Ding Ding, I’m In The Fling

Hoka Highland Fling (26)

Despite severe cramping over the last 6 miles of the D33, I somehow started 2016 with a PB. I’d been on for a considerable PB but, given the cramping and the walk, limp, hobble strategy that was required to nurse the legs home, I had to settle for a PB of approx. 7 minutes.

Unfortunately, PBs were not to be the standard for the year as, other than a surprise PB at The Devil O’ The Highlands, I under-performed considerably, recording a personal worst time at the Hoka Highland Fling, which also happened to be an hour slower than my 2015 time, taking almost an hour and a half longer to cover the 96 miles of The West Highland Way Race than back in 2012, and with a performance at Glenmore 24 that, at 66 miles, was considerably short of my desired 100 miles.

Over the course of the year I also reaffirmed what I started to suspect upon my return to ultra marathons in 2015 after my self-imposed 2 year ‘sabbatical’ following the birth of my son Harris – The need to push myself quite so hard just wasn’t there. I lost count, between 2015 and 2016, of just how many time I was ‘quitting’, leaving ultra marathons behind in favour of some other distance or, indeed, some other sport or activity altogether.

By the end of 2016’s calendar of events, I was clear in the mind that continuing to run ultra marathons was going to involve a number of things.

Firstly, I had to decide if I wanted to continue running distances in excess of 26.2 miles, whether I still had the ‘hunger’ to put myself through the associated pain. What’s more, I had to decide if I still had the desire to run the longer events, such as The West Highland Way Race.

For as much as I try to convince myself that I just do not have the same need to push myself to such extremes (I almost certainly don’t these days), I just can’t envisage not running these distances and events. The thought of a 5k, 10k, 1/2 or even marathon just does not do it for me. Even a ‘wee’ training run these days ideally involves something off road, preferably in the Cairngorms, in the 13-20 mile range. So, I suppose that at least answers ‘point 1’!

Secondly, I decided that continuing with ultra marathons had to involve progress, something that, aside from a couple of fluke PBs here and there, has been distinctly lacking, and lacking not just these past two years, if truth be told, but since 2010, when I first started running longer distances. At this early, almost pre-training stage, and having not quite yet shaken off the illness that has put any exercise on hold for almost three weeks now, I’m not exactly sure how I am going to achieve this goal. However, achieve it I will. In fact, the desire to progress is ***the*** driving factor that helped me decide that I wanted to continue at this distance.

With progress in mind, I have started one aspect of preparation – weight loss. ‘Piggy-backing’ on a fitness programme that my wife Leanne is currently doing, I have shed almost a stone in 4 weeks. I’m around the lowest weight that I achieved on my previous weight loss attempt, which in turn was the lowest that my weight has been in as long as I can remember.

Given that ‘we’ are still only half way through the programme, I’m hoping for at least a further 1/2 stone loss, if not more. I suspect (and hope) that this time around, I will not slowly (and not so slowly) let the weight creep back on. This time around, the loss was attained whilst actually eating more, with the only exception being the portion size of the evening meal. There was no starvation aspect as there was, for example, on the 5:2 approach that I recently embarked upon. Eating more, albeit more protein and less carbs, feels like it will be more sustainable.

I can’t wait to get back to 100% health so I can set about testing just what this means for my running abilities. I suspect that the weight loss will equate to considerably faster miles. Here’s hoping at least!

Update: Much like my race times, this blog post also took ages. Suffice to say that, despite still being far from full health, as indicated by the absolute lack of energy on Sunday’s brief 4 mile run, there’s most definitely some progress. It’s a bit of a weird one as, for as lacking in energy as I felt, my running was also quite ‘effortless’. Makes no sense I know but I think the upshot is that there’s a definite impact from my recent weight loss. I’m looking forward to testing this further, once the energy levels are back to where they should be.

Strategy aside, I still hadn’t committed to any 2017 event. Unfortunately, the work circumstances of both my wife (Schlumberger) and myself (University of Aberdeen) will ultimately depend on the outcome of any further cost cutting from the two and, given that it’s not looking great for at least one of us, committing to any event seemed inappropriate, spending resource (entry fees, kit, accommodation, travel costs) that may not exist come 2017.

With that in mind, I tried to be sensible when entry to the Hoka Highland Fling opened. Now, had the entry been as in previous years, I would have missed out. If previous experience is anything to go by, all the available spaces would have been snapped up within the opening minutes of race entry going live.

This was, however, the year that Race Director Johnny Fling decided to change both the entry criteria and the entry process, provoking quite a furore it has to be said. For as much as the previous system has worked for me in the past, I think the new ballot-based system is far fairer, especially to those folk who can’t be ‘tied’ to a PC or other device with a trusted internet connection at 9pm on the Sunday when race entry goes live, whether it be for work, social or connectivity reasons.

I still can’t believe quite what happened on social media. Whilst some of the posts were humorous, many were not and as for the comments, well I know I am not alone in my disbelief of at least some of what was said. Do people think they write these things in some kind of safe little bubble, where no one sees the comments and/or where no one is offended by them? God forbid a Race Director tries to improve their race or make entry fairer to all. Of all the RDs to vent on as well, given that Johnny Fling is one of those who goes the extra mile and then some to put on the best possible event! Rant over.

Given the grace of a week to consider throwing my name into the ballot, I finally succumbed, not long before the window of opportunity closed. I figured that I would put my fate in the hands of the ballot. If I got in then great, it’s what I really, really wanted anyway and, if I didn’t get in, then at least I tried.

Sensibility aside, the Fling is one of my favourite events, thanks in part to the route, and in part to the amazing effort and level of detail that goes in to every aspect of the race. After this year’s terrible Fling performance, second only to my one and only DNF in terms of overall ‘crapness’, I had a score to settle, and, true to form for me, absolutely no desire to wait to do it!

On the evening of Sunday 23rd October, feeling very poorly and, admittedly, feeling very sorry for myself (typical male!), having just lost yet another weekend to illness, the acceptance email came through. I was one of the lucky ones.

Ding Ding, I’m in the Fling.

What’s more. I have a goal.

I want a PB, and not just a few minutes either. For this, my 6th Fling, I want to take a considerable chunk off of my current PB of 12:33:50. For a start, I’m going to continue with the weight loss goals. Further, it’s about time I employed a more carefully considered approach to training, with an emphasis on quality rather than quantity, but logging some serious long runs in the months leading up to the Fling. It’s about time I started treating the Fling like the A list event that it is, and not just as one of my ‘always runs’. Given the outcome of the next few weeks, it may yet be my only event next year, though I’ve not written off possible returns to The Great Glen Ultra and Glenmore 24.

Time will tell but, in the meantime, let the training commence!