileage, stemming from a reduced GPS tracking level, was no doubt amplified by the numerous switchbacks along the route.

It was soul destroying to realise that my watch couldn’t be relied upon for mileage, especially when the checkpoints weren’t exactly located 10 miles apart.

Ironically, as I finish writing this report, some 5 days after the event, my watch has still to be charged and has a battery life of 38%!

Checkpoint Times

Checkpoint Time of arrival Leg splits
CP1 01:47:56 n/a
CP2 03:35:20 01:47:24
CP3 06:02:00 02:26:40
CP4 07:37:52 01:35:52
CP5 11:16:00 03:38:08
CP6 13:14:17 01:58:17
FINISH 16:02:49 02:48:32

What’s Next?

The big question at this point is what’s next for me?

I swore during and after the GGU that this was my last ultra, at least until I was able to train properly.

That statement sits in contrast to my earlier stated intent to try and run the Highland Fling, West Highland Way Race or Great Glen Ultra, and Devil O’ The Highlands in 2016, assuming that I was fortunate enough to gain entry to each event.

In true ultramarathon runner style, the pain has already subsided and I am once again giving thought to putting myself through the pain and torture of events.

Indeed, the fact that I spent last night considering how best to tighten up on time spent at checkpoints is surely testament to the fact that I am already considering future events. I’m investigating Tailwind Nutrition to see if this offers an alternative to fuelling that works for me. As much as I do love the real food approach, it does result in longer spent at Checkpoints than is ideal.

Whilst I am not quite so certain that I will now be taking another ultra hiatus, I am 100% certain that I am not about to try and bluff my way through another year of ultras.

I’ve already lost 3 stone in weight in the build up to my 2015 events and the difference in my running has been evident. I don’t think that I would have completed any of the three events had I attempted to do so on such limited training and at my previous weight.

I’ve set myself a goal of making further ultra participation dependent upon continued weight loss of at least another 1/2 stone, but ideally a stone.

In terms of training, I will likely never return to the pre-Harris mileage that I ran in my first 3 years of ultramarathon involvement. However, I most definitely do need to put a more structured training regime in place, complete with more long runs. Of course, successful training will also be dependent upon continued good health, which was the main issue this year.

So that’s all for this year as far as ultramarathons are concerned. There was some thought about signing up for The Speyside Way Race but I’ve managed to double-book that weekend with a few days away in the Cairngorms, which has taken the do I/don’t I issue out of my hands.

This weekend, we are again bound for the Cairngorms, with a joint celebration of our 5th wedding anniversary and Leanne’s dads early retirement. Thankfully, it would appear that I am going to be fit enough after the exertions of last weekend to make the most of it.

What A Difference A Week Makes – My Fated Return To Ultras!

What a difference a week makes. This time last week I had one thing on my mind, my return to running ultramarathons at the D33 following a near 2 year hiatus from the world of long distance running.

Whilst it most definitely wasn’t the easiest of days, mostly thanks to the debilitating cramps that struck me at mile 18 and stayed with me for the remainder of the race, retrospectively, it was far easier than the week that was to follow.

My legs were particularly sore in the aftermath of this event, no doubt as a result of the spasms that shot through them mid race. However. little did I appreciate on the Sunday that DOMS was to be the least of my worries in the aftermath of the race.

I left work at the usual time on Monday afternoon, feeling less than 100%. Arriving home, something caught my eye as I changed out of my work clothes – spots. Lots & lots of spots.

What followed was a swift deterioration of my condition, accompanied by the arrival of a multitude of spots, appearing in every conceivable place of my body, and more than a few places that I just hadn’t expected to see them!

At the age of 42, I was experiencing chickenpox for the very first time. I knew my time was coming. Ever since my son Harris arrived, back in February 2013, I realised that there was a good chance that he would get it and that he would then, as he does so well with all of his ailments, pass it on to me.

True to form, Harris appears to have developed a mild form of chickenpox, leaving me to experience the considerably more severe form. It’s all that I can do not to try and rip the skin off my body and I have to admit to finding the various creams and lotions largely ineffective at reducing the irritation.

Looking on the bright side, it could be worse. At least this happened in the week immediately after the D33, in a time when I was expecting to be taking things easy/easier anyway.

It could have waited until days before my next event, the Hoka Highland Fling.

What with illness, cellulitis and now chickenpox, I have surely had my run of bad luck as far as training for and running in ultras is concerned.

When I decided to make 2015 my comeback year, I didn’t expect that everything would run smoothly. I didn’t, however, expect this!

I’m still highly contagious at this point, with spots still developing wherever they can find a space and, as such, instead of heading off for a lovely weekend in Glasgow, I am confined to the house and trying my best not to scar myself by giving in to the numerous urges to scratch!

I’m determined, however, that I will still be heading to the Cairngorms for my birthday weekend at the end of the month, and, further, that there will be running!

I can only live in hope.

Hopefully, surely, things can only get better from this point on!

Return Of The Mac – D33 2015

Update, 16th March 2015, 17:00: felt a little poorly at work today but put this down to my D33 efforts over the weekend. However, turns out that I actually have chickenpox, with rapidly spreading spots. Will admit that I didn’t see that one coming! Having never had chickenpox before, I’m not relishing the prospect of the next week. Hopefully won’t impact too much on my Fling training.

Back in March 2013, I toiled around the D33 ultramarathon, finally completing in a PW time of 06:18:33. The event, just a couple of weeks after the birth of my son Harris, was to be my last ultra until this weekend just past, the 14th March, when I once again toed the line for the D33.

Having taken a 2 year hiatus following the birth of my son, I finally felt prepared to once again tackle ultra distances. Or, at least, that was the thinking behind my application back at the start of 2015. The reality, of course, was somewhat different.

The short version of events is that, just like in 2013, I made it to the finish line and, in doing so, completed my 18th ultramarathon out of 19 starts. Again just like 2013, It was anything but pretty!

Looking at the available splits information for my participation in D33 events to date, the one thing that is evident is that I ‘may’ have gone out too hard and fast on the day.

Perhaps this is why, come mile 18, I found myself rooted to the spot, absolutely unable to move, thanks to debilitating cramps that were shooting through every inch of both legs.

Or then again, maybe it was more to do with the absolute lack of training, the recent issues with cellulitis that had curtailed all running in the run up to the event, or the fact that I chose to hydrate entirely with nothing more than 100% water, with no electrolytes or salt tablets at all, a habit that I had become accustomed to over the considerably shorted runs that I had completed whilst on my ‘ultra vacation’.

To say that things hadn’t quite gone to plan would be an understatement.

When I last ran the race, back in 2013, my training had been adversely affected by preparations for the arrival of my son Harris and my longest training run had been just 11 miles. However, despite the short distances back then, there was considerably more volume of training and I still had the muscle memory from 3 years worth of ultra events that I believe helped me get through on the day.

This time around, illness and parenthood limited the training time available to me and my situation was further exasperated by the events of the past month.

I should add at this point, that it’s not all doom and gloom. A good few people commented on my considerably reduced frame on Saturday, thanks in no small part to the loss of over 3 stones in weight over the past 6 months approx.

However, this in itself added yet more uncertainty into the mix and I really did feel as if I was starting afresh. Come Saturday morning I was extremely nervous and pretty much kept myself to myself, save for a few short catch up conversations, as I awaited the start of the race.

Initially, as the weight started to drop off, I came to ‘expect’ PBs, almost forgetting that they needed to be earned. An 18 mile run from Ellon to Mintlaw at the start of the year, along the Formartine & Buchan Way, soon put paid to these naive thoughts. Less than 3 miles in I found myself toiling badly and I will admit to considering making the call for a pick up at one of the many hop on/off points along the line. Retrospectively, I was glad that I did complete the run, though at no point did it feel like anything more than an absolute slog.

It soon became apparent that weight loss alone wasn’t going to be enough to ensure PB times and that, further, any muscle memory in the legs was well and truly gone.

The only option was to ramp up the long runs, mixing these up with 2-3 speedier sessions through the week. With this in mind, approximately 1 month before this years D33, I set out to do a back to back weekend, pushing hard on the Saturday.

I was delighted to smash my 1/2 marathon PB by a considerable number of minutes in the course of the 15 mile run that day and I followed this up with a 13 mile run the following day, pushing only marginally less hard.

Come Monday, my legs were in bad shape and I spent the week swimming in place of my planned cross training and running sessions. What I thought was just a bad case of DOMS hung about considerably longer than I would expect.

With the D33 looming ever closer, I took the decision to ‘test’ the legs, setting out for an out and back 15 mile off-road run. Daft perhaps but I am sure, given the circumstances, something that most runners would have done themselves.

The run out was manageable, just. The return however, was anything but comfortable and the notion of running ‘form’ soon went out the window as I ran/walk/limped home.

Waking in pain at 1 am, unable to return to sleep thanks to the throbbing in my left leg, I knew then that there was something seriously wrong.

Sunday revolved around a hospital visit where I was diagnosed with cellulitis, provided with antibiotics, anti-inflammatories and painkillers. I was advised to keep the feet up and do nothing.

Over the course of the week, my left leg lost its warm red glow and returned to a size more comparable to my right leg. However, despite completing all medication, there was still considerably more pain that I would have expected at this stage. Unfortunately, flexion was the root cause of much of the pain which didn’t bode particularly well for running.

Seeking further medical advice, I was advised that the continued pain was likely a side effect of the cellulitis and that continued rest was the only approach. Thankfully, the doctor was very understanding when I broached the subject of the D33.

I was advised that there was little constructive training that could be done at this point anyway, and that, if I really had to run it, I should just stay off the leg as much as possible until the day and then attempt to complete, using any pain experienced as a barometer of if/when I should pull out.

Armed with this advice I at least had some hope, which was good enough for me. (I’ve got to love my medical practice. They really do tolerate my insanity really well!)

I waited until the Wednesday before the D33 and, with pain levels almost back to normal, I hit the treadmill for a fast paced 5 mile test.

The pain was bearable, my race was on. (Retrospectively, I shouldn’t have pushed quite so hard as I spent the Friday worrying about the DOMS that my test run had brought about!)

As I headed into the D33 early on the Saturday morning I was a bag of nerves. The limitations of my training were playing on my mind, as was that torturous 18 mile run along the Formartine & Buchan Way, my longest training run to date. Surely it wouldn’t/couldn’t be THAT bad!

My leg was still an unknown quantity. How would it cope with any distance? Would the cellulitis return? (at the time of writing, thankfully not!).

Finally, I had taken the decision to replace my trusty Altra Lone Peak 1.5 trail shoes with the new Lone Peak 2.0 which, it turns out, has quite a different feel to it. I just hadn’t had the opportunity to test the shoes out. Thankfully they were the real success story of the day as my feet were in immaculate condition come the finish. The slightly increased stack height of the 2.0 quite possibly best suited the hard conditions underfoot of the D33.

The race itself was going well for the first 13 miles. Really well. Too well in fact. I knew I was going too fast, considerably faster than previous efforts, and yet I didn’t back off.

Stupid? Maybe, but who’s to say that the events of mile 18 wouldn’t have happened regardless of how hard I pushed. I can, at least, take some consolation from the fantastic run that I had to start. I didn’t even stop at the first check point, confirming my number to one of the marshals and continuing on my way.

By miles 14 and 15 I was starting to lag, and I was glad of a can of Coke at the 1/2 way point, my one guilty ‘ultra pleasure’. There’s nothing quite like the thought of a can of Coke to lift my spirits and keep me heading on to the next checkpoint.

I’ve already documented the events at mile 18. I was absolutely rooted to the spot, unable to move, afraid to move, for fear of the pain that even the slightest sway was met with.

The ultra community really came through for me at this point, with many people enquiring as to my well-being and/or if there was anything that they could do. I owe my race to the assistance of one guy who was supporting his wife who was kind enough to help me stretch out both legs. This was enough to get me back moving, albeit very, very gingerly, for fear of inducing yet another cramping spasm.

I also owe thanks to Nicola Stuart for sharing some rock salt with me, and to the final checkpoint for more salt, all of which I am sure helped me nurse my cramping legs to the finish line.

Given all of the issues going in to the event, who would have thought that my performance would ultimately be dictated by cramp!

What I can say for certain is that I made it, and was delighted to be rewarded with a 05:59:41 time, sneaking in just below the 6 hour mark. Further, of the 5 times that I have run the event, it’s actually my 3rd fastest time!

As with so many ultra events, I had a chance to catch up with old friends, and to make new friends along the way, surely one of the best aspects of ultras.

Hopefully my return to the Hoka Highland Fling will fare better!

Huge thanks to the RDs and Marshals without who, the D33 wouldn’t exist.

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.

Ultimate Direction FASTPACK 30 Vest/Backpack

If you’re anything like me, you will be keeping a keen eye on new product, fresh for 2015. As I plan my return to ultramarathons, having now signed up for the D33 and The Highland Fling, I am keeping an open mind with regard to which pack I will be using in training and on race day.

The Ultimate Direction Fastpack 30 Vest/Backpack, coming soon to www.ultramarathonrunningstore.com, may be overkill for shorter events and events with aid stations but it looks like just the ticket for multi-day events and/or long, self sufficient days in the hills.

“The UD Fastpack 30 backpack is meant for adventure. Perfect for bagging peaks, day hikes, or travel. The Ultimate direction Fastpack 30 takes inspiration from our Signature Series, with its vest like fit and front access pockets for a water bottle or storage. There is easy access to water, maps or your smart phone on the front, the stretch pockets on the sides will hold almost anything, and the huge rear stretch pocket allows gear to be quickly stowed or used as needed. The main compartment forgoes zippers in favour of a waterproof roll top closure, allowing this backpack to tightly secure everything from 20 to 31 litres.

The Fastpack 30 is water-resistant, with a reinforced bottom panel for extra durability, and the low-profile daisy chains with trekking pole and ice axe loops complete the package. Unique to the Fastpack 30 is our InfiKnit construction: the back panel and shoulder straps are made from one piece of custom-made fabric, which eliminates contact with all seams. A smooth ride, compressible storage and plenty of pockets makes the Fastpack 30 a great addition to your pack collection.”

Features

  • Patent-pending Infiknit harness is a continuous, seamless back panel and shoulder strap system to prevent abrasion and discomfort
  • Large, main roll-top compartment expands from 20L to 31L
  • Rear stretch-mesh pocket with low-profile daisy chain system
  • Water bottle compatible front pockets also fold flat to store other items
  • Dual adjustable sternum straps and side straps for stability and fit
  • Integrated side compression Z-straps for varying load capacities
  • Removable foam back panel for comfort
  • Available in 2 sizes

Specifications

Volume Capacity: 1220 – 1892 in3 / 20L – 31L

  • Weight: 24.8 oz. / 703 g
  • Height: 24.4 in. / 62 cm
  • Width: 11.4 in. / 29 cm
  • Depth: 10.4 in. / 26.5 cm

Sizing At Chest (Unisex)

  • S/M: 24 – 40 in. / 60 – 102 cm
  • M/L: 32 – 46 in. / 81 – 116 cm

Materials & Design

  • InfiKnit Harness
  • Mono Hex Mesh
  • Cool Wick Air Mesh
  • 340g Power Stretch Mesh
  • 210T Nylon Mini Rip Stop

New packs are due soon from UltrAspire, Ultimate Direction (Wasp & Wink) and Salomon, so there’s certainly plenty to look forward to.

Note that www.pixelscotland.com hopes to have reviews of the new Salomon packs in the near future.

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!

West Highland Way Race 2014

95 miles in under 35 hours with 14,760ft of ascent. It’s that time again, the weekend of the West Highland Way Race. Registration will just be starting in Milngavie in preparation for the 1.00 am start on Saturday morning.

Thinking back to my own West Highland Way Race, in 2012, I wasn’t too nervous at this point. I was all too aware that I was about to step (run) into the unknown, covering some 40 approx. more miles than I had in any race up to that point. Up until June 2012, my longest race had been The Cateran, at 55 miles.

I think, more than anything, there was a sense of relief, firstly, that I had shaken off the Achilles injury picked up only 6 miles into The Cateran less than a month before the WHW Race (I still finished – not finishing my final ‘warm up’ race before WHW Race would have been too big a psychological blow) , and, secondly, that things were, after so much anticipation and build up, finally about to start.

My West Highland Way Race journey started many many months before, from the day I entered the ballot back in November 2011, through to the email just before Christmas telling me I had a place, through the many months of training and racing that led me to the start line of the race in June 2012.

Little did I know just how much of a battle I would face to finish the race. That’s all well documented (links below) though I will caution that it makes for fairly gruesome reading.

Suffice to say, that weekend was one that I will never forget, the weekend when I not only joined the West Highland Way Race ‘Family’, but did so in the face of such adversity – Most definitely a defining weekend in my life.

Hopefully, everyone running the race this weekend will have a considerably smoother journey. The weather conditions appear to be more favourable than those encountered in 2012 but then the weather is just one element of the overall experience.

All the very best to everyone running and, especially, to my good friend Ian Minty, who supported me on my own journey in 2012.

Had it not been for the presence and support of Ian, I very much doubt that I would have continued past the 50 mile point of my journey, when, beset with projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhoea, I hit an all time low.

I did aim to return for a second goblet in 2013 but parenthood got in the way and continues to prevent me from training at the level required. However, I wouldn’t change that for the world and, hopefully, I will be back for goblet number 2 in the not too distant future, hopefully with my young son Harris playing some part in my support team :o)

West Highland Way Race 2014 Links

West Highland Way Race 2012 – My Journey

Return Of The Mac’s Mojo

It’s been 21 days since my last post, hardly the scenario I expected when I put all that hard work into the www.pixelscotland.com revamp.

However, it’s not without good reason. For one, Harris has, as always, been keeping us busy, and also entertained. He has also taken to rising around 5am, something which tests even my penchant for early rises!  I’ve had to curtail the late nights just to keep up with him, with an obvious impact on the time available to me when I actually add to and develop this web site.

Secondly, I’ve been a man on a mission, finally getting around to all those jobs that I have put off for years. This weekend, for example, I managed to fit in a complete clear out of the garage, alongside playing dad and head chef at Mac HQ. I’ve finally cleared space to let me get my weights out and once again resume weight training.

As far as exercising is concerned, I have once again found my mojo, and it’s not just the running mojo! It all started with a swim in the newly opened Aberdeen Aquatics Centre, linked to the equally impressive Aberdeen Sports Village. What started out as a single swim is now a 4 times a week regular visit, slotted in to the day in place of taking lunch at my desk.

The overall impact has been huge and I would once again consider myself to be back ‘in training’, albeit still at a lesser rate than pre Harris days, and, of course, all done to fit in with his schedule. I’ve been mixing up swimming, walking, running, the spin bike, treadmill and cross trainer quite happily, with no actual plan, just taking what I feel like at the time, or what best fits the time available.

What’s more, in mixing it up quite so much, I haven’t found myself feeling like a ‘slave to the miles’, as I have done in the past when training specifically for ultras.

Even at this early stage of training, I am already formulating a full on ultra challenge that will see me tackle some of my favourite terrain, outwith an organised event and, with a bit of luck, in the company of a good friend. Hopefully more to follow on that front if things go according to plan.

I’ve also been busy on the review side of things, with a review of the Salomon Sky Tee for The Running Bug, and with reviews to follow of the Vivobarefoot Evo Pure, Vivobarefoot Trail Freak, Altra Lone Peak 1.5 and, finally, the long awaited The North Face FL Race Vest that I first spied on the backs of the likes of Jez Bragg and Sebastien Chaigneau a couple of years back.

In keeping with the minimal, zero drop, footwear approach, I have also been enjoying feeling slightly smarter than usual in a pair of Vivobarefoot Freud’s. Thanks to Vivobarefoot, I can now maintain my preference for minimalist footwear without having to wear out my trainers.

Finally, I’m feeling decidedly upbeat, despite being a Monday and back in the office, as I have only 4 more working days before we head back to The Cairngorms once again.

I can’t wait to get back on the trails and, this time around, we will be located in Rothiemurchus, close to Loch an Eilein, offering the best possible access to the numerous Cairngorm trails.

Expect loads more photographs, routes and reviews to follow, including a full review of the Croozer, a review of The North Face FL Race Vest, and, again if everything goes to plan, a review of a piece of kit that was recommended to enable me to cut back on the amount of water that I have to carry – a Sawyer Mini Filter.

“At just 65grams, and fitting in the palm of your hand, this is simply the best there is for Weight, Size and Performance. Drink directly as a straw, attach to Sawyer Squeeze Pouches, use inline, or attach to standard threaded bottles. The MINI uses the same exclusive 0.1 micron hollow fiber membrane filter used in our other filters. Although not quite as quick as the SP129 version, you will still be bowled over by the flowrate of this amazing little filter. The MINI comes with a 100,000 gallon (378,540 Litre) guarantee which is still the best rating there is ANYWHERE, and will last for anybody’s lifetime.

Simply fill up the pouch at a lake, stream or river, screw the filter directly onto the pouch and: 

  1. Squeeze the bag & filter water into your water bottle or container of choice
  2. Drink directly from the filter which has a built in cap for on/off functions
  3. Attach the filter onto most threaded water bottles including 2 litre bottles.”

[more information…]

Darkness: How Ultrarunning Can Strip Away Our Emotional Barriers

Thanks to Colin Knox for posting a link to ‘Darkness: How Ultrarunning Can Strip Away Our Emotional Barriers’ on Facebook. A profound video, well worth watching. The spoken element from the video is contained below:

“Deciding to run an ultra for the first time is understandable. It’s a big challenge. While the personal reasons underlying the decision might not be readily apparent, even to the runner, it’s really not that difficult to communicate the essence of the challenge: to prove, to ourselves or others, that we have the fortitude to push through the limitations we once imagined, defy the odds and endure hardship.

Once the challenge has been met, signing up a second time is a different matter entirely. The repeat offender likely has a pre-disposition to binging. Or addiction. While by no means an inviolate law, there’s no question that a large number of our fellow ultra runners have felt the symptoms of withdrawal and agitation after a big event. I find it unlikely that 10 to 20 hours of hormones coursing through our body leaves us with only DOMS to show for our efforts.

I love the feeling of strength, independence and fluid freedom I get from trail running and ultras. Yet the more events I run the more I come to fear the comedown. Knowing the Black Dog is waiting at the front gate for you is intimidating.

Other than drugs and surrounding ourselves with loving distractions, often the only thing that helps us cope is going out for another run. Mind boggling and incredibly frustrating for an injured runner.

I ran the Northburn100 a few months ago, a 100mile race in the mountains of New Zealand. It was tough. I crossed the finish line after 34hrs, physically fine but emotionally desolate. The RD calls it a “look of Anguish”. I’d say Anguish is too energetic.

Thinking back on Northburn, and other gruelling Ultras I’ve run, I’ve became increasingly aware that this post-event emotional roller coaster is just as much a part of running Ultras as are the training, camaraderie, palate fatigue and physical endurance. Even when we smash the goals we set for ourselves, the feeling can be bittersweet.

It’s exhausting work exploring the depths of our darkest emotions. When they’re freshest, thoughts smash around our skulls like possessed plant equipment. We feel like there’s a broken record playing up there, our thoughts playing some sick game of psycho-somatic Hide and Seek with our clenched and twisted guts.

Coming out of an Ultra, it’s safe to say we’re fatigued. The exhaustion lingering from the event washes away our self-defences and this conscious scraping-back of the Soul further erodes our reserves allowing unbidden thoughts and feelings to threaten the already threadbare fabric of our sanity.

But what becomes of us if we shy away from the introspection? Does denial simply buy us time while these emotions ferment in our subconscious? Or am I being melodramatic? Maybe spending a day or two ignoring these things is just what they need – dismissal, pure and simple.

Then again, perhaps the real benefit of endurance sport isn’t physical, but spiritual; that enduring the ceremony and imbibing the potion of hormones our body releases puts us into a state so receptive to self exploration that it would be damn near sacrilegious to ignore it. There’s certainly been no shortage of writers, poets, artists and musicians who’ve found the Black Dog to be their greatest muse.

There are even a handful of groups around the peripheries of more mainstream cultures that have taken this metaphor literally. The Marathon monks of Mount Hiei are known to seek enlightenment through extreme ascetism and physical endurance in running. In their quest for enlightenment they will run 40km a day for a 100days before requesting permission to continue their quest for another 900 days, the whole project taking them 7 years.

The Lung-Gom-Pa runners of Tibet likewise achieve enlightenment and a connection with god through running as a form of meditation. While the connection between physical and spiritual is here quite apparent, there are countless other cultures that extol the virtues of endurance, fortitude and a tolerance for both adversity and hardship. While these may seem physical in nature, they are most definitely spiritual.

While I’m far too familiar with the darker end of our emotional spectrum to suggest that the Dog might be Man’s Best Friend, rather than being a downside – something to fear and dread – perhaps the come-down should be appreciated, if not welcomed. As Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet, The deeper that Sorrow carves into your being, the More Joy you can contain.”

Music:
Patrick Watson – Lighthouse
Band of Horses – The Funeral

Footage was shot using a GoPro Hero3 Black Edition provided by www.highlytunedathletes.com

web: wildplans.com
flickr: flickr.com/wildplans
youtube: youtube.com/wildplans