Sunday, 25 April 2010

My Highland Fling

The short version: I finished! And I finished with my silver goal of “sub 13:30” in 13:23 with 7min to spare until the prize-giving to see Thomas winning his 1st vet prize and 2nd overall in a new PB of 8:09!! What a star!

The long version: I was very nervous before the race. I knew I would be “on my own” with my drop bags as Nancy had got caught up in the volcanic ash chaos and could not make it to Rowardennan. Would the bags be there, what if not? What if I struggled? What if I got stuck on the Lochside? But I also pictured myself approaching that finish line in Tyndrum, determined not to be as emotional as after the Devil, my 1st ultra, but to just enjoy it when I got there. But there were still 53 miles to cover! It would be my longest distance ever – how would I cope?!

Once we started I was actually o.k. My legs felt good and I just settled into my easy pace. Up to Drymen I chatted with a few people, Tim, Jim Drummond and a few girls, Liz from Chester (23 years with already a number of ultras under her belt) and Jill from London on her ultra-debut a few days before her 40th birthday. There was a group of girls in front who were just slightly too fast and Liz and Jill were going slightly slower so I decided to just go at my own pace. What is the etiquette of ultra-running? Do you drop your pace to chat a bit or do you try and stay with a group? I decided to be “antisocial” and run on my own. And funnily enough for most of the time this is what I literally did. For long distances I did not see anyone close by apart from when the faster guys approached from behind to disappear into the distance. Until Beinglas that was, when I kept seeing a few of the 7 o’clock runners struggling with cramps, walking, taking breaks and we kept bumping into each other. I enjoy running on my own taking in the scenery and luckily the day was nice and I kept looking at the loch, the mountains, some of which were still snow capped. Beautiful. But I also enjoyed being overtaken by the faster guys, meeting lots of familiar faces and getting encouragement on the way. I think that really helped as I was working out who I still had to see. Most of the ones I knew had overtaken me before Inversnaid.

I reached Drymen a bit quicker than during my training run and saw Caroline who was marshalling there. She actually had a Lucozade ready for me and 2 gels I had given her before. I also met Jude who together with his wife and dog were out on their support debut for Thomas. It was good to see them and off I went after refilling my water bladder. My hands were rather cold and I decided to keep my gloves on as I found it difficult to even tie up my laces. Which I had to do about 3 times at least. For whatever reason they kept getting loose even with a double knot. After Drymen I kept looking back to see if any of the vet runners who had started one hour after us was approaching. And I was waiting for Thomas to catch me. Then just before the gate leading onto the path to Conic Hill I heard someone whistling. There was Thomas on his own leading the vet race. Where is Richie was my first question as I was so surprised to see Thomas running on his own in the lead! Off he went into the distance but it was not too long until Richie came. A few minutes further behind was someone wearing a German triathlon shirt but I did not know him. Then there was quite a gap.

In Balmaha (3:55 for me) I was told Richie was a min ahead of Thomas and he was going well. That’s great I thought and got my own drop bag and had a much needed toilet break and reorganized my food which took me about 15min in fact. Readjusting of laces, round of Vaseline and off I went.

Got to Rowardennan in just under 6:00, a nose bleed on the way (what was that? I never get nose bleeds and I thought that would be an unusual show stopper!), further toilet stop, organizing of drop bag, handed my rubbish to Janet who was supporting her husband Jon, quick chat, newsflash that Thomas was now a few min ahead of Richie again and onto the lochside. This is where I missed Marco going past but I found out later from Ian that he had already come through as I was getting worried. He had started 2 hours behind me (being so young :-)) and had a great race finishing 3rd overall! On the steep climbs towards Inversnaid I met Ian who had a tough race with stomach problems as I found out later.

Got into Inversnaid, straight into the hotel toilet again (last toilet stop though as I think I was getting the hydration right in the end), drop bag organization. My bag had got rather heavy as I really just stuck to gels and stuffed a lot of the food into the bag. I left most of it at Inversnaid realizing that I would not eat it anyway, just took a few nuts, jelly babies and crisps. Quickly saw Mags Turnbull coming in but then lost sight of her. And onwards towards Beinglas.
I was quite happy by then realizing that I would make it at least to Beinglas, would not get stuck at Inversnaid and could be rescued much easier if I had to. That lifted my spirit as I was picturing achieving at least a 42M distance. But the lochside dragged on, so many tree roots, so many boulders. In fact I walked most of it as I felt it was not worth getting into a running mode only to stumble across a tree root or slip on a rock. The view back to Loch Lomond was fantastic. It was about there that I got a text from Thomas telling me he had won the vet race!! I was so happy for him and got a bit emotional then, luckily all on my own. Well, I thought I better try and get there for the prize giving! The pressure was on! I thought if I could reach Beinglas in 10hrs I had a chance. And I was caught by a couple of runners, one of them told me I wasn’t far off pace. And I told him very proudly that my husband had just won the vet race and I had to get to the prize giving.

Well, I reached Beinglas in just over 10:00 and sat down for the 1st time. Again to refill my bladder with 1.5L (!) as I thought it was getting hot and I might need it! I did not and ended up with sore shoulders due to all the weight I was carrying the whole way. Never mind. Trying to get up though I ended up with a cramp in my thigh and I was getting worried as from there on I saw so many struggling with cramps. In fact one of the runners walked onto a bridge and suddenly was making the weirdest movements as he had a terrible cramp. I had to lean on his foot until the cramp eased! Later on I saw others using salt sachets and I decided to also use my emergency supply of salt. I had little restaurant style salt sachets and poured one right into my mouth. Disgusting! Quickly washed down with water and onwards. Derrydaroch farm, Carmyle Cottage, important milestones and on to the farm track. I handed one salt sachet to another runner struggling with cramps getting up the steps. Then another nose bleed! (WTF?) The cows were waiting right on the path and a female releigh runner was waiting for someone else to go first! We took a slight detour instead! Into the forest and again never-ending ups and downs, but with the end in sight it was bearable. I knew I could finish it but was just a bit concerned about possible cramps. My muscles felt tight and seconds away from cramping but never actually did. So that was lucky.

As I was getting closer to 13:00 I tried to keep a running motion going whenever I could as I so wanted to get there for the prize giving. Crossing the road, on to Auchtertyre, flat bits, try to keep running, you want to be there at 7.30pm, don’t walk too much when you can still run a bit. That was my mantra. I had dreaded the flat bit to Auchtertyre and then the finish before the race as I knew it would be tough to run then, but trying to beat that 7.30pm deadline gave me a good focus.

Getting on to the path along the river into Tyndrum and up the hill to the station I heard someone shouting my name from the path below leading towards the finish. It was Thomas waving his arms like mad, the pipers were playing and I could not help it and the tears were coming. Quick composure by the time I reached Thomas who filled me in with his 2nd overall position as well as 1st vet prize and the brilliant news that Marco had come 3rd, that Lucy had won with Sharon 2nd and Debbie 3rd! Wow! Apart from the overall winner Craig Stewart who I don't know personally all podium positions were occupied by people I know and love. Well, one more than the rest, but you know what I mean! Could it get any better? I ran up to the finish line and the crowd was cheering and I was waving. I felt like a star! I crossed the finish line and John handed me my medal. Lots of hugs from everyone. Thanks to all for cheering me on and believing I could do it.

Thursday, 15 April 2010

The countdown has begun ...

... 10 days to go! Until the "Highland Fling" race, my 2nd ultra race, but my 1st over a distance of 52 miles. I will have 15 hours to complete it and completion is my main goal! Time does not really matter as long as it is within the 15hrs, but I do have a "silver" and a "golden" goal! A finish in time for the prize giving would be absolutely fantastic, i.e. within 13.5 hrs. Anything less is at present unimaginable!
I don't have any predicted times for the checkpoints, just what I can expect to do from my training runs. I reckon 2:30 to Drymen, maybe 2:20, then 4:00 to Balmaha and 6:00 to Rowardennan. After that it will be a blur. I will try my best to get to Beinglas even if I am in trouble as I do not want to get stranded in Inversnaid. And I have previously covered the distance to Beinglas in the Devil, so I should be able to get there. After Beinglas will be "unknown territory" for me. I will be on my own with my drop bags until Rowardennan (half way point) where our friend Nancy will meet me for moral support and any first aid I might need (new socks,T-shirt,Compeed etc). After that my drop bags will be waiting for me again and get me to the end (hopefully).
Today saw me doing another double session with my last long run at lunchtime and an easy 5M with the club tonight. In the last 8 days, i.e. from last Thursday when I also did the same double session, I have done my highest mileage ever. On Saturday I ran from Milngavie to Balmaha and on Sunday I ran for about 2 hrs, 1 hour out of Balmaha towards Rowardennan and back. A few easier and shorter runs in between and then today's last long run. I actually felt better on my long run this week then last week. And I think I have finally decided what I will take food/energy wise.

Now it is taper time! The best time!! I don't need to worry about getting a long run in and can relax! I am off next Thursday and Friday so I will get plenty of rest and time to carboload. And strangely enough I am starting to look forward to this race. For me it is a big adventure, to see if I can do it. I entered (or rather was entered) and did not know if I would be up to the miles. But I decided to see where I was in April and decide then if I would give it a go. I have certainly not done as many miles as most other runners, in fact I have probably done not more than 35-40M per week on average with some weeks even less than that, but I have done as much as I could and as much as I wanted to do given the time constrains, laziness etc. I really enjoyed my long runs out on the trails and I hope that this will keep me going on the day. What I did not like was the fact that I have missed a few club runs that I had wanted to do, because they were on days when a long run was planned or the day before. And that is the downside, it is quite a commitment and shorter races are not really part of the preparation. Well especially with my Achilles tendon problem as well.

That Achilles tendon problem will remain for now. I have had a number of sessions and even dropped my mileage a lot for 10 days to give it a chance to get better with physio etc., but after a long run it would just flare up and the physio would start from square one again. So I decided to ignore it just now if I wanted to have a go at my planned runs this summer. As long as I don't press on my Achilles tendons they are fine! They have to wait until autumn to get seen to again. I just hope they can wait that long!

So bring on Saturday, the 24th of April 2010! I am as ready as I will ever be!