Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Hoka Highland Fling

I left Chamonix on Wednesday and after a stop off in England to pick up Lauren and explore some surprisingly nice trails near Birmingham we arrived in Scotland on Friday afternoon and after that it was all a bit hectic. We drove to Glasgow to grab my bib number for the race and then drove home again to get some sleep. I was up 4am to then head to the start of the race. It was pouring down with rain on the way to Milngavie but thankfully once we arrived it had stopped and started to clear a little.

About to start. At some points on the course I was praying!
I went as light as I could for the race by carrying just a wind shirt and waterproof jacket along with my food and water and also had drop bags along the course with re supplies of food and drink. 6am and off we went. Like usual the first hour or so of any race is just finding a pace and easing into what is going to be a long day. Loads of little niggles usually occur to me in these early stages but soon disappear. The route from the start is really very nice and is a mix of forest paths , walkways and dirt roads. To be honest I can't really remember much of it at the start as I was still half asleep I think. I was doing fine and was bang on 2hrs for 20km then 3hrs for 30kms. The small climb around Conic Hill was fine and the descent was amazing. I flew down here with no troubles and my descending legs felt awesome and really strong. It was then into the Balmaha checkpoint and a drink of coke and refill with some gels and bars that I had eaten. The next section was pretty flat for a while and Lauren met me at 40kms to give me a much needed can of Irn Bru and words of encouragement. I was at 40kms in just over 4hrs which was my usual pace but I was not feeling to great. My legs just felt like they were getting too heavy too early in the race. 

At 40km trying to stomach the Bru
I set off get to Rowardenaan at 44km but took ages to get there. There was a couple of little cheeky climbs in this section but I got into 44km and found Lauren again with more supplies. She said I looked better at this point than when she seen me before but I felt a lot worse. I had some more coke and some cake and headed off again. I hate the next section from past experiences as it is a forestry road that just goes on and on and on and is incredibly boring. I was very very slow here and my main aim was to just get to the Inversnaid Checkpoint and see how I felt.

My eyes tell it all. Attempting to eat some food.
Meeting Lauren en route
I eventually arrived at Inversnaid around about the 57km mark and had a seat and took my time refueling myself , restocking my bag and just having a bit of a rest and chatting with an old work friend I had not seen in years who had appeared behind me(also racing). I wasn't more than 15 minutes here but it seemed to help. I drank a can of Red Bull and was off to the next checkpoint at Inveranan at 66km. Now this section I kind of came to life and thought to myself if I could keep going like this then I would be done in no time. This part of the trail is very very rocky with a fair bit of scrambling about and very uneven underfoot and I was loving it. I was passing everyone I came across and was even passing people doing the relay race and these runners were gunning it. Switching my mind to concentrating on my foot work is obviously my strongest point in races. So many people could not even walk properly on this section and I was leaping around all over the place passing them. I was totally loving it here and felt absolutely no pain for the next 7km but then as I should have known boooom it all hit me again and I was in agony. I made it to Inveranan and yet again re stocked for the last time to head the 20km to the finish. The first 10km is again forestry road and not the nicest underfoot. I had to take some rock salt here as my legs were cramping up pretty badly and I was in a lot of pain running here. Lauren greeted me(bounding around the hillside like some Duracell bunny on speed) again for a little bit of this section and even though I was probably grumpy and didn't mutter much to her apart form the odd yelp of pain it really was and always is great to see a friend on a course. I don't know what it is but it does give you a little boost and is nice to get your mind a little away from the pain. So on I went hiking the ups and running the downs and mustering a pathetic jog on the undulating flats. It was across the road and the final 10km to the end. Once I hit the single track in the trees I again perked up a little but by no means as much as I had before but I was able to get a decent pace going here and could even jog up the little climbs. We then took(what felt like) a incredibly long route off the track and onto a road towards a farm on the other side of the A82. This lasted about 2km(felt like 10) and I hated it. I wanted to be finished.

We then hit the single track again and a guy I had been running with for some sections said to me if I put on the gas now I would make sub 11hrs. Not that I was caring at all about times but on any race whatever the distance when I am near the end I will glance at my watch and see if I can squeeze in under that hour or half hour or whatever. So off I went for the final 3km. I was in agony here but could somehow get a good pace going. If I was more than 3km from the finish I am sure this pace wouldn't have lasted but I blasted out the last couple of Kms in no time and was greeted to a packed finish line with flags everywhere and so many people out to cheer on runners. I was finished , thank god! Friends I hadn't seen in ages had arrived to see me as well as my folks and Lauren but I just blanked everyone out and wanted to sit down and try not be sick. This lasted about 10 minutes. Me just sitting totally spaced out on a chair wondering what I had just done and then I could chat and have a laugh with everyone who had come to see me. I had finished the 86km(2600m+) in 10hrs 59mins and in 196th/566.

Did I enjoy it?? Yes.....some of it. The organisation is spot on and all the staff and spectators are just superb and they really did make it a great race. The course is also brilliant with heaps of brilliant single track fun terrain and some amazing scenery. Yeah there are some sections of boring undulating forestry roads but it is 86km long so at some point you will find some rubbish parts but luckily there is hardly any tarmac maybe a few km if that.

Should have been smiling I know but
 just too annoyed with myself
Now what went wrong for me. I am still working it all out. At the end of the day I know I shouldn't be kicking myself as my time was totally fine and I finished. It was the first race of my summer and it was nearly 90kms. My longest training run in April was 20! and since November I have be skiing for 5 months. Yes I ran over winter but just to keep things ticking over. I wouldn’t go as far as saying I trained over winter for this race , I really didn't but I did keep my legs strong enough to keep going. I am still very disappointed how I felt for a lot of the course. Especially from 50-60km and 67-82. I didn't change anything I normally do for my nutrition(Nectar Gels and Tabs still going strong) and ate and drank well all day. To be honest the course was actually a bit tougher than I expected it to be with all the little ups and downs. I will completely admit that I felt that last years Mont Blanc 80km was an easier race(for me) and it had 6000m of ascent not just 2600. I like races with big climbs in them to give me a rest. When you run and then have to climb 1000m you slow it down and plod on up and your muscles recover. On this race though there was absolutely heaps of small climbs all along the course and your never sure what ones to run and what to speed walk. Also lots of the race especially the last section is actually a climb but a gradual one over a long distance so you run it thinking your on the flat but actually your climbing the whole time and the legs feel that. I spoke to tons of other runners on the course who had been training for months and months(some a year) for the race on the actual course. I never normally do this apart from maybe checking out a small section or two but for a race like this one I can totally see the point in doing a little recce on most of the route just to let you know just how fast you can take it at some stages and when to ease off. I was just hoping to feel a bit fresher and not wishing the finish would arrive. I do these races to be out on amazing trails not to wish it was all over. Now I didn't expect to find this easy not in the slightest but I was just hoping to enjoy all of it and enjoy being back running in Scotland but at some stages I was in so much pain I wished it was over. I was never ever going to throw in the towel and I never will unless my leg is hanging off and even then I am pretty sure I can crawl to any finish but I am just disappointed to have not just maybe gone out even slower and cruised into the finish maybe and hour or two later and maybe felt better. Maybe though it all comes down to the fact that I had just asked myself to do a much longer race than I should of after winter. On the plus side my head never once went and I know I still have the strength mentally to keep going and the old legs are pretty strong and will keep marching on when my muscles are screaming at me to stop.

I do love the single track though!
Funnily enough the following day I felt good!! So good in fact myself and Lauren went up to Arrochar for more running and made a rapid ascent of the Cobbler and Beinn Narnain and then a rather fast descent back to the car. Admittedly on the descent trying to follow a fresh Lauren was hard work but I stuck to the task rather well considering the previous days run. On the climbs up though I felt strong. It was a totally brilliant morning with blue skies and sunshine and I am so glad we went and did it. 12kms and 1000m. How my body managed it I really do not know but I ain't complaining.

Lots to think about
Overall a great trip home and much thanks to Lauren , my folks , Craig and Scott for coming along on race day to say hello. Afraid I have no Arrochar pictures as I stupidly left my camera in the car park. Gutted.

That has kicked my ass a little bit and I am now focused on trying to get into the best running shape I have ever been in before I reach Colorado and from then on just see where I can get to.

Pictures Courtesy of Stuart Macfarlane. www.facebook.com/stuart.macfarlane.775?fref=ts

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